Jun 03 2011

Dolphins!

Tag: Australia,Justin,sea life,wild lifeJonathon Haradon @ 1:57 am
A week or so ago while sailing from Airlie to Townsville, Justin and I saw about 20 dolphins all jumping and playing at the bow as we cruised along at 7 knots. It was a lot of fun to watch. I had never seen that many at the same time around the boat. Here are some pictures.

May 14 2011

5 days, 7 dives

Tag: Australia,diving,fun activity,Justin,route,scuba diving,wild lifeJonathon Haradon @ 1:07 pm
Our first three dives were off Bait Reef, 30 miles from the Airlie Beach, on the outer section of the Great Barrier Reef. Here the water was clearer than near shore. Bait Reef stays entirely under water. Our first dive was at night, a disconcertingly amazing experience. Never really knowing where you are, or what is just outside the beam of your torch is eerie. We were surrounded by a school of 3 to 5 foot long tuna. They would dart into the light and just as quick burst away. They would playfully dart into the light, come right up next to you, and then quickly burst away and after five feet they would be out of the light. Second up was a wall dive. A sheer vertical wall took us down to 90 feet; Justin sunk to 100. From there we meandered and drifted along the wall, slowly making our way shallower and through gullies and overhangs and swim throughs. Third was a shallower dive around what are called the Stepping Stones, seven pillars that vertically rise from 15 meters up to within 1 meter of the surface. We then had to unfortunately leave Bait Reef without visiting nearby reefs, as a front moved in bringing with it 25 -30 knot winds. The winds whipped the water across the reef and made for a terrible place to hang out. Bobbing and swaying, we labored to get the dinghy out of the water and make for calmer anchorages. At Hook Island, we dove the Western tip of Butterfly Bay, an enjoyable outing, where Justin spied a small shark. We then dove on the eastern side of Manta Ray Bay, unfortunately spying no Manta Rays. The season for them is May through September, but we haven’t been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one yet. The west side of Pinnacle Bay was next, adjacent to a rock-cliff named the wood pile that begs to be the site of some cliff diving and which I spent an afternoon scrambling and doing a little climbing on. An awesome 10 foot roof crack juts out over the water; a better climber than me would love having a go at it. I just admired it and wished I was a better climber. This dive was a bit disappointing with respect to fish, coral and visibility, given it’s hype in various guidebooks. It did have, however, some fantastic coral formations, huge overhangs, deep slots to swim through and a couple of tunnels. I spied one tiny tunnel with a sliver of light coming through it. I motioned for Justin to come check it out and jokingly hand signaled for him to swim up it. To my surprise, he took me up on it and started to gingerly make his way through. Soon, his fins had kicked up a cloud of dirt as he angled up and through. I ascended along the coral watching bubbles filter up through what seemed to be an impenetrable mass of coral. Justin was nowhere in sight. I then crested over a hump of coral and there was Justin, his upper body poking out of the end of the tunnel, as he gingerly twisted and squeezed through the last, tightest spot. Finally, we dove the eastern side of Pinnacle Bay, around the Pinnacles. This dive, combined with the previous one, are supposed to be the best in the main islands of the Whitsundays. On both, as in most dives in Australia, I continue to be disappointed in the visibility. Live coral was also not particularly present on this dive, but formations within the coral were. High narrow slots abounded, two in particular were reminiscent of the slot canyons of Utah, 8 feet wide, 25 feet high slices through the coral made for fun exploring. Another big highlight was seeing the 6 foot long turtle. I immediately thought of Finding Nemo as it glided along in the current. I saw a Moray Eel, a disgusting looking creature. And I nearly had to adapt a fish; an angel fish, sometimes accompanied with his three friends, swam within 10 feet behind and around me for over 20 minutes of our dive. Huge thanks to Brian on Furthur who has been filling our tanks for us. Diving and hanging out with him and Susan has been a great time over the last five days.

May 06 2011

Lady Musgrave

Tag: Australia,fun activity,Justin,pictures,wild lifeJonathon Haradon @ 4:02 am

This post backtracks some and talks about events that happened April 21st to April 25th.

The first truly tropical awesome place that we’ve been to since Justin arrived was Lady Musgrave Island. It is at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, a mere 30 miles offshore, 50 miles from where we sailed from Bundaberg. A tiny cay of sand and trees 600 yards wide juts up out of the ocean with a small two mile wide fringing reef surrounding it. The Tuomotus, where I first joined the boat were similar (though this was even smaller) and as I wish I could have spent another month there, I was in love with the place before we even got there.

The entrance through the coral reef was rumored to be blasted out with dynamite years ago by guano harvesters. Goats were introduced on the island in case of shipwrecks. Jonny would be glad to know they have since been eradicated. I was nervous entering the coral ring, the pass felt extremely narrow, much narrower than anything in the Tuomotus or anywhere I’d been. Running aground here would be disastrous as it would mean impacting and potentially sinking on hard, sharp coral, not the soft forgiving sand I’ve hit twice now in the last month. I had left the drifter pole up after pulling the sails down and I swear it seemed like it’s 20 foot length was able to overhang the obvious shallow edge of where the pass had been blasted out. Nerve-wracking, but we made it through.

