Ok, so this is a little embarrassing. I’d like to say that ‘work’s been way too demanding’, or that ‘diving around the world has taken up all of my time’, but that would be stretching the truth to put it lightly :)

I have some exciting news, that from 22nd Feb 2012 I’ll finally have made a move on one of my dreams. I’ll be a fully qualified scuba instructor, ready and raring to show people across the globe just how amazing our underwater world really is. A few of us from the Tasmania University Dive Club have hooked up with a PADI Course Directory who, while spending most of his time teaching out of Borneo, has decided to meet up in Bali and put us through our paces. We’ll be based out of Sanur for 3 or so weeks, busting out our IDC, MSDT prep, Nitrox and a load of other specialties. So why instructing? Diving is my passion. It all started on a little lonely bommie in the south of Koh Tao, Thailand, and it’s grow primarily through the hundreds of temperate water dives here in Tasmania with the Uni Divers.

While I can’t wait to sink under for that first bubble off the coast of Bali, Tassie is where the heart is, and in my personal experience  we are spoilt with some of the most consistently stunning temperate water dives. With winter bringing huge vis (in temperate water terms) and summer giving us calm seas and access to off shore seal colonies and massive house size bommies and caves, Tassie is the silent dive destination of choice. Over the coming months I’ll be posting up (now that I’m back in the hotseat!) a few targeted dive descriptions for you to check out.

If you’re intrigued about the scuba instructor or even dive master courses, you should definitely drop a message to Joanne at Bali Scuba on letsdive@baliscuba.com. They are mega helpful and full of info.

While migrating out of the Tasmanian winter and spending a weekend in the sunny city of Cairns, located in far north Queensland, my fiance and I went for a bubble session. Jumping aboard the TUSA diving outfit we headed for the outer reef to drop down on Flynn Reef.

The TUSA crew were great and we definitely recommend them on your next visit to Cairns. Lunch and snacks all day while on the water and a stellar dive briefing made for a relaxing day under the surface.

Now you need to remember that we are coming from diving temperate waters, max of 10m visibility, and wearing masses of neoprene. As soon as we dropped off the end of the cruiser it was bliss. Once I picked up my regulator again after getting my mind around the 35m+ vis and a couple of pockets of lead, our group of 6 was off and swimming amongst the stunning corals and fishes of the Outer Great Barrier Reef. We swum around, and under, gorgeous purple sponges and were just amazed and the mass and diversity of the marine life underwater. Although only a handful of larger fish were encountered it was so great to see the reef in good condition (at least Flynn Reef, where we were bubbling) and a vast number of species calling it home. To top off an amazing day underwater we surfaced about 50m from a mother humpback whale nurturing her calf. Albeit their visit was short and sweet, it is still mind blowing whenever you get to experience these majestic mammals under or over the big blue.

Probably due to the 26 degree water, minimal weight on the belt, and the helpful attitude of the TUSA crew, we easily completed 3 dives and made it back to the shores of Cairns before dinner. Next time we’ll get on board a liveaboard and muck dive all day and all night!

We definitely recommend a visit to Cairns, and the service of the TUSA boat and crew was second to none (check them out here: http://www.tusadive.com/). Make sure you stay at Koala Backpackers in the city, and add a little weekend trip up into the Daintree. Bliss.

Apologies to everyone for being off the air for the past few months. My girl and I have been busy planning our seven month cross-African adventure and I have since had to hand over the Presidency of the Tasmanian University Dive Club to our new eager and very competent President, Andrew Bain.

Currently we are in Ngong, Kenya working with the Brydges Centre orphange and are in the final stages of purchasing an ’83 Toyota Landcruiser and about to begin our epic self-drive adventure through to Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa, Lesotho, Namibi, Botswana and Zambia.

Now that we are a duo diving  team we will be diving for a week throughout Zanzibar, followed closely by some lake diving through Northern Malawi. Once we hit Mozambique we’ll be driving the scruffy, potholed roads down to Maputo and heading out to Tofo Bay, where the whalesharks, manta ray cleaning stations, and sea turtles are eagerly awaiting our arrival!

