DOWN UNDER 2001
On September 8th Mick and I set off for long held
dream - travelling around Australia visiting Perth,
Adelaide, Red centre (Ayers rock) Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney
and a week in Fiji to recover. I kept a journal of our month
and have picked out the water-related experiences to share
We arrived in Cairns and shared a very enjoyable
evening with Anne and Andrew Jacks who had just come off the
Next morning we transferred onto the catamaran Scooby
doo that took us out to our ship - the Atlantic Clipper for
3 days/2 nights. The weather was very warm but a wind had
started to blow and the sea was getting rather choppy - we
guestimated it was a 3 to 4.
Two hours later we arrived at Michelmas reef - an
inner reef. This was just a brief stop for some novice
training - we did a spot of snorkeling - which was very hard
work in the waves. I saw a sea turtle, stingray and the tail
fin of a shark in the 15 minutes that I struggled in the
We finally reached the Clipper at 2pm. It is a 140-ft
tall ship complete with saloon, Jacuzzi and bar. However it
seemed an awful lot smaller than the brochure. Our
overriding impression was the sheer number of tanks - at
least 100. There were 42 divers and 20 crew. Not the laid
back diving I had in mind and how we would all to get in the
Jacuzzi on the top deck was an interesting thought!
Within the hour we were in the water in a party of 8
who were all experienced. We had a guide to get our bearings
and to check our buoyancy on the reef. Visibility was about
20 metres. There were fish in every direction - groupers,
parrotfish, surgeon, all kinds of wrasse, reef and trigger
fish to name but a few. Two more sea turtles were cruising.
Our maximum depth was around 15 metres and you really didn't
have to dive deep. We saw a range of coral - Table top,
boulder and brain.
Back on board and the sea was getting rougher - we had
moved to the outer reef (Saxon reef) with no protection from
the pacific swell - Mick and I reckoned we were sitting on a
5/6. - Very weird as the sunbathing was great - but you
burned very quickly cos of the wind factor. The ship was
really rolling and the ginger tablets were passed around -
too late for some!
We had just settled ourselves on the top deck to chill
out when the director - Rosco informed us, it was time to
go back in the water. Hmmm - the brochure says you dive when
you like -that is not the case - we dived when we were told,
which was irritating and we had only been out of the water
Mick and I dived in search of 'Clam garden' - the
clams come in all sizes with the largest 2 metres long. We
discovered that you saw more if you stayed still in the
shallows amongst the reef and the life was all around
Back on deck Mick felt decidedly unwell with the
constant rolling of the ship. We had just settled in the
saloon for a cuppa when we were told there would be a night
dive at 7pm. As this would have been our third dive within 4
hours we decided to give it a miss and sample a few drinks
at the bar!!!!!
Given the amount of swell we both slept surprisingly
well- our cabin was spacious but basic. We were woken at 6am
for a dive before breakfast. It was an excellent dive with
viz to about 30 metres. As we descended we could see a sea
turtle grazing on the sea bed - I was really excited as I
had my underwater camera (bought for £20.00 at
Singapore airport!!!!!!) The bloody thing would not work.
The sea turtle remained oblivious to us. Mick finned around
the turtle, so that I could get a picture of him with Mr
Turtle - still the bloody camera would not work. After 10
minutes Mr Turtle had enough, took a long look at each of us
and very gracefully swam into the blue. By now I was turning
the water red with my language. I doubt I shall ever get as
close to a turtle again.
For our next dive we moved to the Norman reef - the
clipper would normally put her sails up but as the wind was
30 knots we motored it instead. Apparently it was too
dangerous with so many people on board! This was
disappointing - we had chosen this ship because we fancied
sailing between reefs.
When we arrived at the reef we were informed that the
'coral sucks' because the brittle starfish had attacked it
18 months ago - however there would be plenty of fish. Hmmmm
- funny, how they didn't mention that in the brochure or on
the web site.
We got into a 5 metre metal dinghy fully kitted (12
people). Getting into the boat with swell was quite a feat.
We made our way across the reef to the outer edge. I don't
think we shall ever forget that trip in those waves sitting
on a boat that had no give!!! By the time we got in the
water Mick was looking green and I was very sore.
We descended to around 20 metres and finned mid way
along a reef wall, - the current was running with us
thankfully. Within minutes we saw a shoal of Barracuda,
followed by Jacks, Jacks, and more Jacks cruising in the
blue. Sweet lips appeared above us and trevally underneath
us. There was an abundance of large fish life, however we
were now fighting the current, which was impossible. We
slowly ascended to around 10 metres just above the reef; the
swell made this part of the diving quite unpleasant.
We had to wait around in the swell for 10 minutes for
the dinghy. The ride back was even rougher and we could not
transfer from the dinghy onto the ship platform because of
the Sea State. So we had to de kit, jump into the water,
kit thrown into the sea, we to collect, put on and then
climb up the ladder. The 3-metre swell made it quite
exciting. This finished us both off and we left the ship a
day early! It was good to reach solid land!
Overall impressions - In spite of the weather
conditions the diving was enjoyable but I suspect we were on
the very commercial reefs and I'm sure there are more remote
reefs further down the coast to Whistsunday Island.
The ship - Atlantic Clipper - was a disappointment -
too many divers on board (although I have to say once under
water we very rarely saw another diver). The crew was
excellent, and the outfit runs on military precision but it
was a little too military for our liking.
Next issue I'll bore you with my whales and