NOTE: This boat now appears to have gone broke and closed up shop. A pity, as it was the best run dive operation on the Great Barrier Reef.
The MV Undersea Explorer is a liveaboard dive charter boa
t that operates out of Port Douglas, Far North Queensland, Australia. From this location it travels to the Ribbon Reefs between Port Douglas and Lizard Island and out to the isolated Osprey Reef.
For part of the year the boat also does far northern trips from Port Douglas to (or from) Lockhart River.
The Undersea Explorer is a 25 metre long, 110 tonne steel hulled motor vessel. It is was built in 1990. The boat is quite wide at 6.2 metres and is powered by two diesel engines giving a cruise speed of about 8 knots. It has two generators, two air compressors, a desalination plant, is air-conditioned and has amble room.
|The Undersea Explorer approaches a diver in the water at the end of a drift dive |
Accommodation is in five Queen cabins (each actually has a third bunk I think) and five twin cabins. The Queen cabins I have used had sufficient powerpoints so that we could charge camera, strobe and torch batteries. As Kelly and I did not take a torch on day dives, it meant we could leave our torches on charge all night and day, so meaning we only needed one powerpoint for this (swapping them over). If you are both using cameras and need more powerpoints, you could set up chargers in the lounge or dining room (although not at meals).
There are four toilets and showers (located on the back deck - more about this later). There is a largish dining area where a lot of time is spent by people setting up cameras and down-loading photos from cameras to laptops. There is a camera room which may have been sufficient when only a few people had cameras, but now nearly everyone seems to have a digital camera so the dining area gets used. The camera room at the rear (next to a shower) is where you store your camera once it is recharged etc.
If the weather is fine, most people spend the majority of the day from about 10 am to 3 pm (when not diving or eating) on the top deck which has a very large shade cover. There is also a large lounge but on two trips I have not spent very much time there. This has TVs, computers (for downloading photos and burning to CD), videos and DVDs. There is also an excellent library with diving related material as well as some general material. No need to bring your own marine environment books.
The rear diving deck is a bit crowded but it is not too bad once you get into a rhythm. The dive platform goes up and down but this is just to take the rubber duck in and out of the water. For for all but the disabled, it is left at water level when you are entering and exiting the water.
What can I say. Fantastic and lots of it. If you have a problem with one food type, you will still be looked after (I hate fish but still got a great meal when fish was served).
From 7 am there is a cold breakfast (cereal, fruit, tea/coffee and toast). After the first dive there is a hot breakfast. After the second dive of the day there is lunch, after the third dive there is afternoon tea and after the night dive is dinner (see later for rough timings of these). Tea, coffee and cool water is available free all day. There are also soft drinks and beer to buy or you can bring your own beer and wine (there is a small fridge in the lounge - beer in cans only due to more compact disposal).
There are four dives offered per day. Maximum permitted depth (as per Queensland rules) is 40 metres but there is no need to go any deeper than this anyway.
As mentioned, there is a diving area at the rear but it is a little crowded. Tanks are set up at the start of the trip and stay in the same place the whole time. There is storage under for fins etc. Wetsuits are kept on the top deck where they can get some sun and wind to dry a little. Cameras and computers have large tubs of freshwater in which to soak. You climb down a short ladder to the platform and step into the water. There is a ladder to climb from the water to the platform for normal dives (but not when it is a live pickup).
After a dive, it is a matter of putting your tank in its place, removing your first stage to indicate you need a fill, put your fins, mask etc in the tub under your tank, go into the shower and take off your wetsuit as you have a quick rinse in fresh (warm) water and take your wetsuit up to the upper deck storage area. For the last dive of the day, I got into a habit of making sure I put soap and shampoo and my razor in one of the showers so that I could at least clean up a bit after the dive.
Nitrox is available for $20 a day (you can pay per fill but this is the cheapest option) and a cylinder of Nitrox is hung on the deco bars each dive.
Night dives are simple as the brilliant lights on the back deck make it impossible to lose your way back to the boat.
Most dives are from moorings. The boats attach the mooring rope to the starboard midships and it is an easy swim from the back deck to the rope.
Some dives are without mooring. Once ready, the boat approaches the reef edge and the drop-zone, turns at right-angles and cuts engines. You drop off the back parachute style and descend straight away. As these are mostly dives in currents, you need to get to the bottom quickly.
At the end of the dive, you surface near the reef and swim out as far as possible. The boat will approach towards you. It can be a little bit unnerving seeing a huge boat coming right at you (see the photo at the top of the page). A little off you the engines are cut and the rudder swung hard to port. You are then very close to the starboard hull and it seems to go very fast past you. You put your hand on the hull and slide along it. At the stern, you grab hold of the grab rails and pull yourself as far as possible to the other side of the boat to make room for others. The deck will be slightly under the water and it is a fairly simple matter of pulling yourself aboard like a beached seal and waiting for your fins to be removed.
On the first day (normally Saturday), you put your bags on the boat about 5 pm. The boat is tied up at the Sugar Wharf which is the closest wharf to the town centre and the open water. If you arrive in Port Douglas before this, you can put your bags in the Office while you go for a walk around the town.
