By Bob Halstead
My first dive boats were small speedboats. They were far too small for comfort and by the time a couple of friends and four scuba tanks were loaded, they could barely get up on plane and speed anywhere.
We would bounce and crash our way to the dive site, get sizzled by the sun, and figure out a way of all going diving yet leave someone aboard to mind the boat which had a tendency to un-anchor itself and drift away. Cameras had to be shock proof as well as watertight.
Two divers and one boat driver would be ideal for safety, but where could you find anyone dumb enough to want to stay on the boat for an hour at anchor, lurching around getting sunburned, while I and another enjoyed the wonders of the deep? Solo diving was an answer – just two on the boat, which now zoomed along We could take turns diving and tending the boat, and, of course, attempting to start the stubborn outboard motor.
Getting in the water was not too much of a problem, nor getting out. But alas that was when I was in my twenties and could do a hand stand over the side. Now, even without tank and weights, I can barely pull myself into a low inflatable. I need a ladder, one that works. Diving from small boats with outboard motors is inevitably uncomfortable, tricky, hard on body and soul, and not camera friendly. Modern outboards are supposed to be reliable, and they usually are – for about two weeks.
So when Dinah and I started our sport diving business we were very happy to purchase the custom built 11m, diesel powered vessel we named Solatai. Slow, well yes, but reliable, sun protected and comfortable, so much so that crew were content to stay aboard the boat while we dived.
Then we built Telita. She is twenty metres long with cabins for 10 passengers and 6 crew. We were now very comfortable and had completely given up diving from a speedboat. We had a rescue boat, but always dived from the main vessel. We worked out that for exploratory diving in PNG she was as large a vessel as we could actually dive from. She had shallow enough draft – 1.8m – was manoeuvrable, and easy to securely anchor or moor. This was bliss. We had a dedicated camera wash and bench, tank racks and gear boxes, substantial ladders for easy exit from the water and room to swing a cat (50 lashes for surfacing with more than 10 Bar!).
This was, and is, splendidly convenient diving.
Now I mention all this because I no longer own a dive boat and have been using boats owned by other people. I’m generally much happier. If something breaks down I can say things like “How long will it take the engineer to fix that?” instead of getting myself covered in sweat and grease – and that was just trying to find the spare part.
Dive boats I enjoy are professional liveaboard dive boats such as SpoilSport and Taka in Australia or Golden Dawn and FeBrina in PNG which work on the same principles we used on Telita. You dive from, and back to, the main vessel. Occasionally the tender will drop divers off a short distance from the boat in order to make a drift dive back, but all significant diving is from the big boat. It’s the best!
These days I imagine I am moving up the ladder of life by leading dive adventures from what are known as “Superyachts”. These are magnificent vessels owned by very rich people who take luxury seriously. I get treated very well. Sometimes I even get my own personal “guest” cabin with gold plated en-suite and a dedicated stewardess to make sure my domain is immaculate and that I have anything I may desire (alright, except the stewardess).
Fine wines are served. For the cost of one bottle I could purchase a couple of dozen of my usual tipple. Conversation is fascinating once you understand the lingo – when they say things like “I put 3.6 into it” they are referring to millions of dollars in a minor investment. They often discuss Philosophy as in “I often wonder if I should have put 3.7 into it”, the Arts, as in “I snapped up a splendid Degas for only 20.5”, Architecture, as in “I’ve asked Frank Gehry to design my 6th house in Switzerland”, and Music, as in, “I donated 10 towards a new Concert Hall in my name.”
But I jest, the successful owners of these heavenly yachts, the vast majority self-made and deserving, are fun to be with and enjoy sharing their good fortunes not only with equally wealthy friends, but also with dive-nuts such as myself.
I’ve included a few pics of the beautiful Superyachts I have recently cruised in, but before you get too jealous I have to tell you about the diving – it is all done from small speedboats!! Rarely is a Superyacht set up to dive from directly, and the boats they do use to dive from are often bizarre and unsuitable. “RIB’s” (Rigid Inflatable Boats) are probably the best, and seaworthy. But there is nowhere to stow your gear – and forget about a camera. SY Bullish had a good dive boat especially designed for the owner, but still small and too sun exposed. It was sensibly diesel powered, and fast, yes, but some Superyachts require resupplying of petrol or Zoom for their huge speedboat engines. In one case this could only be achieved by hiring another boat to accompany the yacht and carry the necessary fuel. Petrol is not easily obtainable in the PNG islands.
They do have paid, red-faced, crew to look after the boat while we are diving, indeed follow our every move, but sometimes it is impossible to dive as the dive boats are too difficult to launch and recover from the Superyacht unless it is flat calm. The systems were not designed so much for expeditions, more as tenders when cruising from sheltered harbour to sheltered harbour – eg. in the South of France. One otherwise splendid motor yacht could not launch its heavy boat in a swell, as there was a possibility the yacht would capsize.
Owners like to take the helm, then the throttle goes forward to the stop – and I get bashed around in the bow pointing out reefs we have imminent potential to be spiked on. Pounding is not good for the kidneys! I’m just going to
have to encourage my new Superyacht owner friends to build even bigger yachts that can carry 11m diesel powered, slow, comfortable dive boats. Indeed there are already Super Yachts with this facility. I’ll just hope they cruise my way.