One of our games to keep us amused in the car on journeys is ‘spot-o'; looking out for blue, purple and yellow cars. Well, it would appear that when sailing and snorkelling on the Swain Reefs you can apply the same game to the coral. What a wonderful week we’ve just had…..
A long sail from Yeppoon / Rosslyn Bay up to Pearl Bay where we insisted everyone walked along the full length of the beach and climbed rocks since we knew our feet would not touch terra firma for a few days. We had the bay to ourselves for a stunning afternoon although there was no drifting from the beach for us: the land is all owned by the military and so you are warned about hiking and wandering into areas with unexploded bombs – a potential honeypot for 8 and 9 year olds with fertile imaginations. There were a lot of discussions about bomb disposals and why use sniffer dogs who might be blown up etc. Honestly, you have to think on your feet with these boys sometimes, or at least make things up on the hoof!
After a short and rolly night we set off at 4.00 in the morning (correction: Gerhard did. I went off to sleep again and didn’t wake until 5.30am. …slacker that I am).
It was a long old day, but thankfully the hooking of a Spotted Mackeral on the trawling line broke the monotony, so we had plenty of fish to eat (great smoked the the BBQ) and we arrived at our chosen reef mid afternoon.
We were both feeling a bit queasy: Gerhard has anchored on reefs ‘out there’ previously, but the idea that we were on a reef, 60 miles east from the mainland, no one about, not a soul had we seen all day and we were about to say “ok boys, hop out the dinghy, over the edge and let’s go snorkelling”. Meanwhile we kept looking behind us and around us for sharks. One of my biggest fears has been what if something happens to both Gerhard and I – the boys left on their own on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean/ Coral Sea. No mobile phone coverage. No internet. That had all long since disappeared. Crackly VHF radio if we were lucky. No contact with coast guards. We discussed showing them how the emergency EPIRB beacon worked – but I’m still not convinced they’d manage to even get it out to release it if an emergency occurred. ‘Life of Pi’ comes to mind …and then I just block it out: it’s all too scary to contemplate.
So we looked out for ‘bommies’ (protruding / shallow reef) as we slowly motored our way into our first reef. As we approached we thought we could see loads of fishing boats outside the reef. Our first mirage – it was just more reef and reflections off the reef. We were on our own.
We spent the next few days snorkeling the reef and moving to others. From ocean of 60 metres deep we would enter reef, navigating our way through gullies and shallow patches as the depth alarm went off, both of us with nauseous feelings in the pits of our stomachs.
Each time we popped into the dinghy and went off to reefs to snorkel Gerhard would go in the water first to check all was clear. The boys became more and more competent at diving with snorkels on, checking out the fabulous coral and stunning fish.
On Sunday Oscar popped his head and called out ‘May Day! May Day!’. He swam quickly back across the reef heading for the dinghy, as I swam behind him. Up he popped over the edge of the dinghy, fixed his detached snorkel successfully and popped back in for some more snorkeling. Good boy!
It comes to something I decided when your 8 year old (Hugo) congratulates you on your diving and says “you’re really getting the hang of this diving stuff Mum. Well done!”. How to feel ruddy inadequate!
Whilst Gerhard did more snorkeling we hung over the edge of the dinghy with masks on and played ‘spot-o’ with the coral. Oscar spotted a shark coming from behind the boat. “Should we tell Daddy?”. “Nooo” I said (with no thought for his life insurance policy – honest!). I of course was thinking Oscar was being just a bit enthusiastic and imaginative. When I saw the snorkel-clad Gerhard suddenly look up with a start I realised that perhaps it was a shark after all! (See the photos – a harmless reef shark, but what, I thought, if we find one with aspirations to be something more than a white or black tipped reef shark? Perhaps they get confused? Perhaps his mum said he could do better for himself?!
Despite the niggling concerns the coral and the fish were stunning. Tiny fish on the coral, and then we swam to the edge of the reef and saw big reef fish of all colours. It was remarkable (if not a tad stressful with boys in tow). We left Swain Reefs on Tuesday morning – early before the sun rose.
As we slowly motored out across the reef finding our way out I thought to myself that the ‘Man at the Helm’ was quite smart really. He knew we had to leave once it was light but before the sun rose or we’d be unable to see the bommies in the early morning sunlight.
After much deliberation and listening out for inaudible weather forecasts over the VHF radio we ventured back to Rosslyn Bay…