Friday, 28 September 2018

Wonderful Indonesia

We've now been in Indonesia well over two months; we've seen a lot but there is so much here that we won't have time to see on this trip.  Definitely a country to return to.  A few random impressions:
Trimaran fishing fleet between Bali and Lombok
 - thousands of motorbikes, many laden with 3 or 4 people, animals, huge heaps and bundles of wood or leaves - some are kitted out as mobile shops and are as wide as a car.
- terrifying driving: overtaking on the inside and around blind corners is perfectly normal.
 - skinny cats with short or no tails: someone told us kittens' tails were cut to show they belonged somewhere and weren't strays.  I don't know if that's true, but they're very unattractive.  Lots of dogs on Bali, very few on the other (Muslim) islands.
 - friendly, curious people: we are bombarded with questions ("Ingris? From Ingerrand?") and requests to have their photo taken with us. 

A doer-upper in Semarang

Our grasp of Bahasa, the common language across Indonesia, is still sketchy.  After enthusiastic greetings and how are yous, we can count and ask how much - that's about it.  Generally that's been enough and we have added a few words as we've travelled.  It was only as we gazed down at the glorious star-shaped lagoon in Raja Ampat's Peynemo that we realised the Bintang beer we've been enjoying all this time means Star - ah, that would explain the design of the label!  There's still plenty of room for misunderstandings.  A couple of nights ago we went ashore for dinner in Semarang, taking a full dustbin bag of rubbish from the boat.  We couldn't find a bin so ended up arriving at the restaurant still clutching the bag.  They took it away ... and when we left, handed it back to us, having stored it in the cloakroom while we had our meal.  Rubbish is a huge problem throughout Indonesia.  Streets, drains, beaches and streams are covered with plastic.  Coffee and tea are sold at roadside stalls in individual sachets, as are shampoo and washing powder.  There isn't an infrastructure for rubbish collection away from the cities, and what used to be bags made of palm leaves is now plastic.  I guess the West needs to sort itself out first, but Indonesia needs to develop the systems and educate its people; for tourists don't like plastic covered beaches.
Pig market in Rantepao
 We have now officially left the Oyster World Rally.  It was very sad to wave goodbye as all but three of the boats sailed away from Lombok marina three weeks ago.  They've been to Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling and are now well on their way to Mauritius.  We have made some lifelong friends in the fleet and shared so many experiences.  I'm sure we will meet up again in various sailing and non-sailing locations around the world - possibly even as soon as Christmas in South Africa.  The timing of the rest of the Rally as well as the long passages involved led us to choose to form a breakaway group with Miss Tiggy and Lisanne, variously called the SE Asia Oyster Group or Wong Diwection.
Buffalo sacrifice

