Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Wilsons Prom

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013
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Only a few days after our Gambier visit it was already time for another big diving trip. Our club trip to Wilsons Promontory a year ago was a great success and obviously everyone was keen to get back there for more awesome diving. This time we were also better prepared for the conditions and hoping to avoid the few incidents we had last year.

The Scuba Divers Federation of Victoria has been organizing the annual Wilsons Prom trip over the Melbourne Cup long weekend for quite a while now. Wilsons Prom is fairly remote and has minimal infrastructure for diving so having multiple dive clubs around certainly makes life a little bit easier. This year we had a pretty impressive turnout from the local clubs, even the Flinders University Underwater Club all the way from Adelaide was there! Our former club president Crystal was on a short visit to Melbourne, so she joined the trip as well.

Luke, Evan and I were the first to get there on Friday, as it was MUUC’s turn to organize the Saturday night BBQ we also stopped on the way to pick up lots of sausages and other food stuffs. Catering for close to a hundred people (not all divers, plenty of people from other clubs had brought their families too) sure is a lot of work! But we were determined to make sure things worked more smoothly this year. Last year our club missed out on the barbeque completely as by the time we got there all the food was already gone!

After getting to the camping ground at Tidal River we played with Evan’s quadcopter for a while, good fun while bit tricky! Then it was time to set up our tents and wait for the other club members to get there. We had quite a few people joining us, most in tents and a few in cabins nearby. By the time we got the last tent setup it was getting quite late, definitely time to get some sleep.

In the morning it was time to get started with the actual diving. While the weather on Saturday was looking great for diving a big storm was supposed to hit the Prom sometime in the early hours of Sunday. So obviously everyone was keen to do as much diving as possible before that happened! Since we had only one boat with us we were rotating divers, four trips a day meant everyone got to do two dives.

I also did my first proper boat-sitting on this trip. For the first dive we had chosen the Pinnacle and I was sitting that dive. Happily everything went smoothly, and soon enough I had picked up the divers from the water and we were heading back to the shore to pick up a new group of divers.

The second dive of the day (and my first of the trip) was the Humpback. This was an excellent dive a year ago and it didn’t disappoint this time either. The site is full of big rocks covered in zoanthids, cool walls and several swimthroughs, including one large vertical pipe. I was diving with Mathilde and we both had an excellent dive!

For my second dive of the day I did the Skull Rock. We had a number of incidents on this site last year, including my problems with the blocked exhaust valve. Luckily things went smoothly this time, we hopped in with Evan, Mathilde, Seth and Alycia. We started the dive by checking out the the tunnels going through the rock. Current was pretty minimal this time and the dive was certainly lot more enjoyable than a year ago!

While not real caves the swimthroughs leading through the sides of the rock are certainly very cool! After going through the rock twice we started following the reef to a deeper area with some cool valleys and walls. Unfortunately it was also getting bit too deep for the OW divers diving with us. At one point Mathilde had a minor incident and her fin came off. after assisting her we decided it was time to head back to shallower waters.

After some playing around in the shallows and some photography we headed back to the surface and joined up Crystal on the boat. On the way back we drove past one of the seal colonies. There were quite a few seals up on a big rock, including one that had suffered some rather nasty injuries. Luckily he had gotten back to the safety of the colony, but he was still pretty badly wounded with some big gashes on his side. Hopefully he survives the ordeal!

Back on the shore it was time to get started with the barbeque. As we had brought plenty of food we thought we were well prepared. Sadly this didn’t turn out to be true. We had an even bigger turnout than expected and sadly some people thought it was ok to go not only for seconds, but for thirds and fourths without paying extra! We still had enough food for almost everyone, but a few latecomers were left out. At least it was well beyond the scheduled time of the bbq at that point. Still, it seems to be impossible to keep everyone happy. At least it will be several years before it is our time to organize the bbq again, as this task rotates between the clubs.

While weather was still looking nice it was clear based on the forecast that there would not be any diving on Sunday. Quite a few of us went for a late evening walk, Prom is certainly a great spot for walking both day and night. Afterwards we settled down at our tents to get some sleep before the storm. The storm hit us in the early hours of the morning and this was definitely a big one! Luckily all our tents survived the storm, even the big multi-room one Seth had brought. With the storm blowing there was no way I was getting more sleep, so I got up with sunrise to do some more walking. Unfortunately it started raining quite heavily after a while, so I was forced to return to the campground.

We spent the rest of the day hiking too. First we walked up to the top of Mt Bishop. Mt Bishop may not be the highest peak on the Prom, but the view from the top is still quite spectacular. Especially on a really windy day like this with big waves breaking all along the coastline!

Afterwards we visited the nearby Squeaky Beach (named after the fine sand making “squeaky” sounds when stepped on). It was sad seeing all the dead birds along the coastline, the storm had certainly taken its toll on the poor animals. Then we headed back to the camp and spent the rest of the day there hoping that weather would improve by the next morning.

