Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cook Reef, Vanuatu

Cook Reef, Vanuatu- September 8, 2007
17 degrees 03 minutes South
168 degrees 17 minutes East

Luckily we had a mostly clear day today as we made our way north the thirty eight or so miles from Efate Island to Cook Reef near Emae Island. Cook reef is about a mile in diameter and is underwater all the time with the exception of a few small chunks of coral that are just visible at low tide. As you approach the reef first you notice the large breaking waves, as you draw nearer you notice the deep dark blue of the depths receding to progressively lighter shades of blue and ultimately the aquamarine of the very shallow areas. The chart of the reef was probably drawn by Captain Cook and although he was a great cartographer it leaves much to be desired for a small yacht looking for a unique anchorage. Our cruising guide for the area offers an aerial photograph which is very helpful although again leaves much to be desired for good navigation. At first we overshot the small pass between coral heads by a half a mile before turning back and on closer inspection spotted the darker blue color that indicated the entrance to the internal passages within the mostly shallow reef. Getting closer to the reef we could clearly see the bottom in thirty five meters of water or about one hundred and fifteen feet! Very clear water. Once inside we spotted a desirable looking light blue color we've associated with a sand bottom although not so light as to indicate an area too shallow. We decided to anchor in nine meters and explore a bit more in the dinghy. The anchorage recommended by the cruising guide was too rough as the big swell was making its way over the reef so we stopped to snorkel in a few different spots on the way back to the boat. Nice coral and really nice fish. Very big fish, probably the biggest examples I'd seen of Parrot fish and many other species. The fish were not so shy as in Fiji as they have very little fishing pressure here and probably never see a spear fisherman. We also spotted some turtles sleeping on the bottom in the shallows and they too were not too afraid of the dinghy.

On the way up to the reef we caught a nice two meal Tuna and a large Great Barracuda which we unfortunately identified post huminously when we discovered, with half of the fish already filleted and in the refrigerator, that the fish ID guide recommended in bold uppercase that the fish should not be eaten as it can be highly toxic with Ciguatera, a serious fish poisoning.

For dinner we had seared tuna and curried plantains. At about six PM we were wishing we could go to bed being exhausted with a full day in the sun and on the sea.

We are beset with unusually calm weather as the south east trade winds have temporarily been knocked out by a low pressure system. A low creates clockwise rotating winds here in the southern hemisphere and once the low passed by us its' clockwise winds countered the south east trades so we have very little wind. The passage of this particular low leaves in its wake a trough of low pressure that will deliver lots of cloud cover and rain.
What this means is we can make perhaps a multi-day stop at Cooks reef as the wind and waves are so calm. We are elated to have the chance to anchor in the midst of Vanuatu's best snorkeling and have it all to ourselves for several days in row.

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