Mike Ball Dive Expeditions - Blog and Company News


by Trevor Jackson

Let’s just talk about the heat for a minute. The HEAT, specifically the heat at Thursday Island the day we left for Ashmore Reef. It was like a laser beam to the skull. Luckily our air conditioning was humming like a Swiss clock. I looked at the weather forecast and we could expect more of the same. We would end up further north than Spoilsport had ever been, so still waters, hot days, and the sound of distant jungle drums were all on the agenda. We were on the eve of another ‘seek and ye shall find’ type of trip. It’d been sold out for over a year, and why not? These days there are limited opportunities to “boldly go where no man has been before”. This was one of them.

We did a shakedown day at Raine Island…Tiger and turtle territory, then it was north overnight to who knows what. We had a couple of marks given to us by someone who’d passed through 20 years before. I went through them on the way north. But after a while I thought, ‘We’re not here to follow old footsteps, we’re carving our own path.’

I chucked the old marks in the bin. It was the best move ever!

Satellite imagery, what a tool. First, we figured out what looked good from outer space. Then once we got in the general vicinity, the onboard drone was launched. The combination of a couple of old sea dogs staring out the window, and the young pups flying a live feed camera, was a roaring success. It was dive site hunting 21st-century style, and it sure cut down on the fin work.

As each dive was completed, I waited for a report. Good? Bad? Awesome?

In all, we hit 9 sites over three days. 6 of them were firmly in the awesome category, and by awesome I mean World Class bottomless walls, rampaging sharks, and water clearer than the tropical air. Everyone wanted to just… stay.

We had hardly scratched the surface…but time had caught up with us. South to Great Detached Reef, then a final day at the wreck of the RMS Quetta…Australia’s greatest shipwreck. As the sun set on Cape York, we looked back to the east and wondered in amazement. What would we find next year? Ashmore Reef… you ravishing BEAST! We all agreed it would take 5 or 10 years before we would really know the place, in the meantime… it’s ours, and yours… to discover.

Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity – book your expedition now as spaces are limited! Check Availability


by Trevor Jackson

So, we are steaming south to Townsville and I’ve been reading about NASA’s Webb Telescope’. They’ve just observed some new galaxies. There’s photos of them, but not as they are now. The light that created these images left the galaxies some 13 billion years ago… travelling ever since. We are looking back in time effectively. The big deal about these newly discovered galaxies is that they have thrown conventional thinking about the universe and its origins, under the proverbial bus. It’s back to the drawing board for the cosmologists.

Closer to home, right here on the bridge of Spoilsport, I’m still wrestling with the same scientific quandaries I had from 5 or 6 years ago. How do turtles find Raine island beach every summer? Why does Yongala have so many big fish? Why can’t the engineer make a decent coffee? And then of course, there’s the big one. The one that comes up every Autumn. How is it that Dwarf Minke Whales know exactly when and where to show up at the same spot and the same time, every year?

Yep, it’s nearly that time again. For 6 weeks starting in early June, the magnificent Dwarf Minkes will show up and give snorkelers an experience that is unrivalled in the world.

The Minkes make YOU, the one that is being observed!

Here’s how it works. You come back from a dive on one of the fantastic Ribbon Reef pinnacles. From the stern of the vessel a line is run out on the surface for snorkelers to hold on to. You lay there in the water in your snorkelling gear and wait for a bit. In they come, tentative at first, within a few passes the distance they keep between themselves and you seems markedly reduced. They disappear again for a few moments and you think ‘wow that was cool, hope they come back” You lay there for a second before being suddenly cast into shadow by another snorkeller, you turn to see who it is and hey presto, there’s an 8 metre dwarf Minke Whale ……..IN YOUR FACE!

Literally at arm’s length, her thoughtful dark eyes pivot almost imperceptibly. She ghosts away, then comes back, even closer. You could reach out and touch her, but you don’t, not wanting to upset the pure tranquillity of this extraordinary experience.

