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Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 17 – 21, 2012 – Lady Musgrave Island

5 AM wakeup call…someone please set up my IV for coffee. Lord, God, please get us out of here without incident. Attempting to leave the berth, we were immediately caught by the current. Even this close to shore the current flows righteously; and although Frank had full control of the helm we were immediately pushed stern-to straight toward the rock jetty that lines the shore.  Maneuvering away from the shore, the current grabbed us abeam, pushing our keel sideways back into the pylons of the wharf berth.  Calamity was averted by the skillful helm handling of Captain Frank, and we broke free just shy of the sandbar behind our slip.

Fortunately the bar was fairly settled when we crossed and we only suffered a few jolts and jerks before clearing the bay. The wind was a surprising 25+ knots over the predicted 10-15, and so we quickly raised the sails and bucked and thrashed, climbing 2 meter swells to get to open ocean hoping for a smoother ride. The rodeo was on, however, and we continued to rock and roll at a swift 7.5 – 9 knots. Fast and hard we rode for several hours. Scallywag was just behind us, leap-frogging over the waves. We were off to a great start and anticipated arriving at Lady Musgrave by Wednesday mid morning.  As the day wore on the winds slowly died away and a 2-knot current began working against us. On came the iron jib and we motor-sailed the rocky seas.  We had two little episodes of excitement along the way. At some point Frank mis-stepped and fell full on into the dodger, ripping a fairly long L-shape out of it with his elbow. We both stared at the flapping canvas and thought – we sure hope this stuff will last until we get to Thailand, because we really really don't want to pay for new canvas in Australia. As we were contemplating covering the breach, a rouge wave hit us, and at the same time my peripheral vision picked up a massively swinging dinghy on our davits. Uh-oh, what's going on there?  I said, "Frank the dinghy is really swinging about wildly." Frank immediately snapped on the safety line, grabbed a dock line and stomped out to the flailing dinghy. He eventually got it secured and then noticed that the arm holding the outboard motor to the rail was also slamming about. He tended to that and plopped back into the cockpit crossing his fingers. Since misfortunes tend to run in threes we felt that we had four behind us now and all would be well for the duration of our trip.

The days are becoming much shorter as winter approaches. At around 5:30 PM we enjoyed a brilliant sunset and settled into a black as pitch night. As we continued offshore, the stars came out by the billions. The Milky Way was clearly defined and the seas seemed to be competing for attention setting off the lovely sparkling plankton in an iridescent glittering along the wake. It was indeed a lovely night for passage making. Our blustery wind did not return although the 2-knot counter current persisted pushing back our arrival time to late afternoon. We were fine with the later arrival as long as we had enough light to spot the bombies within the atoll.  

Approach to Lady Musgrave can be a bit dodgy because the entrance markers are so close together making it wise to have someone spotting on the foredeck, so I went on deck to call the track. After passing through the markers, the lagoon appears wide open, but we had to pick our way through the bombies to a good sandy spot to drop the hook. There were only about 3 other yachts here leaving us quite happy to have this ostensible paradise to ourselves. The Scallys arrived soon thereafter and announced that dinner was on them. They had caught a beautiful 2-½ meter Spanish mackerel. We enjoyed a lovely sundowner with fresh sashimi and then dinner of grilled mackerel.  It was a perfect end to our little 2 days at sea. We were excited about exploring the area because it is touted for it's diving, snorkeling and turtle watching. The island is also a seasonal breeding ground for local sea turtles. We enjoyed the quiet solitude, watching the tiny ripples play across the stunningly clear blue water below us, listening to the distant sound of surf crashing over the reef about us.  Frank commented to me, "Barbara, this is what I wish our friends could enjoy with us. They don't get to do this part when they fly into the cities to visit". I agreed that this is something special that very few of us get to do.

The next morning, everyone was tired after not getting much rest on that one-night sail, so it was agreed that the day would get off to a lazy start.  Frank and I were sipping coffee in the cockpit gazing out at the lovely little island across the incredibly crystal clear water while contemplating our day…should we snorkel, swim or go exploring…when out of the horizon appeared a large vessel filled to overflowing with PEOPLE. Gasp! Look at all of those PEOPLE! What are they doing HERE? We had read in Lonely Planet that there were day trips to the island and that camping was permitted in small numbers by reservation (nearly a year in advance), but we did not expect a hoard to converge on our serenity.  Eegads! They poured off the cruise boat like ants. Some loaded onto fishing boats, some into glass-bottom tour boats and some into other vessels heading either to shore or to somewhere else within the atoll. The lagoon came alive with teeming boats of tourists. There goes the neighborhood! That pretty much settled that. We stayed onboard and set about chores that we had both been dreading . Mine was repairing the ripped dodger, so out came the sewing machine. Frank worked on repairing our lifeline buoy cover that was falling to pieces and barely hanging on the rail, and then took a look at the dinghy straps.

By late afternoon the cruise ship loaded up the masses and departed, leaving us in peace once again. Paul and Glor dropped by on their way over to explore the island. I was still elbow deep in sewing projects (I had now moved on to the other sewing odds and ends that had been piling up), and Frank was still working on the dinghy straps, so we passed on going to shore. They returned to inform us that there really isn't much to see and that the island is filled with birds and their droppings.  On Friday morning we did a little strategy/chart meeting with the Scallys and then returned to our chores on Destiny. We knew that the cruise ship would be bringing heaps of tourists again, so we waited until they departed to go exploring. While I was still finishing up some odd jobs, Frank jumped in for a snorkel around. He returned to report that there wasn't much to see. Very few fish, and the reef was devoid of color. I crossed that off my list and we set off for shore because we simply could not come all the way here not to at least go to shore. The island is very small; some 15 hectares, and utterly rimmed in coral meaning that there is no real sand beach, therefore, one must wear reef walkers and anchor the dingy just off the coral skirting and then wade to shore crunching on loose calcified coral bits and sharp shards of broken shell.  You can walk around it at low tide, but it is crunchy.  We chose to walk inland to find the camping area, setting off first along the sand path through the trees. 

Immediately we were assaulted on three fronts: the near deafening sounds of screeching White-capped Noddies (birds) nesting overhead, the overpowering stench of bird droppings, and the dive-bombing efforts of hundreds these little black birds that were threatened by our presence. I could hear constant splatting of bird-poo all around me as I hurried through the groves dodging the fairly large burrows of the island's population of Shearwaters. All I could think of was getting the heck through the grove of shitting birds to the beach on the other side. The entire flora was covered in streaming white odoriferous bird crap. I seriously thought I would gag before we emerged from this disgusting place. How on earth could someone camp here for an entire week????? Time to move on.

We needed an early start to catch the morning winds before they tapered off, as they tend to do in these parts. The 5:15 AM alarm shattered my dream filled sleep and we both stumbled out of bed. We were anchors aweigh by 6:00 and slipping out of the anchorage quietly so we didn't disturb the sleeping yachts around us. By now it had filled to 14 yachts. As I was keeping a sharp eye out for bombies on the foredeck, a sea turtle bobbed to the surface just beside me and swam along with us toward the pass. Just as we approached the channel markers he silently dipped beneath the surface and was gone in a flash. 

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