Global Voyage

A Story About Sailing Around the World

Ray & Jenny aboard the ketch Suka

3 years, 35,000 miles, Nov 1982 - Jan 1986

Ray & Jenny Jardine

Chapter 10: The Great Barrier Reef page 70 of 109

The way ahead lay reasonably clear of obdurate reefs and other telluric navigational hazards, so we pressed on throughout the night. Indiscernible in the Cimmerian darkness, two rocky islets lay somewhere in our path, but every few hours the sat-nav would bleat an acquisition, and by plotting its position fixes we managed to steer well clear. Even so, the watchkeepers remained attentive, although in so doing they spent a sleepless night. This was the singular instance during the 63-day passage inside the coral-studded Great Barrier Reef that we sailed from dusk to dawn. And we considered that one night of bearing such anxiety more than sufficiently augmented our voyaging experiences.

Cape Townshend


Zoom out to see where we are.

Running before brisk south-westerlies, Suka cruised throughout the following day, and reached Cape Townshend in the early afternoon. This entrance lacked a bar, and its bay contained sufficiently deep water. So reaching the anchorage was for once mercifully safe and easy. After setting the bower we retired below, each in turn for an invigorating hot shower, after which time the cook prepared a round of hearty steak-sandwiches. The desolate and rugged headland beckoned come explore, so after enjoying a short but revitalizing nap, we pulled ashore in the ship's tender.

Next morning we rose at four a.m, brewed coffee and read scripture according to our daily practice. The cook retired the dishes, and busied herself stowing the bedding and tidying the cabin while the mechanic checked the engine oil and coolant level, then cleaned the engine's raw water intake strainer. Once the engine was running, together and hand-over-hand the jack tars hauled aboard the ground tackle then catted the anchor into its bow roller. Swinging the bucket's rope lanyard over the lifelines and hauling aboard seawater, the first mate of the foredeck sluiced and brush-scrubbed the dura-mud from the anchor, chain and the foredeck, while the commanding officer navigated Suka away from the night's anchorage and toward deeper water. Once in the clear, the shell-backs trimmed the self-steering gear, and made sail. Then while the salt fed chain into the naval pipe, the gob performed genuflections belowdecks, dragging chain into its locker in the bilge, abaft the mainmast. Then left to greet the new day of sailing, our crew of two relaxed in the cockpit to apprise the scenery. Thus, save for the upcoming 19 day stop-over in the city of Cairns, this routine was to become our morning ritual for the succeeding two months, as the little brig plied the passage behind the Great Barrier Reef.

On this particular morning Suka ambled along at 4 knots, wing-and-wing before ever-slackening wind and seas. Beneath sunny skies she cruised among myriad high and steep-to rocky islets, as the eyes of her crew feasted on the sights of craggy, tree-crested bastions of rock that jutted abruptly here and there from the sea.

Later that afternoon as we approached the day's objective, Middle Percy Island, a large ketch motored past, bare poled. Hailing with uplifted beer cans, the rowdy gang quashed our hopes of enjoying Middle Percy's quietude, as undoubtedly they also were bound for the only suitable anchorage within reach.

Middle Percy Island


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Anchoring in West Bay, while disregarding our graphically inebriated neighbors, we ventured ashore and enjoyed a long walk through the woods, exploring some of this capacious and intriguing island. Sulfur-crested cockatoos, large, snow-white parrots, cawed from the trees. Members of this species were to prove abundant upon the islands within the Great Barrier Reef, and their raucous outcries were to become a familiar feature of the soundscapes.

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Returning to the beach we examined an A-frame structure, and a shed crowded with all manner of seaborne relics inscribed with the names of visiting yachts. The flotsam included planks, driftwood, old oars, various pieces of boats, fishing floats, glass balls, and the like. Each piece had been more or less carefully inscribed upon, sometimes decorated artistically, and left as a momenta of the particular crew's visit. The ambiance reminded one of a Queensland nautical archives bereft of the frosty lagers.

During the night Suka rocked and rolled to the heated rhythm of a swell working into the bay, which by morning had twinged the mate's countenance sea-green. Departing early, Suka filled away in somewhat wild conditions. Digby Island, her next stop, lay but 20 miles farther on, and she covered the distance with speed.