Every year like clockwork during June and July the Ribbon Reefs are graced with these mighty creatures, and you could easily be blessed with several encounters like the one I’ve just described.

Spoilsport has one of only a handful of “Swim with Whales” permits that allows snorkellers to enter the water within close proximity of a marine mammal. You get in, the whales do the rest. Our itinerary is changed especially to give you the longest and closest interactions; and you could be doing it this winter! You won’t forget it, and like NASA’s latest discoveries, it might possibly change your perception of the known universe.

See you on board.

 

Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to witness the minke whales – book your expedition now as spaces are limited! Check Availability


by Trevor Jackson

Why do we get old and grumpy?
Why do kids stare at phones all day long?
Who invented liquid paper and… why?

In our house, whenever someone gets modern life overload, we have the cure. We call it…Vinyl Day.

Vinyl Day is a decree that states that no non-essential electronics can be used for a whole day. Yes, the youngster’s WILL and DO argue that their phones and ipods are essential… but when those inevitable disagreements occur, we are guided by the universally accepted wisdom of ‘Dad’s Law’… and peace reigns supreme. Once the declaration of Vinyl Day has been made… the Apples and the Samsungs are banished to the darkness of the third drawer down and can’t resurface for at least one full earthly rotation.

There are though, a couple of notable exceptions to the essential electronics rule. Firstly we don’t turn off the fridge… that’s a no-brainer, but secondly and most significantly… we get to use the record player, the old one, the one with dust on it. No CDS, no Spotify, just vinyl. Using vinyl means you have to get involved, you can’t just set it up to play on random, you have to make a physical choice. You have to take the record out of it’s cover, smell the plastic and the cardboard… let the memories of your 80s youth flood back on through the front door and carry you away to another time and place. Ahh vinyl, crackly and flawed, transporter of time and space….

Now you may have guessed, I could [and occasionally do] wax on about the virtues of slowing the whole world down to a more pedestrian pace.

A pace where there’s time to breathe, time to think. A place where we aren’t constantly bombarded with information that is really just there to make us buy stuff.

I know you know what I mean, but what about the younger folk in your house? Are they across it? Unlikely….They are probably tucked away in some room down the hall, right now, building a virtual world where they can’t get hurt, cold, bored, excited or anything at all that resembles a real life. Sound familiar? It did to us at Mike Ball, so a year or so back we set about investigating an itinerary that might have the Mums and Dads dragging their young dragon slayers, kicking and screaming out of ‘Neverland’, and tossing them straight out into Sea World… not the theme park, I’m talking the actual ocean. Summer breeze in the face, the swish of the ship’s wake, the crisp smack in the face that is that first plunge off the deck. Taste the salt. See the fish. Squint at the sun. Lose your hat in the wind. Ditch the Spotify. Play the album.

Spoilsport’s three-day trip from Lizard Island to Cairns gets you and yours out into the most beautiful real world there is… it’s Vinyl Day… X 3.

 

 

 


by Trevor Jackson

There’s a genuine steamships’ telegraph in my loungeroom. Salvaged from the depths. It’s in pretty good condition considering the time it spent underwater. Its bells still ring, and on the faceplate, it reads : Full Ahead, Half Ahead, Dead Slow, Finished with Engines. Inside; a series of chains and cogs once connected it from a wheelhouse, to an engine room. An identical telegraph in each room, enabled the captain and the engineer to ‘speak’ to each other. That’s how it was done in the golden age of steam. Famous ships like Titanic and Bismarck had them. Closer to home, Captain William Knight, master of the SS Yongala, now the world’s most fabulous wreck dive, had one beside him. It was the evening of March 23, 1911. (See Figure 1.)

 

Figure 1. Cyclone Tracking Map of Yongala Wreck.