The waves were still looking quite large on Monday morning but luckily things improved enough by afternoon that we could safely launch our boat. Quite a few of our divers had already headed back to Melbourne at this point so at least we no longer had to return back to shore during the day to switch divers.

The launch itself and the way out was still quite rough, but we found a well-protected spot near one of the bigger rocky islands. This wasn’t one of the marked dive sites, but we still decided to hop in for a look. The site turned out quite nice, lots of bommies and boulders covered in zoanthids. There were also several impressive seawhips around the site, hence we decided to name it “Seawhip Cove”. Visibility was still decent too, we had been concerned that the storm might have muddied up the waters.

Some of us had spotted a small beach on the island while waiting on the boat, so for the surface interval we decided to go in for a closer look. A few of us swam in first and found a couple of really cool dry caves near the beach! One of them went on for quite a while too, sadly there was some rubbish in there that had been washed or blown in. Still a really cool find! We took the boat in carefully on the beach and then all of us spent some more time exploring. We also climbed to the top of the island, the view from up there was quite spectacular.

However, as we had started the day late and people still wanted a second dive we couldn’t spend too much time on the island playing pirates as Alycia would have preferred. For the second dive we headed over to the Eagle’s Peak, a dive site on the exposed side of this same island. Eagles Beak is known as one of the best dives in the area and it certainly lived up to its reputation. It was somewhat rough of the surface, but luckily there wasn’t too much surge underwater.

There were some impressive boulders, several small caves and spectacular swimthroughs to explore. At one point we also had a pair of seals checking us out and getting close and personal. Sadly I couldn’t quite get the camera focus right and didn’t get any good photos of them. Considering how interesting the site was I could have spent a long time down there. Sadly my buddy Stuart went through his air quite quickly so our bottom time was relatively short.

As we were returning to the shore we had our only bigger incident of the trip. It was fairly rough in the Norman Bay and just as we were getting shallow enough to jump off one of the tanks must have been knocked open. Everyone got really distracted trying to find the leaking tank. Then people started jumping off the boat to get the car and the trailer. Suddenly only Luke was left on the boat but he wasn’t driving, he was still trying to find the leaking tank!

The boat started turning sideways into the waves and things got quite chaotic. I was in deeper water myself and relatively safe but Evan and Seth had quite a scare when the boat almost crashed into them while bouncing on the waves! Luckily Luke got things under control and we were able to get the boat and all the divers back on shore safely.

On Tuesday we headed out one last time, our first dive was back at the Eagles Beak. This time I was diving with Isaac who was certainly lot better on air than Stuart. We spent a lot of time exploring the caves and swimthroughs in this area. Of particular interest was a decent size chamber beneath a massive boulder with several tunnels branching off! This was definitely the best dive of the trip for me and one of the best dives I have ever done.

We had had a fairly late morning so it was getting bit late already, but some of us were still keen for one more dive. This time we headed to Humpback again. Our dive plan was to follow the coastline to the Pinnacle on the protected side of the island.

Unfortunately this plan didn’t work too well. Humpback is very exposed and the swell was still fairly heavy. This meant some fairly strong surge too, especially in the swimthroughs and some of the holes. The surge was less of an issue once we left the more exposed area, however the underwater scenery got less interesting too. Soon enough most of the bigger boulders were gone and the rocks were mainly covered in kelp instead of colorful zoanthids.

The rest of the dive was frankly bit boring, the only more interesting sight was a massive ball of bait fish. I managed a few quick (overexposed) shots and then they were swimming away already. Soon afterwards Isaac and I returned to the surface, it was time to get the boat back to the shore as some people were getting anxious to return to Melbourne.

Unfortunately on the way back we ran into some further delays in the form of boat issues. At this point the boat was running little low on fuel, but there was still plenty to get back to shore safely. However, suddenly the engine started stalling while bouncing up and down on the waves. After the main engine stalled a few times we tried to get the spare fuel tank connected. Unfortunately we found out there was an issue with the fuel line, so that didn’t work too well either. Eventually we were able to pour some fuel directly to the main tank and the engine started working again.

We were not really sure what the issue was as there had still been a fair bit of fuel left in the tank. Big Boat has given us a fair share of problems in the past and it’s definitely time to try to get it replaced! Either way, we really need the fuel line fixed ASAP. At least there was no real emergency this time and we had plenty of time to sort out the problem. The rest of the trip back was problem free, we got back to the shore safely, finished packing our gear and started the drive back to Melbourne.

Despite the stormy Sunday and the boat problems the trip was still a resounding success. For me Wilsons Prom has the best diving in Victoria, it’s a shame we can’t go there more often! Two great dive trips in a row definitely makes up for a quiet Spring!