Traditional skills alive and well

Torajan Tonkanan family compound

A few buffalo sacrificed

Carrying the coffins for burial

Tau Tau, coffins and skulls in cave burial
We have been steadily moving west during our time in Indonesia, but boat progress is too slow to get everywhere, so in company with Eric of Lisanne, we flew north to Makassar on Sulawesi (a very strange K-shaped island).  After a nine hour drive to the Toraja Highlands, we spent a couple of fascinating days with an excellent guide.  Toraja houses and rice barns are built entirely of wood, with no nails.  They are elaborately carved and brightly painted and range in lines along a family compound.  The roofs swoop dramatically - some say like an upside down boat, but more probably the shape is based on buffalo horns.  We saw many buffalo grazing next to rice paddies.  They don't work and are pampered like members of the family.  All very well, but they are then part of the ritual of funeral ceremonies.  We watched as 24 of them had their throats slit and 48 pigs were killed in honour of an old lady of high caste who had died.  The animals will lead the way to the afterlife, it's believed.  It was extremely bloody (though mercifully quick) and the whole community turned out to watch, bringing condolence presents (ours was a carton of cigarettes!) and taking tea with the bereaved family.  The bodies are carried in ornate mini-house structures and many are inserted  into caves in the cliffs.  Outside, metre-high tau-tau statues of the deceased are placed.  They are lifelike and their clothes are changed regularly so that people remember what they looked like.  If a baby dies before its first teeth have come through, it is buried in a tree - a cut is made in the trunk, the swaddled body is pressed in upright and the belief is that the child will be absorbed into the tree and grow up that way.  Superstitions are still widespread: as we walked through one hamlet, a young pregnant woman hugged me and apparently said her baby would have a nose like mine as a result! She had a piece of ginger root pinned to her tee shirt to ward off evil.  More hugs in store at a primary school we visited after touring a market with hundreds of sweet-faced buffaloes, selling for about $3000 apiece, as well as pigs trussed to bamboo stakes - all destined to be part of funeral ceremonies.
 Our next flight was to Sorong in Papua, even further west than where we first arrived in Indonesia.  From there a ferry took us to Raja Ampat (four Kingdoms), a spectacular collection of islands with some of the best coral in the world and huge numbers and diversity of fish.  After all this time on the Rally, when I've been the snorkeller while others dived, I finally took the plunge (literally) and passed my PADI Open Water course in Lombok, so I was able to dive with Charles and Eric and see the stunning sights, including a Wobeggon Shark, which looks like a slightly moth-eaten rug.  My style still leaves plenty of room for improvement!
Amandari pool
We also fitted in four days of complete pampering at Amandari in Ubud on Bali.  It wasn't all lazing by the glorious infinity pool, yoga, sumptuous food and massages, though: we climbed Mount Basur in the dark in order to be at the summit for sunrise and went for a wonderful bike ride and hike through UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces where the mud walls and elaborate irrigation system (reminding me of the 'bisses' in Switzerland's Valais) have been much the same for centuries.  Bali is an anomaly in Indonesia: no minarets and calls to prayer here, but an unbelievable number of temples.  Nearly every day seems to bring major celebrations, processions and flag-waving.  We also had a different cultural experience in Seminyak - otherwise known as Sydney-on-Sea - where we watched the Melbourne Demons triumph in Aussie Rules against Geelong.  It's a really good fun game.
PADI qualified finally
And then back to Calliope which feels so much like home.  The freezer is less well-stocked now and we are using up tins under the floorboards.  We're still reading a lot, embroidering and - always - polishing stainless steel. 
Rice terraces in Bali
We are now on our way to Jakarta with Bastien and Selma, our French crew from Nouvelle Caledonie, who will look after the boat while we nip back to England next week and again in Singapore when we leave the boat for longer in November and December.  We are sailing along the north coast of Java, the one island which contains 60% of Indonesia's population - that is 160m people or 2x France in 1/3x the geographical are .  The coast is undistinguished and dirty; instead of dodging coral reefs we are avoiding oil rigs - as well as the ubiquitous small and poorly-lit fishing boats.  However we spent one day inland and visited the fabulous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. 
Borobodur is a Buddhist temple built in the 9th Century, multi-layered with many carvings, and beautifully restored by Unesco in the 1980s by taking it apart stone-by-stone and then reconstructing.  Prambanan is a Hindu Temple, or rather it was 224 Temples, damaged by earthquakes but 5 or 6 of the most important reconstructed, the latest such in 2015.  Built within 50 years of Borobudur, both are beautiful and both amazingly set in large parklands where modern man has not been allowed to encroach thus enabling the magic to remain.  Again, we had excellent guides, knowledgeable and eager to share their passion.
 Our abiding memory of Indonesia will be the warmth of its people.  250m people in 15000 islands, multi-religions, multi-cultures, but living together in harmony as far as we can see.  Many live in subsistence mode, fishing in boats smaller and larger, sailing out in outriggers into the straits between Bali and Lombok to fish in currents of 6-7 knots and huge water movements.  Mobile communications quality has been superb - 4G of really good speed at dirt cheap prices.  We are the tourist attraction; however, the "Muzungu" tourist to over-charge and over-sell has only been an isolated issue, and everyone waves, smiles and laughs.   A real joy.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Indonesia (part one)

Happy Indonesian national day - 17th August. Apparently there's much
celebrating going on, but we are alone in a remote anchorage in Komodo
National Park and will have to celebrate by ourselves, unless some Komodo
Free-diving fisherman Alor at 10m depth
dragons and monkeys stage a party on the beach.

