We left Lady Musgrave at 9am, dodging rain squalls. It was grey and wet and I think we all secretly wanted to stay down below where it was warm, rather than be on deck getting cold as we motored through the wind and rain towards the lagoon channel. But we needed all hands on deck to keep an eye out for coral bommies and, in Ben’s case, a look out for a particularly big tiger shark that is known to patrol the reef entrance. Thankfully we didn’t spot the 5.5m beast…
Even though we exited the passage right on low tide there was a strong current through the break in the reef and whitecapped standing waves had formed on the outside of the channel. The conditions weren’t dangerous, but they certainly woke us all up as Vega was bounced about on them.
Once clear of the reef wall we swung to port to make our way north, leaving the Bunker group of reefs to starboard. It was misty with low scudding cloud, but the gloom was suddenly brightened by a huge humpback whale making an appearance and repeatedly launching its self out of the water only a couple of hundred meters away. Humpbacks, like dolphins are something we never get bored of, its always such a treat to have them pay you a visit.
The forecast was for a light 10-15 knots, so I was surprised, and a bit concerned as we rolled downwind in 25-30 knots. It was epic sailing but I couldn’t help wondering how we would enter Fitzroy Reef in these conditions. One by one the reef’s making up the Bunker group slipped behind us. As we studied the sky we reassured ourselves that our weather was being effected by a large, slow moving squall system that was hanging just behind us and moving at roughly the same speed as us. Even though we were hopeful that the weather conditions would improve, as we rounded NW Fitzroy reef I didn’t think it worth going towards the channel as it was so windy and adjusted course to continue on past Lamont reef and onto Wistari reef.
Ben and Heather, noticing the change of course, popped up on deck to see what was going on. Despite the weather, they thought that as we were so close it would be silly not to check out the entrance to Fitzroy and see what the conditions were like. Ben was very keen to check out the fish and the coral and not wanting to disappoint, I altered course once more for the entrance to Fitzroy lagoon.
As we approached the break in the reef, the wind started to ease, blue sky appeared and we decided to go in. Within an hour it was flat calm. The channel into the lagoon is naturally formed (unlike Musgrave’s which is man made) and is narrow, with coral ledges terracing below you in the crystal clear water. The coral looks really close and makes you stay super focused on your course. Another complication is the fact that the channel has a dog leg to enter the lagoon so you end up heading right for the reef until the very last moment when you swing to port and enter the lagoon. Once you are in, the fun isn’t over as there are coral bommies everywhere as you navigate through the lagoon.
Fitzroy is the largest navigable lagoon in the Great Barrier reef, but anchoring is restricted to the east side of the lagoon, over sand and for small vessels the very south west portion on the lagoon. The middle section anchoring is not allowed so to protect the coral reef. There is plenty of space to anchor even with these restrictions.
Unlike Musgrave, where the coral is generally around the perimeter of the lagoon, the whole central portion of Fitzroy is densely covered in coral. Its like an underwater forrest and the coral coverage extends right down to the lagoon floor some 10-12m below the surface. The colours are magnificent and the fish life much more prevalent than Musgrave. On our first snorkel Ben and I ran into a huge school of big coral trout, turtles and hordes of reef fish. Every snorkel was a treat and even in the cold water we spent a long time exploring the bommies, channels and swim throughs.
Back on Vega, the fishing was equally exciting with almost every cast resulting in coral trout, sweetlip, emporers and wrasse. Milly enforced a strict catch and release policy as the fish were so beautiful…fair enough! There was so much action that in one battle Ben broke his reel, which Heather managed to partially fix.
We only explored a fraction of this wonderful reef, it was both spectacular and peaceful. Its magic enhanced by the fact that there is no island nor land in sight, giving you the feeling you are anchored in an infinity pool, 35NM offshore.
Fitzroy is a must visit destination, but if you are lucky enough to get a chance to visit be sure to respect this pristine environment, so it remains a treasure for ever!