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The Captain’s Blog: All ducks in a row

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Another Blog from Mike Ball Dive Expedition’s Captain Trevor Jackson

Refit on Spoilsport has to be seen to be believed. There’s so much going on at once it would make your head spin… in fact, it DOES make your head spin! Engineers are ripping stuff out and rebuilding. Welders carve chunks of metal out and tack new ones in. The crew are grinding and painting, replacing mattress’s and pillows, cleaning A/C units and replacing carpets. There’s usually someone hanging off a harness somewhere, and some really small person tucked into an even smaller hole. And DUST and HEAT!

It lasts for exactly four weeks, almost to the minute. And when it’s over, the boat looks great and the crew look… well… stuffed! Lucky for us, it’s a brand new, well-rested and fresh crew that are jumping on board for the first trip. The refit crew stand on the wharf and watch the revitalised boat steam off into the sunset and off to a new year.

The first trip out is always super busy. Because we are a ship, some things can only be finalised at sea, in ‘at sea’ conditions. So each year, just after we clear the leads, I call the crew in for a little pep talk… it goes something like this.

“You know when your down in the botanical gardens and you’re watching the ducks swim around in the lake? Those ducks just glide along so silently and peacefully,  they look like they don’t have a care in the world… But, if you were to look under the duck, you’d see their little pair of legs spinning around at a hundred miles a minute…. a turmoil of activity… yet on the surface… peace and tranquillity. Well, that’s what we are gonna need this week. We are going to provide an awesome trip for our guests and I know that some of you guys are going to be busier than usual, but if any post refit issues pop up… well… YOU guys are the ducks (pointing at the dive and galley crews)… and YOU guys are the legs (pointing at the mates and engineers). Everyone got it?”

The first trip after refit is always awesome. It’s not just because the boat seems like brand new. It’s the crew: they are super excited to be back at sea after a month, and that excitement rubs off on everyone. There’s a great sense of camaraderie built from knowing they have to go the extra mile and a sense of pride in knowing, that if they do their jobs right, it won’t matter how quick those little duck legs have to spin… all anyone will ever see, is the ducks!


Find the expedition you are looking for at: www.mikeball.com/compare-expeditions

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions operates exciting scuba diving expeditions on custom-built, award-winning liveaboard Spoilsport, to some of the best dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Enjoy spectacular biodiversity on the northern Great Barrier Reef including the world famous Cod Hole, or venture out into the remote Coral Sea for exciting big fish action, shark encounters and excellent visibility. Find out more at www.mikeball.com.

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Wining and Diving – Costa Brava, Spain

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The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.

**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.


The Costa Brava is a hugely popular destination for those seeking sunshine, but it has much, much more to offer that just beaches and bars. One advantage to the huge number of tourists heading in this direction each year, is that the flights are competitively priced and go from all our major, and some smaller, airports. We had heard that there was some excellent diving around the Medes Islands and we got the opportunity to head to L’Estartit for a long weekend to check it out, as well as exploring the local region to sample its excellent food and wine. We flew into Girona, which is about an hour away from our coastal base and flew back to the UK from Barcelona, about 2 hours away from L’Estartit.

Our diving was to be based around a group of pinnacles called the Medes Islands. These can be reached by a very short boat ride from L’Estartit and are a series of weather-worn rocks rearing up out of the sea. The islands and the sea that surrounds them have been a marine reserve for over 30 years and the protected area immediately around the island excludes all fishing and hunting activities as well as throwing anchor. A much larger area, which is increasing in size all the time, has a series of further protections, to prevent any harmful fishing activities and preventing all but the handful of local line fishing boats from coming into this area at all. This protection, over a long period of time, has made these islands a mecca for divers.

The rock formations, when you go down to around 20m are covered in amazing gorgonian corals. Red, orange, yellow and pink corals cover the walls, anemones fight for space, so that dives are packed with colour. The fish life is also excellent. We encountered large octopus and grouper on all the dives. Schools of smaller fish patrol the shallows, barracuda form large schools and circle in the sunlight and blennies hide in every small hole that can be found. We also saw the biggest scorpionfish you are ever likely to see! On the short boat ride back to shore between dives, we encountered mola mola.

