Mike Ball Dive Expeditions - Blog and Company News

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.

After last year’s lower than average numbers, it was a great relief to see so many whales this year. Over the six weeks of dedicated Minke Expeditions, Spoil Sport crew and passengers encountered well over 200 dwarf minke whales and witnessed many incredible behaviours including breaching, spy hopping, pirouetting, and even some very close approaches (within 1 metre!!!). I was lucky enough to go out with the Mike Ball team for their final Minke Expedition with the man himself, Mike Ball.

We had several encounters but one in particular stands out to me. It was the 15th July and we had been drifting with 10+ whales for a few hours. The whales were exceptionally curious during this encounter and we were lucky to experience many of the behaviours mentioned above and more! At the end of the encounter, I was pulling myself back to the boat along the snorkel line when I glanced over my shoulder to see a 6 metre whale right behind me. I grabbed one final snap for our photo ID catalogue before continuing back the boat. When I turned back again, the whale was still there… This amazing creature was literally following me back to the boat! The whale then came up next to me (within 1 metre) and swam beside me as I made my way back to the vessel, never breaking eye contact.

“Everyone on-board was just speechless.”

Mike was the last one out of the water, and I will never forget the look of joy and excitement on his face as he took one last look in the water and shouted “there are five whales sitting underneath me!!!!” It appeared that the whales didn’t want us to leave! The whales stayed with us until we left, spy hopping occasionally to see where their new friends had gone. They even followed the boat briefly before conceding defeat and going off on other important minke business. Clearly they were not ready for the encounter to be over. Everyone on-board was just speechless.

There was no words to describe how special that experience was. Nature at its finest. There were smiles from ear to ear and few tears of joy were shed. Personally, I will never forget that swim back to the boat, being escorted by a dwarf minke whale in the blue waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Genevieve Williams
Research Assistant & Volunteer Coordinator
The Minke Whale Project

Find out more on future Minke Whale Expeditions.


Captains Word is Law
Captain Trevor Jackson

Running a live aboard dive vessel like Spoilsport takes some major organisation. After all it is effectively a tiny city sitting way out in the ocean on its own. It needs its own water supply, its own power, even its own government……yes, its own government. The reefs we visit; well they aren’t exactly in Australia. In fact, they aren’t exactly in any country. It’s a bit of a grey zone. And it’s difficult to ever really clear it up. All I know is that Osprey, Holmes, Flinders and Bougainville Reefs all lie within what they call the EEZ……. or Exclusive Economic Zone.

Basically, this means that only Australian ships can carry out commercial activities within the zone, which extends to 200 miles from the coast. However, it doesn’t mean that the zone is considered part of Australia. A foreign ship may traverse the area without bothering with ‘customs’; they just can’t start drilling for oil or fishing for tuna. Most countries follow the same 200 mile EEZ plan. But occasionally when we are out there, I get to wondering “What laws are we bound by?”. Occasionally people mention “The Law of the Sea’. But here’s the truth – the “Law of the Sea” only exists in action novels.

Some people might also argue that “The Captains word is the law”. That can be true to an extent. In certain situations, Ships Captains wield an ungainly amount of power, but they are always answerable to a higher authority. The reality is that we are bound by the laws of the State in which the vessel is registered. Which pretty much means that Spoilsport is a little piece of Queensland, floating out there in the blue yonder. It then follows, I guess, that the Captain would be….the State Premier!! Woohoo! I’ve been promoted. But hang on, that also means I can get voted out. Mmm I think I liked the “Captains word is law” thing better.

Before the Ink Dries
Captain Trevor Jackson

People can be a little quirky sometimes can’t they? When I was a boy I had a friend, who loved to ride his bike right up close behind the school bus because he loved the smell of diesel. Another guy I knew committed to memory the number plates of every person he ever came in contact with… he could literally rattle of hundreds of them and never miss a digit or a letter.

