Sunday, September 27, 2015

Michaelmas Cay - "Now I can PowerDive"!

On our last afternoon at Michaelmas Cay I (Ryan) went to dive school with Dad. It was awesome! We saw loads of clams and fishes. I had to wear a weight belt like Dad. We tested me with only one weight, but I still floated so I had wear two weights - each one was one kilogram.

We swam around the reef checking things out from a fish's perspective. There were Bat Fish and Parrotfish. I saw a whole group of at least two dozen Parrotfish munching away at the coral and you could hear them eating it like, Crunch, Crunch, Crunch, Crunch etc etc etc!

The coral was great, but I really liked finding a turtle and swimming slowly with it under water while taking this picture! It eventually swam away from us.

You have to be careful when you use the PowerDive or things can go wrong. Dad told me the key rules are:

1) Always dive with someone with experience;
2) Never dive too deep;
3) Clear your ears on the way down;
4) Breathe normally underwater; and
5) Never ever come up faster than your bubbles!

The strange thing about diving was that it was warmish up near the surface and cold down near the sea bed. I hope we can go diving again soon...

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Spur Reef - A day trip to the edge of the continental shelf...

After a few great days pottering about Michaelmas and 'Sand Castle' Cay we decided to try our luck on the outer reef. We detoured a little on our way to Spur Reef to clear the no fishing Green Zone and as we sailed past Onyx Reef we finally caught a Spanish Mackerel!

The anchorage on Spur Reef was rather exposed and the only sand patches we found were really deep so we ended up anchoring on loose coral rubble in about 10 metres. Our anchor held for a few hours while we snorkelled around at low tide.

The underwater visibility was much better on the edge of the continental shelf, but the shallow reef - best suited to snorkelling - had clearly taken a battering in recent years so we made our way back to Michaelmas Cay via Hastings Reef for another overnight stop...

Michaelmas 'Sand Castle' Cay - Another sand cay appears at low tide...

As the tide dropped one day we noticed a small sand cay appear on the horizon approximately 3 nautical miles away from Michaelmas Cay so we decided to up anchor and have a look.

Emily named the transient island 'Sand Castle Cay' after we built a small structure near the high point to see if it would survive the night. Unfortunately the high tide wiped out any trace of our castle! 

The reef around the cay was pretty similar to Michaelmas Cay with plenty of giant clams, soft corals and red fans.

However, we found more Clown Fish around 'Sand Castle Cay' than Michaelmas. Some of the Clown Fish were happy to come out and play while others preferred the shelter of their anemone homes...

We even found a gaggle of Garfish in the lagoon which reminded us of North East Herald Cay!

Michaelmas Cay - Underway life remains pretty cool...

We stayed a few days anchored behind Michaelmas Cay and enjoyed the snorkelling on offer. The underwater visibility varied dramatically depending on the tide and wave conditions. But there was always plenty for Eric to see.

The fish on some of the coral bommies to the north of the cay were pretty friendly and there were plenty of red fan corals on the deeper drop-offs.

The variety of textures and colours to be found around the cay was great and we all enjoyed seeing turtles again!

Michaelmas Cay - Lots of tourists, but still nice coral...

Michaelmas Cay has really changed over the years. What was once a relatively quite little sand cay covered in birds is now inundated by large numbers of tourists who arrive on mass at around 1000 each morning aboard sailing catamarans. The majority of the cay has also been roped off and there is a no access period that runs from 1500 until 0930 the next day.

While the changes are pronounced the giant clams of old remain plentiful on the reef around the island and the coral is quite nice with a good variety of hard and soft corals.

Sam really liked the abundant yellow flat soft coral and the hard lace corals so we decied to stay awhile to explore...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Kuranda - A great day trip...

We took the old train to Kuranda. The 11 heritage coaches were pulled by a 1720 class locomotive. ( I like that word, lo-co-mo-tive.) The trip was really awesome, first we went around this really big curve in the track, it was there so the old trains could build up speed and climb the mountain. Later on we passed Stony Creek falls which was E-P-I-C! Then we went through the last of the 15 hand-carved tunnels on the line, which was a bit freaky but still pretty cool.

We stopped at Barron Falls along the way and Dad took the picture below of us on the train...
Barron Falls was cool it dropped 265 metres :-()!

At Kuranda we visited the lollie shop and I (Emily) bought some Kuranda rock candy, YUM! We also visited the markets and the butterfly farm.

The butterflies loved Eric's orange shoes! They were very friendly and landed on our heads and shoulders and knees and toes! It was hard to walk as the butterflies kept flying in between your legs.

We took the SkyRail on the way back and it was E-P-I-C! We went above a wide river and there was so many trees you couldn't see the rainforest floor. Mum kept saying that it would stop and we would have to live off the rock candy and salted caramel fudge, which probably wouldn't be a HUGE problem.

 Kurunda was awesome! Ryan, Eric and I hope we can go back soon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cairns - A mega city in the north...

Well after the Coral Sea, Cairns was a mega city for the crew of Lucey Blue. We pulled into Marlin Marina and were slightly overwhelmed by the range of shops and the number of people cruising around the port district.

