by Kathie Nelson
Our first live-aboard dive trip on the Mike Ball Spoilsport was amazing, thanks to a marvelous crew, great dive friends and of course Mother Nature.
From the first time we boarded the boat until the day we left 7 days later, we were made to feel welcome and safe. Part of the reason we felt so safe was the fact that certain rules had to be followed, such as signing up before and after each dive to make sure all divers were accounted for.
Those who kept forgetting to sign up quickly remembered, thanks to a favorite delicacy called Vegemite which our Trip Director, Kerrin, always kept in stock.
Our standard room was more than adequate. We were quite surprised at the amount of storage space available, and never felt cramped. Since all of the dive gear was stored on the dive deck, we only had to rinse and hang our wet swimsuits up when we finished a dive.
I was very glad I brought 4 suits, since two were always dry for the next day’s dives.
One of the best features of the Spoilsport was the food, prepared by Chef Keri. Rather than risk missing any meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner times were spread out during the day. For instance, it was possible to get in a dive before breakfast, dive a few times before lunch, and then do a few more dives including a night dive before dinner!
Fortunately, thanks to 4 or 5 dives a day, my husband and I both lost weight, despite the fantastic food! Yes, we worked hard on this trip due to the fact that several of the dives involved currents.
Rather than just tell us to grin and bear it, the crew did several things to make our dive easier. First of all, when there was a strong current, they put tag lines out to get from the back of the boat to the front of the boat and then down the mooring line.
I realized late in the trip that I should have inflated my BC more as I went hand over hand down the tag line. That would have made it much easier to use my snorkel, which is what the crew recommended. Instead, I often used my regulator, which meant I had a lot less air left when I got to the bottom to start my dive! Live and learn, right?
On every dive, Kerrin would survey who wanted to follow a guide. Although my husband and I have over 250 dives each, we decided it was safer to follow a guide. Several of the other 28 divers did the same.
What impressed me was how careful the guides were, especially Bec! We did several dives with her group, and noticed several things.
She always knew where we were and was aware of how much air we had left. What was amazing is the fact that she could be so observant of our needs, and still manage to show us things we might have missed such as clown fish, turtles, rays, flounder, cuttlefish, sweetlips and of course, sharks!!
Watching her in her element was truly a joy. I’ve never seen anyone who was so at home in the water, and yet so knowledgeable of her surroundings. Guess being a microbiologist doesn’t hurt!
I don’t mean to sell the other guides short. We also had the pleasure to dive with Brad, Kerrin, Keri and of course the photographer Laurence, who also is a microbiologist. Laurence also gave “classes” between dives, which enabled us to better identify the coral and creatures we would encounter. He was also helpful explaining photographic techniques, which my husband put to use.
Since returning home, we’ve watched Laurence’s video several times. Definitely a great investment! For the divers with their own cameras, there was a dedicated camera table and dunk tank on the dive deck, and the crew was always handy when Mike needed someone to hand him his camera.
Thanks to this wonderful crew, we have a smorgasbord of pictures including amazing coral, pipefish, potato cod, reef sharks, barracuda, clown triggerfish, puffer-fish, scorpion fish, lobster, crab and octopus to remind us of this wonderful experience.
On one of the dives, we witnessed a manta ray feeding. It looked like it was turning somersaults one after the other. I’d never seen anything like that before!
Let me say a bit more about the crew. There was a Captain (Trevor), First Mate (Rich), Engineer (Chris), Trip Director (Kerrin) Cruise Attendant (Anita), Dive Masters (Brad and Bec), Photographer (Laurence) and volunteers (Sam, Dave and Jenny)-- only 11 people! Yes, they had their main duties but ALL chipped in to clear tables and wash dishes after meals.
What was amazing is they usually were having so much fun in the kitchen that the rest of us wanted to join them! On one of the nights, some of us formed a Congo line and did just that!! The point here is all of the members seemed to respect and appreciate each other, which made the trip that much better.
