Mike Ball Dive Expeditions - Blog and Company News


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!

 


by Captain Trevor Jackson

There are several iconic wildlife interactions in the world that simply transcend reality. By that I mean, while you’re there, it doesn’t seem real, it seems too good to be true. Stampeding Elephants on the dusty plains of Kenya, Humpbacks posturing for a mate in the blue seas of Tonga, Great Whites ambushing the cage in the chilly green of the Neptune Islands. These encounters are bucket list quality stuff, the fodder of a thousand snapshots, of endless dinner party stories, the excitement, the thrill, the awe … it’s all happening. But there’s one I’ve left off my short list, one that conjures up not only the emotions and thrills I just mentioned, but also feelings of hope and of peace, of good things in our future … one that reminds us of true beauty , true grace … MINKES.

Every year, for just a short 6 week window, Dwarf Minke whales arrive for their winter layover in the Ribbon Reefs. Just 100 miles north of Cairns, the Ribbons provide a sanctuary from the high seas for what is arguably the most curious creature on earth. Indeed, its not just seeing Minkes that is the mindblower, it’s the way they seem to want to see you as well. Here’s how it works … the vessel searches for a short time and finds, or is approached, by a small group of Minke Whales, usually just two or three to start. The engines are switched off. Moments later, as the boat begins to drift, an eddy of calm water is formed on the windward side. Two long lines are trailed from the boat and the snorkelers swim out. Within minutes, we are drifting easily down wind. Minkes are a sociable mob and like to get together when somethings going on, so before long , the two or three, have become ten or fifteen!

After 20 or so minutes, the whales begin to swim in ever decreasing circles. 20 metres, 15 metres, 10 metres, 5 metres….Closer and closer until they are within arms reach … Sliding by in epic silence. A giant black eye peers right into your soul. You cant help but ask … “What’s that whale think of me?”. You’re reminded that the world has a place for all creatures, and we are just one of them.

To say swimming with Minkes is ‘life changing’, would be to reaffirm what almost everyone says, the moment they climb from the water. I often see folks looking out to sea with a strange calm about them, as though they had finally found something they’d been looking for, all their lives. I realize it must seem like an exaggeration and I guess there’s no real way to prove it, unless of course, you experience it for yourself.

See you on board.

Check availability for Minke Whale Expeditions or Email Reservations for more information resv@mikeball.com


Quetta Brown

08
Feb

by Captain Trevor Jackson

She was the only child out of 30, to survive. Despite endless speculation, she lived her entire life never really knowing who she was. Her family perished when the RMS Quetta sank; February 28, 1890. Rescued from the water the following day, she was adopted by a Thursday Island ship’s captain, Edmund Brown. Because no one could definitively say who she was, Edmund renamed her Cecil Brown for the adoption. She was known publicly however as “Quetta Brown” In 1942, well into her fifties, after being hounded by the press for her entire life, she was quoted as saying: “I wish they would leave me alone! They don’t know who I am. I don’t know who I am. Nobody knows who I am”.

Cecil Quetta Brown was just 18 months old when her parents carried her up the gangplank of the London bound, RMS Quetta. Just walking and barely able to speak, she was too young to remember her own name when, less than a week after the ship had left Brisbane, the shallow swirling waters of the Torres Straits stole her true identity. The RMS Quetta had her hull smashed in by an unknown rock, taking 134 to a salty end.
Interviews with the girl and every surviving passenger from the ship failed to shed any light on who she really was, only on who she ‘could be’. The only words she said were “Mama”,”Jimmsy” and “Willie”, but the ships manifest showed that there was more than one family on board who had young boys with both the names James and William. All of them, parents and children, were now dead. The toddler had been dragged naked onto the decks of the sinking ship by one of the crew members and despite having been accidently dropped into the water, she somehow found herself in a lifeboat; cold, bruised and desperately crying out for her family.

The survivors of the Quetta wreck were plucked from the sea and shipped to nearby Thursday Island. In the weeks that followed, argument ensued as to who should take care of the toddler. Not able to speak for herself, several of the island community and indeed several of the rescued survivors expressed a desire to adopt and raise the nameless child. Local identity Edmund Brown initially called for donations to send her back to Scotland, to a family most likely considered to be her own kin. But upon receiving photos of her in advance, the Scottish clan denied her ancestry; they didn’t recognise her as having any resemblance to those known to them. Unclaimed, she ended up remaining on the island and Captain Browns fondness for her proved worthy, she remained with him until his death some ten years later. From there she was well cared for amongst the extensive Brown family.

One can only imagine the torment that befell Quetta Brown as she progressed through her youth. The tragedy of her life was played out in the press almost constantly as she grew into adulthood. The Quetta shipwreck was a major event of the era. The massive loss of life was unequalled at the time. RMS Quetta would not be forgotten easily and whenever the story resurfaced in the press, the saga of the orphan was always involved. Quetta Brown eventually married in 1915 and lived what some might call a disjointed life, never fully putting the events of 1890 behind her.