Arriving at the Beverley Group, of which Digby is a member, we were unable to correlate the layout with that depicted on the chart. The singularly outstanding landmark, Pin Islet, shown as a 110-foot high chunk of rock lying 2/3 of a mile off-shore the Digby-Keelan reef, was missing. No matter how intently we scrutinized the seascape, the islet was not there. This was disorienting. Were the ship's compasses in error, due to some local magnetic anomaly, and perhaps were not these the Beverley islands, as we imagined? I bore away to gather thinking room, then when seen from a different angle, Pin Islet presented itself, indeed in its charted position. The afternoon's peculiar sunlight had caused the islet to seem to blend in with the background island.

Making for the pass, we dowsed the sails and motored ahead. Suddenly a malicious swirl of wind caught the chart, previously wedged between the steering pedestal and the cockpit-well, and flung it overboard. We needed that chart in order to navigate the anchorage safely. Moreover, it would prove its worth the day following, during the jaunt among several capacious reefs, awash or dangerously barely submerged. Luckily, the chart remained afloat, and after I had wheeled the helm hard over and circled back, a wave conveniently lifted the publication to deck level and Jenny snatched it.

Digby Island


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Remarkably, both depth sounders were on the fritz, requiring us to revert to the time-honored sounding technique. So as Suka escaped the wild, frothy sea and entered the relatively placid anchorage, Jenny stood on the foredeck slinging her lead line. The old ways were indeed proving the more reliable.

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Exploring Digby Island.

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Plinking away a dozen rounds.

Desolate and uninhabited, the island seemed a suitable place to carry ashore the assault rifle we had purchased in Bundy, and to plink away a few rounds at a chunk of driftwood. The firearm abided in a hidden niche I had constructed under the chart table, where it would fall into hand at the tug of a short cord. I had drilled Jenny regarding the safe handling of the weapon, on fingering its safety mechanism, on loading, fitting, and on expelling the magazines, but neither of us had fired the piece. So with increasingly splintered nerves and ever decreasing accuracy we triggered away a dozen deafening rounds.

“Well, I suppose you're wondering if it's worth getting up today,"
"No, it isn't; go back to sleep.”

As the tide rose, the seas began steamrolling over much of the offlying protective reefs, rendering the anchorage less than ideal. The conditions without were boisterous, and a great deal of wave energy was now leaking into the refuge. So we woke early the following morning feeling tousled. Before rising, we lay in the pre-dawn darkness listening to a weather broadcast. Suka rolled heavily; the pre-dawn night was cold and blustery; and the scene wreaked with insecurity. "Well, I suppose you're wondering if it's worth getting up today," the broadcaster asked whimsically. "No, it isn't; go back to sleep."

The light of dawn illuminated Suka's deeply reefed canvas faintly as she galumphed away, well-heeled to the zesty south-westerlies.

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Mackay Harbor


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Arriving at the town of Mackay in the mid afternoon, and entering the harbor, we found a familiar yacht lying among a dozen others. Jim Holman and Betsy Hitz had been friends of ours since Tonga days, and with them we enjoyed a pleasant reunion. That evening the two crews spent a congenial evening aboard Cheers, relating travels and comparing plans regarding our upcoming crossing of the Indian Ocean. Departing Fiji, they had sailed for New Zealand, and after a lengthy stay there had traversed the notorious Tasman Sea, sustaining a particularly fierce storm before closing the Australian coast at Sidney.

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Tanking water in Port Mackay.

After spending two nights in the harbor, Suka departed at dawn. And after gaining open water she found herself in lumpy and confused seas. These were to the dismay of the mate, who worked on the heaving foredeck bucket-and-brush-scrubbing the thick harbor mire from the chain and anchor, while tirelessly sluicing the ground tackle and foredeck with pails of seawater. Gradually, though, the seas moderated, the wind steadied at 10 to 15 knots, and the sun dissipated the haze. The 44 miles to Thomas Island passed under keel without incident, and once there, we met with Jim and Betsy again, and shared the anchorage with them as its sole occupants. Once secure, the crews rowed ashore, and explored some of the interior, covered deeply in tangled verdure, then they returned to the coast and collected a few oysters from the tide pools.

