Reaching the end of The Great Barrier Reef — Bramble cay — posted March 2016

In 2011 a dream came true–I reached the very top end of the Great Barrier Reef. Here is my account which first appeared in “Club Marine Magazine”.C6 Ribbon Reefs-Sylvie and Green Turtle -

As a young man, I had visited the ‘start’ of the  Great Barrier Reef at its southern tip at Lady Elliot Island. My curiosity was awakened, and a longing to explore the little-known area at the other end of the reef grew into a sweet obsession.

At last, life and conditions came together; I had retired and shifted into a 14m Lightwave power cat named Flash Dancer, which proven to be the ideal vessel for exploring the reef. Over six years it had been progressively equipped it with a full kit of scuba gear and underwater photographic equipment. When I teamed up with Sylvie Jambu, a commercial sailor and diver from France, all the pieces fell into place for a magnificent adventure.
We left Townsville in July, and first indulged our diving passion when we reached the Ribbon Reefs, a remote string of reefs starting to the north of Cairns. It was a thrill to show an overseas visitor our Minke whales and big Potato Cod before heading to the  magnificent anchorage at Lizard Island.

Minky whale at the Ribbon Reefs

Minky whale at the Ribbon Reefs

C2 Ribbon reefs- Sylvie amongst a school of Ice Fish

Interacting withe Cod at the Cod Hole.

           Interacting with the Cod at the Cod Hole.

North of Lizard Island, the winter trade winds  notched up a gear. Weeks of howling winds, unfamiliar territory, inaccurate charts, no civilization and a crew that swore in French…it should have been very testing,but somehow my new first mate and I were getting on famously. The isolation of the Cape, combined with the shared adventure of discovering new places, seemed to suit our personalities.

The highlights while cruising up the cape were hiking around Shelburne Bay, anchored at beautiful Forbes Island, meeting up with other boaties at Margaret Bay, and a couple of days diving the Southern and Great Detached Reefs.

C10 Forbs island anchorage

                    Anchored at Forbes island.

Hiking the silicon hills around Shelbourne Bay.

               Hiking the silicon hills around Shelbourne Bay.

After much zig-zagging we arrived at Thursday Islands located in the Torres Strait islands 21nm north of Cape York Peninsular.  With our adventurous enthusiasm still intact, so we headed 130nm northeast through Torres Strait to explore the very “end” of the Great Barrier Reef.

Bramble Cay, situated just 30nm from Papua New Guinea’s huge Fly River Delta, was our destination. We had very little idea what we would find there!

IMG_0174

The very end of the GBR. Chart compliments of iSailor.

 

It was now September, a time when good weather windows start to open. True to form, after months of 20-30 knots south-easterly trade winds the weather witch relented and the winds eased to a well mannered 15 knots. Torres Strait has a nasty reputation amongst cruisers: shallow water, tricky currents, strong winds, and reefs scattered everywhere. But the charts were accurate and all were friendly. We pushed Flash Dancer along at nine knots arriving at Kodall Island in time to find a well-protected anchorage behind the reef’s edge.

We reached our destination,Bramble Cay, the following afternoon and were doubly pleased when greeted by Egan, a hospitable fishing boat captain who exclaimed we were their first visitor in six years! Egan was an enthusiastic young chap, suggesting where we best anchor and explaining the many vagaries of the local fishing industry. But what really impressed us was watching him and his crew  catch up to 50 Spanish Mackerel in just two hours by fishing the traditional way, with three hand lines out the back of a Dory. There was one other fishing boat here, and for five months of the year, these two boats hang precariously from the NW end of the cay hoping to catch their quota and get out before the late-spring Westerly monsoons blow them away.

Anchored at Bramble Cay.

     Anchored at Bramble Cay with the two fishing vessels.

The sand cay was sparsely vegetated and populated by thousands of marine birds and visiting green turtles. It was wonderful to watch the beginning of their breeding season unfold. At anchor, we were intrigued by the unpredictable currents and the  fresh water flowing past our vessel at times… and the odd huge tree!

Boobies at sunset on Bramble Cay.

                 Boobies at sunset on Bramble Cay.

Fishing boats at Bramble Cay.

                    Fishing boats at Bramble Cay.

We dived three times around the reef. It was different: the visibility was poor and we often found ourselves swimming through patches of fuzzy green as cool fresh water seeped from below.