“I don’t know who I am. Nobody knows who I am”

Spoilsport is set to revisit the wreck of the RMS Quetta in 2022/3.
Email Reservations for more information resv@mikeball.com
Image supplied by Queensland State Archives


North Direction Island Summers here...

by Captain Trevor Jackson

You know how you’ve got those odd moments in your life that you remember as if they were yesterday … but you don’t know why? There’s nothing special about them, could just be watering the yard or sitting on a wharf looking at fish with the kids. Just stuck there in your head, forever!

I’ve got a few, and for some reason one popped into my head just this afternoon. It was about 35 years ago, around Xmas time. I was driving along a sugar cane road in my uncle Rons’ yellow Holden Rodeo. A diesel one. In those days you could jump out and run alongside a diesel car. I remember thinking how slow this thing was and how it didn’t matter that it was slow, coz I wasn’t in any rush. This was after all northern Qld, and in northern Qld, we know how to chill.

Just then a James Taylor song came on the radio and it went something like this … “Summers here, and I’m for that , got my rubber sandals, got my straw hat”… not one of his most famous tracks but it stuck in my head for 35 years, and I still sing it out loud on days like today. Days when the water turns to glass and the horizon blends into the sky. Summer … tropical, hot … air so thick you could carve it … a mirror finish on the sea in every direction … no need for a mask , you can pretty much see everything that’s down there from the top deck … Summer… diving weather.

Now I wouldn’t want to give anyone false expectations, it does sometimes get a bit windy in summer for like ONE DAY! But in general, as we move into what folk from the good ole USA would call, ‘the holidays’, its more often than not what we like to describe as, postcard weather. Sure, a puff of wind or two might butt in and attempt spoil the fun , but that doesn’t usually happen till after ‘the holidays’; so for the time being we can ignore those and just focus on what’s real, and here, and now.

It’s been a challenging year, you’ve been driven underground by this pandemic, you’ve put in the yards, done the right thing and now the sun is coming up to remind us that it’s a big beautiful world out there. Shelve the doom, drop kick the gloom, dust off the diving gear and start singing a bit of James Taylor with me…’Summers here, and I’m for that , got my rubber sandals, got my straw hat’ …

See you on board.


by Captain Trevor Jackson

When I was a kid … quite by accident, I discovered snorkelling. I lived in a little fishing village where, if you were keen, you could march straight off the beach and into adventure. There was nothing much to see, some reddish-brown weed and lots of little red clay rocks, blue jellyfish, a few oysters and the very rare, very sought after …. flathead … rounded out the biodiversity. Viz was 2 metres on an average day, 4 on a good day…and a spectacular 5 metres in the middle of winter on the best day ever … Looking back, not much to rave about but as a 12-year-old boy clutching an Amart spear gun…it was paradise on earth. Summer brought a water temp of around 24, but the viz was nil to nothing. Winter was when it got special. Cruising around in the shallows after school like a Great White … eyes peeled for that tell-tale teardrop Flathead shape on the sand that signified … dinner if I was good enough. Those were the days when you couldn’t get me out of the water. Despite winter water temps of around 14 degrees, my heart warms when I think of it …

These days kids are more familiar with iPhones than snorkels and more adept with texting than duck diving. As city living parents, opportunities to show our kids the thrill of undersea discovery are few and far between, but recently, we thought it might be a good idea to remedy that.

Our thinking went along the lines … Wouldn’t it be cool if we ran a few dive trips that started off in super calm water. Trips for families, some snorkel friendly islands perhaps, a bit of beach fun, some kayaks, a bit of calm … a bit of ‘just breath in and chill out’ Sure we’d still be hitting the outer reefs, but lets diversify a bit …

We decided to put thought into action and see if we couldn’t find some islands that would fit the bill. We did a three day trip concentrating on some islands north of Cooktown and hit genuine paydirt. I brought my two young daughters aboard as crash test dummies and along the way, they reminded me of something I’d lost somewhere between being that 12-year-old boy, to being this 55-year-old father … The sheer innocent JOY of it. They discovered beautiful coral gardens, beach snorkelling and critter diving in postcard quality, flat calm, tropical bays. Both of them learned to use a mask and snorkel for the first time and within minutes were pointing out baby sharks and giant clams to this particular, salty old sailor. By the time we moved out to the Ribbons proper, they could use the gear proficiently. The experience was … words fail me.