Cave diving in Mt Gambier

Friday, October 25th, 2013
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Unfortunately the weather this Spring has been quite disappointing and the decent September was followed by a windy and rainy October. This meant very little opportunity for diving but luckily the weather isn’t an issue for the Mt Gambier caves. We had planned to head back there with Adrian ever since our cave course in June. Now was finally our chance to explore Pines properly and visit some of the cave rated sites we missed during the course.

Pines is by far the largest cave-rated site in Mt Gambier and consequently we did most of our dives there. While a major part of the cave is only available for advanced cave divers, there is still a fair number of tunnels and chambers to explore.

After arriving in Mt Gambier on Thursday evening we had an lazy start on Friday. We headed out to Pines in the afternoon and started preparing for our first dive. Unfortunately I found out that I had left my camera at the Pine Tank lodge. Oh well, it was probably sensible to do the first dive without the camera anyway since I hadn’t done any cave diving for several months.

The dive itself was quite nice, we headed down the side tunnel first which took us to the bottom of the main chamber. From there we continued exploring one of the side tunnels branching off. On the way back we decided to lock off the reel and leave it at the bottom of the main chamber for our second dive of the day. But before that Adrian needed his tanks topped up.

Unfortunately we hit some hiccups while filling up the tanks back at the Pine Tank lodge. We had both used the fill station several times before, but this time we both struggled to remember how to use it. Eventually I figured it out but by then it was already dark outside. Not that it really matters in the caves, especially on a cloudy day when even the Pines main chamber is fairly dark. Besides, we couldn’t really leave our reel in the Pines for the night since other divers had booked in for the next day.

So off we went back to the Pines. We picked up the reel where we had left it in the main chamber and continued exploring the side tunnels. My main torch was acting up a little bit on the dive, but it never got too serious. Besides, I had my camera with me this time so I could just keep the strobe focus lights running the whole dive.

We entered some pretty small tunnels on this dive, especially since I was diving with the camera now. In one of the tighter tunnels Adrian had a valve roll off and at the same time my camera was getting little bit tangled on some loose line. This was a potentially serious incident, but we handled it calmly and sorted everything out. Still, it was clearly time to head back to the surface, we had had a nice long dive already anyway.

Our second day of diving started with a very minor yet rather annoying incident. We were checking out one of the tight tunnels branching from near the top of the main chamber in Pines. Things were getting bit tight and then suddenly I felt water coming in my drysuit from somewhere near the shoulder! It was too tight to check what was wrong so I backed off to the main chamber to figure out where the leak was. Apparently my drysuit zipper had been pushed slightly open when I was wriggling through the tunnel sideways.

Unfortunately by the time I figured this out and closed the zipper my suit was quite wet. Time to call the dive and head back to the surface to dry out the suit and get some dry clothes on. And to make it even worse the tunnel we were exploring doesn’t even seem to lead anywhere, it just keeps getting tighter and tighter.

After this incident we had a break on the surface, I dried my drysuit the best I could and switch into some dry clothes. Not as good as a proper undersuit, but still better than a soaking wet one!

Then we hopped back in, headed to the bottom of the main chamber and explored a few of the tunnels leading off from there. Some of the areas got quite silty, and at one point I even opted not to follow Adrian to one of the tighter tunnels as the visibility was getting quite poor.

Eventually it was time to get back to the main chamber and follow the line back to the surface. While it was still partially cloudy we were now getting enough sunlight for some decent natural light shots on the way back up. Pines is not quite as impressive as the more open sites like Kilsbys, but the main chamber is still quite pretty with the sun shining above.

After this dive it was finally time for something slightly different. We picked up the key for Allendale Cave and started the climb down to the water level.

While a nice enough cave, Allendale is also quite small. From the cave entrance a tunnel leads at an angle down to a larger main chamber, and this is pretty much all there is to the dive. There are a few small side passages, but they don’t really lead anywhere.

Adrian was still keen to try to push a few of the tunnels, in particular the silty hole at the bottom of the main chamber. Sadly it is pretty clear this hole leads nowhere, while you can wiggle your way in for a while the tunnel simply ends. On the way back up there’s also a slightly larger side tunnel, but this doesn’t lead anywhere either.

It was nice to visit the cave that we had only dived on our cave course. Still, we both felt that our 30 minute dive time was pretty much the maximum you would want to spend down there. We had some bad luck on this dive too. As we were getting out of water Adrian pierced his drysuit on some sharp rocks.  This resulted in a hole that was definitely big enough to be annoying. And his suit was almost brand new, too!

While we still had a few hours of daylight left it was clearly time to call it a day and see if we could get the drysuit fixed. Luckily I had brought my Aquaseal glue, so we applied some on the hole and let it dry for the night.

Then in the morning we headed back to Pines for our final dive there. Luckily the repair had been successful and Adrian’s suit was no longer leaking. We started the dive by going down the side tunnel and then explored the low silty tunnel below the main chamber. This tunnel is quite low but also relatively wide. However, as the bottom and the sides are covered in white fine silt great care must be taken, especially with backmount. We managed pretty well, only at our turning point we had some silting.

