Mike Ball Dive Expeditions - Blog and Company News
Better Than That
Captain Trevor Jackson
So we play this little musical show on the last night of each trip. The boat has a band of sorts: guitar, singer, drummer and back-up singers/dancers. All the crew pitch in…It’s a ritual and a highlight. Post gig there is another ritual in that the drummer and I head to the front deck like a pair of Elvis’s and ‘debrief ‘ the gig , so to speak…what went well, what didn’t etc. Last night we did neither, it was complete silence till one of us chimed in with a corker of a question…”If the whole human race needed to leave Earth and head to Mars, never to return, what would we take and what would we leave behind?”
Now sitting on the front deck under the Far North tropical night skies can occasionally prompt questions like this but this one was a doozie and needed some serious thought.
“Well, you’d need to take the means to create food and water obviously, shelter from the elements, can’t be too hot or too cold, and of course the breathable atmosphere may need some attention”. I can’t imagine that on an urgent dash to save ourselves we would be too concerned with much else.
In fact, one might imagine that almost all of the things we concern ourselves with on a daily basis would be placed in the ‘leave it back on earth’ basket. Things like cars, guitars, scuba diving, the Pepsi V Coke argument, Democracy and Netflix – a random selection of course but you get the drift. We don’t NEED any of those things, they just make life a whole lot more interesting and fun…and they are a constant reminder that we have evolved well beyond what would have been a never ending cycle of chasing those three old chestnuts – food, water and shelter.
The whole idea of having to leave all that stuff behind made me realize for a moment what we would stand to lose if we don’t start taking care of our back yard. We would literally have evolved full cycle back into ‘cave men’. I don’t know about you, but I always thought we were better than that.
Captain Trevor Jackson
It’s on a different day for all of us, but the process is repeated all-round the country, in every suburb, every day. My day is Thursday…around 0700 you hear him coming, the big steel arm reaching down and one by one grabbing the big green bins and hurling their contents into the back of the big steel muncher truck. Up the street like clockwork, taking away the crap we don’t want.
A thought occurred to me the other day, if the truck didn’t come each week, and we had to live with our rubbish, pile it up in the yard forever, would we do things differently? I mean he just comes automatically and it’s all whisked away and is no longer our problem. What if it stayed our problem?
Now this wasn’t just some random thought. A trip or two back our water chiller machine had some small problem and broke down for a day or two. To solve this and to remain proactive I decided to fly in bottled water so that the guests on board weren’t forced to chug from their bathroom taps. As it turned out the water machine was fixed before the bottles arrived so I had bottles stacked up all over the wheelhouse, wondering what to do with them. It seemed kid of ridiculous actually, water falling from the sky, coming out the taps, surrounding us all the time, yet here I was, stepping around these stupid bottles and even if I did get rid of them, they had to go somewhere, be someone’s problem, they weren’t going to just disappear. I flew them in because it was convenient, now they were suddenly quite…inconvenient…and I was forced to consider just how much pollution we are creating in the quest for simply making life easy.
My kids chug through 2 litres of milk per day. That’s 365 of those plastic 2 litre milk bottles every year. From just one house! If I could go somewhere and pour milk from a bowser like petrol I would. But there are many ways to reduce our consumption of plastics and recycling goes a long way toward reducing the creation of new plastics. There are many companies working toward using marine debris, ghost nets and recycled plastics in clothing, shoes and everyday items…..just sayin’.
The High Seas
Captain Trevor Jackson
So I was reading on the internet, or watching one of those little 90 second videos on the internet, or both, about how we as a society are focussing on the negative, ALL of the time. How media, both social and mainstream, devotes its time to unveiling the antics of the worst of humanity. The 0.0001% of the entire race that does all the bad stuff… the crooks, the terrorists, the reality TV folk… and how we are tending to see ourselves as like them; as a race. And you know what? It’s kind of true. Life can get kind of doom and gloomy when you focus on things that aren’t good. We bitch constantly about the state of the country yet in reality the country is great (so is ‘America’ by the way Donald) and if we compare our lives to 75 percent of the world we are absolutely siting pretty.
So now there’s this push online to get folk to start pointing out the good in the world instead of just the bad. Instead of bitching about say airline delays, or how long your bank kept you on hold to India; brighten our day with cool stuff. Some good service you got; where to find the best cup of coffee in town (whilst refraining from posting a photo of it and your side dish of chips); something that made you smile. So now it’s my turn…a tiny rant about what is good in my current world…
Let’s start with the view...looking out the window I can see the beach at Lizard Island and some folks climbing a sun drenched hill. The job...obviously THE best in the world coz I’m the skipper of a big fat dive boat that goes places no one else does. My crew...also the best in the world and all very busy right now keeping the operation humming. The boat… large spacious, super clean – a genuine offshore weapon. The reef…fantastic, vibrant, full of energy and life. The future…interesting, just like a future should be. That is about all i can think of right now. Except one more thing… I know where you can get the best coffee in town…right outside my door and across the saloon, the best flat white on the high seas…..
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!