Lady Elliot and Great Keppel islands

Friday evening (11 June) we headed to the Lighthouse Hotel in Burnett Heads for our last evening in Bundaberg. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset on our walk – about 30 minutes – but, sadly, there were no kangaroos to be found. Perhaps it was too chilly for them too?!? Anyway, the tavern was pretty busy as it was steak night and there was even a log burning stove warming up the place. We were lucky to get a seat and enjoyed our meals and a few drinks. Due to the download failures I had experienced in the marina, I had brought my laptop with me and set it up on the edge of our table. There was a high speed public network available and, during our few hours in the pub, we managed to download quite a lot of Netflix content which should keep us going for a while. Result! When we were ready we got the courtesy bus back to the marina and had an early night.

Saturday morning we got ready and slipped away from the marina at 8am. There was no wind so we motorsailed towards Lady Elliot Island. This is the southernmost coral cay of the Great Barrier Reef and is 46 miles north east of Bundaberg and covers an area of approximately 45 hectares. The seas were flat calm so we made really good time and even got a lift from the current once we had cleared the Burnett River entrance.

By 3pm we had arrived and were delighted to find a Marine Parks mooring ball available (which are free of charge and available for 24 hour periods only). So we quickly headed over and picked that up. As we were doing so a small ray jumped completely out of the water and we had a dolphin swim by, so a pretty special welcoming committee! It was slack water at this point so the mooring ball started bumping along the hull. We then decided to read the mooring instructions (which would have been a good idea earlier LOL) and it said that the pennant should be pulled onto the bow of the boat. Well, it was a huge rope, so we pulled it up, through the spare anchor bow roller, and put the loop over the windlass capstan. Then to secure it we tied it off with two ropes to the cleats on either side so that the the capstan would not be taking the full weight of the boat. Thankfully the tide filled in and the ball floated away from the hull so we were finally set. Woo hoo, we had arrived!

There is an eco resort island and we were welcome ashore (just having to radio for permission first) but, having checked out the shore line at low water, we decided that we didn’t fancy it as it was very rocky and we would have to carry the dinghy across the foreshore. As the wind was non-existent it was actually quite warm in the sun so we enjoyed sundowners and supper in the cockpit having watched the spectacular sunset and the thousands of sea birds returning to roost on the island. We then had a movie night down below before bed.

We had a very disturbed night’s sleep because when the tide changed the mooring ball banged really hard against the hull. Thankfully the mooring ball moved away again once the tide had changed and the current kicked in and held us off.

After Sunday morning’s breakfast in the cockpit we got out our 1mm dive suits and slipped into the water. It was a bit chilly but we got used to it pretty quickly. We then checked Morphie’s hull and was relieved that all was well, as both of us were convinced the mooring ball would have left it’s mark. We had already decided that once we had finished snorkelling we would drop the ball and anchor off instead. So, how brave are we, snorkelling in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef???

We were comfortable being back in the water and we took off looking for some critters armed with our GoPro in it’s underwater housing. The first sight was a school of squid swimming in front of us. Now that is not something you see every day so that was quite joyous.

Then we spotted a small turtle but he was clearly nervous of us as he shot under a coral outcrop. The coral was in reasonable condition although not particularly colourful. We saw the usual suspects of parrot fish and lots and lots of brilliantly coloured nursery fish on the reef. There were signs of bleaching of the reef in places but it seemed to be recovering which is great news. Not sure how long we were in the water but when we had had enough we swam against the current back to Morphie.

Back on board we showered on the back transom, rinsed all our gear off, and got ourselves warmed up. We were just having a hot chocolate in the cockpit when suddenly these big shapes turned up and we realised we were watching manta rays disturbing the water. Then suddenly there were five or six of them swimming towards us. We did consider getting back into the water but a couple of swimmers from the resort tried to get close and the rays swam off immediately. So we decided to sit on the coachroof and just enjoy the beauty of these majestic creatures swim backwards and forwards by us and they entertained us for about an hour. OMG what an experience – absolutely fantastic! We were so happy.

Around 1.30 pm we dropped the mooring ball (before the tide change) and anchored off in about 20m over sand. We were now ready for an early morning departure to Lady Musgrave island as we needed to arrive there for slack water at around 10am to get through the reef into the centre of the lagoon. So we rested up for the rest of the day and just sat watching more dolphin and ray encounters and another lovely sunset before retiring down below for dinner and more Netflix content.

In the early hours of Monday morning we woke to the sound of torrential rain on the coachroof! What?!? We immediately started up the Iridium Go! and downloaded the latest weather. The wind had picked up and we were rocking and rolling around a bit. Downloads completed and it was bad news – rain, thunderstorms and clouds were forecast for the entire day. Which meant Lady Musgrave was not an option as we needed sun to be able to eyeball navigate inside the lagoon to avoid the coral bombies. Disappointed we mulled over our options. The anchorage became increasingly uncomfortable so staying put was certainly not one of them.