On the way back we also visited the sign that indicates the beginning of the Advanced Cave section. Anything beyond this point was obviously off-limits for us, so after a few photos we turned back and made our way to the surface through the side tunnel. With a long bottom time, some interesting sights and no real issues this was definitely our best dive in Pines so far.

We had enough gas and time left for one more dive. Our pick was Engelbrect East, a site neither of us had done before. This cave is right in the middle of Mt Gambier and the sizable dry cave area is also popular with tourists. In fact guided tours are often timed so they get to the dry cave when divers are getting up from a dive.

The dive begins in a small underground pool in the dry cave area. This section gets silted really easily, so care must be taken when entering and gearing up. From the pool a low but reasonably wide tunnel leads to the rest of the cave. Along the way we checked out a few tunnel entrances, but didn’t find anything overly interesting.

The cave itself is quite pretty and looks rather different from the other cave level sites in the area. However, the main attraction of the dive was definitely the large underground chamber at the end of the tunnel. There is quite a large chamber there with breathable air!

However, even with this distraction our dive was a short one. After checking out the air chamber we headed back to the entry pool and got out. Then it was time for the long climb back to the surface, a major disadvantage with this site. It’s a lot of steps back up from the dry cave to the surface! At least the steps are not very steep but it’s still hard work climbing back up with full scuba gear on a hot day!

Overall we both felt this trip was quite successful despite a few minor problems. It was well worth heading back to Mt Gambier after our cave course, even if it took us several months to get a trip organized!

Pier dives: nudibranchs and spider crabs

Sunday, September 29th, 2013
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The great boat dives in mid-September got my hopes up but unfortunately the great conditions didn’t last and rest of the month turned out quite windy. Luckily many of the Port Phillip shore dives are well protected from most winds so there’s usually at least some options for a sheltered dive. At 14 degrees water was still quite cool for most divers so it was just Walson and me heading out on the 29th.

We had picked Blairgowrie and Rye piers as the dive sites. Blairgowrie is a safe choice in most conditions as the sea wall at the outer edge of the pier blocks most of the waves. Despite the fairly strong winds we had an excellent long dive there in great conditions and good visibility.

There was also plenty to see, including lots of nudibranchs, a few seahorses and a couple of stingrays too. Out of the nudibranchs the Hedgpeth’s dorids were the most common sight. I managed to get some great shots of them.

The second dive at Rye wasn’t as impressive and the conditions were bit choppy, especially in shallower water. Our visit to the artificial Elsa’s Reef near the pier was disappointing too, the structure has more or less fallen apart by now. A big shame, it was a nice addition to a rather short pier dive.

The main highlight of this dive were the numerous spider crabs. There were quite a few of them around and I managed some nice closeups of them. Obviously this wasn’t a full crab migration or anything close, just a dozen or so spider crabs hanging around the pier. A great distraction on an otherwise average dive.

Portsea Backbeach and J5 Submarine

Saturday, September 14th, 2013
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The Spring is finally here and hopefully more diving too! Not much had happened on the diving front this Winter so I was really looking forward to some better conditions again.

We finally got our perfect day in mid-September. It was sunny and calm, a great day to take the boat out with Evan and Luke. We started out at Portsea Backbeach Wall, a reef dive I had only done once before as one my first dives in Melbourne. There are more impressive reefs around the coast, but it was still  pleasant dive with decent variety of fish, including several blue devils. My only real complaint was the somewhat lackluster visibility.

I was diving with Luke, Jess and Walson. Luke has had his new camera kit for quite a while now, but this was actually the first time I saw the thing in action. Quite impressive, even if those strobe arms are definitely very long!

Then for the next dive Luke and the OW-rated divers jumped in at the Lonsdale Arches. And finally to wrap up the day I did the J5 submarine with Evan and Oscar. I had only dived this particular sub once before so this dive was definitely the highlight of the day for me. The wreck lies down at 36 m and it is relatively intact. At this depth penetration is not feasible with a single tank so we simply stayed on top of the wreck. Of particular interest is the conning tower completely covered in yellow zoanthids, hence the nickname “yellow submarine”.

At this depth no-decompression limits are short, especially since we had already done one dive earlier. For some reason Oscar’s computer gave him a really short bottom time, so we had even less time on the wreck itself than usual. I had just enough time to get a few nice shots and then it was already time to start ascending.

Unfortunately the ascent didn’t go quite as planned. On the way to the final safety stop Oscar had some buoyancy issues and ended up going straight to the surface.

He was obviously little bit shocked when the boat picked him up, but luckily there was no lasting harm from the ascent. Apart from this incident the day was very enjoyable, hopefully the rest of the Spring diving is this good!

