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Sailing on Synergy II to the Great Barrier Reef

November 27, 2009

We selected Synergy as the company to take us to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas.  We chose them because Synergy II is a sailboat, and because they book only 12 guests on each cruise.  Synergy is not the least expensive of the tours–their brochure rate is $260/person, but our reasoning is that we may never visit the Great Barrier Reef again, and we wanted our memories to be the best possible.

We sailed from Marina Mirage at 8:30 AM, after meeting our crew,  Captain Stephan and Serena, introducing ourselves to our fellow passengers, and enjoying morning tea, coffee, and pastries on board.

The passengers consisted of a group of 3 couples from Perth, Australia, a couple from Port Douglas, and their house guests from Cognac, France who also have a home in Sydney, Australia, and Jim and me from Kansas.  The group became well acquainted during our sail to the reef and was a very congenial and fun bunch to sail with.

I was glad that our fellow sailors were Australians.  It gave us an opportunity to talk to them about their country, and get their ideas of things that we should see and do while we were there.  One of the ladies from Perth, named Nadilla, is a pastry chef, and she was a wealth of information about Australian food.  Having met a fellow “foodie”, I realized that this is the person who could teach me about Vegemite.  I knew about Vegemite, and I had been eyeing it in the restaurants, but I had not got up the nerve to try it yet!  Nadilla answered all my questions–yes, Australians really like their Vegemite;  yes, they believe that it has a health benefit.  And, according to Nadilla the best way to eat it is on buttered toast, with just a small smear of Vegemite!

The ship captain selects the snorkeling site on the Great Barrier Reef each day based on weather conditions, tides, and the snorkeling skill level of the passengers.  We went to Tongue Reef, which was about a 2-hour power sail from Port Douglas.  There was absolutely no wind that day, so sailing was not possible.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the boat ride itself was pleasant.

As we motored out (on Autopilot), Captain Steph and Serena outfitted us with our gear, and gave us a brief refresher in snorkeling.  Five minutes after we arrived at our site and anchored, we were in the water!!

I can’t begin to describe everything that we saw underwater:  lovely colored corals, giant clams, hundreds of brightly colored fish.  No matter which direction you turned, you saw something else remarkable.  None of us had an underwater camera, so no photos were taken undersea.

I think that one of the top experiences of the trip for all the passengers was meeting, playing with, and petting “Ruby”, a 3-foot long Napoleon fish that is Synergy’s pet fish at Tongue Reef.  Ruby is just a juvenile, and will reach a size of 10 feet when fully mature.  One remarkable feature about Napoleon fish, is that during the first 10 years of their life, they may select their gender.  Ruby is a people lover–she would swim up to you, and let you pet her!

Ruby the Napoleon Fish

After our snorkel, we had a lovely lunch grilled on board that included breads, salads, chicken, shrimp, and my new favorite fish, Spanish Mackerel–YUM!  Then dessert…

After lunch, Steph took those in the group who wanted to snorkel some more out for a special guided snorkel.  Those that went with him commented that they really enjoyed seeing the things he pointed out. Those of us who had wine with lunch, stayed on the boat and socialized.  Either way, it was a great time.

Crew Member Serena

Enjoying the Ride

Sunset at Port Douglas, Australia

It was time to leave our mooring and head back to the Marina.  Steph put the jib (sail) up to provide shade to those on the front of the boat, but we still had no wind, and had to motor back.  Much as I love sailing, I could not complain–the ocean was beautiful, the sun felt lovely, and the company was good.  What a perfect day at the Great Barrier Reef.

Tips for Travelers to Port Douglas

  • Sea Temple is the major resort that is top drawer, and it has a golf course, but it is a long way from town (not walkable).  Choose it only if you have a car, or if being close to the action is not important to you.
  • Be careful about the outfitter you choose to take you to the Great Barrier Reef.  Find out how many people will travel on the boat with you, where they go, if they actually go to the reef or just to a pontoon station, and if they are a “snorkel only” trip or also take divers.  The snorkel/dive trips put the divers in the water before the snorkelers can leave the boat.  Don’t select your reef trip based on price alone–the old saying, “You get what you pay for”  is so true in this case!
  • The “Walk-Up” bottle shop on the main street has the best prices on wine.
  • Check out the menu at the Peninsula Boutique Hotel.  Their Thursday “Seafood Night” was spectacular.  Owner Sharyn is a wonderful hostess.
  • Have dinner at the “Tin Shed” (also known as the Combined Club).  It is on the water, is a great place to watch the sunset, and has live entertainment on Friday nights.  Try the Seafood Extravaganza for two, a bargain at $68.50, which includes a bottle of wine.


    Seafood Extravaganza at the Tin Shed

  • Wear sunscreen at all times during daylight hours.
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