Me? Well I’ve always loved the smell of a freshly printed magazine…. just like the one you’re holding. Straight off the press and full of potential. The date on the front of this particular magazine should read July 2017, and if its early in the month and the ink is still fresh; then it’s not too late. Spoilsport is smack in the middle of the season, the season for the best wildlife interaction IN THE WORLD.

That’s right folks it’s Minke time! For 6 weeks of the year the fun loving, eye popping, “get in close and say g’day” Dwarf Minke Whales visit us up here in Far North Queensland. And of course, when they do, they are prone to getting “Right up IN YOUR FACE”. It’s a life changing experience that never ever fails to blow minds. On top of that, during each expedition we also visit the finest reef dives on the whole Great Barrier Reef; just to balance things out. Time, however, is of the essence. Pick up this magazine and hold it close to your face; if it still smells fresh off the press, you may still be able to get aboard. But you’d better be quick, put down this mag and pick up the phone, there are only days left. Dust off your dive gear and start dreaming of the deep blue. You’d better get a hurry on, before the ink dries.

The Premier Crew

Captain Trevor Jackson

I recently had Foxsports installed at home. For me there’s nothing better than coming home from a trip and having all the previous week’s NRL games available for the man cave when the boat gets in. Yep, a self-confessed NRL nut me, that in turn drives my darling wife nuts…but that’s another story.

The other night on one of the associated broadcasts the ‘panel’ were discussing how and why some teams seem to do well one year and not so well the next despite there being little change in the team lineup…They talked about things they called the ‘one percenters’…strategies teams utilized that were thought to enhance their performance by ‘up to’ one percent…Amongst these, were post game ice baths, flash dressing rooms and well mowed practise pitches.

Then one of the shows presenters began to speak about a recent study that showed a team’s performance was directly related to their commitment to each other… And that a team that was fully committed to doing the best for the man beside them [and not for themselves] would perform 20 percent better than a team full of self absorbed individuals.

TWENTY PERCENT!!!! That was more than things you might expect to be the big factors, like coaching staff or big fat pay checks…The team that does it for each other does better!!!!

I was thinking about this concept the other night as I was going through the on board ‘feedback forms’. Each trip we ask guests to help us evolve our service by giving us an honest and frank appraisal of their trip…and the one thing that appears on virtually EVERY form…’crew were the best thing about the expedition’…That’s not to say that the food, diving and vessel aren’t great…but it’s the crew that gets the gold medal every time. Now you will find outstanding crews on dive boats all over the world, and north Queensland has them in droves, but this crew, on this boat…have the type of commitment to each other that the Foxsports presenters were talking about…they’ve got each other’s backs and their commitment to excellence is peerless…as dive crews go, they’re this year’s premiers.

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 around this time every year is….. How is it that the 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. Well it soon will be anyway….For 6 weeks across June and July, the magnificent Dwarf Minkes will show up and give divers an experience that is unrivalled in the world. The Minkes make the DIVER, the creature 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 divers 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 diver….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 just like the one I’ve described.  Our itinerary is changed especially to give you the longest and closest interactions; and YOU could be doing it this winter. Blow off the southern state chills and come aboard for an experience you won’t forget, for as long as you live.


Check out more information on our Minke Whale Expeditions.

Taste of Adventure

Captain Trevor Jackson


As this article goes to press, Spoilsport is sliding back into the water after nearly a month on her annual dry-dock. For the uninitiated, slipping a ship can seem like total chaos. Everything gets ripped out, fixed, cleaned or replaced, and then the whole process reverses. Just when the end product seems impossibly out of reach, and time has all but run out, it all swoops back together again and you wonder how it happened. Then comes the fun bit, she goes back in. There’s nothing like the feeling underfoot of a ship springing back to life as she reacquaints herself with her natural environment. All the sweat, stress and toil that goes hand in hand with dry-docking a vessel like this simply melts away. You’re left with a feeling of unfathomable pride, and a sense that the ship is ready to tackle just about anything. Plus everything is new again. This year our favourite ship will hit the water sporting a pair of brand new engines …. the motor heads amongst us are super excited!


