Archive for category The Coral Sea
We were anchored in the lagoon at Middleton Reef (southern Coral Sea). Wally Muller had roped Coralita’s anchor to an antique ships anchor we’d placed on the sand in the lagoon ‘yesterday’.
Now it was time to check the anchor. I was joining deckhand Richard Weir for the inspection and would film it.
All dinghies were either out of the water or anchored on their own elsewhere. In other words, no rescue vessel available.
Coralita was swinging in a great arc in the very strong breeze. Easy to miss getting back aboard as a strong current was also running. No problems. All went well.
It was a cyclone called Colin. Stronger than the cyclone that had wrecked Darwin a few years before. This was 1975. The wreck of the Runic, (pictured above during a previous visit) nearby, was battered by the heavy seas with waves breaking over her – we saw from a distance.
Wally Muller in 1971; Wally Muller underwater with the ship wreck anchor which saved Coralita during a cyclone at Middleton Reef.
Divers, John M Harding (senior) and Roy Bisson (on right)
This was the longest voyage undertaken by the famous charter boat in 1971. Newly launched the boat was 79′ in length and had accommodation for 16 divers (later reduced to 12), plus a crew of four.
The lure for such a voyage was shell collecting, a search for the rare volute thatcheri. Half the charter cost was paid by shell collectors. I was sponsored by a tabloid newspaper to write and photograph five stories that could be serialized over one week.
Text written especially for divers would be published in Fathom No.6 issue. Art director and diver, Roy Bisson being on the voyage.
From San Francisco the late Dewey Bergman (Sea and Sea Travel) was scouting on this voyage for what would become regular parties of American divers and underwater cameramen. The world was about to discover diving Australian style. The future voyages would not involve so much traveling time.
Marion Reef was the new inshore destination, still in The Coral Sea and today almost unvisited due to fuel cost considerations.
The Chesterfield Reef trip was our most memorable. Near perfect weather and a good crew of professional divers. For further information, including names of shipwrecks at Chesterfield Reef, see Wikipedia.org
Roy Bisson swim fins (flippers) were filmed simultaneously by my movie camera and another by Richard Ibara. This was Chesterfield Reef at it’s best. Grey Reef sharks were territorial with these displays as they probably had not encountered divers before.
**Captain Wally Muller** had staked out a location well away from the charter boat where he’d look for shells. To his amazement (and probably disgust) the prize shells were to be found directly where the charter boat was, underneath and in shallow water, and by Christine.
Each shell is worth $300 or more, depending upon size and perfection.
Here’s a famous shipwreck site on the outside edge of the Great Barrier Reef(s).
The **\\Fatima\\** went up on the weather side of \\Great Detached Reef\\ and left a couple of anchors partially exposed as the wreck, or part of it, was washed across the top of the reef and presumably into the lagoon on the other side.
Here on the ocean side or \\weather-side\\ of this coral reef are unusual coral lumps or mounds which I have a gut-feeling might be now coral-encrusted parts of the original ship. A metal detector here could be interesting.
The shape of the coral here, especially near an established wreck site is the clue.
Working in the surf zone would be difficult. Just getting there is far from being easy.
It might be a while before anyone does anything, or maybe never?
My father had adventures in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as a young soldier during the war. However he often said the best trips of his life were aboard \\Coralita\\ especially this trip to the Chesterfield’s.
It was a three-day voyage at 10 knots from the Queensland coast. The charter was shared between professional sea shell collectors (seeking the rare \\volute thatcheri\\, which was found) and diving photographers like us.
I documented the expedition for ABC TV news and a Sydney morning newspaper which ran reports and pictures over five weekday issues in exchange for paying my fare, which was substantial in those times.
**Fathom** (TM) magazine number six ran a several page report.
We had a lot of anxious shark activity underwater. Interesting as the grey reef sharks were \\territorial\\ in that they protected home territory keenly, something that does not happen at regularly visited dive sites close to the coast these days.
Sharks are smart, they learn fast and have good memories.
Low sandy islands without trees and inhabited by sea birds, (gannet, frigate, tropic bird). Typical for many large islands in the Coral Sea of the western Pacific.
