Mike Ball Dive Expeditions - Blog and Company News

As long as you live

Captain Trevor Jackson

There are plenty of things we don’t understand about the universe. Physicists try to make a fist of it but the bottom line is, no one really knows how it all works. The same is true of nature. Despite centuries of study, there is so much we simply don’t understand. How do geese find their way home after winter? How do bats ‘see’ in the dark? How do turtles find exactly the same patch of beach year after year? But the baffling question that pops up aboard Spoily this time every year is….. How is it that these Dwarf Minke Whales know exactly when and where to show up at the same spot and the same time to give us such a fantastic insight into their lives?

Yep it’s that time of year 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 come right in to check YOU out!

Literally an arm’s length away. The gentle giant spies you with his thoughtful dark eyes, pivots almost imperceptively from side to side, swims away, then comes back even closer. You could reach out and touch him, 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 blessed 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 snorkelers 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 weekend! You won’t forget it for as long as you live. 


A Little Bit Nauti

Captain Trevor Jackson

The family Nautilidae…..Unchanged in half a billion years. Lurking down where the last stretching fingers of light cannot reach. With pin–cameras for eyes and an unbelievably ingenious buoyancy system, they can be brought to the surface and returned to the depths with no ill effects.

That last bit is good to know. Each May the Spoilsport crew are on a mission to catch a few of these living fossils for a university study; and we really don’t want to hurt them in the process.  Problem is, how do you catch a shell fish that lives 500 metres down in the middle of the ocean?

With a little bit of MacGyver-like ingenuity, we have crafted a makeshift crab pot from wire and dozen or so zip ties. We hang a chicken in the centre and tie the loose end of a 300m rope to a bombie at Osprey Reef and let the lot descend into the depths overnight.

During the daylight hours, Nautilus live way deeper than our 300 metre pot, but at night they come up to the ‘shallow’ depths to feed. The next morning; crack-o-dawn, comes the bit everyone on board is waiting for; the chance to dive with and photograph a genuine ‘creature of the deep’.

Nautiluses don’t swim at breakneck speeds, in fact they are considerably slower than humans; so it’s a highlight for everyone to get in the water and cruise around with them. After an hour or so when everyone had had a close look, we guide the Nautilus out beyond the cliff edge where they instinctively dive for the blackness and are gone.

The reaction on board after the dive is spectacular; the enthusiasm for having had the opportunity to get up close to these ancient wonders can hardly be contained. The Nautilus encounter is not offered on every Coral Sea expedition but in May, we offer the opportunity for guests to come out and get a little bit ……….well…………“Nauti”.

Award-winning cinematographer and researcher Richard Fitzpatrick joined us this March on our first Expedition after our Spoilsport refit.

The Expedition was an absolute success with our onboard guests providing feedback about how exciting it was to learn from Richards expertise on sharks. The Coral Sea provides an excellent ground to observe and research the various resident animals. In his career of 35 years, Fitzpatrick has filmed for clients such as National Geographic, the BBC and Discovery Channel and has been both the cinematographer as well as the subject of numerous underwater documentaries.

The multi award-winning reef videographer held a presentation onboard and cast a spell over our guest capturing the best scenes of their dives. With his continuous research for shark conservation and awareness, Richard Fitzpatrick is a welcome guest on our Expeditions.

Check out the expedition video:


Get on Board

Captain Trevor Jackson

Consider for a moment all the things that would make a dive destination great. It’d need to have spectacular marine life, amazing geography and crystal-clear water. Be remote enough to have few visitors but, with the right planning, be accessible. A wreck or two wouldn’t go astray. Oh, and throw in a couple of mind-numbing drop-offs to round the whole package off – I’m not talking about sedate little 40 metre drop-offs here, I mean serious ones – there’s nothing like hovering out off a wall in 1500 metres to remind you you’re alive!!! Chuck in a drift dive, some nice swim throughs and an extra dollop of big shark action for good measure. Yep that would just about do it for me. But where to find it? The answer to that is simple: Bougainville Reef.