August Shore Dives

Sunday, August 25th, 2013
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Between the poor winter weather, couple of colds and the New Zealand trip there were precious little opportunities for diving in June and July. It took until August for me to get back in the ocean. By far the longest break I have had since I broke my arm!

After a few mishaps we got down to Flinders and started preparing for the dive. It was quite windy but otherwise a pleasant winter day and we were looking forward to a decent dive.

Unfortunately the conditions underwater were rather poor. Visibility was quite bad and there was a lot of organic junk floating around. Not the ideal conditions for photos! Not that there was that much to see anyway, just a few fish. Not even a single seadragon in sight!

Luckily our second dive at Rye turned out better. This side of the peninsula is more exposed to northerly winds and it was rather choppy on the surface. Due to several delays during the day it was also getting quite late and by the time we got in the water it was already getting close to dusk.

Luckily this dive was lot more pleasant than the one at Flinders. Apart from slight choppiness the conditions were ok and visibility was ok as well. There was decent amount of marine life too, including several seahorses and lots of crabs. Some of the others saw an octopus too but I missed that.

After a couple of weeks it was time to head back for more shore dives, this time with just Walson. It was a beautiful sunny winter day if a touch windy. We started our day at Blairgowrie, pretty much always a safe choice.

The pier didn’t disappoint this time either. This was the best dive I have done in a long while and decent length too at 53 minutes. We saw several seahorses, pretty seastars, a few nudibranchs and a fiddler ray. And to make it even better there was a massive school of salmon swimming around. Sadly they never let me get close enough to take a good shot with the macro lens but it was still a very impressive sight and they stayed around for ages.

Our second dive at Rye was nice too, even if it wasn’t quite as good as Blairgowrie. We saw more seahorses, lots of crabs and decent variety of fish species. There was also a lot of jellyfish floating around in the water.

We also had a look at Elsa’s reef bit further away from the pier. Unfortunately this artificial reef has suffered some serious damage over the winter months and most of the structure has collapsed. A shame really, it was shaping up as a nice addition to the normal pier dive.

Despite the minor letdown at Elsa’s this was still an excellent day of diving. It definitely feels that the worst of winter is now over and we are heading towards spring!


Cave Course

Monday, June 10th, 2013
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With some excellent ocean diving in May it was time for something new in June. On the first weekend of June Adrian and I drove down to Gambier for our cave course. We were both really looking forward to this course and the new sites it would open up for us. I had also just bought a new (used) twinset and it was time to get it wet! This time we were staying at Just a Bed Lodge instead of the usual Pine Tank Dive Lodge. While staying closer to Mt Gambier has benefits I definitely prefer Grant’s place bit further out. Even if having a cat on the premises (like at JABL)  is always a bonus!

We drove on Thursday morning to get started with training. We spent Thursday and Friday training in Gouldens and practicing the various skills. On Thursday we focused on line skills and the cave course stress test: buddy-breating with blacked out masks. On Friday we moved on the some other skills and also kept on practicing the skills from Thursday. While we both still had some issues we got most of the stuff working quite smoothly. After the two training sessions we both felt prepared for the course itself.

On Friday evening our instructor Terri and our third student Daniel arrived along with Geoff and few students doing the Deep Cavern course. Then on Saturday morning we got started with the course dives themselves. We spent the whole Saturday in Gouldens and did two dives there. In addition to the basic line skills we practiced following the line with masks blacked out, did the line-cutting exercise and also did air-sharing without masks. While we ran into some minor issues (including getting slightly disoriented while following the line with blackouts) we all got through the day.

On Sunday we headed back to Gouldens and our stress test. This is a harder version of the stress test from Deep Cavern course. Again we had our masks removed and had to follow the line back to the surface as a buddy group. But instead of simply air-sharing we had do actually buddy-breathing without masks. Luckily Adrian and I had practiced this quite a bit and everything went quite smoothly.

After passing perhaps the trickiest part of the course it was time to move on the good stuff: the cave sites themselves. Our first cave dive was Allendale Cave. This small cave is a pretty nice dive. It’s fairly cramped in the beginning but then opens up a bit. In the bottom there’s a large chamber where we practiced some skills. There’s also a small tunnel on the way out but we didn’t explore it on the course dive. While the site itself is cool enough, it’s also quite tiny. This is slightly disappointing, as there really isn’t that much left to do on future dives apart from some photos.

Luckily the next dive of the course more than made up for this. On Monday we started in the Pines, one of the best cave sites in Mt Gambier. Large sections of the site require Advanced Cave rating but there’s still a fair bit of tunnels we can do at Cave level. For the course dive we followed the rather cramped side tunnel down to the chamber at the bottom. From there the view up is really spectacular with the sunlight filtering through the water.

After a quick look at some of the side tunnels we started heading back up. Pretty soon we had the blackouts inserted and had to navigate the whole tunnel including the tight restriction completely blind. This went smoothly enough, just need to be careful to dump enough air when moving up in tight tunnel. We had minor incident with Adrian canister light getting little bit tangled but luckily we were able to get this sorted blind.

