Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard Cruises

RECENT TRIP GALLERIES ON SPIRIT OF FREEDOM

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Mon 20th February 2017 - Thu 23rd February 2017 - ( 14) images

10 knot winds were the order of the day when we left Cairns in a sunbaked state on Monday morning. The weather gods were in a great mood and the sea gods were in agreement that a nice flat calm marine life filled trip was going to be the order of business. We left Cairns with a full boat of 26 and headed out to Saxon Reef.

The first two dives of the trip were spent at Turtle Bommie where we encountered the international rule in dive site naming (name a site after an animal, never see the animal on the site). Everyone was happy to get in the water and wake up with quit a few rather jet lagged people cradling coffee cups during the welcome briefing.

We departed Saxon and headed north towards Ribbon Reef number 3 and Steve's Bommie for our Tuesday kick off. Stone fish were certainly on show with 8 different ones being found as well as a couple of white tip reef sharks venturing about. A nice mid sized green turtle has been calling Steve's home lately and was in her usual spot this morning. She sat for some photo's before swimming up for some air and showing us how graceful she can move in the water.

We headed to Crack-A-Jack for dive 2 and after a bit of underwater magic we were ready to dive. It pays to be ready first sometimes and for Richard and Francesco it really paid off when they were the only ones to see a Manta Ray gliding past. Not only did they see it, but got the photo's to prove it.

After the excitement of the morning we had a long lunch while we traveled north to Wonderwall for a nice and relaxed dive observing the new coral growth that is coming onto this site and the changes that it has gone through over the past few years. It is a spot to watch as it is great evidence that the Great Barrier Reef is indeed alive and well and in Full recovery mode from the last few years of natural events.

Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive with exceptional shark action and lots of hunting from the local Moray Eeels. Upto 10 different sharks were spotted during the night dive with plenty of close encounters and lots of smiles and stories after.

Lighthouse Bommie is where we started things on Wednesday. A little current flowing through brought a lot of fish action. There were 2 types of sharks with a white tip and a grey reef shark cruising about. The highlight was the ultra friendly turtle gliding past everyone and of course the olive sea snakes were tough to find but we did track them down for all to see.

Cod hole for a pre and post lunch dive with a really fat lazy cod showing up and practically laying on the bottom with it's mouth open and not moving. My kind of meal really, just lay there and let someone else put the food in your mouth. Amanda and Daniel managed to find a sneaky Manta Ray coming past as well and were very delighted to be the only ones to have seen it.

Snake Pit for the last dive of the trip and it was clear like a glass of water. A bit of a reverse current as the top was running a full 180 degrees to what it was doing on the bottom. Made for some interesting dive planning but everyone managed very well. A giant of a Moray Eel was certainly the highlight and watching it sit still while the cleaner wrasse went about a thorough grooming job.

It has been a fantastic trip out here on the Ribbon Reefs with some of the most stunning sunrises of the year so far. After seeing some sunrise photo's many of the customers got up a little earlier just to see what was happening at 5.30am. Of course the crew were already at work however there were drones flying getting sunrise footage. Cameras set up for time-lapse shots and people cuddled up with coffee in hand and enjoying the scenery.

Dinner is ready and I can hear roars of laughter coming from the dinning saloon.

Until next time.

Angus Rowe.
Trip Director.

 

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Thu 16th February 2017 - Mon 20th February 2017 - ( 14) images

Full report coming, stay tuned....

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Thu 9th February 2017 - Mon 13th February 2017 - ( 15) images

When the weather man starts talking about areas of vorticity in the vicinity where you are planning to go diving you can be assured for the need to be flexible with the conditions. Thursday morning at Lizard Island this is exactly what the weather gods were saying and they even mentioned a thing called a confused sea. So with all of that information we headed out to the Great Barrier Reef to start our Coral Sea Adventure for the week.

We did our first dive at Coral Princess Bommie where a couple of reef sharks came in for a look at some of our divers. With the welcome to the reef orientation dives complete we headed for Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive.

A cuttlefish, turtle, shark and banana nudibranchs were the highlights of the first dive at challenger. The second dive been the night dive had all the action that we are accustomed to at this spectacular site. Lots of sharks and Trevally hunting action as well as the odd surprise attack from a Moray Eel. Everyone came up with stories of awesomeness about the action.

We headed out to Osprey on Thursday night and arrived to the ever changing conditions of Friday. The wind blew in five different directions for the day and at one stage the swells were traveling North and South at the same time making for a "confused" sea. In amongst all of this we put our divers in for four dives during the day which the thoroughly loved.

The first dive was a live drop and nice slow meander at Around The Bend with plenty of sleeping sharks hanging in the blue for everyone to get a good look at. A Tender pickup at the end of the dive and a quick ride back to Spirit and everyone was hanging for the bacon and eggs they could smell through the boat.

The sharks were on point for the shark feed and again we live dropped everyone in and made our way down to the feed zone for the ravenous grey guys to join us. The feed was a blast with lots of sharks ripping into the tuna heads and playing multi way tog o war.

