July 2020: Australia: Fraser Island to the Coral Sea


Escaping a leeshore. Provisioning. Exploring the Coral Sea.

WHALES. Impromptu ‘whale watch’ on our friends’ yacht off Fraser Island.

Whales never disappoint.

Our friends filmed stunning footage with their drone. Follow their YouTube channel The Cruising Kiwis to check it out.

I’m not a fan of drones. I offer this dismal footage instead. Some say I cut off my nose to spite my face.

LIFE AND LUCK. The next day, we woke to an unforecast 25 knots on a leeshore. This is us at anchor. How unlucky!

We sailed in search of a calm anchorage – the lovely Lady Elliot Island by sunset, we thought. How lucky! Eight hours of strong winds and messy seas. How unlucky! The public mooring was available. Amazing! How lucky! It wasn’t calm, but it was bearable. Sunset snorkel! How lucky!

When we returned, the mooring was less than bearable. After dinner it was worse. At bedtime it was awful. How unlucky! Sleepless at 2am we were perpendicular to 2.5m seas, worse than a bad night at sea. How unlucky! Bleary-eyed, we sailed downwind, north west to Lady Musgrave Island, another awful three hours at sea. How unlucky! We waited for the sun to rise on a calm mooring at the entrance to the lagoon. How lucky!


Tolerant turtle.

BOAT KIDS. The girls beg to camp on land. Sigh. Dale’s turn first with Hazel.

Then my turn with Willow. She was thrilled.

I was aggrieved. I live on a boat because I love to explore yet function when I sleep in my bed. It’s as simple as that.

GLADSTONE is an industrial town centered on wealth from banging, digging, and shipping. It’s not a pretty place, but the people have big hearts. It’s my childhood hometown. Everyone knows someone from Gladstone. Old friends laundered, bathed, and fed us. We borrowed their car. We gave them a dirt ring in their bath and a gnome. Fair trade.

The friend I’ve known the longest (almost 43 years), drove us around, entertained, and fed us. Her kids donated books to our boat library. Gold.

BOAT KIDS cherish time together.

YEPPOON. We road-tripped to visit my sister. Willow and Hazel won the Lotto with kind, loving, and inclusive older cousins. Beautiful role models.

This is my nephew’s car. He has to build it.


Australia’s Coral Sea Marine Park is rich in reefs, islets, coral cays, and shipwrecks. Pristine wilderness, a few hundred miles off the Australian mainland. As convicts, this is our current limit.


PASSAGE. We sailed two nights and a day from Gladstone to Porpoise Cay. It was a bumpy ride: 15-25 knots of wind and 1.5-2 meter seas, on the beam.

HISTORY. The cay is named after the H.M.S PORPOISE, wrecked in 1803 with Matthew Flinders onboard as a passenger. The stranded sailors built a makeshift vessel from the flotsam, which Finders and 13 crew sailed/rowed 700 nautical miles to Sydney to find help. It took them 13 days to reach Sydney, and another month to return for the survivors. William Westall, one of the first European artists to work in Australia, was also onboard the PORPOISE. He painted Porpoise Cay while waiting to be rescued.

August 1803

July 2020

Has this nail been on Porpoise Cay for 217 years?



It’s a clear five meters under there; 30 meters visibility is deceptive.

FREEDIVING. I’m not a fan of “How deep can you dive?” It freaks me out. I prefer “Can you swim through that tunnel?” This tunnel was 13 meters deep. This is me swimming through.

For perspective, this is Dale from above swimming through the other way.


PASSAGE. Ten nautical miles west of Porpoise Cay, we paused to dive at West Islet. Hazel was on the anchor.

It was calm. We stayed the night.

DANGEROUS CREATURES. We’re comfortable in the water; cognisant of sharing this environment with snakes and sharks etc. However. West Islet was a whole other ball game. One afternoon, Willow was in the water first to set the dinghy anchor. An olive sea snake approached.

[Stock photo: oceana.org]

It circled her neck, flicking its tongue in her face. A reef shark lingered below. Willow froze, screaming silently, until Dale extracted her from the water. It was a harrowing minute or so.

We moved along the reef. I popped my head under.

We called it a day.

Willow was back in the water the next morning. She asked if we would please tow the dinghy while we dive so she can escape if snakes and sharks approach. Fair enough. We are in awe of her.

