Hope you all have a great festive season and clocked in some decent time underwater.
A warm welcome to our new members Atul Hattiangadi, Brett Fisher, Steve Tulig and Stephanie Wood. Looking forward to seeing you on the boat.
We had our first committee meeting in January and we have confirmed the roles for both committee and officers. They can be found by following this link. A big thank you to the non-committee members who have taken on some of these responsibilities. In particular Michael and Janet (history / bulletin), Rianti (membership), Deb (dive calendar and events) and John Velarde (safety).
Our general meetings / club social evenings will kick off again at the Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay in March so keep an eye out for the save the date. If anyone has a topic of interest to present or can think of a guest speaker please reach out. We like to make these events both social and informative.
We are pleased to see boat trips being organised and encourage members to book on as much as possible. Our club finances took a hit last year, so it is vital that we ramp things up this year to make sure we get back in the green. On this note the committee took a decision to increase the cost of a boat dive by $5 starting in March 2022. Josh did some modelling and factoring in the hike in petrol prices and the projections for the boat usage, we realised that it was necessary to ensure our costs are covered and we have a few beans in the bank for when the inevitable maintenance bills come in. If anyone is experiencing hardship and this will deter you from booking on a dive please reach out to me and we’ll waive this fee for you.
The value proposition of diving with URG is very different to going with the dive shops. We dive sites that none of them are aware of and more often than not you’re with a handful of extremely experienced divers / friends and not in a crowd of a dozen sand-shifters struggling to get 40 minutes out of a tank.
On the research front a few folk are heading down to Jervis Bay in a couple of weeks for Reef Life Survey. There’s also 4 or 5 newly certified RLSers down in JB so it’s going to be a big one! More volunteers, up to 3 boats, more transects and more data! Reach out to our new research officer Josh Moloney if you are interested in finding out more.
I’ll end with an amusing and somewhat diving story related insofar as it relates to trying to get a dive holiday. Myself and Charlie have been desperate to get back to Heron Island since our first visit in 2020. COVID restrictions cancelled three trips over the last year so the opportunity to get fourth time lucky meant staying COVID-free over xmas to be eligible to cross the border and get onto the island. We avoided any social gathering in the preceding weeks, while our housemates went on their respective holidays. One of the housemates was returning and so Charlie asked him to take a rapid antigen test before boarding the flight back to Sydney. Turns out he was positive, so decided to ditch our flights, hit the road and drive to QLD a week earlier. Things were going well until we hit Goomeri and realised the place was virtually underwater. Cyclone Stan meant that we had to navigate 200 road closures in what Queenslands called a “moderate flooding event” … a mere 13m rise in water levels!
In order to work remotely on the weekdays before going to Heron Island, and stay away from casual contact with people, we booked a self catered "boat in the bush" in a forest that claimed to have internet near Seventeen Seventy … and it's an important detail, because it was probably about the year they bought their dial-up modem. The only place we can find enough reception to work online was miles from a power socket and zoom is power hungry. Between the flat laptops and sporadic rain bursts, who would have predicted that would happen in a forest, we spend our days darting for cover or power points and fishing tree frogs out of the toilet with a spatula. That said the accomodation was absolutely fab and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Agnes Water or trying to avoid staying in Gladstone pre/post Heron Island.
We finally made it to Heron and spent a glorious 8 nights diving and snorkelling the reefs. More to come on that in the article that follows.
That is about all the news I can think of. Until next month, stay wet!
Visiting Heron Island
by Duncan Heuer
Picking up from the adventures mentioned in the Slate, myself and Charlie spent 8 nights on Heron Island in January. The last time we went for 4 nights and it just wasn’t enough so this time we doubled that and it was so worth it.
Heron Island is divable all year round. In the winter months we noticed clearer, cooler water and lots of manta rays. The summer months bring warmer water, slightly hazier water and is the peak breeding season if black noddy terns and wedge tailed shearwaters. Up to 200 000 birds are believed to be nesting on the island along with the resident buff banded (thieving!) rails and eastern reef egret. Yes, wear a hat and be prepared to wipe it down a few times a day!
The main drawcard of the summer months, other than the steady drizzle of bird shit, are the nesting and hatching turtles. The first night we were there, researchers counted 142 females making their unhurried journey from the ocean to the walkways of the resort in their often fruitless attempts to find a suitable spot to deposit eggs. One of the researchers pointed out the soon to be obvious fact that turtles have a small brain size and body ratio, and this became apparent by observing the pickles they got themselves into. They were often scratching up against the bungalows or wedging themselves under walkways or sometimes wandering too far into the resort having to be turned around by defeated academics or resort staff.
