Great Barrier Reef and Port Douglas

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The sail from Cairns to Green Island, some 11nm east, took only a couple of hours, arriving on Friday 26 August. On the way across we saw in the distance a brown sludge of coral spawn stretching right across the water in a river of about 20m across. The smell was quite strong and not very pleasant, but we soon crossed it into clear water.

We anchored quite a way off Green Island due to the number of coral heads hidden below the water. The following day we dinghied ourselves ashore for an early walk around the island before the masses of tourists arrived. We expected to park the dinghy on the north-western side of the island, but a large bulldozer was pushing sand around the beach; sand that had been delivered the night before by a large barge and filling gaps caused by erosion. We motored around to the north eastern side and dropped our tiny dinghy anchor in the sand and stepped ashore. Plenty of shade on Green Island as the small number of shops and eateries are covered by a canopy of large trees while small birds run amongst the undergrowth. By the time we’d reached the pier, one ferry boat had disgorged its contents of tourists along the pier. As the tourists got their bearings and headed for the northern beach, we walked in solitude on the southern beach then around the eastern side back to the main beach. The whole walk around the island took less than 30 minutes!

As we approached the main swimming area, we could see our dinghy in the distance amongst a small crowd of Japanese tourists. As we approached, we could see each tourist taking a turn to sit on our dinghy and have their photo taken! They didn’t know it was our dinghy, so I had Wayne stand near the dinghy while I took a photo of him with them in the background! It crossed our minds to charge them $5 each and make some money from them for the pleasure of sitting on our dinghy! We had a great laugh!

There was one other yacht anchored while we were at Green Island. Unusually it was a Hallberg Rassy HR43, with those aboard from the USA doing a circumnavigation. Bob and Eric left the USA in February this year aboard Blue Heron. Our paths would cross once again in Port Douglas.

Off Green Island we decided to dive on a nearby bommy. Wearing my full dive gear which weighs over 30kgs, I lowered myself down the ladder rather than jumping off the boat in case I sank to the bottom! Once in the water I blew air into my BC and floated while I put on my flippers and waited for Wayne to come in. Snorkelling over to the anchor chain, we then deflated our BCs and descended the chain to check on the anchor in 10m of water, popping back up to the surface and snorkelling our way over to the bommy to save our air. Regs back in our mouths, we dived down to 6-7m to look at the fish and the coral. It was a really good dive, although visibility was a little murky.

The following day we decided to take advantage of the fine weather over the coming couple of days and motored 11nm to Michaelmas Cay, north of Green Island. As we were approaching the shallow channel between Arlington Reef, Wayne received a call from his brother-in-law letting us know that the rellies were in Port Douglas! That was handy and we arranged to catch up with them while we were in the area. As it turned out, they would join us at Michaelmas Cay the next day.

We sailed into Michaelmas Cay and weaved our way through the forest of bommies to get closer to the beach. Unfortunately the two moorings were taken so we dropped the anchor with 30m of chain but the swing area was so small and Wayne was concerned about floating into a mooring behind us. As it turned out, a large power boat on a mooring left that afternoon so we grabbed it and stayed moored for two nights. I think we’re not meant to stay that long, but no-one else came by to kick us off. As the tourist ferries and boats left the Terns to nest on Michaelmas Cay, all that were left were us plus another yacht named Kool Sid.

The following day, we greeted Bob, Cherie, Tully, Poppy and Cooper on the beach at Michaelmas Cay. They’d caught the Ocean Spirit across from Cairns and spent the day snorkelling with us on the reef. Wanting to catch up with them further, we booked in at the Meridian Mirage Marina Port Douglas for a few nights. The snorkelling at Michaelmas Cay was great. Really big fish – Bat Fish, plus some large dark, evil looking fish – Black Trevally supposedly. The kids threw bits of stale bread overboard squealing in amazement at the number of large fish coming up for their share, plus we saw turtles too and I chased one under water to get a good photo. The kids had a great time and they are very confident swimmers which makes a day out on the water with them a lot of fun.

On our way sailing to Port Douglas, we spent a night at Low Isles so that we could go in at high tide the following morning. With very little wind and the small spinny up, we managed a measly 3knot average, arriving mid-afternoon. But it wasn’t boring; I whipped up a batch of tortillas and we saw a number of pods of whales breaching and splashing their big fins in the water. After we’d dropped the anchor, a black tipped reef shark swam by and I was a little concerned, but what the heck. I lowered the ladder and we both went for a dip. Kool Sid turned up not long after us and offered us some fillets from their catch of the day from the same journey to Low Isles – a 4ft mackerel – yum!

As ever we had jobs to do. I busied myself with the anchor rode marking 10m intervals with 6mm poly braid as the original paint job had finally worn off, making it difficult to know exactly how much chain I was letting out. Wayne worked on getting the tow-generator functioning – we’ve never used it and with our finicky wind generator it makes sense to have all our power generation items working. The tow generator effectively is a propeller dragged along behind the boat by a 30m rope. He spent a few hours splicing each end of the old rope; not as easy as new rope though; and I whipped the ends to tidy it up. We’ll see how well it functions in the coming days.

A final dinner with the rellies on Friday night at The Verandah Bar followed by a stroll down the main street of Port Douglas afterwards found us all standing at the counter of the Shakes Gelati Bar salivating at the many flavours on offer. We each walked away with cups or waffle cones oozing the gelati of their choice as we ambled back down the main street. At their hire car we said our goodbyes – it was great to see them all but a little sad as we don’t know when we’ll see them next.

We decided to leave Port Douglas today, Saturday 3 September. If we stay any longer, we risk getting trapped in the marina due to the tides so we had to leave around high tide just after lunch. Unfortunately though the wind blew around 25/30 knots so the trip across to Low Isles was a little bouncy. We’ll stay here a day or so until we’re ready to continue up to Lizard Island. Earlier that day I walked to the shops to grab a couple of pies for lunch and I also bought a couple of Maxibons and secretly stashed them in our inadequate freezer to surprise Wayne with a little treat upon arrival at Low Isles!

And for all the fathers, have a lovely Father’s Day tomorrow – especially my Dad!!

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Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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