Inside was beautiful glistening water. The Pacific Ocean crashed all around against a ring of fringing reef that, save the tiny cay, remained just two or three feet underwater. The water was brilliant turquoise and blue. We relaxed. We snorkeled. We spear-fished. We meandered around the island. We lazily swung in the hammock.

Our spear fishing adventure was short. I bagged one smaller sized fish within a few minutes. Justin then said he had spied a bigger fish. I asked if he wanted to take a shot at it. He dove down to within three feet of it… the fish didn’t budge… and then Justin surfaced without firing. He had forgotten to undo the safety!  Back down he went, the fish hadn’t moved an inch, and with one shot from three feet away, one-shot wonder Justin bagged what is easily the biggest fish that someone on Syzygy has caught. King’s to Justin today!

Justin, however, doesn’t really eat fish, so I spent the next two hours trying to gut and clean them. My fish only produced a small amount of meat, but Justin’s… Justin’s provided two beautiful large fillets. He gamely tried a few small bites of what I cooked up, but in the end sided with Ramon for dinner that evening. I dined on fish in a lemon butter sauce, fish in a sweet chili reduction, and fish teriyaki. Thank you Justin!

 

Aug 29 2010

Scuba Diving at Beveridge Reef

Tag: scuba diving,wild lifeJonathon Haradon @ 9:17 pm

(refers to events that happened August 22nd and 23rd)

I finally did some real scuba diving with my own gear.  Or rather the gear I’ve borrowed from the Martins.  Thanks Pat and Dave!

In Rangiroa, I purchased a dive outing with a local dive operator, 6 Passengers, so named because they limit the number of people with one dive guide to, yes, six people.  Scuba diving through Passe Tiputa was extremely fun.  I had almost as much fun simply remembering how to scuba dive as I did watching sharks or fish or coral.  I wanted my first time to be with a dive outfit, just so I could remind myself what it was like.  I was certified 15 years ago, and then took a three hour refresher course.  So in the last 14 years, I have only been scuba diving once, four months ago, in a pool.  My point being I wanted the first time I went to be with a dive master.

Then in Moorea, I decided to test out the dive equipment we have.  I only got through two regulators (of five), one BCD (of three) and both tanks before wanting to actually have fun.  And so with the dive gear on, I hopped into 12 feet of water where we were anchored and scrubbed the bottom of our boat.  I burned through over half of one tank doing that, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

But finally, in Beveridge Reef, I went scuba diving with my own gear.  Matt and Karen were snorkeling above me as we explored the pass into Beveridge Reef.  One day we were at the south side of the entrance and the other the north.

Both were spectacular!  On the south side, I went down to the floor at about 40 feet. There was a fairly hefty current at the surface, but on the bottom it was not nearly as bad, and I could just kneel in the dirt to keep myself from moving.  The fish, though, the fish!! Three foot long bumphead parrot fish were there, at least a hundred it seemed.  Large groupers also abounded.  Both would swim up almost next to you!  I could have easily touched them if they would have stayed put.  But they darted quickly away.

The main attraction for me was the slots in the reef.  Underwater canyons!  One in particular was about 12 wide with 20 foot high walls of coral.  Swimming along the sandy bottom in this canyon was spectacular.  Fish were everywhere.  Like canyoneering on land, there was obstacles to maneuver around, boulders in the middle of the canyon and such.  And within the canyon, within this canyon were sharks.

The sharks, up to six feet in length lazily meandered around.  Most were smaller.  Some were hefty with girth.  Frequently the sharks would swim to within ten feet of me, as I knelt on the surface wondering what it thought of me.  Then it would angle slowly away, apparently I was rejected as something to eat.

The north side of the Beveridge Reef pass held even more fish.  There were hardly any parrotfish, but was a school of smaller silvery fish.  There must have numbered in the thousands.  In one particular instance, they completely surrounded me and were swimming in a 360 degree circle around me.  They were everywhere I turned, spinning around me in their attempts to protect themselves and keep me, as the potential predator, in confusion.  I felt like I was in one of the Blue Planet movies, when they show the schools of fish swimming in giant spheres.

The north side had an enormous overhang of coral, undercut by nearly 20 feet.  With a sandy bottom, I just kneeled down and watched the multitudes of ocean life cruise by.  This time, not just a few sharks but dozens.  It was fantastic to see.  I also drifted over to another coral garden 100 yards away that had grabbed my attention.  The attraction here was a ten foot high arch made of coral that I wanted to swim through.

Thanks again to Pat and Dave Martin for the scuba gear they loaned us.  Also a thanks to Dave, from the trawler Rock and Roll her at the Emeryville Marina who also gave us some scuba gear.  Diving in Tonga awaits and in Fiji, in Fiji its supposed to be spell-binding.  Fantastic!

(video of scuba diving and snorkeling at Beveridge Reef will be coming later when we get a faster internet connection)