Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

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Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby AndrewRawlingson » Thu Aug 29, 2013 2:49 pm

We're just back from a 7 day liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef. The boat was Spoilsport run by Mike Ball Dive Expeditions out of Cairns.

We were met by Mr Ball himself in Cairns shortly before boarding. The high level of organisation and professionalism of the crew was immediately apparent. As we were having a glass of something bubbly, we got introduced to the crew individually and told the plan by the trip director. This set the scene and we were regularly updated throughout the week with sailing and dive plans. No one was left wondering what was going to happen next.

Boat
Spoilsport is a catamaran and very stable. The dive deck was exceptionally well organised with ample space for kit and a large camera table. The communal area was a combined lounge/dining area which was very nice. Our cabin was clean and functional and the bathroom was spotless.

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Food & Drink
Food was first class. We had two BBQ nights during the week, as well as various themed nights. Evening meals had the ambiance of a nice restaurant rather than a dive boat!

Wine was provided with meals, but additional alcohol and soft drinks had to be purchased from the bar. Before we boarded, we were told that no personal alcohol was allowed on-board. On the boat, we were asked to surrender personal alcohol to the bar and would be served on request. I believe this has something to do with Australian law and it didn't cause me any problems. Hot drinks and water were freely available.

Diving Procedures
Mike Ball allows solo diving for those holding a certification and using a redundant gas source. I did most dives with my other half, but hired a pony for the dives she didn't want to do.

All divers were required to carry a Nautilus personal location device which was supplied, a single light source for afternoon dives and two light sources for night dives. All very sensible. There was also a rigorous system for checking divers back on to the boat.

Dives were unguided unless a guide was requested, but the guides were always keen to get in the water and dived regardless.

Three to five dives were on offer each day. I did them all apart from the night dives which I can never be bothered with. At a few of the sites, there was an "open deck" meaning that the boat would be at the site for a defined period of time, usually an afternoon and you could dive as you please. For most people, this meant two dives, for others, one long dive. One keen bean always got three dives in!

Most diving was from the dive deck, but a couple were from one of the two large tenders with a drift/swim back to the boat.

Dive Sites
The first dive site was the Cod Hole. It’s 12 hours from Cairns and home to the famous potato cod, enormous grouper which have a liking for divers. Apparently, they used to be fed by divers and still associate divers with a feed.

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The reef itself was in good condition. The second dive site was the Snake Pit, so named because it is home to a large number of olive sea snakes. If you like sea snakes, you would not be disappointed with this site!

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After that, the reef dives merged in to one as they tend to, but they were generally very good with more than enough to keep the photographers happy.

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…and this, believe it or not is a nudibranch!

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I was fortunate to come 1st and 2nd in the end of week photography competition (longnose hawkfish and batfish) as the entries were of a very high standard.

Osprey Reef and Shark Feed
Osprey Reef is a separate entity from the Great Barier Reef and lies some way offshore. The overnight crossing was very rough, but worth it. Osprey Reef is largely deep wall diving with large pelagics. The coral was pristine and plenty of sharks were spotted. It is also where the boat does its weekly shark dive. Tuna heads were fixed to a chain/float and released from an anchored barrel to cause furious feeding frenzy of grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks and potato cod. Probably not environmentally sound or sensible, but an awful lot of fun!

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Diving Conditions
Water temperature was 25 - 26 degrees C. Air temperature was around 28 degrees C during the day, not bad for mid-winter! Visibility on the Great Barrier Reef was 20 - 30 metres. On Osprey Reef, it was 40 metres plus.

Lizard Island
Half way through the trip, we left the boat to visit Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. It has a little history and lizards, although we didn’t see any! The real purpose of the stopover was to allow divers on a four day trip to disembark and to collect divers joining us for a three day trip. It was nice to have a break from the diving and set foot on dry land, although it was a little odd to meet half a boat load of new people in the middle of the trip.

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Overall
Excellent boat, crew and diving. We really enjoyed it, but it is expensive. I would definitely recommend Mike Ball Dive Expeditions.

Video link here: https://vimeo.com/73124532
Last edited by AndrewRawlingson on Thu Aug 29, 2013 11:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby divepirate » Thu Aug 29, 2013 4:13 pm

Just to get things into perspective what was the vis like on average..
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I cant think of anything more relaxing, than being in the downunder, breathing some nice clean fresh filtered 21% nitrox.
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby AndrewRawlingson » Thu Aug 29, 2013 5:01 pm

divepirate wrote:Just to get things into perspective what was the vis like on average..


On the GBR, I would say 30 metres or so, but variable. On Osprey Reef, it was easily 40 meters, perhaps a lot more. Hard to quantify. The Mike Ball website says 60 meters and I wouldn't take issue with this!
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby binklebonk » Thu Aug 29, 2013 10:15 pm

Great stuff, thanks for posting!
What was the cost all up?
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby AndrewRawlingson » Thu Aug 29, 2013 11:33 pm

binklebonk wrote:Great stuff, thanks for posting!
What was the cost all up?


Thanks. I hesitate to say the total price, mainly because I don't want to know! :shock:

Prices are on the Mike Ball website. We got a special, so it was 25% off the advertised price. Plus flights of course and a night or two in a hotel in Cairns either side of the trip.

The cost really hurt because I've done quite a few liveaboards in the Egyptian Red Sea which are a fraction of the price. Good quality boats and diving too, although that may not last forever looking at news reports.
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby binklebonk » Fri Aug 30, 2013 7:08 am

Wow yeah that's pricey!

For that price you could do Tonga three times, fiordland (dusky, breaksea and doubtful sounds) twice for 7 nights, solomons three times...

Looks nice though.
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby Ali Perkins » Sat Aug 31, 2013 1:43 am

Fabulous trip report and photos! From where I'm looking at your photos I think they are all chopped off down the right hand side.

Was nitrox available and included in price?
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby AndrewRawlingson » Sat Aug 31, 2013 10:04 am

Ali Perkins wrote:Fabulous trip report and photos! From where I'm looking at your photos I think they are all chopped off down the right hand side.

Was nitrox available and included in price?


Thanks. There is a problem with the website and photos (paging divepirate!). The photos appear as they should on Tapatalk/iPad and on another forum.

Nitrox was available at a consistent 32 - 33%. We both dived it as we did a large number of dives in a short space of time. It did of course, cost more! AU$150 per person per week.
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby Ali Perkins » Sat Aug 31, 2013 10:48 am

I look forward to the day when 32% nitrox is standard. It makes no sense not to dive it on these liveaboards when you're doing so many dives.
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Re: Great Barrier Reef (August 2013)

Postby AndrewRawlingson » Sat Aug 31, 2013 11:36 am

Ali Perkins wrote:I look forward to the day when 32% nitrox is standard. It makes no sense not to dive it on these liveaboards when you're doing so many dives.


Totally agree. It's standard on quite a few of the Red Sea liveaboards and its a good way for operators to sell nitrox courses.
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