By 9am on Monday morning we had planned our escape to Great Keppel Island almost 120 miles away so this was going to be our first overnight passage for a while. We sorted out something to eat for that evening’s passage dinner and boiled some eggs for the following morning, Not sure why we always have egg mayo rolls for breakfast on passage but hey ho, they are tasty LOL.

We picked up our anchor, relieved that it was not being held captive by a random coral bombie, and headed out of the anchorage before raising our genoa and sailed downwind at about 3 knots in light airs. Annoyingly the earlier strong winds had eased considerably. We were very slowly making our way then the wind died off so we motorsailed – and then we saw the huge black clouds rolling in and watched this thunderstorm on the radar go across our bow and head straight at Lady Musgrave. Would not have wanted to be anchored inside that lagoon through a thunderstorm so glad we had decided to abort our trip there!

Squalls and storms continued for the whole night as we got into our passage routine of three hour shifts and we had no moon to assist us at all on this wet night. We also had to cross shipping channels near Gladstone and had quite a few cargo ship encounters – ahead of us, behind us, across us and alongside us. Certainly kept us on our toes!

As we continued towards Great Keppel we were treated to a fabulous jumping and diving display by two dolphins who put on a show just for us – could they have escaped from SeaWorld?? Was absolutely fantastic and seeing dolphins always makes us smile.

When we arrived around Tuesday lunchtime we quickly found an anchoring spot at Fisherman’s beach in lovely water which was so clear I could see the chain all the way to the bottom. Happy that we had a good set we then got cleaned up and went to bed for a few hours. Feeling refreshed we decided to stay on board and just enjoyed watching the comings and goings in the anchorage. Great spot, nice beach, and we looked forward to exploring the following day.

Wednesday morning and it was eerily quiet and grey outside so we popped our heads up to find that it was foggy and drizzly. Really?!? Never mind, we both had a list of small jobs to do so got on with them before finally relaxing down below for the rest of the day.

Thursday morning the weather started clearing and we were visited by Mike and Karen from Island Girl (an IP 380) who were anchored in the bay. Accompanied by their cute poodle boat dog Dudley. So we had a cup of tea with them and organised to go ashore for sundowners later. After they had gone I went back to bed as I was feeling quite poorly. Not sure what brought that on…. Later on I did feel marginally better so we headed ashore to meet the other cruisers for sundowners on the beach. Was a fun evening but, of course, I completely forgot to take any photos!

Friday morning we awoke to some serious nodding movement as the wind had switched to the SW so we had no protection from the fetch and waves which were steadily increasing.

So we picked up anchor and headed around the corner, through a narrow cut, to the north side of the island to an anchorage called Leeke’s Bay. We got our anchor down and the difference was huge – flat calm – and it wasn’t long before we were joined by all the other boats coming round the corner too. This is known as the Keppel Island Shuffle LOL. Leeke’s Bay has a beautiful beach and we decided to go ashore just before high tide so we wouldn’t have to drag the dinghy up the shore too far. So, in the meantime, we enjoyed relaxing in the cockpit.

At this point a Border Force boat came through the anchorage and was checking out all non-Queensland registered vessels. We were about their third stop – they just wanted to know when and where Morpheus had arrived in Australia; were we still on a control permit and when did it expire; had we met the regular reporting requirements of said permit etc. They took photos of us (presumably so they could check against their records) and asked us about our movements going forward. Obviously satisfied with our responses they went on their merry way. They were very polite although we always find it a bit disconcerting when an ‘official’ boat comes by for a chat!

It was lovely and sunny and we enjoyed sitting in the cockpit watching the world go by and I even did some hand washing. Richard did a few other jobs too like greasing the rudder bearing and clearing out the port lazarette. During the afternoon Chris and Sharon on Watusi came into the anchorage so we made arrangements with them for a reunion on the beach later. Heading over to the beach we stopped by Island Girl to wish them safe passage as they are leaving in the morning.

Hopefully we’ll see them again on our continued journey north. We then had a lovely time on the beach catching up with Chris and Sharon and enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the glorious beach.

This morning, Saturday, although the sun is out the wind has strengthened so the wind generator might actually earn his keep today! So I’m blogging while Richard continues keeping busy on boat jobs – he’s cleaned the shower bilge; done some sewing; filtered some 2-stroke petrol that had water in it; checked how much water we had left in the tank; and is now relaxing in the cockpit reading. Think we’ll probably stay on board today as Chris and Sharon are coming by for sundowners later.

Next stop? Well, obviously we haven’t really checked out Great Keppel Island yet, instead we have just enjoyed being back on the hook in such gorgeous surroundings. So we’ll definitely spend some more time on this beautiful beach and, when the wind switches back to its normal SE direction, we’ll go back round the corner and check out the facilities there too. There is also good snorkelling so we might even get brave and get back in the water LOL. Sadly the bush walks are beyond me and my dodgy hip. At some point we’ll pop into the nearby marina at Yeppoon for fresh provisions before we continue heading north.

Hope you are all keeping fit and healthy. Every week we seem to get more and more sad news from home with people passing and our hearts go out to all those affected families as they go through this difficult time. Please take care of each other and sending lots of love and hugs your way and here is an Australian cutie to make you smile.

Bye for now, Jan