Australia may have ended up a French-speaking nation had the undersea mountain now known as Bougainville reef not halted the progress of famed maritime explorer Louis-Antoine Bougainville on June 5th 1768. Despite suspecting that the fabled Great Southern Land lay just 100 miles west of the reef, the poor state of his ships, and the weariness of his crews forced him to turn north and head for home. For divers however, his discovery is becoming one of the must-see destinations in this part of the world for a very good reason; in terms of a dive destination, it literally, has got the lot.

Wrecks: there are two giant iron ships perched on the eastern side of the reef which marks either end of one the most spectacular drift dives you will ever do.

Walls: Steeper and deeper. They defy belief while you defy gravity. The northern and western faces are dead vertical and the visibility is so good you will sprout wings and fly.

Remote Shark Action: Hammerheads, Silver Tips and Marbled Rays that know no fear. With every turn of the head something new and huge.

Bougainville Reef really is the mother of all dive sites. It’s got a heaped spoonful of everything and never fails to offer something new with every visit. As I write this article we’re steaming home after an unforgettable 7-day foray that encompassed the Bougainville Reef, the mighty Osprey Reef and the photogenic Ribbon Reefs. If that sounds like the kind of trip that might satisfy the kind of diver you are, then it’s time to get on board.

That Blue and Lime Line

By Captain Trevor Jackson

The wheelhouse of Spoilsport stretches widthwise right across the whole vessel. Long and thin and wide, it resembles what would have once been known as a “Bridge” in ye olde nautical terms, rather than a wheelhouse, which you might find perched atop a fishing boat or tugboat. Windows which face the sides of the boat are the end caps of this bridge and it is here that I often find myself staring out to sea after an overnight crossing to Osprey.

As the crew busily prepare the deck for the first dive, I stand there in wonder and simply take it all in. The dramatic azure soaked cliff edge often lies directly underfoot; a stark contrast of pale lime green, and then, whoosh, it drops off to almost blue-black. Here the deep meets the shallow like a brisk slap across the face. There’s no warm-up, it’s just a defining “WHACK”!!!! At the joining face of these two contrasts, all manner of marine life, large and small, congregates and merges to the surface. Sharks and bait balls, reef fish and mantas. Collectively they marvel at the oceans abrupt halt as the reef stretches from a thousand metres up to ankle deep, in the space of a boat length.

I often stand at that window and just stare at it for ages, like it’s the greatest show on earth. It’s hard to describe what it’s really like but just last week my daughter asked, ‘what’s it like out at Osprey Daddy?’…. In an effort to simplify it so she could understand I replied, ”Well darling, it’s like a besser block in a bathtub’…….She didn’t quite get it, but the expression reminded me of what a spectacle Osprey Reef really is…100 miles into the vast Pacific Ocean, where terra firma crashes vertically into the depths, where even the fish seem in awe. Where we can perch the boat right above that slap in the face …….and stare disbelievingly at ….that blue and lime line.


By Captain Trevor Jackson

Mike Ball and I have very little in common. For one, he’s a bit handsome…even my OWN kids think I look like SHREK! He’s reasonably well spoken while my language could pull the skin off a custard!

One thing that we do have in common though, is that we’ve both been diving for a very long time. And when you’ve been around the block a few dozen times, you tend to underreact to things. A dive that has almost everyone buzzing; we oldies might describe as “Yeh, okay, not bad…yeh it was alright”. I guess what I’m saying is that after a while it takes more and more to impress…and so what happened up north this year on our Turtle Spectacular was…. well, unexpected. You see, Mike and I finally had something in common…on this particular expedition, we both saw our respective…”BEST SITE EVER”

For Mike, it came on day three. After steaming north for 400 miles we reached Great Detached Reef and on the first dive of the day we were on a site we’d discovered a year or two back called ‘OH MY BOMBIE’.   Strange name I know, but once you’ve dived it… you get the message! The place is ‘next level’, off the map cool!!!  I’m not even going to try to describe it except to say… Bombie up from 40 metres to about twelve….marine life BONANZA.

Suffice to say, if a geezer with as many runs on the board as MB reckons it’s the best site he’s ever seen, it’s probably worth a lap.

