Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

Christchuch – The Quake City

Friday, July 19th, 2013

After spending the first two weeks of Eija’s visit around Melbourne we moved on to New Zealand. We departed Melbourne on the 18th July and landed on the South Island around midnight.

Our journey started in Christchurch, the main air travel hub on the South Island. Christchurch was hit by a series of massive earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and the damage was still visible almost everywhere.  Despite the valiant rebuilding efforts damaged buildings and streets were a very common sight. The historic buildings around the city center were hit particularly hard. Perhaps the worst example is the famous Christchurch Cathedral which suffered serious structural damage and will have to be demolished.

During our first day in Christchurch we did quite a bit of exploring in the city itself. Sadly many of the shops and other buildings are still closed down after the earthquakes and for a city of this size there was precious little stuff to do. “Quake tourism” does have some novelty value but gets old quite quickly. We even had trouble finding a place to buy breakfast, so quite quickly we decided to head out of the city center itself.

Luckily the Botanic Gardens and the Canterbury Museum suffered only minor damage and were up and running. After getting some quick breakfast in the cafe we checked out the museum. Main highlight for me was definitely the section on polar exploration. Back in the day New Zealand used to be one of the main bases for Antarctic exploration. The Gardens were pretty nice too, even if Winter is not really the best time to visit. During the colder winter months only a few flowers were blooming and the colors were rather subdued.

Afterwards we spent some more time in the city, including a visit to the city center and the cathedral. The cathedral itself is very badly damaged and is currently fenced off so a closer look was not possible. We also visited the Re:Start Mall, a temporary mall built in shipping containers. Apart from that there really wasn’t much else to do in the city center so it was time to head back to our hostel for some rest and sleep.

On our second day we picked up a rental car and had more chances to explore the outskirts of the city. We started in Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, a nice wildlife zoo within the city. The reserve is heavily focused on native NZ animals, but there are also other critters there too. Here we also saw our only live kiwis of the trip. Sadly the birds are nocturnal and during daylight hours they are kept indoors in almost complete darkness. This doesn’t work too well for photography since flash is obviously not allowed.

After visiting the reserve we headed down to the coast.  We briefly visited the New Brighton Pier and then headed to Sumner, a seaside suburb in Christchurch. The main attraction here is the Cave Rock, a large rock full of caves right next to the ocean. Sadly large parts of the rock collapsed in the earthquakes and the caves themselves are now off limits.

We got back to our hostel and then I headed down to the city by myself. The Botanic Gardens was running a special night event called Light Up the Leafy Nights. While majority of the program was aimed at kids the various light shows made for some nice photos. Particularly impressive was the “burning flower” accompanied by a live band.

On the third day it was time to head out of Christchurch itself. But first we stopped at the Christchurch Gondola that took us high up to the hills bordering the city. After a few cloudy days weather had finally turned sunny and we had an excellent view over the city, including our first proper look of the mountains further inland.

Before the Gondola we also had a quick stop at the nearby suburb of Lyttelton. This is the location of the main port of Christchurch, well illustrated by the massive piles of timber waiting to be shipped out. Sadly the area suffered heavy damage in the earthquakes and there wasn’t much to do there.

Near Lyttelton we also dipped in for our first swim of the trip. The ocean was definitely refreshing (read cold) but at least the day was sunny and warm so we warmed up quickly. And apart from few passers-bys we had the whole beach to ourselves. 🙂

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!

Updated Dive Log

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

I have been working on a new version of my dive log for quite a while. After a few aborted prototypes I have finally come up with a version I’m reasonably happy with. The new dive log is running as a WordPress plugin so it’s fully integrated with the rest of the site unlike the old log. The current version is still somewhat bare bones but it should cover all of the most important functionality. Still there’s fair bit of work to do, including adding missing information and photos to the individual dives.

I’m particularly happy with the new dive site map.  The map utilizes the excellent Basic Google Maps Placemarks plugin. The map marker clustering is very convenient for displaying the dive sites around the world.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be adding some more features to the plugin and also doing some polishing work.