We had our own shark show for extra entertainment — twice daily when the fishermen filleted their catch and threw the frames into the sea, up to 15 big black whaler sharks would churn the waters in an amazing display of crash, bash, and wallop. I tied my RIB to the back of a fishing boat to photograph the action and watched as they bumped and thumped into it, part filling it with the spray from their frenzied feeding. Right on cue, they disappeared after fish cleaning was completed. When we dived under the boat to check out a giant grouper an hour after feed time the sharks were nowhere to be seen, thankfully.

6C Bramble Cay _ Egan filleting Spanish Mackerel

9 Bramble Cay Black Whaler sharks feeding on the frames

The weather window was still holding so, after five enjoyable days at Bramble Cay, we decided to explore the next two reefs.

51 Anchor cay- Rob - perfect condition so we broke out our hookah and stayed under the water until it ran out of fuel- 3 1_2 hours later. We did have a beach picnic mid way

Anchor Reef was a great place to dive with our floating Airline Hookah.

Further east is the very small reef of Anchor Cay. There is nothing noteworthy there, but it was still a fine place to anchor and dive in the good conditions. We had a mid-day picnic on a tiny patch of sand still showing at high tide.Still further on was East Cay. Our chart showed a sizeable sand cay — however, when we arrived at the large reef there was no Cay to be found, just an absolutely huge navigation tower complete with Helipad.

34 East Cay towerI longed to write “Flash Dancer was here” on the tower as I was sure this place had never been visited by anyone other than lots of Terns and the occasional maintenance team.

We anchored in a passage that ran thru the reef and had a couple of dives in reasonably clear water, spotting  lots of underwater macro life. Climbing the giant tower was also interesting.

32A East Cay-Sylvie

 A colourful sea slug (nudibranch)

                        A colourful sea slug (nudibranch)

 Jewel Anemonone.

                            Jewel Anemone.

After 3 days, our HF weather guide warned us of strong winds returning so we retreated to the comfort and security of Kodall Island.Masig (Yorke island) is located  next to our safe anchorage at Kodall Island and has a population of 300 easy-going Torres Strait Islanders. We called in at the Council office and received permission to move freely around the Island. It’s a very neat and pretty place; we ended up doing a photo-shoot of the island and buying an oil painting depicting the past head-hunting era from a local artist for a reasonable price.

Making friends on Masig island.

Making friends on Masig island.

 

We enjoyed chatting with the locals, and browsing the two mixed business shops…we love these tiny out-of-the-way places and their friendly locals .

Masig Island.

                               Masig Island.

Now do we head back to Thursday Island or venture 70nm (112km) east through the Barrier to Ashmore Reef. I always wanted to go there…

*Click here for more images of Bramble Cay.
*Click here for more images of Shelburne bay.
*Click here for my 4-minute video “Masig Island, gateway to NE Torres Strait.

 

Get Free Email Updates!

Signup now and receive an email once we publish new content.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

4 Comments

  1. Dave on April 4, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    How enjoyable to read of your amazing adventure, being a “land lubber” it’s hard to understand how you navigate to all these amazing places and how you know what wind is going to be at which reef in any particular month or time of year.
    The peace and quiet must be very noticeable when sitting on deck taking a well earned rest, diving into those clear waters not knowing what you were going to find must have had your adrenalin flowing.
    I look forward to reading your exploits on the following pages of this excellent website.
    Take care.
    Dave

    • Robin Jeffries on April 5, 2016 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Dave and I hope you continue to enjoy the stories of this beautiful area.Stay in touch. Cheers Robin 🙂

  2. Cal on January 30, 2017 at 1:50 am

    Wow! Such an interesting post on such a seldom visited part of the Torres Strait.
    North Eastern Torres Strait is so different is so different to Western Torres Strait (where I live, where the water is very muddy)
    Thanks for the post, mate.
    Happy adventuring!

    Cal.

    • Robin Jeffries on January 30, 2017 at 7:02 am

      G’day Cal.I guess you live somewhere like Saibai or Boigu. We have never landed on these places but I recall the dirty water and the weird currents across the top of the strait. We briefly cruised past them in 2012. Still, we found your area an interesting part of the world. Thx for your comment. Cheers Robin.

Leave a Comment