When time comes to put your bags on board, you are allocated your cabin, put all your clothes etc out in the spaces provided, set up your dive gear on a cylinder on the rear deck and generally check out the boat. At the same, you need to fill out some forms, show your diving certifications and get a general talking to about the diving.
Once you have done all this, you can go to town for dinner and a few drinks. You need to be back at the boat before 8 pm as this is when the boat is scheduled to leave. See food and drinks headings in this article for more information.
One thing to remember is that you can take your own beer and wine on board so it is wise to get a carton of beer (cans only - bottles not permitted) and some wine (bottles are okay but casks better) before you come back to the boat. We were going to get some nibblies for the trip out that night but one thing to note is that the Coles supermarket closes at 5.30 pm on Saturday (we went there at 5.45 pm and were refused entry).
The first night on the boat starts with the boat steaming out of Port Douglas. As mentioned, it should leave at 8 pm but on my first trip there was a problem with the air-conditioning on the port side which meant that we were delayed while the air-conditioning was repaired. We ended up leaving just before 11 pm. This did not really make a difference as I will later explain.
The boat travels overnight to the Ribbon Reefs. You normally arrive there just before breakfast. The aim is to get as far as they can north so that the next night the boat can travel to Osprey Reef (see later). Since the boat is inside the Great Barrier Reef the whole time, it is a very smooth trip unless you had extreme winds. On the first night of my first trip we travelled 125 kilometres in just under nine hours (just over 7 knots) and arrived at the dive site about 8.30 am. Normally the boat would arrive at the site before breakfast. On my second trip we travelled 174 kilometres in just over 12 hours (about 7.8 knots).
The first night is spent aquainting yourself with your fellow guests over a few drinks. A nice way to start the trip.
If the trip is an Osprey Reef trip, on the second night of the trip, the boat heads off after dinner is finished (say 9 pm) and sets aim for Osprey. Depending on where you did the night dive, there may be a short section inside the reef which is very calm before you head out one of the entrances to the Coral Sea.
Opsrey Reef will be between 140 and 170 kilometres distance depending on where you leave the Great Barrier Reef. Therefore it is about a 10 to 12 hour voyage. On my first trip the night we crossed there was quite a strong south-easterly wind which created a lot of chop from the starboard side and some large swells. It was fairly rough, with many sharp drops as the boat fell off the top of a larger swell. Of the 20 customers on the boat, only one was ill and another felt a bit crook for a while. I slept pretty well but every hour or so I was awoken by a larger swell. A great trip I thought!
On the second trip, we went from the Cod Hole and again, we had strong south-easterly winds. This was an even worse trip, with the 135 kilometres taking 12 hours at an average of only 5.8 knots. I did not sleep more than 2 hours out of the 11 hours I was in bed.
While out at Osprey Reef nights are spent at a mooring.
When the time comes to head back to the Great Barrier Reef, it is similar to what happened on the way over. After dinner the boat heads off east after dinner and after about 30 minutes the seas may build as you come out of the protection of Osprey. It is normally a 10 hour trip back to the nearest part of the Great Barrier Reef (the Cod Hole entrance east off Lizard Island). On our trip back we had seas that were a bit rough till about 3 am and then much better. Again, I thought it was okay. However, sea sickness tablets are recommended for all people who are affected by the motion of a boat. On the second trip it was also very rough and it took even longer, just over 15 hours. However, I think that we travelled further in the open ocean (187 kilometres - averaging 6.7 knots) and re-entered the Great Barrier Reef around the northern end of Ribbon Reef Number 5).
When back on the Ribbon Reefs, the travel is all within the protection of the outer reef. Some nights the boat will move, sometimes starting at 3 am. This is so you are moored at the morning's dive site before breakfast. This is normally very smooth. One morning we awoke to find the crew waterskiiing behind one of the rubber ducks as we headed south.
A DAY ON-BOARD
0700 - Get up and have first breakfast
0745 - First dive
0915 - Second breakfast and then relax
1130 - Second dive
1300 - Lunch and relax again
1600 - Third dive
1715 - Afternoon tea
1900 - Fourth (night) dive
2000 - Dinner and a few beers
2200 - Bed (exhausted)
After most dives, the boat moves to a new location for the next dive. Times are approximate, as it depends on steaming time from one site to another.
The crew consists of the following:
Most of the crew do multiple tasks, for example, leading dives, steering boat, presenting dive briefings etc. On our trip, they were all nice.
Your last day will only have two dives. This is to enable the vessel to motor back to Port Douglas where you will arrive about 4 or 5 pm. You will not be able to fly till about 2 pm the next day so you will need at least one night's accommodation. The crew will drive you to your accommodation after you get off the boat.
You can pay for any extras by credit card at the end of the trip. Note that there is presently a fuel surcharge due to the high cost of fuel oil.
Return to Main Great Barrier Reef Index Page.
What else can I say? Not much, except that the first trip was so good, we booked another trip for October 2007 and had 15 people travel.