Off to Townsville via the outer Reef, well that was the plan.

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July 26th 2016
Published: September 2nd 2016
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Sailing from Airlie Beach to Townsville via some outer reefs

The first coral of the tripThe first coral of the tripThe first coral of the trip

In Abell point Marina
Captain’s Log, travelled 213 nautical miles (394.5 km) in 11 days, started at Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays and ended in Townsville.

Well here we go again, off on another adventure into the wild blue beyond. Well at least this time with a plan of leaving the Whitsunday Islands. This trip would be with two young guys from Sydney who wanted to go sailing, snorkelling and fishing on and around the Great Barrier Reef. They had either just finished their degree or were in a midyear break from their studies. They could come for 10 to 14 days and where happy to sail from Airlie Beach north to Townsville via the outer reef.

Where did I find these guys? Actually they found me via one of my advertisements on a general website – this one was Gumtree. I think I was the first to respond to their requests and questions. They are James who had just finished his Engineering degree from the University of Sydney and Greg who was in his final year (at least I think it was his final year) of doing Psychology at the University of NSW (also in Sydney).

They arrived on the 13th of July and after the usual refuelling, rewatering and restocking (including toilet paper), we headed out on the morning of the 14th of July for Nara Inlet. We were heading for this anchorage, as there was to be another few days of rain and wind (lots of rain as it happened).

The main feature of the sail out was that I has decided to reduce the headsail before we entered the Whitsunday Channel proper, however, I did chose to do the furling while in Funnel Bay. The bay did live up to its name as there was quit a bit if wind funnelling through it. The result was that the port headsail sheet hit the clear panel of the spray dodger very hard and broke it. It was surprising that such a small hole could make quit a difference to us in the cockpit.

After the trip when we were safely anchored in in the northwestern arm of the Inlet, I tried to do some running repairs. The first attempt involved duck taping a yellow plastic bag over the hole. Next morning the bag had come off but some of the tape was still there. So the second attempt involved just using the tape and this one stayed till the dodger was removed in Townsville. I was pleased to have stopped the wind and rain but I was sure that any medium size spray, let alone a small wave, would wash away the patch.

The first few days were spent in Nara inlet as it either bucketed down or just blowing with a layer of low grey clouds. The boys were finding it hard not to be busy so they went for a snorkel. They reported to have seen a few corals and a couple of small fish. Not the greatest of dives but they did get to burn off some of their energy.

The other main activities were frequent debates about live and the universe in general. Both James and Greg were what I would call deep thinkers. Greg was a quick debater while James was a slower speaker. This latter did lead to a few cross discussions until we learnt each other’s styles. The other feature was that both were committed Catholics. I enjoyed our discussions and learned a lot from them. I hope I helped them gain an insight from the very different perspective.

An interesting event while in Nara Inlet was that we were approached by a crew member off a party yacht asking where we missing any crew? Some of their gests had heard what they took as a cry for help from the western shore. The crew member was checking all vessels to see if anybody was missing. Another boat had suggested that it might have been goats as they had seen some ashore. We don’t hear if it was just goats but we did not see any official vessels arrive in the inlet over the next 12 hours so assumed that all was OK.

Our first stop after Nara Inlet was in Stonehaven, where we had some of the clearest water I have seen in the Whitsundays. We snorkelled on a reefs near the mooring and they provided lots of fish and the usual colourful corals. The guys were very happy with the dive. It was one of the best snorkels I have had in the area over the past two years.

Our next stop was in Blue Pearl Bay on the western side of Hayman Island. The guys really enjoyed themselves here, what with the big batfish under the boat, good snorkelling and just before sunset, a quick trip to a square rigged charter boat so they could use the boat’s big swing. They could certainly talk their way into most things.

Just before sunset, the cry of “Whales ho” went up and yes I did get to see my first humpback whales of the season, albeit a fair way off and just swimming past.

The next morning, they both wanted to go ashore and walk over the hill to the resort. I said OK but they must carry the dinghy over the reef so they would need good footwear. Yep, of course they would do that. Off they went and yes they did stop and carry the dinghy in. However, they had not allowed for the falling tide so when they got back, they were very high and dry. After thinking about it for about 30 minutes, they decided to carry the dinghy over the exposed reef and finally got back to Hakura about half an hour late. They had been to the resort, even passing a sign saying no entry and had a good look round. They enjoyed their swim in the pool through thought the water tasted funny. I suspect that was because it was chlorinated.

All this time, I had been on one of the free public moorings, which have a stated time limit of 2 hours during the day. Whilst nobody came near me to ask if I would leave, I was feeling the social pressure not to be an over stayer on the mooring. I was very relieved to have them back and we headed off straight away. Next stop Butterfly Bay.

All this time the wind was still fresh from the east and southeast, but it was slowly dropping and this lead to another revision of our plans. A trip to Bait Reef was looking OK and it even looked promising for the trip to Townsville via some of the outer reefs. So the new plan was to stay at Butterfly Bay West for the night then head out to Bait Reef the next morning for at least a couple of nights
The BoM website with the marine weather forecastThe BoM website with the marine weather forecastThe BoM website with the marine weather forecast

Getting the Weather Forecast was a twice daily ritual, that at times saw Greg climbing the mast to get better (or even any) mobile phone reception.
out there.

