Monday, 30 September 2013

Perfect one day, super perfect the next.

The clear waters of Fitzroy Island offered plenty of swimming and snorkelling opportunities.
What an amazing week we have had with Stuart, Tina and the boys on board.
My last blog took in Day One at Upolu Reef and sand cay where the boys took to exploring the reef coral and fish like ducks to water.
By the end of the week, they had both mastered flippers but preferred their goggles to a mask and snorkel even though they could manage the latter OK.
After a perfect day at Upolu, we decided to have a couple of land days, taking a day trip to Mossman Gorge (a big hit with all of us), with a brief side detour into Port Douglas on the way back to the boat.
Mossman Gorge
Cairns lagoon, Cairns Botanic Gardens and Cairns water park were included in the weekend's day visits before we headed out to sea again on Tuesday morning.
The trampoline on the water at Fitzroy Island was a big hit.
Our skipper for the trip to shore.
Pausing for a chat in the dinghy.
Anchoring off Fitzroy Island enabled us to swim and snorkel off the boat or the beach, walk the bush paths to Nudey Beach and the Secret Garden, give the little boys their first fishing experience, use the water trampoline and go out to dinner at the resort restaurant before making our way back to Sea Piper via dinghy in the dark. Very exciting.
Off to dinner on-shore with Midget and the newly knitted Perchy.
Even more exciting was catching a rosy jobfish (Sonny), a golden snapper (Alexander) and two stingrays!
Rosy jobfish for Sonny.
Patience paid off for Alexander who caught a golden snapper after two stingrays.

Note the tail on this stingray. It was a tricky business getting him unhooked but he finally managed to swim off undamaged.
Add to that the most perfect weather imaginable with beautiful clear days and hardly a breath of wind to ripple the sea. In fact it was so still we weren't able to raise a sail for the entire week.
It was a shame to have to head back to the marina last Friday in preparation for the junior Webbs to fly out at lunchtime Saturday.
To delay the moment, we anchored off Yorkeys Knob and the boys did a bit of fishing resulting in the catch and release of three small sharks, an exciting and memorable end to the holiday.
Shark number two - or maybe three.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Superb day at the reef

Day one: Perfect for a visit to the Great Barrier Reef.
The pictures say it all.
Upolu Cay coming out of the water at low tide.

Off to the cay

Alexander `snorkelled' for kilometres at the reef.

Almost back at the marina after a day at the reef.

Alexander's friend Midget had another adventure to add to his story.

Beach babes

What a feeling!

This big angel fish was named Gurgo because of his habit of regurgitating food.

Watching `Gurgo'

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Smooth smooth sailing


We delayed departure from the Bloomfield River by a day to miss the blustery south-east/north-east conditions on Monday.
It paid off.
Yesterday's trip southwards towards Cairns could not have been smoother or more favourable.
We lifted anchor around 6am to get out of the river mouth at the approach of high tide. Greeting us was the rising sun and a glassy sea with a slight swell rolling in from the north to carry us forward.
Passing Cape Tribulation.
With just one motor ticking over at 1600 revs, we were making over six knots, gliding past Cape Tribulation within two hours.
It is remarkable how much clean hulls contribute to the boat's speed. Each year as we leave the slipway, we think we must be imagining it but you can actually feel the lack of drag from marine growth on the hull.
Out of the Green Zone around Cape Tribulation, the mackerel lines came out. The first hit was successfully landed, while the second hit made it to the back step before jumping free.
Never mind. Plenty for dinner.
Winding in a mackerel.
Because we were making such good time, we pulled into Low Isles at lunchtime for a last swim and snorkel before Rob and Leigh leave us on Thursday. Anchoring in the lagoon at almost low tide (0.3m), we could just about walk on the bottom over to the reef. Leigh and I saw several turtles and plenty of big fish including coral trout and trevally. We did note that last year there were lots of small reef sharks whereas this year there appears to be one big one who, both times we've been here, circled the boat several times the moment the anchor hit the bottom. Hmm! Slightly disconcerting.

Approaching Snapper Island near the mouth of the Daintree and just north of Low Isles.
As we lifted anchor, the predicted north-nor'easterly breeze arrived so up went the main sail and Code Zero and again we romped along at between six and seven knots but this time under sail - a beautifully peaceful way to travel.
Our intention was to anchor off Double Island (opposite Palm Cove) so as to enter the Moon River (and Bluewater marina) on this morning's high tide, however the nor'easterly had caused an unpleasant swell to develop and with no protection from it we rang the marina and came in on last night's high tide instead.
So here we are in Bluewater once again, ready to farewell Leigh and Rob, and then greet Stuart, Tina and the boys tomorrow.
Anchored in the Bloomfield River.

Fingers crossed these beaut conditions continue for another week or more.

