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Drifting from Fly Point to Pipeline in Nelson Bay NSW

Published on: 2nd November, 2016 | Reviews and Training Tips
Photo credit: Ashton East
This drift dive covers a lot of distance and it is essential that you are familiar with the underwater topography, natural navigation markers, and the possible exit points.

There are four stages of the drift dive from Fly Point to the Pipeline.

The first stage is the area adjacent to Fly Point that you would otherwise explore on a slack tide and will easily recognise. As you head West from Fly Point, you will come to an eddy current that on an incomming tide, will take you in towards shore at Nelson Bay Beach, then back towards Fly Point. The first potential exit point is to run with the eddy current and exit at Nelson Bay Beach.

There are two options to navigate through the eddy current that can be used together or separately. The first is to take a compass and make sure you maintain an Westerly bearing regardless of how the water flow around you changes. The second is to maintain your depth at a constant depth, usually 16 meters, until you reach the boating channel out of the Marina.

The second stage is the boating channel out of the Marina and can be recognised by the prolific sponge and soft coral growth that has not been damaged by high diver traffic and shifting sands. The currents are consistent here and marine life is plentiful. The second potential exit point is to angle left into the Marina and do not surface unless you are hard up against one of the rock walls. The obvious hazard both under the boating channel and within the Marina is boat traffic. You must make sure you control your bouyancy and stay on the bottom.

The third stage is the sand ridges and cabling off the Co-op Wall. There are often flathead in this area but little else. On reaching the sand ridges continue for up to five minutes depending on the speed of the current (only two or three if the current is really racing), then start angling left. A sharper turn left will bring you to some point along the Co-op Wall where there is a proliferation of schooling fish, shrimp, lobsters, moray eels, and jew fish. The third potential exit point is the Co-op Wall itself, you can climb out up the rocks easily enough, or there are actually a couple of stairways at periodic intervals.

If you have not already exited the water, then the fourth stage is the Pipeline. A perfectly executed dive will bring you through the Seahorse Gardens to meet the sea grass just East of the pipeline at 5 meters. The fourth exit is as for a normal dive at the pipeline. If you have overshot, then you should still hit the Pipeline and will need to fight the current while heading along the Pipeline to shore.

There is always the possibility that you will miss the Pipeline, the current will slow before you have progressed, or you will otherwise need to make a mid water ascent. The entire route of this drift dive should be considered a high boat traffic area, and for this reason you should make certain you have a finger spool and SMB that you know how to deploy from depth. This is essential for diver safety where there is boat traffic as it lets surface vessels know to avoid the divers immediately underneath.

It is important to plan, discuss and prepare for recovery after the drift dive. How will you get from wherever you exit the water back to your vehicles with all your gear? Who is expecting you, where and when? Will you have to walk a couple of kilometers in your wetsuit or speedos to get your vehicle?

It is also vital to plan, discuss and prepare for certain contingencies. What is your plan if you overshoot the Pipeline and end up at Dutchman's Bay or drifting mid-bay towards Soldiers Point? What locations should your surface support persons check before contacting emergency services, and how long should they wait?

Make sure you include anyone who will be remaining on the shore in your discussion and explain your recovery and contingency plans to them. Otherwise you may be subjecting them to needless stress and risking an unnecessary emergency services callout.

You should also make certain to tell the local dive shop of your intentions.


Ashton East

OC and CCR trimix, stage cave, underwater photographer; NSW, QLD and UK Legal Counsel.