**The Great Barrier Reef** was incorrectly named. It is not a single reef, it is 2 500 or more **reefs.**
At the southern section the maze of reefs has a common name \\The Swain Reefs.\\
Beyond the outside edge of \\The Great Barrier Reefs\\ is **The Coral Sea** – a crystal clear blue frontier where few people venture – especially today with high fuel prices.
Saumarez Reef is therefore not a part of \\The Great Barrier Reefs.\\ In many respects, especially water clarity and pelagic fish it is superior.
Visibility underwater is twice as clear as that commonly seen on the outside edge of the GBR, around 70 meters.
A very rusty iron ladder inside led to the upper deck. The deck was quite thin and dangerous in places. No cargo was aboard apart from live ammunition left abandoned.
A few years later other visitors set this on fire which lasted well into the night with spectacular fireworks they told me recently.
Whoever salvaged the bronze prop deserved whatever they received. A lot of heavy and hard work would have been involved.
Francis Preston Blair, (1983)The Saumarez Reefs are the southernmost reefs to be located on the Coral Sea Shelf, being located 85 km to the east of the Great Barrier Reef’s Swain Reefs and 95 km to the southwest of the Frederick Reefs. The Saumarez Reefs consist of three main reefs and numerous smaller reefs that form a large crescent-shaped formation, measuring 39 km across, that is open to the northwest. There are two sand cays: North East Cay and South West Cay. Source: oceandots.com
Middleton Reef has a shallow lagoon especially for a big charter vessel such as \\Coralita\\. In ideal circumstances our captain would look for 20 meters of depth and as much anchor chain length as possible to perform like a spring with it’s weight.
Middleton was shallow. There was no point in trying to out-run the cyclone approaching. Nowhere else to hide.
The shipwreck anchor was found by **John Sumner** and salvaged for the purpose of helping to hold the charter boat.
The anchor remains in the lagoon today, an asset for cruising small boats.
**Middleton Reef** is 8.9km by 6.3km in size, 555 km east of Coffs Harbour New South Wales. It’s the southern extremity of The Coral Sea. Many ships have been wrecked here over the recent 250 years. The steamship \\Runic\\ (above) being the most obvious.
The ocean current between the mainland and Middleton Reef and beyond is often very treacherous with both wave heights and especially currents – \\spiral eddies\\ which played tricks on navigators in the era pre GST instruments.
Dive trips to Middleton Reef were known to fail after days of sea travel and **not finding** the reef.
The original lure being semi-commercial spear fishing for **Black Cod \\(Epinephelus daemelli)\\,** – a now endangered coastal species that was especially common at Middleton Reef, and Elizabeth Reef further south.
Protected by the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve, covering 1,880 km². The reserve was proclaimed in 1987 to protect important and fragile ecosystems.
Lord Howe Island, is further south being in the Tasman Sea.
Arriving at these remote reefs the boat was surrounded by **grey reef whaler sharks** – at least a dozen on the surface. Normally it’s unusual for sharks to do this – except at places where few boats go.
In this case we’d ventured into the French Pacific Territories in a quest for rare sea shells (by half of the crew). The others, including ourselves were just interested in having a good time.
My trip was sponsored by Sydney’s \\The Daily Telegraph\\ newspaper.
Also aboard was my father, John Michael Harding who is standing next to Roy Bisson and watching the action below.
Two medical doctors are either side. At one stage they took a blood transfusion kit aboard the small dinghy with Ron and Valerie Taylor – just in case. This gives an indication on how territorial these small sharks were.
It’s more curiosity than aggression – in most but not all examples.
At another reef we experienced how territorial these whalers can be – almost enough to put you out of the water and go elsewhere.
My theory today is that sharks behave like this when divers are something new to them.
On the coast we are no longer a threatening novelty and sharks settle down to minding their own business. Eventually to become “trained” if food is regularly being offered.
These then are no longer \\wild sharks\\ having become partially domesticated.
This is what dive tourism enjoys. Packaging cheap and relatively safe thrills to the the new breed of diving punters.
The rare, large traveling shark is a different proposition as we learned some years ago at Byron Bay. You can’t do much to avoid one of these monsters if it’s looking for a feed.