Personally, I feel like I’ve been on the slip myself as well. I spent the month at home updating manuals and doing general admin… all the while recharging the batteries for those night crossings on the Coral Sea, that take us to the wonder world we call Osprey Reef. The year ahead on promises some grand adventure. A quick glance at the Mike Ball website tells the story…. Shark Shooter Photo workshop, special Nautilus viewing trips and our soon to be legendary Turtle Spectacular, way…..way up north at Raine Island [that one really went off last year] ….as well as those we have plans to hit the reefs in the Far Northerns a little more frequently this year…just to spice things up…..coz we know that as soon as that boat hits the Cairns leads again…it will be time to reacquaint ourselves with the Taste of Adventure.

Your friends haven’t done anything new lately

Captain Trevor Jackson


“Your friends haven’t done anything new lately”……….or so I was informed just moments ago. I opened my inbox and halfway down the page there, next to the facebook and twitter icons, that message was strewn across the page. It threw me for a second, then I realized it was 5am and the message simply referred to the interim between when I last checked facebook and now……… Its kind of arrogant though, don’t you think?  Internet based social media pages declaring that you lot are BORING……….especially since, according to those same pages, posting a photo of the pub meal you’re about to eat is a worthy event. In that case the message this morning may have read ‘Joe Blow has posted a photo”…..that is social media speak for ‘go back on facebook and waste another of your precious hours’ .


As 5 am stretched to 6am I began to wonder how much time I would waste today just surfing the web for nothing in particular….checking out facebook, tweeting, musing over photos of some Kardashian baby, or considering whether or not Beyonce  really does have too much junk in the trunk………it really is an insufferable waste of time …….and as each year passes we just do more and more and more of it. Heck even little kids are into it. My daughter, not yet three, already asks Mummy for the Ipad the moment she wakes up in the morning, which to me begs the question….”Where are we heading with all this?” ” What will the adult lives of todays kids be like if they live there youth on youtube……….


Enough I say! A month ago I decided an experiment……….Ditch the computer and mobile phone for four weeks, see what happens…. I was laughed at… “Cant be done in this day and age Trevor! How will work get hold of you? What if the school needs to contact you? Its irresponsible! …All valid points no doubt but I ditched them anyway and you know what I found? …….PEACE………..the kind of peace you find in the mountains, the kind of peace you find in bed on a rainy Sunday morning, the kind of peace you find on a sandy bottom 30 metres down………those are the types of things we should be doing with our precious hours…….Now I know the Ipads, Imacs and Iphones wont  approve , and all our friends will be reliably informed that we ‘haven’t done anything new lately’ , but isn’t it about time we got out there, regained control, and allowed ourselves to get a real Ilife?


Epic Proportions

Captain Trevor Jackson


Let’s be frank. Yes the Great Barrier Reef copped some bleaching last summer. North of about Cooktown many of the inner reefs were damaged by high water temperatures that the coral simply could not cope with. But the media hype that followed was nothing short of ridiculous…” Great Barrier Reef Wiped Out!”; “All Over for GBR” etc, etc. It was a headline grabbing fun fest that had folks shaking their tabloids above their heads yelling “OMG what have we done?”


In response to this media hype we had to go see for ourselves far and wide, along the Great Barrier Reef what the implications of this event might be for our divers and for dive tourism in general. We steamed to and fro and were at times disappointed, at times elated at the state of the coral at each of our destinations. The question on everyone’s lips was… would we have to change our itineraries to keep on top of the game? To quote a famous self-help book… did we need to “Move our cheese”?


Then a funny thing happened. In pursuit of this task we began diving where we’d never been before, and we found that not only were most of these sites undamaged by bleaching, some of them were the BEST spots we’d ever found. In short we now had an even bigger quandary. How could we change our itineraries to support and showcase the “GREAT” that we had found?


Now all this is hot off the press, I can’t even suggest to you what the outcome might be, where Spoilsport might find itself in 2017 and 2018, but I can say this with some certainty…

DO we need to holistically address rising sea temps?  Wholeheartedly. Is the Barrier Reef still Great? Yes it is…in epic proportions.



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