Yaraandoo II Naut 40 Cutter 6 6 draft October 2004 Subject/Area Swains Reefs, Southern End of Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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1 Yaraandoo II Naut 40 Cutter 6 6 draft October 2004 Subject/Area Swains Reefs, Southern End of Great Barrier Reef, Australia Dear SSCA We thought members might like some information on an infrequently visited (at least by yachts) part of Australia s Great Barrier Reef. The Swains Reef complex is approximately 110 nms east of Yeppoon and on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. We visited the Swains and Pompey (next reef complex northwest of the Swains) Reefs, for 15 days in October. We had a comfortable (non roly) anchorage each night, often within a reef lagoon similar to Fitzroy Reef or Lady Musgrave Island. Unfortunately most of the cays are now designated Pink zones under the Marine Parks legislation hence landing is not permitted, however we did some reef walking and even explored an old wreck, SWALONG, on Horseshoe Reef. Whilst the chart AUS 367 is the only chart, which shows any detail, it is still too large a scale to give reef details, so we used the Sunmap Fishing Guide for Swains Reefs Region ($7.35 from Boat Books) and together with C Map had accurate enough information for reef navigation. Each reef anchorage was found visually without difficulty and even with Trade Winds up to 25 kts we had no problems. We also used Neville Coleman s book Dive Sites of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea (ISBN X) as a guide for which reefs to snorkel and found each reef different and exciting diving. We started our trip from Great Keppel Island and did an overnighter to the Swains. As this was our first visit we chose to go around the bottom of the complex, which is marked with a light tower on Hixson Reef, and then enter the complex from the southeast with the morning sun behind us. With hindsight, this cautious approach was unnecessary and we could have easily entered the reef complex on its western side as the reefs were where they were supposed to be and by say 10am, visibility would have been adequate. Our first stop was at Sweetlip Reef (see mud map) where we found we could get shelter from an unusual North Westerly. Our arrival procedure was for all sails to be stowed, Sue would take the helm with me giving directions from the spreaders.

2 Using this technique, we navigated Yaraandoo II within many of the reef lagoons and always anchored over sand with no anchor grumbles. The Sunmap listed anchorages were all good and in fact we found several other sites not listed which offered plenty of shelter. Sweetlip Reef would offer protection in all wind directions by appropriate anchorage selection. We had 20kts from the North West and had no problems. From Sweetlip Reef, we back tracked 5 nms to Hixson Cay and Reef and found some excellent coral in the pass below the light. We did a drift dive towing the dinghy because of the strong current and found that the coral was superb. Hixson Cay anchorage ( S, E) was in open sand and would only offer protection in SE to E winds. From this anchorage we sailed 9nms north to anchor at Sandshoe Reef ( S, E). Again the approach into the sandy anchorage was from the north west with the reef offering excellent protection and shelter in the 20-25kt south easterly. Whilst exploring the reefs, we or maybe I should say Yaraandoo II, were adopted by some pets. For several days, a Brown Booby bird decided it liked our company, and up to 20 remoras were resident under Yaraandoo and slowly their numbers have dwindled, but at least 3 remain and we are now 200nms north of where we were adopted. The Booby bird was so tame that after crash landing on the foredeck and then perfecting its landing onto the mainsail/boom it tried the sheet winches, BBQ and even tried to follow us down the companion way. We drew the line at that and wrapped it in a towel to lift it out of the cockpit. Even so it was determined to stay close to us. It saw us returning in the dinghy from a dive and flew from Yaraandoo to welcome us home. Have you ever experienced a large bird trying to land on your outboard from a bow on approach while planing? Makes for quick movement in cramped

