Liveaboard Diving: The Spirit of Freedom

by Kelly on August 15, 2012

“The best way to dive the Great Barrier Reef”

By Dylan Mason

We left from Cairns on a Monday afternoon, which is the regularly scheduled weekly departure for the Spirit of Freedom, and headed north towards the most prime real estate of the Great Barrier Reef.  After less than an hour on the boat we had already been briefed on everything from dining to diving, met every member of the 10 person crew, and taken a full tour of the beautiful vessel.  Our afternoon was enjoyed with an extended “warm-up” dive that allowed all the passengers and dive crew to get their feet wet and comfortable being in the water with new friends.  The crew did a stellar job making each and every passenger feel safe and cared for throughout the trip both in and out of the water.  After drying off and a quick shower, we enjoyed a prime rib dinner courtesy of our chef Seth and hit the rack eager for an early second day start.

Our 6am wake-up call was made easier with the prospect of 9 possible dives over the next two days, including my first night dive.  A light breakfast was followed by a standard dive briefing by our group leader, Joe.  Divers were grouped together based on skill levels and dive buddies were assigned for the single passengers.  The following 48 hours went something like dive, breakfast, dive, lunch, nap, dive, snack, dive, nap, night dive, dinner, half a glass of wine, and bed.  The best part of the trip was that you could skip any dive you wanted and enjoy sunbathing on the deck, a chat with any member of the crew, or relax in the lounge area and watch almost any movie or television show you could imagine.  I couldn’t bring myself to skip a dive, not wanting to miss the next site and an entirely new experience.

The Great Barrier Reef is without a doubt one of the most amazing diving regions in the world.  The experience delivered by the Spirit of Freedom (one of only two liveaboards out of Queensland) is truly one of a kind.  Being in the water with such a small group (usually less than 30) offers an intimate interaction versus the day boats that have limited range and transport literally hundreds of divers.  With too many dive sites to count, the ribbon reefs lack no shortage of amazing corals (both soft and hard), pinnacles, and walls.  The highlights of our trip included the feeding of 250 lbs. Potato Cod, a drift dive along an epic wall, and a meeting with a very friendly Cuttlefish.

The single best memory of our 240 km. trip off the coast of Australia was diving with the Dwarf Minke Whales.  These curious mammals migrate off the coast of Queensland in the months of June and July.  Being in the water with these majestic animals was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever enjoyed.  The best part is that they hung around our group (as we hung onto a mermaid line off the boat) and circled several times.  It seemed as if time slowed down as they came into view, a quick tap from a buddy pointing towards one of the Minke’s and 10 seconds felt like an hour.  All in all we saw more than 15 whales, including one who enjoyed surfing in the wake our boat provided.

Our final evening was enjoyed in the bay of remote Lizard Island.  We enjoyed a buffet style barbeque on the sundeck and relived stories of the previous two days with all of our new friends.  Phone numbers and emails were exchanged and the inevitable feeling of a good thing coming to an end slowly came over us, but not before we soaked in that special evening.  Thursday morning soon came and after packing we took one of the skiffs to the beach for a guided tour of Lizard Island before catching our plain back to reality.  The hour flight back to the mainland found us retracing our tracks back down the reef, offering a bird’s eye view of the wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef.  The most amazing part of our trip was the fact that the Spirit of Freedom was only halfway through her weekly trip.  The second half included a steam out to the Coral Sea, Osprey Reef, and an amazing shark dive.  It looks like I’ll be back on the Spirit before too long.

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