20 May 2007

Bait Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Onboard the S/V Shiraz
Bait Reef
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

First a huge thanks to Steve and Rene for taking us out on Shiraz for an overnight trip to the Great Barrier Reef!

We left Sandpiper tied to a mooring buoy in Butterfly Bay at Hook Island. At 5:30am Steve picked us up in their dingy. he then had Shiraz out of the bay and sailing by 6am. This is the first time we have ever sailed on a catamaran. I have to say sailing on a big cat is quite a treat. The ride is quite stable and you can even leave a drink out without having to worry about it launching itself all over the place because cats don't roll. Team Sandpiper moved into the aft cabin in the port hull. Team Shiraz lives over in the starboard hull, and there a living area and galley between the hulls. We even had our own head with a hot shower.

We had a great 15 mile sail out to Bait Reef, which is the closest reef that is part of the Great Barrier Reef from the Whitsunday Islands. We arrived at 10am. Arrival at a reef can be a little confusing because at high tide the reef is completely submerged and very difficult to see until you get really close to it. So with everyone on lookout, and Rene steering, we picked our way inside the reef to a mooring buoy. We were the only boat there. Australia's Parks Service have free mooring buoys for all visiting boats so visitors do not drop their anchors in the reef.

Bait Reef is a circular reef which comes all the way up to the surface. There is a small opening for boats to enter. Once you are inside the reef, you are protected from the ocean swells. It is strange as being inside the reef because you are really moored in the middle of nowhere with the nearest land 15 miles away.

Immediately after tying Shiraz to the mooring buoy we were surrounded by HUGE reef fish circling the boat hoping for something to 'fall' off the boat to eat. The water was super clear, making it possible to see the reef bottom under Shiraz. We all jumped in off Shiraz's stern after first sticking our heads in to make sure that there were no sharks lurking around. We saw some of the largest reef fish that any of us had ever seen. One of the biggest fish, whom we named George, who was a Hump-headed Maori Warsse. He was over 40 pounds and 3 feet in length. There were lots of large Black Travallys

George was very friendly, almost too friendly as he really took a liking to Amy. She climbed back on Shiraz in a huge hurry with George swimming right out of the water after her. Every time we poked our heads over the stern, George would show up and swim up to the surface looking up at us with his huge eyes, hoping some food would fall his way. Bait Reef is a National Marine Sanctuary, so there is no fishing of any kind allowed. So the reef fish here are humongous. It is like all the fish here are on steroids. They are so huge!

We launched Shiraz's dingy and took a trip around the reef, stopping at different spots to all jump in the water and snorkel around. There was all kinds of different colored corals, many different colored reef fish, different colored starfish, huge anemone's with Clown Fish hiding inside, Giant Clams the size of your head, and giant Silver Pompanos who swam right up to us.

The water inside the reef is quite shallow and parts of it dry out at low tide. But outside the reef edges drop off to the ocean bottom hundreds of feet down. There are several large coral heads called 'The Stepping Stones' since they are flat and go right up to the surface. We snorkeled around these for a short time. There was such a strong current running over the reef that we were worried about being swept out to sea. So we moved on to better spots that had less current. If you check out Bait Reef using the 'Google Earth Program' you should be able to see it clearly from overhead.

Afterwards we were quite wrinkled up and waterlogged. So we called it a day and watched the sunset while having a few 'Sundowner's'. Soon after, every star in the universe showed up.

After sunrise the following morning we bid a tearful farewell to George. When then sailed the 15 miles back to Sandpiper, who was faithfully waiting for us back at Butterfly Bay.

Tom and Amy

Note From Ron: I'm sorry to report that Google Earth's coverage of Bait Reef, and in fact most of the Great Barrier Reef, is not very good. Hardly worth zooming in to look at.

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