Unfortunately there’s one more pressing issue that needs to be resolved first. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any photos in a while and there’s a good reason for this. I’m currently having some annoying issues with the Lightroom export plugin I use to upload my photos to the online gallery. While I now have a decent general idea what’s causing the issue, fixing the problem is not straightforward and may take quite a bit of debugging. I’ll try to get this resolved ASAP and start uploading my photo backlog that includes several shore dives in April/May and another trip to Mt Gambier in the beginning of May.

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!

April Shore Dives

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
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After our weekend trip to Barwon Heads in early April not much has happened on the diving front. Weather and the ocean are slowly getting cooler as we are slowly heading towards the winter months. Autumn also means more storms, but luckily we have been fairly lucky on that front so far. While he haven’t done any boat dives since Barwon Heads we have been still been able to do at least few shore dives each weekend.

We have had an influx of new members too, which has meant slightly less time for photography. While I don’t mind watching after new divers every now and then it’s also nice to have dives where you can mainly focus on photography. On the other hand it’s good to have some new blood, particularly people who are not scared of diving even in the winter. I have also settled in my role as the new dive coordinator for our dive club. The job has kept my bit busier than I anticipated but I’m still enjoying it for the most part.

For the second weekend of April we went for some shore dives on the Mornington Peninsula. It was a pretty busy weekend and we had lots of new people with us. Having so many inexperienced divers with us lead to two issues. First of all, we ran out club weights and only found out while down on the coast since some people had seriously underestimated the amount of weight they need. And we could have used more experienced divers too to watch after the never. In the end we didn’t have any real incidents, but things could still have gone lot more more smoothly.

For the first dive we had decided to visit Flinders Pier. Checking out Weedy Seadragons is always a cool experience for anyone who hasn’t dived in temperate Australian waters before. Unfortunately the conditions were less than stellar there, for some reason visibility was extremely poor and there were some waves too. Surely not the best combination for getting new people in the water! In the end few people had to sit out the dives since we simply didn’t have enough weights to get everyone underwater. While some people saw some cool stuff, including a baby shark and a cuttlefish, the dive in general was bit of mess and rather disappointing.

Luckily our second dive worked out better. We moved over to Rye and redistributed the weights best we could. This still left some people somewhat underweighted, but at least everyone was able to stay under this time. We saw the usual fish life and some crabs. We also had a quick surprise visit from a seal that was swimming around the pier! Apart from few minor issues this was quite an enjoyable dive.

During the dive we also visited Elsa’s Reef again. Unfortunately the artificial reef has suffered some serious damage, either from the recent storms or from divers. Main structure has partially collapsed and the mirror was broken too. Quite a shame, I was really looking  forward to seeing the spider crabs there in May. I guess the reef should still form a nice habitat for marine life in a year or two.’

A week later we headed back to Mornington Peninsula. This time things were less busy and everyone had at least some experience with local diving. This time I was diving with Seth and Mathilde. Debbie and Cameron were with us too.

We started out with a decent dive at Blairgowrie. As usual I put my macro lens on for some nudibranch shots. Unfortunately I came back slightly disappointed. While we saw plenty of nudibranchs pretty much all of them were short-tails. While they are pretty enough, I was hoping for some more variety. Oh well, it must be the time of the year as many nudibranchs are seasonal.

To finish up the day we hopped in for a night dive at Rye. While we didn’t see anything that special on this dive it was still a good one. There were plenty of seahorses and crabs along with the usual fish life. And the seal was there again, this time he spent lot more time following us around too. A couple of times he got really close to us, unfortunately photographing a seal at night with a macro lens on is pretty much impossible. Still, it was a nice extra for an already enjoyable dive.

And finally, on the 25th April we had a quick dive in the Point Cook marine sanctuary with Adrian. With strong northerlies blowing we had opted for something close to the city. This worked out nicely since we were mainly testing out Adrian’s new Otter drysuit.

