Divernet


SEVEN Poor Knights, NZ
A sight better than pudding
Fourteen miles east of New Zealands rugged North Island is a cluster of rocks. When Captain James Cook sighted them on 25 November 1769, he named them the Poor Knights Islands, noting that the vivid red pohutukawa tree blossoms looked like jam tumbling down the sides of Poor Knights pudding, a popular dish of the time.
     While it makes sense that by this stage of his amazing voyage, Cook was probably well into the pencil-sucking stage when it came to catchy place-names, it still rankles to know that these stunning islands, a swirling mass of life beneath nutrient-rich seas, are named after a jammy duff.
     Cooks arrival came towards the end of Maori occupation. Two tribes, numbering 300 people, had prospered on the two main islands, living off the land, raising pigs and fishing. But in 1820 a war party from a mainland tribe carried out a terrible massacre, and the islands were declared taboo in Maori law.
     The high cliffs and towering arches make this an eerie place, especially when one thinks that the last significant human sounds to echo around the walls were the running feet and terrified screams of women and children. Added to this taboo is modern legislation that established the islands as a nature reserve in 1977, the highest protection possible under New Zealand law.
     These lumps of land, covering only 200 hectares, are the most protected in the country, with no landings allowed unless in the interests of research or conservation.
     It is the life beneath the waves that interests the team. The Poor Knights rise from 90m of cold nutrient- and oxygen-rich water. They are battered by powerful Pacific Ocean swells, and the topography of the islands, all contorted seams and jagged ridges, is testament to their volcanic birth.
     If New Zealand looks like the Devon coast on performance-enhancing drugs, the Poor Knights seem to have had an overdose. Happily, this landscape extends below the surface, with caves, walls, canyons, overhangs and gullies making this an irresistible divers playground.
     You can dive the Poor Knights every day for a year, and see something different on every dive, says Glen Edney, manager of Dive! Tutukaka. As the seasons change, the life around the islands changes. We have massive congregations of southern sting rays, we have bronze whaler sharks, killer whales, dolphins, seals, staggeringly rich life on our reefs and walls, and even a particularly hardy green turtle!
     It has to be hardy, because water temperatures around the Poor Knights are chilly. The team, softened by five weeks of tepid waters, has become a mahogany-tanned group of Martini-swilling, Lycra-wearing, thermocline-avoiding softies.
     There are squeals of outrage as we enter the 15C water for the first time, and the revival of a memory of the best sensation in diving the feeling of gratitude as someone presses a hot cup of tea into numb fingers. This happens with refreshing frequency. The Dive! Tutukaka staff are knowledgeable, courteous, professional and passionate about their islands.
     Our first dive, under Fleurs de Lys arch, is a reminder of how busy coldwater reefs can be. In the water I allow myself a few minutes of wide-eyed sobbing before becoming blissfully numb, then take stock of my surroundings.
     I am astounded by the life on the reef walls. Every inch is taken up by plants and animals in a riot of colour, a living mosaic over which patrol vividly coloured wrasse and dense shoals of demoiselles and blue maomao. The fish around the Poor Knights are used to divers, and havent been hunted within their lifetimes, so you feel like just another cruising big animal in this living soup.
     What I find notable around the rock formations of the arch is the number of small morays encountered. Spotting one magnificently coloured animal close to a red rock, I move in for the shot, camera at the ready, mind racing with f-stops and flash positions. Hovering in midwater, fins waggling, I inch closer until my forehead bumps into the red rock.
     In this compromising position, body at 45, ungloved hand trembling over shutter release, I am perturbed when the rock suddenly gapes at me, sprouts an impressively spiky dorsal fin, and accelerates into the middle distance, closely followed by the outraged moray.
     In New Zealand, they make their scorpionfish big.
     Towards the latter stages of the dive, I chance on my first Poor Knights nudibranch. The size of a well-stuffed Norfolk sausage, it sways gently in the swell, gills fluttering in the current above a wrinkled green and purple skin.
