As the start of the official cyclone season is fast approaching, it is time to head south. We are warned that the outlook for summer is for a very wet season with an early onset of cyclones, so we won’t hang around in the tropics for too long. We are making a late departure from Cairns after completing our Far North Queensland Reef Adventure and getting our pussycat Bengie attended to at the Veterinary Clinic.
Bengie on the mend at last
Let’s start with an update on our furry crew member. She had been unwell for the last five weeks, and not herself for the past 6 months, but finally we got to the bottom of it. Cats when they are stressed by ‘something’ can present with blood in their urine. It is not necessarily an infection, and they can be given anti-inflammatories to calm things down, but until you diagnose the real problem, you are just chasing your tail. And for the past six months, she has displayed on-going ‘stress’ signs: cystitis, excessive grooming, loss of appetite and weight, and we have been worried sick about her.
We took her back to the veterinary clinic in Cairns we went to after our Coral Sea trip. The vet who saw her this time took a comprehensive history and did a full investigation. Urine and blood tests under sedation showed that she has the start of kidney disease – still mild at this stage – but ruled out any other nastiness. However the main culprit for her condition was found after a thorough check of her mouth. This revealed she had gingivitis, dental calculus, a few bad teeth and unbelievably bad breath! Why a proper oral check was not done during the previous three vet visits this year is beyond us, but at least now we know what we are dealing with and it explains the changes in her behaviour. She had tooth ache and was in pain all this time.
Bengie ended up staying at the Cairns Vet for several days for the investigation, to get the dental work done – clean up and tooth extractions – and to recover. They took good care of her. She is now back with us and we can hopefully look forward to a few more years of our girl being our gorgeous ship cat.
South we go
We picked up Bengie on Monday night and left Cairns on Tuesday. We were glad to escape the 32oC heat at 7am! With light ESE conditions, we started our descent south. Each day, we make an early departure, raise the main and jib and see where we can point, typically tacking between islands and reefs for 5 or 6 hours. We stop somewhere that allows us to snorkel at low tide in the early afternoon. We don’t cover a lot of distance, it is a leisurely pace.
Our first hop was to the Frankland Islands, an archipelago located about 5nm offshore and 35nm south-east of Cairns. The group’s five continental islands (High, Normanby, Mabel, Round and Russell) are uninhabited and surrounded by fringing reefs. Although we had anchored there before, it was always in windy conditions. Getting there on a calm day meant we could fly the drone and snorkel. As you can see it is a very scenic part of the coast.
Notice the slicks of algal bloom; no it is not coral spawn, it is Trichodesmium, also know as “sea dust”. The blue-green algal cells can join up to each other in long strings and thick clumps which become rather smelly as they decompose. One consolation is that to marine ecosystems, this particular ocean phenomenon is probably a major contributor of an essential nutrient: Nitrogen.
The fringing reefs around the Frankland islands are in reasonable condition. Being so close to the mainland, the water clarity is not good; there is a lot of sediment and algae but there were also some hard and soft corals, giant clams, and a few inquisitive fish like the Humphead Batfish and a little Remora who followed us everywhere. Here are a few images.
Next stop: Feather Reef
With a very light easterly breeze, we tacked down to Feather Reef, somewhere we had not been to before. We did not break any speed record on that run, but sailing slowly beats motoring!
Our aerial image shows an easy access for anchoring in 4m of water over sand at low tide, but it is not promising for snorkeling. We got in the water anyway to cool down as it has been very hot and muggy. The inside edge of the reef was sparse with a lot of algae and with the overcast sky, the light was not good. But still, we found some treasures.
Now you know what this is: another Nudibranch egg mass, probably that of a Dorid Nudibranch. This species of nudibranch looks fairly smooth, with a tuft of feather-like gills toward the back of the animal that are used to breathe. To show you what this type of nudibranch looks like we have included an example , a Quadricolor we spotted at Bait Reef a few years ago. But it may not be the one who laid the pink ribbon! Click on the individual image of the egg cluster to see the details.
Another find was the delicate Feather Hydroid. These are not plants but colonial animals that form feather-like plumes.
A motor to Britomart Reef
With no wind at all on Thursday, we motored to Britomart Reef, just north east of Hitchinbrook Island. One advantage: we caught a mackerel on the trawling line early in the morning. Fish filleted underway, nice dinner for a couple of nights!
We had not been to Britomart Reef before, so it was good to check it out. We arrived there in the middle of the day at low tide, in sunshine, 32oC heat and high humidity. It did not take long to get in the water to cool down.
We snorkeled on the outside edge of the reef. Unfortunately it showed signs of severe bleaching, with a lot of algae present and patchy cover. It was a sad sight and hard work in the current, so we did not last long.
By the time we got out of the water, the sky was threatening and thunderstorms were on their way. We had rain, thunder and lightning all night.
Once more, we are bypassing the Hitchinbrook Passage. We are not big on midges, mozzies and crocs on still days so are taking the offshore route. We will make it there one day, just not this season!
We are continuing our trek south, zig zagging between the coast and the reefs while the weather allows. We have light variable conditions for a few days, but also rain and more thunderstorms so we’ll see where we get to. In between posts, you can track us on PredictWind.