Friday, 23 March 2001 00:00

MV Esperance Star Trip 1 - 2001

By Greg Blair and Neil Miller

{tab=Page 1}Well our long awaited trip aboard the MV Esperance Star has now come and gone, it seemed to take so long for the departure date to arrive, but once we were onboard, time seemed to wiz by so fast.

After landing in Brisbane, I met up with a number of the other people that were coming on this trip. There were still a couple to arrive from Melbourne. A quick call to Capt Trev, and we had transport organised to take us to the Newport Marina in Scarborough, which is where the Esperance Star is berthed when not at sea. This trip took 40 minutes, and if you are catching a cab, make sure they know where they are going, because all of the cabbies we used had no idea where we wanted to go.

The Boat:

mves-11MV Esperance Star.
The MV Esperance Star is a solid looking boat, built nearly 29 years ago and has been fitted just for dive trips. It has a crew of 5 and sleeps up to 12 PAX in quite comfortable conditions. She has stabilizing arms that are extended once out of port. I had heard she was a bit of a rolly boat, but I found that could not be further from the truth. Even in some rough weather we experienced, she was quite stable.

On the bow deck, there is more than enough room for 8 or so people to gear up at the same time. There are also plenty of storage lockers on the bow deck, where you can store your gear like wet suits, booties, torches, fins and mask and other “non-bc” attached items. After a dive, just drop your 1st stage off the cylinder and the crew will fill it for the next dive and re-attach the 1st stage for you. If you don't want to leave your wet suit in a locker, because it does start to smell after a few days in there, you can hang it up on the top deck where it is mostly out of the sun, but gets a good breeze through it.

Exiting the boat for a dive is a giant stride or whatever manoeuvre you wish to do that involves falling with style from the boats deck, to the water below, the drop is only 2-3 feet. If a current is running, then there is usually a mermaid line from the anchor that floats past where you go in.

Inside, you have the galley behind Capt Trevs domain, and then inside further you have the dining area and lounge areas. There was around 20+ videos to choose from to watch when you are not diving, plus, you can usually pick up the local TV channels as well. There is more than enough room in these 2 areas for everyone to relax and not fall over each other etc.

At the stern, you have a huge dive landing and ladder; this extends a good couple of feet under the water, and makes it very easy to get back onboard after a dive. Usually hanging under this, is a shot line that reaches to around 8-10 mtrs and is a good place to do safety stops.

Below decks, you have the passenger accommodation; there are 4 2/3 berth cabins that consist of a double bunk with a single bunk above that. There are the 2 cabins at the rear, that are slightly wider than the others, but the beds are the same size. One thing must be said for the bed lengths, they are more than adequate for a lanky frame, and even a person of 6' 3” would not have to curl up to fit into these beds. Each of these cabins has a porthole, which cannot be opened, but a second porthole cover can be closed to shut out the light even more. To ensure even more comfort, they also have air conditioners, which you can run all night long.

Through a hatchway leading further forward, you have 2 showers and a toilet, and then you have the 4-berth forecastle. 2 single bunks, one above the other on either side, with a huge air hatch in the roof.

On the top deck, you have the crew's accommodation, sun deck, compressor and an area to hang wetsuits to dry and air.

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The Crew:

mves-12 Capt Trev.
Owned and skippered by Trevor Jackson, a retired commercial diver, Trev has been diving and exploring the waters off Brisbane and further afield for the last 4 years. He spends a lot of time doing exploratory dives, and has a passion for wrecks. According to Bear, he thinks that Capt Trev and the US Magician, the Amazing Jonathan, are one and the same.
mves-13 Tammi.
Tammi was both DM and Master Chef; she kept us well fed with 3 amazing meals a day for the entire trip, not to mention the snacks she whipped up in between mains. Those who have had the pleasure of sampling her cuisine, speak about her talents in the galley in hushed and reverend tones. Not only is she a damn fine cook, but a great dive site guide as well.
mves-14 Melissa.
Mel was our main DM for this trip. She was always there taking down your tank pressures and checking to make sure your tank was turned on before the dive. Of course, when you popped your head out of the water after your dive you heard, Bottom time, Max depth, Tank pressure, did you do a safety stop? She had a great sense of humour and was a pleasure to have onboard.
mves-15 Shane.
Shane is one of the 2 general deckhands, always willing to help you out with a problem etc. When he is not maintaining the boat, he is usually filling cylinders between dives or ready with a story about anything and everything. Shane has one of those unique “falling with style” water entries that we can only aspire to perfect!
mves-16 Carl.
Karl is a permanent crewmember, whereas the other crew are all 'floaters' and cycle between other DM's and deck hands etc. Karl tends to look after the mechanical side of the boats maintenance.

The entire crew made our trip an event free and memorable one, I look forward to getting together with them all again asap! Thanks guys!

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The Dives:

In total, you could have done a maximum of 13 dives on this trip, some of us did, some of us did far less, here are some of the sites that we visited. In Queensland, it is mandatory that you carry a safety sausage, if you do not have one, you can buy them onboard at a reasonable cost. On night dives, you are supposed to have 2 light sources as well, Cylume stick and torch etc is sufficient. Diving on the Esperance Star is easy, you have 3 choices, Air, Nitrox or Trimix. All the air fills are included in your trip cost, Nitrox is $10.00 per fill and Trimix, well, none of us were using it, so did not ask the cost.

Before you start diving, you are given the lecture of Queensland diving regulations, no deco dives no this, no that, make sure you do this, and don't forget to do that, once that's over with, it's DIVE, DIVE, DIVE!