There will lots of news to come from Indonesia. We've been here a month now
and are loving it. When the rest of the Oyster World Rally fleet moves on in early September, three boats (ourselves, Lisanne and Miss Tiggy) will be staying on in Indonesia and then making our way north and west to Malaysia,
Singapore, Langkawi,Thailand and possibly Myanmar if we can arrange visas and paperwork, and shipping our boats back to the Mediterranean in April
Alor reef
2019. It will be very sad to break away from our family of yachts but we will stay in touch -- and there is lots to look forward to back in England.

Charles has been reading a book called Indonesia - Exploring the Improbable
Nation, by Elizabeth Pisani. It IS an improbable place, with over 17,000
islands and 300 languages. We're assured that Bahasa, the lingua franca, is easy to learn, but we are still frustratingly bad at communicating, mostly relying on smiles and a very limited vocabulary (it does include 'how old are you?' as that's useful when dispensing reading glasses!) The currency, rupiyahs, has way too many zeros. In a largely cash economy, wallets bulge with 100,000 rupiyah notes, worth £5. The smallest note is worth 5 pence! Life is mostly cheap here, so I do have moments of wondering 'is that £1.25 or £12.50?'

The geography of Indonesia (the part we've seen) is stunning. As everyone's been reminded recently, it lies on the ring of fire, and most of the mountains are volcanic cone-shaped. The hills where we are now are arid, baking in the sun, with dramatic rock formations at the shoreline. When we went inland to Kelimutu multi-coloured lakes, though, we drove through

Alor coral garden

Smiling schoolchildren Kalabahi

Traditional village Kalabahi


Beach BBQ with the Tiggys
rainforest and mist, and skidded alarmingly on muddy roads when riding pillion on mopeds. There are beautiful beaches, though sadly they are often litter-strewn. Where DO all those flipflops come from?! There's not much
attempt at recycling and towns such as Kupang or Labuan Bajo are very dirty, with gutters heaped with plastic bags and bottles. We did hear of one initiative which uses schoolchildren one afternoon a week to clear beaches,
but it will take more than that to remove the sad tidelines.

Our first encounter with Indonesia was Kupang. Going ashore was a challenge
as there's no dinghy dock, so you were simply dumped on the beach by a wave -- but then a group of locals would rush down to help pull the dinghy up the beach and would look after it all day, moving it when the tide required, for
the equivalent of £2.50. Refuelling was a similar challenge, both here and in Labuan Bajo (a harbour with hundreds of boats) as all diesel had to be transferred to the boat in jerrycans. We transported 600 litres of fuel by
dinghy to our boat and decanted it through a filter. That took an entire afternoon, making me think wistfully of service stations with petrol pumps at home.

Traffic is absolutely crazy here. I don't know what the statistics are, but I imagine road deaths must be very high. Drivers routinely overtake when approaching blind corners and lean on their horns to force the thousands of
mopeds out of their way, occasionally off the tarmac road. Tiny minivans, called bemos, stop wherever they want to let passengers out, even in the middle of intersections. We took a bemo to the traditional fruit and veg
market in Maumere, music blaring as we squeezed our large western bodies onto bench seats designed for smaller people. In remote villages, dogs move frighteningly slowly off the road as you approach and children, seeing white faces through the car windows, burst out laughing. We are the main attraction and people love having their photo taken with us. At a primary school, we were mobbed like celebrities - everybody wanted to shake hands
and introduce themselves.

We've been moving gradually west along the north coast of Flores Island. That's a Portuguese name and that influence lives on in the many Catholic churches here, although the fishing villages on the coast are mainly Muslim
and we are usually awakened by the call to prayer (some much more tuneful than others!) Last Sunday Nicky went to Mass (2 hours, the format completely familiar but entirely in Bahasa - I spent it learning numbers)
and afterwards ran an eye clinic, giving away over 70 pairs of reading
Eyejuster glasses solve short-sightedness for two sisters
glasses. As we've moved west, there's been more tourism, though the
facilities for visiting yachts are still non-existent. We've anchored off a
couple of resorts and have been made to feel very welcome by the managers.
At Sea World near Maumere we gave away glasses to staff and at the Puri Sari
Hotel we used their pool and laundry facilities. One enterprising
restaurateur in Labuan Bajo has two farms and supplies such welcome luxuries as salad leaves (21 varieties!), Italian salami and gorgonzola and organic meats. Tiggy got more than she bargained for, though, when she opened the chilled box and found her duck still had its head and feet attached.

