Great Barrier Reef

After an agreeable couple of days in Cairns marina, which is buzzingly commandeered by the visit-the-reef tourism industry, we sailed on Sunday the 12th August for our passage to Darwin, and for the unique navigational experience of the series of channels which make up the inner passage (or passages) to Cape York.

And we’re talking channels, some of them quite narrow. There is a series of them, linked together to guide shipping through the holes in the reefs, 400 miles of zig zag marked by beacons and buoys.

There are few yachts after the playground of the Whitsundays, but there is a steady stream of merchant shipping. This was unexpected, at least by me. My memory of visits to Sydney in the RN is that we passed well outside the Barrier. On reflection, of course we did, that was before the days of GPS, and the Barrier would be a nightmare without GPS and Navionics. More credit to Captain Cook. A particular characteristic of the run is that everyone talks to each other on VHF 16. We had as an instance the challenge of transiting a mile-wide channel on a dark night with two large bulk-carriers passing in opposite directions, us sandwiched in the middle, movements and intentions choreographed by a friendly and professional dialogue on VHF. The language is English of course, but a variety of accents.

Problems: this is SE Trade Wind season and country, so much of it dead down wind, with a preventer on the main and a lot of gybing; our new autopilot packed up, so the hydrovane took over, willing enough but not the easiest solution for frequent down-wind manoeuvring.

We stopped two nights at Port Douglas to avoid some strong wind. It’s a charming little resort,
again dedicated to the barrier tourism. We hired a car and drove to Cape Tribulation of Cook fame, surprisingly busy and touristy, but a satisfying day’s change from routine on the boat.