Epic sunset our first night out.
Let's see... where to begin. Rutea left Bundaberg at 0dark30 the morning after Emma and I finished a detail on a friends' boat. We currently have an extra crew on board -- Mom's best friend from San Diego (and my friend as well), Mary. We headed for Lady Musgrave Island, "the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef", but I must admit I had rather low expectations.
Lady Musgrave is an atoll so we had the pleasure of taking Rutea through the pass, and although it was narrow it was easy enough. And, bam! just like that, we were back in the glassy, electric blue waters that I had missed so much. After setting the anchor and a bit of lunch, Mary, Mom and I jumped in the water for a snorkel. Unfortunately Dad's neck and arm were hurting him, so he didn't join us, but he didn't miss much.
I was pretty bummed to find most of the coral on the bommie we swam over to dead or bleached. There were still lots of fish, but I have only heard ravings about the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and I expected to be blown away. Fortunately, we must have picked the worst bommie in the lagoon to snorkel on because the following day we went to the barrier reef of the atoll and it was stunning.
Before we even got in the water I could see through the glassy surface that the coral was vibrant and bright. After anchoring the dinghy and suiting up, I rolled backward into the water only to be greeted by a rather surprised white tipped reef shark. He looked at me, I looked at him, he decided I was not to be trifled with and swam away.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a reef shark, as they are indicators that the reef is healthy. There were huge patches of lettuce leaf coral, tabletop coral, staghorn coral, soft corals... Parrot fish, angel fish, snapper, grouper and tang. I was also pleasantly surprised to see two massive sea turtles hanging around the reef. One of them must have been well over 50 years old. His shell was covered in moss and cracked, his flippers huge and gnarled, and the look in his eye said, "I've seen your type before and I know you can't eat me, so piss off." I swam with him for a while before heeding his advice.
It wasn't surfing, but I can't begin to describe how good it felt to be in warm, clean, clear water again. I am out of practice free diving but still managed to get down to 25 feet or so (that's about as deep as the lagoon gets). I am still coping with the fact that I might not surf for a long time yet, and although I have dreams of longing, I will try to focus on diving as deep and gracefully as I can to stave off the cravings.
I like to chase turtle..
The rest of the afternoon was filled with more snorkeling and scrubbing the bottom of the boat. In the evening there was a dinghy raft up/cocktail party in the middle of the lagoon which was fun but unfortunately Dad still wasn't feeling well so he didn't go and unfortunately the wind had picked up so the dinghies were all bouncing around and getting us all very wet.
Still more unfortunately was that night the wind picked up to 30 knots, and has been solid 20-25 knots with gusts up to 35 knots for the past week now. As you probably know, there is not much to hide behind in an atoll, so all there was between us and the wind-whipped ocean was a barrier reef, which is covered by water at high tide. For the next three days we rode out the wind, confined to the boat except for a swim or two to neighboring boats. Nothing like swimming across a lagoon in 30 knot winds with 2 foot wind chop to get the adrenaline going.
Anybody up for a swim?
But even more unfortunate than the weather was the fact that Dad's arm seemed to be getting worse. After three days of intense pain, we decided to get him to a doctor. However, this is no easy feat when sailing out in the boonies. We left Lady Musgrave on Wednesday, sailed all day, stayed the night in a horribly rolly anchorage at Cape Capricorn (one of the rolliest of my life), and arrived at the marina in Yeppoon on Thursday.
By Friday evening we had been to at least four different doctors and determined that no, we won't have to amputate his neck. This is a good thing, as Mom and I have been (trying) to do most of the sail changes and it's hard work! Everything on Rutea is so damn heavy that I can hardly sheet in the genoa by myself. Anyway, it's a work in progress.
As for Yeppoon, well, um, I can't say it is a gem of Australia. That being said, it is a huge relief to have access to quality medical care in a place where everybody speaks English. Mom, Mary and I have explored the town thoroughly, hiked the lookout and walked the beach. There were actually surfable wind waves on the beach by the marina, but we are getting into not only box jellyfish territory but salt water crocodile territory, and I am not keen to make acquaintances with either. Not to say we can't go in the water at all, but the waters on the mainland are generally more dangerous.
Speaking of dangerous, we plan to leave Yeppoon tomorrow and head north to Port Clinton as a stop on our way to the Whitsundays. We heard from another boat that a croc was recently sighted there
and yachties are being told to stay on their boats, not swim or walk on the beach. Yikes. Feels like we're finally getting into the outback, mate! I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.