Travel time: 04/2012
To choose the a suitable dive boat for scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef is not that easy as there are only a few choices: Single day trips with 30 and more divers and snorkelers starting early morning from Cairns yacht harbor. Multiple days trips are available at Mike Ball Expeditions (www.mikeball.com), specialized for single divers and going more for the US market as well as the www.spiritoffreedom.com.au.
Dive boat Spirit of Freedom
On their informative website www.spiritoffreedom.com.au you immediately can verify if and what kind of space is left on the boat at the desired time. Questions about the journey or payment were answered quickly and competent. After booking you have to fill out some forms and send or fax them back. All dive gear can be rented and are in very good shape. Still it's always a good idea to bring your own mask and dive computer with you.
To get a better view of the boat download a short video (26 MB) and have a look to the layout of the boat. There is room for 24 guests and 10 crew members. The more comfortable double bed rooms are upstairs next to the Captains Bridge and sun deck. They have almost double the space than the other rooms. Also they are the only one with windows, large windows with a brilliant view. But they are also the one which pitch and toss most in rough sea.
All other cabins are at sea level, have no windows and are noisier as the engine is at the same level and when the ship gets into rough sea you can hear the waves banging against the hull. Also the space is that little that you have to arrange your luggage thoughtful. The twin shared or double has a larger bunk on the bottom and a small over it. The mattresses are very soft so that your hip will hit the bottom of the wooden frame. It is also very tricky to get on and off the upper bunk when in rough sea. Every room has its own bathroom with a washing bowl, shower and toilet and all rooms are air-conditioned.
At the main deck is a chill-out area in front which is usually very chilly (AC), hosts the free coffee and tea facilities, a small screen for movies and a library with English books. Next to it is the fridge with soft drinks and alcoholic drinks (price list). In the middle of the ship is a larger dining room with four tables. Pictures from the last dives are shown on a huge screen. Next to this room are two "public" toilets and the kitchen. At the rear end is the dive gear located where everyone gets his own place for the whole trip. Most dives will start directly from the lower platform. Above the dive area is the sun deck which is partly covered. If the weather condition allows a BBC is held at one evening.
All together the boat is comfortable except the very soft mattresses and that there is no space to dry up wet clothes. A real disadvantage is the amount of divers if the dive site is small like single pinnacles or you may hang at the anchor line at your 5 meter stop with 10 others together.
Before the first dive a small breakfast buffet with different kind of muesli and fruit yogurt is offered. After the first dive a second breakfast with scrambled eggs, fried ham, baked beans, toast and different kind of sweet spreads is available. Lunch and dinner is offered as buffet or served at the table and always very tasty with loads of meat. In between muffins or other bakeries are served.
The crew did a real good job. They served us very well, were present if needed, were always friendly, informative and in good mood. They helped to take on the fins at the "jump-off" area, rinsed the mask and even carried the gear when necessary.
The Dive Safari
The 3 or 7 days dive safari starts by picking up the guests from the airport or hotels around 11 am. The 4 days safari starts with a pick-up directly from the beach of Lizard Island around noon. On arrival at the boat the luggage was transferred to the cabins by the crew and the guests seated on the sun deck. After a short welcome the guests are split into groups and introduced to the Spirit of Freedom followed by an introduction of the next days, the dive rules and sites.
Usually the following days starts with a wake-up call at 6:30 am followed by a very detailed briefing (before every dive) of the dive site at 7:15 and jump-off at 7:30. Mostly the dive limit is set by your air pressure (minimum 50 bar). Only the first dives and the night dive are limited to 45 minutes.
The first dive at the first day in the afternoon is led by the instructor as he wants to verify your dive behaviors. At the second dive you are freer to do your "own" dive but limit is set to 45 minutes as the boat must move the whole night to the next dive site. Here sometimes the crew is bits too rush especially if you are one of the last divers coming out of the water and the boat must moves to another dive site.
The second day is only diving, eating, diving, eating... Five dives at a day is a bit much. This day will end with a guided night dive. The next day(s) "only" four dives are scheduled. At the last day it is up to you to keep the recommended surface time of 24 hours before the flight or to go diving. Nevertheless you have to sign a letter of confirmation.
At the 3 or 7 days dive safari you will visit Lizard Island and have a small one hour walk to a scenic view point led by one of the instructors with a bit of explanation about the island. The only telecom provider at Lizard Island is TelStra (www.telstra.com.au). Guests leaving the dive safari will be picked up and transferred to a small airstrip to catch the turboprop aircraft back to Cairns. Same time the new guests for the 4 days safari will be transferred to the boat.
The 4 or 7 days dive safari ends Monday morning with a wake-up call at 5:30 am followed by a small breakfast. At 6:30 the Spirit of Freedom will tie up at the harbor of Cairns, the crew will say good by and the guests transferred to their hotels within Cairns or to the airport.
The Dive Sites
The dive sites are listed according to the 7 days dive safari with start from Cairns (gpx-file as zip with the dive sites).
1st day afternoon:
- Coral Gardens: Two dives: First dive following the instructor. Second by your own. Shallow dives with the view of turtles and sharks.
- Cod Hole: First dive exploring the area by your own. Second dive group together for the Cod Feed event: Feeding big cods at a sandy space. Nice shallow area with big cods, white tips and snails.
- Two Towers: Two pinnacles on shallow sand. Snakes.
- Challenger Bay: Lots of small coral tables on shallow sand. First dive at daylight exploring the area by your own. Second dive at the same area after sunset (guided night dive).
- Pixie Pinnacle: First deeper dive. Single pinnacle with around 20 meter diameter. Lots of nudies and fish schools.
- Lighthouse Bommie: Single pinnacle with around 16 meter diameter. Snakes, snapper and other fish schools.
- Cathedrals: Small coral pinnacle on one reef pinnacle. Discover lots of small things.
- Snake Pit: Three large green snakes, lots of fish schools on the outer side and two big mantas.
Transfer people to/from Lizard Island.
- Pixie Gardens: Two dives in the afternoon on a mostly shallow reef. Discover sleeping sharks, narrow canyons, scorpion fishes and big napoleons.
Cruise over night to Osprey Reef.
- Around the Bend: Two dives were you can go really deep. Buffalo parrots, sharks, lots of small and larger canyons and a cleaning station.
- Silver City: Lots of canyons and pinnacles.
- Admiralty: First dive at daylight exploring the area by your own. Dive through a small canyon/cave were a ship lost his anchor. Second dive at the same area after sunset (guided night dive).
- North Horn Wall: Three dives all together: Drift dive along the south wall, shark feed as the main event and drift dive along the east wall. Very deep water, many big fishes, lots of sharks.
- Castles: Canyons on shallow sandy area.
- Steve's Bommie: Two dives at this pinnacle with a diameter of around 25 meters. Stone fishes and fish schools. Sometimes strong current.
- Joanies Joy: Shallow dive.
- Flair Point: Another shallow area.
Cruise over night back to Cairns.