Ashmore Reef

Published 21 years ago, updated 4 years ago

MIZ MAE made landfall at Ashmore Reef after a light wind passage from Darwin. We covered the 455 miles in three days and used up 140 litres of diesel. The customs lady in Darwin had painted a dreamy picture of Ashmore Reef, where she had been stationed recently on the customs catamaran Wauri now permanently based at Ashmore Reef. She had obviously not exaggerated as the place is indeed idyllic: clear blue water in the well-protected lagoon and a blindingly white beach at low tide. There was no sign of the promised moorings, whose tackle had been liberated by some Indonesian fishermen who call here regularly. The only thing they could not remove was the actual 2.5-ton mooring. We saw some of them that same evening as they tacked into the lagoon in their small crab-clawed sailing craft just as they had been doing for hundreds of years. As long as they don’t have an engine nor a drift net, they are allowed to come and fish here.

There was quite a commotion when we called the customs officers on the Wauri on channel 16. Apparently, the day before they had apprehended an Indonesian ship with 80 Iraqi illegal immigrants onboard. Every one of them had paid the smugglers 5,000 dollars, and the plan was to get them into Australia via Ashmore Reef. The crew were eventually taken to prison in Australia, while the would-be immigrants were interned in a camp in Darwin. Once the Iraqis were taken off the reef, customs took the small wooden ship offshore, set it alight and sank it. What a shame to send up in flames all that old teak!

The 583 reef is a nature reserve belonging to Australia. However, those who wish to call here still need to clear out at Darwin. The four islets are off limits to sailors, with the exception of West Islet, in front of which is the best anchorage. Landing is only permitted if one is accompanied by a customs officer. There is a fresh water spring on the small island, but this is to be used in emergencies only. Line fishing and spearfishing are prohibited. Rubbish can be left with customs. Diving and snorkeling are superb, provided one likes sea snakes! There are lots of these, large and small, as well as turtles, plus all of 747 different species of fish, not to speak of the beautiful live coral. Navigation in the lagoon is to be attempted with good light only as there are many shallows and coral heads, although quite visible in the clear water. Except at high water springs, protection from the swell is good, especially inside the lagoon half a mile NW from West Islet in approx. position 12°14.3’S, 122°59’E where one can anchor in 9 metres in the sand. The current inside the lagoon can reach up to 2 knots. We used Australian chart 314 and were very happy to have spent the 25 dollars on it as life would have been very difficult without it.

Lilly Vedana & Tom Mueller, Yacht MIZMAE [BROKEN LINK]

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