Monday, July 9, 2012

Sailing Along The Great Barrier Reef

     Twister departed Cairns around 0600 local time July 4th as the one-day-short-of-full moon was setting over the mountains in the west. I was a bit apprehensive as the forecast was for 25-33 knots of wind for the next several days. At least it was blowing from the right direction (south south-east). Initially, it turned out to be on the lower end of that range and conditions were lovely with only 2-3 feet of chop/swell. I had felt anxious to get underway to reach Darwin in time to catch my flight to Punta Arenas and worried about all the reefs in my way and the strong wind warning. Then as I was cruising along very comfortably at 5-6 knots, I suddenly felt happy and fortunate—sailing in lovely conditions along The Great Barrier Reef, in a month I’ll be on an ice-breaker off The Antarctic Peninsula, and after that, sailing across The Indian Ocean. 
I met some nice folks in Cairns—fellow sailors, one of whom had done a lot of solo-sailing before the days of GPS and met Bernard Moitessier in Tahiti back in the day. My neighbors (on both sides) in the marina were also friendly and helpful.
The afternoon of the first day, I stopped at Low Islets (ca 30 miles north of Cairns) and tied onto one of the public moorings. There were several charter boats and their passengers there. Several big fish (no idea what they were, one type looked a little like giant flying fish that were swimming upside down) came up to greet Twister as we arrived. They were obviously used to being fed. The gobbled up the carrot, potato, and onion peels I tossed overboard as I was fixing dinner.
I departed Low Islets while it was still dark (I had made sure that my immediate path northward was clear the night before). After a couple of hours I decided to try sailing under bare poles (that is taking down all the sails). To my surprise, Twister was doing 4-5 knots very comfortably. That was the first time I’ve tried that technique. I’m not sure it would go well in the open ocean with bigger seas (with Horny steering that is; it would probably work hand steering).
 I continued running under bare poles until I reached Hope Islands where I tied onto another public mooring (there are many around the Great Barrier Reef, so boats don’t have to use their anchors and potentially damage the coral).
The next morning, I departed after sunrise as there were a few small reefs nearby to my north, to dodge. Most of the way to Cape Bedford we continued under bare poles. The wind had picked up a bit and Twister was doing 5-6 knots. Interestingly, Horny would only keep the course if set directly downwind (and fortunately that happened to be where I wanted to go. More than ten degrees off and she’d broach to—turn her side to the wind and seas).
We arrived Cape Bedford in the afternoon. The cape provides good shelter from the seas (to the southeast), but two hills and a saddle funnel the winds into the anchorage causing some decent gusts. Good holding in ~10 feet depth, mud bottom, lots of chain and two anchors were a recipe for a good night’s sleep.
Saturday the 7th:  It was a chore pulling up the chain and two anchors against the strong wind. I had to put the engine in gear and pull in the slack as Twister tacked back and forth toward the anchors. As the course to Lizard Island was not directly downwind, I had to use a small patch of jib for Horny to maintain a course. Exposing more of the beam to the seas resulted in a wet cockpit. Usually I’d retreat down to the cabin, but I rediscovered my foul weather gear (such as it is) and stayed in the cockpit the whole way, giving Horny a hand now and then when a wave pushed Twister’s stern over. We arrived Lizard Island around 1430 and anchored in 20 feet, sand bottom. The island provides lee from the seas, but generates some bullets of wind. The authorities have wisely put a series of buoys around the coral, so boats can easily anchor in the sandy parts of the anchorage and avoid damaging the coral and getting their anchors stuck. Just a passing glance shows that the coral is in much better shape than you’d see at a popular anchorage elsewhere in the South Pacific. I plan to stay put here a couple of days, hopefully doing some snorkeling at the nearby outer reefs. Lizard Island and the surrounding waters are some sort of park/marine reserve, but there is also a fancy resort on the island.
From here, I’ll head outside the Great Barrier Reef, through one-and-a-half mile opening, head north northwest for ca 200 miles then back in through Raine Island Opening. From there it’s another 100 miles (through coral strewn waters) to Cape York and The Torres Strait. I think I will sail straight through that bit, rather than stopping to anchor at night. Once through The Torres Strait, it’s 7-800 miles of clear sailing to Darwin. I will probably not stop between here and Darwin (and I don’t think there will be cell phone coverage), so I’ll check in when I get there, around July 22.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog Lars, especially since I am considering buying that Twister in Port Douglas. Going to look at it this Thursday. Reading about your passage fuels my sea fever! Will be thinking of you sailing The Labyrinth! Fair winds, Graham