We did a little bit of a weather tap dance and found ourselves at Castles for the third dive of the day where the dramatic topography of swimthroughs and deep walls proved to be very popular with everyone. Again we live dropped here and used the tenders for a ride back to spirit.

The last dive of the day was at Admiralty Anchor where we found a chilled Moray Eel getting cleaned by a cleaner wrasse as well as a couple of sleepy white tip reef sharks. The Anchor in the bottom of the swimthrough is certainly in a unique spot, I always wonder who dropped it there and what was going though their minds when they realized it went straight into the hole.

With the weather being completely fluid and the squalls looking more and more ominous we left Osprey and Headed back to Ribbon Reef number 10 and started Saturday with a nice fish filled dive at Pixie's Pinnacle. Lots of Great Barracuda and a couple of lionfish were out for a hunt.

We moved over to lighthouse Bommie for a couple of dives over lunch. We were on the hunt for some elusive sea snakes however were very satisfied with a well disguised wobbygong shark and a couple of turtles chewing on some jellyfish.

An incoming tide that eddied around the reef and ran like an outgoing tide is what met us at pixies wall. At depth the current was running as an incoming and closer to the wall and shallower it was running as an outgoing. Everyone did a great job to adjust to the conditions and a large eagle ray came swooping by to have a look at us.

Sunday Morning and we did a couple of dives at Steve's Bommie with plenty of action but the highlight was certainly the friendly Octopus that posed for pics with everyone. A full moon tide started to kick the current off for the second dive and the fish all became very active in the flow. Lots of action and lots of pelagic fish hunting about the place for everyone to enjoy.

A lazy hour dive at Joanie's Joy and we were gliding over the reef with the sweetlips all hanging about the coral heads and letting the current flow over their gills. We found a lump of coral about the size of a basketball that had being converted into the house of shrimp with holes everywhere in this coral and a shrimp parked in each one.

Flair point for the final dive and a couple of sharks came up and wished everyone a farewell from the Great Barrier Reef. The conditions were perfect and flat and the sky was blue for the last dive of the trip. Some sun deck jumping to warm up for the dive and then everyone was in and cruising around for the last dive. Some snorkeling was going on, a search and recovery dive to finish an advanced course for Donna and everyone else just chilling as the afternoon past by.

The end of another trip and new friends to say farewell to.

Angus Rowe,
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 6th February 2017 - Thu 9th February 2017 - ( 14) images

It was a little choppy heading from Cairns to Norman Reef on Monday the 6th of Feb but once we arrived and got tucked in behind the reef everything calmed down nicely. A couple of dives at Turtle Bommie to kick the trip off with and we could tell we were in for a fun few days with plenty of friendly banter been tossed around the dive deck. Turtles and a couple of sharks, Unicorn fish and Snapper of different varieties made up the underwater welcoming committee.

We headed north with the sun setting off to our port side and traveled our way through the night before arriving at Steve's Bommie at 1am. Waking up and prepping for the first dive the crew all stopped for a moment and watched the sunrise. It can be argued that we see sunrises in Cairns but out here on the water we all appreciate them so much more.

White tip reef shark, Grey reef shark, stone fish, Scorpion fish and everything else from the fish and critters books on board the boat. Where else could we be but Steve's Bommie! Oh and a turtle, can't forget to mention the turtle.

Coral Princess Bommie has some fantastic hard corals growing on the backside of it. However today that wasn't the highlight of the dive. It was in fact a five foot long Queensland Grouper that hang out with Lara and Tess for a bit just to say g'day to the girls from WA.

A long lunch followed by a dive on Crack-A-Jack. I always like asking people what they think of the dive sites we take them to and when I asked about this one universal applause erupted on the boat. I is certainly a site that has been making a regular appearance With Glass fish everywhere and a pose of hunting pelagics smashing everything that ventures a little far from safety it is certainly a site for action. Team Argentina even managed to find a bunch of shrimp on a cleaning station and were all smiles when they came up.

Clam gardens for some Moray Eel actions with a few of them poking there heads out of various holes in the reef. A nice big green turtle came wondering by for a bit and we even found a Lacey Scorpion fish not far from the mooring block. It is pretty amazing to watch a group of divers who are roaming the reef all converge on one thing and stop. This was one of the giant clams that reside at Clam Gardens. Everyone stopped and looked at this clam wide eyed and all motioning how big it is.

The night dive at clam gardens was the first night dive for many. It is one of the best parts about been a dive instructor is been part of the moment in someone's life that is the first time they do something. It is very rewarding to see the nerves disappear and the smile spread wide across the faces.

Cod hole for two dives to start Wednesday off and it was a great start. Sharks and Cod everywhere with 3 laid back easy going Cod joining us for the Cod Feed. We enjoyed their company and photogenic personalities for the Morning before moving off to Cormorant Caves.

The Caves were nice with plenty of holes to swim in and explore and for many of our divers they had never experienced the thrill of swim throughs before and all enjoyed them immensely.

