Sunday, July 06, 2008

Great Detached Reef

We won one race and lost the other; we joined Mata'irea at the anchorage in the middle of the great Detached Reef with half an hour to spare before dusk, having spent most of the day hand-steering under full-sail to try to maximise our speed. It was an exhilarating ride, the wind picked up to 20-25 knots+, which built a messy short steep sea. Surfing down a particularly steep wave, I saw the GPS speed reading momentarily hit 12 knots - the maximum I've seen. We would have arrived much earlier, but the last 7 miles were directly into the wind, which even within the Reef built up a nasty chop and meant we only made 3-4 knots motor sailing - still the decks received a good wash down.

Our first sight of Australia was the abandoned tower on Raine Island. The first sight still hasn't lost it's magic - even with waypoints, GPS and courses to steer it's always reassuring that the mark you made on the chart as the destination, all those days or weeks ago has actually been realised physically. Euphoria gave way to concern as we struggled to see anything that looked remotely like the Great Detached Reef. Gradually we spotted breakers on the horizon then slowly the outline of the reef became well defined. However, unlike Minerva Reef, there was no great colour contrast with the Coral Sea; the stunning turquoise shallow waters inside Minerva picked out the reef from the distance - here only the breakers defined the outline of the reef.Mata'irea had earlier invited us over for dinner. However the logistics of joining them on their boat were challenging. Both of our dinghies were deflated and stowed and neither of us wanted to inflate them, only to have to restow them for the remainder of the trip to Darwin. We have an inflatable kayak, which seemed to offer the solution, but with the wind blowing so strongly we were concerned we'd be blown downwind before making it to the other boat. We were resigning ourselves to separate meals, when we decided that if we deployed our floating man-overboard line and tried swimming, then even if the current swept us from our path, we'd be able to haul ourselves back via line. We packed our clothes and some sweet potatoes we'd promised Mata'irea in a waterproof bag and dived in. Easy on the way there. Swimming back after half a bottle of red, weighed down with a bag of flour, a stomach full of steak and into the chop was more challenging, but a quick way of sobering up.

Great to have a peaceful night's sleep in a calm anchorage. That said it's quiet in the cabin, but venturing up on deck the 20-25 knot trade wind hits you and adds to the sound of the surf pounding on the reef.

I write this just before we raise anchor to head back up the Great Detached Reef and through the Great Barrier Reef, into the maze of coral that awaits us. Another long exciting day awaits.

Great Detached Reef anchorage: S11° 44.3' E144° 03.8'
Daily run: 165

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