Despite being a wonderful spectacle to witness, it also posed an inconvenience that frequency interfered with our dinner plans. The protocol is to drop to the ground the moment you see a turtle coming out of the water and wait until it passes, allowing for a 10m radius before you continue on. If it happens that you’re in their direct path, it is ok to just sit and wait for the turtle to do its thing. This often involved close encounters with turtles bumping into people sitting motionless on the ground. A casual sunset stroll could take you hours to get back because as soon as you get past one, another one a few yards ahead starts its journey. I now know why the expression “like a turtle stampeding through peanut butter” is an apt expression to describe a slow person.
In January you also get to witness the start of the baby turtles hatching and taking their first clumsy steps towards the dozens of blacktip reef sharks waiting for them in the shallow lagoon around the island. Between the seagulls and sharks we rarely saw one live longer than a few minutes. They say one in a thousand makes it back to nest, but unfortunately in our experience this seemed like an optimistic estimate. I have an amusing video of two young boys following a baby turtle into the ocean and slapping sharks with their flip-flops to give a bit of a chance at making it out to sea.
The highlight of our trip was two encounters with a great hammerhead shark during our morning snorkeling in the harbour. A 2.5m female was occasionally spotted by the local staff but it was usually a fleeting experience and the only evidence anyone produced was a vague tail shot. By all accounts we managed to get the clearest confirmation of its existence that anyone had ever seen, which I expect won’t be the longest standing record given that it is the backyard of people like Mark Fitz and Alex Mutated. When we encountered it again the second morning, Neptune was in a generous mood and as beginner's luck would have it, nailed better images, half the staff village turned green. Up until this point the staff had named the shark “Harry” and no-one had got close enough to notice it was a female.
While on the topic of snorkelling, our advice would be to book less dives (if you go in summer) and save your energy for morning and evening snorkels in the harbour. The harbour is off limits between 8am - 5:30pm because limbs and boat propellers are a combination that ruins everyones holiday. Avail yourself to the times outside these hours because the marine life in the harbour beats any dive on the reef … a rusty wreck, turtle cleaning stations, shovelnose rays/sharks (whatever you call them), cowtail, whiptail rays, (jumping) eagle rays, lemon sharks, blacktip, whitetip, the odd tasseled wobbegong, did I say turtles? … there are dozens, sweetlips, jack fish, batfish, all kinds of fish … the place is a wonderland of activity.
The last time we visited we were diving 2-3 times a day, but this time we did a single dive per day and spent our hours snorkelling the harbour and lagoon. Even on the low tide when the lagoon is centimeters deep, the opportunity to track the Attenborough famous epaulette shark and develop hideous tan lines will help you pass the time.
Tips for going:
Don’t bother with a macro lens
Use a very fast shutter speed on the baby turtles
Take a few sneakies for the bar fridge in your room
Make sure any edibles are somewhere ants can’t locate
Sunset on the jetty is better with cheese
If ordering drinks in the restaurant do so an hour before you plan to eat (or just buy the wine at Bailey Bar and bring it across with you)
Wear a hat, and not just for the sun!
Take reef shoes (dive booties) with you
Lastly, a tip for Queensland
Build your bridges over the water, not under it
History - The Yongala Revisited (Nov 2001)
by Grahame Burns (Dec. ) Photos by Janet Abbott
After the abortive attempt on the Hero, two years ago, Erik, Janet, Michael & I boarded the Dive Master a converted torpedo boat, budget style, with a number of friendly, enthusiastic and basically inexperienced crew, and 11 other divers, all doing their open water or advanced courses. We left Townsville Friday night and headed off to Keeper Reef. Our two dives there were unremarkable except for the warm water. We then went to Wheeler Reef. Our first dive there was a beauty. We moored of the reef, swam across the sand to the wall which was a line of low rocky bombies. The visibility was about 20-25 m and the first thing we saw was a huge bump headed parrotfish surrounded by barracuda & schools of reef fish and clouds of juveniles (2-5cms). We did the night dive on the same shelf, the highlight being a large shell with full mantle out moving across the sand. Buddy Erik, got great shots, with his trusty ever-present camera.
During the day the sea had been choppy with a 10-15km wind, as 15-20 km is the maximum for the Yongala, thought we may have had to miss it. 3am we steamed to the “Yongala” site and arrived happily in a very slight sea, 5-10 km wind, no current and the sun shining.
