The Outer Reef

The Outer Reef

We pulled anchor and left Airlie Beach with the promise of epic diving in our heads. Syzygy followed along as we headed to Bait Reef 38 miles offshore. We found the unmarked entrance to the lagoon and picked up one of the Marine Park moorings. There is nothing above water to indicate an anchorage so from the surface it appears to be just a place in the open ocean, but below the sea the reef provides an excellent breakwater and pockets of good anchorage. 

Bait Reef is a jewel that the parks department protects very well. Anchoring and sewage discharge are prohibited and there are only five Marine Parks moorings so the impact of boating and diving is limited.

I have heard the entrance marker is missing so rely on the Nobeltec and a keen eye to find the entrance. We discover another American boat which did the Blue Water Rally, and although we had never met we did have many mutual friends. They are headed north also so we will pass again.

Before the boys on Syzygy arrive I take Susan on her first post certificate dive. We can pop right off Furthur and be in the midst of a trail of large “bommies” called the Stepping Stones. Bommies are large coral heads that form straight up from the floor and lay just below the surface, they are a heaven for tropical fish.

Just as Susan is about to drop off the swim step I see a four foot fish swim right under the boat, my first thought was shark. It turned out to be one of the many native tuna we will see. We drop down the mooring line into the warm, clear water. We see schools of large angle fish and a cornucopia of smaller species. The highlight of the dive is a eight foot eel dodging about the coral, rare to see on out of his cave in the daylight. We are also blessed with a few turtles swimming about.

The boys arrive, get the last mooring and we plan a night dive. I have spoken to the charter skipper moored on his private buoy next to us and he advises a night dive in the area between our boats. We gather on Furthur, fire up the torches and night sticks and drop into the black water off the stern. Night diving always adds to the mystic as you enter a world full of surprises.

We navigate towards the charter boat aided by their brilliant underwater lighting by following the line of the reef. Soon we are in the midst of a huge school of massive tuna dashing all around us. At first I think we have one or two really fast ones but soon it is discovered there are hundreds. We play with the fish for a long time, some come within inches of us.

Back on the surface we all agree the night dive was a huge success and regale in tales of the dark world. The next mooring we all pile in Grateful Diver (the dinghy) and head outside the reef in the morning sun. We are headed for Manta Ray Drop Off, the outer wall of the reef. Susan is the designated driver and the boys and I drop in the emerald water and descend to 100 feet along the wall. Again we are in the midst of a tropical fish wonderland and slowly work around the wall into a small indentation, Gary’s Lagoon. We explore the shallower area for a long time and end the dive again with huge smiles.

We do one more group dive around the Stepping Stones with all four of us diving out of Grateful Diver, an exercise in working in a small space. That night John and Justin bring over steaks, we prepare side dishes and we have a great feast that can only be enjoyed by the kind of hunger diving manifests. Turns out the boys are amongst the many Big Bang Theory fans and we watch several episodes all reeling in laughter.

We awake to a rolling world as the wind has shifted out of the west and picked up to 20mknots, we are now bouncing in 3 foot swells. We plan a hasty retreat and begin the 14 mile trip to shelter with 20 knots of wind right on the nose. Poor Furthur gets all salty but other than that it is a pleasant crossing. Syzygy raises the sails and does a less direct root but arrives in a few hours after us. We take to the lee of Hook Island and find a quiet retreat in Butterfly Bay.

The diving bug soundly implanted, Susan wants to dive right away and we have heard from our friends on Endless Summer that the rock at the entrance is a good dive. We pick up Justin to drive the boat and head for the rock. We make a clockwise tour of the site, descending to 80 feet in the midst of another brilliant array of tropical fish. As we round the tip of the rock I spot a movement to the right and my heart skips a beat as I see a large shark dash across our trail. I could not ID the species but he was much bigger than I am, in the 8-10 foot range. Sadly he does not make another appearance so I only get a flash.

Back on the boat in the still of the evening under a half moon we do another BBQ with the boys and, yup more BBT! Knock knock knock, Penny!

Big bang theory theme song

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,

Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait…

The Earth began to cool,

The autotrophs began to drool,

Neanderthals developed tools,

We built a wall (we built the pyramids),

Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries,

That all started with the big bang!