To The Outer Reef, Finally

October 2021

We were once more getting the front room sorted for a visitor. This time our younger son Taylor, whom we hadn’t seen for 2 years, was coming over from WA.  But the first week of October saw a really good break in the weather and ‘Shebeen’, ‘Mad Mac’s’ and ourselves were keen to get out to the reefs.  I can always tidy and do inventory as we travel – so off we headed.  We left the day before the others (as we are slower) and picked up a mooring at Stonehaven Bay on the west side of Hook Island.  We would have preferred to be a little further around at Butterfly Bay, but one should not argue with the direction the wind wishes to blow and Stonehaven wouldn’t leave us with a lee shore.  [A lee shore is what you have when the wind is blowing you towards the shore, presenting a solid consequence if something were to go wrong.  Better to have the wind blowing the boat out towards open sea, well as open as it gets here anyway].

Stonehaven Bay looking north

It was quite busy and we weren’t sure if we would get a mooring, but luckily there was one spare. We were ready to anchor if needed, as the anchoring is apparently good anyways.

We are here (yellow cross) at Little Black Reef

‘Shebeen’ caught up with us the next day just outside the reef structure we were heading for.  The reef we were visiting is 18nm from Airlie Beach.  We intended to anchor inside Little Black Reef (yes there is a Big Black Reef). The exciting part about going to these parts of the Great Barrier Reef is that the charts are not that accurate, so great care must be taken to ensure no sudden unintended stops are encountered.

There is a deep channel between the two Black Reefs and part way along there is a small opening into Little Black Reef – you really need to know it’s there to see it.  Although we had timed our arrival for midday so that the sun was high to make seeing the reef easier, the weather had other ideas and it was dull grey and overcast when we arrived – oh dear.  There was another boat ahead of us that seemed to be travelling at a speed that would indicate they knew where they were going, so we locked the plotter onto them and I followed their track in.  From our pilot house I can’t see reef at all, so I was relying on Peter up the front with his polaroid glasses waving his arms around to make sure we didn’t get too close to any hard bits.  The language is simple, the more frantic the waving the harder the turn that needs to be made (we did have our headsets on as well and were not just relying on interpretive semaphore).  It turned out the channel in is quite wide enough (I just couldn’t see it), but I was really rather nervous as we were literally driving into the middle of a reef – we’ve not done this before. 

There is a lot of reef out there

Once inside there is a very large parking area of sand (large enough to accommodate eight boats at one stage while we were there).  We were amazed with how much protection the reef provided.  Despite not being able to see the structure, as it was all below the surface, it reduced the wave and swell action where we were parked to almost nothing.

‘Opal Lady’ sitting pretty

There are 1m swells and 12knots of wind on the outside of the reef but you wouldn’t know to look at the way ‘Opal Lady’ is sitting.

Nat made Pecan Pie for afternoon tea on ‘Shebeen’ and then we had a quick dip to test out the water (and get an eye ball on any bombies that may become a problem for us if we swing on our anchor – none to worry about).

The next four days were filled with snorkeling in the morning, fishing in the afternoons and working out who’s boat was hosting a meal and cards game.  Peter would go for an early morning paddle on the SUP board, Oz is a Kayak man, and Nat and I are more stay in bed types where mornings are concerned. 

“Say anemoneeee”

My best photo from the snorkeling was this “clown fish” almost smiling at the camera. The lovely thing about this reef is that speccy coral and fish are close to the surface and you don’t have to get into diving gear to see little fellows like this.  I think my Clown Fish is actually a Red and Black Anemone Fish. The ‘Finding Nemo’ Clown Fish is just one of a number of round, orange fish with white stripes that live with an anemone friend. They are all the same family though.

Not a lot of pretty colour, but a lot of action

It was generally agreed that the coral here looked to have been pretty well smashed in a storm some time ago (bound to happen if you are located on the outer edge of the largest ocean in the world). But even though the overall effect was white and bouldery, it was FULL of life and all incredibly close to the surface.

Banished to the naughty seats

The hunters return with a good catch, but have to sit on the marlin board out the back of ‘Shebeen’ until they have cleaned up the mess they have made. It is the only time I will ever be at eye level with Oz (he is not a short man).

