Story and pictures copyright © 2000 Julia Hazel
Islands, Reefs and Rivers
August - November 2000

Hope Isles anchorage, on the way north
Watsons Bay, Lizard Island

Eureka III and Jeshan en route to Yonge Reef

30 August, Lizard Island

It's lovely to be anchored in Watson's Bay again. Unusually light winds for this time of year gave Jeshan and me a slow but comfortable trip north from Cairns. Nice stops en route at Port Douglas, Undine Reef, Hope Isles, Endeavour Reef and Cooktown.

This is a good anchorage, though often very windy. I'm planning to stay for a while and catch up with friends on other boats, do some boat chores, revisit the island's interesting walks, and -- of course -- swim and snorkel every day!

10 September, Yonge Reef

There's a wide pale sky and dawn coloured sea all around us. The sun is just about to rise over a thin line of surf a mile or so to the east. The surf is the only indication that the outer edge of Yonge Reef, a small part of the Great Barrier Reef, is giving Jeshan some protection from the wide open Pacific. All of this vast coral structure is hidden below the surface.

For the past four days we have been anchored at different spots in amongst coral heads just behind various parts of the reef. Only one other boat for company, a big aluminium catamaran called Eureka III, with good friends Janelle and Colin on board.

The weather has been fine and gentle until last night brought a small increase in wind and a distinct decrease in comfort aboard Jeshan. (Eureka III provides a more stable platform.)

It seems we are in the early stages of transition back to normal strong SE trade wind flow and it's definitely time to leave. As soon as the sun is high enough to reveal the coral heads around us we'll pick our way out into open water and sail to Lizard Island for better shelter.

This outer reef adventure has been all about diving, and the diving has been simply fantastic. Thanks to Janelle and Colin's enthusiasm, experience and excellent equipment we've done three dives each day, getting about in their fast dinghy and refilling scuba tanks in between with the very effective small compressor they carry on board Eureka III.

Being in an area of clear water, fantastic coral formations, abundant fish life and all sorts of other weird and wonderful underwater creatures is just the greatest treat for me. There's a swirling parade of multi-coloured small fishes living in and around every coral patch. And we have met some of the bigger guys often lurking in a coral cave or quietly cruising by deeper down: a few sharks and rays, big maori wrasse and many large tropical gropers and parrot fish.

Several times we watched a big sea snake diligently searching under coral ledges for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Curiously it was always attended by three big and alert looking coral trout. They apparently expected a piece of the action but we never saw the payoff.

Another thing none of us had come across before, was the sight late one afternoon of a number of widely separated beche de mer (sea cucumbers) standing up on end emitting faint white plumes -- spawning, I would guess. So what, you may say.

But you never normally see these guys do anything much. Mostly they lie almost motionless on sandy patches of ocean floor. When they are really "busy" you can detect a slight rippling movement as they filter sand through their feeding cavity. So you have to wonder how they get the message that "now is the time" even though they are far apart, way out of sight of each other, and how they get motivated to spring into action (relative to their normal non-action) all at once.

Sadly I have no photos of these things. One of my underwater cameras (old but normally okay and recently serviced) apparently had a stuck shutter. But there was no way to detect this until much later when I got my many exposed films developed. Only to find all were blank. It was a huge disappointment after clicking away happily for many dives.

And that was not my only problem with underwater photo gear on this trip. I'll skip the depressing details but have to say making pictures of the underwater world is incredibly frustrating unless you have a huge amount of spare cash to spend on the very best equipment. Yet it's too appealing to resist. The all time best pics are of course only in my head, but these few that came out at all still evoke special memories for me, and maybe give you some idea of what I'm rambling on about here.

Source of some particularly vivid memories were our dives at a spot known as the "Cod Hole". It's in a narrow pass through the outer reefs, at times flushed by strong currents and famous for the big potato cod which hang around there and keep a good lookout for boats and people. Their interest surely has a lot to do with food provided by some visitors. However they all seemed keen to spend time with us even though we came empty-handed, and a couple of them were absolutely determined to get close and cuddly!

I should say that we went empty handed not for lack of friendly feeling towards the cod but rather the contrary: out of concern that humans feeding wild animals most often leads, sooner or later, to the animals' doom.

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Story and pictures copyright © 2000 Julia Hazel

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