Point Cook is supposed to be a pretty good dive close to the city with rich fish life and some bigger critters too, including rays and the occasional shark. Unfortunately this is only the case in summer. We went there in autumn and only saw a total of two fish. One of them was a decent size dusky morwong, a nice surprise on an otherwise boring dive. At least we got Adrian’s suit tested and after closing the zipper properly found it performing well too. Should be lot comfortable than diving in his old “dry”suit with massive leaks!

The site might be worth another visit next summer, but apparently during the colder months it’s not really worth diving unless truly desperate.

Apart from the superb boat trip in early April rest of the month has been somewhat mediocre dive-wise. Luckily there’s another Mt Gambier trip coming up soon so I can look forward to some excellent diving and superb visibility again!

Williamstown Snorkeling

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

With more great weather this week and with the winter closing in I decided to take full advantage of the conditions. While I can snorkel all year around with my drysuit it’s obviously lot nicer without any of the extra gear.

So after considering a few different options I ended up heading to Williamstown. I had been snorkeling there once before shortly after I had my cast taken off last year. That trip didn’t end so well, with all the pollutants in the water after heavy rains I ended up with a nasty case of food poisoning. Luckily this trip went without any incidents and water was fairly clear too (considering how close Williamstown is to the city).

I started out at Point Gellibrand again. This site is very shallow early on but gets more interesting further out. I was hoping for calm conditions but unfortunately it was just windy enough that macro photography close to the surface was quite tricky. I still managed a few decent shots but even the small waves made things pretty annoying.

There wasn’t that much interesting marine life down there so I was mainly focusing on some more abstract closeups. But then I got pretty lucky as I ran into a blue-ringed octopus. This was bit of a surprise as they are normally only active at night. I managed a few shots but then the octopus crawled into a hole out of sight. Bit of a shame, I would have preferred more time with him. By then I was getting bit cool already so I started making my way back towards the coast.

One snorkel obviously wasn’t enough for the day. So I moved on to Williamstown Beach and the breakwater there. After spending some time in the sun to warm up properly I geared up again and hopped in.

The breakwater is actually a pretty nice snorkeling site. The rocky bottom falls quite quickly to  2-3 meters with some shallower areas. There were also a decent number of juvenile fish around, including a few larger schools. Unfortunately the fish kept swimming away from me so I was again mostly taking abstract shots. It didn’t take that long to cover the breakwater itself and some surrounding areas and eventually I got back out of the water.

This was a pretty good snorkeling trips even if the sites were not quite as nice as some of the better areas on the other side of the Bay near Black Rock and Ricketts Point. I still have few spots I want to check out before winter storms set in so hopefully the weather will stay this nice for a little longer!

Barwon Heads weekend

Sunday, April 7th, 2013
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The last time we launched our boat from Barwon Heads we did some excellent reef dives and the short boat rides were a plus too compared to launching from Queenscliff. So when the marine forecast for the weekend was looking almost perfect we were keen to head there again. This time we also stayed there overnight instead of doing just a day trip. We brought down both our boats and camped the Saturday night in Barwon Heads Caravan Park.

For the first two dives on Saturday we visited Chimney Rock and Stellar Reef. Visibility wasn’t as great as the last time we were there but that was to be expected after the algae bloom and some stormier autumn weather. For some reason Chimney Rock didn’t appear as impressive as last time around. I guess in the middle of the day the lightning isn’t as dramatic as in the evening. It was still a nice dive with Nicky and Mel B. The bommie itself is of course very interesting and we also saw lots of fish and a cuttlefish hiding under a ledge.

Stellar Reef was a nice dive too. The structure of the reef was again very interesting and there was plenty of fish life around. Unfortunately the visibility was quite poor so the conditions for photography were not the best. The first group of divers reported seeing several Port Jacksons but they must have scared them away as Nicky and I didn’t see any during our dive.

To finish up the day some of us headed for a third dive at St Leonards. This was a night dive with Bauke, Seth and Casey. I haven’t done a night dive at St Leonards before and hadn’t dived the pier in quite a while for that matter. So it was nice to get back there as the pier is one of my favorites. The visibility was about the same as on the reef sites we did earlier, i.e. quite fine for a night dive. A very welcome change from the couple last times I have been at St Leonards with pea soup water!