St Paul wreck
This vessel was sunk in 1914 and lies upright in 42 metres of water. The St. Paul considered being the best and largest (220ft) wreck in South East Queensland was fantastic to dive. Arriving at this site on the Tuesday morning, Tammy came downstairs at 7am waking everyone with "Who wants to go DIVING?". As we hit the water we could see that the visibility was around the 25-30M. Large schools of fish including snapper and two very large Queensland cod/groupers were circling the wreck. Looping around the stern area and back along the starboard side resulted with us over the collapsed section of the bow area and time to ascend the anchor line again. This is a dive that you could do time and time again as there is heaps of stuff on the wreck for divers to explore.

Aarhus wreck
This shipwreck sunk in 1894 after hitting Smith's Rock. The Aarhus was 170ft long and is now lying upright in 20 metres although most of the ship has been reduced to plates and ribs sticking out of the sand. The Esperance Star currently holds the only permit to dive this historic wreck. This site has lots of interesting life from macro to large batfish at cleaning stations everywhere. Another point of interest is the large mast like object that is actually the bowsprit. This area had a cat shark inside the bowsprit and a large wobbie under the scoured out section. This site had very good vis but a howling current which made it hard to see the entire wreck, we could however see the stern area as we descended down the anchor chain, however our dive centred mainly on the bow area.

Cherub's Cave
This extensive cave network used to have the entrance marked with a stone cherub, and therefore its name. The cave measures 45 metres by 15 metres and lies in 29 metres. The area is virtually untouched and therefore has prolific marine life. There were some very nice swim throughs and caves to explore in the area. The dive site had big schools of fish and lots of feelers poking out of nooks and crannies for divers to look at as well as swimming into dark holes.

Flinders Reef
The southern most "true" coral reef on the East Coast of Australia and recently declared a national park, this site boasts an enormous variety of coral and fish. Turtles and manta rays frequent the area and divers often encounter whales during winter. This site went "off" when we got there on the Monday night. While Capt. Trev was shining a spotlight to check the position of the boat, compared to the reef, fish started to "boil" the water... These were "Long Toms" but looked very much like barracouta to me.... During the day there are heaps and heaps of fish about, lots of painted crays under rocks and ledges, heaps of different corals, both hard and soft, wobbies, nudibranchs and Loggerhead Turtles.... We found at least three different turtles when we dived this site. Morays and other eels are also found here. This is a great site and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. It was so popular as a dive site we dived it more than once.

Flinders is also sheltered from Southerly winds, so it makes it a great place to dive when the winds have picked up, the sea can be boiling on the other side of the reef, but where we were, it was reasonably calm in comparison. I noticed plenty of Nudibranchs I had never seen before on this site, as well as cowrie shells and many other tropical fish you would not expect to see here. The great thing about flinders, is you don't have to swim far, to get a great dive, you can head off in many different directions and see something different. Visibility on this site was always good and was around 15+ metres.

Curtin Artificial Reef
The Curtin Reef has over 25 shipwrecks lying between 12 and 30 metres across an area spanning 400 metres by 150 metres. The wrecks here are home to Giant Bull rays, Eagle Rays, schools of Trevally and Cobia, Yellow-tail Kingfish, and at one particular wreck, giant Queensland Groupers can be observed from just a few feet away. Very much a scrap metal merchant's dream with lots of hulks lying all over the place. Lots of BIG fish live here with divers being surrounded by schools whilst cruising past the wrecks. Lots of penetration can be done here on the wrecks and many wobbies have made the wrecks home. Visibility was right down due to the recent rains in Brisbane prior to our trip so it was ranging from 3-8M at best. We also did several dives at this site, from night dives to drifts and scooters.

Cementco
Located near the Flinders Reef, this dive was available for a selected number of us because of the conditions out past the reef were lumpy. The Cementco was a former coal/cement barge and lies in a depth of 27 metres upside down and access is via the huge hopper doors on her bottom. The wreck is covered in abundant fish life with a healthy coral cover.

For me (Webguy), this was the most memorable dive, mainly because of the sheer size of the wreck and the ease of penetration. I was surprised at how big the passageways up each side of the ship are, they are approx 20 feet high (Or more) by approx 14-15 feet wide. Once we had descended onto the wreck, we were pleasantly surprised that there was little or no current, as we were expecting a raging current. We swam over part of the flat hull and descended in through one of the huge hopper doors into one of the holds, from here we entered into one of the side passages and swam back towards the stern and the engine room. There are holes all along this passage, both to the holds and to the outside of the ship, so there is a reasonable amount of ambient light, but a torch is a must. As you swim along the passage, you swim up and through huge bulkheads as you head towards the engine room. of course, the six engines are on the roof and are huge! You can swim even further back through much smaller doors to the stern, but this is much smaller access and silts up VERY easily, just ask Capt Trev.

After swimming through the engine room, we then entered the passageway on the other side of the ship and headed towards the bow. Once you reach the bow, again, there is quite a large main room, with stairs upside down and more rooms further forward, but again, these get smaller and silt up. After completing this circuit, we swam up and out of the holds and headed down towards the stern to view the 6 rudders and drive shafts, looking back over the rudders was an impressive sight.

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In general, the water at this time of the year ranged from 27 degrees, down to a frigid 24 degrees on the deepest dive. Some of us wore our usual 5mm semi drys, some of us wore 3mm longs, some wore the bottoms of 5mm 2 piece and some wore no wet suits at all. It's up to personal preference I guess, but the water was certainly warm enough.

The boat was very comfortable and felt very stable, the cabins were clean, as were all the other areas of the boat, even poking my head into the engine area, it was spotless, which to me, means the crew care about their boat. The food was superb, the crew were friendly and were always helpful and ready to lend a hand or have a chat.

In summing the whole trip up, the value for money is amazing, the boat, crew and sites that we visited are something we won't forget in a hurry. Everyone who came on the trip, agreed, we would be back again for another Dive-Oz trip away aboard the MV Esperance Star!{/tabs}