Solo sailor meets goal, misses friends
MY SOLO sailing experience last week was like a lot of adventures: great now that it's over.
Sailing alone is hard work, and nerve-wracking besides, because if something went wrong, I had to fix it. The biggest negative for me, though, was that sailing alone was lonely.
Still, my week of single-handing inside Australia's Great Barrier Reef went well, and I'm glad I did it. Now I know that if I have to get the boat somewhere by myself, I can.
I got back to the marina in good order, made some repairs the way I like to do them, with expert help, and then came home in a civilized manner. By airplane.
"How long does it take?" asked my favorite cafe worker when I told her I was leaving Mackay.
"About 10 hours," I said.
"Gee, I thought Hawaii was further than that."
"The jets fly nonstop these days."
"I meant how long does it take to sail there?" she said.
I laughed. Ten hours indeed. "It took me two years to get here, with time out for cyclones. I don't know how long it will take to sail back. It's 5,000 miles upwind."
That didn't mean much to her, but to us sailors it means a long, hard trip. Therefore, I'm keeping my boat inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park for as long as Australian Customs will allow.
"What is the Great Barrier Reef, exactly?" a Hawaii acquaintance asked me when I told him my boat was inside it.
It's a good question. An aboriginal dancer at the recent Honolulu Festival called the Great Barrier Reef the largest living thing on Earth. But you can't see most of it because it's either far from shore or underwater.
When Capt. Cook sailed north along Australia's east coast, he wrote that something big must be out there because the waves were too small to be coming from the open ocean. Modern sailors appreciate the wave-break, too, since the tradewinds there roar in from the southeast. Without the Great Barrier Reef taking the hits of offshore waves, sailing there would be a nightmare.
The way people talk about THE Great Barrier Reef, it seems as if it's one long, coral wall. In fact, it consists of about 2,900 coral reefs and 940 islands and cays (pronounced keys) along 1,500 miles of Australia's east coast. The outside edges of the Great Barrier Reef can be up to 100 miles from the mainland.
The marine life that thrives among those reefs and islands boggles the mind. The area hosts more than 1,500 kinds of fish, about 400 corals, 215 birds, 30 marine mammals, six sea turtles and so many invertebrates they can't be tallied. One source estimates that invertebrate animals outnumber vertebrates on the reef by 20-to-1. Sponge species alone number more than 500.
Australia has long recognized the significance of this area and made it a national park. Federal laws regulate shipping, fishing and recreation (designated by color on widely distributed maps) inside the park. Enforcement works in such a large area because users police each other.
Sailing alone in this remarkable park was a good adventure for me, but I won't be doing it often. I think of sailing as a social event, especially when there are dugongs in a bay or kangaroos on a beach. Sharing the thrill is a big part of the fun. Next time I sail the Great Barrier Reef, I'm going with friends.