FUN FACTS. While olive sea snakes are highly venomous, they are unlikely to kill you. They struggle to sink their fangs in your flesh with their minute mouths. And even if one does bite your ear, or in between your fingers or toes, it’s unlikely to inject you with venom. Olive sea snakes expend significant energy to produce their venom, and they’re loathe to waste it, unless threatened, e.g., if you kick them away with your fins… what crazy person would do this?! Um. This would have been handy to know before our sojourn in the Coral Sea.

Another cool fact is olive sea snakes birth live young in water; they don’t venture on land. This distinguishes them from other snakes you may see in the sea. Therefore, you won’t find them coiled in your dinghy – as you may the sneaky banded sea krait who looks like a rope and spends more time on land than in the water.

KITE SURFING. This is me and my trainer kite. The rate I’m learning, I may kitesurf when I’m 82 or 83.

HORNED HELMETS. I’m obsessed with these shells. They ‘walk’.


PASSAGE. From West Islet, we sailed overnight 75 nautical miles to Kenn Reef. It was uneventful: 10-12 knots of breeze behind the beam, passing showers, no boats. We arrived to the most beautiful water we have seen.

BOAT KIDS live in a swimming pool.

BIRDS. Each sand cay hosts a unique bird society – on some cays, noddies dominate; on others, boobies run the show; on others, it’s a balance. Terns soar here and there.

QUICK QUIZ. How many eggs are laid in this wreck?

JOGGING. We found a 1km strip of sand.

And ran laps at low tide.

BAD WEATHER. Stormy skies.

Another boat in the anchorage! A fishing boat from Mooloolaba – our first experience with humans in ten days. The crew snapped a family photo and gifted us fish, filleted. Stellar service.

Ten days is a new ‘absolute iso’ record for us – no cruising boats, no commercial boats, no locals on shore, no planes, no helicopters, no VHF traffic. Nothing. No-one. Our previous ‘absolute iso’ PB was eight days on the west coast of Little Andaman Island in the Indian Ocean, ten years ago on our first yacht ZINC.

Did I mention it was a miserable day?

It is always beautiful and calm down there.

Willow nailed this 11 meter swim-through.

This is Hazel smashing it for a six year old.

HISTORY. Kenn Reef has its share of wrecks – at least ten. The JENNY LIND is the most famous, wrecked on 21 September 1850, underway from Melbourne to Singapore. Again the crew thought to build a makeshift vessel from the wreckage. It transported 22 people (including women and children), and towed another six people in a safety boat, to Moreton Bay. All arrived in Brisbane in good health after 37 days stranded in the Coral Sea. Gosh ‘normal people’ were hard-core back then.

The best of the JENNY LIND tale concerns Mr Phillip Beal who created a system for distilling fresh water from sea water (an early desalination plant) and pretty much, hands down, saved everyone onboard. We have a ‘watermaker’ on MUSCAT 7 we use to turn saltwater into wine… um… correction… *into drinking water. It produces 120L of fresh water an hour with the help of 700ml of petrol from our portable generator. Mr Beal’s set up, 170 years ago, was a copper boiler, cistern, and lead piping. It produced around 100L a day. Remarkable.

We waded to the reef behind Observatory Cay to see three old unidentified anchors.

The current was strong.


PASSAGE. On again we sailed, overnight, 87 nautical miles from Kenn Reef to Frederick Reef. We prefer to arrive at reef anchorages in the morning because it’s difficult to see shallow reef in afternoon light. Recently, this has required overnight sails. After almost seven years of offshore cruising, we’re drilled on overnighters. We run a three hours on, three hours off schedule. Sometimes the girls keep us company. This night, phosphorescence was everywhere. Willow and I secured our life-lines, lay on deck, and enjoyed the magical light show.


Willow came face to face with her nemesis.


Guano… everywhere… the stench…



I highly recommend each of these gems. American Wife is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush. Where the Crawdads Sing deserves its praise; the protagonist is the strongest, saddest, and most inspiring female character I’ve encountered for a while. The Silent Patient is a page-turner. I didn’t guess the twist. And Phosphorescence is just beautiful, it was especially enjoyable to read in the awe-inspiring Coral Sea. Julia Baird: you should visit – phosphorescence and cuttlefish everywhere!


“My favourite book this month was Harry Potter – tiny little things and questions at the beginning came together and were answered at the end and made into bigger issues. The most unexpected things came to life. The St. Clares books were good. I still like boarding school stories. The Ruby stories were good. I learned about the Great Depression and how hard people’s lives were then. I didn’t finished Mary Poppins because I was too bored and it wasn’t exciting or capturing.”


Wolf Girl was my favourite because it was so adventurous. I loved how the cats saved the day. I loved Ruby too. She was kind and brave.”