 

18:00: Full Ahead: Captain Knight could see the Whitsunday Passage begin to open up before him to the north. A brisk breeze from the south west wasn’t concerning him too much. If he had seen the warning flags when he left Mackay earlier, he might have done the prudent thing and anchored up. But he hadn’t seen them. The Dent Island lighthouse keeper watched the ship pass by at dusk. All seemed fine. Yongala steamed north at ‘Full Ahead’.

22:00: Half Ahead: Well before midnight, the weather took a dramatic turn.
A full gale from the south east kicked off. With the Whitsundays now well behind them, the developing gales ran rampant in the open sea space. Waves were mounting up to the east of Cape Upstart. By 22:00, Captain Knight was faced with the proverbial ‘rock/hard place’ decision. To his port, mainland Australia. To starboard, the coral. He couldn’t turn either way. His only option was to just run with it, but the further north he got, the greater the fetch behind him. The waves just kept getting bigger. Yongala was a fast ship. With a gale behind her she may have been doing close to 20 knots.
To steady the ship, and to keep her steering straight without actually surfing, Knight signals, ‘Half Ahead’.

23:30: Slow Ahead: Near the centre of a cyclone, you can attest to two things… mind numbing wind, and zero visibility. The poor visibility is caused by rain, and the rain would become Yongala’s nemesis. With the ship now struggling to keep straight, Captain Knight noticed a lagging in steam pressure. His fires were dying. Ordinarily, no amount of rain down the funnels would have any effect, but Yongala was now in the grim clutches of the cyclone…Niagara falls were cascading straight down the funnels. The fires went out…No fire, no steam, no forward motion….I like to think Captain Knight, in a fruitless gesture to give the engineers time to escape the ships’ bowels, tried to utilise the very last of his dwindling steam. The telegraph bell rang for ‘Slow Ahead’.

00:00: Finished with Engines: In a few minutes, Yongala would turn side on to the wind. Her fate was sealed. The next big set and she’d be gone. The ship and 122 souls, condemned to the dark depths. Silenced forever. Knight would have been on the bridge up until the waves swept him away. Perhaps in a final act of command, his knarred fingers shunted that telegraph handle one more notch, and a final bell, rang out that night, ‘Finished with Engines’.

 

Dive back in time and into history.
7 Night Yongala and Coral Sea Expeditions February | March | April 2023/24

David Robinson – Yongala Wreck – Mike Ball Photo of the Year Competition Winner 2021/22

 

 


by Trevor Jackson

On Spoilsport, there’s an unwritten mindset. It’s not in any manual and never spoken of too much.
It’s this… Go further. Do more. Be better. Give the most…. That’s the first time I’ve written it down, but in this past 6 or 8 months, we’ve seen it in its truest and most enduring form. Normally it just manifests itself as say, constantly improving itineraries, or finding ways to excel in the galley. But in 2022, it’s come down into the heart and soul of keeping a great company at the top of its game, and to be frank sometimes, it’s even been a matter of survival, one might even go so far as to say…. It’s been trench warfare!

Let me explain.

In the last six months we’ve had more than a few departure days that have gone thus. One minute we are good to go, the next we are two dive staff, a chef and an engineer down.  Covid protocols suddenly had us staring across the desk wondering if this is the time we have to cancel because we simply couldn’t crew the boat properly. Then it comes…. An email has been sent out, a phone call, a text, a facebook message….The mighty crew respond. In a matter of hours, a First Mate is ironing his old chef whites, an Engineer is setting up his dive gear, a chef is learning to make beds. We’ve flown Skippers back from interstate, had Instructors cleaning windows, and had a General Manager who came out and did lookout duty for 22 dives in a row!

No matter what it took, by the time the mighty ship cast lines each Thursday evening, she was competently and safely crewed, with people we knew could get the job done seamlessly. And they did!

Thankfully, those days look to be well and truly behind us. We can now reflect on how everyone just stood up and cracked on when the going got tough. There’s no doubt the crew of Spoilsport have a workplace worth believing in. All of them want to be part of something enduring and great, but mostly, I think we sailed proudly through those troubled waters because they themselves, as individuals, are inspiring.