     Although there are only 120 species of fish around the Poor Knights, there are an awful lot of them. These are among the densest congregations of fish we encounter on our trip around the world, especially at our next dive site, Blue Maomao Arch.
     Some of the best sites are under the arches and caves that pepper every cliff face. One guide has told us that we will spend most of our time diving in the Poor Knights, rather than around them. Most notable is Southern Arch, the venue for a unique gathering of hundreds of southern sting rays early every year we have missed this event by several months.
     Blue Maomao Arch does not disappoint. Kitting up, I am astonished to see an area of water the size of a tennis court boiling ferociously. Following my stare, Glen tells me that the activity is created by trevally driving schools of shrimp to the surface. Around the edges of these shoals, gannets hurl themselves javelin-like into the fray.
     My buddy is Pete Whieldon, an exuberant character never without a video camera the size of a fruit-machine. Pete always looks forward to getting into the water, but on this occasion he is bouncing around like a Jack Russell on speed. It is imperative that I get him below the surface before he has a nervous breakdown.
     We move swiftly past riotously colonised rock faces of the cliffs into the eerie green water below the arch.
     This is a shallow dive, 8m or so, but the sight that greets us here is a school of blue maomao extending from sea floor to surface, a shimmering blue wall filling the left side of an emerald tunnel.
     I move towards the shoal and it parts to let me through until I am enveloped in plump blue bodies, each about a foot long and moving in harmony with the rest of the shoal.
     I emerge to see light streaming through the far entrance of the arch.
     The best time to dive the Poor Knights is early in the year, although each guide comes up with a different recommendation of time and site. In six days diving, we have fleeting glimpses of the famous sting rays, as the islands are just shaking off their winter coat and beginning to receive the summer residents.
     The dive at Blue Maomao Arch sums up the experience for me an abundance of life densely congregated around a few miraculous islands, off a wild stretch of coastline on the other side of the world.

EIGHT Galapagos
The golden ray phenomenon
Push on through the sticks, head to the back of beyond, keep going straight through the middle of nowhere, and just beyond that youll find the Galapagos Islands.
     The Galapagos are seriously remote. A sprinkling of volcanic rock in the Pacific, they are 600 miles east of their nearest land mass, and beset on all sides by seven mighty ocean currents.
     Their old name was the Enchanted Isles, given by bewildered mariners as they tried to make sense of the swirling tides and pirouetting swells.
     There are 13 main islands in the archipelago, plus four islets and some 40 outcrops of jagged rocks. Spring chickens in geological terms, the islands are the result of a titanic eruption about 5 million years ago, and dark lava abounds, along with large folded seams of rock still frozen in mid-flow.
     Touching down at the tiny airport, I am excited to have made it at last to these mystical islands. They are home to several unique species of animals, and I am looking forward to creeping up on my first marine iguana in some carefully manicured nature reserve. I am therefore surprised to arrive at Hotel Galapagos on Santa Cruz, an hour or so later, to find one draped across my doorstep like a novelty draft excluder.
     A large male, he sleepily opens one eye as I bound back in surprise, and then goes back to sleep.
     It turns out that Galapagos doesnt have nature reserves it is one. Iguanas, of which there are about 80 right outside the hotel, abound. They bask a great deal. During two days of coming and going at the hotel, the one on my doorstep moves one leg about 6cm and looks distressed at the effort involved.
     Any animal that you have to look at for 10 minutes to figure out whether its dead or not is OK with me.
     A 22-year-old Charles Darwin spent many a happy afternoon frisbeeing them into the sea to find out if they would return to the same spot (they always did), leading him to conclude that they were high on instinct, low on brain.
     By now much the same could be said of the Full Circle team. The weeks have taken their toll both on people and gear, and yet we all realise the significance of these islands, particularly as we experienced considerable emotion on the journey from the mainland. A volcanic eruption had diverted flights from a key airport in Ecuador, and much queuing, arm-waving, sweating and shouting had been required to get us on a flight.
     But that is now behind us, and our diving can begin.
