The wind is blowing over our bow and the sun is setting beyond our stern here on Marion Reef. We are anchored at an enormous reef that is about 130 miles outside of the great barrier reef and 200 miles off the Australian Coast. All you can see of the reef at high tide is a couple of little sand islands popping out of the water and the remains of a ship that ran into the reef in a storm sometime long ago. Although not directly on our path to the Solomon Islands, we decided to take a bit of a detour and work more Easterly while the winds were favorable and spend a night or two at Marion Reef. It was well worth the detour as the reef and it’s small sandy cays are incredible. Since it is so far away from the main portion of the great barrier reef and not on the way to any other group of islands, this is an area of the world that only a handful of people have ever seen.
Today was spent snorkeling around the reef and exploring the little sand outcroppings and their bird life. At first glance from the shore, I didn’t expect the snorkeling to be very good. We were all in for a surprise! After just a short swim out through the shallows, enormous brightly colored coral heads began popping up everywhere. It was protected from the surf from a larger portion of the reef, making exploring it even more enjoyable. There was so much coral here that was alive and glowing with color. Greens, reds and purples everywhere. That includes the fish as well! After trying to make my way to the wreck to have a look around, I came across the first shark I have seen snorkeling in a while. It caught me a bit off guard at first, but after reminding myself that it was just a white tip reef shark, I took a photo of it and moved on. As I made my way to the wreck, I was surprised to see two more sharks coming toward me. Now this was pretty incredible. I had only been in the water about twenty minutes and I had already seen three sharks. As I looked around to see where Bill and Dimiti were so I could tell them to look at the sharks, I realized they were the reason the last two were coming towards me. The sharks were trying to get away from them! The rest of the snorkeling was pretty amazing. I explored the wreck, and all of the different creatures living within it, saw a couple of giant wrasse and my first clown fish of this trip to the South Pacific.
After returning to land, I did a little exploring of this little sand island that is no bigger than a couple of football fields. That’s at low tide. There was a big group of birds on the island, all facing the wind and huddled up upon themselves. They weren’t very afraid of me as I was able to get pretty close to them without them flying off. We were all probably the first humans a lot of these birds had seen. Upon closer inspection of the birds, I realized that most of them were sitting on or crouching down above an egg. I have never seen a bird with an egg under it, just waiting for it to hatch!
Before we arrived here at Marion reef, we were anchored near another portion of the Great Barrier Reef that was pretty isolated as well, Bugatti reef. No other ships in sight at either anchorage. The strangest part about Bugatti reef was that we were anchored where there wasn’t any land at all. Just a shallow spot on the chart with a whole lot of current flowing through. Since the weather is beginning to warm up a good bit as we make our way North, I slept out on deck at Bugatti reef. I have been a lot of dark places before, but being out on the water over a 100 miles from land at night is indescribable how dark it gets. Combine that with the fact that the moon isn’t rising until around 2:00 in the morning right now and you can see about a billion stars. The milky way is as bright as most stars back home typically are and you can even make out the large Magellan cloud without binoculars or anything! Every time I awoke on deck to roll over, I would see another shooting star. The sky was better than watching any movie I have ever seen!
The journey between the two reefs lasted about 36 hours. Since we had caught that big tuna the day before, we didn’t let the fishing lines out until late in the afternoon on the way over to Marion Reef. No fish that day, but the next day fishing was pretty exciting. After spending an entire day sailing without so much as a bite on either of the lines we were dragging, we got a big hit on the port line. Bill started screaming “fish on!”, grabbed the line as it was being let out and began to put a bit of tension on. Immediately the line broke! After being disappointed and loosing a brand new lure we had picked up in Mackay, we began rigging up another lure when a fish hit the other line! I then started yelling “fish on!“ and Bill was next to the rod so he grabbed it to bring it in. As he began reeling the line in, the same thing happened! Must have been a couple of big fish, stealing all of our new lures! Later in the day when I was beginning to believe that there we weren’t going to be having fresh fish for dinner, both lines hit at the same time! Dimiti and I grabbed the rods and started bringing the fish in. They were criss crossing over each other and we kept having to change rods. Every time we got the fish close to the boat, they would each take off again. Dimiti became worn out and handed the rod off to Bill. He finally pulled one fish in and threw it in the cockpit. I again almost had mine in when he dove under the boat. I was in a bad position on the back of the boat so I handed the rod off to Bill to get the fish away from the rudder and proppeler. As the fish got close to the boat, I was ready to grab him with the gaff. Just as I grabbed the line to bring the fish closer, he took off again and broke the line! Three lures gone in one afternoon of fishing! Either way, we still had a beautiful fresh yellow fin tuna for dinner. Having not much experience at filleting fish, I took some advice from Bill and began cutting the fish. It was a little slow compared to seeing Bill slice the one up a couple of days ago and definitely not as pretty, but I get the feeling that as this trip goes on, I should get the hang of it pretty quickly!