By Bob Halstead
The theme from Pirates of the Caribbean sang from a mermaid’s violin; a flare belched gun smoke; shouts erupted from below, and before you could cry “Pieces of Eight”, three Pirates heaved themselves up ropes to poolside. Cutlasses slashing, they soon had Mike Ball walking the plank into the swimming pool (He can swim!).
One pirate had a suspicious Scottish accent and I detected Operations Manager Craig Stephens beneath a dread-locked black beard. An authentic “Arrghhh!” identified Photo-Pro Laurence Buckingham, and Spoilsport Captain, Pirate Pete, proclaimed himself with his guitar and lusty ballads.
Mike was entertaining Cairns’ sales agents, bringing them up to date with the latest adventures of Spoilsport and Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, and thanking them for their support. After champagne/beer and sashimi greetings by staff members Dorothy and Xanthe, Mike made a hilarious presentation recalling his delinquent school days in England where a school report noted that “ ..he has remained the complete individualist and developed an ‘anti-establishment’ attitude which may prove his undoing.”
On learning Mike was about to join the Royal Marines the school advised “it is about time Michael learned that community life demands observance of community rules – however much they may be resented”, but Mike stuck it out – then migrated to Australia where he confirmed his complete individuality by building the World’s first dive-through dive shop in Townsville. Mike continued his presentation with the exploits of his various “xxxxxxSport” live-aboard dive boats.
He did not hold back on adversity, and explained how he was forced to sell a majority share of his company in 1989 at the time of the pilot’s strike and a cyclone salvage claim. But he also charted his recovery and is once again Master and Commander of his business, with the prize of his fleet, Spoilsport, sailing at high occupancy.
For his services to dive tourism on the Great Barrier Reef, Mike was inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2004. Among his other innovations, he introduced the first Solo Diver category on his dive boats and shark feeding at Scuba Zoo on Flinders Reef with the World’s largest shark cage. I’d like to tell you that Mike’s signature custom-built dive catamarans, another innovation, were the result of meticulous study of Naval architecture but the truth is that he gets seasick on monohulls. Mike was the first in Cairns to supply Nitrox fills and is now providing services to re-breather divers.
A sumptuous meal directed by Chef Andy was prepared, and delightfully hosted by Bella, Rianna, and Sarah, Mike’s Personal Assistant. Trip Director Kieran introduced some party games and managed to get special guests Mike McNamara and Ali, on a mission to check out the GBR for the United Nations, tied into a knot with one of his string puzzles. Violinist Leigh Paine joined Pirate Pete to make music, and a merry time was had by all.
As I have said many times recently, the Great Barrier Reef is Great these days. The inshore reefs are still not what they used to be, probably due to the increased coastal population in the Cairns region and the inevitable polluted runoff, but the Outer Barrier Reef, even from Cairns, has undergone a remarkable regeneration and has excellent diving. A big effort is being made to cut pollution from run-off, but it is always better to book an outer reef trip when you come to Cairns to dive. The outer reef costs more as it is further to travel, but is worth it. Mike Ball actually does not offer Cairns diving but runs overnight from Cairns to northern waters on his dive trips, where the seas are still pristine, and the reefs excellent.
Not only are there innumerable reef fish that are so used to divers that they swim right up to you, there are also turtles, sea snakes, Potato Cod and of course, in season, the magnificent Dwarf Minke Whales. Mike showed a video homage to Minkes filmed by photo pro Julia Sumerling featuring truly fabulous eye to eye encounters. June and July are the months to book. Also from Julia we saw an amazing manta ray encounter, actually a “Mating Chain” of mantas making inside loops and swoops in nose to tail formation. The leader was a female closely followed by amorous males. Observing mantas actually mate is incredibly rare but the preliminaries are prolonged and spectacular. This was filmed out at Osprey Reef where Mike also dives the famous North Horn shark feed.
Mike has a wicked sense of humour. For years, when visiting England, he has been secretly slipping brochures and videos into the letterboxes of his old school teachers. If you wish to be Master and Commander of your own destiny (and do anything your wife tells you) your schooldays do not mean as much as your passion for what you are doing, and individuality is a big benefit. To share Mike’s passion, don’t wait to be bushwhacked by buccaneers, just look up Mike Ball Dive Expeditions at www.mikeball.com