The bottom is 27 metres, the top 16 metres, and the boat 100m long. The wreck is covered in an extraordinary mixture of corals, which cover every square inch. Visibility was limited by nebulous clouds of juveniles (barra’s etc) & fry, being slaughtered by schools of small trevally, a large number of giant trevally, maori wrasse, sea snakes, two turtles who were pleased to pose for el Presidente Erik, and small schools of sundry reef fish - perch, fusiliers, bat fish, surgeon fish etc. The next dive was about 50 minutes; the second dive repeated the first in more detail. Erik summed it up succinctly as ever - the “Yongala” is a fifty-dive wreck.
We spent Monday in Townsville mostly at the aquarium, which has a great display of life on the coral reefs. Incidentally on the Friday, we spent the day at the new museum, which features an excellent exhibition on the Pandora and the Bounty mutineers, plus the coral reefs’ early colonial days in North Queensland & penological history of that area. Both sites are well worth a visit.
If you don't want to keep reading old dive reports please send me a recent dive report. Any Group or club members dive will do and it doesn't need to be long winded. I know were diving so lets record some for posterity sake.
Fish rock "Rocks" URG Part 2
For those that missed the Fish Rock trip in December. The rule when diving with GNS is give them room and don't get in their way. Nobody told the GNS. Numbers of GNS on each dive ranged from 25 to 40plus.
Bare Island Bommie
by John Turnbull
Bare Island is one of the most popular shore dives in Sydney, but most people never get out to the bommie. In my recent experiences out there, this dive has become a favourite due to the large schools of fish that feed above the bommie and the dense and diverse sessile life. The colours and density of sponges, ascidians and soft corals out on the bommie are the best you’ll find in Sydney, due to the nutrient-rich high current flows.
The bommie is about the same size as Bare Island, and located across a short saddle to the south. The 6 m deep saddle is also a great dive in its own right, as the current flows through here quickly, attracting large schools of planktivores like scad, pomfrets and mado. My preference is to do this as a drift dive, entering off the SW corner of Bare and letting the outgoing tide carry you over the saddle. You’re then up for a long swim north along the east side of the island to the exit on the mainland side, and this is made much easier with a scooter. You can also do this on the incoming tide, jumping in off the SE corner of the island, and letting the current carry you around to the west reef. In both cases take your biggest tank (I use a 15 l) and make sure you use your compass to force your route over the saddle and north to the exits. Don’t go due south!
Beyond the saddle to the south, the top of the bommie kicks up a few metres before dropping to the sand in 14 m. Out on this southern tip of the reef is where you get the best of the sponge gardens. I’ve done this circumnavigation dive in both directions many times now, always in the direction to tidal flow, either with two tanks (side mount) or a single large tank and scooter. This latter is my current all-time favourite shore dive in Sydney; think sightseeing with your own underwater hang glider, above gardens that rival floriade.
The URG boat opens up many potential new dives around the bommie. It would be a great destination whenever the swell outside the bay is too rough, and especially if the swell is from the north, NE or east. Winds from the north or NE have an added bonus - cold clear upwelling water that can deliver 10 m viz, even if the water temp is 15 degrees!
Safety precautions should include everyone carrying SMBs as the currents can get strong. One interesting option would be a drift dive around the southern tip of the bommie, dropping divers off on the upstream side and picking them up on the other side.
There are some great maps and dive descriptions on line, for example https://www.michaelmcfadyenscuba.info/viewpage.php?page_id=254 and https://www.viz.org.au/sydneys-shore-dive-sites/bare-island
Attached topo, plus
The continuation of Covid19 into 2022 has impacted our diving but members are still managing to get wet and the boat has gone out when allowed under lockdowns and restrictions. A big thanks to the members who have been keeping up the diving. A special mention to Joshua Batchelor for all the recent maintenance work on the boat and running dives.
To those members isolating and fighting Covid19 get well soon and to everyone else keep well and get vaccinated.
Boat dives have resumed post COVID19 lockdowns and the URG cat is heading out most weekends from the St George Motor Boat Club Marina in San Souci. Check https://www.urgdiveclub.org.au/dive-calendar and Facebook for dates and conveners to book onto dives.
Ex HMAS Adelaide Double Dive
Dive Spear & Sport are confirmed for the 11th Feb. for a DD on the Adelaide. This date is now up on their Web. Page with all relevant information required, remember this is a commercial dive, please note paper work required, plus prices and certificates. All bookings are to be direct with DS&S, ring Olivier (0299993903), a weather call will be made 24 hours before departure, if “GO” final payment will be required at this time.