Barwon Heads weekend

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!

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!

Cottage by the Sea – Poor conditions yet again :(

March 23rd, 2013
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After some pretty stormy weather last weekend things were looking up again this weekend. We had had a couple of really windy days after my snorkeling trip on Wednesday but Saturday was looking fairly decent again, particularly on the Bellarine side of the Bay which is more protected from NW winds. We had quite a few fresh club members joining us for the dive and after a drive down to Queenscliff we met Evan and Fi down at the Cottage by the Sea.

I had only dived Cottage by the Sea once before. Despite the dismal conditions back then I was keen to visit the site again as it certainly looked interesting with a long nice wall with interesting ledges. Certainly quite different than most of the shore dives near Melbourne. It’s also still the only place I have seen eagle rays in Victoria.

Unfortunately this dive wasn’t much better, surf was certainly less of an issue instead of major pain like last time. Unfortunately visibility was really poor despite the fact we did the dive right after a flood tide which usually brings clearer water from outside the Bay. Unfortunately this was not to be, near the coast the vis was just dismal from the sand blowing around and even out at the reef we barely got to 1.5 to 2 meters. Not a very pleasant dive, particularly when trying to keep track of some less-experienced divers.

Obviously the conditions were not the best for photos either, particularly with a wide-angle lens. I still managed a few fairly ok fish shots from under the ledges but even with those I had to be careful to not to lose track of my buddies. The reef itself is quite nice and there are lots of pretty big fish around, most of them hiding under the ledge.

To make the dive even more annoying my drysuit’s neck seal hasn’t been replaced yet so I was stuck using a club wetsuit. A thick wetsuit like that is quite uncomfortable, both in the water and out of it too. A huge step down from a decent trilam drysuit and you need more weight too. Oh well, at least the replacement seal should arrive before my next dives.

To further mess up the day we had another nasty surprise waiting for us back on the shore. Geordie had hidden his car keys in the bush before the dive. But when we got back we couldn’t find them anywhere! The seven of us (plus two dogs!) spent at least an hour combing through the bush to no avail. The keys were simply nowhere to be found which was quite odd considering the car hadn’t been broken into either. Eventually we gave up and Geordie called to have his spare keys delivered from Melbourne.

Evan and Fi had other plans for the rest of the day and Basem was having bit of a headache so it was just Seth, Alycia and me heading for the second site of the day. We had decided to visit St Leonards, my favorite shore dive on that side of the Bay. Unfortunately things didn’t really look good once we got there. The visibility looked really poor from the surface with the pier pylons just vanishing into impenetrable soup. From the looks of it the vis was perhaps half a meter at best. After some contemplation we decided that it was not worth hopping in and just headed back to Melbourne instead.

All in all this was one of the most disappointing diving days I have had. Visibility has been quite poor in the last few weeks with the autumn plankton bloom in full swing. And I guess the strong winds over the last few days had muddied the coastal waters further leading to the conditions we had.

Originally we had planned some further shore dives for Sunday but after seeing the conditions we decided to cancel those dives as well, particularly as winds were picking up again.

Snorkeling in Brighton and Black Rock & some split shot experiments

March 20th, 2013

The new dome obviously had to be taken for a test run. Despite the fairly windy conditions on Wednesday I packed my snorkeling gear and headed down to the coast near the city. The weather was superb apart from the wind, sunny and quite warm for late March.

I started out my trip in Middle Brighton. I had originally planned to check out the area around the Brighton Sea Baths as Academy of Scuba has a dive marker for the area. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a good spot for a snorkel and the water looked very shallow at low tide. Maybe further along the jetty would have been better but I gave the spot a miss this time around. I ventured south along the coast instead and after a short walk arrived to Brighton Beach. There’s a small protruding point there right at the northern end of the beach and as I saw few others snorkeling there I decided to hop in.

While not terribly impressing, there was still plenty of shallow reef to explore. I also spent a fair bit of time practicing split (or over-under) shots, a perfect way to test the dome repairs. Windy conditions were not really the best for this but at least the dome performed well and pretty much all the damage was gone from the photos. Job well done!