The guests that have joined us this year have experienced trips that have equaled and exceeded any that we’ve ever done. The diving has been stunning, the food incredible… But above all, they’ve seen a crew bonded with joy and commitment, to always be the best…..  Go further. Do more. Be better. Give the most ……  That’s the kind of liveaboard experience I’d want … How bout you?

 


by Trevor Jackson

“As soon as I gave my daughters their phones, I lost them. They disappeared into their rooms and came back 5 years later”…This was the warning our ship’s engineer had for me when the inevitable came. “Dad, can I get a phone?”. In our household we held off for as long as we could, yet at just 13, our eldest is now fully connected to the world. Each morning when I drive her to school we go past several school bus stops…..It doesn’t seem to matter who’s at those bus stops or what school they are heading to, or if they are boys or girls…all those kids are doing exactly the same thing…Staring at phones….and not just some of them, ALL of them, without exception.  Nobody is talking face to face to anybody! The most common thing I hear when I have a winge about this modern affliction is, ‘Well these are the times we live in and that’s what kids do nowadays, you wouldn’t want them to be left out would you?”. Usually this is enough to have me slinking back in behind my desk to check out my likes…but are we just copping out as parents by using that excuse?

Frankly, I don’t want to lose my eldest to 5 years of self-inflicted isolation. For that matter I’m not keen on losing any of the younger ones to that when the time comes. Sure, a smartphone might connect you to your friends, or to TIK TOK, or Twitter, or whatever social media is the flavour of the day,…but we are most assuredly disconnecting them from the world. The real one that is. The one with hot and cold, light and dark, wet and dry, pain and joy. On a phone, you can only simulate that stuff. To get it for real you need to get real. Trouble is, if you try and get them away from the cyber world, by going camping or bushwalking or fishing, the sneaky little cherubs will outsmart you. Out there in the bush, under the milky way, they’re under their blankets, hiding the fact that they’ve got phone range. The tell-tale glow from beneath the covers, will let you know it’s been folly.

There is however, one solution. One sure-fire way to inch your way back. You’ve got to get out of range, proper good. Lament no more mums and dads, there is a way! Get out here, with us, on Spoilsport. Out here there is NO RANGE. Out here there’s only real people, a real ocean, the real world. Out here you can reconnect. Not by phone, face to face. Reclaim the small joys in life. See the delight on the kids’ faces when they’re face to face with creatures of the deep. Turtles, Stingrays, Giant Clams. It’s all there in the shallows. All they need is a mask, a snorkel and a sense of adventure. Dropkick the Nokia and kickstart the ‘oohs and aahs’.  All you’ve got to do is take that first step and [the irony is stunning] pick up the phone.

 

 


Spoilsport-Adventure-Diving-Mike-Ball-Dive

by Captain Trevor Jackson

When I was a boy, my life was straight out of an adventure novel. We lived a few hundred metres from a quite little bay, filled with fish, coral and rocks. At about age 13, our little gang built a raft from oil drums, timber and rope. We’d pole the raft around in the shallows spearing flathead and bream, then it would be frypans on an open fire and dreams of grander things. There was a book. A book I held dear. It was my blueprint for life. I read it cover to cover at least twice a year until it literally fell apart. A month back, my wife and I were chatting one night and I remembered the book. I told her about how it had been the driving force behind me wanting be a sailor and a diver, and that had shaped both of our lives. Google…Amazon…. it wasn’t hard to find a copy. Two weeks later there it was, a ragged old copy of my inspiration…the true story….”Escape to Adventure”.

The story starts in 1945. Ex-soldier George Konrat is having a hard time in the year immediately following the war. He and his friends are ostracized by their own people and hunted by the Allies. They have nowhere to live, no food and no hope. Together they decide to escape their perils by ‘procuring’ a small steamship anchored in Hamburg harbour. They steal the ship and after a year of evading just about everybody….they settle into a life of diving, thieving , black marketing, romancing, smuggling, gun running, bribery and general treachery. [All the cool stuff]. But mostly, they just dive.

