Filming on the Great Barrier Reef with Pawel Achtel

Friday 27th November 2015

Today Nick and I had the pleasure of flying up to Cairns to join Pawel Achtel as his camera assistants of the filming of his 3D Big Screen film ‘The Sea of Love’.

Primarily Pawel wanted to shoot the Coral spawning which was all at night so we had a chance to get some fun day diving in as well.

We boarded the Kalinda liveaboard at the Cairns marina and steamed up to the Northern part of the Great Barrier Reef.

Saturday 28th November 2015

Pixie’s Pinnacle

Pixie’s is a pinnacle nearly sitting out of the water on high tide filled with corals, Anemones, and Sponges. Some Grey Reef Sharks upon the descent and healthy looking Great Trevally, Mackeral and Barracuda circled the Pinnacle.

Lots of small critters and fish on this site too including Nudibranchs, Tropical fish, Trumpet fish, Coral Trout, and Anemone fish.

I was just about to swim after some Great Barracuda to film them when Nick signaled something was wrong with his CCR and he bailed out. We both called the dive and I escorted him to the surface.

It turned out one of the cells had gone and he was breathing partial pressure of 2.2.  I went back in for a fun snorkel whilst Nick changed his cell. The visibility was thirty metres and sunbeams bounced off the bottom. It was a very pretty site. It was a shame we missed the majority of the dive site, but these things happen.

twenty minutes, twenty six metres + twenty five minute snorkel

The Cod Hole

The infamous Code hole, is home to several resident Potato Cod. When we anchored, there were three Grey Reef Sharks circling underneath the boat who stayed there for the entire dive. Upon descent we saw a few Potato Cod straight away, and some Great Trevally.

The site is sandy with little Coral on it and the odd rocky bommie sticking out. The current starts to pick up over the sandy ledge where it drops right off into the blue and the bigger animals tend to patrol.

The Potato Cod came close to the divers expecting food as they are often fed by boat operators here. They are like lap dogs begging for a feed and put on quite a show.

I saw the biggest fish I’ve ever seen besides a Whale Shark on this dive. A giant two metre shiny, Dogtooth Tuna. Wow! It was mega impressive and had some serious girth to it! I whirled around trying to film it, if only to have proof to show Nick as he didn’t see it. I saw it again another two times on the dive.

Nick and I sat next to, and watched a Potato Cod getting cleaned for about ten minutes on the sand. The cleaner fish were well entrenched into the Cod’s mouth until he had had enough of being cleaned and coughed him out.

I had another close encounter on the mooring line ascent as I beckoned one over with my hand. I think he thought I had food and got very close to me, its large eye bouncing back and forth as if to say where’s the grub lady?!

A very likeable dive site with some bigger marine life despite there not being a lot of Coral coverage.

sixty minutes, twenty four metres.

Sunday 29th November 2015

Scooter Boot

We took the tender to the tip of the reef and jumped in. We were anticipating some current but there was zero. Although pleasant this also meant we had a big swim before we would find anything, thirty eight minute swim to be exact, above a sandy bottom at twenty nine metres.

Once we did get to where everything was happening we had two Silver Tip Sharks come in and greet us. We also saw Grey Reef Sharks and I filmed some White Tip Reef Sharks resting on the sand. We saw some impressive schools of Barracuda and large Great Trevally. Some colourful Coral Trout and Cod darted over the Coral which looked pretty healthy. The water was a bit milky, perhaps due to the Coral spawning which started last night.

Other divers also saw a school of Bumphead Parrotfish here.

sixty Minutes, twenty nine metres.

13-121

This dive site has no name but instead a number.  It’s a reef with dozens of bommies and healthy Corals clustered over them. It’s where magic Turquoise water meets the deep blue.

We opted to snorkel this site first in order to scout for a location to set up to film the Coral spawning later that night.

We found a nice area with a great variety of Corals and a sandy patch in the middle for the tripod. We marked this with an SMB weighted down and returned to the boat.