Stay tuned for the amazing updates, photos, and advice on diving Eastern Africa that I will be posting up over the next four months.

Until then… stay safe in the water.

Tasmania is home to some of the world’s most amazing temperate diving. With sites like Cathedral Caves, Waterfall Bay, Fotesque Bay, and Bicheno, no-one can argue it either. But among these serene, relatively untouched dive sites lay great treasures that the adventurous and somewhat crazy divers get wet for… shipwrecks.

Wreck diving is exciting, dangerous, and provides a diver with feelings of ecstasy as you ascend up through the bridge of vessel, 40m under the surface. For many locals the Nord springs to mind as one of the iconic shipwrecks strewn around our coastline. Built back in 1900 in Greenock, Scotland, the steel steamship was traveling from Melbourne to Hobart and took a course between the Hippolytes just outside the entrance to Fortesque Bay on the Tasmanian Peninsula. Here it smashed into shallow submerged rocks and sank extremely quickly on the 8th of November 1915.

The wreck sits in 40m of water and is a popular bubble for qualified deep divers. Among others, the Lake Illawarra that hit and destroyed  a large portion of the Tasman Bridge here in Hobart on the 5th of January 1975. Here it sits in just over 30m, covered in silt and mud where diving can only take place at slack tide and with good local instruction.

Including sites such as the Betsey Island ship graveyard and a number of other boats dotted along the coastline, Tasmania has a great selection of good depth wrecks to explore, many of which have been around for decades, almost a century.

The question is, does Tasmania need artificial reef creation by sinking ships? Does it really boost our gorgeous state’s dive profile and in particular, was the sinking of the ‘Troy D’ really a good idea?

Artificial reefs have huge potential to build a region’s profile, especially one that already maintains a flourishing dive industry. Here in Tasmania we are privilaged with amazing temperate waters and rugged coastal terrain just begging to be dived. Maria Island is a prime example of how small  ecosystem pockets can flourish with a little human protection (that is, protection from ourselves mind you). Just a click west of Maria is where the Troy D was sunk with the sole purpose of attempting to build on Tasmania’s diving industry.

The concept is great: find a site that attracts divers, advertise nationally what is planned, and sink a ship that is capable of withstanding the test of time to a depth safe for recreational diving. Having dived the Troy D, I can safely say that although the idea was grand, the choice of site was far from suitable. The ship sits in around 24m of water on a sandy bottom smack in the middle of a channel prone to heavy current, silt build up, and minimal to zero fish life. Think of an old river which has been trawled for shellfish over the last 40 years and you get the idea.

Two dive charter companies are ticketed to boat divers out to the wreck at present, with the TUDC (Tasmania University Dive Club) in the process of applying for research grants to dive the area around the Troy and Maria. All in all, the sinking of the Troy D was a great idea for Tasmania but like many other avid divers, I cannot help but feel that the decision makers in this process and those that will no doubt occur in the future HAVE to start consulting divers, local fishermen, and the general public on where, when, and why artifical reefs like this one should be sunk. It is truely the only way we as divers will even see true potential from the process of creating artificial reef ecosystems.

If you still use the old school weight belts like myself, you would understand the frustration when weight is lost and you find yourself constantly purchasing new pieces of lead to keep you under. I have decided that enough is enough, and have begun forging my own lead weights.

Lead is an easily malleable element, albeit exuding toxic fumes, that has a melting point of 327.5 degrees celcius. But before you get around to handling the metal we need a mold. Unless you manage to hunt out a spare 3lb or 6lbdive weight mold from your mates, hitting up eBay or online stores such as www.spearfishing.com.au will see you come out in front. I have picked up a few cheap 3lb molds for around AU$22 but have struggled to find anything larger as yet.

So, where do I start?

The process is actually extremely simple. All you need is to grab yourself a gas stove, a cast iron pot, safety mask or glasses, heavy duty gloves and a cast iron ladle large enough to fill a mold in one go (so that the lead doesn’t start to set mid fill).