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A fork-tailed swift flew in through the open hatch and flitted about the cabin, finally alighting on a companionway step.

A pair of fork-tailed swifts had entered Suka's cabin via the open hatch. One flew away at our intrusion, but the other remained, flitting about, circumspect of our every move. Soon it alighted on the topmost companionway step, where for several minutes' it apprised our abode, before flying out the hatchway.

Thomas Island


Zoom out to see where we are.

That evening Jim and Betsy joined us for a supper of tacos, a Mexican dish esteemed widely by the Aussies, who pronounced the word, "tack'-ohs." Betsy had recently written the book "Sitting Ducks," an account of certain dismaying experiences suffered earlier in their world voyage. They recounted their story, which went something like this:

One night while Cheers lay to her anchor at the southern Caribbean island of Bequia, a native man swam out and boarded, machete in teeth. Jim emerged from the companionway to investigate a noise, when the fellow stabbed him in the chest. After a protracted stand-off, Jim eventually deterred the assailant by spraying him with mace. After nearly succumbing in the squalor of a local infirmary, Jim was eventually flown to a stateside hospital. With a delivery crew, Betsy sailed Cheers out of the hurricane belt, intent on reaching the safety of the Netherlands Antilles. But en route, the yacht struck the atoll Aves de Sotavento. Unable to re-float her seaward, they proceeded to excavate a trench through the reef toward the lagoon. This Herculean effort required weeks, but eventually they re-floated Cheers and towed her to Curaçao. Jim recovered, flew to Curaçao, and he and Betsy rebuilt their wrecked but nonetheless cherished sailboat. Enrapt in their incredible tale, Jenny and I admired their determination. Incredibly, Cheers glistened in ship shape and bristol fashion.

The oncoming southerly swell wrapped around both sides of the small island, and assailed the yachts with a cross-chop from both starboard and port. And by morning the patent log indicated that we had achieved no mileage, despite the long night of seagoing discomfort. Nevertheless, the proximity of Suka's diurnal objective afforded a late start; Lindeman Island stood but a dozen miles farther on.

When finally leaving Thomas Island, we parted company with Cheers, unaware that her gleaming hull and brightwork would not hove into our sight for another month. Calm airs required a stint of motoring, initially through an intimidating tidal race that fronted the island. After we had rounded Lindeman into its lee, in a place called Gap Bay our anchor took a retentive grip on the seabed.

Trek overland from Gap Bay


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The Lucas guide book alluded to a trail climbing over, and traversing the island. We pulled ashore and searched for the track's beginnings, but in vain. Finally, we began clambering up the steep and densely vegetated slopes, enrapt by the wild, sulfur-crested cockatoos cawing from the forest. As we neared the crest a small airplane on final approach buzzed overhead, gear down and flaps lowered. Following it, we soon came to a grass landing strip, associated with the nearby resort. Eventually a pathway presented itself, and led past the aerodrome, golf course, and on down to the hotel. There we assumed the role of newly arrived guests, relaxing before the swimming pool, each nursing a cold drink. The desk clerk provided us with a hiking map that depicted the walking trails, and thus equipped, we easily found our way back to Gap Beach, where Suka lay placidly, awaiting the return of her crew.

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Seagull

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Setting out at dawn, I'm motoring ahead while Jenny sluices the foredeck with buckets of sea water after pulling the muddy anchor.

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Nara Inlet


Zoom out to see where we are.

Setting out for Hook Island at dawn, and sailing the intervening 23 miles, Suka made her way into the island's famous Nara Inlet. Slashing nearly two miles into the interior, this bight provides one of the finest all-weather anchorages among the Whitsunday Islands. Imagine our dismay then, at finding the natural scenery decimated. High rocky faces everywhere bore unsightly painted inscriptions of the names of visiting yachts. One expects to find callow minded graffiti besmirching the concrete jungles, but the vandalism here in these formerly pristine wilds was deplorable.

