Mike Ball Dive Expeditions - Blog and Company News
Pen it in
Captain Trevor Jackson
Of course they were a bit nervous. After hearing about it from every media, scientific and government agency about how ‘bad’ things are with the Great Barrier Reef; how a massive percentage of it was bleached and dying, they couldn’t help but be nervous. Now, finally, they were off to see for themselves the damage and whether their businesses were at risk. In August this year, a small group of Liveaboard Dive operators hired a long range boat and went to see for themselves the state of the most remote reefs in Australia, the rightly named “Far Northerns”.
Stretching from Cooktown to the Torres Straits and 200 miles seaward, the Far Northerns includes famous names like Raine Island, Great Detached and Tijou Reefs. Places they’d been concerned about since the reported bleaching event of early 2016. The questions on their minds…were the reefs still viable? Can we legitimately take people to see them, or is it all over? On board this tiny ship were MBDE Operations Manager Craig Stephen and one of the companies most experienced skippers, Peter Conlon. The aerial surveys of the Far Northerns had been damning, accompanied by much doom and gloom, but we as an industry weren’t quite buying it just yet and there is no substitute for getting up there and getting down amongst it. After a week at sea, the boat returned and on board Spoilsport, the crew and I were waiting with baited breath to find out if we would be once again heading north during the summer calm. Craig and Peter arrived at with beaming smiles as we docked early that Thursday.
“It wasn’t until we got underwater that we could get a true picture of what percentage of reef was bleached,’’ Craig said. “We expected the worst. But it is in tremendous condition, most of it is still pristine and the rest is in full recovery. It really shows the resilience of the reef.’’ On the subject of how the media had portrayed the damage to the reef compared to the reality, he continued “The discrepancy is phenomenal. It is so wrong. Everywhere we went we found healthy reefs. There has been a great disservice to the Great Barrier Reef and tourism and it has not been good for our industry.”
Now it’s all well and good to talk the talk, but were we going to walk the walk? That is, are we going to avoid the Far Northerns, or are they re-entering our scheduling? A week or two later I had any answer. “Trev can you start planning routes from Osprey to Tijou and beyond?” came the phone call. A day or so later I submitted the requested information and got an almost immediate reply. “Would you be happy to take the boat to the Far Northerns next December?” I didn’t say, ‘Yes’ …I didn’t say ‘Maybe’…I just said….”Pen it in Craig, pen it in!”
Captain Trevor Jackson
Hanging from a hook on the lounge room wall at home there is an old sextant…..ancient one might say, corroded almost beyond recognition, black and green and pitted. There are no markings or brand names, no sign of its origin bar what I remember of it and from whence it came. The sextant has been in my possession for a score of years and prior to that lay undisturbed some 6 score till I happened upon it. Plucked from the sand, an ancient treasure billowing a plume of dust and rust…..and before my startled eyes it appeared to take shape as the cloudiness cleared; and there it was….the navigation instrument that had taken the ship SS St Paul around the globe on countless voyages, till she met her fate on a rock she was surely not fated to meet. The ship, the sextant and her captain had laid there in the depths until an exuberant youth came along and wretched it from its sandy cocoon.
I lay there staring at it the other night wondering why it had appeared so enticing to me all those years ago. Why had my younger self been possessed with that seemingly insatiable desire to rip old lumps of metal from the withering bones of old almost forgotten shipwrecks that should probably just have been left as they were? And it didn’t stop with the sextant; the house is literally scattered with old trinkets and keepsakes from that former life, a compass here, a telegraph there. Interesting stuff to say the least but soon enough those bits and bobs will find themselves in the care of someone who doesn’t care and they will end up as landfill, or melted down for profit.
I couldn’t escape the thought that ‘current me’ would have left in place what ‘former me’ simply had to take for himself. And so it is with all humans…young, greedy and stupid eventually makes way for old, thrifty and wise. But I’m wondering, actually I’m hoping, that the whole human race will go that way. For us to collectively become thrifty and wise. Lest our entire world of greed and avarice eventually lead us to an abundance of landfills and wastelands. All created because we are, as a whole……..still so…’must have now’.
I stared for a minute or two at the sextant, hanging there in the vastness of the pale wall, a symbol of the earth itself, hanging in space, a victim of the past and present….and hoped for a world where the ‘young greedy and stupid’ were a thing of the past….and that sensibility and maturity, might one day, soon prevail.
Captain Trevor Jackson
No doubt you’ve heard the expression ‘a room with a view’. Well I’ve got a room with a view…No, not the wheelhouse, the skippers cabin. It has got a window a metre square virtually at bed height. So, from being sound asleep, it’s just a gentle lift of the head to check out the sea state, the cloud cover or even just the serenity. I never really appreciated it until just now, yet it has always been there, taken for granted really.
