Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Tiny and the Huge

chromodoris kutteri
After almost a week in the Percy Islands, we thought the headwinds had relented somewhat and that we could move onward under power toward the southeast.  After nosing around the bottom of Middle Percy and almost grinding to a halt, we realized that the wind and waves were determined to restrain us in our venture.  In our expectation of simply motoring to the next dive site, we had not really rigged ourselves for sailing and so simply persevered for the few short miles to an anchorage in the lee of South Percy, the southern outlier of the island group.

The two days until the winds actually relented a bit proved to be a blessing.  A reversing tidal current promised to nourish the sea-life much as at Pine Peak [the dive that wasn't] but, in the case of South Percy, the period of slack between the currents was adequate for a dive.

fryeria picta
Nudibranchs, one of the "cutest" categories of marine life, are a favorite of ours.  Our Australian dive sites so far had only offered the occasional  glimpse of these tiny colorful creatures.  South Percy was a welcome change to all that as they started to appear, brilliant against the dull background near our anchor chain, as soon as we had descended.  As we swam along the bottom into shallower water, a garden of coral replaced the uninteresting anchor ground - but the nudibranchs were still about.

* * *

A digression:

It is a common misconception that the wind pushes a sailboat along and that it must go in the direction the wind sends it.  In reality, through aerodynamic processes similar to those that support an airplane in flight, the wind over the sails pulls the boat forward.  Modern cruising sailboats can sail into the wind at an angle of just over forty-five degrees off the wind - racing boats even closer.  This has the effect of allowing the navigator to reach a destination directly to windward by placing the wind first on one side of the boat and then the other.  This process is known as "tacking".
chromodoris magnifica

While the wind does not much impede our boat under power, large waves certainly do.  The motion they induce not only slows the boat but also interferes with the efficient operation of the propeller and slows us to a crawl. The waves have no such effect on the boat under sail though.  The winds happily keep pulling the boat along at a much higher speed than the engine can manage.  In fact with strong headwinds and large waves, even with the extra distance traveled in tacking, the boat under sail will arrive before a similar sailboat under power motoring dead to windward.

* * *

After two nights had passed at anchor off South Percy the winds still continued out of the southeast. Our patience with this was waning though ... so we stowed the dive gear, rigged for sail and set off for High Peak Island under reefed mainsail. The day turned out to be a glorious sail with spray flying and the boat pulling us forward magically into the eye of the wind. Sailing to windward at first seems futile.  Your destination is always well off to one side of the boat or the other.  Nonetheless, each time you return to a particular tack, your target island is visibly closer even though you have never actually headed toward it.  Finally, after much of the day has passed, you find yourself  right in the lee of  your destination with wind and waves dying away.  Minutes later the anchor chain rattles out and you have arrived.

Just as we were hunting for a spot to anchor at High Peak there was a disturbance in the water just ahead of Traversay.  This resolved itself quickly into a nervous mother whale trying to nudge her baby out of our way.  The baby whale, like most babies, was both curious and oblivious to the danger.  We immediately slowed and turned to give them room ... and then reached for the camera.

High Peak proved another abominably rolly anchorage. Because of my choice of anchor spots far off the reef, it also gave us lots of exercise during our dive swim. But we did see yet another charming and different nudibranch.

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