The last dive and the best drift we could possibly hope to end a trip on. We hit Dynamite pass and barreled down the wall at a ripping pace. The Manta Rays were pretty stoked with the conditions and two of them came by to check out what all the fuss was about. The lucky few in tender one even managed to practically land on one when they rolled into the water. A great dive to end a great trip with great customers whose smiles have not stopped since coming aboard on Monday morning.

Until next time,

Angus Rowe,

Trip Director.

 

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Thu 2nd February 2017 - Mon 6th February 2017 - ( 18) images

Trip report coming soon...

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Mon 30th January 2017 - Thu 2nd February 2017 - ( 15) images

Trip Report coming soon....

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Thu 26th January 2017 - Mon 30th January 2017 - ( 15) images

The Coral Sea Trifecta is becoming so common lately that I don't remember the last time we did a trip that didn't involve Osprey, Bougainville and Holmes Reefs. So this trip would keep with the norm of late and head out for trifecta once again.

Sunshine, Blue Sky and calm waves are always a welcome site and this trip has started off with some of the most spectacular weather North Queensland has on offer. The flight from Cairns to Lizard Island showing some spectacular panoramic views.

Thursday and we did a three dive day starting at Coral Princess Bommie where se got all of our checkout dives done and everyone up to speed on boat life.
We switched sites and set up at Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive. The sharks must have got the memo and they were out in force with over a dozen sharks cruising with the dive groups during the night dive. There was plenty above water action too with fish landing all over the dive platform on the back of Spirit keeping the deck crew busy throwing them back in only for the red bass and trevally to engulf them.

Overnight crossing to Osprey and Soft Coral wall was awaiting out arrival to start off the coral sea diving bonanza. Huge schools of Trevally and even bigger smiles for all of the divers when they got out of the water. For many they had never experienced the kind of visibility that we get in the Coral Sea and there were more than a few comments about not being able to go home and dive in various lakes and quarries again.

The shark feed was up next and Sola was the Ninja chosen to let the food loose and the sharks were mighty obliging and let him do it without too much special attention. Then the action was on with tuna heads been torn to shreds as multiple sharks played tug of war. Souvenir hunting for shark teeth after the action is over always produces a few stories about who found the largest tooth.

We left North Horn and traveled to castles for an after lunch dive. A little siesta between lunch and diving to recharge the batteries and away we went again. Lots of holes and swim throughs to explore and classic winding topography to keep the adventurous spirits excited.

Finishing off the Osprey day we headed for Admiralty Anchor where we were swooped by Eagle Rays and watched sleeping whit tip reef sharks lazing on the bottom. An Osprey sunset for world class photos and then it was time to sleep the night away as we traveled south to Bougainville Reef.

We woke up to a nice 15 knot breeze and half meter seas as we approached Bougainville the wreck of the Atlas made the skyline unique as the sun rose behind it. We had a Barracuda spectacular to kick things off at Corner Shop. Everyone came up commenting about the smiling torpedoes they had seen.

Dungeons and Dragons with the Cathedral of swim-through's to suppress the appetite of any cave and tunnel diving rat. Spectacular Vis and everyone was absolutely ecstatic to do two dives here.
We left Bougainville at 6 pm and travelled south with the setting sun off in the distance. It had been a big day for everyone and by 8pm there were no open eyes left on the boat. They all knew we had another very special day planned for them.

Holmes Reef and Amazing to kick things off. It is always nice to chat with the crew and find out their secret little bits of the reef and add those to the dive site maps. I did this with Instructor Matty and we came up with a lot of pieces of Amazing that we had discovered over the last few trips to add to the map. The dive is always great, sharks, rays, caves, blue water vis that only stops because it hits the reef. Truly a fantastic site and still more of it to discover when we come back next time.

Cathedrals was our second dive of the day and it was stunning. The vertical Nature of the wall here combined with the clear vis had Skipper Jago coming up excited by the conditions. Swim through's and large soft corals make up the diversity of this site combining stunning topography with delicate beauty.

We do a few Safety drills here on Spirit Of Freedom every week. This week we did Abandon ship and had all of our customers up on the sun deck with lifejackets on in no time. We don't actually make them jump overboard but it is nice to see how fast the crew can react in an emergency.

Nonkies is where we like to finish things off at Holmes reef. We like it for a few reasons. Firstly it is a Pinnacle making the navigation very easy and secondly the marine life is spectacular. For divers who are not sure about going off without a guide to navigate for them this is a great way to end the trip as a lot of the time they are happy to jump in as buddy pairs and do their first none guided dives. It's a great confidence builder for them and their diving in the future. Marine life wise who can ever say no to perfect fan corals with schools of Trevally and Great Barracuda hovering over the site.

We are currently sitting at Anchor about to enjoy a BBQ dinner and then start the ten hour steam back to cairns chasing the sunset for a bit before arriving with it rising off to our port side. We have had a fantastic Coral Sea Trifecta and now it is time to sit with new friends and swap dive stories over a cold one.

