Monday, July 07, 2008

Inside the Great Barrier Reef

Sten and Danika on Mata'irea had talked boldly of an early start. As Kika is the slower boat (we're 10ft shorter so we're allowed to be), we wanted to make sure we weren't left slumbering, so set our alarms for 6.30am and were ready to leave at first light. I'd hoped for clear skies to help us see the dangers lurking under the water; instead as we raised anchor a fine Scottish drizzle blanketed the boat. No sign of life from Mata'irea as we set sail back up the Great Detached Reef. What a contrast with yesterday's tedious windward bash to the anchorage; life is so much simpler and enjoyable sailing downwind.

Thanks to Mata'irea's flour supply we rediscovered the pleasure of freshly made pan-bread as we made our way to the gap in the Barrier Reef. There was nothing on the horizon to indicate the reef; even Raine Island was obscured in a haze of drizzle. I'd pictured the entrance as turbulent water fringed with waves crashing on the surrounding coral. The only indicator that we'd entered the Barrier Reef was the depth gauge started to give readings of 30 - 40m instead of "deep"; it was all a bit of an anti-climax. The distance between the reef and the mainland is at its maximum here ~ 75 miles, however our charts only show detail across a 12 mile swath heading NW from the entrance, the remaining area is filled with "unsurveyed area" caution notices.

In an unusual flurry of preparation I'd marked the relevant paper chart with way-points and bearings, in-addition to filling up the GPS's memory with our course which wove its way through what Captain Cook described as the "labyrinth of coral". The plan was we'd quickly know where we were, the approximate location of the hazards and what was coming up - it made a change from Nintendo navigation; directing the course from electronic charts on the computer buried down in the saloon. The scheme worked well, as although the hazards looked obvious on the chart, with a few exceptions most were submerged and weren't even clearly defined by breaking surf. It felt strange to be intricately navigating past mostly invisible obsticles. The wind straggled our course, so most of my time was spent adjusting the rig; gybing the main and switching the poled out genoa, while Charlotta steered between way-points. We had no time to waste as we needed to cover 76 miles to the next anchorage before dark.

Fortunately the stiff breeze continued throughout the day and gradually the cloud lifted. We were starting to let our vigilance slip when Danika came on the VHF warning us that they'd nearly run onto a reef which was a mile further south than their chart indicated. Fortunately Mata'irea anchored unscathed and we anchored soon afterwards just after the sun-set but before night had completely taken hold.

The culinary highlight of the day was to finally sample the much anticipated celebratory Papaya crumble.

Our only sight of Australia so far is the abandoned tower on Raine Island. Tomorrow should fix that as we head north around Cape York, the northern tip of mainland Australia, out of the Torres Straight, into the Arafura Sea and continue our passage to Darwin.

Boulder's Reef anchorage: S11 03.11' E143 04.13'
Daily run: 76.6

1 comment:

Helen Dowling said...

Hi Nick,
Only belatedly caught up with your renewed blog - great to hear you're on your way again with new ship mate Charlotta. Will try out some flying fish recipes for you as soon as I can get hold of a couple in Peckham market.
Helen xx