Agincourt Reef #4 was the northernmost point we sailed to at Latitude 15oS, and the pinnacle of our reef explorations. What made it so? Being somewhere new with our friends from Oceaneer and Clair de Lune in a breathtaking anchorage, snorkeling and diving with a staggering amount of marine life, over beautiful coral, swimming in cool water which was bliss in the oppressively hot weather.
The Agincourt Ribbon Reefs are a small group of reefs running parallel to the Continental Shelf. Adjacent to the Coral Sea trench, these reefs are recognised as the most pristine eco-systems in the Great Barrier Reef environment. Just one nautical mile beyond the outer edge of these reefs, the sea floor drops away to where the water is more than 500 metres deep. Go another four miles and it is over 1000m. The clean, clear and cooler water from the deep ocean washing over these outer barriers helps promote the prolific growth of corals and supports spectacular marine life.
Here is a satellite map showing the ribbon of reefs; we anchored well inside number 4, having motored from St Crispin Reef.
Agincourt No 4 Reef
We weaved our way through a few obvious coral heads, inside a kind of lagoon. Although the anchorage itself was not in clear sand like at Opal or St Crispin, the bottom made of patchy sand with scattered coral was manageable. We were in 12 meters of water. We liken the anchorage to the Bugatti Reefs offshore of Mackay. Lots of dark spots in the water, your anchor chain can catch in the dead coral but it breaks off.
From above or below the horizon, the vistas of this endless aquascape at the Earth’s edge are most arresting. We took hundreds of underwater photos and dozens of aerial shots. We had trouble choosing the few for this post, to give you a feel for the extraordinary two days we spent there. We could easily have spent longer. There is so much to explore.
Let’s start with the aerial shots. We flew the drone on the first day in 15+knots and did not dare go too far. But the next day, it was all calm and Chris could see in her mind’s eye the panoramic image she wanted: the glaring of cats in the foreground, the shape of the reef and lagoon clearly visible beyond. So from the hot deck in hardly any breeze she sent the beast further and higher than ever before to capture both the Agincourt triangular reef and the three cats together for the last time in a while.
And now for the piece de resistance: the underwater treasure trove! At Agincourt, although the coral was quite good, it really was all about the fish! We snorkeled around a healthy isolated bommie to the west of our anchorage on the first day, but it was hard work at mid tide with the current, choppy water and wind. The next day we timed our snorkel at The Point (the southern most point of the reef) with slack water and tied the dinghies to a vacant dive mooring. As soon as we jumped in the water, we knew we were in for a treat. There was a huge quantity of big fish. You’d go out from the edge and would be swimming with hundreds of them coming at you in large schools just parting around you and rejoining behind as they passed. It was a veritable highway of largely silvery fish: bigeye trevallies, stubnose darts, snappers, unicornfish, sweetlips. On and on the procession went! And these were not dainty little damsels, they were large, some species well over a meter long! For a change of pace, you’d get close to the reef wall where brightly coloured parrotfish crunched on coral, angelfish dashed in and out nervously, demoiselles and basslets fleeted about among the coral heads and gorgonian sea fans. We spotted quite a few species we had not seen before. Here is a mix of images in a slide show.
The Canoodling Humphead Maori Wrasse
But the absolute cream on the reef cake was when we got back to the dinghy after over an hour of wonder, to find a Maori Wrasse waiting for us. The humphead wrasse is an enormous coral reef fish—growing over six feet long—with a prominent bulge on its forehead. Some of them live to be over 30 years old. They roam through coral reefs in search of hard-shelled prey such as molluscs, starfish, or crustaceans. This particular wrasse acted like a puppy looking for pats. As Wade said “he was the size of a Labrador and behaved like one!” He came to us, rubbing himself against our legs, enjoying his back and sides being gently caressed, particularly relishing scratches on his bulge, all the time with his cameleon-like eyes turning one way and the other to look in all directions at once. And those exquisite patterns on his face and body… so stunning! We suspect this wrasse knew dive boats come here at slack water and it is used to people. The dive masters might also feed him a few tit bits! Once the current picks up with the tide, he disappears…
Agincourt was the very best we have seen – ever! It was so special to make it to the start of the Ribbon Reefs. What a fitting end to this chapter of our explorations. It was so very hard to leave these reefs and our cruising friends, but with commitments in Cairns, we took the last day of northerlies in that weather window to head back.
Medical appointments and reprovisioning done, we started our trip back south last weekend. We have about 1000nm to go from Cairns to Southport in SE Queensland in a straight line… no rush though and no hell run planned. And we won’t be sailing in a straight line either! We will be tacking our way down slowly between the islands and the reef. We have a few new to us spots ear-marked to visit along the way.