As with most of the reef sites up here, it was a stunning display of reef in crystal clear calm water. The sunbeams danced over the water and warmly invited you in.

I was so disappointed I hadn’t brought my 3.5mm wetsuit and instead had my 6mm wetsuit. It was pretty warm in the water about twenty seven degrees and it was such a pain getting a thick wetsuit on every time I went in the water.

13-121 Night dive

Nick stayed on the surface snorkeling as the sun went down, with some Keldan lights. I hovered over Pawel in about three metres of water with the other Keldans. Together we had fifty thousand lumens of light lighting up the scene which looked pretty impressive.

There were tons of worms and spawned Coral in the water column, reflecting nicely off the lighting and squiggling and squirming in front of the lights like crazy!

This was also kind of creepy and I was glad that one of the Dive Masters had lent me her head band which fully covered my ears, so they couldn’t squiggle in there!

Pawel got what looked like some amazing footage of the Coral slick on the surface from below, as well as the worm disco taking place in front of the lights.

Ninety Minutes at seven metres.

Monday 30th November 2015

Tijuo

Tijuo is a wall dive that tapers off to four hundred metres in depth. Along the slanted wall are many Corals and fans, and an abundance of Tropical fish life.

We saw schools of smaller fish spawning here. Nick and I did our first lap at thirty metres on the edge of the deep blue water and saw Silver Tip Sharks at least five times, one coming in fairly close to scope us out. We also had a Grey Reef Shark coming in to say hello.

A school of Bumphead Parrotfish were with us for the whole dive. Down at about forty metres we could see a lot of action happening there, such as schooling Morwongs and more Grey Reef Sharks.

We saw a large Mobular Ray, as well as Barracuda. For our second lap we ascended up to twenty metres and that was really pretty as there was a lot of colour on the wall and beautiful visibility of about thirty metres.

Sixty five minutes at thirty metres.

Lagoon Reef

We scouted the Lagoon reef in the afternoon to find a good site for Pawel’s night shoot. This time I dived the CCR whilst Nick snorkeled above me with the SMB and reel.

There was a bit more dead Coral on this site with the healthy colourful Coral growing over the top so it was important to view the potential scene from below.

I found a nice scene in about seven metres of water including a diverse range of Coral. I signaled to Nick who dropped the reel down to me and I tied it off to some dead Coral that was in the middle. The scene was pretty cool with a nice wide landscape of Coral and sandy middle surrounded by other Coral bommies.

thirty minutes at twelve metres

Lagoon Reef Night dive

We descended down to the site with the camera equipment. I set up the tripod with Pawel and then moved the SMB and reel to another location where we wouldn’t get entangled by it, or get it in the shot.

We waited for some time and then Pawel unhooked the housing from the tripod and did some free filming. We also scouted the area for spawning Coral.

I took some promotional stills.

When it was time to pack up I took a handful of just about everything, Tripod, weights and SMB with reel, back to the tender that was waiting for us on the surface.

Coral spawning is supposed to smell like disgusting off fish and has a stink factor of about 10/10 but I couldn’t smell anything. In hindsight probably a good thing. I was also glad I didn’t accidentally swallow a mouthful of the critters in the water like some of the other divers did. Apparently they don’t taste very good either!

One hundred and sixteen minutes at six metres 

Tuesday 1st December 2015

Woody’s Point

Woody’s Point as the name depicts looks like a giant penis from above and is a wall dive. We followed it along to the tip where the current started to pick up slightly and we hung with a few Grey Reef Sharks for the majority of the dive including a very cute baby Grey Reef Shark and a Silver Tip Shark.

On the way back to the boat I spotted a Maori Wrasse who seemed intrigued with us on CCR and sheepishly followed us all of the way back.

This dive site had real potential and I think with more current it could be pretty spectacular with bigger marine animals.

Turtle Bommie night dive

It was decided that I would dive in CCR and scout out some Coral when it started to spawn and then Nick and Pawel would standby on the main vessel for me to give the shout to come in and start filming. Frankly I think those two were just hanging on the boat drinking Green tea with their feet up!