Nonetheless, Cairns has a great feel about it and everyone is really friendly. We spent time checking out bookshops, finding ice blocks and enjoying a nice meal or two. We even managed to send off all the schoolwork that had been backing up.

One of our favorite spots was Rusty's Markets. The range, quality and price of the fresh fruit and vegetables available every Friday, Saturday and Sunday is outstanding!

What a lovely spot to stop for a while...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

North East Herald Cays to Holmes Reef (or perhaps Cairns) - Have you every made a mistake that cascades?

Well like most of our great plans this one started one evening after dinner when we decided - for some reason - that we should probably relocate and explore somewhere new.

Sure we could stay at North East Herald Cay for another month or so, enjoying all that it had to offer before our fresh food ran out. But the temptation to explore somewhere new is always strong on Lucey Blue and perhaps at the next location we would also find some other yachts to share the adventure.

With our goal in mind we left North East Herald Cay just on sunset for an overnight sail to Holmes Reef with a triple reefed main and our blade jib. The weather forecast was for 20-25 SE winds with a low to moderate sea, but the conditions were predicted to strengthen over the next few days. No matter we thought as we would be safely tucked behind Holmes Reef before it got too uncomfortable or so said our theoretical plan!

The sail to Holmes Reefs was comfortable and we arrived in the early morning with 1.5 to 2 metre seas and about 25 knots of wind behind us. 

The only problem was no one had told us that all the sand cays at Holmes Reef had been blown away in the last cyclone. We arrived with grey overcast skies, surge rolling across the reef and surf where there should have been sand cays so we decided to update our plan and head for Cairns (with nowhere else to go within range).

Now an updated plan is a fine thing, but when conditions are forecast to deteriorate and you don't yet have clear idea of your passage through the Great Barrier Reef it's probaly best to take more than a few minutes to prepare for the next step.

We took less than a minute for a quick breakfast behind the Holmes Reef and then headed straight back out to sea while we calculated arrival times, tide and swell conditons at Grafton Passage. So what might happen next? 

Well the conditons deteriated as predicted and before long we had 30 to 40 knot SE winds and steep 3 to 3.5 metre breaking seas and the occasional larger swell. Even with a triple reefed main and unfeathered propellors Lucey Blue was hammering along at over 9 knots and surging down waves. The boat handled the seas really well and the crew were all ok - no one was seasick, but some were not feeling great as we crashed through the conditons towards Cairns.

At around 14:00 we lowered all sails and ran barepoled at 4 knots for a few hours to ensure we did not arrive at the continental shelf - where the sea bed raises from over a kilometer deep to about 60 metres - when a one knot tide was running against the sea. I am glad we took this extra step because at around 19:00 when we were still way out to sea in deep water the behavour of the waves changed markedly with sharp breaking waves regularly rolling over the deck and into the cockpit. With hindsight it would have been great to have taken the underwater camera outside in the conditions, but as Sam has said there will alway be another time...

We arrived at Grafton Passage with 35 knot SE winds at around midnight in total darkness with no moon and low clouds. We carefully turned side on to the sea and made for the sheltered water of the reef as quickly as possible all the while listening for rolling surf that might indicate a breaking wave was on its way...

Grafton Passage proved to be a perfect entrance that night and we were soon in relatively smooth waters on our way to Mission Bay just outside Cairns. We anchored at around 03:00 in 3 metres of water and were quickly asleep. The kids woke the next morning at 06:00 as if nothing had happened and indeed apart from some rather salty internal floors - a marker of a real ocean passage - no one would have know that some decisions cascade in rather unexpected ways...

Would we do it again? Absolutely, but perhaps we will decide to stay behind a nice sand cay next time the wind is predicted to rise!

North East Herald Cay - Perfect for playing around Lucey Blue...

We loved North East Herald Cay and its crystal clear water. Thus far we have not found a better spot for playing around Lucey Blue.

The only way to improve our playground would have been for someone to come and visit us with kids of the same age! Perhaps we will get lucky next time....

North East Herald Cay - Turtle Treasure Hunt...

On our strolls around North East Herald Cay we found several turtle skeletons. All were on the rocky windward side of the cay and it is possible that the turtles had been washed ashore in rough condtions and got stuck.

Emily and Ryan were keen to see if they could piece together a full skeleton to determine exactly the fate of the turtles. Unforturnately after an hour or so of searching and piecing together the evidence the story was no clearer. But it was an educational afternoon nonetheless...

North East Herald Cay - Hermit Crab Daily Migration

Each morning the beach at North East Herald Cay was subjected to an invasion of Hermit Crabs on their daily migration from the sea to the shady undergrowth of the small scrubs that lined the island.

The crabs were a funny bunch of characters - most were rather shy, but the larger ones tended to be a lot braver and in some cases even willing to engage strange creatures with cameras!

One of the strangest was a fellow we called Bluey. He was clearly innovative, but hopefully his current arrangement is only temporary and not a sign of the future...

No matter what house the Hermit Crabs had choosen all were welcome at the final resting place of their daily mirgation...