Extraordinary Agincourt Reefs

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.

Glaring of cats assembled!

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.

Agincourt #4
The three cats at Agincourt #4, looking at the eastern reef wall
Agincourt Reef #4
Agincourt #4 looking north

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.

  • School of Bigeye Trevallies
  • Adult Yellow Box Fish
  • Adult Yellow Box Fish
  • Bleeker's Parrotfish
  • Oblique-banded Sweetlips
  • School of Stubnose Darts
  • Foxface Rabbitfish
  • School of Bigeye Trevallies
  • Humpnose Unicornfish
  • Crinoid
  • Fairy Basslets among Gorgonian Fan
  • Bluefin Trevallies
  • Steephead Parrotfish
  • Bicolor Parrotfish
  • Bicolor Parrotfish
  • Sixband Angelfish
  • Stubnose Dart and Bass
  • School of Sweetlips

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.

28 thoughts on “Extraordinary Agincourt Reefs

  1. Stunning indeed. Another one for next years bucket list.
    Thanks for the lovely post and the special catch up.

    • So worth it, Graham. We intend to spend more time next year on the ‘outer’ part of the GBR where the corals are in better nick and the fish more abundant. And we too really enjoyed our catch up.

  2. Great pics of the Wrasse Chris! It’s so exciting to get up close to a fish isn’t it. Very rarely happens. To then cap it off with clear close photos is a real treat. A reef visit you will obviously treasure.

  3. Amazing pics yet again, but your connection with that giant Mauri Wrasse must be one of your all time highlights! That was epic!

    • It was, Elgar. It is so special when we get so close, such a large beast feels totally unthreatened and seeks you out. Unforgettable. Even being in the middle of schools of fish that just keep swimming at and around you is fantastic. Everywhere you look is amazing!

  4. Wow. Thanks for the update. Very helpful to have the subtitles on the slideshow. Now I know the names of some of the fish I kept seeing on my last dive on the reef :).

    On the commercial dive off Cairns that Bryce, Carolina and I went on (at Norman reef), there was a Labrador like Maori Raas that Carolina ended up spending hours and hours playing with. Just amazing. We came back the next year with the same commercial dive boat and they told us he’d gone – probably killed. But maybe, just maybe, he escaped to Agincourt reef!!!!!????

    • Hi Craig, nice to get your visit! Maori Wrasses which get used to divers are amazing. They normally are quite shy when we see them at other reefs. They are long livers too – 30 years plus and protected – not allowed to be fished. I wonder what happened to the Norman Reef one.

  5. Wow. What an amazing posting. The aerial shots are incredible–it is mind-boggling how high you were able to get when the air was calm, though I suspect it was a little nerve-racking as you were ascending, hoping you would be able to bring the drone back down safely. Your highway of fish is equally amazing–I can’t believe how many large fish you were able to capture in single frames. Like others, I enjoyed reading of your interactions with the Maori Wrasse. I somehow think of fish as being cold and impersonal, and it is heartwarming to see close-ups of this impressive-looking fish. I smiled when I came to Wade’s remarks about how it behaved like a Labrador.

    • I always look forward to your observations, Mike. Thank you for commenting.
      The drone flights… you can do a lot more in calm air. The photos are clearer and in better focus and the battery lasts longer if it does not have to fight against the wind. I often hesitate between the high and far shots to show the entire reef and the closer ones for details of the patterns in the water and pinnacles.
      That wrasse was special. We have seen quite a few of them at other reefs… very shy and not letting us come close. Experiences like at Agincourt are those privileged moments we are unlikely to forget.

    • We so enjoyed our Glaring of Cats and sharing the most amazing anchorages and marine life with you. We see that you too have had an astounding fortnight! Stay safe and talk to you soon.

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