The Great Barrier Reef

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Oceania » Australia » Queensland » Port Douglas
February 24th 2009
Published: June 13th 2017
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Geo: -16.4958, 145.467

20-22/02/09 At sea Temps Air 29°C Sea 27°C

20/02/09 We've just been informed by the captain that we're about to pass the German cruise liner the Europa which is on a 165 day world cruise, it's has the highest rating within it's companies fleet and is rated at 5 Star + a standard cabin for this current cruise was priced at £110,000, recession what recession?

We took on a sea pilot at Darwin I didn't know there was such a thing, I thought pilots were pilots once you've had one so to speak they're all the same, apparently not, they're different to the normal pilots you sea in coastal waters, the ones you normally associates with ships entering ports and the like. Certain areas of the seas require the services of these guys who provide navigational guidance to the ships captains in either areas of special significance be it an area designated as highly sensitive by that country or an area of scientific or natural beauty such as the Great Barrier Reef which we'll be running along in the nest couple of days.

In addition to providing navigational information they're often employed by cruise liners to give lectures about the area they're traversing. It was at one of his lectures that we learnt that we any ship over 70m must have a sea pilot to accompany it whilst traversing the Great Barrier Reef, and that he was responsible not only for providing the navigational expertise to the captain but also watching out for boats/ ships not carrying sea pilots (they're all know who's on which ships and are in contact with each other). As well as ensuring that there's no offloading of waste or grey water whilst in the designated area, not only from the ship he's on but also looking out for any other ships both large or small seen to be off the defined course or dumping waste; any offenders are immediately reported to the nearest port authority for investigation by either fast patrol boast or spotter plane. He also monitors smaller traffic watching for drug smugglers and modern day smugglers.

He went on to explain that we were going to take the old sea route between the Queensland coast and the reef itself, only certain ships with the most up-to-date equipment and who are certified to rigid standards are allowed to take this course, as the smallest deviation from the allowed course could / would cause devastation and irreparable damage to certain parts of the reef and it's fragile eco structure; in some areas there's little room for error as dependant on the tides there's sometimes only 1.5m beneath the keel. Apparently the $3,000,000 fine for deviation off course has the effect of concentrating the mind, you don't say!

After we had a collision with a freighter in the Mekong Delta on a previous cruise I often wondered just what the respective pilot and captains positions were in the event of an accident, grounding, or other incident. We were informed that provided the captain was following the pilot's navigational advice, or if the pilot had failed to inform the captain of the correct course / action then it was the pilots fault. However if the captain ignored the pilots advice then he was at fault. But at all times the captain remains responsible for the ship.

Our pilot's going to be on board for the whole 3 days were in this locality and after that he'll have to have a mandatory 24hr break before his next assignment, staying at a dedicated lodging house for sea pilots;( I bet they could tell some interesting stories over a few drinks) apparently there are 4 of these houses dotted around this part of the coast accommodating up to 14 pilots (what's the collective name for a group of pilots, anyone know?). All the pilots are self employed and after 25 days on they have to have 5 days at home before they'll be assigned another ship. Although self employed they're paid a standard rate dependant on duration and tonnage, but are free to negotiate additional charges for extras, such as joining ships early to give lectures etc.

Monday 23/02/09 Port Douglas - Australia Temps Air 30°C Sea 27°C

I can't believe we're back here after just a couple of years, last time we booked to take the Kuranda Skyrail up into the forest to see the Byron Falls and return by the Kuranda railway, which is famed as on of the world's most scenic railways. Unfortunately for us the track was blocked by a landslide just before we left home and wasn't cleared by the time we arrived, so we missed the return trip by train, although we managed to walk around to the now closed station and get some photos of the falls albeit not very impressive ones as there hadn't been much rain for months so the falls were severely reduced in size.

Once again due to the sheer size of the ship we anchored off shore and were to be transferred to shore in the local high speed catamarans. Despite the catamaran's being late we eventually arrived in Port Douglas 45 mins late putting us behind schedule. Part of the excursion included a trip by duck amphibious craft around part of the forest and then a visit to their small and friendly zoo, due to our late arrival this was curtailed to only the trip by duck, disappointing but reluctantly we all accepted the fait acompli as the train was due to leave at 14:00 come what may.

We arrived at 14:20 and they had held the train for us, much to the annoyance of the other passengers already sitting in the carriages (without AC). We were surprised as we understood that previously another P&O excursion was late arriving and the train left without them, much to the annoyance of the passengers as you can imagine. We set off with the first stop being the famed Byron Falls; we were then told that the 10 minute photo opportunity had to be reduced to 5 mins as we were behind schedule, (oh boy I bet the other passengers loved us.

As the area had had terrible storms for the 3-4 weeks preceding and Cairns just down the road had been flooded for a couple of days the falls were in full speight. I managed to get a couple of shoots off when I heard cries for help; glancing over my shoulder in the direction of the screams I noticed a woman had fallen between the train and the platform! Along with another passenger I ran over and we helped the woman out. Fortunately other than being somewhat shocked she appeared to be ok and I left it to others to apply kind words and sympathy (yeah I know what you're thinking) and rapidly made off to the viewing platform to get my full frontal pictures of the majestic falls. I only got half way along the platform when the whistle blew calling us all back to the train, could I, should I, what if, bugger it I had to run back, so missed my shots of the falls, fated or what. Will I return again it's doubtful, but I said that last time, never say never is something I learnt a long time ago.

Other than being late for every other venue things went ok, although we arrived back for the last boat back to the ship 30 mins late, having had no time to look round the numerous local shops for souvenirs and the like.


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