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Text by Alan Beatty


The photographer on this day was a crew member named Juliana from Colombia, who is here in Queensland as a student. Juliana took the picture of my yacht at Low Isles just before sunset while we were sailing north to our overnight anchorage at Rudder Reef.

Situated 15 kilometres north-east of Port Douglas, the Low Isles comprise a four-acre coral cay surrounded by 55 acres of reef. At this location, there is a sand outcrop in the middle of nowhere. Who could not love this place? It is absolutely the most beautiful sand cay, which is a small, low-elevation, sandy island on the surface of a larger coral reef!

These types of cays occur in tropical environments of the Queensland coast. They take thousands of years to form, when the ocean currents transport loose sediment across the surface of a reef to a low area. When the current slows or meets with another current, sediment load is released. Over time, the deposits of sediment create a sand cay. These are important breeding grounds for green sea turtles as well as many species of seabirds. This rare ecosystem ensures corals and fish are plentiful.

The reefs are very close to the islands of Low Isles, which makes snorkelling an easy and enjoyable experience. On Low Island is a lighthouse that has been operating since 1878. Weather data has been gathered from the island since 1887, and scientific associations date back to 1928 when it was the base of a year-long scientific survey that examined the structure and ecology of the surrounding reef.

You must go there for sunset, at least once in your life. The island is a little more than a hundred metres long and just 25 metres wide. There are views to the mainland and out to the surrounding ocean, as you watch for sea turtles, eagle rays, giant clams, brilliant coral, starfish, and tropical fish as you swim along the spectacular reef.

The next day at Rudder Reef, we caught a couple of crayfish for dinner that night. The following day we motorsailed to Mackay Cay as the wind had dropped out. While trawling we hooked a nice big mackerel. Just a little further north, there are the Undine and Agincourt reefs, which make for a fantastic day of snorkelling.


My yacht is a 46ft Beneteau Oceanis that I have lived on for over seven years. She boasts all the features of a larger cruising yacht. Her stepped hull opens up an incredible amount of space inside and ensures great seakeeping performance. This yacht has been easy to sail and pleasantly comfortable.

Interestingly, I purchased her in Antibes, France in 2013, and sailed to Australia arriving in 2016. I was in Abell Point Marina on Airlie Beach at the time of cyclone Debbie and decided not to be in the tropics of Queensland during cyclone season. In the last couple of years, l have sailed to Pittwater in NSW with various crew sourced from a crewing website

While in Pittwater, I was involved in the twilight sailing series out of Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and the Royal Motor Yacht Club before sailing north after the cyclone season in the tropics with new and sometimes returning crew.

Editor’s Note: The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority requires you to make sure you’re familiar with the zoning rules. Non-compliance with zoning rules can have serious environmental impacts and can compromise the health of the Reef.

Significant penalties will apply if you break the rules. Use a zoning map to help you with the rules and avoid a fine. Download “Eye On The Reef” app to find the zoning maps.