Thursday 17th July 2014
Today I embarked on a seven day liveaboard with Mike Ball dive expeditions which I had won for getting first place in the Cairns Underwater Film Festival last year. As I was leaving my usual buddies behind I decided to dive the entire trip solo.
I managed to do some challenging navigational dives and exploratory dives whilst always making my way back to the boat, so the boys can’t give me shit about my navigation ever again. I also did a night solo dive which was kinda creepy more about that soon.
The weather was fantastic and aside from being drugged up on Travelcalm for most of the trip I still managed a few sneaky red wines with a few new friends on most nights. On topside looking out at the reefs they were stunning, and it made me really feel like I was on holiday, work was the furthest thing from my mind. I even managed to get a tan whilst falling asleep on the sun lounger upstairs.
Challenger Bay – seventy minutes maximum depth twenty seven metres
Pleasant enough dive, saw three devil rays, some White tip reef sharks, lots of tropical fish and Pelagics, 3 large active Cuttlefish, and hundreds of shy Garden eels on the sandy bottom.
Lighthouse Bommie – eighty minutes maximum depth thirty metres
This was my favourite dive site, and included a tall skinny pinnacle that looked like a lighthouse with a mound beside it, and a ledge that dropped off down the sand. Of course I spent practically the entire dive on the ledge looking out to the blue where I saw Grey Reef sharks patrolling, schools of Barracuda, Schools of Jacks and Schools of Trevally hanging out amidst Shark Mackeral, Spanish Mackeral, Tuna, Great Barracuda, and Giant Trevally.
Not to mention the highlight of the dive a huge Malabar Cod that was very chilled out and allowed me to come so close to it, that it was practically touching my camera dome. Its eyes were so cool and moved around in its head like a ball bearing.
The Pelagics seemed to be really attracted to my video lights so I got very close to all the action! As I headed back to the line I noticed a large shadow and it was a Minke whale! As requested by the boat I hung onto the shot line and hoped it would come back. Not only did it come back but so did two other Minke whales! Amazing experience and all on the first day. Epic dive!
Minke whale swim – four hours
We spotted some Minke whales and put the line out to swim with them. I spent a total of four hours with several Minke whales coming within metres of me, almost showing off to us on the line as they paraded about.
There was one in particular I named dimple as it had a lot of Cookie cutter shark holes in it’s belly and it was the most friendly coming by me again and again. There was quite a bit of chop on the surface so four hours on the line was pretty exhausting and hard work, with me constantly finding my snorkel getting tangled in the line. Because of that I decided to sit out the next dive and relax in the sun for the afternoon.
Fairy Grotto (Osprey Reef) – seventy minutes maximum depth twenty eight metres
Not a dive site I enjoyed. I found it very brown and “Grotto” with not a lot there. I made my way around the site and found about a dozen White tip reef sharks dozing around on the sand which was cool but that was about it.
Shark Feed; North Horn (Osprey Reef) – seventy minutes maximum depth thirty eight metres
We sat around a theatre like stage with a bommie in the middle where the dive guide pulled down a bait box to attract the sharks. In seconds we were surrounded by Grey Reef sharks, White tip sharks and even a Silver Tip shark.
The Potato Cod were huge and pushed their way in to get a feed. A frenzy started as soon as the food was released, with Giant Trevally and Snapper darting in as the fast opportunists, and the White tip reefies scavenging any scraps that were left. After the shark feed was over I swam down to about thirty eight metres to film the large Potato cod with Mike Ball.
Admiralty Anchor (Osprey Reef) – sixty five minutes maximum depth twenty five metres Night dive.
There were a few swim throughs and cave systems on this dive site. I didn’t enter them however because as a general rule I don’t go through caves when I’m diving by myself. I think they must have been the highlight of the dive site as some of the other divers said they were cool, and the site is named after an anchor that has fallen into one of the caves.
As it was open deck I had decided to do one long dive instead of both an afternoon and a night dive. I went in about 5.30pm knowing it got dark around 6pm. It fell dark pretty quickly and I realised that it was pretty creepy doing a night dive solo. There were Giant Trevally that were hunting and using my video lights at a tool they kept scaring the shit out of me by darting in front of my face and circling me in the pitch black.
I saw some Grey Reef sharks patrolling, and I ended up finishing the dive early because I was getting too freaked out in the dark by myself. I guess there’s something about having that psychological comfort that you have when you have a friend with you in the dark that I was missing.
Halfway (Osprey Reef) seventy two minutes maximum depth twenty six metres
This dive site was made up of sand gutters and bommie coral type walls that were bordered by a drop off. Mostly a macro dive site I didn’t see too much that interested me, being someone that prefers the bigger animals. I did find a large school of huge Bumphead Parrotfish in the shallows and tried for literally the entire dive to get close to them, but they were extremely flighty and for once my stealth mode just didn’t work, mostly leaving me in a cloud of shitty sand that they pooped out before they shot off again! Definitely a moment I thought would have been great to have a rebreather.
