Prepare for Sensory Overload

Probing the Outer Limits Aboard Spoilsport

Simply put, the Coral Sea has some of the best diving in the world. Other destinations may have individual specialties, but the Coral Sea has more ticks on that all-important list of what divers want than most other places in the world.

Good underwater visibility? The Coral Sea has some of the clearest water in the world, almost always offering visibility of 100 feet and often much, much more.

The Coral Sea has reliable big fish action. As long as you stick to the good spots (and there are many), divers will see sharks, large schools of jacks, larger schools of Barracuda, tuna, turtles, Manta Rays and, occasionally, Hammerheads and Whale Sharks.

Everything is big in the Coral Sea. Gorgonian fans can grow as large as 12 feet across and sometimes bigger. The soft coral trees simply have no rival, either in size or abundance.

Quantities are also unsurpassed. You dont get one big fan, you get a whole valley of them. You dont get one huge soft coral tree, you get a whole forest in a kaleidoscope of colors. You dont get just one or two anemonefish, you get a whole bommie of them.

Its sensory overload at its very best, but there is a price to pay. The seas are traditionally rough and the queasy will need to take precautions to hang onto their stomachs. The largest fans and most striking soft corals are deep, at least 100 feet, and the bigger ones are even deeper, but theres still plenty to see at any depth. Serious dive travelers cant possibly go to Dive Heaven until theyve done the Coral Sea and the best way to do it is on Mike Ball Dive Expeditions luxury live-aboard vessel, Spoilsport.

Spoilsport is huge and packed with every possible modern convenience. Her living areas include a sundeck, dining room, lounge area with library, video and stereo entertainment, barbecue deck and an exceptionally roomy dive deck. While the vessel itself has no rivals, what really sets the Spoilsport apart from her competitors are the thoughtful touches.

Cold drinking water and clean glasses are always available on the dive deck, making that all-important pre and post dive hydration an easy habit to form.

Showers on the dive platforms mean both you and your gear can get a quick rinse as soon as you exit the water and no one will ever forget the warm, fluffy towels freely handed out after every dive. Fresh water flows on Spoilsport and guests may shower as often and as long as they wish.

Indulging in a luxurious boat is terrific but its meaningless unless the diving is also terrific. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions virtually invented Coral Sea diving and a cruise on Spoilsport ensures dives on the very best sites the Coral Sea has to offer.

Watanabe Bommie is named for a Japanese passenger who was on board when the reef was discovered. The isolated coral pinnacle begins in 30 feet of water and drops vertically for about 150 feet, gradually sloping out to the sand at 200. The action is in the shallows where huge schools of Big-eyed Jacks, Barracuda and Unicornfish spend the day traversing the small pinnacle in rolling circles. Manta Rays are common.

Another spectacular dive is Cod Wall. The top is a shallow lagoon with scattered bommies and the walls, which plunge down forever, are thickly covered with corals, sponges and seawhips. Cruising the big blue are large tuna, giant Trevally and sharks, including an occasional Hammerhead. On a sandy platform at 130 feet is Gigantus Gorgonus, one of the worlds largest gorgonian fans, measuring almost 20 feet across. Its well worth a quick visit. Keep an eye out for the Great Hammerhead Shark that often cruises by to check out the action.

Softwood Forest is a gully between two bommies littered with hundreds of soft coral trees. Ranging from one to three feet high, their colors are breathtaking, from soft pastel pink to deep vibrant red. At 100 feet, this gully is deep, but over the ledge at around 150 feet are even bigger specimens, spanning five to six feet and sporting trunks as thick as a mans waist.

All this and Scuba Zoo, too! No trip to the Coral Sea would be complete without a shark feed and nothing comes close to the heart stopping, gut wrenching action of Scuba Zoo, a Spoilsport exclusive. Permanently moored in 40 feet of water on the bottom of a sandy lagoon is a collection of shark cages capable of accommodating more than 20 divers. Reflecting a thorough understanding of divers needs, a false floor keeps flapping fins off the bottom and regularly spaced holes accommodate photographers.

Once everyone is safely in the cages, a garbage can full of fish is lowered via a mechanical pulley to a mooring block in front of the cages. Once the bait is released, its a first-class feeding frenzy with as many as 40 sharks. Writhing, twisting balls of sharks often get pushed directly onto the cages. You can actually hear the ripping and tearing as every ounce of fish is devoured.

On the way home from the Coral Sea, Spoilsport spends a day at the wreck of the SS Yongala, a passenger/cargo steamship that disappeared during a cyclone in 1911. Unsurpassed for its rich marine life, the Yongala is considered one of Australias best dives. She rests on her starboard side; the sand at the deepest point under the bow is at 85 feet and the upper edge of the deck only 50 feet deep. Remarkably intact, the Yongala is thickly carpeted with algae, sponges and corals. She is a beacon to passing pelagics; schools of giant Trevally, Barracuda and large Batfish circle above the wreck; sightings of sharks and huge Black Stingrays are common. In the shadows under the bow and stern Sweetlips and Cod often congregate. Look for the giant Queensland Grouper, suitably nicknamed VW for her Volkswagen like size.

Spoilsports Coral Sea itinerary does it all; action packed walls, mysterious deep dives, reefs, lagoons, drift dives, Garden Eels, turtles, lots of sharks, Scuba Zoo and the Yongala. Its unlimited diving and nonstop excitement, day and night. The only good thing about the long flight home is that youll finally be able to get some sleep without the fear that you missed anything.