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The time had come to depart Airlie Beach and head back south. We had to be in Bundaberg to pick up our next guests on October 5, so we had two weeks to cover the 400 miles, with time to stop at some interesting places along the way. Things started out well enough as we got our main and headsail up and were experiencing a pleasant sail. But then we all heard a loud thump and knew something was wrong. The headsail had torn, right at the top. As the wind was whipping up pretty good, we decided to stop in at the nearest marina in order to take the damaged sail down and replace it with our other headsail. So we stopped at Laguna Quays, which is a very nice and very friendly marina. It also has the advantage of being in the same resort as my favorite golf course! So I got a chance to play another round and it was great. I was all alone at 7:00am at one of the best courses in all Australia, with not a soul in front of or behind me! I played two balls on every hole and finished in three hours.
We stayed a couple days at Laguna, and also tried some archery and played some tennis. We removed and folded the damaged sail and were ready to get underway again. The winds had dropped and we were motor sailing with just the main when off our port beam we spotted - WHALES! They were close by so we decided to go and take a closer look. As we approached, we saw a large tail just sticking up out of the water. It didn't seem to be moving. There was another whale nearby, occasionally surfacing, but the tail seemed to be upside down and definitely not moving. We thought we had come across a dead whale, but as we watched, did see occasional movement. Finally we realized that we were observing a mother whale nursing her baby. She was lying on her back so the calf could suckle for a while, then surface when it needed to. She too would occasionally roll over, take a breath, then turn back up with her tail sticking up. They didn't seem to mind us being close and let us watch them for over half an hour.
We stopped for the night at Goldsmith Island, where Bradley and Gareth went ashore for a game if pitanque (narrowly won by Bradley; Gareth claims he was distracted by giant lizard tracks in the sand). The next morning we set off with winds from the northeast (for weeks they had been from the south). This allowed us to put up our spinnaker for a nice downwind sail. It was a beautiful day and we sailed without incident, arriving at Prudhoe Island for a beautiful sunset and a nice dinner. Next was an all day and overnight sail taking us to North West Island, a small island surrounded by a large reef. Again, we had ideal conditions, and a very pleasant sail. We even caught a nice mackerel along the way!
North West Island was quite special as it appears to be home to a large number of turtles! No sooner had we set our anchor than we saw several turtles swimming around. The clarity of the water was just incredible! In all our time on the Great Barrier Reef, we had never seen water so crystal clear. It was like being in a huge swimming pool! We couldn't wait to get in the water and soon had donned our snorkel gear. Poor Gareth couldn't join us as he had managed to cut his thumb quite badly while working in the galley the previous night. Soon we in the water and seeing turtles left and right, not to mention beautiful coral and plenty of fish. We stayed overnight and the next day went out for a cruise in the dinghy to explore the reef. It just went on and on and on. At low tide, the reef was way out of the water and we followed it for several miles. Soon we spotted some interesting looking activity and went for a closer look. It was turtles mating! One large male, with several females seemingly waiting their turn. It seems like turtles, true to their reputation, don't do anything fast! We watched and watched as he remained occupied with one female for a very long time. Finally, not wanting to disturb them, we returned to the boat and saw more turtles mating nearby. Another snorkel outing was called for so into the water we went. We saw turtles galore, with much amorous activity in progress. I even just barely avoided a head on collision with a large fellow, but did manage to snap a picture before he saw me and dived. It was truly a magic day!
Our next destination was Lamont Reef, about 30 miles south. We departed early with very light winds (actually close to no winds) so it was purely a motoring trip. We had gone about 15 miles when we tuned into the morning radio net and heard our good friends, Mike and Sue. It turns out they were at Bloomfield Reef, just five miles from North West Island where we had just left. So we decided to turn around and meet up with them. Once again, the water clarity was incredible. Bradley and Mike set off for a spearfishing expedition and Sue and I just explored and enjoyed snorkeling on the reef. We saw more turtles, some large rays, many varieties of beautiful reef fish, and a huge variety of hard and soft corals. Mike and Bradley were successful, netting a nice catch of fish. But we invited Mike and Sue over for steaks on the grill, as we were all ready for a break from fish!
In the morning it was off to Lamont Reef where we enjoyed more snorkeling and spearfishing. Bradley speared his largest fish yet, we believe a drummer. He also got a nice sweetlips and a couple coral trouts. We also went for a dive on the outer wall of the reef and it was quite enjoyable. We hung out at Lamont for a two days and had the reef almost to ourselves, with the exception of one small fishing boat. It was a bit uncomfortable for an hour or two each night as the swell came in with the change of tides, but it was a very enjoyable place. The winds were predicted to pick up somewhat, so we decided to move on to Fitzroy Reef, which has a large inner lagoon for an anchorage, offering good protection. It was a quick and uneventful trip and we arrived in time for lunch and an afternoon snorkel inside the lagoon. It was pretty, but not many large fish to spear.
The next day we decided to try a dive on the outer wall of the lagoon. The wind had picked up and the sea was a little rough but we set off to give it a try. We planned to do a drift dive, with Gareth waiting in the dinghy to pick us up at the end. But after getting into the water and getting our gear on, the water was still rough and the current very strong. We decided to abort the dive at that site and instead to dive inside the lagoon along the pass to the outside. That turned out to be a good decision as the water was clear, the current very slight, and the coral really spectacular. A very enjoyable dive!
The morning of October 2, we departed from Fitzroy Reef at 8:30am, bound for Bundaberg, about 70 miles away. The winds were light so we didn't go very fast, but we hoisted the spinnaker and enjoyed a pleasant downwind sail, arriving in Bundaberg just after 9:00pm. The next two days will be spent cleaning the boat, doing laundry, re-provisioning, and getting ready for our next guests who arrive on Tuesday.