In our short stay, we got to visit 4 dive sites over 2 days of diving. Our first dive was actually on the main coastline rather than the Medes islands themselves. In flat calm water, basking in sunshine, we dropped down to find a series of overhangs, tunnels and caves to explore. Barracuda glinted in the sunlight near the surface and we were treated with an octopus poking out of a crevice on our slow descent. Closer inspection of the reef revealed both huge and tiny nudibanches, camouflaged scorpionfish and blennies hiding in every hole in the coral. It was a great dive, topped off by seeing a Mola mola, or sunfish, at the surface from the boat on our short journey back to harbour. After a bite to eat, we were back on a boat and heading for our first dive of the Medes Islands.

Les Farranelles is one of the smallest islands in the Medes Islands. The dive ranges in depth from around 8 to 40m. As you go deeper, you find more and more rock formation covered in amazing corals. Large grouper hang motionless in the water and even come up to divers to see what they are up to.  As you come up shallower, you can spend time looking for tiny critters on boulders closer to the surface. Moray Eels hide between the rocks, with their cleaner shrimp companions.

The next day we dived El Salpatxot, where a vital marine ecosystem of sea grass shelters juvenile fish. This dive site is on the largest of the islands and so can provide some shelter for divers in windy conditions. However, for us it was another perfect day, with visibility of about 15m, flat seas and the water temperature which suited our 5mm wetsuits well (around 21 degrees). Our final dive was to be one of the most famous dive sites in the area: Dolfi Sud (or Dolphin South). The site is named after a small statue of a dolphin that can be found at the entrance of one of the many caves that make up this dive site, one of which cuts right through the island from one side to the other. Grouper patrol the caverns that, at certain times of day, are flooded with sunlight. Conger eels lie tucked away in the caves too. It is a great site for those that like to explore.

Our diving over for this trip, we picked up our hire car and planned a route with the tourist board that would allow us visit some of the best, though not well-known, vineyards in the area and to be able to sample the fabulous local produce. This part of Spain is famous for olive oil and wine, as well as great food. We took our car up into the Roses region to sample some of what was on offer. Much of the area on land, as well as at sea, is nature reserve too, so the growers of olives and grapes follow a more traditional way of production, using organic methods and shunning heavy machinery. Our first stop was to a local co-operative, Empordalia, who work with local farmers to bring to market, the wines, olive oil and other local produce to sell in their shop and café. The wine, especially the sweet, red wine, and olive oil were wonderful and so we decided to bring some home with us (regardless of our tight weight limit on the plane!)

We then headed further towards the coast to visit a vineyard that was run by the granddaughter of the founder, Col de Roses. She whisked us into her 4×4 and said I have something to show you. She drove us through the stunning coutryside down to the coast, along smaller and smaller roads, until we were driving through the terraced national park along her vines. All this so that she could show us her sea view vines that get their cooling straight from the sea breezes. “You are divers” she said, “so am I – I thought you would like this!” We did. Up on the terrace, with got a chance to sample the wines and then, to our delight, she gave us 3 bottles to bring home and try in our own time (packing really was going to be a problem!)

Our final stop was to a gourmet restaurant, called Terranova, for lunch. This was to be no ordinary lunch, but a tasting menu, where food seemed to be never-ending, each small course being accompanied by a local wine (for Nick – who was not driving). We sat on the terrace, in dappled sunshine and loved every minute of it. Our tour was a perfect day trip from L’Estartit. The tourist board have created wine tours for all those that fancy a go at this and provide maps and recommendations to help you along.

As a final bonus, with our return flight from Barcelona, we got to do a quick day trip, taking in a leisurely walk up Las Ramblas, stumbling across a festival with human towers reaching scary heights with tiny children in crash helmets at the very top, jumping on a bus tour around this stunning city, all before heading to the airport and home.


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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Take an immersive dive below the waves off the Welsh coast using 360 VR: Black Bream (Watch Video)

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A week-long series from Jake Davies…

Below the waves off the Welsh coast, there are a range of species and habitats that can be seen. However, you don’t have to venture too far from the shore to see them or don’t have to leave the comfort of your home. Using 360 videos provides an immersive feeling of being below the water and encountering many species and habitats from diving one of the most important habitats and species that aren’t often seen whilst diving. For more of an experience of being below the waves, the VR videos can be viewed using a VR headset.

Take a VR dip into the blue waters off the Welsh coast with a species which are often shy with divers, the Black Bream (Spondyliosoma cantharu).

Black bream are often very wary of divers underwater, however they were curious to find out more about the VR camera. As a species, black bream are a more southerly distributed species however, over the decades with waters warming they’re distribution has increased northerly. During the summer period, they come inshore to breed and males will build nests and protect the eggs.


Follow Jake aka JD Scuba on the YouTube channel @Don’t Think Just Blog.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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