Thursday, 27 May 2010

Merimbula Divers Lodge - Eden Tugs

After Jervis Bay we headed down to Merimbula (4hrs) to stay at the Diver's Lodge and dive the Eden Tugs. The Tasman Hauler and Henry Bolte tugs were sunk as artificial reefs back in the mid 1980's in 25 to 30m. The Tasman Hauler is intact while the Henry Bolte has collapsed but boasts more fish life. They're only a 5min boat ride from Eden wharf and about 150m apart.

The diver's lodge has 3 large two bedroom apartments for $29/person, 4 bunks per room. Absolute luxury as dive lodges go, and walking distance to great restaurants and the main shopping drag. We've stayed there twice and always had an apartment to ourselves. Excellent washing and gear storage facilities are provided.

Dive time was 8.30 at the Eden wharf, 20min drive, where we geared up with a Pro Dive mob from Sydney. They were also staying at the diver's lodge and doing a wreck course. The dive boat is a Niiad RIB with just enough space for 12 divers and 2 crew. It's a fast narrow boat that has no storage space for cameras, have to be very vigilant to protect cameras in the pre dive melee.

The vis was 15 to 20m allowing for great wide angle shots. A big school of 60cm kingfish provided thrills on the Henry Bolte. Much better than the 5m green snot we had last visit.

First dive was on the Tasman Hauler then back to Eden for the surface interval, then back out to the Henry Bolte.

$120 for the double dive with your own gear.

Tug dive photos here

For this trip I really wanted to concentrate on wide angle and video. I used my Nikon D80 in Ikelite with 2 Inon Z220 strobes all on manual and Sigma 15mm fisheye, and Virg's Panasonic Lumix LX3 in my old Coolpix 5000 Ikelite housing with a UK Light Cannon HID torch for video.

I took Virg's Macbook and edited video as the trip progressed. This gave me something to do during down time and show off to the non photographers each night.

Rich and I used drysuits, highly recommended, and although the water temp was 20c in JB and 18c on the Tugs, it made the between dive times warm and comfortable. Wetsuit divers shivered.

Next time I'll take my ali backplate rather than heavier SS just for easier handling out of the water, and use an occy neck sling or velcro retainer rather than the useless mouthpece plug.

Jervis Bay - Ocean Trek 5 day trip

Spent the last 10 days on a diving road trip to Jervis Bay and Merimbula.

Buddy Rich Misquitta and I drove from Geelong to Goulburn (8hrs) on the first day, staying at the Alpine Heritage Motel, $85 budget twin room, right next door to the down market Carlton Hotel. The $10 steaks were excellent but the 3 vomiting Canberra teenagers (also our motel neighbours) were not.

Next morning we drove (2 hrs) down the steep windy road to Huskisson staying at the peaceful Jervis Bay Caravan Park (Bushmans Cabin $80, no ensuite). It's a few ks outside Husky on the river and very pleasant. We could leave our car there for the 5 days of the Ocean Trek live-aboard dive trip. The only alternative is to leave your car in the council car park next to the bottle shop. Apparently it's quite safe but Rich wasn't too keen with his new Sportiva. Dinner was at the local RSL. Large meals served extremely fast, kitchen closes at 8pm.

8.30 Monday morning saw us waiting with all our luggage on the Husky wharf. The other Ocean Trek passengers slowly assembled. First Joy from Eden arrived then a minivan with the mob from Whyalla SA pulled up, making 10 divers and 1 non diver.

Eventually a wild haired seafarer in a small dinghy tied up to the wharf and introduced himself as Mick. 3 trips in his precariously overloaded tender saw us all on Ocean Trek, our home for the next 5 days.

Ocean Trek is a big old 18m catamaran with beds for 23. Many years ago Lee Marvin was a guest on Marlin fishing expeditions. Now it's perfectly setup as a diving liveaboard.

Captain Mick is also the director of entertainment, Lyn runs the diving and Bob is the chef. They make a great team and obviously enjoy it. Dive videos enthusiastically narrated by Mick, stories of their many dive adventures and a game of "Million Dollar Riff" using Mick's iPod kept us entertained during the evening meals.

Speaking of meals, Bob did a magnificent job. I have done a Taka trip on the GBR and the food didn't come close to Bob's efforts. Home cooked, fresh ingredients, amazing variety and nutritionally perfect for a strenuous dive trip. Lasagne, fettucini marinara, roast beef and veggies, Tom Yum soup, 3 course every night with creative desserts, with no course ever repeated. Hot breakfasts, post dive snacks and fruit always available. Just superb.

Lyn's dive operation was thorough, well run and safety conscious. Any diving incidents were dealt with strictly and professionally. Some of the problems experienced were unplanned and missed deco (no diving for 24hrs), possible saltwater aspiration on 2 consecutive dives, headaches, , dehydration (me), earaches, nose bleeds and some sea sickness. All survived and left the boat smiling.

Each day 4 dives were planned with 2 on the last day making 18 in all. Breakfast at 8.00am was followed by the first dive around 9.30, another at 11.30, lunch then 2hrs snoozy time, arvo dive around 3.30 and night dive at 6.00.

Only 1 diver managed to do the full 18 dives, but he had a pit crew non diving partner, who just happened to be a part time masseuse, lucky bugger!

Weather was not kind to us for the first 2 days with rain, wind and swell, but inside the bay behind Bowen Island there are excellent sheltered sites.
Eventually the weather improved allowing us to move outside the south head. Better vis, big schools of fish and a sea cave made these sites memorable. I have no interest in fresh water cave diving but these sea caves and splits are my favourite dive sites.

Each night we moved inside to anchor off Murray's beach. We also did a brilliant night dive here filming a baby PJ shark mauling a scallop, 3 species of seapen and a walking gurnard in full display.

We also dived around the Docks, Split cave (another fave) and Point Perpendicular. The marine life of Jervis Bay is really spectacular. Swirling bait balls, squadrons of squid, bow riding dolphins, wobbegong and Port Jackson sharks, sea eagles, Navy ships, planes and parachute drops kept the photographers busy. Also saw a very long water spout (mini tornado) reaching up hundreds of meters to the clouds.

Most sites were dominated by big boulders and urchins barrens with big clusters of stalked ascidians and striking sponges remaining. But the amazing abundance of fish and spectacular walls, splits and caves make Jervis Bay the brilliant dive destination it is.

For all this we paid a little over $150/day. You could barely sleep and eat for that without diving at all. Amazing diving, amazing value and I will return.

Can't think of any negatives really, unless it's Mick's very daggy sense of humour and music tastes, but they can easily be forgiven.

10 min trip video here
Dive photos here