Eventually they will arrive

But the really amazing and improbable thing about Indonesia is its sea. The diving has been exceptional; Charles said Alor was the best ever -- until he dived the Cauldron near here in Komodo. He and James, Tiggy and Callum did
a two day Advanced Diving course, which means they can dive deeper and in stronger currents. There are lots of strong currents here, which is challenging and exciting even for those on the surface, snorkelling. The
fantastically coloured coral and fish whizz by like a speeded-up film. The soft coral is blown sideways like trees in a gale. At Krokos Reef, where we enjoyed a great beach barbecue with Oyster friends (and some unwelcome sandflies), we drift-snorkelled the pass twice, towing the dinghy behind us. That night, the tide went waaaay out and we had a long walk from the beach to find sufficient depth to launch the dinghies. There was a full moon. Was it that or the distant earthquake in Lombok which caused the tidal anomaly? We have seen so much sealife: giant trevallies, sharks, turtles,
One of a thousand volcanoes in Indonesia
rays, lionfish, cuttle fish, a million reef fish. I love the multi-coloured nudibranchs attached to coral: apparently they are snails without shells, which makes them slugs, not usually my favourite creatures, but here they are glorious.
We've had some good sailing but also a fair bit of motoring. The wind can come up or die abruptly and there are very strong currents between islands. Another hazard of Indonesian sailing are FADs or Fish Attracting Devices,
frequently unmarked and unlit. We went into one bay at night with Nicky shining a torch ahead of us and spotting FADs. The following morning, leaving in daylight, we could see many more which we'd been lucky to miss.
There are very few other yachts, but many phinisi or liveaboard dive boats as well as numerous fishing boats, many just canoes with outriggers for added stability. Apparently it brings them good luck if they cut across your bow, which accounts for the sometimes erratic course they take! In some anchorages, boats come to sell or barter - a lobster for a packet of biscuits and a tee shirt? Deal! We've given away dive masks, old halyards,
clothes, saucepans and colouring pencils.

As at home, not everything runs smoothly all the time. I'll let Charles explain about the generator problems we've been having. Or maybe not as your eyes will glaze over about actuators, governors, control panels! Anyway at the moment we can either make water or charge the batteries or run the
washing machine, but not together at the same time! So we can keep going. We hope to be able to fix it in Lombok in early September.

Above all Indonesia is about its very smiley people from small children to adults. Always a wave. Much of the country survives on subsistence farming or fishing; local traditions and families are key. Although we can't understand the language apparently there are hundreds of them, with
different languages from village to village. We have visited genuinely tribal villages in Fotemvasi and the Kingdom of Boti where life hasn't changed for centuries. And yet, mobile phone coverage would have rural UK in rapture and it costs almost nothing. So traditional life and facebook co-exist; almost everyone seems to go to school in different coloured clean uniforms depending on age, but they don't learn much English there and learning by rote seems the norm. We have been to many unspoilt places on our journey and this a different, dirty-in-places kind of unspoilt.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Carsten's time on board Calliope - 28th June to 27th July 2018

Carsten sailed across the Atlantic with us on Gwylan in 2009, so when Nicky needed to go back to the UK/Switzerland in July, we knew he would be a great and fun crew member for Charles to share the trip north from Cairns to Thursday Island and the crossing to Kupang in Indonesia. His daughter Lara also sailed the Atlantic with us and was able to join at short notice. Here's Carsten's entry in our visitors' book, which gives an idea of his month aboard.

