By Deborah Lewis - (AKA Dellawellawoman)
The 3rd annual DiveOz Esperance Star trip was planned this year for the week of 29 July - 2 August - a full four days to explore as many wrecks (and the occasional patch of reef) as possible off the Bundaberg/Gladstone coast. Possible sites to be visited included wrecks in the 20 - 65 metre range, so this was not going to be a trip for the faint hearted.
The Divers: Neil (Webguy), Greg (Bear), Rob H, Steve W (Hank Rekless), Paul (Scuba Kiwi), Jodie (Diving Queen), Debbie L (DellaWellaWoman), Robert C (Robert), Deb W, Steve J (Steve) and Col (Col).
The Crew (who also dived): Capt Trev (Trev), Noel, Daryl (Oxyboy), Dean, and Lucy (Juicy)
The trip got off to a great start after months of planning and scheming by various trip participants at a BBQ hosted by Oxyboy. This was the first real meeting for those of us on the trip. Greg and Rob H left Melbourne in the early hours of Saturday and picked Jodie up at Brisbane airport before heading for the Barbie. Neil, Steve J and Paul made the trip from Canberra/Sydney in good time - in fact such good time that they JUST missed Daryl, who had also headed for the airport to pick up Steve W.
Being a Gold Coaster, I managed a somewhat more leisurely trip to Brisbane, collecting a spare tank and Robert C on the way to Daryl's place.
A great time was had by all at the BBQ, with a group of Brisbanites including the Dive Dive Dive crew, Ness and nl_carey turning out to send us on our way in style.
Greg, Rob H and Jodie opted to stay in Brisbane for the night followed by a leisurely drive to Bundaberg to pick Deb W up from the airport and then a stop at the pub for a couple of drinks and a few games of Pool.
Neil, Steve J, Paul, Robert C and I headed for Nambour for the night and then on to Bargara for a double boat dive prior to boarding Esperance Star Monday evening.
The Bargara dives were great, especially given my last few dives were, you guessed it, in the Tweed. Neil, Steve, and Paul also appreciated the chance to get out of the car and do some pre-trip diving.
Andrew at the Bargara Dive Shop was happy to fit in with our travel arrangements, which saw us departing Bargara for a 20 minute drive to the launch site around 1pm. He was looking just a little worried as to whether so many sets of twins would fit on his boat - lucky for us they all did! A relatively short 15 minute trip on Narcosis upon almost mirror flat seas saw us at our first site on Cochrane Artificial reef.
We dropped straight down onto Lightship No. 1 in around 17m of water, with vis of around 15m, temp of 18 degrees, and only a slight current. Easy penetration and heaps of fish both large and small made this wreck a lot of fun - we didn't really want to leave. Leave it we had to do though, and it was a short swim following the trail of bricks to the forward half of a Kingair Plane. From here it was on to the Mohawk (another plane wreck), where the highlight was definitely being buzzed several times by a couple of dolphins at a range of 2 metres. When we first reached the aircraft, sitting under the RHS wing was a HUGE Queensland grouper that looked to be the size of a VW.
After the dolphins left, it was over to the Water Tank, which was not just a tank, but complete with associated legs and superstructure and then on to the Landing Barge for a quick tour before it was time to head for the surface.
Tea, coffee and biscuits, but no snakes, and a short trip over to our second site filled in the surface interval nicely.
The Ceratodus No. 2 is a barge - which managed to capsize during scuttling. A resident Queensland grouper, turtles, and sea snakes made for a nice interesting dive. Penetration was possible under the stern and under one side into a largish area inside the ship. Towards the bow of this compartment our progress was blocked by a rather large Queensland grouper who did not want to give way to us. After what seemed to be a short bottom time it was time to head back to Bargara, load the gear back into the cars, and make our way out to Burnett Heads.
Both these dives were done on the single fill of twins for the guys, and a quick cylinder change for my single.
Daryl and Steve W collected tanks and various bits & pieces in Brisbane before driving up Monday afternoon, and Col met us at the boat after a relatively quick trip down from Gladstone.