Butterfly Bay West is one of the nicest anchorages in the Whitsundays and therefore it is often full. It has about ten mornings in it so once they are full there is not much room to anchor. When we arrived there were only a few vessels and we had our pick of moorings and it filled up very quickly after that. James went ashore to both the eastern and western shores and walked to the top both ridges. He is a very fit active young man. He is the only guy I have seen get on board Hakura from the water without the use of steps or even a rope. Very impressive, and I think being in part due to his training as a competitive gymnast for 7 years.

After another restful sleep, we had the usual slow start but were away by 10 am. We sailed out to Bait Reef, with the wind over our starboard hind quarter making for a good easy run. It was very good to be back under sail and heading out to Bait Reef.

As we approached the Reef we were treated to a vigorous display from three or four humpbacks. They were very close to the western outer edges of Bait Reef.

On pervious visits here there have been several other vessels, even to the point of near fights over the few moorings. This time there was only a single vessel and that was a day charter vessel so that over night we were there alone. It was still a fresh southeast breeze but the reef gave us lots of protection. It is always strange to be anchored in the middle of nowhere with, at high tide, no sign of anything between us and the big blue sea.

We all had very enjoyable snorkels during the afternoon and next morning. The water was still very clear and we saw a couple of turtles and lots of fish. As on previous visits we had the resident grant trevally, grant wrasse and batfish. I did not tell the guys about these fish, rather letting them find out for themselves. On Greg’s first trip back to Hakura, I had some bread ready and was able to get the wrasse to come right up to his face before he knew that it was there. Latter, Greg was able to throw some bread onto my back, which the batfish swim over to get at the food.

One of the frequent topics of discussion was sharks in all their forms. Would we see any, were they dangerous and what should they do if we saw one? Well I did say I hoped to see some, no there are not dangerous unless you block their exit or try and touch them, and if they see us they will general leave the area. We on the other hand should enjoy sharing the water with them.

After one dive, Greg came back quickly. Yep, he had seen a biggish shark over there, and no he had not stayed around to chew the fat with it. Unfortunately I did not see the shark. Greg and James went back, but surprisingly, it had gone.

You may remember that we had seen some humpback whales when we arrived. We continued to see whales in the waters outside the reef for the rest of the first day. I, of course, had said that I did not except the whales to come into the reef lagoon area. Well famous last words, ah. While we were having breakfast, we notice a single whale inside Bait Reef moving very slowly around. It would stop and stay on the surface for several minutes at a time before slowly swimming a short distance then stopping again. I di say that we should keep a lookout for the appearance of a very small whale as it may have been a mother about to give birth. Whether it was or not, we did not find out as the whale eventually left the reef and we did not see any other whales with it, big or small.

Latter that morning we headed further into the reef system leaving for Hook Reef. A larger reef than Bait and with a lower level of protection, thus James would be able to spear his first fish, or at least give it a go.

It is about an hour between the two reefs, and we left at 11 am. This was to allow the guys to have some morning snorkels and so that we arrived in Hook Reef with the sun behind us thus giving the best view of the coral heads beneath the water.

It was a slow twisting journey through the lagoon behind the main reef front. We could only only see a clear path once we were there. From a distance it always looks clear but as you get closer that smaller coral heads (called bombies) would appear. We were often down to a few knots and James was up the mast and Greg on the foredeck spotting the bombies. It took about an hour to get through the lagoon and anchor close behind the main reef.

The water was clear and the bombies close by looked inviting. James and Greg headed off. James armed with his spear gun and knife. Why a knife, I asked? James said it was to keep the sharks off and to quickly kill any fish he caught. The latter reason sounded good to me. After an hour or so and with falling light James returns without any fish and without the knife. He had dropped it on the reef after having got it out because a shark had turned up. Sharks one, James none, me thinks. We all enjoyed that story and I am sure it will grow over the years, as it should.

First thing next morning the water was still clear and we were going to stay for another day before heading off to Townsville. However, after breakfast and with the change in the tide, the water was now very cloudy and none of us wanted to go snorkelling here. We headed out again, a bit faster this time but not by much. We went to check out the northwestern corner of the reef, as there were some tourist structures over there. The first place we tried was full of bombies and I decided not to go further into that area.

We now headed around to the next reef, Line Reef, to see if the world looked better there. It had a more open back of the reef and we were able to get in quite close, with only a couple of obvious bombies. The lads then decided that they would head off in EII to explore the inner edge of the reef.

