We departed the Marina at 3 on the high tide into a sparkling Keppel Bay and a 10-15 knot nor’easter. We decided to pull out the heady only, as we would get to Fitzroy too early if we fully sailed. Even under the heady alone, we were doing well over 8 knots, but we expected the breeze to gradually die out and slow us down. Fitzroy was around 80 miles away and we wanted to get there at about 10 am, to enter the lagoon at low water.
As the sun set, the breeze started to clock around towards the west and gradually dropped. It was a fabulous clear night, the sky chock full of stars as the moon wouldn’t rise until around 2 am. We had the fish curry I had cooked earlier for dinner and started watches at 6. This time we were running 3 hours on, 3 hours off and I actually slept on my off watches, even the 6-9 watch. Not sure if it’s because I am now truly relaxed, or that the 3 hours is a better length to get some sleep – probably a bit of both!
Despite crossing 2 shipping lanes, we saw very little of any other boats, just a persistent fisho who seemed to be doing big laps around us! Once we got out towards the reefs though, we saw no other boats. By the time I got up at 3 am, we were doing 3 knots in 5-7 knots of breeze with 18 miles to go. The moon was up, just under half, with a glittering moon path on the glassy sea. Eventually, the wind clapped out and I had to furl in the sail, take down the pole and resort to engine power, but it was getting light. My birthday dawned with a brilliant sunrise.
Pete came up on watch at 6am and wished me happy birthday, and I promptly went back to bed! He woke me about 8, as we had arrived at Fitzroy and we needed to work out if the sun was high enough to allow us to negotiate the entrance. Fitzroy Reef is a massive coral reef with a small lagoon, with a winding, narrow entrance channel. When the tide is running, it all has to go in or out of this channel, so you have to time your entry for slack water, at the top or bottom of the tide, when there is least water running out. Added to that, you need sun, preferably behind you, to be able to see the shallow coral bommies to avoid them, and to see the sides of the channel. All of these things lined up for us to spend my birthday at this beautiful, pristine and very special location.
We decided to have a go at the entrance as it was close to bottom of the tide. Whilst the sun was still quite low, I could see pretty well, with it directly behind me as we entered the channel. My Polaroid sunnies and my perch high on the pulpit allowed me to see and signal anything to avoid to Pete, steering us in. We made it through with no issues, and found a spot to anchor. We could see the anchor and chain, it was so clear, so had no worries about that! Then I made coffees while Pete cooked me a birthday breakfast with cat eggs of course!
After breakfast we launched the dinghy and headed off for an explore and snorkel. We found a good sandy shallow spot to anchor the dinghy, then spent about 45 mins, at a fantastic coral area, with heaps of colours, giant clams, loads of different fish and sea cucumbers. It was glorious and only being chilled made me get out. On the way back to the boat, we checked out all the bommies near our anchorage, but they all had more than enough depth on them not to worry us.
We saw a turtle, just cruise by, checking us out, and numerous fish swimming around the boat. A guy from another boat came over to chat, asking about the weather and overnighting as it was their first time here. He gave us some Mahi Mahi they had caught, as they had too much! We were still not sure if we would spend the night as we had a long leg from here to get to Bundaberg, but we thought we may wait for a forecast before deciding. So we had a decadent lunch of prawns and fois gras, with a glass of champagne, and I made a little chocolate ripple cake for candles later! We spent the time after lunch swimming and snoozing, and then we got the weather forecast and decided we should head off. Whilst it would be a good night in the lagoon, the wind was not so good for Sunday and neither was the tide for leaving the lagoon. It would mean a late arrival at Bundaberg, with Pete needing to rush to the airport early Monday, so we checked out of Fitzroy on the afternoon high tide.
At 4 pm, we were on our way to Bundy, and as we got mobile phone reception back, my phone went off with millions of birthday messages! We had the remains of the fois gras with another glass of champagne as sundowners, followed by fish curry, and then the birthday chocolate ripple cake with candles! We sang happy birthday, then ate the lot between us! Pete went off watch and I tried to answer as many messages as I could while keeping a look out on watch!
As we approached the shipping lanes for Gladstone, I had 2 ships crossing me, but one altered course towards me. I checked the AIS, and watched him very closely, but he seemed to be exiting the shipping lane. I was worried and couldn’t really alter corse easily because of the wind angle, so I put on the engine and speeded up. It turns out that the ship just went around me! He had to go out of the shipping lane to do it, but I could see from the AIS, that he changed his course to go behind us. He must have known it was my birthday!
By the time I got back on watch at midnight, we had more breeze and were ahead of schedule, so at the end of my watch at 3am, we furled the heady and started the engine, slowed to 4.5 knots to bring our arrival back to around 6 am. Only issue now was the awful seaway with the breeze dead behind us meant we rolled like crazy and it was desperately uncomfortable. There was little sleep from here until we moored on the fuel dock at Port Bundaberg Marina, around 6:15 am.
I will post some pictures of the reef when I get them off my camera.