Fish life was not quite as good as earlier in the year, northern end of the Port Phillip Bay is usually fairly busy in the Summer and then in the colder months most fish move elsewhere. Still, there were some to be seen, including a big adult flathead. Sadly he kept moving away whenever I got close enough to take a photo. After a few attempts I gave up as chasing fish rarely works.

After my first dip I kept on walking southwards along the beach and had another stop at the South Road, one of my popular snorkeling spots as it’s right next to the Brighton Beach station. There was even one guy preparing for a solo dive. He looked like a pretty experienced diver so there was no need to go in to lecture mode. 🙂 Unfortunately vis was somewhat poor, so I didn’t spend too much time in the water. Still there were some interesting small reefs and some old junk in the water. One of these days when the vis is decent I need to go out and also look for that bommie that’s supposed to be further out there.

The third site I had planned to check out was the Sandringham Pier. Unfortunately once I got there the place didn’t really look suitable for snorkeling. So I moved along and walked all the way to Black Rock. I geared up near Red Bluff and waded in. At first it seemed I had missed the better reefs in the area, but as I got closer to the rocky outcrop under the Red Bluff things got lot better.

There’s lots of nice reefs down there and I took my time taking some more split shots. The shallow reefs and the Red Bluff in the background are a nice combination for a good split shot, unfortunately wind had picked up and waves messed up most of my shots. I also saw a few stingrays in the area, but didn’t manage any decent shots.

As the bottom stayed quite interesting even after the Red Bluff I continued all the way to the Black Rock jetty. Along the way there were some big beds of sea stars and lots of those white worms whose name I never remember. 🙂 Too bad the Jetty itself was not quite as interesting as last time I was there. I didn’t spot any nudibranchs this time around, but at least there was a seahorse on one of the pylons and I managed a few ok shots of the jetty itself.

Three snorkels was enough for a day, so I packed up my kit and headed to Sandringham Station and home. It was a nice to be out in the water, too bad with the windy conditions I didn’t really manage any great shots. At least the dome performed really well and the repairs seem to have succeeded quite nicely.

Repairing an Acrylic Dome Port

March 19th, 2013

During a year of pretty heavy use my dome port has received its fair share of small scratches. Luckily they are not really a problem underwater as even fairly deep damage fills up with water and doesn’t show up on photos. However, lately the damage has started to show up in split shots and even some underwater shots. Particularly the latest scratches acquired during the Phillip Island trip were quite bad and as they are showing up even on underwater photos something had to be done.

Acrylic dome ports are expensive pieces of equipment so replacing them every year is not really an option. Luckily even fairly nasty damage can be repaired relatively easily with the right tools. Hobby kits for polishing and repairing acrylic items are readily available and lot cheaper than replacing the whole port or using commercial repair services. I ordered one online from an Australian reseller Sandpaperman on Ebay and got to work.

The kit I used had 9 different grades of sandpaper. The kits are available in two different types, either more traditional sand paper type or soft touch pads that are more suitable for small jobs. After some online research I went with the touch pads, but I don’t think it makes a huge difference in the end.

The sandpapers start from fairly coarse and progress down to very fine indeed. The coarse ones are used to remove the original damage and then the dome is smoothed and polished at stages using finer and finer pads. To finish the job I used an abrasive liquid, however at this point there was not much difference between the last application of sandpaper and the liquid polish.

While the few initial steps were little bit scary (the dome gets quite opaque) the end results were quite good. Pretty much all the damage showing up in photos is gone and that’s what counts. However, I should have taken little more care with the edges of the dome. The results from different sandpaper grades were bit uneven and there are some visible scratches from the process itself. Luckily they are far enough on the sides so they don’t actually show up on the photos but it would still be nice to get rid of them at some point.

Luckily the pads are reusable, so improving the smoothness is simply a question of time and effort. The actual operation took me little over an hour, which is not too bad considering it included some extra time taking the photos.