I feel as though I've been sailing for months, which is what happens when good friends just plainly get along well and enjoy each other's company. Despite being badly exploited on the last day polishing all the stainless steel until there was no toothbrush left to use, shining neglected metal on
Calliope until you needed polarised glasses to look at her, I have to admit I've been on worse journeys. First, there was the completely shuttered down Calliope I found when I sleepwalked after my sleepless 32 hour journey to the marina in Cairns, trying to guess which of the 12 Oysters flying flags on 12 different pontoons was to be my home for the next 3000 miles or so. No note and not
Aboriginal paintings 
having yet collected my wits, I failed to find the key which had been hidden for me. As it turned out, I had showed up 24 hours too early. As a result, I took out my Dutch anger biking across the hills of Cairns. What a treat cycling along the waterfront with so many special birds! Descending from the mountains I astounded Aussie drivers who couldn't believe this crazy Dutchman going down a semi-highway on an antiquated mom & pop bike. They were right, it was utterly crazy.
Another highlight: Lizard Island where Charles and I arrived after an overnight sail and went up the mountain (375m) early in the morning to Cook's Lookout, named after the then simply Lieutenant Cook who climbed up there to find a way out of the myriad reefs which had almost cost him his
vessel on the way in to shore. The lighter coloration of the reef when seen from above revealed a darker shadow showing a small exit channel. What a lovely way to start a morning, especially when at the top, neatly tucked away under a big stone there was a plastic box containing a guestbook and a
pen. Not many people had reached this spot: only the odd yachtsman and staff at the nearby marine research station, as the nearest port was 120 miles away (apart from an odd resort with 12 huts and an airstrip...) There were many other moments where we just enjoyed what we were doing without thinking about it too much - like going ashore with Mariusz and Paulina on Stanley Island at Flinders, an extraordinary place with beautiful beaches, a landing with only four metres of sand between spread out mangroves where cunning sea crocodiles were salivating, waiting for would-be explorers to land. Just 200 metres inland in a semi-circle of mangroves were rock caves with paintings by Yirrawarra, a tribe who lived on the island until 50 years ago. Nature here was rich and diverse and seemed to offer everything one needed to live off it. I won't forget Stanley Island

Charles had more in store for me, however. After we noticed a tugboat following us at about our speed (8.5 knots), one of the very few ships we
Sunset in the Torres Sea
encountered on our way up to Cape York, Charles decided to play hide and seek in the maze of huge reef systems that is the Great Barrier Reef. We deviated from the designated waterways of the inner shipping channel and
found a shorter route between reefs that were 3-15 km long, some of them atolls with just one entrance. After minimal advice from Charles ('don't take that one'), I would find myself on a night shift almost touching the ridge of the left hand side reef to avoid hitting the right hand side! Fortunately Australian charts are very accurate, which can't be said for Indonesian ones which you can't rely on: one chart reads "updated with the latest information available to Dutch Authorities in 1909". What an
adventure, which we relished despite the relatively cold weather. And Thursday Island was a treat too, with our personal sea croc guarding his territory just 200 metres from our mooring and with the larger-than-life characters Rob and Janette who ran a betting parlour disguised as a neat B&B and told fantastic stories about other business ventures in earthmoving equipment and trailer parks, as well as his regular visits to the
Netherlands. I'm thankful for the opportunity to indulge in these types of adventures and
The Kingdom of Boti
it's a tribute to Charles and Nicky's extraordinary ability to share and enjoy sharing. What a rich life for me!

Lara added:

Fotemnasi traditional dancing
Unfortunately, that crocodile prevented us from jumping into the bright blue
water that looked so tempting! We had expected a few days of motoring on our crossing and lots of Indonesian fishing boats, but we ended up with really lovely fast sailing with quiet nights and speed records - 13.5 knots was the top, steering off a wave on genoa and full main. Most of the trip was goose-winged but we did have the kite up for almost two days. Even a tuna was caught - we thought
at first it was a Spanish mackerel. We overtook all the other boats and found an anchorage in front of the town of Kupang. When Nicky came back on board it was time to explore inland on Timor.
Washing up in Boti
Fotemnasi was our first stop after an exciting 5 hour car drive (lots of overtaking on blind corners!). We enjoyed traditional dancing and stunning hilly landscapes. The next stop was the remote village of Boti where we joined the villagers' minimalistic way of living -- and sleeping! All the Oyster boats were so nice and welcoming. Special thanks to the crewies Harry, Henry, Josh, Stephan, Tom, Calum and Pedro. It's time to go home, but I wish I could stay!