A couple of days late it was my turn to be impressed…this time with a site called EPIC. And since I can’t resist the cliché, here it comes…’Epic by name, Epic by nature’ [sheesh almost gagged writing that but it is just simply true]. I don’t know how deep the water is around ‘Epic’ but it was dark and mysterious enough to impress the crap out of this old tech head. And then it comes up as sheer as the Swiss Alps to a plateau on top which is roughly a couple of tennis courts across. The coral garden on top? Well if there is a god, this is what he intended coral to look like! I got out of the water almost speechless that, so much could be seen in so little time in so little an area – EPIC!

Like I said it takes a fair bit to get Mike and I jumping up and down on the dive deck like excited kids but there we were…. like teenyboppers. If you’d like to revisit your youth, and feel that thrill again, join us next year at the Far Northern reefs. I promise you it will be…………..EPIC


Yongala Wreck & Coral Sea Expedition

Tough Decision

By Captain Trevor Jackson

One of the real eye-openers from our wreck diving trips to Torres Straits a few summers ago were the smaller and less known wrecks that turned out to be genuine highlights. The wreck of the Pandora for example, offered little in terms of structure and marine life, but in terms of history and its significance to our country, it was the diver’s version of Anzac Cove.

We visited the Pandora on a glassy New Year’s Day and it left all on board with a sense of having a tangible connection with the greatest maritime story ever told; the Mutiny on the Bounty. On the site of the Pandora lay the remains of the ship that captured the mutineers and was attempting to bring them to front the cruel and unjust 18th-century British courts. That connection with history can sometimes massively enhance a dive, especially when the opportunity only comes around so rarely. Skip forward to next year, and jump 600 miles down the coast… We get to touch history once again…..the SS Gothenburg.

In February 1875 the SS Gothenburg smashed into the unforgiving jaws of coral at Old Reef to the east of Townsville. The sea soon had its way with her and she condemned every woman and child aboard to a watery demise. All of the ship’s officers died and many of Australia’s highest profile dignitaries were also numbered amongst those perished. One poor soul lost his wife and all six of his children. Fate handed him the double-edged sword of survival. Barely 20 men made it ashore to nearby Holbourne Island. There, they found themselves so destitute that they decided to carve their names into a turtle shell, in the hope someone might one day know they at least made it off the wreck. At the time it was a disaster of unparalleled proportions.

The remnants of the terror on that fateful February night now lay in about 15 metres on the calm side of Old Reef…..and the site is visited in conjunction with a trip to the mighty SS Yongala, which lays a few hours to the west.

Late next year we are giving wreck buffs and historians several opportunities to travel back in time a few hundred years, and touch a real piece of Australian history. And what a choice there is….Raine Island, the far northern Barrier Reef and Pandora, or Yongala, Flinders Reef and Gothenburg……either way, it’s a tough decision.


Plenty of Room

Captain Trevor Jackson

My darling wife bought me a ‘Fitbit’… It’s a little watch thingy that keeps track of your exercise, heart rate. how many steps you’ve taken in a day, that kind of thing. I don’t EXACTLY know what message she was trying to get across to me, but it may have something to do with the fact that I’m not as, shall we say…….’lean’…as I once was.

At first, I was reluctant. The last thing I wanted was some gadget demonstrating to me every hour on the hour that I was a fair dinkum bonafide sloth. But, after a few weeks, I absolutely LOVED it….and I loved it because it had gotten me up off my ever-widening caboose and it had me moving all day every day.

I set the thing for 10,000 steps a day and stuck to it religiously. I spent two weeks at home in sunny Cairns and walked everywhere – the school, the shops, the neighbors… anywhere I had previously driven a car to, became my mission. Suddenly the pounds started to fall off without me even noticing. Within a fortnight I was completely hooked on my little machine…and completely dedicated to belting out 10,000 steps per day…. come hell or high water.

THEN… Out of the blue I had to go back to sea. What, I thought, is to become of my new-found walking addiction? How can I possibly get my 10,000 steps in ON THE BOAT? All that had been lost would be regained. I felt robbed. There was no way I could crank out that many steps within the confines of our favorite little ship, right? Well no…wrong as a matter of fact. You see this week at sea I’ve learned a thing or two about the dimension of this ‘not so little’ ship.