3 conditions on our part and a crash landing in the floor of the dinghy for the bird, but there were no injuries to any party and the episode made for an exciting dinghy ride. Leaving Sandshoe Reef we sailed 16.7nms to Horseshoe Reef and anchored at S, E, in a large open anchorage offering protection in NE to SE winds. An old wreck, SWALONG, is high on the northeastern corner of this reef and made for an interesting reef walk. There was good snorkelling on the northern end of this reef within canyons and gullies. From Horseshoe Reef we continued deeper into the reef complex sailing 13nms northwest passing to the north of Gannet Cay (a pink zone) and anchored at Pike Reef (see mud map). This reef would offer almost 360 protection, in a largely enclosed sandy lagoon with very few bommies. Two small sand cays, Poulson Cay to the east and Moon Cay to the north were only visible at low tide (no wonder they were not classified Pink )! Leaving Pike Reef we sailed 20nms north passing to the west of Frigate Cay (pink zone) and entered Frigate Lagoon, (see mud map). Access all the way into the totally protected lagoon is possible via a 20-50m wide 6-8m deep channel and once inside the large lagoon, anchoring is in 10-15m depth, on a sand bottom. We chose to anchor in the approach channel in 6m and explore the lagoon by dinghy. This lagoon could easily accommodate 20 to 30 boats. From our anchorage we had a clear escape route should we have needed it. (In fact this was true of all our anchorages, my admiral likes to err of the side of caution). The diving around the entry channel was possibly the best we experienced with excellent hard and soft corals and a multitude of reef fish. We then sailed 15.6nms north from Frigate Lagoon to Star Reef (see mud map), where we checked out 2 anchorages, both good with the first slightly deeper than the second. From Star Reef we sailed the longer hop of 25.6nms west-northwest to

4 Mystery Cay (perhaps so named because there is no cay)! Mystery Cay (see mud map) is actually in the passage between the west side of the Swains and the southeast side of the Pompey Reef complex. Whilst rounding the southwestern corner of Mystery Cay reef, we had our only scare when a pinnacle bommie about 10m in diameter came up from 30m to 4 m. This pinnacle was about 100m off the reef wall and we had become used to reef walls being vertical with no outlying bommies, so it was a good reminder to keep a good forward lookout when approaching reefs. As it was the warning came from the depth sounder changing scales rapidly. Working our way in past the 3 bommies across the entrance, we anchored as shown and in fact had several coral trout fishing boats anchor further inside the lagoon after our arrival. Whilst strong tidal flows existed outside, little current was experienced inside. From Mystery Cay we moved 12.8nms west to Perfect Lagoon, (see mud map). This lagoon has two entrances and both were easily navigable. We anchored in 12m depth over clear sand. The lagoon is large approximately 2nms long by 1nm wide and is almost bommie free. From Perfect Lagoon we sailed through the tee handle of the Pompey Reefs these reefs do not have names and are only identified by numbers. We sailed between and and found very strong tidal flows (as mentioned in the Dive Site Book). At this time (day 15) we were experiencing 20-25kts northerlies and in the deteriorating weather conditions decided to just carry on sailing exiting the reef complex in daylight before doing an overnighter to Keswick Is, in the Cumberland Islands at the southern end of the Whitsunday s. That night we had intense lightening inshore of us with only a little overhead. We covered the 177nms in 29 hours with most of the sailing hard on the wind, a 25-30kt northerly with 3 reefs in the main and the staysail a wild wet ride to finish off an incredible reef experience. Our visit had coincided with the first 9 day, fishing moratorium applied by the Queensland Government for Reef Fin Fish. So we contented ourselves for that period with reef exploration and underwater photography. A bonus was we had the reefs all to ourselves for the 9 days apart from a visit by the Coastwatch plane on the 3 rd day.

5 Once the fishing ban was lifted, we saw several coral trout commercial fishing vessels the very next day and at one stage, had 11 dories working the reef where we were anchored. We did manage to stock up on coral trout ourselves by individual selection (spear fishing)! We saw plenty of sharks, mostly white tipped reef sharks and surprisingly few sea snakes (the Swains has a reputation for being the Sea Snake Capital of the great barrier Reef). After more than 35 years of spear fishing, I lost my first fish to a 1.5m whitetipped reef shark that stole a coral trout from my float when I wasn t looking. I did get to keep the fish head! When spear fishing, I tow a float 25m behind me and any fish speared are immediately threaded onto that line and drift back to the float. That shark had good eyesight as he picked the largest of the 3 coral trout I had and left me with the head. Still this didn t go to waste as we fed it to our pets the remoras that had adopted Yaraandoo II. In summary, we entered the Swains at the southern extremity and worked our way north and west, usually sailing with the genoa only. The coral generally improved the further we got into the reef complex. Some areas in the south were dead but clearly regenerating, whilst the corals became more delicate and soft corals more abundant in the central area. We had 15 days in the outer reef complexes and anchored at only 9 of the 100 plus reefs. We had winds ranging from calm up to 25 kts and yet had comfortable sheltered anchorages each night. The outer reef adventure was fantastic and the diving was wonderful and it is certainly a destination we shall re-visit to continue our explorations perhaps with other cruisers next time so we can share the experience of visiting such a natural wonder. Commodores Mike and Sue Powell

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