Angus Rowe,
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 23rd January 2017 - Thu 26th January 2017 - ( 18) images

10 - 15 knot southeasterly winds. Music to my ears when it comes to doing a Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs trip here on Spirit Of Freedom. For this time of the year is means it is a bit cooler and we can use all of our dive sites with no weather restriction making it perfect.

We started things out on Normal Reef at Playgrounds where an eagle ray was waiting to greet us. A couple of small turtles and a few Barracuda were hanging around flashing their fancy white teeth at anyone who wanted to look.

Tuesday would be a day for the Pinnacle lovers of the dive world. We hit the line up of sites in a way to maximize our marine life sightings. Steve's Bommie was first up with Nudibranchs, Stone Fish, Scorpion Fish, Antheas, Fuseliers, Clown Fish. A sleeping Green sea turtle, white tip reef shark and a grey reef shark were the highlights of the larger animals.

Christmas Tree Bommie, well it is not often that we go looking for a patch of reef that is ten meters wide and comes to eight meters from the surface but when we have the time and know where to look then we will do just that. After a bit of tender towing snorkel action we found what we were looking for and dropped everyone in on this little know gem of a spot. Smiles and wows were the reactions when everyone came up all saying that we should keep this spot as secret as possible. No worries with that we like to keep these sites up our sleeves for the perfect kind of days.

Crack A Jack was the third of the Pinnacle trifecta for Tuesday. We had plenty of time and gave everyone a chance to dive it in the smallest groups possible by staggering entry times most divers were able to experience this site with only a couple of people with them.

Clam Gardens to round up the afternoon and for a night dive as well. Sleeping turtle, slipper lobster and of course the hunting red bass and trevally were out for the evening as well. All in all a fantastic days diving with everyone extremely thrilled with what they experienced for the day.

Drift dives are the type of dive that suits me, no kicking, gliding along, letting the reef go past you like a sushi train of delights. Of course the also require current. In the case of drifting from Vertical Gardens to Pixie's Wall we were looking good with a nice strong current when we did the current check. Now with all rules in diving the first one is never expect the ocean to stay the same for very long. By the time we kitted up and dropped in from the tenders we were dropping into a none current and finding ourselves swimming along instead. As for the dive its self, well when the crew get out of the water and can't stop smiling and talking about how great the coral and topography were, then you know you are on a winner of a site. So Wednesday was off to a great start and the Cod Hole was waiting patiently for our arrival after breakfast.

Cod hole and Potato Cod that are bigger than your average chocolate spotted fish. Not many people realize that we have names for the cod. These names include Spud, Mash, Chip and so on based on things you can do with potatoes. The feed was fun with Instructor Matty getting his first chance at feeding the cod as a birthday present from the crew. He did a great job and from all accounts only 4 red bass managed to nibble on him during the process.

Snake pit and great visibility, not words I use often. In fact the vis was that good that it had First Mate Elliot grabbing dive gear and heading in for a splash to check it out. Lots of schooling fish and amazing vis and then the current changed and had everyone working rather hard to get the dive complete. The current gods have sure being having a good laugh at me today.

Normally I am not one for finding one animal eating another to be entertaining or interesting however seeing a large shark snacking on a turtle as we were travelling between sites today sure did have a few people talking and wondering about just what does live out here on the GBR.

Another trip and another farewell to all of our new friends, until next time guys.

Angus Rowe,

Trip Director.

 

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Thu 19th January 2017 - Mon 23rd January 2017 - ( 15) images

On Thursday morning our guests flew into Lizard Island and joined us on Spirit Of Freedom for our Coral Sea expedition. We started our trip off with 3 dives on the lower part of Ribbon Reef No. 10, two in the afternoon and one night dive at Challenger Bay with the reef sharks, Giant Morays and other pelagic species. After our dive with the nocturnal predators we dropped the lines and made way to Osprey Reef.

We where woken at Osprey Reef and greeted by some perfect weather, clear blue skies and a welcoming light breeze. We kicked off the days diving with a drift dive at the North Horn, as we were gently moved along the reef wall a large school of Bumphead Parrot greeted us as they swam past us towards their breakfast patch of coral and also welcomed by some intrigued sharks (only the small ones this time ). Our second splash of the day was the shark attraction dive, which of course was a huge crowd pleaser; more than 20 reef sharks and two very large Potato Cod joined us as well. After hanging our with our finned friends for nearly an hour it was time too move onto our next dive site which was the False Entrance at Osprey Reef.

With crystal clear water and the sun overhead it was a mesmerizing experience at False Entrance where a resident Eagle Ray glided amongst the divers making the dive ever more magical and memorable. Soon after everyone was back on board we moved sites again to Admiralty Anchor. This site is a bit of a playground with a maze of bommies and also a nice swim through where an anchor lays hence the name. Right next to the entrance of the crevasse is a protective mother White Tip Reef Shark and with a little patience you can find her pups tucked up in the reef! This was our final dive at Osprey so after a delicious dinner prepared by our amazing chef Terry, we set sail for Bougainville Reef.