     Our diving hosts are Scuba Iguana, the centre affiliated to Hotel Galapagos. Our main guide is Macarone who, as an ex-fisherman, is the archetypal poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Greeting us with a winning smile, he completes a short safety brief before asking: OK, so, wha you wanna see
     The answer, unequivocally, is hammerheads. The time is early the next morning, the place Gordon Rocks.
     This site, an hours boat ride from the main harbour at Puerto Ayora, consists of two building-sized rocks two miles offshore. Between them the tides and swell race through a narrow channel some 40m deep. Here large animals congregate, not just hammerhead sharks but rays of all descriptions, turtles, sea-lions and gigantic shoals of fish.
     Our impression of the islands as a raw, untamed environment is reinforced as we approach the rocks.
     Large swells hammer the seaward side, while the channel seethes with conflicting choppy waves and racing tides. Sea-lions basking on the rocks flap flippers lazily at us as we pass, and blue-footed boobies wheel overhead.
     In the water, Macarone gathers the group and heads to one of the steep gully walls. The walls and sea floor consist of stark boulders and rough seams of rock uncolonised by sedentary species. As I settle on the reef wall, I look towards the surface and see what I assume to be some sort of migration, a great stream of fish pouring over the top of the wall.
     Its my first glimpse of life in the channel, great numbers of fish capitalising on the funnelling effect of currents and tide through this narrow gap.
     Macarone checks the group, and then indicates that we should head out into the green water of the main channel. The action at Gordon Rocks takes place not close to the sanctuary of the seabed or rock walls but in midwater.
     Checking buoyancy, cameras and buddies, we push out from the wall and kick off into the gloom. Hanging in mid-channel, we scan the water, unsure what to expect.
     Suddenly theres a clank on a tank from Macarone, a pointed finger, and in the middle distance what appeared to be a gigantic animal moving in our direction. Straining my eyes and my imagination, my breath races as this vast, dark shadow comes closer and abruptly breaks into a series of winged components. We turn as 22 eagle rays drift past in formation.
     Another clank what now Below us, four scalloped hammerheads appear, wraith-like, barely visible against the floor of the channel. Throughout our time in the islands our glimpses of hammerheads will be as fleeting.
     There is just time to register those spade-shaped heads swinging from side to side before, with a flick of powerful tails, the sharks disappear for the remainder of the dive.
     Disappointed, I begin a slow turn and halt halfway round, trying to make sense of what is appearing from the seaward side of the channel.
     Row on row, layer on layer, of mouths, stacked and serried, creating a wall of creatures 100, 200 too many to count.
     The local name is golden rays, the species name cow-nosed rays, and I witness a gigantic gathering moving past and around me.
     About the size of a large eagle ray, each animal maintains station within the formation as it moves past the agog divers. The rest of the dive is spent swimming alongside the rays a new greatest ever experience to add to the growing list.
     Due to pressures of flights and an eruption-disrupted schedule, the team has only two full days diving.
     We visit a sea-lion colony to watch the big confident animals performing like underwater acrobats around wildly spinning divers. There is also a dive at the famed Seymour Island, but sadly the viz is soup-like and the swell pounding.
     The islands are only teasing us, however. On the way home we see 14 (we counted!) manta rays pirouetting on the surface as they feed on a dense congregation of plankton.
     We see only a glimpse of what the Galapagos can offer. Theres a panting, sweaty sprint through the Charles Darwin Project for the obligatory shot of a giant tortoise, mouth-watering tales of 700 hammerheads overhead, and of dolphins and whales, and we leave with the impression of an island system in its biological adolescence.
     A three-day visit, two days diving, three days travelling, and 200 beautiful rays swinging past in majestic formation not a bad return from the Enchanted Isles.

NINE Belize
Bull shark in the Blue Hole
Its big, its blue, its a hole, and we want to get in it. The Belize Blue Hole has been a beacon for divers ever since Cousteau manoeuvred the Calypso into its sapphire centre in the early 1970s to take one of the most famous photographs in diving.