The Coral started to spawn before long and I surfaced to signal Nick and Pawel to enter and come over. It was a more challenging dive site because it was shallow, about four metres, and the sea bed was covered with uneven Coral so there was no where convenient for Pawel to wait with the equipment.

Some small Corals were spawning but we were hoping they would all go off simultaneously. Dave the boat owner signaled me over to show me some Coral that had sperm steaming off it. I went over and got Nick and Pawel and brought them over to film it. I surfaced and shone the lights down from above as this was only in three metres of water. It looked pretty spectacular.

Back to the boat with the gear, and a large Grey Reef Shark swims in between Nick and Pawel.

Seventy minutes at five metres

Wednesday 2nd December 2015

Da Phat

Expectations were high with this dive site after much talk by previous visitors about how amazing it was. A site probably never dived by any other operator, it is a two humped Camel like bommie with a leveled middle that falls away to hundreds of metres on each side.

There is a passage that runs from eighteen metres down into a cave at thirty metres where sunbeams filter in from all sides.  Pristine Corals, Sponges and Anemones cover the entire bommie and hundreds of colourful Tropical fish are littered all over it. Looking into the blue you can see Dogtooth Tuna, Unicorn fish, Grey Reef Sharks and White Tip Reef Sharks patrolling. Visibility awesome!

Pawel wanted to get some footage of the stunning Corals on the site so we went out in the tender  during the surface interval with the camera Equipment.

The plan was for Nick and I to descend, set up the tripod with weight system, then for Nick to go back and get Pawel and the lighting equipment.

I set up the tripod and attached the weights to hold it in place. Nick returned with Pawel but then I noticed he was gone again. Unfortunately he had had a battery malfunction with the CCR and had to go back to the boat.

This was a slight predicament as it meant there was only one camera assistant to do everything. Needless to say there was a lot of task loading, changing position of the tripod three times, moving the SLR camera for promotional stills to where it would be safe, and being back up lights to Pawel.

It was hard to appreciate how magnificent the site was with all the task loading going on, and I was puffed by the end of it!

After the dive we were able to go back in for a fun dive so I was stoked I could get a chance to appreciate it’s full beauty.

We saw a Sea Snake on the surface that looked dead and I joked about playing a prank on the others with it. As the skipper went to grab it with a pole to get a closer look it started moving and was quite close to Pawel. This was hilarious. It appeared to be sunbathing or resting on the surface.

Sixty five minutes, twenty six metres

Da Phat take two

Nick and I descended down towards the site and I heard my solenoid going off, It was hard to breathe and I noticed that my counter lungs were not filling and my solenoid continued to go constantly. I bailed out and noticed I had only twenty percent of Diluent in my CCR tank left. I decided to completely bail out and called the dive.

Fortunately the problem was a human error when Nick was putting the canister back in and just forgot to tighten the screws on the unit. Whilst the o-rings and pressure held it in during the first dive on Da Phat, it popped off as I had descended down on the second dive. The alarm had not gone off on the unit because the solenoids were firing correctly.

We cleaned out the CCR and loop and replaced the canister and it was as good as new again. It seemed I was just not meant to dive or film Da Phat, so I’ll have to look forward to doing it next time.

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Cow Bommie

As the Coral spawning was pretty much over and we weren’t going to be filming at night again, Nick and I decided to do a third fun dive for the day. We descended below the boat about twenty six metres to a sandy sea floor.

Scattered along the sea floor were huge dug outs hosting dead coral pieces belonging to the Titan Triggerfish. We noticed at least thirty Triggerfish hovering above their nests and I started to wonder when they would charge us as they’re notorious for being aggressive and territorial, but they seemed to be scared of us and left us alone.

We found four Giant Moray Eels in the bommies and schools of spawned fish layered against other schools of bigger fish. There were beautiful Tropical fish and Cod hiding in the bommie holes.

We found a small bommie twenty metres from the boat which was jam packed full of amazing Corals and Sponges in fantastic condition. We noticed schools of pelagics swimming overhead and a Grey Reef Shark turned up early to spend the remainder of the dive with us.

