Friday, 17 February 2017

Magical Lady Musgrave Island - One more 'must go' ticked off the bucket list.

4-5 December 2016




Click here to view our video of Lady Musgrave Island on YouTube



The next stop on our wanderings southward was to be Lady Musgrave Island. This was a destination we had been wanting to get to for quite some time but previously, whenever we were anywhere nearby, the weather was never right. Now though, things couldn’t have been more perfect.

We were able to raise the anchor reasonably early at Fitzroy Reef and make our way out through the narrow entrance just after low water slack before there was much current running. Even at the lowest tide there is always adequate depth in the channel. You just need to be careful that the strong tidal run doesn’t push your boat into the steep coral sides bordering the entrance. That’s why we always time our entry and exits around slack tide.

The boats on the inside of Fitzroy Reef enjoy calm water as we make our way around the outside in the swell.
The 25 mile run south past a number of reefs and coral cays was uneventful as the modest north easterly breeze comfortably pushed Our Dreamtime along. We were lining up the entrance into the lagoon at Lady Musgrave before long at all. The great thing about Lady Musgrave reef is that you can enter the lagoon via a straight and wide deep water channel. There has been some conjecture whether the channel into the lagoon is a naturally occurring phenomenon, or was cut into the lagoon by Japanese or Taiwanese fisherman, or as legend has it was widened by guano miners many years ago; it is recorded by 1938 surveys. A report from early guano miners of the late 1800s describes the channel thus ‘having a narrow deep-water entrance, enabling small vessels to enter or leave at any time of the tide. Being narrow it is somewhat difficult to locate.’ This would suggest the current broad channel is the result of widening at some stage by persons unknown since then.

Once through the entrance, a keen eye must be maintained from the bow as there is no shortage of coral bommies lurking under the surface of the thankfully very clear water. We anchored in the western end of the lagoon, not too far from the island itself.

Fitzroy Reef to Lady Musgrave Island  25.3 NM - 5 Hours 37 mins  
Average Speed 4.5 Knots – Max Speed 7.7 Knots
For detailed zoom-able track click HERE
We anchored in the western end of the lagoon closer to the island. For zoom-able image click HERE.
First order of business was to lower the dinghy and head ashore for some exploration. What a treat. First we followed a path right through the centre of the island to the western side. The vegetation and bird life on Lady Musgrave is incredible. Lady Musgrave Island is has an amazing enchanted Forrest of Pisonia Trees which White Capped Tern's nest in abundance. The forest however does come under attack from high tides. So beautifully weathered driftwood are a very distinctive feature of the beach.

On the beach at Lady Musgrave Island. If there's a tree around Kristian will climb it.
Heading through the Pisonia forest on Lady Musgrave Island.


There are masses of bleached riftwood on the western side of Lady Musgrave.


We then followed the shoreline right around the southern end and back to where we began. December is turtle nesting time and an almost endless procession of the graceful creatures swam by very close to shore in the shallow water lapping the sand. The beach was striped with tracks across the sand left by turtles that had made the slow and painful journey up to the dunes to lay their eggs over preceding nights.
The were turtles everywhere we looked in the shallows.
What a hatchling left behind.

Birds, birds and more birds.
We were also amazed to discover a school of over twenty reef sharks circling continuously in a small area in only about a metre of water very close to shore.

One of the school of reef sharks circling in the shallows



After returning to the boat we donned our snorkelling gear and had a great time checking out an area of reef about forty meters behind our stern.

The reefs looked very healthy at Lady Musgrave Island.

Master Kristian of the deep.


Karen enjoying the lagoon at Lady Musgrave Island.
After a very full day we settled in on the aft deck for a light dinner of barbecued reef fish and a couple of white wines as Lady Musgrave turned on a truly stunning sunset.

Our second day at Lady Musgrave was very similar to the first. This time however it was just Admiral Nanny and Master Kristian that went ashore as Rob took the opportunity to stay on board for a morning at the key board blogging. Karen had plans of gently drifting in the currents with our action camera where the turtles had been the previous to get some good video footage of them as they swam by. Unfortunately trying to get an eight year old to float quietly was to be an ask. She described Kristian as being like an underwater threshing machine as he darted all over the place chasing anything that moved. Strangely enough no turtles ventures anywhere near.

Karen and Kristian heading ashore to get some turtle footage - yeah right.
He may be a relative novice at this snorkelling caper but he certainly does not lack confidence. At one stage a two metre reef shark swam by Karen’s side and when she pointed it out to Kristian, he took off after it like a torpedo. Karen reached out to stop him and was left holding just one of his swim fins in her hand as he disappeared in a boiling wake of water. Clearly the shark was more afraid of him than he of it and wisely made itself scarce at high speed.

We were all back in the water after lunch checking out an area of reef by a large tourist pontoon no longer in use. This part of the lagoon is green zone with no fishing etc permitted. Clearly someone told the fish that this was a safe spot because they were there in droves. We also took some banana for Kristian to hand feed them which proved a hit for all concerned.  

Lady Musgrave Island from the reef we snorkelled.
Kristian and Karen and feeding the fish small pieces of banana.

Fish everywhere



All OK says Kristian
Oops! Someone lost an anchor.


A reef shark gliding by.
Lady Musgrave Island is truly magical and somewhere we will definitely return. Our day and a half in this tropical paradise was too short by a long, long way but Christmas was approaching. We felt we probably should make sure we reached Brisbane and return a grandson to his mother before then.
We could not have believed that the previous night’s sunset could be surpassed but that’s exactly what happened.



Good night from Lady Musgrave Island.
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Thursday, 16 February 2017

Fitzroy Reef - Another underwater wonderland.

