Serendipity on our doorstep
Warm tropical waters, blue skies, coral reefs and far away lands are what normally springs to mind when imagining liveaboard dive trips. So when we found ourselves packing for our latest liveaboard experience, it did feel rather strange to be loading drysuits, thermals and beanies into the car! This was clearly going to be a liveaboard with a difference, serendipity on our doorstep.
The weekend started with little promise. Battling through driving rain, fog and Sydney’s wretched rush hour traffic was not the most enjoyable way to spend a Friday evening. We finally arrived alongside Huskisson Jetty at picturesque Jervis Bay on the New South Wales South Coast without a moment to spare. The rain had ceased, the waters were calm and the promise for what lay ahead started to build. After being efficiently transferred via the tender ‘Priscilla’, tanks, weights and all, we found ourselves aboard Ocean Trek, our home for the weekend ahead.
Following cabin allocations, gear set up and receiving a general boat and safety briefing from the crew, we settled down with fellow guests. From the onset, it was obvious that Lyn and Mick, owner operators of Ocean Trek and our hosts for the weekend, run a great show. Many of the guests were repeat customers who have been frequenting the trips over many years, testament to the operation that Lyn and Mick run. We opened a bottle of red and tucked into a selection of cheeses and meats including Mick’s very own home smoked beef jerky – simply sensational! Getting towards midnight, we collapsed into bed, leaving hosts and some of the more diehard guests to polish off a select bottle of rum!
Saturday morning arrived with the irresistible smell of bacon and eggs seeping through the boat and the sighting of glassed out conditions from our cabin window. We commenced the usual liveaboard routine of eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, sleep!
History of Ocean Trek
Before we go any further however, let’s talk boat and believe us, this one has had a long and interesting history! Originally named Tropic Queen, she was built in the early 1970′s on the mud flats of Cairns and used as a charter vessel for the fledging Marlin fishing industry. She was the first passenger-carrying catamaran built to survey standards in the Southern Hemisphere and, at the time, the largest steel catamaran built, she affectionately became known as “The Queen” by Cairns locals. Subsequently, she was acquired by Cairns dive operator, Deep Sea Divers Den in 1985 and became one of the first boats to accommodate dive tourists on liveaboards to the Great Barrier Reef. In 1990, Lyn and Mick acquired her to establish a temperate water liveaboard operation in Jervis Bay. At this point, she was refurbished significantly and renamed to the more temperate water appropriate, Ocean Trek. In honour of her rich past as ‘The Queen’, her tender was named ‘Priscilla’, from the famous Australian movie around the same time, ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’
Despite her years, she is well designed for diving, has a spacious dive deck which includes Nitrox compressor, hot showers, head, camera tables, ample storage and the rest. Attention to detail is obvious throughout the trip from the safety procedures, to the so called “penguin holes” (pigeon holes to most) to store dry gear on the dive deck and the hand pump full of KY Jelly to aid divers into their dry suit seals! Host Lyn, an ex-nurse, also boasts medical supplies sufficient to be able to (in her own words) conduct open heart surgery with! Accommodation is basic, no frills but immaculate and offers single bunk style or double cabins. The saloon area has a great selection of dive books, games and offers great viewing of the galley that consistently pumps out delicious home cooked food and lots of it. The top deck offers a “lecture room” ideal for charging batteries and downloading images and organising camera gear. This leads out onto a spacious sun deck, great for soaking up some rays whilst enjoying the delicious, freshly baked surface-interval muffins, as well as drying undergarments from those leaky dry suits.
Colour, contrast and textures
After a hearty cooked breakfast, our first dive of the weekend was the first of several “live drops” where all divers are efficiently ushered off the side of the boat and then drift with the incoming current to where the boat will be moored. We descended into a familiar temperate water landscape and the beauty that lies beneath. Despite feeling familiar however, the diving seemed different, different in a good way. Sea Tulips abound, rocky reef, boulders, sea grass beds, kelp, sponges, soft corals and nudibranches: colour, contrast and textures, the diversity and abundance was simply breathtaking. Jervis Bay Marine Park forms part of the network of NSW Marine Parks and Reserves and is a great example of the stunning diversity and biomass that abounds in localised areas of protection. Discovering a stunning male Weedy Seadragon carrying eggs, gracefully making his way through the slowly swaying kelp, seemed like a great omen for the rest of the trip.
Whilst the visibility at times bore resemblance to pea and jelly fish soup, the diving was simply stunning. The area is usually renowned for good visibility so we were simply unlucky but certainly not disappointed.
In total we completed six dives over the weekend, four on Saturday and two on Sunday prior to our disembarkation. Lyn provides expert dive site briefs for each dive, whilst Mick expertly manoeuvres the boat between dive locations. Dive location and plans are obviously dictated by conditions. We were blessed with calm conditions during the weekend and consequently did several live drops, organised by Lyn with military precision and then following a simple one directional dive plan. For those that missed the boat at the end of the dive, Priscilla was on hand to provide the taxi ride home!
From the Nursery to Point Perpendicular to Slot Cave
Many of the sites were compatible for a range of experiences offering multi level options, however, as the boat does not offer a dive guide, you’ll need to be comfortable navigating with just your buddy. Returning back to base at the end of each dive, we were efficiently asked for our dive time, depth and, as we were diving on Nitrox, our oxygen accumulation percentage. We were also, asked for our tea, coffee, Milo or hot soup preferences! Despite often low visibility, we saw some great diversity. Our favourite site during the trip was a live drop at Point Perpendicular, beneath the towering cliffs on the north head of the bay. A stunning location with dramatic boulder drop offs leading down to 40 plus metres. A deep dive site where you never know what large pelagic interactions you may encounter. We were not disappointed, with a large bull ray, spanning 2m across, gracefully gliding past us. Another favourite was Slot Cave, the very last dive of the trip, which offered great photo opportunities in the stunning cavernous formation with light streaming in from the narrow entrance.
All in all, a great value weekend that, aside from the stunning temperate water diving and underwater scenery, is clearly made by its great hosts, Lyn and Mick. Serendipity on our doorstep indeed – we are already planning our return trip!
Find out more about Ocean Trek Liveaboard