If you look closely there's a big croc on the bank behind this yacht.
Walking into Ayton (general store, community centre, campground) from the Bloomfield River.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A piece of Paradise

Hope Island East
The Hope Islands are best described as a little piece of Paradise. Pristine waters teeming with fish and trees teeming with birdlife. Throw in some coral reefs and bommies, white sand and huge schools of bait fish and you have it.
The Hope Islands lie about halfway between Cape Tribulation and Cooktown. We arrived there on Thursday and were lucky enough to pick up one of two moorings provided by Marine Parks.
But I've jumped ahead a bit far and will go back to where I left off my previous blog when we arrived in Port Douglas.
We spent our two nights in Port Douglas marina and had some fun with Mischelle Schiller (Maude) and `Woodend' Jenny who were having a girls' week in PD.
On Monday morning it was an early start to be around at the slipway for Sea Piper's 7am haul out.
Going up on the hardstand at Port Douglas slipway.
This went smoothly and we were able to hook into stripping the hulls of residual marine growth pretty promptly after they'd had a high pressure hose down.

Leigh and Rob arrived around 11am after a super early start in Melbourne to catch their 6am flight. They were greeted with stainless steel scrubbing brushers and scrapers.
Thank goodness they came to help us. It made the work go so much faster and we got heaps done including three coats of anti-foul on the hulls, each coat taking less than two hours.
Scraping and sanding off old antifoul is foul work.

Taking a break under the boat. Note those shiny props and prop shafts. Good work Rob!
We couldn't have picked a better week to be off the water. Every day it poured with rain and the winds varied from 30 to 38 knots. It was horror for those at sea. While for us it meant waiting for a reasonable weather break to paint but getting the decks washed down constantly - meaning less slipway muck in and on the boat. It also meant we had no midges which PD is renowned for.
Sea Piper was ready for re-launching by Friday morning's high tide and now glides through the water with no resistance from barnacles and weed.
We returned to the marina for two nights while the weather continued to howl then moved into the creek on Monday as it improved.
With a much improved forecast we headed out to Low Isles on Tuesday morning and had a great time swimming and snorkelling with fish and a curious turtle which kept eyeballing Leigh.

This curious turtle swam with us for ages, taking a particular fancy to Leigh.
To fly .. or not to fly. This young osprey wasn't too sure.

The following day we woke to a young sea eagle perched on top of our mast. It looked like it was a bit nervous about flying and was there until a few minutes before we set sail northwards for Mackay Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef, out from Cape Tribulation.
Mackay Reef sand cay.

Mackay Reef has a sand cay which offers a bit of overnight protection in good weather. It was a bit tricky picking a path though the stands of reef to get to a reasonable anchorage but eventually we dropped the pick then went to check out the sand cay and the surrounding reef, with not another human in sight. So beautiful and capped off by having a whale emerge not far from the boat - it was the second we'd seen that day.
With the wind in our favour we set sail the next day for the stunning Hope Islands. These compromise two islands surrounded by kilometres of reef. One is inaccessible in a boat the size of ours but the eastern island offers a narrow safe passage from the north, keeping a good lookout for those stray bommies that seem to appear out of nowhere.
We celebrated arriving at the northernmost sea point of our three years on the boat as well as Leigh's most northernmost point land or sea.
On our first walk around the tiny island we came across a group from the mainland who were cutting up three turtles to take back to their mainland community - a very smelly business.
There was also a heap of pumice washed up on shore. We'd seen this at Low Isles as well and discovered it is from an underwater volcano that erupted north of New Zealand in June last year. At one point the pumice formed a 600 square metre raft drifting about 2 nautical miles off Low Isles. The raft was evidently several thousand square metres initially and was spotted from an airplane.
Pumice from the underwater volcano off New Zealand.
During our two days at the island there was a constant movement of bait fish in huge black circles. We took the bait net to shore and the boys set to teaching themselves to cast a bait net. Their first attempt was the most successful. The second most successful haul was when we took a point of net each and ran through the school of fish!

The big black patch is a school of bait fish
We said goodbye to Hope Islands yesterday and headed towards the mainland and the Bloomfield River, stopping briefly at Cedar Bay where Joh Bjelke-Petersen had a hippie commune destroyed in the 1970s, using subtle methods like a naval vessel, a helicopter, light aircraft and Customs agents to tie the residents to trees and then wreck and burn their homes. We had to wait for the tide to be three quarters on the rise to enter the Bloomfield River whose entry is difficult to spot from the sea. We ended up anchoring off and the boys took the dinghy in to check out the depths and the channel in.
Safely anchored and with drinks in hand on the back deck we were treated to a pod of dolphins and a big croc cruising the river.
Croc country

Bloomfield River
Today we've been to shore and walked into the nearby town of Ayton, which has one shop, a community centre cum library and a campground.
Returning to the boat ramp at low tide we noted the big crocs stretched out along the mud flats. The boys took our dinghy back to Sea Piper while Leigh and I managed to get a lift in a good sized tinnie with Bob the barfing dog, but that's another story.
Nice work girls!