They dive for sponges in Portugal, guns in Turkey, treasure in Morocco. They evade the law, they evade the mafia, heck they even evade the tax man!!! For 10 years George edges his way, bit by bit, towards the place where he will eventually settle down and leave his tiny ship. He steps off the boat onto the very wharf that Spoilsport now leaves from, in Cairns Australia.

I read my new copy, cover to cover the moment it arrived and decided “My crew must have this”. I brought the book on board and spread the word. “Read this, it set me on this path, it will inspire you too.”

Over the next few trips, the book made its way through many hands. Its message is simple and powerful. It reminds us that, despite the troubles of modern life, world is your oyster. One by one, the crew have come to the wheelhouse and we’ve marvelled at Georges story. To me the fact that he made his way right here, to Trinity Wharf, always amazes.

Our adventure though, is ongoing. Every Thursday we fire up the Yanmars, point our ship to sea, put the harbour lights behind us, and we go diving. So if you ever find yourself at Trinity Wharf, and the inclination for excitement takes you over, look to the north over the Coral Sea and take that step. I’m not suggesting you nick a ship and spend the next decade pillaging the ocean and evading the law; but for a week at a time, you could jump on Spoilsport, pretend you’re George and just, ‘Escape to Adventure’.

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Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard

by Captain Trevor Jackson

I turned all the lights off, just to take it all in. It was spooky calm and overcast. Spoilsports compass read North by northwest. Ahead lay 7 hours of magic carpet ride. The lighthouse at Bougainville Reef began to dip below the horizon in our wake. All I could hear was the faint hum of the motors and the swish of water. Everyone had retired for the night, the crew were asleep, it was just me and the Coral Sea. I took a sip of coffee and leaned, nose pressed against the window… then across the stillness I heard it… ”When you’re an adult, no one is going to pay you to stare out the window”

It was my grade 6 teacher coming for a visit. Coming to remind me that the world is a serious place. And you know, lately, it has been a serious place. Very serious.

You don’t need me to rehash the goings-on… But what I can tell you is about a way out, even if only briefly. You see I’ve discovered something that will change your world… I call it… the ‘Spoilsport Time Machine’. Here’s how it works.

You’re sitting at home getting bombarded hourly with news of the world. Djokovic, COVID, Afghanistan. It’s like it never lets up [that’s coz it never lets up]. You pack your dive gear, jump on a plane and head on down to the time machine. A glass of champagne and you’re away… The news of the world fades west with the sun.

By dawn, it’s wind on the water, birds zooming, flying fish… well flying I guess. All the dark clouds that shrouded you on the plane are gone with a capital “G”. It’s days of sun and fun, nights of laughter and full bellies… Pretty soon you’ve forgotten all about the tennis player.
And so it goes. Tropical limbo, until the time comes to re-enter the known universe. Coming down the Cairns leads, all phones leap back to life. But here’s the thing. You’ve missed a week. Things have jumped forward. Things have moved on. While you were gone, everything changed. Even if only by a small increment, you jumped forward in time.

Okay… I’m drawing a bit of a long bow here, but it really is a thing. There’s no internet on board and that’s deliberate. We tried it once and disconnected it. Life was better. And I know; I hear ya…
‘That’s how the world goes round’… But, for a week at a time, we can go without. For a week at a time, we can all jump on the time machine and just… chill.

We can forget the world is a serious place, raise a glass to my
grade 6 teacher and just… stare out the window.

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by Captain Trevor Jackson

Ashmore reef. I have to confess, I don’t know anything at all about Ashmore Reef. I don’t even know exactly where it is. It’s UP there… Somewhere I guess. Closer to Papua New Guinea than Queensland. In fact the only thing I know about Ashmore Reef, is that at the end of 2023, I’m taking Spoilsport there. There’s something supercool about that. The whole not having a clue in the world thing.