Shark feed; North Horn (Osprey Reef) eighty two minutes maximum depth twenty five metres
I was super excited to get an invite for a private viewing of the shark feed we had done the day prior. A group of about five of us descended down onto the site to take turns on the bommie close to the sharks. There was two of us at a time on the bommie for about eight minutes each before we would swap over.
The bait box this time was used to attract them in but not feed them until after we left. Although the Grey Reef sharks are not viewed as being as intimidating as some others, I found them to be fairly meaty sharks. A Silky tip Shark came in for a look, but the hunger and excitement they portrayed seem to die down quickly when they realised they were not getting fed. It was a massive buzz being so close to them and seeing their wild beauty in the flesh.
False Entrance – seventy minutes maximum depth twenty five metres
This dive was a good navigational challenge shaped by a wall drop off and sand gutters with bommie coral walls. I encountered a White tip reef shark which decided it was intrigued by me and circled me tightly six times.
I saw a school of Barracuda and a small school of Jacks, lots of White tip reef sharks and the coral gardens were very nice with plenty of Macro critters to see.
Boganville Exploratory diving
We were very lucky to have all the stars align and decided to steam out to a place that apparently rarely gets dived any more because it is so far out and requires the weather to be perfect amongst other things. Everyone was pretty excited about this as it is not usually offered on the trip and many of the crew themselves had never dived this site before.
The dive site was a shallow reef littered with large bommies, crevasses and swim throughs and sloped down on the sand to a ledge where it fell away into darkness. It was a beautiful dive site, a lot of natural light and sunbeams filtering through made quite a spectacular site.
There was schooling Barracuda, Spanish Mackeral, Tuna, Coral trout, Grey reef sharks and White tip sharks as well as Maori Wrasse and Bumphead Parrotfish. There was also plenty of macro critters.
Because the dive sites had not been explored well before there were no maps, meaning we could really explore the sites ourselves which was fun, and we got to draw up on the whiteboard what we had seen and where afterwards, thus making our own maps of the site.
I did three dives here, one seventy two minutes, one sixty eight minutes and one sixty five minutes with a maximum depth of thirty one metres.
The Cod hole – seventy minutes maximum depth twenty one metres
I really enjoyed this dive because of course we got to have fun and get close to the huge Potato Cod. The dive guide fed them and there were three that stuck around for the whole dive often getting on top of you and around your feet as if to beg like a dog for food. This was every photographers dream as the nice blue visibility and natural light shaped some amazing photo opportunities. Very fun.
The Cod hole – eighty two minutes maximum depth twenty three metres
On this dive the other liveaboard was at the site also feeding the cod, so when I descended I thought I would leave them to it and go for an explore of the site to find the other cod that supposedly lived there that were even bigger.
I circumnavigated the site, there were plenty of tropical fish although the Coral seemed still quite damaged from the cyclone. As I was heading back to the boat one of the Potato Cod came over to me to say hi. It remained right beside me for a further twenty minutes so I enjoyed having fun with it all to myself. I then noticed a beautiful spotted Giant Moray Eel who loved to pose for the camera, and two schools of Catfish. This dive seemed to go by really fast, it was lots of fun.
Minke Whale swim – one hour
Swam with several Minke whales, sensational experience. Unfortunately it was just about to get even better when I felt myself getting pulled back into the boat because we had to get going.
Lighthouse Bommie – eighty eight minutes maximum depth twenty seven metres
I was stoked to dive my favourite site again, and saw all the same things I did prior plus I spent a bit more time checking out the actual lighthouse pinnacle this time and spotted a few baby Lionfish. I also saw some healthy looking Sweetlips and Green turtles.
I was starting to feel cold so despite giving the boat an ETA of ninety minutes I decided to head back to the boat at sixty minutes. Once I got to the shot line I noticed the Minke line was out on the surface and one of the girls was pointing down. I noticed another Minke whale swimming by me on the shot line. This was definitely something worth being cold for so I stayed on the shot line for another thirty minutes filming the Minke whale before it got too dark to see it any more and I surfaced. What a dive!
Steve’s Bommie – sixty minutes twenty six metres
As much as I’m not fussed about Coral and small stuff I thought this site was the most beautiful of all the Coral sites we had dived. There were some incredibly coloured bright orange and purple Anemones and Clown fish, tons of Tropical fish and Coral Trout, with some nice pelagics hanging in the blue such as Mackeral and Trevally. I saw some White tip reef Sharks as well. Very relaxing dive and a nice way to end the trip.
Minke swim – two hours
As it was the last day and I had already put my wetsuit out to dry, I decided to stupidly jump into the ocean in my bikini when one of the guys spotted a Minke mother and calf by the boat. I don’t care if it’s the tropics and other people are diving in boardies, I was cold!
So I hung onto the line almost frozen in one position, and then we spotted a pod of Spinner dolphins spinning out of the water about one hundred metres in front of us. I tried to see them and we tried calling them over by making stupid sounds but it didn’t work. Later on I got told that Spinner dolphins don’t like humans and are not social dolphins.
Because I was flying out the following day at 1pm that was the end of diving for me. highlights of the trip were definitely the Minke whales which have this way of making you feel really special, also the pelagics, Shark feed and the Potato Cod. I would love to go back and do the Minke’s again, it really was an amazing experience.