Dive trip to Phillip Island

March 11th, 2013
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It has been almost a year since my last dive trip to Phillip Island so I was keen to get back there. I really wanted to visit the Pinnacles again and also get some better shots on the wreck of George Kermode. On Friday things looked promising enough, weather forecast was looking promising indeed (30+ degrees every day!) and we had the whole long labour day weekend ahead of us.

Unfortunately despite the superb weather and great organization the trip turned out into a pretty big disappointment. On Friday we heard some worrying reports about very poor visibility on many dive sites along the coast. Too bad these reports were not exaggerated, on Saturday we experienced the problem firsthand. Our first dive was George Kermode, an old bucket dredge scuttled in 1976. I had visited the wreck once before and I was hoping to get some improved shots this time around. Sadly this was not meant to be, fairly strong surge and visibility that was barely two meters made for some very poor conditions for photography.

As our second dive we decided to follow the coast the other way around towards Wanthaggi to see if the visibility was any better there. Sadly this was not the case. We found some interesting looking reefs on the sounder and hopped in to have a closer look. But the conditions were about the same as on the first dive and with more particles in the water the visibility dropped to one meter or less at times. Suffice to say things were not looking really good at this point!

Luckily the last dive of day was significantly better, Pinnacles are yet to disappoint. While visibility was still not that great, it was still fairly decent at around 5 meters. There was also a fair bit of current running around the Pinnacles and also some surge near the top, but it was still a quite nice if little challenging dive.

Sunday in general worked out little better than Saturday. Swell was down so the surge was less of an issue on most sites. First thing in the morning we headed back to Pinnacles and conditions were actually nice there, I hopped in with Luke and Nicky and we had a very nice with with decent visibility and only weak current. For the other two dives of the day I visited two reef sites around Cape Woolamai. Both were in somewhat protected bays and offered some small walls and kelp forests. We also spotted a few crays but didn’t catch any.

While the diving on Sunday was lot better there was a minor incident spoiling my day. While preparing the boat in the morning my camera fell off the tub and the dome hit the corner of a tank. One of the things you definitely don’t want to see! Luckily the damage was pretty minor, just some nice scratches on the dome. Unfortunately, these latest bumps are visible in underwater photos as well. I guess it’s time to  order that sandpaper kit and see if I can polish up the dome back to mirror shine!

Monday was the final day of our trip and once we had finished cleaning up the house we were staying in we decided to give George Kermode another go. Too bad visibility was perhaps even worse there than our first time there. At least surge was minimal so the dive wasn’t a total loss. We also had a minor scare on this dive, Cameron was suffering from some rather serious reverse block on the way back up. Luckily in the end everything turned out fine.

Then we headed back to the Pinnacles, too bad visibility was slightly down there as well. We also picked a somewhat boring route with Luke and the first half of our dive was mostly just kelp forests. By the time we got to the more impressive sections we were already running into light deco so it was time to started heading back to the surface.

To finish up the trip we decided to visit the Gardens, a shallow site on the sheltered side of Cape Woolamai. We had seen some other divers there earlier during the day and the site was supposed to be pretty nice. But when I was gearing up for the dive with Luke and Quynh I heard a nasty ripping sound. I found I had badly torn my drysuit’s neck seal! And the damage was so bad that there was no point keeping it on. Luckily weather was still great, with 35+ air and 20 degree water hopping in with just my skivvies was not a huge deal.

Still, I had some issues. I hadn’t brought my booties along so I had to borrow Debbie’s (small!). I also dropped one of my fins on the way down, luckily we were easily able to find it in shallow water. Finning in general was quite tricky, my spring straps are not really suitable for use with thin booties that are several sizes too small. Still, I managed well enough after some initial issues. Diving with no suit and no weights is always a very pleasant feeling, even if it did get a little cool after 46 minutes in the water. The site itself was ok enough, lots of kelp forest and a small wall with lots of ledges and several crays. Luke and Quynh didn’t catch any this time either. 🙂

And as if we hadn’t had enough bad luck by that point we had one more nasty surprise waiting for us back on the boat ramp. When we got back to the shore we found out that our compressor was gone from the car park. That must have been some pretty brazen thiefs, the car park was fairly busy as it was a public holiday and stealing the heavy compressor is quite conspicuous! Hopefully it will turn up somewhere later on, in any case our insurance should cover most of the loss.

