Blue Water Dreaming
Exploring the Reef - A trip to the Slashers and the Palm Isles
Reef Trip Planning
The idea of exploring the reef, were there is no details in the charts makes me nervous, as unlike Captain Cook, Iím not really an Ďexplorerí.

Oscar, being more adventurous has a lot of patience with me so  well before embarking in this exploration we did a lot of research with the locals and the cruisers around the marinas that have been there before.

The Slashers group have the attraction of being not far from the Palm Isles giving a good option to escape if the weather turns bad. Among the reefs in this group we considered Kelso,  Backnumbers,  John Brewer and Rib Reef.
Palm Iles
The Slashers Reef Group
John Brewer reef seemed interesting. Itís an almost entirely closed, circular reef with a narrow opening (60 m wide) to a lagoon on its northern side.

In the late 80ís a floating hotel was installed inside the lagoon, this project was a complete failure and not long after its opening the hotel was sold and transported away. There is a complete study of this project in this link

Water depth in the lagoon varies between 6-10 m at low water with a tidal range of up to 2.5 m. Some dive operators have been there and told us it was quite good.
Bad luck or a bad idea?
Other cruiserís friends recommended Kelso and gave us their anchoring waypoints. We did not have a lot of information on Backnumbers while we have plenty of good recommendations for the Rib Reef.  

Finally we settled for Rib Reef. It has a lagoon with good sandy patches and we were told it is quite safe to spend the night there in settled weather. Salaisha was in Nelly Bay next to us and gave us several waypoints to enter and the best places to anchor. They were planning a fishing trip around the reef and coming to sleep in the lagoon as well.
Rib Reef - Easy In, Easy Out - 26 to 27 September, 2014
With the confidence we had all the information we needed we left Horseshoe Bay at 5.30 AM arriving at Rib Reef at around 13.00PM, when visibility was at its best.

As we approached we could see there were already other two boats in there.
Google Earth Chart Overlay
Entry Waypoint:
18 28.531S 146 51.874E
Zenitude's track and anchor point in Rib Reef
It was a perfect day for the reef and soon we were snorkelling with many fish around and some small black tip sharks, as usual patrolling the pretty reef.

We saw also many turtles around. I love it when we can snorkel directly from Zenitude but just after 1 hour of the low tide slack the current started to get strong and  that  finished with our snorkelling fun.

Sunset hour was calm and beautiful when Salaisha came in the lagoon and anchored nearby. They had a great fishing day. 

Entering the reef we can spot the coral heads easily
Snorkelling around, the reef is pretty
After a quiet good night sleep we were getting ready for another snorkel expedition when we realized there was a drawback to this reef.

A couple of professional fishermen boats where at anchor cleaning the fish from their nightís catch. The problem was that now there were plenty of very excited sharks in the lagoon in a feeding frenzy, we decided we would skip the morning snorkel tour.
We wanted to visit some other reefs in the Slashers but the weather was not promising a good quiet night so we decided to head towards Palm Isles instead and check out Orpheus Island where you can stay either at anchor or on one of the visiting moorings available in Little Pioneer Bay.
Palm Isles - Stingers Scare in Little Pioner Bay - 27 to 28 September, 2014
We arrived to this beautiful bay, just 22 miles west of Rib Reef to pick up the last mooring available. Anchoring seems all right but it is a bit deeper than what we usually like in about 12 to 15 meters. Local cruisers had told us that there is a better anchorage north of Pioneer Bay in Perolus Island, but we haven't checked this information.

We were enjoying the afternoon, lazily thinking about a dinghy exploration of the beaches and snorkelling areas when we noticed a dinghy going from boat to boat in the anchorage with a very energetic lady on board. There were about 5 boats in the area at this time and surely enough she came to visit us as well. She was actually distributing part of their fish catch as she said they had too much fresh fish on board. It was a great mackerel fillet that we enjoyed immensely for dinner. 

We were chatting along nicely and we mentioned about our snorkelling plans. She asked if we had our stinger suits. Of course we didnít as we thought stingers were a thing of the coastal waters, not the island waters. Definitely this is not the case, we learned and we should be using our suits already. The simple problem was, we didnít have them.
Box Jelly Fish
Protection, not on
our wardrobe
This is one of the things where the likelihood of getting a sting in the islands is remote but the consequences are dramatic. She had had such a terrible experience where a guest in their boat had to be airlifted by helicopter with excruciating pain after a stinger hit her that now she was paranoid about putting even a finger in the water without cover.

As she went back to her boat we looked at each other and pondered what to do next. We needed provisioning and fuel so our best option was to go back to Townsville. We would buy the suits then and visit the giant clams in this bay later. After all, this is a beautiful place and deserves a good time around without having to worry about stingers.
Breakwater Marina - Back in Townsville - 28 September to 7 October 2014
We left late morning the following day and arrived at Breakwater marina just before sunset. Our regular docking pier was waiting for us and after tying up with the help of Imagicaís crew, who we met in New Caledonia last year, we reunited with Mark and Diane from Mustang Sally. They were now in their way back south to Melbourne where they live. We had a good catch up over dinner and they enthusiastically told us we should keep going north. They were just coming back from Lizard Island and recommended we go there. Well, maybe next year as the end of this sailing season is fast approaching.

Then, next day, the first thing we did was to go shopping, looking for the stinger suits, which we easily found as this is part of Queensland's everyday life. Now, armed with the right defensive gear, stocks of food and fuel we headed back to Magnetic Island to wait for the right time to sail to Orpheus with a possible stop at the reef, weather permitting.