There was a song playing on the radio next door in the wheelhouse. I sort of recognised it but couldn’t really place it. The words went “I’m heading out where the water is much deeper”. So there I was, staring out my bedroom window, listening to these words and wondering….Why do people love going to sea so much? The answer came to me as the tune faded…people love going to sea because at sea there is a distinct absence of clutter. At sea there is only the water, the horizon and the sky. That’s IT! No roads, cars, signs, houses, noise, high rises, vote for us, buy this, taste that….no nuthin’. Just those three things…water, horizon, sky. Well that was my take on it just now, there are probably plenty of other reasons to go to sea…fishing, snorkelling, sail boarding and of course the MAJOR attraction of getting down under with your “scuba on”.
But the reality of it is….we see a lot of folk on-board Spoilsport spend an extraordinary amount of peaceful, enjoyable time, simply gazing out across the waves and thinking of not much at all. Decluttering their heads. You know like once year you crack open the kitchen cupboards, realize you’ve got 20 pieces of Tupperware but not one single matching lid and container! Or digging into the bottom of the wardrobe and finally accepting you’re NEVER going to fit into those size 28 jeans again! You need a skip bin for these things…and sometimes you need a skip bin for your overloaded brain. That’s what going to sea is… a giant relief valve for all the ‘stuff’ you haven’t realized you just needed to ditch. It’s therapeutic, it’s liberating and it’s the kind of thing you should allot at least one week per year to. Get on a boat…head far enough out so you can’t see land any more, put your feet up on a deckchair, focus intently on that water / horizon / sky, and hit the bloody dump valve ……… aaaaahhh.
Time Will Tell
Captain Trevor Jackson
The bridge on Spoilsport runs right across the entire length of the boat. Ten metres in total, with the central three metres being chock full of state of the art Navigation equipment. We’ve got a computer to tell us where we are going, a guidance system to steer us through the coral maze, even a computer that tells us about any other boats around – how big they are, how fast they are going and where they are going. When it’s lit up at night it’s like riding in the Space Shuttle!
The other night in the middle of a blissfully calm ocean, I glanced over and asked the helmsman to expand the screen out on the chart plotter so we could see ‘something other than just us in the middle of the screen’. He duly did this, and soon I could see Holmes Reef behind us and a blank canvas ahead. He then asked ‘Do you want to see where we’ve been or where we are going?”. I pondered this question for a minute before responding ‘it’s probably best to concentrate on what’s ahead rather than what’s behind’. He adjusted the screen up so that Holmes was lost from behind and Bougainville appeared ahead. Now things were as they should be, but I couldn’t get the question out of my head…’what’s ahead?’.
In the middle of the night out there, the mind can race and I was running with the whole past present future thing. I thought about where we were headed and where we had come from. When I started at Mike Ball Dive Expeditions 10 years ago we concentrated mainly on the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef…two epic dive locations that were, back then, our whole world. Now there was a myriad of destinations, specialty trips, wreckstravaganzas…something for everyone. Our past was long behind us and we had simply kept evolving. But what of those two original destinations, what were they like now, how do they stack up?
A few days later we had made our way to Osprey Reef and the place was going off. Recent bleaching scares had largely abated and the sharks were in full force as usual. Same thing another day later at the Cod Hole, where things were making a huge comeback, further south the Ribbons were still blowing divers minds. It seemed that the present and the past were knitting nicely together. Tonight as I made my way south towards Cairns, I got back on the chart plotter and expanded the screen out to encompass it all…Yongala to the south, Torres Straits to the north, 500 miles of Reefs in between, sharks, whales, coral… all these things were now our present. What lies ahead?….Only time will tell.
Keep Everyone Cheering
Captain Trevor Jackson
A clever man once told me, “To have a good dive trip you’ve got to get at least two of the following three things right; the diving, the weather and the food, and the only one you can really control is the food”.
We are of course lucky here in north Queensland that we usually have good weather and fantastic diving, but what we really guarantee 100% of the time here at Mike Ball Dive Expeditions is that the food will always be outstanding. Spoilsports’ head chef David Jeske brings a wealth of experience and talent to the company and ensures that our menus remain progressive and above all, sumptuous.
So what’s on the menu? I will let David tell you. “Because we have such a vast array of nationalities coming aboard we try to sample food from all over the globe. Each meal is themed around a specific world region. We have American breakfasts; Mexican, English, and Mediterranean lunches; Asian, Italian and Australian dinners. Everything is prepared from scratch here on board the vessel using the freshest and finest of ingredients. And because it’s a dive boat, we ensure that there is plenty on the table when the dinner bell rings; five dives a day has a way of building huge appetites, especially in some of the big guys. Desserts are prepared each night and again we try to sample the best of world fare, as far as I’m concerned, the way to a diver’s heart is his or her stomach.”
