Through the Great Barrier Reef

We left Cairns and sailed to Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef. From there we continued on to the Low Isles where we cleaned the hull of Artemis. Finally we set sail the 420 nautical miles through the world’s biggest reef, finally anchoring at Mount Adolphus Island. After a really good sleep we used the rising tide to reach Australia’s most northerly port, Thursday Island.

Just after Midnight

It is one o’clock in the morning and I am on watch as Heidi sleeps soundly in the saloon. The moon is preparing to sink behind Australia leaving us with only starlight.This is the third night of our journey north through the labyrinth of the Great Barrier Reef.

Since leaving Cairns we have been threading our way north west between uncountable reefs and sand shoals. Day and night, we continually have to adjust course to follow the marked channel that meanders its way through the intricacies of the unseen reef. We have a half moon and therefore the tides are not low enough to expose the reefs and we only see the markers and lights installed to warn of dangers and to signpost the route. 

One of very many ships we met.

This is the main highway for ships heading along the coast of Australia and so we share the narrow channels with a procession of bulk carriers and container ships. Everything feels very tight as a three hundred meter long ship passes only two hundred meters to your side. The marine VHF radio is an important tool to coordinate who is going where as we and neighbouring ships head for the same point to squeeze through a pass between two reefs.

This is the ultimate team work. We both need to be alert when awake and so need to sleep well when off shift. That requires that we both have absolute faith in our partner so that we can enjoy a deep sleep even as hull destroying coral slips past on each side of us. Occasionally a bend in the channel or approaching ship requires us both to jibe Artemis on to a new course. Sometimes we have to go from sleep to deckhand and back to sleep in ten minutes and then, in the worst case, do it again half an hour later.

The Monday Isles slip past to port

This morning the sun was shining and we were sat in the cockpit enjoying a coffee. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we were visited by a pod of frolicking dolphins surfing the waves and jumping to get a better look at us and hear our cries of encouragement. This afternoon the wind increased pushing large waves in front of it. Each wave picked us up and surfed us forward pushing us onward. When we eventually escape this maze, it will be the dolphins and the surfing we remember and not the ships or the wake up calls.

Challenging Moment 1

Saturday August 26. 0900. In a narrow shipping channel in the Great Barrier Reef. 

We had just rounded Bannan Reef and Neill was asleep after taking the last night watch. Cape Grenville loomed ahead of us and needed to be left to port. Heidi adjusted the wind pilot to take us further out to sea but nothing happened except we slowed down. 

The boat was rigged for downwind sailing and would not sail up wind. So she woke Neill and together we rolled away the large floppy genoa. We set the jib and turned back upwind setting course to round the Cape.

Heidi scanned around us and noticed a freighter on the other side of the headland that would soon turn and head straight towards us. She used the AIS vessel identification system to access his speed and course. Tighten the jib and turn hard on the wind to make space for the freighter to pass to port.

Five miles and about one hour later the freighter was gone and we rounded the cape, changed the sails back and resumed downwind sailing for the rest of the day.

Challenging Moment 2

Friday August 25. 0400. In a narrow shipping channel in the Great Barrier Reef. Corbett Reef to port. Rodda Reef to Starboard. No moon. No stars. Pitch black.

Three sailing vessels are heading north. Artemis, Packyamamma and Silly of Sweden. An 800 foot long cargo ship, Pirramu, is approaching from astern.

Silly speaks English with a Swedish accent. Pirramu speaks an Indian dialect which becomes more pronounced as he gets annoyed.

Artemis and Packyamama are to the far starboard of the narrow shipping channel. Nicely out of the way of the approaching behemoth. Silly is in the middle of the channel.

Artemis is the red arrow. Packyamama in front (red), Silly out in the channel (red) and Pirramu catching up fast from behind (green

The following conversation takes place on the marine VHF.

Artemis to Silly over.
No answer.

Artemis to Silly over.
No answer.

Artemis to Packyamama.
Artemis this is Packyamama.
Artemis. I heard you talking to Silly earlier. What channel can we reach him on. There is a large cargo vessel following us and I suggest he moves over to us.
Packyamamma. I will try to reach him.

Silly this is Packyamama. 
Yea! This is Silly.
Packyamama. There is a large cargo vessel behind you. I suggest you move to starboard to join us and let him pass.
Silly: yea I saw him. I don’t know. He could pass between us. He is only 40 meters wide. I could stay here but if you think I should come over there then OK.

Silly this is Pirramu. We heard your conversation. What are your intentions?
Silly: I could stay here or I could move to starboard. The wind is good to go to Starboard but also to stay here is good.
Pirramu: Then hold course and we will pass you on your starboard side.

Silly turns to starboard but stays out in the shipping lane. Pirramu catches up with Silly.

Silly this is Pirramu. What are you doing? Why have you moved in front of me? Why are you impeding my progress? Where are you going?
Silly: Hey! We can see you. You can get past. 

Pirramu turns to port and passes everyone with no further comment.

Did I mention that Silly had his anchor light on all the time?

Names of some vessels changed a bit to protect the privacy of the incompetent.


Often people ask what we eat as we sail along and if we can even cook at sea. As a short answer, we present the menu from the Great Barrier Reef.

Dinner: Noodles with tomato, ham and avocado.

Breakfast: Continental.
Lunch: Home baked apple cake.
Dinner: Rest of the noodles dish from yesterday

Breakfast: Ham and scrambled eggs.
Lunch: Fresh creamed carrot soup.
Dinner: Cheese and crackers.

Breakfast: Yogurt with muesli, nuts and apple.
Lunch: Avocado tomato salad and cheese on toast.
Dinner: Boiled potatoes with cheese and butter.

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