Reef Addicts’ Gathering!

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.

Spearfisherman extraordinaire!

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

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! 😊

32 thoughts on “Reef Addicts’ Gathering!

  1. Great to see your pics Chris. It was so colourful out there and your photos highlight that. Love the one of Wade with his spear gun! Fingers crossed for some of the Southern Reef. Off to Middle Percy this morning. Bossa

    • It was hard to keep the number of images in the post under control! So many beautiful creatures and sights… Safe sailing south. We will follow hopefully mid next week.

  2. OMG Those underwater photos are amazing….. another reason to upgrade my waterproof (huh) camera to something a bit better (but not as fancy as yours). Mine got a bit of water in the battery/disc area yesterday so may be telling me it is time to get another. Enjoy the north while you can, we’ve earned an extended season this year!

    • Thanks Trish, the combo of the Olympus TG6 in the Ikelite housing and the dome lens makes a big difference as does hours of editing in Lightroom to clean up the backscatter and bring out the best in the images. Worth getting a housing even for so called underwater cameras as it ensures no salt water gets in! I drowned my last Olympus.

  3. Looks like you are having a lot of fun! Fantastic pictures, all! Enjoy yourselves and shoot more pictures, Chris. 🙂

  4. Great pics of the reef – we tend to only get bad news on the health of the coral.

    • Hi Roger- we have seen a level of deterioration each season at the outer reef. There are areas of rubble everywhere we go, and diminished coral cover, but Little Black and in particular Block Reef were quite healthy.

  5. Wow Chris amazing photography and great content. Of course I wished I was there, however, it inspires me for future journeys north. Special hugs to you both from us and look forward to catching up with you down Sth.

    • Oh Janis, I haven’t been able to do any quilting or hand dies since living on board and I do miss that. But there are so many inspiring sights for design, watercolour painting, drawing, with endless textures, patterns, graduations of colour…

  6. Hi Guys, fantastic pics! Looks like you had a great weather window for the outer reef. We will hopefully make it up that way mid next year and will definitely check out Little Black and Block reefs.

  7. Gobsmackingly beautiful and clear pics, clarity no doubt helped by the calm conditions? Love the red barbershop bimini too …. very creative ….. use it as a sail if the wind’s right?
    We look forward to your next installment!

    • Hi Elgar – calm, settled conditions certainly help with clarity, and being far enough offshore. The ‘bimini’ is Neville’s invention to protect himself from the burning sun! He does not dive and follows Amanda in the dinghy. We tend to be in the water for an hour at a time, so we reckon he should get a medal for patience!

  8. Gah…what magic you captured in these photos! We cannot wait to get up that way eventually. Until then, we’ll love vicariously through you! Also, what drone do you have?

      • Thanks! And that is wonderful to hear! Given that you’ve spent so much time on The Reef, it gives me hope, too.

        How far south do you intend to sail this year…? I’m sorry it never worked out to meet up when you were in Melbourne earlier this year. Here’s to hoping perhaps our paths cross one day!

        -Jessie

      • We intend to stay in QLD as we don’t want to risk getting stuck again with COVID. Maintenance at Boat Works in Coomera then back up to Fraser Island with a few dashes to the southern Reef when the weather looks right.
        What’s the plan for you?

      • I cannot blame you! What a year it’s been…

        Red Thread is in Tassie, and we haven’t been able to get to her since March due to COVID. In the big scheme of things and the struggles of so many, this is trivial, but it has been really difficult as she is our place of peace and rejuvenation. We’re crossing fingers that we can fly down the week of Christmas (and have pre-emptively booked tickets) for a month aboard, which will involve a haulout and some major TLC for her…and hopefully some peaceful moments at anchor, too. We intend to keep her there for a couple years before who knows what…!

  9. Amazing underwater shots, Chris. I was especially intrigued and enchanted by your shots of the giant clams. I really liked the drone shots. Most of the places where I go don’t permit drones and I fear I would lose a drone if I had one–I can’t imagine the pressure of trying to land one while on a boat.

    • Thanks Mike. The vibrant patterns and colours of the clams really stand out, don’t they. Re the drone shots, it seems we have less restrictions here than you do in the US but we still have to be cautious. At least at the Reef or at deserted beaches it is less of an issue. I am very much a beginner with flying the drone and was shaking like a leaf the first few times I launched it from the boat. The key is less than 10 knots wind and lots of practice.

  10. Lovely shots Chris, you are getting brave with the drone. Safe travels down south. Did you get the sail winch so you don’t get hurt?

    • Hi Sue – getting more comfortable with the drone. It is easier in very calm conditions. Still waiting for the right angle drill. It is taking for ever to get here and with the state of our arms and distance we need to cover we have no choice but to wait! We hope we get it this week.

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