And no-one here on board would argue with that. To keep a proper restaurant feel about the place, themed meals are accompanied by the appropriate ethnic table settings, the right selection of music and as an added bonus, complimentary wine is served at each evening sitting; just the way it should be.
I asked David last trip what set Spoilsport apart from any other restaurant he had worked in. “Well Trev, it’s like this: Each week I cook pasta for Italians, pizza for Americans, chilli for Mexicans and roast lamb for the English. We have to get it right because the judges are with us on board for a week at a time, and they know what is good and what is not. It’s a tough standard to keep, and I’m happy to say, we keep everyone cheering”.
The Pacific Awaits
Captain Trevor Jackson
Time is a funny thing. It simply marches on no matter what you think say or do…eventually, whatever it is you’re waiting for will come to pass. I remember years ago my friend Nat and I decided it would be a good idea to ride our pushbikes across the Nullarbor from Perth to Brisbane, or as we thought of it then, from the Indian to the Pacific. The theory was wonderful and romantic in its nature but once we got on the road it was a slogfest. Despite having been told it was flat all the way across, the reality of it was that it was 1000s of kilometres of gently up and gently down. There is no such thing as a truly flat road in Australia.
Whenever things got tough on the road we would remind ourselves that eventually, if we just kept putting one foot in front of the other, the laws of nature would conspire to see us dipping out tootsies in the Pacific and the whole thing would instantly draw to an end. But out there in that desert, under the vast cloak of black and stars, with feet and backsides longing for salvation, the glistening Pacific was a pipe dream that lay beyond an entire continent of dust, flies and head drilling sun. Each morning we would wake up and slowly walk the hundred or so yards back to the road and begin again….day after day…legs and feet up and down, up and down.
Soon enough the terrain began to change. Low native scrub transformed at the top of a rise one day and suddenly it was fenced in and cleared; sheep and cattle; wheat and corn. Further still to the coastal hills; and fair dinkum Aussie bushland that heralded the final days of our journey eastward. When we eventually stood there on that beach, there wasn’t a lot said. The beauty of the blue stretched out ahead and our pain was washed away underfoot like it never existed. The Pacific is like that, the great healer, the transformer of darkened thoughts, an elixir that floods the mind with peace, and reminds you that we’re only here for the briefest of time, and like I said earlier, time marches on. What are you waiting for? Beyond your desert……. the Pacific awaits.
Just Fine Indeed
Captain Trevor Jackson
“Honey, it’s for you! It’s some guy that says he’s from the BBC”…..I stumbled out of bed and made my way across to the phone. “Hello?” Sure enough, despite my internal protestations of ‘why on earth would the BBC be calling me?’ …it was in fact…they….
Well to be more specific, it was a producer from Atlantic Productions in the UK and they were making a BBC/Attenborough documentary about the Great Barrier Reef, “Could we ask you a few questions?”
I had to shake the cobwebs out a bit so I asked the guy to call back and took ten minutes to compose myself. “Sir David Attenborough is making a doco about the GBR and they want to ask me some questions”, I said out loud. I don’t know if I was talking to myself or to my wife but I took a second to take some deep breaths. There are famous people and then there are famous people…the real famous ones can be often be identified with just one name, like Mandela, Ghandi, Ali, Churchill, Hillary… well you get the idea, and to be perfectly frank, one would have to say that ‘Attenborough’ also fits into that category. And his mob were about to be back on the phone quizzing this crotchety old dive boat skipper about the very subject of their doco….a few more breaths.
The phone rang again and we were away. Four or five hours on the phone to London, 6 months and 140 emails later, “a few questions” had evolved into “appearing on screen” and I was in a Townsville restaurant with a film crew drinking all expenses paid vino and discussing the following days filming. We were heading out to shoot some topside stuff, where I would be waxing on about the wreck of the SS Yongala and how she had reinvented herself after Cyclone Yasi. I was in the company of real pros, Mike Pitt, one of the world’s finest underwater cinematographers, filled me in…”We are going to do about 3 hours of interviews tomorrow. If we are lucky, and they don’t chop the sequence altogether, you might be on screen for about 20 seconds in the final cut. I know it doesn’t seem worth all the hassle, but think about this: Attenborough came out to the GBR back in 1957 and traversed the reef from south to north. Now he’s back, nearly 60 years later to retrace his footsteps, and create a documentary series that will become the definitive benchmark on the subject for the next hundred years. There’s no expense being spared. All of us here at this table are helping to create that. Sir David is 88, he may retire soon and that will make this, his last major work. That 20 seconds, it will be something to be proud of”.
It has been said that everyone gets their 15 minute of fame at some time in their lives but I have to say…given the company, and how cool the final product is….20 seconds will do me fine, just fine indeed!