Part 2Monday evening saw us all on board Esperance Star with gear rigged and stowed, bunks claimed, introductions to crew made, and looking forward to a night's steaming which would see us arriving sometime around dawn at our first dive site, somewhere off the coast of Rockhampton.
The bow deck of Esperance Star was truly a sight - given the plan was to dive deep wrecks most of those on board were diving twin tanks, although there were a couple of us using singles (15L singles mind you) just to keep things in perspective. Throw in the torches, pony bottles, half a dozen cameras and assorted masks and fins, and things were looking somewhat chaotic!! However, amongst all that chaos, sanity reigned, order was restored, and we had no problems gearing up and getting into the water okay.
Water temperatures for the trip were forecast to be in the 18 - 22 degree range, so most of our southern divers (Melbourne & Sydney) took the soft option and brought along their drysuits, with Neil's "disco" undersuit making quite an impression. The tough Queensland divers - Robert C, Col and I - were joined by Greg, Jodie and most of the crew, braving the conditions and diving our wet/semi-dry suits. Trev did manage to make me feel cold just by looking at him though - he dived in just shorts!
Early to bed Monday night was the consensus for most, with me being the only exception - more due to seasickness than any great desire to stay up the entire night. The anchor chain rattling over the bow early Tuesday morning was a good sign that we had arrived at our first site and after a quick wake-up cuppa everyone was eager to gear up and get down to explore the first wreck of the trip.
The Barcoola (43m), a steel trawler, was our deepest dive on this trip and she was absolutely covered in fish - everything from big schools of baitfish through to lionfish, grouper, various cod, and Jodie's favourite - sea snakes. Have a look at the images of the Barcoola - the baitfish were so thick you had to wave them away just to see the wreck, and by the time you stopped waving and tried to focus on a piece of wreck, the fish had already moved back in to impede your vision again. This was a VERY, VERY fishy dive.
After everyone was back on board, breakfast followed during our trip to the next dive site - the steamship Nautilus (30m). This site also had quite a number of sea snakes, along with big schools of batfish and trevally, and due to most of the superstructure having disappeared penetration of the wreck was possible with good swim thru's. A large admiralty anchor lashed to the foredeck added an interesting touch.
Our third dive of the day was a night dive on the steamship Tambaroora in approx 4m of water. Daryl and Dean were the envy of the rest of us, seeing a dugong during a pre-dive snorkel on the site, but the loggerhead and leatherback turtles, white tipped reef shark, painted crays and numerous sleeping reef fish in and around the wreck made it an interesting dive.
Trev's video collection is quite extensive, so after dinner we engaged in one of several lively debates as to which video to watch. Given this wasn't an all male trip, several videos were excluded from the selection process by female executive decision.
Wednesday morning saw us enjoying the calm seas near Heron Island and hitting the water for our first non-wreck dive of the trip on an area of reef in the 18m range. Turtles, various soft and hard corals and a good variety of fish made for a pleasant and relaxing dive. The dives at Heron were probably the only dives of the trip that had any real current.
Back to the boat for air fills, and then we were back in for our second Heron Island reef dive, this time around the 25m mark. The smaller stuff became more prominent on this dive, mainly due to the lack of "big" things to see, so lionfish, nudibranchs, angelfish, butterflyfish and anemone fish made the dive interesting, with a group of us having a fairly long swim back to the boat due to the anchor having dragged - Greg and Jodie however took the easy option and surfaced to be picked up by the rubber duckie.
Wednesday afternoon was spent investigating various "possible" wreck locations - Trev and various crew and passengers spent hours pouring over charts and dreaming of finding a new wreck, while the rest settled in for a video session. Unfortunately we didn't find any of the sites we were looking for, but then there's always the next trip.
