After catching up with cruising friends at Airlie Beach, getting our tachometer magically working again and praying all this time for a break in the unrelenting SE trade winds, we got our wish and have been enjoying a ten day long window of light northerlies, which explains why things have been quiet on the blog front! For most yachties a bout of northerlies at this time of year signifies the start of the exodus south. But for reef addicts Bossa Nova, Aqualibrium and Anui it was a long awaited getaway to the Outer Reef first! The three cats gradually left Airlie after finishing their respective chores and met up at Little Black Reef.
Although it has been two weeks since our last post due to the lack of internet at the reef, we have a bumper issue to share with you! So make yourself comfortable and enjoy the reef adventure! To view the individual images in the galleries in full screen, click on the first one and arrow right. To return to the post, click on the X at the top right hand corner of your screen.
Here is a satellite image of the Reef area we explored. We use the Motion X app to get more details than the Navionics charting software provides.
We explored in calm conditions, had fun snorkeling and spearfishing in crystal clear water every day. The conditions were perfect for not only underwater photography but also drone photography with the colours of the reef showing through. It was magic!
Chris, photographed by Amanda Chapman on Bossa Nova.
And then most days we shared a coffee, sundowners or a meal with our friends on one of the boats… All this was especially enjoyable because time was on our side with a long favourable weather window and none of us feeling we needed to rush off.
If you look in the centre of the image you might just see our boats anchored. This was taken on a totally calm day. The ocean was like a mirror, reflecting the blue sky and clouds.
Little Black Reef
We anchored inside the lagoon at Little Black Reef. We probably should have anchored at a few more spots but there was so much to see at Little Black and Block Reefs that we stayed put with the big boats and instead used the dinghies to explore. The lagoon offered good protection, we were comfortable, anchored in 8 to 10 meters of water over sand, free of bommies.
At Little Black you could spend hours looking for small creatures. The macro came in handy! We snorkelled everywhere: different spots in the lagoon, the inlets, the bommies. The visibility and the state of the reef were variable with some areas of rubble but many colourful patches too and interesting creatures.
And Chris got lots of practice at manually launching and landing the drone from Anui’s deck which is much more daunting than doing so from a beach! It is important to get that down pat before attempting anything else. She does not shake quite as much now and has not missed the deck yet! Drone images give us a bird’s eye view of our surroundings and really show off the amazing reef colours. The next challenge will be experimenting with different flight modes and video recordings.
Block Reef was our favourite for snorkeling and spearfishing. The clarity of the water was excellent and the fishing awesome! Wade caught us coral trout, stripeys and fed us all for multiple meals! We got some great recipes from our friends too.
As you can see from the satellite image Block Reef is large, with an enclosed lagoon and a few pools. A deep channel separates it from Little Black on the southern side and Circular Quay Reef on the eastern side. We explored the southern end. What caught our attention there was the vibrant underwater seascapes, rich variety of healthy corals, abundance of fish of all sizes and Gorgonian Fans along the reef wall. Depending on where you chose to hover, you were in shallow water on the reef flat or in 30m deep water along the drop off. You just had to watch the current running sometimes swiftly along the wall. We tried different stretches every day.
What about sharks?
People often ask us whether we see sharks at the reef. We do, but on this trip Wade was the only one who spotted one – four times! We did hear another boat had a scary encounter with a 2m shark while getting ready to snorkel at Block Reef when we were there; they returned to their boat and cleared off, too shaken to get in the water or even stay at the reef.
We keep an eye out for the beasties, but to date reef sharks and carpet sharks is all we have spotted and they don’t tend to be a bother. There is always a risk though; you have to decide for yourself what you are prepared to do and accept you are in their territory. In clear water, outside the dawn and dusk hunting times, we tend not to worry too much about black tip or white tip sharks which are reef dwellers. They are not very big (1 to 1.5m) and not interested in us when we are just snorkeling. The biggest risk is when Wade has speared a fish. He swiftly heads straight back to the dinghy with the speared fish out of the water to avoid attracting unwelcome visitors of the toothy kind.
Amanda on Bossa Nova uses a shark shield, a device that puts an electrical current in the water which sharks are supposed to be sensitive to and this deters them from getting close. It is extra security and it might be worth us purchasing one for Wade. If we saw a bigger shark, not of the reef variety what would we do? The basic advice is to keep eye contact with the shark at all times, stay upright, not thrash about like a wounded animal. If forced to physically engage, a good prod to the eyes or gills with the spear gun or camera gear should scare it off. And then steadily swim back to the dinghy… Or steal Amanda’s shield!
When are we heading south?
You know you have stayed too long in one anchorage when the noddies and terns start using the boat as their roosting spot! On the last two nights we were invaded… and Anui got covered with bird poop! On Tuesday we left our reef paradise to return to the islands and reconnect with civilisation with appointments scheduled. The northerly breeze is still going though!
Some of you may well be wondering when we are heading south. We normally would aim to be below latitude 25S – roughly south of Bundaberg – by 1 November, but we won’t be. We are taking a punt that a cyclone won’t descend on us quite yet! Our departure is going to be later than usual because we are waiting for an important piece of gear to arrive at Airlie Beach. Let’s just say it will hopefully enable us to overcome the painful tennis elbow inflammation we have both developed from furling and unfurling our sails! More on this in a later post. Till then we hope you enjoy this mega reef adventure! And if you do, be brave and tell us so in a comment here! 😊