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!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story!!