Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Overview

While things have been happening here I’m sorry I’ve not been posting about them. We made it to the top of Australia: Thursday Island.

Overall, it was not a good trip. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has some wonderful spots; and many not so wonderful. Imagine being married to Ms. Universe or the magazine “GQ’s” sexiest man of the year. Now imagine that they are physically and mentally abusive. That is the GBR.

There are awesome beautiful islands, inlets and reefs to enjoy. And yet trying to locate a nice peaceful place to anchor is not an easy task. First you have a swell that seems to find a way into every anchorage. Monohulls will lay side on to the swell. This means rolling sideways back and forth the entire time. And the roll is not comfortable like a hammock. Oh no! Ballast in the boat effects the extremes creating a jerky motion bringing the boat back upright only to roll the other way. One can modify and almost eliminate the roll with Flopper Stoppers. We have them. But only spending one night at any anchorage we never felt we needed to get them out, store them away, get them out again and repeat as we moved N through the GBR. Ok so we have roll.

While Australia is generally quite safe in the gun arena, the GBR is full of bullets. Much of the GBR are mountain islands close to 1,000 feet tall. Wind builds up on one side. When the wind reaches a certain point it crashes down into the anchorage. The wind sings in the rigging and making life noisy and uncomfortable. The vast majority of places we anchored at had an unlimited supply of Bullets.

Being as large as Australia is, all the water blown up towards the continent must go somewhere. There are several large bays where water enters and with the influence of the moon and Sun, exits again after 6 hours. Water depth can change as much as 10 m (30 ft) 4 times per day. That alone is quite significant. Add in the ocean floor bottom contour and we end up with not only currents changing 4 times a day but “Overfalls”. With 10 meters of water flowing out a bay and there is a large mound or crevice in the ocean floor the water must go somewhere. That somewhere is at the surface. On top one ends up with breaking waves and confused seas for no noticeable reason. The boat responds to this like a bucking bronco, up, back, forward, down, twist around, repeat in a random order!

For Elysium those painful adventures smothered much of our enthusiasm for the GBR. That and our forced delivery of Elysium. If one has a couple of years to sail up and down the GBR the relationship would have been much more positive. We had to make the trek in a couple of months. Clearing this coast, we’ve sailed more and moved more often than we have in any other year of our cruise. This adventure took about 8 weeks. No wonder we are tired and have not had the best time of our lives. We like to sit and smell the flowers, stare at the sunset, and meet the people that live where we are visiting. Our adventure on this coast has been close to nothing like we’ve had in the 13 previous years cruising.

Now don’t get me wrong. We found some really wonderful places on our travels up the coast. And part of the problem for us is our boat is not setup for coastal cruising. When we move we pack Elysium up like we are heading offshore. The dinghy is deflated and stored upside down on the aft deck. This procedure requires about 2 hours of work to secure and store; and another 2 hours to return to service. The rewards for an hour trip ashore is not worth it.

I am sure there are some gems we missed. In over 1500 nm of coast, probably quite a few. Some of the places we loved; Bundaberg, Pancake Creek, Gladstone, Townsville, Magnetic Island, Cairns (both good and bad there), Lizard Island, and Horn, for us; that is it.

Go Slow
Stay Long
Sail Far