On to the Great Barrier Reef

On to the Great Barrier Reef

We pulled anchor at day light and left the magic of Fraser Island behind us as we entered into Harvey Bay. In the right season the migration of Southern resident Humpback Whales make this an annual stop, unfortunately we were a few months early and did not see any. With a light following breeze we headed for Bundaberg and thoroughly enjoyed the calm warm sunny crossing, a great opportunity to reduce some tan lines. Ever pressing northward towards the equator the sun shines more and our spirits rise. Having grown very accustomed to tropical climates, I am glad to be back in the land of 20 degrees from the equator, my new natural habitat.

The town of Bundaberg lies up stream on the Burnett River and has a great port near the entrance to the river. We contacted the harbor master and were given a slip assignment. Upon arriving we discover that once again we are in the company of cruisers, boats from around the world gather here before venturing into the GBR. The marina is lovely and the staff very helpful. There is a great chandlery on site and they already have the BBQ burner I had ordered via phone waiting for me.

Back on land we take advantage of the long riverside track for morning runs. The first day is spent with usual chores, laundry catch up, service the gen and a thorough boat washing. The next day we make plans to go to town for needed supplies. I acquiesce to riding a bus, in spite of my bus phobia but once again the gods save me and I find a very cheap rental car right at the marina, whew close call.

I need propane and filling the horizontal BBQ bottle is always a challenge, the marina can fill my normal one but does not have the adapter to fill the BBQ tank so in the trunk it goes. This turns into a three hour saga, an eighty dollar ticket for an illegal U turn—curse the unmarked cop car—the following trip to the magistrate with police escort to pay the ticket and no less than five failed attempts to fill the tank by venders, all in the day of a cruiser. Knowing this is a rare opportunity to have a car, a boat at a dock and good dock carts we load up two shopping carts full of goodies at the super market.

Our main mission in coming to Bundaberg is to pick up the latest addition to the Furthur crew, Joanna. She is flying from Sydney and arrives just as we load the groceries. We pick her up, head to the boat and commence the massive loading of supplies. Joanna or Jo as I call her is a spunky mid twenties gal who brings an enormous energy, great cooking skills and many gigs of music to Furthur, oh and she is a fellow Dead Head to boot.

I am very anxious to get back to full cruising mode and push very hard to get away from the dock the next day in spite of some unfinished chores and forgotten purchases. I rise pre dawn and awake Kara, who bravely greats the morning and the ensuing chores that come with shifting from dock to anchor mode. Kara is not a “morning person” so her efforts and notable and appreciated. We enter the well marked channel in the dark and head to sea, only to come to the harsh realization that I have forgotten to return the car and dock keys, so back we go, so much for my pre dawn departure. Keys returned to the drop box, and again away we go.

Now a “sunrise” departure we great the glowing orb right in the face as we head Northeast to the Lady Musgrave Island. This will be the crews first real tropical Atoll and our real reentry into tropical cruising. It also marks the entry to the Great Barrier Reef, and the realization of yet another lifelong dream. We make the fifty mile crossing in ideal conditions, slight following breeze, seas rippled and sun shining. After the crew catches up on sleep, I get a real nice nap and then we are off to the wind sheltered bow for glorious sun tanning.

Tanner, warmer, well fed and happy we make the entrance to Lady Musgrave Lagoon as we pass through the well marked channel in calm conditions. Many recent and happy memories come to mind as I explain to the new crew the art of spotting coral heads and picking our way into the lagoon. A gleeful squeal comes from the bowsprit and a turtle swims by. As we enter we pass a departing sailboat and I hear them exclaim. “Friday Harbor!” as they read the hailing port on the transom. We do not get a chance to find out who recognized my home port, but noted the boat name if we see them again.

We drop anchor in 27 feet of clear water; oh the joy of clear water where you can see your anchor hit the bottom. First things first, I always say, as Kara and Jo perform the ceremonial leap from the upper bridge into the 80 degree water. This is a well established tradition that must be adhered to!

We all take a short swim around the boat then launch the dinghy, gather snorkeling gear and head out to explore. There is a small island amongst the reef and we beach the dinghy and do a short walk, then back in the boat for snorkeling. I drop the hook in the sand, carefully avoiding hitting any coral and over we go. As soon as I look around the bottom I see a turtle hanging around the anchor. We see several turtles, Kara sees a couple of white tip reef sharks and I see a school of squid. Not bad for a short swim.

We will be blessed with a filling moon this week and we all take an after dinner time to just soak up the big moon, the stars and the glory of where we are and what we are doing.

The next day starts with a blue sky and warm sun. Kara and I go for a scuba dive just outside the reef. It is so good to be diving again and I soak in the beauty of the coral and the reef fish. We do two other dives while here and enjoy them all.

A big front is coming with winds up to 35 knots, this along with the full moon high tides which reduces the protection of the reef inspire us to make a fast retreat to the mainland. We pull anchor just as the first light peaks over the eastern horizon and head out. The building southeast winds and seas make for a rolly beam sea ride so I alter course to take the 6-8 ft seas on the quarter. I would always rather a bit longer ride rather than be uncomfortable.

Australia has a great volunteer Marine Rescue system that mans radio stations along the coast. Mariners can “log in” when they leave a port giving boat details and destination then “log out” when they safely arrive. It is imperative that you do “log out” as if you do not they start looking for you. We “logged in” and then out when we arrived and then again as we left Lady Musgrave. Th is a completely volunteer group that is supported with infrastructure, vessels and training by the government. These guys are a real comfort when cruising the coast, good to know they are there.

We head for the nearest port, Gladstone, and secure moorage at the town marina by phone. Not much later I get a call from the harbor master changing us to an end tie as the wind is picking up, very nice of him to do this for us. We hit the town just as their big week long celebration is starting; we have a carnival with a ferris wheel right at the marina!!! And fireworks too!!! What a welcome.