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Dive Review of Spirit of Freedom in

Spirit of Freedom, Oct, 2013,

by David Marchese, PA, US (Contributor Contributor 17 reports with 25 Helpful votes). Report 7213.

Photos Submitted with this Report

Click on an image to see an enlarged version and captions

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 4 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 4 stars Environmental Sensitivity 3 stars
Dive Operation 3 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 2 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 2 stars
Comments This was our 20th liveaboard trip and our 33rd dive trip so I admit that we are "spoiled." That being said, this trip was our most disappointing to date (Ironically, also our most expensive).

This trip was the Spirit of Freedom's special Far North Expedition advertised as follows:

“One of the last totally pristine areas of the Great Barrier Reef, these reefs are seldom visited by any boats, and many of the hundreds of reefs in the region, are yet to be explored. The Far Northern reefs abound with masses of pelagic and reef fish and an incredible variety of colourful corals and invertebrates. October is the beginning of the nesting season for the green sea turtle and the waters around the many coral cays in the north, will be alive with turtles. The Spring is also the best weather season to dive the outer walls, offering a great chance of encounters with megafauna – tiger sharks, manta rays and whale sharks.”

The main reason we booked this trip was for the chance to dive Raine Island. However, we were only allowed one dive there, and as we traveled north Captain Tony and Dive Master Nick said that the chances of diving there at all were about 20% “due to weather conditions.” The seas were only a little bit choppy so I was baffled at what they meant. The dive was very good. We saw many turtles, but no tiger sharks. The reefs were healthy and there were lots of fish. Overall, it was a very good dive (after several dives in low viz with 50% - 90% dead coral, and few fish). Since the dive was so easy (and good) I asked Tony and Nick about diving there again and was again told that we couldn’t due to the conditions. I was utterly dumfounded since the conditions were “beginner level” by my definition. Tony explained that the tenders were not capable of safely picking up divers and he couldn’t risk someone getting hurt. While I appreciate his professionalism and concern, I think that summed my frustration: they were clearly not set up for anything other than near perfect conditions and seemed to be out of their comfort zone in the far north. (For comparison, we dove Galapagos twice and Cocos twice. Our easiest dives at those locations were significantly more severe than any dives we made with the SOF).

Ashmore and Boot Reef dives revealed mostly coral rubble, few fish, and 40’ viz. I asked about diving the Eastern Fields, but was told that during the previous trip there with Mark Strickland, the diving was not worth repeating (this somewhat contradicts a previous Reader’s Reports). On the cruise south, as we approached Raine Island, I again asked to dive it. While it looked calm, I was again told the winds were too strong. We dove some bad to mediocre sites and then found a couple that had healthy coral and good fish density. I asked if we could repeat the good sites, but was told we had to maintain our itinerary.

Overall, approximately 10 out of the 40 dives I did (all that were offered) were 4 out of 5 stars, 10 were 1 or 2 stars, with the rest being in the middle. On two dives I actually thought, "This is kind of like a PA quarry!". One of the dive masters asked me what I considered a good dive. I said, “ a combination or healthy coral, lots of fish, and good viz. or I’d trade all of that for big animals.” Unfortunately, we saw little of the former and none of the latter. We saw an average of 1 to 3 small sharks on most dives, but none of the “megafauna” we had hoped for. We did see one manta do a quick flyby about 40’ overhead.

Details: While the food was excellent, there was no real coffee on board—only instant. If the rule of doing two safety stops on each dive and being on board with 750 psi were followed, all dives would have been very short. (I typically played near the mooring in 10 to 20' of still water and surfaced with 200 or so PSI. They checked remaining air, and I had to sign a release that my "dangerous behavior" was unacceptable. I was ok with that, but a little miffed that they presented me with the form at dinner to make a point in front of everyone). Fills averaged between 2850 and 3000. We were told to go deep on dive 1 just so subsequent dives would be shallower. When I didn't do this, they made me sign another form. Deck showers only provided tepid water. Diving involved office-level paperwork, with nitrox measurements, dive depth and duration, safety stops all needed to be recorded and signed before and after each dive. Also, after diving, everyone had to remain still until a headcount could be completed. This often required people hanging out for 15 minutes, until the last person was back on board. I asked why they just couldn’t record names as people went in and came out. We were told that all these rules were Australian law. While, probably true and while safety is indeed paramount, it was still annoying and felt like I was in Scuba kindergarden.

On nearly every dive, there were 20 divers in the water and on top of each other. Instead of subdividing the group, we were dumped together, which was ridiculous and annoying. I’ve never seen more people underwater and hope to never again!

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Turks & Caicos, Bay Islands, Bahamas, Fiji, Saba, Maldives, California, Revillagigedo, Cozumel, Midway, Kona, Galapagos, Panama, Palau, Tahiti, Cocos, Tonga, PNG, Komodo, Sulawesi, Holbox, Solomon Islands, Belize
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm, choppy, no currents
Water Temp 78-80°F / 26-27°C Wetsuit Thickness 5
Water Visibility 40-75 Ft/ 12-23 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions Max dive time 70 minutes, back on board with 750 psi, two safety stops (one at 25' and one at 15'), deepest dive first with subsequent dives shallower each day.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 2 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 2 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics 2 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 3 stars Boat Facilities 2 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 2 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments I was the only guest (out of 20) with a DSLR and felt crowded. The one rinse tank and dive-deck table were sized for maybe two or three DSLR set ups. The tenders (inflatables) had no place to accommodate cameras. Next to the dive-deck table, they had a cylinder with a nonworking air gun and a too short hose. I had my own air gun, but the hose was too short to reach the table! Overall, they are set up poorly for UW photographers.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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