Despite the poor conditions and all the mishaps I still managed nine dives over three days, fairly impressive in itself. Too bad photography-wise the trip was a big disappointment and only a few shots turned out ok. At least Phillip Island is close enough to Melbourne so there’s always a next time, hopefully with better conditions and fewer incidents!

Diving Weekend on Mornington Peninsula

March 3rd, 2013
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Unlike last summer we haven’t done too many camping weekends with MUUC yet. But as the forecast was looking pretty nice for the weekend we decided to take the boat down on Saturday and a few of us stayed down in Rye for more dives on Sunday.

Unfortunately the excellent conditions from a week ago had not lasted. While the weekend itself was sunny and warm we had some heavy rains during the week that messed up visibility quite badly. Additionally the winds were quite strong and forced us to change our original plans. On Saturday we were hoping to dive some of the wrecks outside the Port Phillip Bay. Unfortunately with the heavy winds this turned out impossible and we were forced to dive inside the Bay instead.

First we checked out South Channel Fort, a small island in the Bay with some old fortifications. I hadn’t done the site before myself so it was nice to check it out. The small pier on the island was particularly pretty and there were several big schools of fish swimming underneath it. We also explored the coastline starting from the pier.

There are lots of remains from the old jetty down there and also a pretty good variety of fish. We also saw several stingrays and also one cuttlefish. Overall the site seemed quite interesting despite the somewhat poor visibility. It seems like a nice alternative to Pope’s Eye when the weather conditions are too rough to dive outside the Heads.

After the two boat dives some of the guys headed back to Melbourne and took the boat with them. Bauke, Crystal, Nicky and I stayed behind as we were camping overnight in Rye. We set up the tents and then to finish up the day Bauke and I hopped in for a night dive under Rye Pier. There was a fair bit of current but otherwise the conditions were good. Visibility was surprisingly nice, around five meters.

We also spotted a lot of interesting marine life during the dive. We didn’t see any blue-ring octopuses this time but on the way to Elsa’s Reef we ran into a small octopus on the sand. We followed it for quite a while taking shots. We almost got lost in the process too, but we still managed to find our way back to the track leading to Elsa’s. There were also lots of different crabs around, including several spider crabs. Elsa’s Reef should be really cool when the annual spider migration starts again in May!

We also saw several stingrays, including one dead carcass. 🙁 There were also lots of seahorses on the pylons, unfortunately all of them kept turning away from my camera and I didn’t manage to get any good poses. All in all a great way to spend 77 minutes. After the dive it was time to catch some sleep in our tents.

On Sunday we met up with another group of club members who had driven down from Melbourne. Our original plan was to dive the Rye Pier first. However, after talking with some people who had already done the dive that morning it sounded like the conditions were not the best. Visibility had gone done from last night so we decided to move on to Portsea.

Not sure if that made a huge difference in the end, visibility was probably about the same as in Rye. Around three meters that is. The dive was still fairly decent, we saw lots of different nudibranchs and a seadragon too.

To finish up the day we moved on to Flinders. So far so good, it looked nice and calm on the surface. Unfortunately visibility was really poor there, Western Port is pretty prone to flood waters from rains. For me this was the worst visibility of this summer, around two meters for the most part.

Luckily the dive itself was still quite interesting and the conditions were otherwise great. The tide was actually one of the highest I have done Flinders in. There was a nice variety of marine life, but surprisingly Bauke and I didn’t ran into any seadragons. We did find another big smooth ray, however. There was also another school of those small fish that look like glassfish.

While the poor visibility (and current on some dives) made photography somewhat tricky, the weekend was otherwise quite enjoyable and we had some great dives.

Stellar Reef, Sven’s Reef and Chimney Rock

February 27th, 2013
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On Sunday we had superb weather, four boat drivers and enough people to take out both our club boats. That’s a perfect mix for a great day of diving!