     There is, of course, far more to diving in Belize than simply the Blue Hole. The reefs are rich and the country boasts some of the only coral atolls in the Caribbean. Though lacking the species diversity of the Indo-Pacific, there is plenty of variety on the topography of the coral, from drop-offs to fringing reefs, from shelves to swim-throughs.
     You also find some of the best sponges around, great barrels squatting on the reefs like witchs cauldrons, and tube sponges the size of organ-pipes. Belize is also the location of the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, and the second largest on Earth, a World Heritage Site dotted with cayes and shallows along its 175-mile length.
     The Belize Academy of Diving is a new operation set up by two couples, from Zimbabwe and from the UK, who believe that the diving here can rival anything, anywhere. Craig and Tracey Coombs, the Zimbabwean connection, are our hosts and put us up in the sumptuous Caribe Island Resort, where comfortable apartments are clustered around a pool and bar complex on a stretch of white beach on Ambergris Caye.
     The atmosphere is distinctly Caribbean, and the focal point of the resort is Albert, a barman producing cocktails of such calorific potency that several of the team will virtually have to be winched into the aircraft at the end of the weeks stay.
     Conditions are marginal. Hissing rain greets our arrival in the dead of night but Craig is confident that it will blow over by the next morning and we wake to clear skies and a crimson sunrise.
     Craig, intensely safety-conscious, has a dilemma about taking a group of divers new to the country to the Blue Hole at such short notice. But after lengthy questioning about our qualifications and experience, he decides that, with one chance only due to the weather, we will go for the hole that day.
     It is a considerable trip, about 50 miles careening flat-out through the waves, past palm-fringed islands and dense mangroves. Finally, the engines stilled, Craig announces our arrival. I study the vast ring around us. The Blue Hole, 400m in diameter and more than 140m deep, demands respect.
     We will move to the edge of the hole down the sloping sandy rim, Craig briefs us. Here we will be at 14m or so. If anyone is having any problems or reservations, or I consider anyone is struggling, they will abort the dive at this stage.
     He looks around the group sternly. We will then descend into the main part of the Blue Hole. No-one is to be deeper than me at any point, and when I tell you it is time to ascend, you will begin your ascent immediately. At 45m, this will be our deepest dive of the expedition.
     The Blue Hole is narrow at the top, wide at the bottom, like an upright bell. One has to move beyond the narrow top to the sloping shoulders before encountering the most dramatic features, giant stalactites through which divers slowly weave, hovering over the inky depths. As a bonus, Craig tells us that a resident population of bull sharks sometimes comes to investigate groups of divers. Not a dive for the faint-hearted!
     In the water, the group assembles and moves swiftly to the lip. A quick check that all is well, and we fin over the edge of the abyss and drop down the wall. Soon it slopes away from us, and following this slope we come to a great curved ledge from which hang gigantic stalactites.
     I have always been slightly susceptible to narcosis, and have to concentrate hard. My buddy is aware of my occasional eccentricities at depth, and it is reassuring to see him hovering off the wall, peering intently at me as if I am an escaped maniac.
     Below me, the lip of the main part of the hole cuts through the blackness below, swallowing our dancing torch-beams.
     All too soon, Craig is tapping briskly on his tank and signalling ascent. As we start to move back up the wall, a movement catches my eye in the murk beyond the walls edge.
     Its a large bull shark, one of the most charismatic sharks in the sea, all power and assurance. It briskly inspects the group, with neat, lean movements and fast twitch-turns, before flicking off into the darkness beneath. I have always wanted to meet one in open water, and I am not disappointed shoulders like a rugby players and the eyes of an assassin.
     The Blue Hole is in Turneffe Atoll, and the dive that afternoon is a pleasant drift along the famous Lighthouse Reef, close to the nature reserve at Halfmoon Caye. Visibility is excellent, and we use the time to explore the overhangs and gullies along this rich Caribbean reef system the perfect way to unwind after the heroics of the morning.
     Next day, we explore two sites off Ambergris Caye. The dives are excellent but its the surface interval that sticks in the mind.