Nick had Pawel’s SLR which I conveniently switched onto Auto mode for him, and he managed to get a couple of photos of me and about a dozen of the Sharks!

Photographs by Nick Kermode

Then a baby Silver Tip Shark turned up and was very curious as we were on CCR, both it and the Grey Reef Shark enjoyed coming in very close to us to investigate and circling us many times. It was very cool to film and be so close to them and reinstalled my confidence in CCR since my recent disappointment its performance in previous dives.

Time passed quickly and we decided to ascend. By now a current had picked up and the water was fairly milky from the sandy bottom. As we ascended we were carried away from the boat so Nick inflated an SMB.

A third, fourth then a fifth Grey Reef Shark turned up and started circling us beneath. The Sharks started charging from below at us like naughty teenagers on Halloween, as if to play a game.

We surfaced and signaled to the boat and within minutes were picked up in the tender. I managed to get stung by something on the surface and my hand puffed up. They had some vinegar on the tender so I poured that on it, then rinsed it with fresh water back on the main vessel and it was fine after that.

Sixty five minutes, twenty six metres

Thursday 3rd December

Raine Island

After a fifteen hour steam overnight we awoke to find ourselves at the infamous Raine Island. You need a permit to dive Rain Island as it’s a breeding and nesting site for Green Turtles.

It was a bit rough on the water with a two metre swell and we decided it was pointless to get the camera equipment in the water due to the conditions of the sea. Also furthermore the conditions of entering and exiting the water from the main vessel where the ladder was slamming down on the surface.

The other divers headed in and saw several to a few dozen large Green turtles. They noted that they were fairly skittish as they rarely see divers out here, so it was hard to get close to them.

They did however get to see a Tiger Shark. They also got to witness two turtles mating. Visibility was a little murky at fifteen metres and there was a fair bit of current also.

6MP

Due to weather conditions we headed back to the previous day’s dive site to complete a couple of dives there, and get some footage of the Corals and Sponges.

Visibility was beautiful at forty metres or more. Looking out into the blue from the pinnacle you could see Dogtooth Tuna, Spanish Mackeral, Barracuda, Grey Reef Sharks, White Tip Sharks and a Manta Ray was also sighted. It was lovely to see the Corals in brilliant colour thanks to Pawel’s Keldan lights.

I took some promotional photos of Pawel and Nick here.

Forty five minutes, twenty four metres

Friday 4th December 2015

Guetta Wreck

Instead of doing the last dive we opted to clean and dry our gear overnight and relax on Friday instead.

There was quite some current at the Guetta dive site but the divers seemed to enjoy the short dive saying they saw a family of eight large Cod, Grey Reef Sharks, and schools of pelagics inside the wreck.

Trip summary

Nick and I had a great experience assisting Pawel to film his documentary ‘The Sea of Love’.

The tripod seemed to be my nemesis on the trip and getting it into position on unstable coral with eight pounds of weight to balance it, whilst not touching any of the coral bottom is a challenge.

The Kalinda was a sea worthy vessel, and well operated. I’d have to say the nicest and most accommodating boat crew I have ever been out with, who really tried in every way to make us comfortable and assist wherever possible.

We had a lot of camera and CCR equipment and the crew did a great job assisting us, always with a smile on their faces. We enjoyed yummy food and good conversations with the other divers and crew.

The weather aside from Raine Island was just perfect, with little current on nearly every dive site, amazing visibility, turquoise and bright blue water, and warm sunny days.

In fact a bit more current would have been ideal as would have attracted a few more of the bigger animals I love but it was fantastic to be able to see the Coral spawning and appreciate healthy pristine Coral for a change.

As we were working we didn’t do every dive available, the average was about three a day. I’d recommend this trip for anyone wanting to see the the more remote areas  of the Great Barrier Reef.

In particular people will enjoy it who love warm easy diving on reefs with a leniency more towards macro subjects and Coral diversification.

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