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

North to Thursday Island

Here's a brief post from Charles.  Nicky has flown back to England for a couple of weeks to do some wedding planning (and to fit in a visit to her parents in Geneva).  Charles is sailing with Carsten de Koning, who was crew on Gwylan back in 2009 when we crossed the Atlantic (ARC).  Carsten's daughter, Lara, will join them next week for the 1000NM passage to Indonesia, but meanwhile the two of them are heading north from Cairns to Thursday Island.  Here's Charles's report, including an appreciative comment about one of the many meals with which Nicky stocked the freezer before she left:

Carsten on Lizard island

Koala on Magnetic island

We are in Owen's channel. Yesterday we walked up Lizard island to Captain Cook's lookout where he went to look for a route back out of the reef after Endeavour had been grounded near Cooktown, and found Cook's passage. 350m high and very good views. Then it was midday and we started sailing west to
get towards the peninsula that ends in Cape York. We had meant to go 50NM
but the wind was so good we then kept changing our destination until we
arrived at 9pm after 80NM. We sailed poled-out and deep reefed but it was
still very fast. Chicken curry for supper - very nice!

Near Port Douglas

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Australian adventures

Calliope arrived in Mackay on 25th May, so we have been in Australia almost three weeks - time to bring this blog up to date! We had an uneventful crossing from Noumea to Mackay, taking just over six days. Uneventful suits us just fine and the new/replaced rig behaved perfectly under close observation and frequent checks. Reassuringly, we had Andy (Tiny) Duff on board, and we also had Jonatan (Jonny) from Israel, who played guitar to entertain us. We arrived, tied up near the fuel dock and were inspected by a sniffer dog, customs (who sealed most of our alcohol away under the sole (floorboards) and bio-security, who found a few little bugs (harmless) hiding in some raffia decorations we'd bought on the wild east coast of New Caledonia. This was our first taste of Australian rules and regulations. My image of the country was a place of free-spirited
individualists; it turns out they're all subject to more bureaucracy than you'd believe possible.
Mackay is not a beautiful place - it's a coal mining and sugar cane growing / processing centre - but it was a good stepping stone from which to explore inland. We drove into Eungella National Park, up steep roads into a cooler mountain climate, where we saw platypuses (surprisingly small and rather
endearing) swimming in Broken River. We also had a great hike up Finch Hatton Gorge to a waterfall and a cooooold swim. One evening we joined a few other Oyster friends at a rodeo, very definitely a local event, not staged for tourists. The guys riding bucking bulls and horses are absolutely mad, we decided, admiring their lassoing techniques - the double act where one rider loops a rope around a calf's hind legs, another its front legs - record time was 6 seconds! Watching the spectators was
entertaining, too...
Sundowners on the Whitsundays
From Mackay, we headed out to the Whitsunday group of islands, many of which have Lake District names - our first overnight stop was Keswick. Like several others, it has a resort and this one was still in operation; many
closed after Cyclone Debbie and their future is uncertain. We tried to go ashore for a walk on Lindeman Island, which has a ghost-resort which used to be Club Med, but were met at the dock by Australian military who were using it for a training exercise! We managed a walk on Goldsmith Island instead through scrub which was almost as unwelcomin .
Next stop was back on the mainland at Abell Point Marina near Airlie Beach.
Best marina ever - they even lent us a courtesy car so we could dash around
provisioning, picking up our repaired asymmetric sail and getting vital supplies of hydraulic coolant and oil.
Whitehaven Beach

This is not my (Nicky's) favourite kind of shopping, so it was a delight to find lovely shops on Hamilton Island, which is a wonderfully unreal bubble of a resort, where everyone gets around in golf buggies (this being Australia, seat belts are obligatory!) The Oyster World Rally golf tournament was played, amongst a million lost balls to which we added another 150; the groundsmen spraying for the wrong kind of weeds said they had killed 6 Tiguan highly poisonous
snakes in the last week, and the competitiveness carried over into go-karting, too. Sadly the Hobie Cat dinghy regatta was cancelled due to the resort management thinking the wind was too strong; they couldn't accept that we had made it halfway round the world on boats and probably knew what
Testing out Alex's Xmas present to us
we were doing. Instead an impromptu volleyball tournament sprang up on the beach and much good humour was displayed, if not a lot of skill. There was also time in Hamilton for some R'n'R by the pool and good massages and a great party to celebrate Nigel on Venture's 70th birthday. Whitsunday Island was next: we spent our first day there in Tongue Creek, from which a short walk takes you first to a spectacular viewing platform and then down onto Whitehaven Beach, which is 7 km of pure silica sand, dazzlingly white. We walked and then clambered on rocks along the side of the river estuary, marvelling at the range of cobalt/turquoise blues.
Volleyball Hamilton Island

