We had not been out to the Reef since the end of July and were hanging out for an opportunity to explore again with our cruising buddies on Oceaneer and Clair de Lune. It has been very blowy! But finally this last week we had a small two-day window of calm weather and we took it.
As we departed Cape Upstart and raised the main, it would not go to the top of the mast – bugger! We have a one line in-boom reefing system… wonderful when it works, but a pain when ropes jam inside the boom! After nearly an hour of fiddling, we gave up, left with one reef in the main and figured we would fix this later (which we did)! It was just as well we had a reduced mainsail as the conditions were rather fresh close to the mainland. We eventually caught up to our cruising companions. We all had a great sail and thankfully the wind eased as we neared the reef.
Our reef escapade took us to Stanley Reef, 30 nm offshore of Cape Upstart. We had been scouting Google Earth, Motion X, and a very useful feature on Navionics called Relief Shading, to make a list of possible targets. As you know we like sandy anchorages, not too deep, not too many bommies, with good protection from the reef wall… even better if there is a lagoon. It is really satisfying when all your research comes together, you mark promising spots, sail to them, enter the reef without drama and drop the pick pretty much where you were hoping it would be good.
This was very much the case at Stanley Reef. This reef has an oval shape with inky depths on the western side of an even deeper central channel running along a semi continuous wall with a maze of gutters on the eastern side. The channel gives access to a shallower sandy area near the southern wall. We followed each other inside, Anui leading the way, dodged a few bommies as we got further in and bingo, the three boats anchored in a lovely big patch of sand in 8 to 10 meters of water, just where we had hoped!
Stanley Reef is in a Green Zone, so no fishing is allowed. It is deep, there is quite a lot of current running everywhere, and the coral was not in great condition, but we had fun. The best snorkeling was near the entrance to the reef and we also checked out a few bommies near our anchorage. We saw a lot of big fish: the largest coral trout we have ever seen (1.3m), big cods, ugly big bumphead parrotfish with a mouth like a horse, beautiful and colourful steephead parrotfish, batfish, the odd shark… The nicest feature of the reef walls along the drop offs was the many elegant crinoids, those feather stars that come in shades of black, red, green and orange and filter the water for nutrients. And there were lots of tiny bait fish too. You swim among them and think “it’s raining fish”!
Here is a slide show with the pick of our underwater photos.
It has been interesting cruising in company. We pool resources, share experience and make a plan together. But each crew has to make their own decision and assessment of the conditions. In the end you might choose to tag along or do your own thing. Each crew has different levels of experience, attitude to risk, tolerance of discomfort, as well as priorities. We are the wise old owls, 15 to 25 years older than the other crews. It is just us two and Bengie on Anui, but the other two boats have young children to worry about. And yet it all works well. We enjoy the interactions with the kids and value the exchanges with the grownups, all this while doing what we love and putting our reef hopping experience to good use.
We are back on our own, having returned to Cape Upstart for a day to avoid the worst of a blow.
But being our usual reef addicts, and not keen on anchoring with a large number of boats at Magnetic Island, we have gone back out there in stronger conditions than ideal, hoping to be able to stay at a couple more spots we know and exploring new ones if the weather allows. Stay tuned for more reef hopping adventures!