It happens. Our next anchorage, which becomes referred to as "the teacup" for it's wee size and general shape, is such a slice of heaven that we decide to stay for days and days. We scout it out, then lure Nalukai and Muscat to our position. It's not too difficult.
Nalukai anchors all the way inside; lines to shore help keep us both in place
Tucked between two islands, it's a deep cut that makes it hard to effectively. The shoreline is about fifty yards on either side of Totem, and the water is around ninety feet deep- so even putting out all 400 feet of chain, we don't really have enough scope given the squalls that roll through most afternoons. Besides, once that all that stretches out- we end up on the rocks. No thank you! We still drop the hook, but secure lines to shore as well.
While Jamie and Jeremy are fiddling with lines on Totem and Nalukai (there is an aborted attempt to create a raft), Niall and I decide to just get our heads in the water already, and dive in. We meander around the perimeter of our teacup. The sides are very steep-to, and drop to the bottom of the basin in just a few yards. The coral looks like it was the victim of dynamite fishing- disappointing, although we're not sure.
As we get around the point of our little anchorage and turn the corner into the channel that opens to the sea, everything changes. It happens so quickly, we can't believe it. Niall and I are having a massively exuberant "conversation" underwater without actually saying anything to each other, but with may wild gesticulations and ecstatic expressions. Quite simply, we are blown away. We decide on the spot that this is the most dramatic coral reef we've ever snorkeled. That is a massive statement, and I'd back off somewhat with the heat of the moment in hindsight, but it truly is awesome and certainly among the best.
What makes it so amazing? It seems to have everything. There is a great variety of corals: hard corals creating the architecture of the reef, with soft corals adding a flow on top that is alternately gaudy and gauzy. The colors are amazing. And the fish- oh, wow, the fish. It starts with a few large racoons- OK, interesting. Then there's the school of curious barracuda that follows us. Cute! And then the explosion occurs, when we come just around the bend to see more than we can really comprehend or take in at once. Swirling schools of tiny baitfish, a group of bumphead parrotfish (with a big 4-footer in the lead), anemones with cheeky clownfish popping in and out, schools of some kind of fan-tailed trigger we've never seen before, and just masses of colorful reef fish. I cannot begin to describe it well.
It is such a shame that our underwater camera died prematurely. I have mourned it throughout PNG and I'm really mourning it now. But the good news: after we left Sorong, we learned that we'll be having a visitor from home- soon! Orders are hurriedly placed, and the promise of a new camera is exciting...but I regret not having a chance to capture this early impression of the amazing Raja Ampat region.