12º05.58 S, 96º52.86 E (published July 2012)
We had initially planned to sail past Cocos (Keeling) Islands on our voyage from Sunda Strait to Mauritius, until we met an Aussie cruiser named Ian on the Malay Peninsula. Ian was born in Cocos and waxed poetic about the clear water, pristine reefs and trade winds wafting through the coconut palms of his childhood. After spending months sailing the thick, murky seas surrounding Malaysia, he had us at “clear water.”
The Australian online visa application process is quick and relatively inexpensive, and Customs officials are available via VHF radio 24/7 to arrange clearance formalities upon arrival. The official shared valuable information on where the limited supplies of water, fuel, Internet and provisions could be obtained on Home and West Islands, as well as the local ferry schedule.
Uninhabited Direction Island is the anchorage for visiting yachts, and we were greeted by covered picnic tables, a large BBQ grill and nearby toilet facilities. Coconut husks make excellent fuel for the grill, and fast friendships were formed during our frequent potluck suppers.
But it’s the water that makes this anchorage so special—absolutely crystal clear over pristine sand and coral. From Horizon’s cabintop, we saw turtles swimming along the sandy bottom 40 feet from the boat. Our dinghy appeared suspended over its shadow when anchored on the beach. The gentle transitions from aquamarine to turquoise to cobalt signaled deeper water near the center of the lagoon.
It was when we snorkeled the southwest corner of Direction Island, known as “the Rip,” that we experienced the reason for this incredible visibility. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an atoll with several gaps in the reef, and the Indian Ocean constantly surges fresh water into the lagoon. The Rip is a narrow pass between two coral shelves and is an excellent example of a thriving ecosystem of hard and soft corals. A staggering variety of fish occupy the various areas; the small, brightly colored fingerlings dart among the bombies in the sandy, shallow fringes, while reef sharks, grouper, sweetlips and several species of pelagic fish swim in the depths. Snorkeling the Rip must be carefully timed as close to slack water as possible. During slack, you can slowly explore the nooks and crannies and visit the brilliant giant clams that cluster along the reef. Outside of slack water, the experience is quite different; less of a leisurely swim and more like rappelling down a zipline with no way to slow your speed. Both ends of the snorkeling spectrum were exhilarating, and the current was such that the scenery was ever-changing.
What more could a cruiser ask for? A protected anchorage with easy access to brilliant white sandy beaches, BBQ facilities (with plenty of free fuel), spectacular snorkeling and diving beneath trade wind clouds—it just doesn’t get any better than that. Good on ya, Ian, for suggesting this stop!