After a peaceful nights sleep helped by a flat crossing we arrived at Bougainville Reef before sunrise which was just magical as the sun rose over the Coral Sea which looked like glass. Our day started with off with a fabulous dive at the Corner Shop, as the bright eyed and bushy tailed did their giant stride into the flat seas the visibility was as far as the eye could see. We slowly drifted along the reef where large schools of Barracuda created hypnotic vortex around the divers while some beautiful Butterfly Fish danced amongst the corals. Next up was a labyrinth of a site called Dungeons & Dragons, full of caves, swim throughs and crevasses created by larva flow many moons ago. After an informative briefing and the vast knowledge of the crew, everybody made it back to the mooring and back on board before we set off to our final destination of the day. In the afternoon we did two dives on the Antonia Terrobocchia wreck, both being drift dives timed perfectly by our captain Ross so that in between the two dives the current changed direction there for allowing us to explore even more of the reef and wreck. Once everyone was back onboard it was mixed emotions as many wanted to stay at Bougainville Reef but we all agreed that we wanted to see Holmes Reef, which isn't often visited so this was going to be a special treat for all. We made our way south towards Holmes as Terry served another belt busting meal up followed by a mouth-watering dessert.

After another spectacular sunrise we were all geared up and ready to rock at Holmes Reef. After a quick current check we knew we were in for an exciting dive at Amazing Cave, which has a large swim through and with the morning sun it made it a captivating experience. The current had a little push to it, which brought in plenty of clean water and lots of food for the enormous patch of Speckled Garden Eels. While everyone enjoyed some eggs benedict for brekkie we moved sights to Tuna Towers, which is a bunch of elongated bommies along the edge of Holmes. These ridges are covered in gigantic soft corals, Gorgonian fans and littered with Crinoids full of tiny Squat Lobsters and Cling Fish.

Over lunch we moved again to a very popular spot called Nonkies. This pinnacle is situated just of Homles but receives plenty of nutrient rich water making it a bit of an oasis. Many found a variety of nudibranchs and all sorts of crustaceans, while large schools of jacks and other large pelagic fish roamed the outskirts of the pinnacle including the resident Silver Tip Reef Shark. As this lovely site has so much too offer we double dived the pinnacle, which is just the perfect way to end the diving for the trip. Even though the diving was done it didn't mean the fun had to end, we enjoyed a delicious BBQ on the sundeck as the sunset over the Great Barrier Reef with some refreshing drinks as we all got to know one another even a little bit more. All in all it was a fantastic trip with good weather and great people!

Ellis Spurrier
Trip Director

 

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Mon 16th January 2017 - Thu 19th January 2017 - ( 15) images

Spirit of Freedom departed Cairns on Monday afternoon in beautiful sunshine and headed out to Norman Reef for the afternoon. We set up the dive gear and jumped into the flat warm water to explore what the Great Barrier Reef had to offer. Leafy Scorpion Fish, Batfish, Turtles and White Tip Reef Sharks were a few of the wonderful marine creatures spotted as our divers refreshed their skills and honed their dive skills with our dive team of AJ, James, Reina, Gretta, Ellis and Nick. After the second dive was finished we watched the sunset over the ocean and relaxed on the sundeck as Captain Tony headed north to the southern Ribbon Reefs.

Our second day was spent diving at Ribbon Reef 3 and 5 north and east of Cooktown. Diving at Steve's Bommie is always an incredible way to start your day with the immense schools of fish surrounding the bommie and all the amazing macro critters hiding in the crevices of the reef structure. Schools of glassfish adorned the tower at Ribbon 5 with huge soft corals and fans covering the deeper sections while Fusiliers schooled over the top, shimmering blue and gold in the sunlight. The afternoon dive at Clam Gardens allowed the divers to explore the dive site and find the huge giant clams that live in the shallow sections of the reef using sunlight to boost their food source in the similar manner to the coral polyps that build the reef itself. After dinner it was time to prepare the torches and get out the Ultra Violet lights to see what the reef looks like under the cover of darkness. Crustaceans and tiny critters appeared from the gaps between the corals and the predators emerged, chasing down any fish that had not found a good hiding place as torchbeams illuminated them. White Tip Reef Sharks patrolled the shallows, circling around in the darkness as the divers stared at the glowing green sections of the reef that fluoresced under the UV light.

The final day was spent diving in the northern Ribbon Reefs, around Ribbon Reef 10. Lighthouse Bommie was definitely the favourite of the day as most people saw a large Manta Ray circling and feeding on the blooms in the water. Miia was completing her 100th dive and the Manta Ray certainly made it a dive to remember! Tanya completed her Nitrox course with Instructor James and spent the day enjoying the benefits of using Enriched Air Nitrox on her dives. The Cod Hole features the ability to dive with the giant and very friendly Potato Cod that are resident there and Ellis took down a bucket of fish to feed them right in front of the divers masks. Cameras flashed, GoPro's beeped and everyone got to spend a little bit of time with the docile giants after the feed was finished. Andrew also completed his 100th dive and, after an awesome BBQ prepared by the majority of the SOF Crew, everyone raised a glass to celebrate the end of a great 3 days of diving.