Although there’s no way we could really understand what is involved in managing the Spoilsport, Engineer Chris and Captain Trevor were kind enough to let us tour the pilot house and engine room. We had no idea so much was involved in keeping the Spoilsport running smoothly! During our trip, Trevor also proved that he plays a mean guitar and entertained us with a wide variety of songs.
OK. Time to discuss Mother Nature’s role on the trip.
First of all, I had purchased a 5mm suit since we were told the water could be a bit chilly. Instead, the water was between 79 and 80 degrees! I was still fine with my 5mm, but certainly didn’t need a hood. I did have to add a lot more weight though, (18 vs. my usual 10 pounds), but got it down to 14 pounds by the end of the trip. My husband was very comfortable in his 3mm suit.
Although we heard it was raining in Cairns during our dive trip, we had great weather while on board the Spoilsport, for which we were thankful.
The other thing Mother Nature was responsible for was the role the moon played in the current. Yes, along with several other divers, the Zodiac picked us up when we couldn’t make our way back to the tag line. Although getting into the Zodiac was a bit difficult, it sure was a welcome site!
Actually, we got picked up twice.
The second time, we managed to encounter a rip current just as we were joining the other divers and Kerrin on the bottom. We were the last of the group, and just as we let go of the mooring line, we started getting pulled away by the current. I was able to carefully hold onto a piece of coral, but my husband signaled we should go back to the boat rather than fight the current.
Since we were down 84 feet, we did our safety stop at 15 feet for 3 minutes and then surfaced. We had been down only 12 minutes, and I had 2200 psi of the original 3,000-psi remaining!
We could see the Spoilsport in the distance, and my husband immediately inflated the rescue sausage. Soon, we could see Rich in the Zodiac looking for divers. After awhile, I heard my husband yell, “Here he comes!”
We were pretty close to the reef, so Rich threw us a line and pulled us into deeper water. Then Rich helped us into the Zodiac and we soon were back on the Spoilsport, after getting a round of applause from our diving friends.
Yes, it was a scary experience, but at the same time a great lesson. We never panicked because we knew we had signed in and would eventually be rescued. The only thing we wish we had was a mirror, which might have helped the crew see us.
We later learned Kerrin had noticed immediately that two of his dive group were missing, and had gotten word back topside. Within minutes, the crew was aware of our plight and quickly did what was necessary to find us.
The problem was we had been swept all the way around the reef, which made if very hard to see us! Had we been missing over an hour, we learned there were tracking buoys on board which have been used to determine current direction. Fortunately, that step was never necessary.
What did we do after the rescue? We were a little tired, so sat out the next dive during which divers were taken out in the Zodiac and then did drift dives using the current to their advantage. Although we missed that dive, we did do the next two with no problem.
Then the boat received several visitors. A POD OF DOLPHINS! A couple did spins in the air, which was amazing to watch. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We also spotted turtles on the surface several times during the week, but the dolphin visit was an unexpected treat.
As dive groups go, we think ours was outstanding. Although the crew usually was handy to help us don our gear, other dive members also assisted with zippers, fins, masks etc.
While it got rather crowded at times, we quickly learned to wait our turn and respect dive procedure rather than trying to cut corners. People were constantly checking their buddy’s equipment and/or taking Nitro readings.
Almost everyone on board was using Nitrox, by the way, but the crew was able to keep the tanks filled. After dives, we’d all gather in the large dining room to eat, chat or listen to one of Laurence’s great slide presentations. At night, we’d share dive stories while eating a great meal, complete with wine and champagne.
Before we retired for the evening, Captain Trevor would advise whether or not we’d need to take a seasick pill. Yes, they were usually a good idea, since the water got pretty rough at times.
We’d hear funny stories the next day from people who were trying to sleep on a top bunk. The good news is we were told what to expect ahead of time, so could store things appropriately.
The trip did eventually end, of course, and Heather and Bud, our trip organizers from U.S. Scuba wanted to show the crew how much they were appreciated by all their guests.
Thanks to Heather, we surprised them by singing our version of the Castaway Song from Gilligan’s Island, which the crew seemed to enjoy. We know we’ll never forget this wonderful trip, thanks to them. What an incredible way to celebrate our 40th Anniversary!!
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