     Shark Alley is the creation not of local diving operators but of local fishermen. Stopping their boats on the way home over a shallow patch of sand and sea-grass, for decades they have been dumping fish-guts from their catch.
     Word soon got round the local nurse shark and sting ray population of a regular offal buffet, and now they queue up to be fed. The dive operators have taken over from the fishermen, who are doubtless now creating another world-class 2m dive somewhere else, and the site is now the exclusive haunt of very excited snorkellers and sardine-flinging dive guides.
     I am instinctively opposed to fish-feeding, but that doesnt stop me jumping in and whooping like an idiot with everyone else. The sharks and rays congregate in great numbers, and to rest on the seabed and have a large southern sting ray sweep millimetres over your head, even touching you with its satin wings, is a great experience.
     The locals virtually know the animals individually, and to watch our skipper cavort with the rays and pet the sharks is a stark reminder that the alternative for the animals may be ending up on a long-line or in a net.
     The harnessing of a natural resource to create a viable attraction, or exploitation of magnificent predators Such moral dilemmas temporarily escape me as I watch man and fish have what appears to be a splendid time with one another.
     Belize is readily accessible via a short and inexpensive flight from Miami. Half of the country is classified as a nature reserve, and its fascinating Mayan heritage dates back thousands of years, prompting some of the team to make an uncharacteristic departure from sea level to visit some jungle ruins. They return that evening babbling excitedly about life beyond the coastal fringe that has dominated our lives for two months.
     We fly away from Ambergris Caye in a small aircraft, the pilot banking low to give our cameraman the opportunity for some reef shots. As the shadow of the aircraft darts over mile after mile of reef, it dawns on me that the Blue Hole is only one attraction among many in Belize.

TEN Bahamas
The hunt for wild dolphins
Our final destination, and frankly its just as well. Watching the expedition emerge from the bus in Miami nine weeks on, I am reminded of a field hospital in the Crimea.
     There is a sprinkling of hobblers, plenty of wincers, and almost universal hollow eyes and messed hair. What continent is this No idea. The physiological elite who can still carry bags do so, the rest stagger and weave towards the liveaboard.
     Our equipment has also taken a battering. When I put my gear together now, it hisses like an outraged stoat. Entering the water reveals glorious fizzing streams of small bubbles that follow me like a smokescreen. My boots smell like roadkill, and I communicate almost entirely in hand signals, even over dinner. One destination to go, and it had better be a belter.
     Every diver, dare I say every human being, wants to swim with dolphins. Not in some sanitised concrete pen containing a tamed and traumatised animal, but in the open ocean. There are very few places where this is virtually guaranteed, but Little Bahamas Banks is one of them.
     We get to this vast area of shallow white sand 40 miles off the coast of Florida aboard Dream Too. A cosy 65ft vessel, it accommodates 12 divers in intimate but comfortable surroundings. Our skipper, and co-owner of Dolphin Dream Team, is Scott Smith, a taciturn American with great experience of diving with these dolphins.
     In two decades operating on the banks, Scott has seen three generations of dolphins born, and recognises numerous individual animals within the resident pods. I certainly recognise them, and Im fairly sure they know me too, he tells me. There are definite individuals who get excited when Im in the water, although these animals are all pretty playful and curious anyway, so sometimes its hard to tell!
     Such curiosity and playfulness is the reason these dolphins came to light. In the early 80s, salvage divers working one of the many pirate wrecks in this part of the Bahamas were pestered by playful dolphins. Scott heard of these interactions, and built up a unique relationship with the creatures.
     Conditions are far from ideal on our seven-hour trip to the banks. Dream Too rocks and rolls through some impressive swells, driving most of the team below to moan gently in their bunks. When the Bahamas appear its a blessed relief, and we flood into the saloon looking even more dishevelled than usual.
     The pods of spotted dolphins are in the northern region of the Bahamas, several miles from our present position. The idea is to dive local areas of interest as we gradually work north, starting with the Sugar Wreck.