I really enjoyed my dive in the Pines and there’s still lot more stuff left to do there. I’m extremely keen to go back with the camera too!

To wrap up the course we headed to the Fossil Cave. This site is rather small and quite fragile, extra care must be taken while entering the water. This dive was little bit messy for me, I was fumbling around a bit while laying out the line. On this dive we also practiced deploying our backup lights. Unfortunately both my backups were acting up, one of them had actually flooded a little bit. Luckily I already had some replacements ordered!

With the Fossil Cave dive out of the way we had all passed the course! Hard work but well worth it. With the course done we rested for a few hours and started the drive back to Melbourne. I’m really looking forward to more cave dives now. In particular I really want to bring my camera down to the Pines!

St Leonards and Ozone

Sunday, May 26th, 2013
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To wrap up a good month of diving we headed down to Bellarine Peninsula for some shore dives. Weather was decent for the end of May, some clouds and little drizzle every now and then but still reasonably warm.

There were three of us heading down: Seth, Natalia and me. To get things started we drove down to St Leonards. This is one of my favorite pier dives and it didn’t disappoint this time either. This time we had a particularly high tide which is great for this shallow site.

On this dive we decided to explore the pier further than usual. Unfortunately as you follow the main pier the water gets really shallow again. In the end we had to turn back as it simply got too shallow. It would also be nice to check out the other side of the pier at some point on a really long dive.

Seth was testing out his GoPro and I was focusing on some macro shots. There was plenty of stuff to photograph, including several seahorses, pretty sea stars, lots of pufferfish and quite a few shrimps.

For the second dive we drove to the nearby Ozone wreck. Despite the really shallow depth I really like this site. For this one I switched my fisheye lens on. The fact that parts of the wreck are above the surface make for some interesting split shots. Unfortunately the cloudy skies made for a rather boring backdrop. In addition, small waves made split shots somewhat tricky.

In the end I focused on the underwater sections of the wrecks. In particular I spent a lot of time exploring and photographing the boilers. I had some issues with one of my strobes but this wasn’t a huge issue in shallow water. There were also a few fish around but no bigger schools. While the splits didn’t work out quite as well as I hoped some of the shots turned out nicely. In general I was quite happy with this dive and I’m keen to come back to spend more time with the wreck on a future dive.

However, my next dives will be back in the Cave Country. We will be heading back to Mt Gambier for our cave course in early June. Pretty exciting and I’m really looking forward to visiting some new sites over there!

Birthday Dives: SS Coogee and “Dirty Steps”

Sunday, May 19th, 2013
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It was time for my Birthday dives again! We ended up going out on the 19th of May, a few days before the actual Birthday. Forecast was looking rather promising so we took both the boats down to Queenscliff and started heading out through the Heads. Unfortunately the conditions in the Heads were quite choppy and while the Big Boat I was on got through Luke decided to turn the Little Boat back and do a dive inside the Bay inside.

After confirming that the other boat was ok we continued heading out to SS Coogee, our original destination. It was little bit choppy out there but pretty smooth going after we had cleared the heads.

I hadn’t dived the wreck in a long while so I was rather excited. I went down with Mel B and got started with the dive. Unfortunately my torch was acting up quite a bit and I spent way too much time on the bottom fiddling around with it. It was little bit murky down there and I even got slightly lost for a moment. Luckily we relocated the wreck quickly but with the limited bottom time this led to some very limited chances to explore the wreck and take photos.

We still had time for a decent look at the boilers and the bow section. Unfortunately by the time we reached the stern section and the most impressive parts of the wreck we were already hitting the decompression limit. After a few quick photos of the stern we had to head back towards the surface already. A real shame, I would love to spend lot more time with the photogenic steering rudder and the schools of fish always swimming around it.

To celebrate my Birthday I had made a Finnish style cake with cream and strawberries. A few us already ate our share on the boat, the rest of had their slices back on the shore. This was my first attempt at a cake like this but in general it was judged a success.

For the second dive we waited for slack and set out for Lonsdale Wall. We visited a slightly different section than usual, we called this area “the Dirty Steps”. Conditions on the surface had improved significantly: the sun was out in full force and the ocean was perfectly flat. Visibility was still somewhat average but not bad enough to spoil an excellent deep dive.

At the Dirty Steps the Lonsdale Wall plummets along several “steps”, small plateaus with steep slopes between. This is one of the deeper parts of the Lonsdale Wall, we went down to almost 50 meters and from there a steep slope kept going down into the abyss. It seems likely the area is used for training too, there were some permanent lines going down from around the 40 meter mark. At that depth we also found some remains of an old sailboat.