2-3 December 2016


We only had a relatively short, 26 Nautical miles passage ahead of us to Fitzroy Reef today but still needed a nice early start. We wanted to time our arrival at Fitzroy’s narrow and winding entrance through the coral as close to the high tide slack as possible so we were up in the dark and raising the anchor as soon as the pre-dawn light appeared.

It took a little time to get our chain unwrapped from rocks on the sea bed but after that delay it was fairly plain sailing through the morning. We were pushing a contra current as the tide flowed in which slowed our progress a bit however, we were still able to maintain a five knot average for the trip.

The sun was rising by the time we cleared Masthead Island's fringing reef.

Masthead Island disappears astern.
Situated 32 nautical miles (59 Kilometres) off the coast from Seventeen Seventy, the spectacular 2,000 acre Fitzroy Reef is the only naturally formed, all tidal entrance Lagoon on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest reef in the Bunker Group and is a drying, closed ring reef with a large, deep (6-10m) lagoon that can be entered through the narrow, natural channel. We also had a fantastic visit here at Fitzroy back in June on our way north. See the story and more details about the reef entrance HERE

Fitzroy Reef lays 32 nautical miles(59 kilometres)  off the Queensland coast.
La Jorja under way to Fitzroy Reef

 
This time we were travelling with our friends Matt and Debbie on the big cat La Jorja and were able to snap a few nice shots of their boat under sail on the way over from Masthead Island. We both passed through the entrance without any problems and anchored in the calm of the huge lagoon in about 8 metres of water.

Fitzroy Reef was to be a special stop for the Matt and Debbie as two of their sons were rendezvousing with them here. They had towed their speedboat from Brisbane and launched at 1770 to spend a few days using La Jorja as a mother ship as they embarked on some serious spear fishing.
The lads arrive in the lagoon at high speed ready for their spear fishing adventure.

Masthead Island to Fitzroy Reef – 26.0 Nautical Miles – 5 Hours 07 Minutes
Average Speed 5.1 Knots – Max Speed 7.3 Knots
For zoomable detailed track click HERE
Our anchor spot inside the lagoon at Fitzroy Reef - For zoomable satellite image click HERE 
 Meanwhile back on Our Dreamtime we were ready to do some underwater exploring of our own. Young Master Kristian couldn’t wait to don his snorkelling gear and get amongst the nearby reef outcrops. The clear water was fantastic and we were again treated to a wonderland of colourful coral and myriads of fish. Marine life that call the lagoon home include Manta rays, Bull rays, Eagle rays, the Lagoon ray with its iridescent blue spots and also the black blotched stingray, Dolphins (bottlenose, common and spinner), Turtles (Loggerhead, Green and Hawksbill) and up to 1,000 different species of small colourful fish. Sharks (white and black tip reef sharks) majestically cruise through the Lagoon - totally uninterested in people.


There's no shortage of vibrant coral at Fitzroy Reef

This large shellfish on the sand bottom was about 40cms long.

Master Kristian photo bombing again.








 

La Jorja and Our Dreamtime at anchor inside Fitzroy Reef as we explore the lagoon.
More than two hours passed like minutes and it was three very wrinkled crew members who finally returned to the boat. While we recovered from the mornings sail and afternoon in the water by reclining with our books, hyper-active Kristian had the rod out and managed to land a couple of small flat head.

You can't keep an eight year old still for long.
Later, as we snacked on some nibbles washed down with cool sundowners, mother nature turned on another of the incredible displays of colour we’ve become used to but never tire of on the Great Barrier Reef.

Sunset over Fitzroy Reef.
We enjoyed a nice sleep in next morning before heading off in the dinghy to do some more exploring inside the lagoon. This time we headed for a couple of small reef areas on the western side we hadn’t visited before. Again the snorkelling was fantastic with warm, clear water, great live coral, big colourful clams, huge shells, turtles and fish of all shapes and sizes. This time we drifted, swam and dove the tropical wonderland for about three hours before grumbling bellies signalled it was time to return to the boat for lunch.  
Master Kristian hanging around waiting for Captain Poppy and Admiral Nanny to go snorkelling.

The number of small, colourful fish inside the Fitzroy Reef lagoon is amazing.

The giant clams also come in a huge range of colours.


The range of coral species is also fantastic.




The water was so warm it was easy to stay immersed for hours.
 
Again the snorkelling was fantastic wit warm, clear water, great live coral, big colourful clams, huge shells, turtles and fish of all shapes and sizes. This time we drifted, swam and dove the tropical wonderland for about three hours before grumbling bellies signalled it was time to return to the boat for lunch.
Rob cooking the kebab sticks for lunch.


Karen taught Kristian some rope plaiting tricks after lunch

We're not sure he needed the fingerless sailing gloves on but he though they were cool.
Later that afternoon we visited La Jorja to see the results of the boys’ spear fishing expedition on the coral drop offs outside the lagoon. These guys are very serious about their spearing and, with advantage of youth and fitness, free dive quite deep in pursuit of the ‘big ones’. When we arrived we could see that Fitzroy Reef had clearly not disappointed. The array of big coral trout, mackerel, tuna and a massive cobia spread across the deck for cleaning was amazing.

This big Cobia was speared about 12 metres down on the outside drop off at Fitzroy Reef


 
Kristian was spellbound as the catch was gutted and filleted attracting a number of black tip reef sharks competing for the spoils being dumped over the back. We were generously provided with a good sized slab of cobia fillet to barbecue that night accompanied by yet another stunning sunset. Life is good on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

 
Good night from Fitzroy Reef.
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If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.