We have turned back! We have taken advantage of a longer bout of light northeasterlies and gone south.
We left Cairns on 8 October doing about 30 to 50 nm hops daily along the reefs and reached the Whitsunday Islands 10 days later. Rather than give you a blow by blow of our trek, we will focus on the highlights. You can read the full cruise story when we have compiled it at the end of the year. This is a longer post, so make yourself comfortable, grab your beverage of choice and enjoy the virtual reef hop.
This has been our itinerary (follow the orange line) spread over two sat maps as we have covered a lot of distance – about 340 nm!
Anui has been doing a great impersonation of a motorboat as the breeze was just too light in the morning to sail. In fact the only sailing we did was the leg from Fitzroy Island to Milln Reef and the one from Fairy Reef to the Stonehaven Anchorage on Hook Island! The new engines have been getting a serious workout! And by the way we can now say we made the right decision with the purchase of two 54hp Yanmars. We have a powerful boat, whether sailing or motoring! We typically motor on one engine at 7 knots, only turning both on to come in and out of anchorages to save on fuel.
We fell into a routine. We would head out by 6am each day, travelling 4 to 7 hours in the morning, to arrive at our next anchorage by lunch time with the best possible light. We’d fly the drone to check out our surroundings before the wind picked up too much which generally happened well after we had anchored. We’d then go for a snorkel and spearfish wherever allowed. Later in the afternoon Chris would develop the photos, Wade would deal with the fish catch, we would plot the next hop.
Since most of the reefs have protection from the southeast trade winds, they provide some shelter when going north. However it can be a challenge to find reef anchorages protected from the NW to NE! So we have had to scout among the satellite images to discover possies on the way south with a backup if when we got there we didn’t like what we saw, as happened at Big Broadhurst. Five out of the eight reefs we stayed at were new to us. All but one we had to ourselves!
We were also lucky with the tides, typically leaving each anchorage at high water which gave us a safety margin as we followed our track out, and arriving at close to low or just past it which made it easier to negotiate the bommies and enjoy the afternoon at each new site.
Okay, we did not exactly go south on this one, but could not resist the straight sail out of Fitzroy Island. As it turns out, this was the one and only sail we had while reef hopping! We had been to Milln a few times before, so knew what to expect. We picked up the public mooring but would have been happy to anchor.
The reef is recovering well from storm damage and heat stress with thriving marine life. Milln is in a green zone and on the outer line of the GBR. It helps a lot! We had a beautiful snorkel up the gutters and around lovely bommies to the right of the boat in the photo. We had fun with a Bumphead Parrotfish who let us come very close and a little Remora which as usual was keen on investigating us. Have you ever heard people laugh underwater?
Fore and Aft Reef (SE Flank)
This spectacular anchorage was new to us. It is not for the faint hearted as you have to come into a nook in the reef, drop the pick in sand in deeper water than ideal surrounded by reef and bommies. There is only room for one boat. Normally, you anchor along the wide open beach-like sandy edge on the NW side of Fore and Aft. It was tight but oh so special! It also meant we were on the best flank for snorkeling.
We went straight off the boat and roamed around the big bommies nearby. The best pinnacle was the one with the deep gutters through it in the image above. Here is our reward for being brave:
This reef was on our must see list so we were delighted to have the conditions to stop there. Arriving at Faith at low tide is a sight to behold. It is a very pretty anchorage with the quintessential mix of aqua, sapphire and deep ultramarine of the water contrasting with the amber and ochre of the reef platform and pinnacles. Our blue anchoring hole was just big enough for one boat. It was stunning. We felt cocooned by the reef, surrounded by beauty. We went for a long snorkel straight off the boat again which is always magic.
Sadly the coral inside the inlet has been absolutely smashed by storms and is drab. There is also evidence of some recent crown of thorn starfish damage with bleached coral and a few culprits still around. Yet there is plenty to see and an abundance of fish life. We snorkeled both inside the inlet and on the outside flank of the reef which was in much better nick as is often the case. Schools of fusiliers, spotted sweetlip, a few maori wrasses, trout, angelfish as well as the smaller damsels and clownfish were plentiful. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and spent a very comfortable night there.
Another new one we had on our radar for a while, Fairey Reef is a large lagoonal reef with a tight entrance subject to strong currents. We went right inside, targeting a shallow sandy area to anchor in. The feeling you get is one of vastness. The reef flats are broad and a dark umber colour, the lagoon is big with a number of obvious coral pinnacles to negotiate. This was a very comfortable anchorage, even when the wind picked up.
This is unfortunately another reef which has been smashed by storms, but being in a green zone, the fish life is abundant: big maori wrasses, sweetlips, trout, iridescent angelfish, and many other species which are less nervous around divers. We stayed inside the lagoon for our snorkel. There was a fair amount of current even inside.
We have been incredibly lucky to cover this stretch from Cairns to the Whitsundays entirely along the reef rather than via the coast and to explore five new spots. Of course not all were as beautiful as the ones we have covered in this post, but that is the way it goes. You never know until you try. Apart from enjoying superb locations, we have also gained more experience at negotiating our way around reefs, identifying safe anchorages from satellite maps and have fed our addiction!
We are in the Whitsundays until the end of the month and will go back out to the reef if the weather allows. We are going through a period of severe storms, with thunder, spectacular lightning and huge hail stones! Not a good time to be close to hills, nor out at the reef! We are waiting for the conditions to ease.
We have just re-provisioned, refueled and organised a date for the mechanics at Mackay to get our new engine controls fitted. This was left unfinished after our repowering of Anui since after two and a half months at the shipyard, we had decided to deal with this on the return south. We are scheduled for the works on 1 November.