Our 4 Night / 3 Day Ribbon Reef trips that include a first day of exploration at Lizard and North Direction Islands are now a reality on board Spoilsport. If you want to see the delight on your daughters face when she sees her first blue starfish or green turtle … or want to hear your boy get excited over a giant Cod instead of a video game, then you need to give this a go … I can tell you it’s priceless. But don’t just take my word for it, come out here and join us and see for yourself … I hope to see you and yours … on board soon.

Cod Hole & Ribbon Reefs Expedition – 4 Nights
2020 Departure dates:  5 November | 10 December
2021 Departure dates: 7 January


by Captain Trevor Jackson

A few years ago I was standing at a lectern in a hotel convention room. Mike Ball was beside me and he was looking, unusually, out of sorts. Before us was a group of 28 Americans. A few days prior they had flown all the way from Texas for the dive trip of a lifetime, only to be thwarted at last minute by an annoying little weather anomaly known thereafter as, Cyclone Nathan. The first two days of the trip were gone, but we still had the chance to get out there and give them a shortened, concentrated trip. Mike was renowned for being able to work a crowd but all his best material was falling on sceptical ears. He looked over to me for a hail mary bail out. Boldness was required, so I stepped up to the microphone and simply said …” You’re not going to miss a thing, I’m going to take you to ALL the good spots, with some clever planning and a little hustle, it will be all thriller, no filler.” The room was all smiles and in the subsequent days, we pulled it off … one of the best trips ever.

That was then …

Jump forward to now, and the circumstances of the world mean we have to be bold once again, think a little laterally, then just jump right in. From the end of August we will be doing just that. Short succinct trips that are jam packed with ocean goodness. Leaving from, and returning to Cairns, on alternating weeks, 5 night and 4 night trips that will show you the very best of the Great Barrier Reef and the offshore Coral Sea reefs.

Expect sharks, expect 40 metre viz, expect giant fish, expect to make lifelong friendships, expect world leading service, expect spectacular food…but above all, expect to be blown away…if anything, our little part of the world has gotten better in the last few months. Dates for these trips are now available on the Mike Ball Dive Expeditions website. And while you’re checking them out , keep repeating those words … All thriller … No filler …

We look forward to seeing you on board.

 

Coral Sea & Cod Hole Expedition – 5 Night
2020 Departure dates: 3, 17 September | 15, 29 October | 12 November | 3, 31 December
2021 Departure dates: 14 January | 4, 18 February | 4, 18 March | 1, 15 April | 6, 20 May

Cod Hole & Ribbon Reefs Expedition – 4 Nights
2020 Departure dates: 10 September | 8 October | 5 November | 10 December
2021 Departure dates: 7 January

 


Captain Trevor Jackson

“Everything has changed. There’s no way of knowing yet if things will ever be the same as they were before, but that’s okay.” Those thoughts just popped into my head a moment or two ago… I’m staring out across a very jubilant looking sea, heading to a place I never thought we’d go.  A remote weather station, 450 kilometres off the coast. We’ve got scientists on board for a station crew exchange and for the few days we are there, the crew and I have a second mission… you see, everything has changed and when we go back to things being ‘normal’ we want to be better, more adventurous the shackles of before, thrown to the floor.

It’s likely that for a year or so, the Australian diving scene will have to remain a little introverted. Overseas travel is restricted at the moment and those restrictions, when they are lifted, are likely to leave a legacy of expensive flights and a genuine doubt as to where to go and lets face it, Australian divers want the best, and they want variety. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions have been showing divers both those elements for 50 years, but we are viewing the current world issue as a time to blossom, not fade. Any idea of what we could or couldn’t do, should or shouldn’t do well those ideas are out the door. Now is the time to think laterally. We’ve been talking to our partners, dive shop owners, dive clubs, and divers and we think we know what you want… you want to do a Captain Kirk, and ‘boldly go where no man has gone before’… Well, we’ve got plans to deliver on that.

Wreck trips down south, coral expeditions to the oceanic limits of Australia’s territory, history and heritage… plus we are open to suggestions. Ring us up and tell us what trip you’d like to do, we are open to it… But for me right now,  well I’m literally heading into the wild blue yonder and into the unknown. When we get back in a week the crew will have been diving where no one has EVER dived and we will be wanting to show it to you…very very soon.