The dive itself was interesting enough. This was the first night dive for Casey and Seth so we kept a close eye on both. There was a surprising amount of fish life down there and a great variety too. I even managed to spot a velvetfish which I was quite happy about, usually they are very well camouflaged. We also saw a couple of eels on the bottom but unfortunately I didn’t manage any sharp shots of them.

After a late bbq dinner and some socializing we headed to our campground for a good night’s sleep. Saturday was the last day of daylight savings, so we had an extra hour of sleep too!

So on Sunday morning everyone woke up more or less refreshed. It was finally time for some wreck dives. I has been ages since I had visited any of the local wrecks so I was very much looking forward to the dives. Luckily the day didn’t disappoint either.

Unfortunately all our plans didn’t quite work out in the morning. We were hoping to get some airfills before taking the boats out to make sure we had enough full tanks for the rest of the day. Unfortunately when we Crystal and I got to Dive Victoria’s shop in Queenscliff the place was closed! With no notes on the door and calls going to voicemail this was bit mysterious. We spent around half an hour waiting outside but eventually we decided to give up. We went  to Dive Plus shop instead to see if they could fill our tanks. Luckily we could get our fills there, , even though it took a quite a while as their fill banks weren’t filled up yet from previous night.

So with that out of the way we drove back to the boat ramp, quickly got everyone in the boats and headed for HMAS Canberra. We had booked the 10 am slot for Canberra and because of the delays in the morning we didn’t quite make it in time. But luckily we were there early enough that everyone still had time for a decent dive. I ended up buddying with Luke and Pete with Luke leading the way and Pete and I taking photos. This wasn’t quite the best dive I have done on Canberra but it was still an interesting trip through the wreck.

We entered from one of the holes on the side of the wreck near the lower levels. Then we slowly worked our way upwards through the wreck with a short detour outside. We finally finished at the bridge, then some point swimming around the deck structures and finally proceeded to our safety stop. The minimal swell meant that we had almost no surge down on the wreck, a pleasant change from usual Canberra dives when you need to be little bit careful near the entryways. The wind had picked up a little when we were underwater, however, and so we had small waves waiting for us on the surface instead of flat seas.

For the second dive our boat went to J4 Submarine for another wreck dive. This was also Luke’s 300th (logged) dive but he opted not to follow my lead and did the dive fully suited. Besides, Evan was driving the boat again and I think he has had his share of naked male divers for a while!

I have done this sub several times and never had a truly great dive there. Luckily this was a pretty perfect day for visiting the wreck and doing some penetration too. Surge is often an issue here but luckily today it was pretty much non-existent making for very easy penetration. We also had great visibility on the dive, the best of the weekend.

The only minor issue was missing the wreck itself with our shotline! Luke and I went down first and as we got down the sub was nowhere in sight. Water was very clear so this was quite worrying. Luke picked up the shot and I could faintly see a shape in the distance. We started swimming towards it and after a while it was clear we had found the sub. So no big harm done, apart from the fact Luke spent a fair bit of extra air carrying the shot. By the time Nicky, Carol and Mel followed us down the shotline the shot was already in place next to the sub.

With that issue sorted we got started with the dive itself. We entered the sub from a hole near the stern and started making our way towards the bow where the sub is broken open. There are a fair number of small and some larger holes in the sub so there was decent amount of light filtering in. It was still very dark for photography so I did little some experimenting with slow shutter speeds. The results were somewhat mixed, I guess I need some more practice with that.

While nice the swim itself through the sub is not that special. Luckily we had a nice surprise waiting for us at the place where the sub is broken in half. Outside the entryway there was a huge school of fish that was thick enough to almost block the way! An impressive sight indeed. We stopped for a while with Luke and I took several shots before moving on. Even when we swam through the school the fish didn’t want to budge, the school simply reformed around us and covered the exit again once we had passed.