She’s 20 paces wide, 60 paces long and a whopping 85 paces from the wheelhouse to the dive platform. In fact, she’s a giant when you get to know her. That’s the thing about catamarans…they’ve got space and they’ve got it in droves. Sheeeesh…. we’ve virtually got a full-length cricket pitch in the saloon. Don’t believe me? Come check it out for yourself…and bring your Fitbit…..there’s plenty of room.

Unabashed Plug

Captain Trevor Jackson

Unabashed Plug…I don’t do it that often, but brace yourselves; here it comes. If you’re a fair dinkum adventurer type diver; if you like going WAY the hell off the beaten track; if you like viz in excess of 30 metres and if you want to go places that are virtually never available to the general public then here is a trip you might want to jump on. We shall call it…. the MBDE Turtle Spectacular. And it’s not like anything else we do.

For a start, it begins and ends at Lizard Island in Far North Qld. Both the start and finish of the expedition will feature low level flights over the stunning Great Barrier Reef. Day one of the 7 night affair will feature the fabulous Cod Hole at the very top of the Ribbon reefs. From here we head north into the virtual unknown… stopping at North Broken Passage, Tijou Reef, Great Detached Reef and Raine Island – famous for its convict built stone lighthouse and for being the largest Green turtle rookery in the world. Tis here where things get truly ‘spectacular”. Tiger sharks, turtles and some of the best coral you will EVER see (just ask anyone who did this expedition last year). And while you’re bathing in all that visual splendour, I will be upstairs in the bridge plotting a course to Australia’s MOST significant historical shipwreck, the HMS Pandora. The Pandora gained notoriety by capturing and transporting the mutineers of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame…. all of whom had to scramble for their lives as the ship struck coral and went to a watery grave. The ship is so remote, so unusually inaccessible, that this could well be your one chance to tick it off your diving bucket list. From the Pandora we turn around and weave our magic southward over the course of three days, back to Lizard Island and those awaiting aircraft.

Competition is fierce amongst the crew just to get rostered on for this trip (that should tell you something) and who could blame them. The chance to mix historical colonial water/landmarks, with spectacular ocean wilderness is too great an opportunity to let pass by. This year’s departure on Nov 20 is almost sold out. However, with two Turtle Spectacular departures scheduled for 2018 – November 12th & 26th, there is still time to join this bucket list itinerary.

Enlarge images below.

Safety Counts
Captain Trevor Jackson

I’m a late blooming father. At 51, I have three kids under 7!!! They are the love of my life….precious beyond comprehension. They were with me in the car the other night, stuck at the traffic lights, when, for reasons I can’t explain, I began to think about the boat and how I’m responsible for all those lives on my conscience when we are way out there. But then I thought…hang on, its only 400 kilometres from Cairns. Not so far in the grand scheme of things. Right?

Half an hour later I pulled into the driveway with a different perspective. On the way home we’d driven past a car accident. An ambulance was there and I’m fairly sure that everyone involved was going to be alright. But the ambulance couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes from the scene. As I pulled up at home I remember thinking “What happens when the incident is 4 or 5 hours away from emergency care?”. Well I will tell you what happens in that scenario… air power.

Australia has an awesome emergency services system, second to none in the world. With helicopters, emergency doctors and elite paramedics we are well and truly covered. Right? Well, for the most part we are. But what if we go really remote. What if we go where the helicopter can’t reach. What then?

If you are on a dive boat and you’re 400 kilometres from the nearest decent-sized town then you had better hope your boats crew has its ‘shit’, well and truly together. On Spoilsport, every few months we run training weeks dedicated to specific emergency scenarios. One week it might be ” Lost Diver Week”, the next might be ‘Man Overboard Week”. On my last expedition it was “Fire Week”.

Fire is about the worst thing that can happen on a boat and we take it very, very seriously. The crew were smashed through their paces, day after day and at the end of the week I emailed Mike and said “I’m happy to say Spoilsports’ crew is the best drilled fire crew in the Queensland fleet”.

Like I said, I pulled into the driveway at home and I thought about the road accident we’d passed. I thought about ‘Fire Week’ and as I looked into the back seat to my daughters I thought about the parents of the people we take to sea. Both crew and passengers. And I had a quiet confidence that everything would be alright. I’m a late blooming father ……..to me… SAFETY COUNTS.

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