With the poor visibility near the surface it got quite dark deeper down. Limited light and visibility were not the best conditions for photography, but otherwise this was a very moody dive. We even found a large cave entrance on the way back up. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough bottom time left to explore. I really need to come back here properly equipped so I can spend more time exploring the site!

Diamond Bay

Saturday, May 11th, 2013
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This week we had one of those rare spells of really strong northerlies blowing for several days. While this is no good for shore diving inside the Bay it can make for excellent diving on the back beaches of the Mornington Peninsula. Due to swell these sites are normally rather unpleasant and even quite dangerous to dive but on a day like this when the strong northerlies have calmed down the swell the diving can be excellent.

I had planned to visit Diamond Bay (near Sorrento Back Beach) for quite a while and this was finally a perfect chance. The weather was excellent as well, a particularly warm and sunny day in May. Rest of the club regulars were busy running an OW course at Blairgowrie so it was Luke, Crystal and me heading down to check out the site. Unfortunately when we got there we found out that  Crystal had forgotten her fins. So in the end she had to drive back to get some new ones and it was just Luke and me doing the dive.

Entry takes more effort here than the usual shore dive on Mornington Peninsula. First of all it’s a fair walk from the car park and you also have to climb down some pretty big stairs to get down to the beach. And the way back up the stairs is obviously even worse. Luckily the site is well worth the effort!

We had an excellent dive here, a very different experience from the usual shore dive around Melbourne. Most of the bottom is rocks with lots of kelp and other organic growth on them. There are also plenty of small canyons and holes between the rocks with several swim-throughs too. Even on a good day like this the currents and surge can get fairly strong, especially around the Bay entrance where the water is quite shallow.

While the Bay itself is pretty enough the best part of the dive is definitely outside. The water gets little deeper and there are some excellent walls and some interesting marine life. In addition to the schools of fish we also saw a couple of big rays. But for me the highlight of the dive was definitely the small cat shark (or swell shark) we saw. Sadly he only let me take one photo, the first flash of the strobes scared him off. I was still very happy to see one of these sharks.

However, care must be taken to dive this interesting site. We had a minor incident on this dive when we decided to surface and check out our exact position. We found ourselves a fair distance out of the Bay and right next to a really shallow area. The waves started pushing as toward pushed us into the shallows area and we got banged around a fair bit before we managed to get back to deeper water. Both me and my camera survived unscathed but unfortunately Luke got a nasty bruise on his leg.

Luckily we made our way back to the Bay without further incidents. Crystal was already waiting for us there with her newly-bought fins. After a quick rest it was time to head back up the stairs to the car park. After a rather strenuous dive that long climb up the stairs was quite a killer!

After the Diamond Bay both Luke and me preferred something nice and easy for the second dive. We headed down to Blairgowrie where the OW people were just wrapping up their course. While macro lens is normally my first choice for Blairgowrie I went with wide-angle this time for some variety.

This was a pretty good choice. While we didn’t see any big critters there was still quite a bit of nice stuff to photograph. With the wide-angle on I focused more on the pylons and pier structure. There was a decent amount of fish life around and a lot of seahorses, including a nice trio near the end of the dive. Unfortunately we had some rather strong current around the main section of the pier so getting good shots of them was bit of a hassle. We had also timed our dive well, near the end of the dive sun was getting quite low and I got a couple of really nice pylon shots against the sun.

This was an excellent day of diving and I was really happy to finally check out Diamond Bay (especially with that cat shark sightning!). The dive at Blairgowrie also ended up being Crystal’s last dive in Melbourne. Later in May she packed her things and moved over to Rockhampton in Queensland. She will be missed in the club. 🙁

Mt Gambier: Shaft, Kilsbys and Piccanninnie Ponds

Monday, May 6th, 2013
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After a break of few months it was time to head back to Mt Gambier with Adrian. This time we had a pretty exciting trip planned with double dives in Piccaninnie Ponds and Kilsbys Sinkhole. We were also keen to finally dive the famous Shaft!

Evan and Luke also joined us for this trip. However, as they drove over one day before us and had to be back by Saturday night we didn’t do that many dives together in the end.

After driving over on Thursday we started out with a morning dive in Piccaninnie Ponds with Adrian. Unfortunately we hit some gear problems before getting in the water. One of Adrian’s hoses was quite loose and had to be tightened before jumping in. I also managed to get my drysuit zipper slightly undone while gearing up and had some trouble closing it again.

By the time we got everything sorted we had almost lost half of our one hour slot already. We still jumped in for a quick dive and luckily everything worked fine during the dive itself. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of organic mung floating around making the visibility lot worse than usual. Both the shallow first pond and the Chasm were bit murky, at least Cathedral was nice and clear as usual. In any case, not the best conditions for photography.

Shortly after Adrian and I got out of water Evan and Luke also arrived. We still had bit of a wait ahead of us before the next slot at 11 am. We also had a visit from a ranger again, you really need to stick to the slots here!