Instead of the usual Queenscliff launch we launched our boats from Barwon. The boat ramp there is some ways inland along the Barwon River and you have to navigate through some really shallow water to get to the open ocean. But on the positive side you avoid going through the Port Phillip Heads which makes things a lot more manageable for less experienced boat drivers. And as an added bonus there are lots of excellent reef dives in the vicinity of Barwon Heads.

We were planning to do three dives so we met up at the shed really early in the morning. Getting there on Sunday morning is always a pain but this time it was particularly annoying. Melbourne’s White Night festival was held on Saturday night and that meant no public transport running through the city center. So to get to the club shed I actually had to take a bit of a detour and do some extra walking. Still, by getting up at 5:20 I got to the shed in time and that’s what counts!

We had just enough divers to fill up both our boats and to make things little bit easier we had both boats doing the same sites. This worked out pretty well as we always had plenty of experienced divers watching after the less experienced ones. Things went quite smoothly too with the boats apart from a few times when we got to too shallow water. Luckily the riverbed is quite soft so no lasting harm was done. 🙂

Our first dive of the day was Stella Reef, a nice easy reef dive near the Barwon Heads. I hadn’t done the site before so it was nice to check it out. It was nice enough reef with some cool swimthroughs and plenty of ledges and overhangs. I was diving with Andrew and Steph and unfortunately Steph had some issues with her weighting. As a result we did a fairly short dive. Still, there was plenty to see down there and the conditions were excellent. No surge, minimal waves and visibility was good too.

Apart from the interesting reef itself and the fish life down there we also saw a fiddler ray. Some others spotted Port Jackson sharks as well, but we missed them. 🙁

After Stella Reef we visited the boat ramp to pick up fresh tanks and then headed to Sven’s Reef. On all my previous dives there it has been rather surgy down there but that wasn’t luckily an issue on Sunday. Visibility wasn’t quite as nice as at Stella but apart from that I find the site more interesting. There’s more vertical variation and some rather impressive pillars and overhangs. Fish life wasn’t perhaps quite as good as last time I was there but it was still quite rich and varied.

Unfortunately we had some minor equipment issues on this dive as well. I was buddied with Nicky and her regulator was freeflowing during descent. The only way she was able to fix it was to switch to her secondary. Luckily that got rid of the issue and the rest of the dive went without incidents.

We explored the area for quite a while and spotted plenty of fish, including a dusky morwong. Nicky also saw a seal, unfortunately I thought at first that she was having issues with her reg again so I missed it. 🙁 Still a great dive, nice to do Sven’s for once without the surge!

After reading up on Chimney Rock  I was really keen to dive it since we were launching from Barwon anyway. Unfortunately I was unable to find coordinates for the site, it’s a decent cray spot so most people keep the mark to themselves. Luckily Sven was able to provide us the coordinates after a quick text to him, he’s an useful guy to know!

But first we had to get some airfills and that proved to be quite an ordeal. It should have been a simple enough thing as Dive Vic in Queenscliff is only a short drive away from Barwon. Unfortunately filling up the tanks somehow  took several hours, I’m still not quite sure what actually happened. Nonetheless, we got the tanks filled eventually and were able to head off for our final dive of the day. Some people were too tired at this point to do a third dive but we still had a fair number of divers heading out.

Luckily Chimney Rock was well worth the extra effort. The site has a very interesting structure and it’s perhaps the best reef dive I have near Melbourne. It’s relatively small bommie with ledges, overhangs and windows everywhere. There’s also a small hollow “chimney” in the middle which gives the site its name. And to make it even better the site is reasonably shallow and suitable for open water divers as well.

The fish life there’s excellent and quite a few people also spotted some Port Jackson sharks in the area. Unfortunately I missed those but it was still an excellent dive and well worth a return visit. I had a superb dive there with Luke and Mel.

By the time everyone had finished their dives it was already getting fairly late and close to sunset. We headed back to the shore, got the boats back on the trailers and started driving back towards Melbourne. At this point everyone was keen to get back to the city after a really long day.