Our sad farewells came as our divers boarded the charter plane on Lizard Island after enjoying a beautiful morning walk and breakfast on the beach. Congratulations to Emily and Brad who were on their honeymoon and spent it with us underwater!

Nick Leigh
Trip Director

 

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Thu 12th January 2017 - Mon 16th January 2017 - ( 18) images

When there is rain a drizzle at Lizard island and the cloud cover is 100% with the humidity right up on the top of the charts it is a sight for sore eyes. After 6 years without a wet season we are finally getting one and the trees a lush and green. The grass is healthy and fresh and the birds are happily showering off. Of course for us that means we break out the ponchos as we transfer everyone from the airport over to Spirit before heading out to start the Coral Sea Trifecta for the week. As everyone settles in for the welcome aboard talks, Lunch and Safety Briefing Lizard island disappears into the distance to be replaced by a pod of spinner dolphins riding in our wake.

We arrived at Coral Princess Bommie with a squall out in the distance and sunshine and blue sky basking over us. We stayed for one dive to get everyone oriented with diving on Spirit and had a couple of turtles and a cuttlefish come up and say hello.

Having looked at the tides we were concerned that there would be a pretty strong current at Admiralty on Friday night so we opted to go to Challenger Bay for an afternoon and night dive. Of course as a night dive site no one could pass up the chance to jump in at Challenger with plenty of sharks and hunting action all over the reef. When five foot grey reef sharks swim at top speed the move through the water like a bullet, it get very interesting when the bullet goes straight between your legs as happened on a few occasions on this night.

We left the Ribbon Reefs at 9pm and started the overnight steam out to Osprey Reef. The gentle rocking of the boat and the days activities had everyone in bed nice and early sleeping away. Waking up at Around The Bend for what would prove to be our first none current drift/swim for the trip.

The Coral Sea is a fickle place at times, we can do a dive with the same tide, same wind, same everything one week and the current will be doing one thing. The next week the current will be doing something completely different. Even when we do current checks it can change within 30 minutes. This week I am sure the current controllers at Osprey were having a great chuckle turning it on and off on a whim and leaving us scratching our heads.

This of course happened for the shark feed where we did the check and by the time everyone jumped in the current had gone from comfortable to crazy. Everyone did a great job getting down to the Shark a dome for the feed where they were tucked away nice and comfortably.

We then decided to make the most of it with a drift down Soft Coral Wall. Of course the current stopped the moment we jumped in and ended up enjoying the beautiful soft coral by swimming gently past them. A huge school of Trevally were cruising the wall and coming very close to everyone making for some great pictures. The sharks were also in a posing mood for a picture that Nicole and Neil will never forget.

We left the sharks of North Horn and headed to the swim throughs of Admiralty Anchor. Big Bump Headed Parrot fish and a Massive Napoleon Wrasse were all cruising the ally's of Admiralty. Everyone enjoyed going through the tunnels and the den full of sleeping white tip reef sharks.

We planned for a night dive at Admiralty however our fears of a ripping current on the full moon proved to be accurate so we decided that after our current checker came up puffing and panting that the conditions were too adverse and we stepped back from doing the dive. We left for Bougainville reef and spent the night cruising through he black of the Coral Sea.

Corner Shop is our preferred dive for the first one at Bougainville and we were tied up at 6am hanging out and looking at the crystal clear waters. The current was none existent so we did a static dive onto the corner cleaning station. Lots of resting sharks and a nice big turtle were the highlights.

A couple of dives a Dungeons and Dragons were the order of business for the middle part of the day. Everyone loved the tunnels and overhangs and had a really nice time exploring the area.

Anchors Away to top off the Bougainville experience. The highlight was certainly the massive ships anchor that is wedged into a crack at this site. It is over 10 feet tall and is an impressive souvenir the reef has claimed.

An overnight steam to Holmes reef, we arrived at midnight and dropped the anchor. A nice quite few hours after that for everyone to get some well earned sleep. Amazing was how we started the Holmes experience. In fact Amazing was so Amazing that we did it twice. The cave, the clownfish, the Thorny Rays and of course the sharks were a highlight.

Holmes Pinnacle for some fantastic fans and a swim through that we actually only look at the gloriousness of but don't go through it. Essentially it is so packed with fans that we can't go through without damaging anything so we only look on with envy at the awesomeness of this reef.

Nonkies to finish the whole thing off, I am not sure what everyone was more excited about. The dive site or the game of UNO happening before the dive! The dive site proved to be the more exciting thing hands down. Plenty of huge smiles as everyone got out of the water a cracked open an end of trip beer.

