South via the Southern Reefs

After a week of strong SE spent at Mackay Harbour, the easterlies then northerlies returned, and although only for a little while, it allowed us to make some progress south! But we have one complaint, it is either blowing hard in the wrong direction or not blowing much in the correct one which means more motor-sailing than we would like.

First, Island Hopping

We left Mackay last Thursday, sailed to Scawfell Island and stayed there for two days, waiting for the wind to switch from SE to NE.  

Refuge Bay, Scawfell Island
Aptly named Refuge Bay, Scawfell Island

From Scawfell we normally take three days to get down to the Keppel Isles. Instead we did two long hops: 70nm to South Percy, 90nm to North Keppel Island. From there we headed for the Southern Reefs, an 80nm passage.

As we sailed past Middle Percy Island we could see half a dozen boats stern to West Beach. Why they anchored there instead of going around to the SW corner, who knows. We could have anchored in the usual spot but decided instead to push on another few miles to South Percy and anchored at the SW end of the island, in front of the steep rocky beach. Our new find worked very well. We dropped the pick in 8m of water over sand and had a calm night there. We sent the drone up once settled and discovered there is a hidden lagoon – no you can’t get in there, it is enclosed, even at high tide.

Looking north, with Middle Percy in the distance
Can you see the lagoon?

It was a stupid o’clock departure the next morning at 4.00am, to cover the distance to Considine Bay, North Keppel Island and take advantage of the 10-15 breeze. We were sailing well for the first few hours, but then the wind died and the tide turned. Our sails were decorative only for ages, until the last two hours when it picked up to what it was forecast to do!

Considines Bay, North Keppel
Panoramic of North Keppel Island

Once at the Keppels, you can choose to go the coastal route or if the conditions are right, the offshore way. With coral spawning and turtle nesting happening, you can guess what we did. It was another pre-dawn departure from North Keppel Island and what a light show it was! There is something about colourful sunrises that makes you feel content.

Leaving North Keppel
Sunrise over Outer Rock

Then, Lagoon Hopping

I know we said in the last post that we would not laze around at the Southern Reefs, but hey, we are reef addicts and have time to kill before we need to be at the Gold Coast. So why not?

Finding a good spot to shelter at the reef in northerlies is difficult. Most reef anchorages are protected from south easterlies, not from north easterlies or north westerlies. So we wanted to end up at one of the lagoons – Fitzroy or Lady Musgrave – and definitely be there for the forecast SE change on Thursday, with potentially 25+knot gusts. Of course most yachts roaming around the reefs at this time of year have the same idea so the lagoons are busy anchorages!

We made it all the way to Fitzroy Reef in good time and with the sun still high enough to negotiate the tricky lagoon entrance. With 10 other yachts inside when we arrived, we found ourselves a great spot at the eastern end of the lagoon. We are anchored in 2.5m of water at low tide in clear sand, well away from everybody!

Fitzroy Reef Lagoon on a busy day

We had plenty of time to snorkel and spearfish, trying different areas along the reef wall. Overall we saw lots of fish, but the coral was in poor condition. Some areas are better than others however we are resigned to the fact this reef is a shadow of what it used to be.

To keep honing our skills underwater, we have been working on our technique, even taking part in an online challenge to double our breath hold with Ted Harty of Immersion Freediving. Every little improvement helps.

Wade who is pretty comfortable down deep already and is a proficient spearo, caught us several Coral Trout and a Painted Sweetlip. We have dinners sorted for a while.

Chris focused her attention on capturing different Anemonefish. Any day you come across these feisty critters is a good day. And we had lots of good days! You spot the anemone, you dive down, get closer, and wait… and wait… and wait some more for the little anemonefish to come out of hiding. You press the camera trigger and they dart out of sight! So you surface, take a few breaths and do it all again. The longer you can stay down, the better your chance of a decent shot, hence the breath-hold work.

First, there were the Pink Anemonefish. Do click on the first image in the gallery to get a good look at the details. The colour of the fish is so similar to the anemone that sometimes all you see is two beady eyes staring at you!

A few dives later, more anemonefish, this time an Orangefin Anemonefish family in the most beautifully patterned host.

As we post this, we are still at Fitzroy Reef, having weathered the blow and thunderstorm in our shallow anchorage without drama.

One of us got in the water during the blow for some fun with over/under shots. It was very choppy!

We are intending to move to Lady Musgrave to check out the turtles. It is nesting season, so get ready for a turtle overload in the next post!

8 thoughts on “South via the Southern Reefs

  1. Definately agree with the comment of blowing too hard, or not enough in the wrong direction….has us stuck if we don’t want an uncomfortable ride. Can’t wait to see turtles…I am a turtle junkie! Sail (motor) safe.

  2. Loving the perspective of the drone shots. It sure looked lumpy in the over/under shots, with Anui appearing to be leaping out of the water!

  3. Beautiful photos, guys! Anui has a very shallow draft for such a large bot. 2.5 meters is skinny water for her. Safe travels. 😎🇦🇺

    • Hi John Anui has a 1.3M draft so 2.5 depth is fine, just unusual for us though. We had a large area of clear sand as you can see on the drone shot, so all good!

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