It took us a while to get everything washed back at the shed, by then it was already quite late and everyone was getting tired. Still, considering the excellent diving it was well worth the extra effort!

Rye Pier (including Elsa’s Reef) and Mornington Pier

February 20th, 2013
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After a cool and cloudy Tuesday weather was back to warm and (mostly) sunny on Wednesday. Luckily one of our fresh members Nathan was keen to do a middle of the week dive to get bit more practice in the water. While we have been spared the most extreme temperatures during this most recent heatwave in Melbourne, I still welcomed the chance to get wet again.

It didn’t actually look that nice when we started driving towards Mornington Peninsula, it was cloudy and the sun was nowhere in sight. It looked like it might even start raining at some point. Luckily by the time we got to our first dive spot at Rye Pier weather was clearing up again and rest of the day was sunny and pleasant.

While diving the Rye Pier I also wanted to check out Elsa’s Reef. This (unofficial) artificial reef is a recent addition to the site and easily found by following the signs at the end of the main pier. It must have taken quite a bit of effort to construct, there’s lots of different stuff down there! There’s a big metal structure there that should make an excellent habitat for marine life in a few years to come. Already the fish had adopted the site.

There’s also a mirror down there for self-portraits and of course the titular Elsa the (Sea) Lion. It was a cool dive even if it took us a while to get Nathan’s weighting sorted out.

After Rye we started heading back towards Melbourne and stopped in Mornington for another dive. We had already visited Mornington last weekend but gave it a pass back then as it was really busy and apparently really silty too from all the divers in the water. This time there were no other divers around but the place was still rather silty and murky.

Particularly in the beginning the visibility was terrible and there were lots of fishermen on the pier too, so we had to be careful when looking for some clearer water. Luckily things improved a little bit once we got the deeper water around the second outer section of the pier.

It was still rather murky but at least there were some big schools of fish swimming around. I also saw one truly massive boarfish swimming around, sadly I didn’t manage to get a shot of it. Still, it was by no means a great dive. After swimming around for a while we did a little bit of skill practice with Nathan and finished up the dive.

From past experience I know Mornington can be decent dive when the visibility is ok. Unfortunately this wasn’t one of those times, even if it wasn’t a total disaster by no means either.

All in all we were both still quite happy with how the day turned out. It was not the most successful day for photography but it was still good to get in the water and Nathan definitely benefited from the practice dives.

Flinders Pier and Portsea Pier

February 17th, 2013
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After Saturday’s snorkeling it was time for some proper diving on Sunday. Our original plan was to start at Mornington Pier, but it was really busy there with several shops running dive courses there. After talking with some guys and hearing that visibility was poor as well we decided to move on. We had a quick look at the nearby Point Linley as well. However, after some contemplation we decided to leave a dive there for another day and drove to Flinders instead.

This was a very sensible choice as this was perhaps the best dive I have done at Flinders Pier. The tide was fairly low (and getting lower) but everything else about the dive worked out great. There was an excellent variety of life down there and no current and minimal waves. Visibility was better than usual, too.

In addition to the normal seadragons and schools of fish there were also several huge smooth rays swimming around. They were really calm too, just hovering there right next to us for several minutes. The largest must have had a wingspan of well over two meters, a close contender for the biggest stingray I have ever seen. Crystal also found a sleeping cuttlefish for us, another nice surprise.

I had decided to keep my macro lens on for the dive. This was obviously no good for the big stingrays. Luckily there was lots of smaller life there too. I finally nailed a great closeup of a seadragon. There were also a couple of schools of very small fish that looked like some kind of glass fish. With some good luck I was able to shoot one really nice closeup of the school.

After the excellent dive at Flinders Portsea Pier was a pretty big disappointment. We were diving reasonably close to slack tide but the current was still really strong. At times it felt almost like a drift dive and swimming back against the current was no fun at all. In addition visibility was quite poor as well with lots of particles in the water.

Obviously this wasn’t too great for photography either. I still managed a few decent fish shots, but nothing too special.