Making sure you wear full length protective clothing and a face mask if you have one handy, begin by heating up enough lead to make your desired number of weights. Remember to start small with your first few runs until you have the process down. You can use old fishing sinkers, existing small dive weights, chunks of lead you purchase from scrap yards, and any other lead you can get your hands on. It will take a while for the stove to heat the lead to it’s melting point of 327.5 degrees Celsius (or 621.5 decrees Fahrenheit) so be patient. It is also important to heat the mold before pouring molten lead into it or…. BOOM, you will almost certainly cop a hit of burning lead to the body, and don’t ever drop wet lead into your pot if it is cooled. Be careful. If unsure, always place a board between yourself and the mold until you are certain your mold temperature is suitable to take the lead.

It is advisable, and safer to leave the lead to cool naturally without assistance. Once everything has cooled and depending on your type of mold, you should be able to tap the lead out easily.

From starting out as an easy way to make your own weights, this can quickly turn into a great little profit maker by palming weights off to your local shops and mates.

Fortesque Bay Giant Kelp Forest (Tasman Peninsula)
Bedded deep inside the Tasman National Park, Fortesque Bay is one of the most beautiful campsites in Tasmania. The bay is accessible by car, driving south of Eaglehawk Neck and through the small township of Taranna and on past the Tasmanian Devil Park. I would highly recommend stopping and  checking out our local icon in action, and even have the chance to feed them. After cruising through regrowth forests you come into the gorgeous Fortesque Bay, surrounded by lush beach, campsites, amenities, and paths that trek off on half day or multiday bushwalks.

But we are here to talk about bubbling. Shore dives are just as easy here as dropping in from a boat. Looking out from the boat ramp you can see a rocky point to the right, 100m around the Cape Hauy track. Once kitted up and in the water it is amazing. The entire bay hits a maximum depth of 22m with the average depth at a perfect 12m. With good visibility hitting 10m-12m, you swim comfortably through the forests of Giant Kelp, stretching from the flourishing rocky reef up into the sunlight, only just breaking the surface enough to make the kelp visible from the shore at slack tide.

A family of Draughtboard Sharks rest on the bottom, docile and harmless, while the odd Seadragon can be seen frolicking through the shallows nearer shore. Wrasse and jellies are abundant, and southern rock lobster and abalone battle for prime position amongst the rocks. As the warmer waters arive throughout January to March Fortesque is also home to seals and giant rays, whose wingspan can stretch wider than 2.5m in length.

How about dive gear?Fortesque Bay Giant Kelp Forest
The Eaglehawk Dive Centre is the closest, and only dive centre on the Peninsula. There are located back above Pirates Bay and have plenty of gear available. Tank fills are $10 each, and they have a large range of wetsuits, regs, tanks, weight belts and anything you need to get under the water. They also run courses from Open Water right through to Dive Master, and if you ask nicely they can even take you on a few cave dives through Cathedral… but thats another article in itself!

If you are diving Fortesque, make sure you take enough air as the dive centre is a decent 40 minute drive from the campsite which can blow out a whole days diving if you need to make a number of trips. Best to rent a few tanks.

Where should I stay?
The Eaglehawk Dive Centre actually rent out rooms in their dive cabins for around $30 a person, per night (if you fill a room with 6). By far the best way to experience Fortesque Bay is to camp onsite. Camping is $5 per night as the bay is inside the national park but the sites are well looked after, clean, have running water near, BBQ areas, and toilets.

I spend the majority of my time in Tasmanian, diving the Fortesque Bay area and will never get tired of dropping in and exploring the bay. This site is a MUST for any diver hitting the temperate waters of Tasmania. My personal favourite.

A few months down the line, and after completing another fifty dives, I am glad to report that my ear has healed back to full thickness.

An interesting point is that my damaged ear (my left) seems to have healed better than it was previously. If anything, my right struggles to equalise when bubbling. Tests with the audiologist seem to show that it is a result of the right membrane becoming ‘slack’, possibly from diving.

It is hard to pinpoint, but if I could give a single piece of advice, it is to listen to your body when diving and have the courage to call a dive off if you are congested. The worst thing you could ever do is destroy your diving career all for catching that elusive cray, only to find out it is undersized!