There are only so many times you can do the same walks at Magnetic Island while waiting for the 30 knot winds to ease, even if we enjoyed them. So when a break in the weather was forecast the glaring of cats had a powwow and we plotted our next reef escape offshore of Hinchinbrook Island.
On the horizon, a week of calmer weather, perfect for reef hopping. The changing conditions in that time were remarkable: sequels of strong wind and greyness at first, then blue days with no wind at all and finally a slow return of the southeasterlies. After weeks of strong trade winds it felt surreal to be anchored with the most gentle of movement, glass out conditions and total quietness.
We reached Bramble Reef on our own, armed with satellite overlays on our navigation software as this was our first visit to this reef. Our cruising companions decided the passage was a bit rowdy for their families and changed course to the Palm Islands, joining us a day later. As is often the case after many days of strong wind, the ocean is agitated but within a day it calms down. We got well inside the shelter of the half-moon shaped reef wall with surprising ease and dropped the pick in 8m of water over sand. Bramble is a dream to anchor in with plenty of sandy areas clear of bommies near the entrance and further in where we went.
With one of us on the roof as the lookout and the other at the wheel, we proceeded well inside the reef carefully. The black looking patches are deep enough to go over; anything brown or light green is just under the surface and should be avoided!
Our dives at Bramble were a little ordinary. With grey skies above for the two days of our stay, the light underwater was poor and the reef being damaged with a lot of algae and seaweed, everything looked a monochrome grey-brown. Lots of little fish though… It is always hard to understand how different reefs close to one another appear to fare differently. But this reef is popular with fishermen and being so close to Lucinda, it is used and abused!
The silver lining was the quantity of (real) giant clams, the Tridacna giga. These behemoths are the largest living bi-valves and are the most endangered species of clams. Yet they seem to thrive at Bramble. If interested in reading more about these clams, here is a link to a post we published about them a couple of years ago: Gigantic Clams.
In sunny glass out conditions, we moved to nearby Trunk Reef, another new destination for us. Such a different mood again!
Of course it was stress free drone flying weather, first while we had this reef to ourselves, then when our cruising buddies joined us.
Along the edge near the boats our snorkeling revealed storm and cyclone damage, with hardly any hard corals left and the few survivors smothered by algae and seaweed. But one thing we have learned over time is that although the protected side of the reef where you anchor the big boat is often in poor shape, if you dinghy to the side of the reef exposed to the prevailing winds and snorkel or dive there, you get far better coral cover and fish populations, the result of stronger, clearer waterflow and better nutrients. The reward for the longer dinghy ride is displayed in this slideshow: interesting critters in crystal clear water.
Next hop: Walker Reef, where we had been two years ago and had reported a Crown of Thorns Starfish outbreak. We had this anchorage to ourselves as the wind increased for 24 hours, encouraging most cruisers including our friends to go and hide inshore. We decided to put up with a bit more breeze and movement initially, and enjoy the solitude for a few days. As we expected, the wind calmed down and we had gorgeous conditions, sedate enough to send the drone up. We are always astounded at the aerial views – so lucky to see these aquamarine havens from the sky!
Walker Reef has a shy little cay, more akin to a sand bank as it only appears at low tide. Wade spearfished and caught us a Spangled Emperor, highly prized for our table and a Painted Sweetlip! We snorkeled in a few places of course. Some spots were better than others, for instance the area behind the sand cay had lovely gardens of hard and soft corals. But the bommies and reef wall were very damaged. There were signs of recovery though. A few unexpected finds made it all worthwhile: beautiful and varied soft corals, a few sea squirts, two nudibranch and several spectacular sea anemones with their inhabitants – yes we found lots of Nemos! Here is a selection of our favourite images.
With the wind conditions not ideal for being offshore, it would be tempting to do like everybody else and return to the coast, but we so enjoy exploring new reefs that we might just stay out here! Anui is behaving and keeping us reasonably comfortable even in some chop. We’ll have to see how the weather forecast develops! We hope you are enjoying reef hopping with us. More of this next week with a bit of luck!