Captain Trevor Jackson

We are the last boat standing. By virtue of our schedule, we are still at sea, anchored 50 miles off the coast. Because of the virus, the entire Cairns fleet is tied up as of a few days ago….Some of my crew are gathered here in the wheelhouse, they’re all young and spirited….but they’re looking forlorn, they’re looking at me for some of my, ‘skippers words of wisdom’ …..I don’t want to go down the path of stating the obvious, everyone is already doing that. When we get into port this Thursday, we are all out of a job… I want to tell them it’s all going to be alright, and tell them the future has hope in it… So here goes…

“This virus… it’s just a storm… A very bad one. And what to do in a storm? We tie gear down and square our gear away. We consolidate our tanks and tidy up the decks…And then wind and rain whips insanely through the wires, the bows dig in and the ship shudders and moans… then we wait for the sun to reappear… and then it does… When we come out of the other side of this, there will be work to do. There will be rust stains across the decks, carpets to air out, ice to chip, painting and polishing… Things may never seem the same again, but we will be better than ever, not worse. Stronger than ever, not weaker. Bolder than ever, not meeker. I’ve never seen a storm that didn’t end,  and this one is no different. So let’s get up from here now, and do what we have to do… ride this out. It might take 6 months, it might take a year, or even longer. But when it does end…we will be ready to continue”

Everyone got up from the floor and marched out, Chief Engineer Vinnie was last to leave and he caught my eye as he left..”Good talk skipper, and I think you’re right”…”I am right Vinnie, mark my words… its a long river ahead of us, but eventually, this storm will end.”


Great Barrier Reef - Mike Ball

Captain Trevor Jackson

A year or two back my brother and I were cleaning out our dear old mum’s house… I happened to glance down into the skip we were filling and spotted a diary, one of mine I confess, I kept a diary in my later teens… and there it was… in fact, there were two. Every now and again I pull one of them out and read of my adventures back then.  Living almost permanently at sea on a boat called the ‘Billy Jo’, we traversed the far expanses of the Great Barrier Reef for years. The thing that strikes me about some of my early scribblings is the revere in which young Trev held the reef. Not a page goes by without some poetic description of its sheer expanse and beauty…and the overwhelming sense of gratitude I had to be living in my coral and saltwater home. In some instances, great detail is revealed about specific reefs, what to see at them, what condition they were in. This was back in the mid-’80s, so a fair lump of time has gone by… the obvious question begs… what changes have there been?

 

Well, I’m here to tell you… first hand, armed with the written knowledge of my 19-year-old self, and a current-day good hard look out the window… my GBR, the one I call home, well she’s taken some hits, there’s no denying it… but it has to be said… each and every day… I see unbridled beauty, phenomenal resilience… natures greatest wonder is a powerhouse. The reefs we saw bleached two years ago are regenerating, the reefs that weren’t bleached are soaring… last Minke season was an absolute stunner, I’ve seen more whale sharks in the last 6 months than id seen in the prior 35 years, the turtles at Raine Island this year defied belief in their sheer numbers. But the most overwhelming change in numbers I’ve seen since writing those diaries is the sheer volume of people, young and old,  who actually really care about the reef.

 

As we move into a new decade, there’s a very positive vibe amongst those of us who live out here at sea that things are going to work themselves out. Yeh, we’ve got some work to do, but moving forward I think we can be fairly certain about two things… humans are smart... the reef is Great… and I’ve no doubt that if we use our brains and work together, things will stay that way.


Spectacular Turtles!

Captain Trevor Jackson

I’ve been at sea for 38 years. There’s not a whole lot out here that can make me ‘just shut up and look’, these days. But such was the scene at Raine Island just now. Everyone was back onboard, the tenders hoisted into their cradles…It was late in the day…The sun was trying to bust through the cumulus for one last peek at the island…the dusk was golden…And there they were, on the beach…Turtles…Not dozens, not even hundreds…but thousands!

I radioed the dive deck, stuck my head through the saloon door, got on the intercom. I told everyone, crew and guests alike…  “Drop what you’re doing, and take ten. Come and see one of the wonders of the natural world unfold right before your eyes!”

We were so close to the shore, just drifting sideways at half a knot, literally metres outside the protected zone. The beach at Raine Island is unbelievably steep. ”How do they even make it up that slope?”. Everyone was thinking that at the same time. We could see the sand getting swept aside as they clawed their way up the embankment. A silent unstoppable march in the dying light. The whole day had been awe-inspiring. A crack o’ dawn dive on the wreck of the HMS Pandora; then Tiger sharks, Great Hammerheads, 40 metre viz and countless turtles in the water here at Raine. It was our second day at the island and the turtles on both days were so thick that every boat movement had to be done at an idle. And still now, even as it seemed like every single turtle in the known universe was halfway up that beach, they cloaked the sea in every direction. Quiet fell across the decks. It was one of those moments you remember for all your days. Spears of golden light, distant tropical rain, and an unfathomable determination on the beach. A genuine wow moment, in a world were nothing seems to wow anyone, anymore.

I nudged the boat back into gear. Pushed the wheel towards the western horizon and ghosted away. All eyes stayed on the beach till the gold turned to grey. Evening came. The turtles are up there laying their eggs now and we are southbound. And but for the sound of the birds and the sweeping sand, Raine Island is quiet for another year.

Join us November 2020 on our Turtle Spectacular Expeditions.

 

 

 


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