One of the things I have noticed over the years is that not everybody has the same sense of risk as I do. What I think is OK others are very concerned about, and things I think are very risky others just see as another challenge. When messing about in boats being back on time, that is when you said or at least before sunset is an important issue for me. Unfortunately I don’t always communicate that to other. So come 5 00 pm and the boys are seen heading further away, into an area of strong currents and they do not have any lights, extra fuel or a radio. To say I was not happy was a bit of an understatement. At 5 30 I decided I needed to go in Hakura and get them before we lost the light. This was not an easy decision as it meant moving around in an area I had not been before in failing light. But as skipper, I decided to go so up came the anchor and we are off. After a bit of concern in an area where the reef was getting shallower, I managed to get in the deep channel and picked up James and Greg.

I think they understood I was angry and just climbed aboard and didn’t say anything till we were back anchored. It took me several minutes to calm down enough to talk with them. I hope they learnt an important message about the risks their actions can impose on themselves and other people.

Anyway, no fish had been killed, which I think was a good thing.

The plan for the next day was to leave late morning for the 20 odd hour trip to Magnetic Island or even directly to Townsville. Before leaving James went for a final snorkel and came back with two fish, a wrasse and a bream. James and Greg enjoyed the fish for breakfast.

As we had light wind over the port hindquarter, we were able to use the red sail for a lot of the day. The big event of the day occurred in the middle afternoon when I came on deck and noticed the fishing line we were trolling over the back was not on the surface. I moved around to where I could pull it in and suggested that James might like to join Greg and myself to see what was going to on. The boys thought I was talking about some whales nearby so they starting looking around. Then they noticed that I was pulling in the line and eventually we could see some colour behind the boat. I was not sure how big the fish was as there was some weight but no fight left.

We only released how big the fish was when it was right at the back of Hakura. It was a big wahoo. A predatory pelagic fish found throughout the tropical seas of the world. It is a favourite of the game fishers as it puts up a strong fight and often leaps during such fights. We saw no leaps, though they may have occurred earlier when we were not watching as it was very near death when I finally noticed the line.

The estimates of its size ranged from 15 to 20 kilos and later up to 25 kilos. Whatever, it was a big fish and we would eat well for several days from it. This was of much joy for James and Greg, as they really wanted to eat fish
Looking for bombies?Looking for bombies?Looking for bombies?

Though those in front of us are more important to find.
that we had caught. Another item ticked off on their wish list.

I had to put on sailing gloves to be able to pull it on board and just after I had it safely in the cockpit James and I notice a shark or dolphin surface right next to Hakura. It surfaced with the rounded back of a dolphin but we did not see it again, even though the sea was only slight. James was supporting the dolphin call and I supported the shark option. James did say as a surfer he always went for the dolphin option whenever he saw a fin at sea. I can understand that.

After killing and cutting up the fish and cleaning the cockpit we were left with maybe 10 kilos of steaks. Next job was to get as much as possible into the fridge and then turn the fridge as low as possible. Not surprising the fridge was flashing an error message, as there was too much meat for it to quickly cool down. Eventually, it did manage to partly freeze the fish streaks. Not all of them though as we cooked and eat some shortly after the work was finished.

There was so much meat on the fish we could not keep it all so I tied the front third to the fishing line and we towed it out the back to see if any sharks did come an take it. We would frequently check it but it remained untouched over night.

The rest of the night went well though the wind had died and we were back to using the iron mainsail (the motor) to keep moving. It was a clear night with a couple of other vessels sighted plus three lights on the mainland and one island.

In the morning, when off Cape Bowling Green, the wind began to freshen, this time from the southwest, so that we slowed down to put up the main and then the headsail. During this process, both James and I checked on the fish head out the back and it was still there. When I came back from raising the main I noticed that the fishing line was all piled up on the back of Hakura. I asked James and he said, no he had not done it. As best we can surmise something took the head in the time from when I had looked back at it from the mast and when I got back to the cockpit, a time of only a few seconds. Burger we missed it.

This disappointment was made up for by a couple of humpback whales who over the rest of the morning started to do many leaps with resulting massive slashes. One of the leaps resulted in the whale (and not a small one either) clearing the water completely. What a massive amount of effort would be needed to get a 50 ton whale airborne.

As the morning worn on the wind died so we dropped the main and furled in the headsail and started to think about where we would end up. As Greg was to catch a fight on Sunday afternoon, I decided that we would be better in Townsville so we could ensure that he caught his flight. Though, before we head in we stopped in the middle of the bay while the water was still clear and had a very refreshing swim and no sharks were seen then either.

We ended up at the Breakwater Marina, which is to the north of the main harbour in Ross Creek. It is a nice marina with friendly helpful staff. After showers and a walk for the boys (James went to get his van which had survived the 12 days being left alone in a Townsville back street), they took me out for dinner at the local pub.

Overall a great trip, we had several great snorkels, saw turtles, sharks (some of us) and lots of whales (including leaping ones). We caught some fish, one a large one that provided many enjoyable meals. We had lots of refreshing tea (and the boys learnt how to make a good cuppa the Hakura way) and not least we had many discussions that made me work and think. Thanks Greg and James.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Happy fisherHappy fisher
Happy fisher

Not so happy fish.
The Crew in TownsvilleThe Crew in Townsville
The Crew in Townsville

Breakwater Marina

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