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Magnetic Island – Horseshoe Bay

19° 06’ 15.18” S

146° 51’ 38.21 E

From Airlie Beach we sailed overnight to Magnetic Island. We’d intended to spend a couple of days there, but when we arrived at Horseshoe Bay there were so many jet-skis and powerboats and other boats at anchor that we decided to simply stay the night and move on to Orpheus Island the next morning. Having to avoid shark drum lines at the entrance to the bay helped the decision-making process, as did the rather murky water. Shark drum lines are floating oil drums with baited hooks attached. These are very effective at catching bull sharks, tiger sharks, and great white sharks – which are the species most dangerous to swimmers. Somehow, I didn’t care for a swim and The Captain prefers his water hot anyway, with soap and a good bath brush.

Cook sailed past Magnetic Island in June, 1770. Because of some fluctuations in his compass readings, he named this “rocky and barrenst surface” ‘Magnetical Isle’, as he believed his compass problems were caused by magnetic interference from the massive rocky outcrops of the island. This assumption later proved to be incorrect and no one has been able to duplicate the phenomenon, but the name stuck, albeit changed to ‘Magnetic’.

Orpheus Island – Hazard Bay

18° 36’ 40.72” S

146° 29’ 10.20 E

The sail to Orpheus Island the next day was wonderful. First, we had an honour guard of 4 bottlenose dolphins for a while. They played in the bow wave, weaving back and forth, slipping to the surface and down again, turning and twisting to look at us from within their glassy world as we leaned over the safety lines of our floating island.

Then, shortly afterwards, I was called up from below to look at humpback whales breaching. They looked to be a mother and calf and got closer and closer until, finally, they were no more than a yard or two off the bow when they dove under the surface, the larger one showing a long, long curve of grey ridged, barnacle-encrusted flank. For a horrible moment we thought the boat might have scraped them although we weren’t moving very quickly, but they must have known what they were doing. We were too busy standing with our mouths open in astonishment to be very competent.

Orpheus Island looked to be a most promising tropical paradise as we approached and anchored in Hazard Bay. The water was still, and on the horizon plumes of smoke from burning sugar cane fields south of Lucinda, on the distant mainland, rose into a milky evening sky. Later, the fires cast a reddish glow along the distant night shore and Venus was so bright in the sky that it cast a glittering path on the black water. Even getting seawater with which to flush our wretched toilets was an enchanting experience: bioluminescence made the water sparkle and flash as I poured it into the large translucent plastic bottles, as if I were pouring stars.

The fun came to an abrupt end at about 3am. The wind came up, changed direction, and we began dragging our anchor. The anchor position alarm roused us from our bunks, though I’d already been half-awake for some time listening with growing anxiety to the menacing noise of the chain dragging around on the bottom.

So The Captain had to turn on the engine and bring the boat forward while I had to go out onto the bloody bow, which was by now heaving through an arc of about 30°, to release the rope snubber and bring the anchor in. Then after he had moved us further out from shore for safety’s sake in case the anchor dragged again, I went through the palaver in reverse. It really did seem as if 24 hours could not go by without some unpleasant drama and 3am is not a good time for dramas. I used a lot of very nautical language, very loudly, and felt slightly better.

The next morning found us hobby-horsing up and down in a really nasty chop until we moved further in – now that we could see the edge of the reef – and in the afternoon it calmed enough that I could take the dinghy to Yanks Jetty and walk on the beaches there for a bit while The Captain read and dozed. The beaches were idyllically pretty and the sand was littered with bits of coral sucked smooth as old ivory by the waves. Yanks Jetty is so-called because it was originally built as part of a degaussing (demagnetising) station during WWII. There is story that General Douglas McArthur used the idyllic setting as a love nest for trysts with local girls.

Rather a lot of cone shells that had been washed up onto the beach the night before. Now, cone shells are beautiful, but the molluscs that make them are predators which eat small fish and suchlike creatures. They sneak up on their prey in a slow and snailishly sinister fashion and then from the narrow end of their shell gradually extend a proboscis, at the end of which is a tiny harpoon with which they inject venom into their victim.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opwGG9_oOjA

They can also harpoon humans who disturb them, causing great pain and occasionally even death. In the pretty illustrations accompanying cautionary on-line articles the dangerous shells are shown in their full patterned and coloured glory. The problem is that on the beach they’re all covered in a brownish-grey coating, so the dangerous ones are indistinguishable from the ones that aren’t. I cautiously picked one up with a bit of shell and an eye at the end of a stalk peered out at me, so I chucked it and the others of its ilk far out into the water as my Good Deed for the day.

The next day was beautifully calm so I was able to go for a snorkel – hurrah!

Getting to the reef required some interesting rock climbing around the point from Yanks Jetty. I wore my thin wet-suit and heavy Teva sandals and carried flippers and assorted gear – including the camera in a waterproof bag – in a backpack. My new boogie board did double duty as a walking stick. It must have looked awkward, but worked. After inspecting the mangroves, I left backpack and camera on shore well above the waterline but kept the sandals on while shuffling (recommended in waters where there are stingrays) through the shallow water en route to water deep enough in which to don flippers and mask. Then the sandals went into a mesh bag and onto the boogie board and I was set to go!

You’d have to be a lunatic not to wear shoes while wading here and every pamphlet and guidebook emphasises this point. Coral and oyster cuts almost always get badly infected and some varieties of coral sting. Stonefish live in these waters and they’re impossible to see because they’re so well camouflaged. If one steps on them the venom in their dorsal spines will, at best, cause excruciating pain. I startled a small stingray, too. So, why were a couple with 3 small children wading around in the shallows all barefoot? Within minutes of walking into the water the youngest was wailing and dripping blood. Park service employees and emergency crews must despair.

The water wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped, but toward the deeper water giant boulders covered in a skin of blue coral were spectacular, as were fan corals. The usual psychedelic colour combinations prevailed: hot pink next to mustard yellow and bright orange, gas-flame blue alongside iridescent green. There were a fair number of fish, including a variety of large grouper with a skin decorated to look exactly like the pattern of rippled sunlight on pale underwater sand. The large clams were the most delightful, however, and I almost laughed out loud at first catching sight of them. They’re a species that works its way into coral heads so that only the edges of the shells and mantle peek out. It looked as if the coral-covered rocks had many pouty mouths with plump, wavy blue and green lips – Mick Jagger-like.  (The photo of them is off the internet, btw.)

Next stop: Cairns

All best,

Eva

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Written by mnestis

August 12, 2010 at 8:31 PM