We also had a quick look inside the broken off bow and the torpedo tubes. There were lots of fish there too. Afterwards we spent the rest of the dive outside the wreck, first we had a look at the conning tower and the plaque placed there by the first group that rediscovered the sub. Afterwards we swam along the top of the sub to the stern and back. At this point we were getting into to our NDL so it was time to start our ascent and head for the safety stop. An impressive dive indeed and a great one for Luke’s 300th. Too bad the photos don’t really do it justice, getting the lightning right inside the sub was quite a challenge. Hopefully I can crack it the next I get there!

To make sure everyone got to do two dives we had the boats going out for the third time. Unfortunately we were running low on tanks so I had to sit out this one. I still ended up sitting on the boat as we plenty of room and it was preferable to waiting on the coast anyway. By this

It was a great weekend, too bad it’s pretty unlikely we get another one so nice until next summer. Despite the high temperatures this weekend we are definitely heading towards winter and cooler and stormier weather.

Dive 300!

Monday, April 1st, 2013
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Over the last few months I have been very busy with diving. It was just seven months ago when I did my 200th dive near Brisbane and now it was already time for my 300th during the Easter break!

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to organize a major trip for Easter despite several tentative plans. Local forecast for the long weekend wasn’t looking that great for diving either. Luckily conditions slowly improved we finally had enough people signed up for Easter Monday to take the boat out.

So off we went to Queenscliff for some easy boat dives inside the Bay. We had plenty of new club members with us so we started out simple and did Pope’s Eye first. I sat this one out as we already had a full boat. Besides, I only needed to do two out of three planned dives to reach my 300th so no big harm done.

For the second dive we waited for slack and then headed for Lonsdale Wall. This was one of those days when slack water didn’t really happen, we had a fair bit of current running even though we were there right on time. It wouldn’t have been a huge issue normally, but with the new people on the boat it made things little bit trickier.

I ended up buddying with one of our new members and unfortunately things didn’t quite work out for him. While he was using the same weights as on the previous dive he was still pretty badly underweighted for some reason. Despite several attempts my buddy couldn’t descend and even dropped his fin (which I was able to recover in midwater, luckily). By then it was clear the weighting wasn’t working out so we got back on the boat. Unfortunately my buddy was getting pretty seasick and didn’t feel like hopping in again.

But I still needed to get at least a short dive done to get my 300th that day! So I hopped in by myself for a quick and easy solo dive. To keep things safe I stayed fairly shallow and kept my dive time short too. By the end of my dive current was picking up anyway, on the bottom I could stay sheltered next to the reef but during the safety stop I was definitely drifting  a fair distance. To my annoyance I also noticed that my new neck seal was leaking a little. Apparently I hadn’t done a good enough job while gluing it on. Hopefully I can still get it fixed and don’t have to redo the whole thing!

With the dive number 299 out of the way it was time for something more exciting! For the third dive of the day we headed just a short distance away from Queenscliff and got ready for a drift dive. The current close to the Heads can get pretty crazy sometimes and this was definitely one of those days.

I did my 200th with my speedos on, now it was time for a proper naked dive! I stripped down and Evan dropped me off the boat with Seth, Alycia and Keith and off we went with the current.

I didn’t bring my camera along for this one, you can’t really take photos while hanging on a line in a roaring current anyway. Visibility wasn’t that good (around 3 meters), which was kind of a mixed blessing. On one hand it gave me some extra decency. But it also made me crash straight into a bommie that appeared out of nowhere! Suddenly there was a big ledge straight in front me and I simply couldn’t ascend quickly enough to avoid it. Luckily I only hit my hand on the reef and nothing more delicate!

After that incident the rest of the dive went smoothly. By the end of the dive I was starting to shiver a little bit in the 18 degree water, in total the dive lasted 30 minutes. Good thing we came up too, we had drifted a long way with the current and were getting pretty close to the shipping channel by the time we got back on the boat.

It was definitely a pretty exciting and definitely memorable way to “celebrate” my 300th dive. Not sure what I’ll come up with for my 400th!