     This is as Caribbean as can be. Sunk about 100 years ago by pirates, this 300ft-long three-masted clipper was carrying molasses to make rum. Throw in a beautiful damsel with a heaving bodice and the picture would be complete.
     This wreck is in a very sedate 6m, making it one of the most pleasant decompression chambers around. The dive is a wonderful introduction to the Bahamas, with brightly coloured shoals of butterflyfish and sweetlips hovering over an intact, though comprehensively flattened, superstructure.
     Sleeping nurse sharks can be found in the rare parts of the wreck that remain proud of the seabed, and throughout the dive I am accompanied by the sleek shapes of some substantial barracuda. One of these takes exception to Peter Whieldons close attention with his video camera, resulting in a lightning strike at his groin. The subsequent footage makes interesting viewing on the boat after the dive, as Pete dances backwards with needle-sharp teeth flashing inches from the stitching on his Speedos. A true professional, he has recorded the entire balletic performance.
     Next day we motor steadily north, peering hopefully but in vain off the bow for dolphins. Scott brings us to a dive called the Bull Pit. Here, in a recurring theme throughout our expedition, local operators feed sharks. Scott does not indulge in fish-feeds, but the sound of a boats engines and divers entering the water acts as a beacon for several large individuals, notable among which are bull sharks.
     As instructed, I sink to the seabed in a gully between the reefs. Within seconds, several large sharks circle the group, the occasional individual breaking free to cruise overhead, looking for a handout. A mixture of reef sharks and bulls, they have an uncanny ability to appear behind you or materialise from behind a coral head only feet away.
     I can rationalise this while sitting in the saloon drinking tea (for apex predators, creeping up on things is lesson one in their curriculum) but it remains alarming at 20m. I believe that we have started to lose much the respect we once had for sharks, and these large animals were plainly interested in our presence.
     Regardless of how many times one witnesses a shark at close quarters, the heart still races at the thrill of it.
     All great stuff, but we are fixated on the dolphins. Will the luck that has accompanied us throughout the project finally desert us Will the dolphin box remain unticked
     As the hours pass the next day, it seems that after weeks of sharks, seals, mantas and whales, we are slipping back to the real world, where disappointment can be the order of the day.
     The sun is dipping towards the horizon on the last day and, after a number of false alarms, we are gathered gloomily in the saloon when there is a shout from the stern, and the engines slow. Rushing to the bow in an ungainly gaggle, we see a small group of dolphins circling the boat in a leisurely way.
     Well, what are you waiting for get in the water! says Scott. He is talking to a deserted bow, as diving protocol goes out the window and the team thunders past him.
     After a brief scrum on the dive deck we hurl ourselves off the stern like lemmings, some still strapping fins on in mid-air.
     Only snorkelling is permitted with the dolphins. They seem to toy with anyone in the water. Occasionally they come so close that the urge to reach out and touch them is irresistible, then they hurtle into the blue to appear behind you seconds later.
     The group is supervised by Julie, a guide from the boat who has the benefit of a scooter, both to attract dolphins and to round up errant snorkellers.
     She swings in loop-the-loops, twisting and turning as the dolphins turn in tighter and tighter circles around her.
     She drops a bandana in the water and they pick it up on pectoral fins and beaks, playing tag at breakneck speed. In the midst of all this is the team, legs pumping and breath sawing, racking up the memories before the dive, and the trip, is over.
     The encounter lasts long after the light has gone. Scott suspends a bulb below the boat, creating a pool of light through which the dolphins dart and we hang peering wildly about us, exhausted with adrenalin and exertion.
     Finally Scott calls us in, the group stumbling and crawling over the stern. An unforgettable experience, and an unforgettable expedition, is finally over.