Part 3Thursday morning found us diving the Linda Jane (35m), a timber gulf trawler. Baitfish have made the trawl nets their home, along with lionfish, grouper, and various reef fish. A big bull ray greeted us on descent, and a number of friendly sea snakes kept us company throughout the dive. Although the Linda Jane has been down for 5 years, she appears almost undived - gumboots, a vacuum cleaner, plastic buckets, dinner plates, and the galley kettle are all lying around awaiting inspection.
Following a leisurely lunch our next dive was another timber trawler, the Bindaree (28m). Although the stern is starting to break up, the forward section is relatively intact, again with resident fish and snake populations. Two big wobbygongs and a large box puffer fish made the dive a little different.
Just on dusk, a number of us chose to again descend on the Nautilus for our second dive at this site with sea snakes, a big Queensland grouper inside the structure, and the opportunity to observe the changeover from day to night species on the wreck.
Thursday night saw us sheltering behind Bustard Head, with a lovely sunrise for those up to see it, and ABBA blaring on the stereo to wake those who weren't prior to an early dive on Outer Rock. This dive was somewhat unique, in that we were all wearing masks - they just weren't the normal scuba variety. Native animals, Ned Kelly look-alikes, Aliens and 'scary monsters' prevailed on this dive, with a friendly sea snake no doubt wondering what on earth was going on. After a rather bizarre photo shoot near the anchor, we replaced our decorative masks with the more practical variety and headed off for a circumnavigation of the rock. The variety of life on this site was among the best we'd seen - sea whips, sea fans, a good variety of both hard and soft corals, big schools of fish, nudibranchs, moray eels, small painted crays, a number of large egg cowries and an Arabian cowrie to name but a few of the species encountered.
Breakfast followed during the steam to our next, and sadly last, dive of the trip - the steel trawler Cetacea (33m). On descent we saw a big grouper and a fairly large ray hanging a few metres off the wreck, with another smaller (although by no means small) grouper hiding inside the hull. Baitfish, the by now standard sea snakes, and various tropical fish rounded off a good dive.
Throughout the trip the dining table was permanently covered in laptops, digital cameras, housings, and various power packs as our diligent trip photographer Paul, with the assistance of Rob H and Steve J (also wielding digital cameras), compiled a photographic journal of our adventures which were kindly burnt onto CD for us during the steam back to Burnett Heads.
While Paul was slaving over his laptop Lucy was busy slaving over a hot stove, and did a great job of keeping up with the appetites of a dozen or so hungry divers during the trip.
Trev of course lived up to his reputation on this trip, faithfully dropping the anchor right on each wreck which resulted in very easy descents and ascents, and Daryl and Dean never seemed to get bored of counting us off, and then back onto the boat and then topping up our tanks in time for the next dive. Daryl also, for some reason, seemed to take great pleasure in whacking the anchor release brake with a large iron bar - especially before the guys sleeping in the bow had appeared on deck!
Following our return to Burnett Heads, Esperance Star was unloaded and gear packed into our various vehicles. Col headed straight for home, although most of us opted to stay in Bundaberg and regain our land legs. Neil, Steve J, Paul, Robert C, Greg, Rob H, Jodie, and the two Deb's headed for the comforts of a motel, long showers, and dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, which was an experience in itself.
Saturday morning Steve J had Paul & Neil up before dawn to make a long distance dash into NSW to catch the rugby, while the rest of us opted for a more leisurely morning before heading off. Apparently Paul was absolutely inconsolable after watching the Kiwi's lose - he almost ended the NSW drought single-handed.
Greg and Rob H dropped Deb W off at Bundaberg airport and Jodie off at Brisbane airport and then headed down to the Gold Coast to stay at my place for the weekend. Movie World on Sunday was followed by a leisurely departure Monday, with Greg and Rob working their way down the coast to Melbourne over the course of a week while the rest of us faced the prospect of returning to work on Monday.
Special thanks must go to Neil who was the primary organizer and driving force behind this trip - without him, the trip simply wouldn't have happened. Finally, a big thank you to all those on board, both crew and passengers - it was wonderful to meet everyone and put faces to the online persona's, and good diving is always better when there's great company to go with it.