The dive itself went smoothly, no gear issues this time around. We did a fairly typical Pics dive, first down the Chasm and then some exploring in the Cathedral. We also some rather large eels, unfortunately none of my photos of them worked so well.

To finish up the day Adrian and I dropped in for a training dive at Gouldens. I didn’t bring my camera this time as we were mainly practicing various line skills. Seems I needed the practice too. while reeling in I got the line pretty badly tangled just before reaching the primary tie-off. That resulted in a pretty mad mess, it took a while to get all that sorted in the water.

For Saturday we headed over to Kilsbys for a double dive. For the first dive we visited the deep end but kept the max depth fairly conservative. Instead of pushing any of the deeper holes near the back we tried exploring some of the smaller openings, unfortunately we didn’t find anything particularly interesting.

Visibility in Kilsbys was  poorer than usual too, even if still excellent. There’s also lot less sunlight there in the winter, which makes photography more challenging. I took quite a few diver shots on this dive, including some shots of Evan and Luke. Decent shots but nothing spectacular.

After a surface interval we hopped back in with Adrian. Evan and Luke had already started driving back to Melbourne. Sun was now in a better angle and we got some pretty nice sunbeams on this dive.

For this dive we stayed in the shallow end and also did some skills practice, including buddy-breathing and valve drills. The light worked quite well for diver silhouettes, so I was mainly focusing on those during the dive. This was certainly a more productive dive than the first one, although some of our earlier dives in the summer months were even better.

On Sunday we finally had a chance to dive the famous Shaft. This inconspicuous little hole in the middle of a paddock opens up to a large and deep cave and is one of the most famous dives in Mt Gambier region. All diving in Shaft is supervised by an authorized guide and as a result the site is only open around once a month. Additionally, since water level is about 10 meters level below ground some special gear is required. Luckily our guide Kelvyn Ball has all the necessary gear including a winch, so getting up and down the hole required minimal physical effort.

The dive itself was excellent and little bit exciting too. Especially in winter it’s quite dark down there, only little light comes through the hole at the top. Unfortunately the shaft of light that gives the site its name was nowhere to be seen too, apparently it’s only visible in the summer months.

For our first dive we did a orientation dive with the guide. We started out at the rockpile in the middle. This pile is a result of a (rather futile) attempt to fill up the hole. To get a better sense of the scale we gathered at the rockpile and turned off our torches for a while. After a while our eyes adjusted to the near darkness and we could see some of the other divers in the distance. The place is quite massive indeed! The site is deep too, around 35 meters in the middle and lot deeper on the sides. Unfortunately diving in Shaft is strictly regulated, you are not allowed to dive below 40 m on air and even on trimix you are limited to 60 m.

The orientation dive was a non-decompression dive so we kept it fairly short. It was still a great dive, even though the combination of darkness and depth made it rather challenging for photos.

We had our surface interval at the ground level, giving people chance to warm up. After a while we were winched back in for our second dive. This time we explored the wall at one end of the cave. We stayed above the 40 m limit but the bottom there is lot deeper! After the wall we headed back to the rockpile in the middle and as we were getting into deco decided to head up after a while. I tried to do some shooting upwards towards the entrance and sunlight but limited light made this really tricky and none of these shots really worked out.

While not the most productive two dives photography-wise I still really enjoyed my time in the Shaft. I’m really keen to go back there too, especially in the summer when the shaft of light is visible again!

For our final dive of the day we decided to do a night dive in Ewens Ponds, something we hadn’t tried before. We waited for the sunset in Port Macdonnell, I was trying to some landscape photography for a change but unfortunately cloudy skies lead to some disappointing results. I also managed to run my camera batteries almost empty, the cool weather that afternoon wasn’t helping. Teaches me to bring all my spare batteries along!

Luckily weather started clearing up during the evening, we had a decent sunset and by the time it got dark the sky was quite clear already. Unfortunately it was the new moon, but it was still magical floating around under a starlit sky. We actually spent most of the dive on the surface, it was simply too pretty floating around and watching the stars. Drifting through the channels in the dark was pretty amazing experience too.

The only thing marring this sublime “dive” were some gear issues. By the time we got in the water my camera battery was pretty much empty, I was only able to take a couple of shots before it ran out. This was rather annoying, particularly since there’s lot more life in the Ponds during the night. We saw loads of big eels, quite a few fish and plenty of yabbies. My primary torch was also acting up early during the dive but then started working fine.

To wrap up the trip we did some skills training in Gouldens on Monday. We have our cave course scheduled for early June so it was important to brush up some of our skills. We spent fair bit of time practicing line skills and buddy-breathing. After a while we felt we had had enough so we got out and started the long drive back to Melbourne.

This was another great Mt Gambier trip. Not the most productive trip for photography but I still enjoyed my time there quite a bit. Our next visit will be the cave course in June, can’t wait for that!