Liveaboard Profile: Spirit of Freedom

Premier Liveaboard Diving on the Great Barrier Reef

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is big. Really big. It stretches more than 1,400 miles along the continent's northeast coast, taking in more than 900 islands and nearly 3,000 individual reefs. A diver could devote years to exploring the Reef, and still not see it all. For those who don't have that kind of time, there is the Spirit of Freedom.

The Spirit of Freedom is often able to moor directly above a dive site, allowing guests to giant stride right from the platform to the reef.
The Spirit of Freedom is often able to moor directly above a dive site, allowing guests to giant stride right from the platform to the reef.

The Trips

The Spirit of Freedom frequently cruises an area known as the Ribbon Reefs, which lies in a remote region of North Queensland to the north of Cairns and Port Douglas. These waters, which are a designated “no take” zone, lie beyond the reach of most one-day or overnight excursion boats, and offer some of the best dive sites on the entire Great Barrier Reef. The Ribbon Reefs support a huge range of marine biodiversity, from the giant clam with its violet fluorescent interior to the vividly red flame file shell and the elusive leafy scorpion fish. Reef formations include beds of huge plate corals, isolated pinnacles crowned with delicate corals and anemones, walls, channels, caves, canyons and shallow coral gardens.

The Ribbon Reefs are ideal for divers of all experience levels, as conditions combine warm, sheltered waters with mild to minimal currents. In addition, many of the best sites lie in depths of less than 70 feet, which allows for longer bottom times. These longer profiles will be especially appreciated by photographers, who have ample time to capture the region's tremendous range of marine and macro subjects.

Thanks to excellent visibility and thriving reefs, you can take in the small stuff and also admire the big picture when diving aboard the Spirit of Freedom.
Thanks to excellent visibility and thriving reefs, you can take in the small stuff and also admire the big picture when diving aboard the Spirit of Freedom.

One of the area's most famous sites is the Cod Hole, which is home to a resident group of large groupers known as Potato Cod (Grouper). Like docile oversize puppies, these big fish are easily approachable and make great photo subjects. In the months of June and July, trips to the Coral Sea may also provide a unique opportunity to swim with Dwarf Minke Whales.

In addition to numerous three and four-day trips to the Ribbon Reefs, the Spirit of Freedom also makes week-long excursions that carry divers beyond Australia's continental shelf into the waters of the Coral Sea. Scattered across this huge and seldom-visited area are a number of coral-covered peaks that rise from the depths to form shallow plateaus. Like aquatic oases, these formations attract pelagic fish such as grey whales and hammerhead sharks, tuna, barracuda, big eye trevally, mackerel and manta rays. The plateaus themselves are covered in a diverse array of corals and hold a wealth of macro life and cryptic sea creatures.

Colorful soft corals cover walls and slopes at many dive sites in the Ribbon Reefs.
Colorful soft corals cover walls and slopes at many dive sites in the Ribbon Reefs.

The Boat

The Spirit of Freedom is a 122-foot dive yacht custom-built for long range cruising and comfortable operation in the conditions of the Northern Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea. To ensure guest comfort when cruising in open water between dive sites, Spirit of Freedom is fitted with electronic stabilizers, and powered by quiet, low-vibration engines. The vessel is fully air-conditioned and produces its own ample supplies of fresh water. To keep everything onboard in top shape, the Spirit of Freedom undergoes an annual four-week refit and maintenance program.

The yacht accommodates a maximum of 26 guests and offers a range of cabin choices, all of which are fully air-conditioned and have private bathrooms. Ocean View and Ocean View Deluxe cabins sit on the upper deck, with internal stairwell access to the main deck, as well as external access to the top deck and dive deck. They are furnished with a double bed, wardrobe, and flat screen TV, and the deluxe cabins offer an extra 35 square feet of living space. The largest cabin, known as the Stateroom, is located in a private area on the yacht's lower deck, close to the dive station and dining saloon. Also on the lower deck are six Standard Double or Twin Share cabins, fitted with a double bed with a single bed over the top, bunk style. The yacht's most cost-effective accommodations are the two Quad-Share cabins, which offer four single beds, bunk style.

Dual stairways lead from the dive deck of the Spirit of Freedom to the water-level platform. A majority of divers are staged in this manner as the boat rests on a mooring.
Dual stairways lead from the dive deck of the Spirit of Freedom to the water-level platform. A majority of divers are staged in this manner as the boat rests on a mooring.