Peter caught Sweetlip and
Oz brought home Cods

After a few refreshments the fish was filleted, the back of the boat and the tender cleaned up and there was fresh fish and salad for tea.

Three days later The Mac’s arrived and we waved goodbye to ‘Shebeen’ (they had friends arriving and had to go back to Airlie Beach to meet them).

Sunset over the reef

We were waved over by a lovely older style Nordhavn when out on a dive the next day. They couldn’t find the opening into the reef; they had passed it – I told you it was pesky to find in the wrong light.  John turned the tender around to guide them to the entrance and then we did a lovely dive around a large bombie John had spotted while coming in the previous day.  We had a fun evening on Mac’s that night, getting to know the ‘Atlas’ crew (‘Atlas’ is a 62’ Nordhavn, made in 2000, purchased by Craig and Jennifer last year-ish).

Diving with the Mac’s is like having a personal dive guide – they have been doing boat charters for so long, I don’t think they can get out of the habits.  This is wonderful and I have learnt so much from them.  I love it when I see Tracy staring at what I thought was a plain length of stringy stuff, only to find that she is looking at the smallest shrimp I have ever seen.  It was almost transparent and so small a family of them could have sat on my fingernail.

A Cockscomb Oyster

My best diving photo – I actually have colour! (I’m experimenting with more light  – apparently the more light you have down there the better).

A Tiger Anemone

This is a Tiger Anemone (nemanthus annamensis).  The plant includes the whole rope and flower looking affair – and there I was thinking that anemones all looked like (Finding) Nemo’s home.  This anemone had the most delicate spots.  I could have looked at it for ages, but Tracy had found a beastie that she thought we would be interested in.

The resident baddie

Not the greatest photo (we were deeper than I had ‘white balanced’ for and I didn’t take the time to change the settings), but this is a Crown of Thorns starfish.  These are the baddies of the reef – not all baddies have big teeth.  These marauders just have a voracious appetite for coral polyps and no predators.  Tracy flicked it over with her torch in hopes that some fish might eat its soft underbelly.  [Dive Tour operators help to control them by injecting them with copper sulphate.  You can’t handle them due to the impressive spines, and doing a ‘cleaving in two’ will only create more of them!]

The only downer for the trip was when I got washed into some reef while taking photos and I wasn’t wearing my suit.  The graze on my knee was nothing to look at, but it stayed red and puffy and itchy for weeks after. [Note to self to not-forget to fully scrub any reef grazes and disinfect savagely in future. Surfers know you really have to hit this stuff hard.  I didn’t and I still have one little spot that gets red and touchy in hot weather].

Peter and the Mac’s

We spent a very enjoyable week doing not a lot out here.  Wake up, go for a snorkel, go for a fish, drinks, sleep and repeat – fabulous. The weather on the outer reef was apparently choppy and windy (1m swell and 15knots) but we were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it was where we were anchored inside the reef.  The difference was really apparent the day we headed to the outer side of the reef to do some trolling for big fish (unfortunately there were none interested in throwing themselves onto a good-looking hook – no matter I had sausages defrosting, just in case).  Once the tide turned in the evening, it got very uncomfortable out there.

This wonderful trip was topped off by a nearly perfect berthing when we got back to Airlie Beach.  Now to collect a son and head back out.

Cruising Comments:

Moored at Stonehaven Bay: 30/9/2021, at 20 06.107S, 148 54.345E, in 8.6m water.  Winds N <10kn.  This mooring line was rather tatty like someone had tried cutting it with a knife.  This location is good for SE winds.  No mozzies and good phone reception.

Anchored Little Black Reef: 31/10/2021 – 8/10/2021, at 19 45.650S, 149 22.087E, in 10.7m water with 1m tide, 60m chain, scope ratio HT 4.5:1 (tide up 2.3m).  Winds N-W <13knts. Rolly overnight when winds turned E.

Banner photo – ‘Mad Mac’s’ in a Little Black Reef sunset

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I suppose your graze can be considered an unconventional souvenir to remind you of the trip!

    1. I had not thought of that Alana. I’ll look at that spot in a completely different way next time it itches up.

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