A great trip with an amazingly hard working crew and fabulous passengers. Looking forward to getting out here again soon.

Angus Rowe
Trip Director.

 

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Mon 9th January 2017 - Thu 12th January 2017 - ( 16) images

Watching Cairns disappear into the distance on a flat calm ocean and a Monday that was designed for postcards was a classic way to start a trip to the Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs. It is always a flurry of activity on the boat on Mondays. People getting settled into boat life, finding their way about and getting through all the briefings and information about the diving and the plan for the next few days.

The best part of Monday is when everyone comes up from their first dive. They all have that look of "wow" and the realization that the dive trip they have been planning and looking forward to for a very long time has now really started. For many it is the first dive they will have on the Great Barrier Reef. Something they have thought about for years and have traveled halfway around the world to experience. For some of our divers on Monday they literally had being off the plane for 30 minutes before arriving at the boat. Flying from Dallas to Sydney then on to Cairns and diving the same day as arriving in the Country. That is surely one solution for jet lag.

The great part for this Monday was that we were able to stand on the sun deck of Spirit Of Freedom and look at the sharks circling just below. We had turtles on the dives as well as Giant Trevally and a Moray Eel hanging out showing hi big green head and mouth full of white needle teeth.

We travelled through dinner with a gentle rocking of the boat as everyone sat down to a beautiful meal and got to know their shipmates for the next few days. Early to bed for most and by 10pm there was only the sound of the water passing by the hull and the engines propelling us North into the night.

We woke up at Steve's Bommie for a Turtle of a dive. 6 big turtles all hanging around feeding on the Jellyfish the were bobbing past in the current. A big school of Trevally and a Great Barracuda watched proceedings without a care in the world.

Onto dive two for the day and Joanie's Joy was the pick of the spots. Most divers chose to venture off as Buddy pairs and check the place out for them selves. Everyone came up saying they had a great dive and really enjoyed the easy navigation and clear waters.

George's Wall was up next. We try and find a mix of sites that suit what everyone enjoys and with most of the boat happy to dive in buddy's the wall sites make it easy for them to have plenty of space and also Navigate as well. Georges was at the lull of the tide and as such the fish were all taking a chill time so there wasn't much happening.

The tide started to run again by the time we arrived at Clam Gardens for the 4th dive of the day. With the water movement the fish started to get more active and we had plenty to see with Trevally and Barracuda cruising around waiting for an easy meal. A couple of nice Nudibranchs and a school of spotted sweet lip to round out the dive.

Clam Gardens for the night dive and things really started to kick off. Sharks and fish hunting and all the prey cowering away. The current started to pick up during the dive and by the end of it everyone did a very good job hanging onto the lines and getting back up on the boat.

Lighthouse Bommie to kick of Wednesday. With sea snakes and Pelagic fish everywhere, clown fish popping out of Anemone's and a big Green Turtle the dive proved to be a favorite for many.

The Cod at Cod Hole were up to their usual tricks of telling each other who is boss. It is always amazing to see what happens when one of them decides to flare up at another. They spend a great deal of energy getting away from the angry Cod and in the case of today even crash into the reef at full speed in an attempt to escape. Of course feeding a Cod that has just chased away one of his bigger family members is pretty interesting. You can tell the fish is still pretty wild and angry and want food from your hand without too many manners involved. It always takes a while to get them to settle down and relax to make the feeding easier.

We did a second dive at Cod Hole and found five white tip reef sharks hanging about the place chilling out. A large turtle and a Moray eel rounded out the underwater sites.

We finished off the trip at snake pit. We knew there would be some current there and planned to dive it at the slackest part of the tide for this reason. With the current came an Eagle Ray drifting about and gliding along. A Grey Reef shark also came by to say hi.

It has been a great few days here on Spirit Of Freedom with a lot of chatter currently going on in the forward lounge. So many dive stories going on at once, music to my ears.

Until next time.

Angus Rowe
Trip Director.

 

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Thu 5th January 2017 - Mon 9th January 2017 - ( 1) images

What an strangely different start to the trip, 10-15 ktns of North Westerly winds bringing angry skys, rain and wind squals to start the 4 days. We quickly managed a schedule that would keep everyone happy.. As our keen divers geared up for their first dive of the trip Spirit of Freedom made her way to the Pixie Reefs. We kicked off the diving for a double dive at Pixie Gardens. Fusiliers, Giant Trevally, Grey reef Sharks, Nudibranchs, Disco Clams and Macro Life were all at home for us to see.
After heading back to Lizard for shelter and a good nights sleep Rodrigo made his signature lamb shanks dinner.

