We are back! After a remarkable three weeks adventure in the Coral Sea when we often ran out of superlatives to describe what we were experiencing and seeing, we have a lot to share and have decided to do this over several posts.
For this first article in our Coral Sea 2022 Voyage series, we give you an overview of this memorable journey: the itinerary we ended up following, our overall impressions and a sneak preview of some of our photographs. So take your seasickness tablets, get your sea legs ready and let’s go!
We had no particular plan and were very much at the mercy of the weather. Our wish was to make East Diamond Islet our first stop and Cairns our return point. What came in between was decided along the way based on wind strength and direction, how we felt and what appealed to us! We had Windsong II crewed by Simon and Amanda as travelling companions.
This is the path we followed:
We thought we would mention that all aerial photos we will show in this series of posts were taken with a drone permit issued by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
We were struck by the vastness, colours and wildlife at East Diamond Islet, part of the Tregrosse Reefs, and the duality: the quantity and variety of birds around the cay, their loud cries, contrasting with the silence and desert feel of the underwater world. We stayed there in calm then windy conditions. We felt safe and comfortable.
The next leg was a 70nm day hop to Chilcott Islet in the Coringa Group on 12th August. We stayed there only two days, wanting to use the more settled conditions to travel further and see more. We also found the anchorage amongst the bommies quite rolly, but were glad we stopped, lured by the astounding bird life.
Third hop of 50nm was on 14th August to the beautiful North East Herald Cay where we stayed for three days then moved a short 5nm further to neighbouring South West Cay for two days. These two were our absolute favourites of the voyage: varied, protected, stunning, a naturalist’s paradise.
On 20th August we continued northwest to Holmes Reef, an 86nm trip. This was as far north as we wanted to go, being aware that the trade winds are very strong if you go north of Cairns too early. Being there in strengthening conditions, we did not explore as much as we would have liked but found the anchorage reasonably well protected.
With stiff trade winds for the next 10 days, we decided it was time to head back to the coast, taking advantage of a 24 hour reprieve in the wind. For our last Coral Sea hop we headed West towards Fitzroy Island on 23th August, crossing the Great Barrier Reef between Moore and Milln Reefs. It was a smooth and fast 115nm passage. We are still there but will make our way to Cairns in a few days.
We were gone for three weeks, covered 626 nautical miles, were thrilled by the seascapes we discovered, the clarity of the water and the wildlife that let us come so close, unafraid. But we were terribly disappointed by the state of the coral reefs.
When we reflect on the voyage, a few different observations come to mind – in no particular order…
You get a definite “middle of nowhere” feel so far away from the mainland. Once beyond the Reef, there is no sight of land. We had been well offshore before during our Lord Howe voyage and multiple visits to Tasmania, so we knew what to expect, but it particularly gets you once you are anchored in front of a tiny cay, no more than a few meters in height or just behind a sliver of reef! We saw no one at any of the anchorages. You feel a long way from it all which suited us fine.
The Coral Sea feels very different to, say, the Southern Ocean. It is quite choppy. Whether during upwind or downwind runs, calm or fresher weather, the ride is not totally smooth and the ocean can be reminiscent of a Bass Strait Crossing, with waves or chop coming at you from all directions. This is likely the result of southeast trade winds against the East Australian Current.
The water clarity out in the Coral Sea is wonderful, rarely below 30m, but unfortunately the coral reefs under the surface range from totally destroyed to very poor. This was the worse we have ever seen.
What compensated for the reef tragedy was the abundant and fascinating bird life. Surprisingly you can be anchored near an island with many thousands of birds nesting and roosting, and the boat remains clean of bird poo. But go behind a reef with no cay, and birds appear from nowhere, make a b-line for your boat at night and you wake up to the sight of guano covering your once pristine deck!
You do a lot of deep listening: the birds, the wind, the ocean. We were curious about what we would find out there and have been thrilled by what we have experienced. This trip will leave us with lasting memories and we have learnt a few things along the way as you always do. But the most outstanding impression was that Windsong and Anui were but tiny specks in a vast seascape.
The adventure has rekindled a desire for more exploration and will be the first of a few far-fetched voyages to the Coral Sea.
Series of posts coming up!
Since we were not able to share posts on our website while offshore, we have decided to post three times a week on our blog for the next fortnight so you quickly experience some of what we saw during this voyage. Once done we will get back to our weekly rhythm.
We will also be publishing the full Cruise Story of this wonderful voyage retracing our steps and sharing many more photos. Stay tuned for this in the next few weeks.
Do join us in a couple of days for a stay at East Diamond Islet. And please send us your comments. We have missed the interaction with you and look forward to getting your reactions, impressions and questions.