A few weeks ago I returned from a 7 night / 6 day adventure on the MV Bilikiki Live-aboard in the Solomon Islands. I must say, this was one of the best dive trips I have been on. Lots of big fish action (schooling barracuda, jacks, bumphead parrotfish, turtles, rays, and reef sharks), exciting drift dives, and loads of cool little creatures, with warm clear water.
Arriving in Honiara on the afternoon of the 26th May, we were greeted by our representatives of the Bilikiki Live-aboard, and after a short drive to the marina we were boarding and ready for our adventure around the Florida, Russell, and Mary Islands within the Western Province. Welcome drinks and dinner, followed by dive gear preparation and setup before a slightly bumpy nights ride to our first dive destination of the trip!
I was rather impressed with the size of MV Bilikiki. She holds 20 guests, with 11 staff on board. With roomy twin cabins and a large dive deck, she she is perfect for either a 7 or 10 night trip. The managers and staff are extremely friendly. I can see why the Bilikiki is almost completely booked out for the next 12 months.
I was quite excited for this trip as Rachael (our trip leader) and myself had decided to bring our Hollis Explorer Rebreathers for the trip. This was the first time either of us had travelled with the Rebreathers and we were excited to see how they would fair and what sort of interactions with the marine life we would be able to get on them.
We travelled over on the plane with everything we needed for the Rebreathers, except for the CO2 sorbent that is needed to remove CO2 waste produced within the units when they are being dived. We picked this up in Honiara on arrival. I was quite surprised to see how easy it was to bring the 2 units over. Just like bringing your normal dive gear really!
It only took us around 20 minutes of extra set up time to have the units ready for their first day of diving. I was excited!! So was Rachael!
The next morning (first dive day), Rachael and I packed our sorbent canisters, inserted and attached the other components of the rebreathers and performed our pre-dive checks. All was good! 15 minutes later we were in the water and descending to begin the first of our 28 possible dives.
Having dived the units extensively in Sydney, I was well aware of how much warmer I always felt when comparing the rebreather to open circuit – due to the recycling of warm, moist air; so I was very impressed with being able to wear next to no weight and just wearing board shorts for exposure protection on many of the dives!
Each day during our lunch breaks, Rachael and I repacked our CO2 sorbent canisters for the afternoon dives. We spent 5 minutes at the end of each day disassembling the units and rinsing them for the next day’s use.
Rachael & I spent many of our dives hovering out in the blue water watching sharks, turtles and rays pass by. On many occasions, we managed to get in amongst schools of jacks and barracuda, and on a few occasions I was able to get quite close to some of the bigger pelagic creatures like spanish mackeral, bumphead parrot fish, grey reef sharks and napolean wrasse. I definitely saw the advantage of diving on the rebreather as the marine life were not as scared of me due to the minimal bubble production.
On the second last day we visited a Manta cleaning station hoping for some Manta action. And that’s what we got! Descending onto the dive site we were met with a fairly ferocious current that required us to drift over the edge of the reef and then find a sheltered spot to hang on. The current was then coming from behind us and sucking down the reef just in front of where we were hidden. This was perfect, as it meant the Mantas would come up the reef towards us to collect their food as it drifted towards them. And boy did they come towards us! I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was on the rebreather or not, but on more than a handle of occasions, I had Mantas close enough to touch, and on a couple of occasions the Mantas actually needed to divert their path so as not to hit me! Amazing!!
At the end of the trip, both Rachael and I had completed 23 dives each on the units – with dive times ranging from 45 to 90 minutes. Many people have commented to me that it seems to take a lot more effort to dive and maintain the rebreathers. At the beginning of each dive we only spent an extra 5 minutes preparing the rebreathers, and then an extra 10 minutes at the end of the day cleaning them. I was super pleased with the way the units performed and will definitely be taking a rebreather to other live-aboard destinations in the future. With units available for rent from Abyss once divers have completed their training, this would be the perfect way to get in some amazing diving experiences while building confidence with the units themselves.