N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
DAY TRIPPING TO THE AGINCOURT REEFS – PART 1 POSEIDON
by Nigel Marsh
The Agincourt Reefs are located just south of the famous Ribbon Reefs. While the Ribbon Reefs can only be dived from a liveaboard vessel, the Agincourt Reefs are accessible via day boats from Port Douglas and are one of the most popular day trips on the Great Barrier Reef. Always on the lookout for a new dive experience I recently journeyed to Port Douglas to dive the Agincourt Reefs and was interested to see how it compared to its more famous neighbouring reef system.
A number of dive boats operate out of Port Douglas, but the two standout vessels are Poseidon and Silversonic, both owned by the Quicksilver Group. With a few days up my sleeve I was able to experience the service from both these dive boats, with my first day spent on Poseidon.
After a pickup from my motel I boarded Poseidon at 8.30am and was immediately impressed with the layout of this 24m long catamaran. Stretching a substantial 7.2m wide, there is an incredible amount of room on this huge dive boat. Features include a massive dive deck, a large lounge room with comfortable seating and on the upper deck an immense sundeck. Poseidon is surveyed for 90 passengers, but only carries a maximum of 80. Now that may seem like a lot, but we had close to that number on board and it didn’t feel crowded at any time, except on the rare occasion when you had to queue for the toilet.
As we got underway, cruising to the Agincourt Reefs at 25 knots, we were split into groups – the snorkelers (which were the majority of passengers), the certified divers (split into two groups of eight) and the rest doing their very first scuba dive. The briefing didn’t take long and in only an hour and a half we were at the Agincourt Reefs and ready to dive at our first site, Castle Rock.
The Agincourt Reefs are located on the outer reef and not far from the continental shelf. The system is split into four reefs and stretches over 20km in length. Castle Rock is located on Agincourt Reef No.1, at the reefs southern end, and proved to be a worthy introduction to this coral realm.
Jumping into the water I discovered that the visibility was over 30m, and diving in June the water temperature as still a very pleasant 24°C. In the shallows, where the mooring is located, I could see a beautiful coral garden and cruising around us were trevally, emperors and fusiliers. When everyone was ready Herold, our guide, led us down a sandy slope towards a large coral bommie. Now usually I hate being guided, preferring to do my own thing, but Herold proved to be a very patient and wise guide, taking it slow so that we could take photos and all have a good look around.
The bommie at Castle Rock was a little plain when it came to decoration, but seemed to support a good population of fish – snappers, coral trout, fusiliers and other reef fish. We were soon joined by its most popular resident, a large Malabar groper called Colin, who was happy to pose for photos. We explored the bommie to a depth of 20m, but heading back into the shallows found the hard corals here were just spectacular – healthy forests of staghorn coral, plate corals and many others. This was one of the best displays of hard coral I had seen on the entire Great Barrier Reef, and I have been diving the reef for over thirty years. There were also plenty of fish to be seen; rock cods, angelfish, sweetlips, squirrelfish, goatfish, parrotfish and a whitetip reef shark. After 50 minutes it was time to ascend.
With near perfect winter weather, sunshine and light winds, the crew took Poseidon out on the more exposed eastern side of the Agincourt Reefs to a site called Wreck Bay. An old fishing boat was wrecked in this location, but little of it remains today, but we still had fun exploring bommies, gutters and caves in depths to 16m. Reef fish were everywhere, including a massive school of drummer, but the highlight for me was the groups of diagonal-banded sweetlips. There were also moray eels, giant clams, clown anemonefish and snapper, but I missed the tawny nurse shark that the other divers encountered.
After this dive lunch was served, a great selection of cold meats and salads, and there was no crowding as the snorkelers had eaten while we were doing our second dive.
Relocating again we headed to a spot at the end of Agincourt Reef No.4 called The Point. Here we explored a sloping drop off and encountered a whitetip reef shark and two inquisitive grey reef sharks. With a gentle current flowing around this end of the reef the corals were just beautiful – spikey soft corals, gorgonians and colourful sponges. We also encountered a Maori wrasse, flowery groper, sweetlips and schools of snapper and fusiliers. But once again I was delighted to find spectacular hard corals in the shallows that were healthy and undamaged. Amazing when you consider the number of divers and snorkelers that visit the Agincourt Reefs each year.
After three impressive dives, all around 50 minutes long, it was time to pack the dive gear and head back to Port Douglas. Day tripping on a large dive boat like Poseidon might not be for everyone, but I can tell you I was impressed by the boat, the crew, the food and the diving, they were all first class. I couldn’t wait to see how Silversonic compared the next day, and I couldn’t wait to explore more of the wonderful Agincourt Reefs – to be continued.
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