Love You for It
Captain Trevor Jackson
“Your opinions mean nothing, your actions mean everything!” I read that on a t-shirt, or its modern day equivalent…the so-called Meme. Still can’t quite define what the word Meme means yet, but I know they can be funny, sometimes cruel, often insightful… and they are a great way to waste many an evening while you’re waiting for something better to do. This particular one took my fancy though. Opinions = nothing, actions = everything. In the modern internet driven world we see everyone has an opinion about everything and they want it to be heard. They want you to know when they’re pleased, angry, offended, whatever. But at the end of the day, what does an internet rant get you? Apart from ‘likes’… nothing.
Actions on the other hand can mean a heck of a lot. I witnessed this first-hand the other day at my daughter’s school. Normally folks don’t intermingle too much when they’re dropping off their kids, especially with me. I guess I can present as a bit gruff, unapproachable, even a bit mean looking. I can’t even get as much as a passing smile from the other moms. But this day was different, today I was popular, today it seemed that everyone had suddenly seen beyond the exterior and thought ‘he’s a real nice fella that big guy with the tiny blonde daughter”. A wave here, a slight upward nod there, a smile from the meanest of them. Yep I’d cracked it…..no more getting snubbed outside the classroom for this fella. I was father of the bloody year! But what had changed? It was a question I was asking myself all the way back across the playing field until I got to car.
When I got there, my wife who had been waiting for me had the answer. “They all saw you pick up that bottle” she said….. “Huh?” Sure enough I had. “When every other passer-by had waltzed on by it, you stopped and bothered to get it off the field, the same field all their kids will be running around on soon”. Of course. I saw the wisdom in her words…..on any other day I would have just had a gripe in my head, “bloody teenagers”, “which twit left this here for someone to trip over?”. On this day instead of voicing an opinion, I took action. The smallest of things changed the world for the better. The tiniest of changes, but a change nonetheless.
I thought about this for the rest of the day. Bleating and moaning, agreeing and disagreeing… these things just give us the feeling of having done something. The world is an indescribably beautiful place. Out here in the Coral Sea… we see it every day…. untouched, unfathomable BEAUTY… keeping it that way won’t really take much, but it will take more than an opinion on it. Maybe it just means picking up that bottle instead of walking on by. I do know one thing for sure. When that bottle goes into the bin instead of the local creek… all the other mums will love you for it.
To Be Perfect
Captain Trevor Jackson
It’s not called the GREAT Barrier Reef for nothing…..it’s called that because it’s ….well…GREAT… both in size and in content. Trouble is, more and more these days we are hearing about threats to the reef caused by man’s intervention with the environment. Social and news media outlets love to wax on endlessly with stories and articles that invariably revolve around negativity…because negative news is what provokes the most chatter around the office water cooler! In short; they live for doom and gloom! Well I’m not having any of it here! This month I want to talk about something that happened the other week that bucks the trend, in fact, flips it entirely on its head. A GREAT piece of news, and it’s quite simply this… we just found the BEST coral dive on the whole reef. Now I know that sounds like a bold statement, and the kind of thing you might read in a dive company’s promotional blog, but I assure you it’s true.
About a year or so ago, cyclone Nathan went through this area and gave the odd dive site a bit of a tickle. Whilst this is a perfectly natural event, it did have us on our toes and prompted a mindset at Mike Ball Dive Expeditions that we should never rest on our laurels and expect everything would always be alright…even mildly storm damaged coral reef sites are not our idea of ‘World Class’ so we set about spending the year exploring and expanding our itinerary. Month after month we discover sites that are becoming the new benchmark….every trip…but even with all that progress we were still in search of the cherry on the cake….the picture perfect, postcard dive site that would reinvent the notion of what the Barrier Reef was all about. A site that looked more like an exercise in photoshop than a real place; a place where you simply will not believe your eyes…and…in early December we found it! East of the Cooktown longitude but still within the calming protection of the GBR is the fabulous….Trolly Shoal.
We haven’t even had the chance to explore the place thoroughly yet but it has become immediately apparent the Trolly Shoal wants for nothing! The area has simply got the lot, and got it in spades. But it’s the untouched quality and quantity of the hard coral that has us jumping into our fins. I’ve tried but I can’t justifiably put into words how good it is and it’s impossible to try to compare it to any other place. But I will say this…in 35 years of diving the GBR, I’ve never seen anything quite up to this standard. Somehow someone forgot to tell Trolly Shoal, not to be perfect.
Captain Trevor Jackson
A few weeks ago I was in the school carpark. I’d just dropped my daughter off at prep and had made my way back to the car. I started it and popped it in reverse. The car did that visible little jerk that automatics do when you put them in gear, but I had my foot on the brake so the car didn’t move. Which as it turns out, was just as well….. Read the rest of this entry »