We woke the next morning to the boat heading towards the world famous Cod Hole for a double dive. Each guests was estatic about being able to get up close and personal with the potato cod. After the cod feed in the shallows with 2 energetic cods all divers went and got their depth up the front of the boat where they managed to spot a big Black Devil ray glide past them. TD Timi had the feed bucket with him all dive so that the cods hung around the boat and guests for as much time as possible.The second dive didn't disappoint with 2 huge oceanic Manta rays showing themselves to Gretls Guided group. Both Mantas where show boating doing belly roles teasing the divers.
Pixie Pinnacle was next on the schedule showing all the divers what to expect from a Pinnacle/Bommie. Big Schools of Neon Fuziliers covered the reef with clown fish, lion fish, Pipe Fish and Nudibrachs uo the walls.
Challenger Bay was next for a double dive to end the day.
As usual the Night dive at Challenger bay never disappoints. Sharks, Giant Trevally, Red Bass, Moray Eels and sting rays all hunting for their dinner meal. Soon all divers surfaced with big smiles on their face talking throughout the night about the bait fish that didn't make it and how close the sharks and GTs got to them.

We where finally there at the coral sea (bouganville) after the all clear by the Skipper Ross. The morning we woke to the same slight Northerly winds and swell which made it difficult to find dive sites but we managed to drift dive South Park wall in the morning with beautiful corals, amazing visibility, sharks, schooling pelagics and minimal fuss. After a delisious second breakfast it was time to dive the Antonio Terrabochia wreck that is scattered all over the reef wall. Once again the visibility was world class giving divers an easy 50m visibility. The coral gardens surrounding the wreck where bright and healthy with small schools of juvenile fish surrounding the area. After Lunch we decided to stay at the same reef wall and do tender drops in opposite directions for the next 2 dives due to the weather. Luckily it didn't disappoint with Manta Rays, sharks and turtles being spotted by all divers.

Waking up Sunday morning on the ribbons to stormy weather hadn't discouraged divers who where looking forward to a double dive on Steves Bommie. Due to a strong current not all divers made it to the dive site and had to be rescued by the tender. The Divers who did manage to get to the bommie where amazed by the abundance of fish life of the dive site. Manta Madness struck again with divers spotting a Manta on Steves with a duo of turtles, stonefish, Leafy scorpion fish, and lion fish.

After Rdorigos signature Pizza Lunch, Joanies Joy was the next shallow reef to explore. Divers and converted Snorkelers jumped in to spot the white tip reef sharks, oriental sweetlips, schools of juvenile fish, and turtles.
The Last Dive of the trip finished with a nice easy cruisy dive at century bay where big rays where once again spotted, cuttlefish, shooling sharks, juvenile fishes and beautiful coral gardens. After Gear breakdown it was time to watch the sunset up the top deck with complimentary drinks before a traditional Aussie BBQ to finish the night and trip. Cairns was awaiting for us the next morning when everyone awoke.

 

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Mon 2nd January 2017 - Thu 5th January 2017 - ( 2) images

Excited passengers departed Cairns on a beautiful Monday to morning. Cruising out to the Great Barrier Reef to do a couple check out dives. First reef to stop at was Jorgies Patches.. Underneath the boat was beautiful visibility with hundreds of fuziliers dancing for the divers. Shortly after the first dive the weather turned monsoonal raining buckets all over the reef. After a rainy twilight dive with torches it was time for Rodrigo's signature salmon noodle dinner.

Steves bommie was the first site to be explored on the Ribbon Reefs. It was a brilliant first dive showcasing all that it has to offer. Turtles, Shooling pelagics, stone fish, new leafy scorpion fish, sharks and clown fish with 30m visibility.

Joanies Joy is a beautiful coral garden site that has flowing coral structures. Most significant is the stag horn coral that grows here. The colonies are large and cover the seafloor. Just before getting in the water the current picked up so we quickly had to change to a drift dive.
Soon it was time to introduce a NEW site to the schedule called Crack A Jack. First dived by Timi and Gretl on an older boat it was time that they shared this new amazing site to the spirit team and passengers.

Afternoon and night dive lead us to another awesome spot. Clam Gardens. Here the coral and fish life are just as bountiful as one another. As an old Clam farming reef the shallow section of sand hosts massive coral growth which in turn houses thousands of fish life.

At night Clam Gardens really came alive. Damsils and fusiliers were spawning right in front of divers. Other fish mouth brooding releasing their young into the water column. Small blue spotted lagoon rays could be seen zipping along the sand and hiding under coral where parrot fish and moray eels where sleeping.

We started the last day of diving on the Wideside of the reef at Vertical Gardens.

Each diver was treated to beautiful soft coral walls, hard coral structures and schooling yellow tripped snapper, fusiliers and a family of eagle rays.

Light house bommie was next and had plenty to see. Large schools of trevally and barracuda. Stingrays on the sand and large grey reef sharks swimming up the bommie buzzing divers

The worlds famous cod hole! Divers here got to swam with some of the largest Groupers on the GBR. Potato cod, a duo turned up to be fed by TD Timi. All divers and snorkelers where amazed at the curiosity of the cods.

Last but not least is Snake pit! The name says it all. Here olive sea snakes are found along with massive Green Sea turtle shooting to the surface surprised to see divers! Some divers also had a treat of spotting a large eagle ray and even a Manta.

 

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