‘Opal Lady’ at Opal Reef

January 2022

The 17th January sees us heading out to the Great Barrier Reef for at least a week, as the weather is looking pretty good.    We are going to anchor at a place called Opal Reef and then explore the reefs further north.  Terry and Jenny, our friends on ‘AraRoa’, are coming out as well. 

Opal Reef is a big enough structure that you can clearly see it on GoogleEarth.  There is supposed to be good fishing and diving on this reef (although I will only be snorkelling, as I’m still getting over an annoying ear infection).

Queensland has many areas on the reef which are protected and no fishing is allowed. To make sure we only fish in permitted areas, we use a handy app called ‘Eye on the Reef’. It is a bit slow and you can only use it in areas with internet access, but combined with marine park information and the charts put out by the authorities it is quite useful and helps to make sure that we are not doing the wrong thing.

‘Opal Lady’ anchored at Opal Reef. The moon is really red because of the ash from the Tonga volcano (although it shows as orange in this photo).

We woke up in the morning to find that this fellow had landed down the side of the boat and discovered that he didn’t have the room to get flying again.  Poor thing spent the night pattering up and down until daylight when we finally noticed him.  He thought Peter was scary and backed up the steps, at which point he realised he had enough clearance to jump over the side and away.  There were huge piles of fishy smelling nervousness left all over my side deck!  This Brown Booby Bird has an amazingly pointy beak and I’m not sure how we would have liberated him if he hadn’t worked it out himself.

There was a lot of action at the reef.  We had Spanish Mackerel jumping out of the water, almost constant schooling balls of fish.  Birds were catching fish in the air.  Best of all was the Manta Ray that launched itself out of the water as we were rounding the reef – you don’t see that every day.  It honestly looked like it was trying to fly.  Unfortunately, it was also very hot whenever the wind died down, and there were commercial tourist boats coming out and mooring every day, with their hundreds of visitors floating around clutching pool noodles.

In the mornings it was very still and Peter would go SUP boarding over the reef.  He would come back talking about all the sea life he had paddled over, even in the very shallow areas.  Once everybody was awake, we would go snorkelling in the morning and then Peter and Terry would go fishing in the afternoon. In the evenings we usually got together for drinkies to admire the very red moon from one of the boats.  This is our favourite way of cruising; staying in one place for at least a few days and exploring properly.

We have ‘AraRoa’ coming over for tea so Peter is cooking up a curry. 

Peter 0, Terry 1

Unfortunately for Terry, a Trevally of this size is not a good eating fish, so it was put back (Terry still claimed it on the tally – and fair call, it’s a good-looking fish).

Jenny had prepared for this eventuality, and we were invited over for beef Hibachi style.

Can you see us? This is what Jenny could see of ‘Opal Lady’ during one of the squalls.

After some really nice weather we then had some storm fronts go through, which had us bunkered down for a few days. ‘AraRoa’ took this photo of us one afternoon after we’d let them know via radio that we wouldn’t be making afternoon drinkies.  It did get a bit wild for a few days, including an impressive thunderstorm with lots of lightning one evening.  I put the satphone into the fridge, just in case we got hit (it might be protected in there). We thanked Terry for being a “so much taller than us lightning rod” – he didn’t laugh (lightning strike is a serious problem for boats).  It might sound odd, but it was safer for us to stay out here on the reef, than to make a run for the coast through the weather.  And I now have a clean boat from all the rain.

We became something of a bird sanctuary.  Even in the high winds these Terns did their best to grip that rail.

Drinkies and Planning on ‘AraRoa’

After they came back fishless from their latest fishing trip, Terry and Peter did some planning for moving on. The decision was made to go to the next reef north to try their luck there (they were definitely not sulking, so they said).  The next reef has the sweet name of St Crispin’s.  

Peter on bombie watch while we entered St Crispin’s Reef

Once you get in close, all of these reefs are poorly charted.  So, you need to try and arrive around midday (when the sun is shining most directly down into the water) and then slowly weave your way into an anchorage, dodging the many bommies that are present.  

According to the charts we are anchored ON the reef – but that’s charts for you.  We have 9m deep water on all sides and enough swing room for 50m of chain – all good.

At St Crispin’s Terry became immortalised amongst the four of us, when he decided to anchor very close – it has become a standing joke.

I think ‘AraRoa’ has suddenly got a case of agoraphobia!  Surely this is a little too close, Terry?

Apparently not.  Terry sent this photo of ‘Opal Lady’ with both flopper stoppers deployed, saying the distance looked good to him. 

But I’m not concerned as the windy squalls are coming from the South East, which will swing ‘AraRoa’ behind us when it counts.

I’ll head out for a bit of SUP boarding instead – it really is very relaxing.  The view of the reef from the board is absolutely delightful and if you can paddle quietly, you don’t keep seeing the back end of fish swimming away from you. Most days were like this; dead calm in the morning and the wind picking up in the evening.

We went snorkelling most days, seeing plenty of table corals and many different types of fish including white tip sharks, bump head wrasse, banner fish and damsel fish in an array of colours.

It may be raining, but it is still calm this morning.  Between showers, Peter got this lovely Sweetlip – they are supposed to be excellent eating. 

Dinner party on ‘Opal Lady’ at St Crispin’s Reef

We invited Jenny and Terry over to see how good the Sweetlip was… and it was goooood.  We were having affogato for dessert and thought it best to head out to the front on the boat into the slight breeze, lest the ice-cream melt before we got the coffee onto it.  The flavour was lovely, but I drank rather than ate most of my dessert.

Big rain overnight means getting in and bailing out the tender each morning.

The view through my window this morning – anyone would think we were the only dry place to land for miles around – oh we are.  They left lots of presents – me and a bucket of soapy water will be up there this evening when it cools down. 

No wind today, so it’s very hot.  It is funny how the photo looks lovely and cool – those beautiful shades of blue will do that.

On the 27th and only half way through our expected cruise out here, we had to head back in to Port Douglas as poor Jill (Peter’s Mum) had to go into hospital for emergency surgery.  ‘AraRoa’ continued their cruise up to Agincourt Reef and we caught up with them a few weeks later.

Neon Notes:

It is pouring rain, but I don’t care because Dad is filleting my tea.  I am rocking a particularly bad fur-cut, but I am enjoying being cool.

Boat Works:

Change oil filters on GenSet.

Replaced gas sensors for gas supply system.

Navigation Notes:

[This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a CellFi booster system. Dates are in Standard Australian format DD/MM/YYYY. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level depth).]

Anchored Opal Reef: 17/1/2022, at 16 12.741S, 145 53.740E, in 8.5m water with 1.4m tide, 45m chain.  Squall winds up to 36knt SSE. Good holding.  Tide range 2.5m.  [Chart AUS831] [BoM (online) Weather Zone – Qld>Nth Qld Coastal Waters>Torres Strait to StLawrence>Cairns Coast – Cape Tribulation to Cardwell, or Great Barrier Reef Offshore Waters]

Anchored St Crispin’s Reef: 24/1/2022, at 16 05.052S, 145 50.783E, in 9.3m water with 2.1m tide, 50m chain, exit angle 260o.  Max winds SSE 28knt.  Good holding.  A LOT of bombies. [Chart AUS831] [BoM (online) Weather Zone – Qld>Nth Qld Coastal Waters>Torres Strait to StLawrence>Cairns Coast – Cape Tribulation to Cardwell, or Great Barrier Reef Offshore Waters]

Banner Photo: Peter SUP boarding at Opal Reef

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