Past Trips - 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 with LSAC.

We arrived in Cairns and shared a very enjoyable evening with Anne and Andrew Jacks who had just come off the Barrier reef.

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 water.

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 30 minutes.

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 you.

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 sharks!

Jane Faulkner

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