  • New Zealand: Dive! Tutukaka 00649 434 3867, www.diving.co.nz
  • Galapagos: Scuba Iguana 00593 552 6296, www.scubaiguana.com
  • Belize: Belize Academy of Diving, 00501 226 4179. www.belize-academy-of-diving.com
  • Bahamas: Dolphin Dream Team, 001 881 277 8181, www.dolphindreamteam.com
  • Full Circle: 07812 136 781, www.divefullcircle.com

Demoiselles
Demoiselles at Poor Knights
sting
sting rays at Northern Arch
the
the rock faces are heavily colonised
the
the incredible golden ray gathering in the Galapagos
Wildlife
Wildlife meeting place Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos
you
you dont have to go far to trip over an iguana
one
one of the impressive barrel sponges in Belize
sting
sting ray in Shark Alley, Belize
Jenny
Jenny admires a tube sponge in Belize
turtles
turtles on the Sugar Wreck in the Bahamas
Bull
Bull shark in the Bull Pit, Bahamas
also
also in the Bahamas, a hagfish
Aaah,
Aaah, all their dreams came true in the end: snorkelling with wild dolphins in the Bahamas
THE FULL CIRCLE TEAM WERE:

MONTY HALLS: Marine biologist and adventure journalist, director of Full Circle Expeditions and regular Diver contributor.
JENNY HALLS: Other half of the Full Circle team, and top-side cameraperson.
ROLAND CURTIS: Winner of the Diver competition for a free place on the trip. Erudite, witty, invented a pretend superhero personality for himself early in the expedition, and would occasionally appear clad (worryingly) only in Speedos and moist bootees.
PETER WHIELDON: Garage proprietor from Hampshire, and underwater cameraman. Boundless energy and drive, an asset to any trip. Speedos even skimpier than Rolands.
ASGEIR SOLLI: Norwegian IT consultant, and Peters trusted sidekick. Managed to talk his pony bottle onto every flight, quite an achievement in his second language.
PAL ANDREASSON: Works for Nicorette in Sweden, passion for butterflyfish that borders on the sinister. Unflappable, generous and a fine diver.
STEPHANIE WALL: Sailor, helicopter pilot, and a great all-rounder who took the whole thing in her considerable stride. Palau has messed up her life forever.
DEBORAH ALLEN: An accountant, Debs was a robust presence throughout the trip. Great diver and the life and soul, enjoys the occasional tipple. Should be approached with extreme caution in the mornings.
MARTIN WELCH: Retired senior police officer and a walking physiotherapy lecture by the end of the trip, with a vast collection of injuries. Soldiered on regardless.
EMILY DENYER: Marketing consultant who took to underwater photography with a passion, and produced some annoyingly good shots by the end of the project.
TREVOR FRANCIS: Retired electronic engineer. Stoic presence who quietly got on with things.
PAUL HAWKES: Marketing consultant, always interested, always with a question or two. Had to leave the expedition a couple of weeks early after a heroic tackle during a game of touch rugby in New Zealand. The 12-year-old in question was large for his age.
CANDICE MCDONALD: Doctor, willing to try anything, swim with anything. Tended the teams coughs, bumps and bruises.
AGGIE WITHERS: Beautician, always first in the water, vibrated with enthusiasm and excitement throughout. Accumulated more dives than anyone else. Every team should have one.

LOGISTICS: The hassle and emotion of transfers, group bookings and transit hotels was dealt with impeccably by Geeta Davies at Octopus Travel. If you are planning a trip for a group of divers, dont think about using anyone else!
    Full Circle Expeditions Ltd handled the diving logistics and arranged accommodation at each location. Also covered were photography courses, safety and general expedition organisation.

STATISTICS: The team dived 977 times, to a depth of 19,280m (about 12 miles). Each member conducted an average 69 dives, average depth 20.28m.
    Average weight of baggage per individual was 44kg, giving a total weight of 616kg, plus cabin baggage averaging 8kg, leading to a combined total of 728kg.
    In each country visited, kit was loaded on and off various things an average of six times. Add in airports for transit periods, and counting London Heathrow as only three out and three on return, gives a total of 73,920kg shifted in 10 weeks by the team. Thats an average of more than 5 tonnes of kit shifted per person!
    The group took 24 flights in a wide variety of aircraft and ate 2898 meals.