On my desktop at work there is a quote from a newspaper, at least a century old. It reads thus:

“Crew Wanted. For Hazardous Journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in event of success.” Ernest Shackleton 4 Burlington St

I love the sentiment of that newspaper ad. Written in the days when ‘ships were wood and men were iron’. It reminds us that it’s not that long ago we didn’t really know that much about our planet.
Of course, the days of true romantic adventure are mostly over, there’re not many places we haven’t been, seen, taken a selfie at…Or are there?…

Ashmore Reef… Where is it? What is it? What will we see there? Are there any ship wrecks, whale sharks, MEGALODONS?… Will we fall off the edge of the earth? Probably not. But suffice to say that when we go to Ashmore, it will be a Shakletonesque Expedition. We’ve got rough itinerary, a great plan, and we are looking for a group of divers who fancy a bit of YE OLDE world exploration. And who wouldn’t?

Now don’t get me wrong, we’ve got the latest technology, satellite imagery, navigation electronics and world class crew to keep it super safe. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions have spent 50 plus years getting divers to places no one has been before. But what’s under the water? Well that’s still to discover. And it could be YOU, that discovers it!

Ernest Shackleton and his crew went on to create what is arguably the greatest adventure story the world has ever known. Where this will differ, is that there won’t be any: bitter cold, complete darkness or constant danger. What there will be, for those spirited souls who join us, is the chance to emulate the same sense of discovery and adventure that drove those now legendary sailors to answer Shackleton’s call to arms. The chance to seek for the first time, what is still genuinely unknown.

All that remains is for you is to ask yourself, am I up for it?

 


by Captain Trevor Jackson

I was at the checkout in Woolies a while back, getting frustrated. There was this woman in front of me unpacking her trolley at a pace that even the most patient amongst us would consider mind-numbingly slow. One can of peas… stop to consider, put it back, pick up a different can of peas… Yes this one first I think. She had on a bright red dress, silver-grey hair, pencil-thin wrists, bright red lipstick and PERFECT teeth. She seemed sweet enough and since I was in no rush I stood back and watched the scene unfold. About ten minutes went by until it was established that her total came to $62.90. Another few minutes rolled by while she fumbled with her change, in the end she had the EXACT money. Like she’d been adding it up with a calculator as she went around the store. I was becoming intrigued.

The cashier had now moved on to me, but the old lady’s bags were still sitting at the end of the checkout. I thought I might lend her a quick hand so I walked forward and asked … “Can I help you put these in your trolley?” She flashed me those teeth in agreeance and giggled as the big strong gorilla zipped up her chilly bag and flexed his young[ish] muscles in assistance.

“Lifting those can be quite hard at my age”, she quipped. “When I was born my father was off fighting in the war”… I was instantly besotted with her and asked if she needed me to help her to the bus or even give her a ride home. She waved me away as if to say ‘Don’t make a fuss’. As she turned to leave I asked her. ‘“Was your father off fighting the Germans or the Japanese?” For a moment she blushed, then her words stopped me where I stood… “Are you trying to flatter me young man, my father was off fighting the Turks!”, then added, “My name is Violet and I’m over 100 years old!”

So now I literally begged her to let me drive her home. We idled down to the car park and chatted about all the things she had seen in that remarkable century. We talked about her marriage, her kids, the moon landings, heck we even talked about COVID 19! Pulling up to the little bungalow she’d called home for 50 odd years, I felt compelled to ask : “Hey Violet, any regrets?” “Only one”, she responded, “I’ve lived almost my whole life in Queensland, and I’ve never seen the reef.” and with that, she was gone.

Her words hung in the car all the way home, “I’ve never seen the reef”.

Two weeks later, on the calmest day I’ve ever seen, with a besotted gorilla clutching her hand, Violet saw the reef. Don’t dream about it.

Life’s awesome. Be like Violet. See the reef!

 


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