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Nara Inlet, looking towards the bay's entrance.

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After deploying the CQR we pulled ashore and trekked inland, following a rocky proclivity whose creek afforded a refreshing fresh-water swim. The shore lay peppered in black-lipped oysters, a few of which soon sizzled tantalizingly atop Suka's stanchion mounted barbecue, and which complemented a pair of Mackay steaks. The anchorage lay stone quiet. Flocks of sprightly snow-white cockatoos salted the nearby trees. Neighbors were noticeably absent. This, indeed, was the life.

The story has 109 pages. This is page 70.
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Page Links
GV 001: Title Page
GV 002: TOC
GV 003: Dedication
GV 004: Preface
GV 005: Prologue
GV 006: Beginnings
GV 007: Work Done
GV 008: Making Ready
GV 009: Departure
GV 010: Sailing Credentials
GV 011: First Lesson
GV 012: Sextant Navigation
GV 013: Safety Harness
GV 014: Murphy's law
GV 015: Spirit of Adventure
GV 016: Holding On
GV 017: First Big Storm
GV 018: Storm Intensified
GV 019: Rolling Violently
GV 020: Mizzen Sleeping Bag'sl
GV 021: Freeing the Propeller
GV 022: Visits by Birds
GV 023: Crossing the Doldrums
GV 024: Nearing First Landfall
GV 025: Land Ho
GV 026: Fatu Hiva
GV 027: Trek Inland
GV 028: Anchor Watch
GV 029: Passage
GV 030: Hiva Oa
GV 031: Skin Diving Circus
GV 032: Almost Like a Jungle
GV 033: Polaris Missile
GV 034: Taiohaie Bay
GV 035: Cascade Hakaui
GV 036: Taipi Bay
GV 037: Cyclone Lisa
GV 038: Cyclone Nano
GV 039: Passage of Patience
GV 040: Tuamotu Archipelago
GV 041: Tahiti
GV 042: Cyclone Reva
GV 043: Secret Sharer
GV 044: Moorea
GV 045: Cyclone Veena
GV 046: Aftermath
GV 047: Good Weather in Papeete
GV 048: Huahine
GV 049: Raiatea
GV 050: BoraBora
GV 051: Rarotonga
GV 052: Tonga
GV 053: Fresh Air
GV 054: Tongan Feast
GV 055: Excursion to Maninita
GV 056: Mariner's Cave
GV 057: Fiji
GV 058: Ndravuni Island
GV 059: Mara Island
GV 060: Aneityum
GV 061: Noumea
GV 062: St Elmo's fire
GV 063: Breakwater Reef
GV 064: Bundaberg
GV 065: Life on the Burnett River
GV 066: Engine Sabotage
GV 067: Flying
GV 068: Aground in Round Hill Creek
GV 069: Gladstone Confinement
> GV 070: Tropical Queensland
GV 071: Trip into Townsville
GV 072: Cairns Sojourn
GV 073: Cramped Cooktown
GV 074: Lizard Island
GV 075: The San Michelle
GV 076: Lost Mummy Cave
GV 077: Land's End
GV 078: Darwin
GV 079: Christmas Is
GV 080: Passage
GV 081: Cocos Keeling
GV 082: Crossing the Indian Ocean
GV 083: Rodriguez
GV 084: Mauritius
GV 085: Reunion Cirque de Mafate
GV 086: Reunion Cirque de Salazie
GV 087: Passage to Africa
GV 088: Kruger National Park
GV 089: Richards Bay
GV 090: Durban
GV 091: Port Elizabeth
GV 092: Cape Town
GV 093: Storm Passage
GV 094: St Helena
GV 095: Passage to Brazil
GV 096: Fortaleza
GV 097: Passage to Caribbean
GV 098: Bonaire
GV 099: Passage to Panama
GV 100: Panama
GV 101: Panama Canal
GV 102: Medidor
GV 103: Costa Rica
GV 104: Passage to Acapulco
GV 105: Acapulco to Cabo
GV 106: Baja
GV 107: Home Port
GV 108: In Retrospect
GV 109: Next Time
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