Armies of tiny crabs, about 2cm in diameter, with bright blue bodies, scuttled into holes in the sand and in the shallows, spotted rays came
close, seeming curious. Truly wonderful - but oh, the bay was horribly rolly that night and very little sleep was had. The following day we
motored to the southern end of the beach, where a dozen Oysters gathered for a barbie and a cricket match on an excellent hard sandy wicket. We were much envied for our inflatable beach lounger - thank you Alex! After a mercifully quiet night on Border Island we sailed gently up to Hook Island, where we snorkelled in Pinnacle Bay with four or five huge manta rays. They didn't seem nervous about us at all and provided you didn't get spooked by their wide open mouths, they would come within a metre. Awesome creatures!
Mantas at Pinnacle Bay
On 11th June we headed out into the ocean. We could see a couple of masts but absolutely nothing to show that we were nearing part of the Great Barrier Reef. Rounding an undistinguished brownish buoy, we picked up a
mooring in a depth of only 7 metres. We were attached to the ground in the middle of the ocean - extraordinary! The water was glassy still and blended with the sky, so there was hardly any horizon. Only two hours' motoring
from the Whitsunday Islands, this was Bait Reef. Someone had fun naming these reefs - from Bait, we passed Barb and moved on to Hook, then Line and Sinker! Sunrises and sunsets here are incredible. As I type this, it's
Humpback at Bait Reef
6.30am and the sky is orange / peach / apricot / mauve, while the still water seems coated with a reflective film, mirroring the dawn. When we get back to internet-land, you can be sure we will send/post lots of photographs. We are with SunsuSea (Mariusz and Paulina) and Sea Avenue (Don, Dave and Carol) and have gathered for sundowners on each boat in turn
to ooh and aah at the sunsets. As the tide drops or rises, parts of the reef become visible, so that from flat expanses of water, isolated
'boulders' appear, then clusters and eventually a line of coral like a wall enclosing this still reef.
So what happens inside these reefs? Lots of coral 'bommies' to be avoided with careful navigation and a lookout at the bow in polarising sunglasses. Great snorkelling, less impressive diving, with fish we haven't seen before
and some now familiar from all across the Pacific - my favourites are still the tiny blue fish which retreat into their finger coral as you approach. Big angel fish, funny, brave clownfish, busy parrot fish and lizard fish which do their best to impersonate the coral they are lying on. There are also GT or giant trevally which like to hang out in the shade under our boats. Yesterday we took the dinghy across the reef to a permanent platform which has been set up for tourist boats to visit. We think it may be where Pippa spent a (rainy) night when she was here a few years ago. Unfortunately our vision of cocktails (or at least ice creams) was not to be - the employee there informed us that they can't serve outsiders (probably due to more of those darn Australian regulations) so we turned away and followed the reef to a totally implausible spot: a waterfall, 30 miles from land! Hardy Reef is completely encircled by coral, so when it fills or empties as the tide turns - and tides are about 2 metres here - all that water has to get in or out, which is does through three narrow channels:
even the widest is only about 15 metres at its broadest. Grade three rapid, tempting for the kayakers amongst us - and apparently it can be negotiated in a yacht at very high water, when the waterfall has stopped.
Anchored at Hardy Reef - 25NM offshore
This is our first time on the Great Barrier Reef, so we don't have anything to compare it to. There is lots of dead coral and some damage is clearly recent from Cyclone Debbie (poor Debbie on Meteorite is being given a hard time about this!). But there's also fantastic live coral in strange and
intriguing shapes and every colour imaginable. At least here, we don't feel there's any need for doom and gloom about the Reef. And there's so much of it! We won't get to visit the group of Lath, Plaster, Brick, Girder and
Waterfall at Hardy Reef
Rafter Reefs, nor Oublier (was that named because someone forgot it was there, or perhaps because they wish they could forget running into it - or
just perhaps because these special places are somewhere you really can get away from it all and forget everything?) Don't worry, we haven't forgotten you and will keep you posted as we continue north towards Cairns, where we
plan to arrive in two weeks' time. We have been watching Suits (thank you Pippa) and WWII in Colour (thank you Michael) and reading Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie for the Oyster Book Club - an excellent modern retelling of
the Antigone story.