These are the highlights from my first foray into sidemount diving, and my first Big Cat trip in 12 months! This was also my first time shooting the Great Barrier Reef in 4K (Sony Z100 in a Gates housing). As always, new lessons were learned.
The first is that getting professional help usually pays off. The help came from the Blackwell Brothers of Dive Dive Dive in Brisbane. After a few years of dive gear neglect on my part, the D3 boys got rid of the worst of my leaks (regs still to be fully sorted) and most importantly got me rigged and ready to enter the world of side mount diving. The DiveRite Nomad BCD was Jason’s recommendation; after raiding his store and tinker boxes, he had me ready to rock.
To summarise sidemount: the double tanks are clipped on your side instead of your back. In practice, it’s like being a turtle—all the clumsiness of an inverted turtle on land, but the stability and streamlining of one underwater. I still need to tweak hoses and regs, and maybe move some weight here and there, but I give sidemount diving a big thumbs up for underwater filming: safety, stability, streamlining.
Big Cat Reality made plenty of improvements during 2014, and rejoining the ship full of familiar faces has a warm feeling of déjà vu. As always I was well looked after by the hard working and mostly long-serving crew. A fun mix of guests and crew and diving friends old and new celebrating Australia Day, some for the first time as Aussies.
An unfortunate chain of events involving a heat wave, Macbook Pro’s lack of water resistance, last minute planning, Sony proprietary codecs, slow offshore internet connections, and my own forgetfulness meant that I had to film the entire 3-day weekend on the 4 QXD cards I had with me—without be able to download or delete. At 4GB per minute of 2160p 4K footage, the weekend’s shooting was selective to say the least.
To summarise the diving:
- The Bunker sites we visited were plenty fishy, but the coral and crown-of-thorns were less than ideal and continue to concern me greatly.
- The wreck of the MV Karma (my first time) was lying in thick soup after some heavy rain, but was also plenty fishy and well worth the effort.
- Lady Elliot Island as always provided the best of visibility, fish life, coral health, and a few mantas to top it off.
- All the sites offered huge schools of cardinalfish—many different species that swarmed over bommies and filled caves. Seeing the number of coral trout, mangrove jack and others hunting these nocturnal planktivores was very heartening indeed.
I can hardly wait to return.