The yacht's central dining room saloon can comfortably accommodate all guests, and also serves as the primary briefing area and meeting space. A wide-screen television is often used as a visual aid during briefings, as well as movies and trip slideshows. This same area provides space for guests to set up laptops for photo and video editing, or to tap into the onboard WiFi when the vessel is within range of coastal service.

The Spirit's top deck includes both open and shaded areas furnished with chairs and lounges, and it is a favorite gathering place for BBQ dinners and sunset libations. Another onboard social center is the forward lounge, which is stocked with marine reference books, a DVD library and flat-screen TV.  Photographers will also find a camera workstation with power-boards and converters for 110-volt equipment.

Guest quarters aboard the Spirit of Freedom include (clockwise from top right) Ocean View, Twin Share, Stateroom and Ocean View Deluxe cabins.
Guest quarters aboard the Spirit of Freedom include (clockwise from top right) Ocean View, Twin Share, Stateroom and Ocean View Deluxe cabins.

Dive Operations

The Spirit of Freedom's dive deck provides individual stations for 26 guests, each with dry storage above, and a storage box below for every two divers. Air and 32-percent nitrox whips at each station allow tanks to remain in their rack for filling. Photographers are provided with a dedicated rinse tub, a small camera table and an air gun. Freshwater showers are located aft of the dive deck, convenient to the boarding platform, and fresh deck towels are provided after each dive. Gas is supplied by a pair of Bauer 21 CFM Compressors and a DNAx Nitrox Membrane System. Both 65 cf & 88 cf aluminum tanks are available and with a complement of rental equipment and 3mm and 5mm full-length wetsuits.

The dining saloon (left) and dive deck (right) of the Spirit of Freedom.
The dining saloon (left) and dive deck (right) of the Spirit of Freedom.

All diving activities are overseen by a Trip Director, who is supported by three additional Instructors and a divemaster. Detailed briefings are provided prior to each dive, and a divemaster or instructor will be in the water on every dive, primarily as a Safety Diver. Guests are welcome to dive with the Instructor but are not required to participate in a guided-dive scenario. Instead, divers are free to enjoy the reefs at their own pace and style, within the boundaries of safe and responsible diving. In support of this goal, the dive staff sets no limits on dive times, depth or style of diving beyond those of recognized safe diving practices

Most dives are staged from the aft platform of the Spirit of Freedom, with sites located either directly below the stern or just a short swim away. For drift dives, the ship's dive tenders may be used. Re-entry to these tenders is by ladder, with assistance provided. Solo diving is permitted by prior arrangement for guests with appropriate qualifications and equipment.

The coral-encrusted pinnacles of the Coral Sea attract a host of pelagic species and provide shelter for numerous small creatures, which may be found hiding on sea fans and among the branches of soft corals.
The coral-encrusted pinnacles of the Coral Sea attract a host of pelagic species and provide shelter for numerous small creatures, which may be found hiding on sea fans and among the branches of soft corals.
The Spirit of Freedom's top deck includes both open and shaded lounge areas, with great water views.
The Spirit of Freedom's top deck includes both open and shaded lounge areas, with great water views.

Seasons

Weather during the period from May through August is typically sunny, with very little rain, and south-easterly trade winds can be a bit stronger at this time. Air temperatures range from 60°F to 79°F, while the water may drop to around 75°F, with generally good visibility. Waters warm to an average of 80°F in the months from September through December, and light winds and sunshine are the norm on days when air temperatures run between 70-90°F. This is the time when many coral reef species breed at this time, and coral spawning en-masse in October or November. January through April is a wetter season with tropical monsoonal weather bringing amazing feeding and marine action, plus a great opportunity to see juvenile fish following the breeding season. Manta Rays are also commonly spotted on the Great Barrier Reef at this time. The air temperature will range from 74°F to 90°F, and water temperatures climb to 84°F.

The Ribbon Reefs are managed under a strict no-take policy that provides protection for grouper and other species normally targeted by fishermen.
The Ribbon Reefs are managed under a strict no-take policy that provides protection for grouper and other species normally targeted by fishermen.

Getting There

Caradonna Dive Adventures works directly with the Spirit of Freedom to coordinate all details of getting to and diving the Great Barrier Reef. This includes scheduling flights, transfers and hotels, and helping you select the dates, cruise schedules and packages that best meet your needs and budget. Give us a call at 800-330-6611or send a note at sales@caradonna.com, and start planning your own trip of a lifetime to the Great Barrier Reef.

Like Nemo, their iconic animated counterpart, clownfish make their homes within the tentacles of anemones, which are common to the Great Barrier Reef.
Like Nemo, their iconic animated counterpart, clownfish make their homes within the tentacles of anemones, which are common to the Great Barrier Reef.