Images courtesy of Vance Fahey
Edited and compiled by Amy Davis
What roles have you held during your time with Sunlover:
VF: My current positions include Dive Instructor (Master Scuba Diver Trainer, I have 10 speciality instructor ratings), Reef Naturalist, Coxswain/Deckhand and Lifeguard.
I was originally employed in 1991 as a Divemaster/Lifeguard, and I have also worked on the Sales & Marketing team. I was a part of the first ever official Crown of Thorns Starfish control team that would live out on the reef for periods of time (both on the pontoon and on a large game boat called Saladin). I also held the position of Cruise Director although that position now no longer exists.
Where you are from and what life events brought you to work in Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef?
VF: My first visit to Cairns was in 1987, holidaying with family in Trinity Beach. That was enough for me to decide on a full lifestyle change, to leave Melbourne, the city of my birth and start a whole new life and career in Cairns!
Twelve months later I moved here, purchased a home in Trinity Beach and set about my plan of starting my own dive school. Firstly my goal was to take employment with a couple of local dive operators, to get the feel of the business in Cairns.
After a shaky start and an eye opening look into the industry at that time, it resulted in leaving to return to my original line of work as a carpenter, however this was a short term solution as doing this type of work in the tropical climate took too much out of me.
What was your impression the first time you visited the Great Barrier Reef?
In the 1960’s. my family would holiday at a place on the Bass Strait coast called “Kilcunda” Between San Remo & Wonthaggi.. We had a caravan there & would go regularly, I was fascinated with the sea & rockpools, and one day met a local boy who would introduce me to diving. I had been fishing & dropped a bag into the water ,about 6 ft. deep. I could see it , but could not get it back.. This was in 1961 & I was just 6 years old!
The boy (Mark) had a mask & fins and was able to retrieve my lost bag. We became great friends, and he introduced me to snorkelling around the large rock pools.We would become regular “Dive Buddies” from then onwards, studying everything about the sea and even getting into championship level freediving competition spearfishing. We even started our own Spearfishing club! We did many interstate dive trips as we grew older & obtained the freedom of Drivers licenses!
My First ever experience of the Great Barrier Reef was in 1970 when I was aged 15 years old. My family (and Mark) took a driving holiday towing our 17 ft Fibreglass 1/2 cabin cruiser to a quaint little town called Airlie Beach.
At the time it was just a pub, store, caravan park & a few beach huts, but an amazing jump off point to explore the Islands of the Whitsundays! Diving here was so different to the cold waters of the south, and the coral & fish were something so new to us, no seaweed or kelp!
We travelled all the Islands in our little boat and it was really a life-changing experience. I knew that one day I would be back.
How did you come to work Sunlover?
My initial introduction to Sunlover was by accident, but as fate does, it came along at a very important time.
As mentioned, I had gone back to being a Musician, and by chance had met and teamed up with another Musician, who many of our guests know well, Nikki Lowmass. Our musical career together took off, putting us well up in the scene, recording the first ever CD in Cairns and taking off for us in a big way, and we became partners in both music & life.
It was during our time in Port Douglas, we were the live-in entertainers at a large resort, playing 6 nights a week.. During the day,we were able to use the resort facilities, including the huge pool—Here I introduced Nikki to snorkelling, and she went from someone who would not put her face in the water to an avid fan!
After a trip out to the reef to do some “real “ snorkelling she was hooked and wanted to go to the next level: Diving!
A new company had opened in Cairns –“Sunlover” and they were doing dive courses. Through a friend we got Nikki into a small course, and I came along just to keep an eye on how things were run. I was missing being in the sea, it had been a couple of years since I had last dived. The course was well –run, the boats were big, the crew friendly and the reef amazing! I helped out during here course and was able to join them on the reef for free.
I must have impressed the instructor, as I was offered the chance to come out any time I wanted at no charge , in exchange for continuing to “help out”. Some weeks later I decided to take up the offer, had a great day & dive, and at the end I was offered the chance to come out anytime I wanted, but that I would be on the payroll from that point on if I wanted!
What are some of your favourite memories about working at Sunlover?
VF: From the start, everything was new for us all. Sunlover had only just started so we were feeling our way, learning and exploring our reef, finding our feet as an operation and making friendships that last to this day!
There were many “Firsts”...Our first pontoon; Our first Crown of thorns team; The first time we had Helicopters, Even our early boat “Calypso Lady” that had live bands playing on board during the day!
We were also able to combine our music with Sunlover as well. as we played evening Dinner cruises around the Inlet 4 nights a week for some time. To this day we still perform on the pontoons for special occasions.
What are your favourite animals to see at the Reef with Sunlover?
VF: So many cool animals...!
- Maybe the humpback whale & calf who came up to the back of the boat for a look while we were at the pontoon...
- Or the time I counted 10 mantas around the pontoon at Arlington, or the huge Groper that comes to the pontoon once a year to cruise passively amongst the divers..
- Maybe the giant Barracuda who would sit above the Seawalker platform, or next to me while I try to keep my divers calm during skills...
- Of course never to forget all the close encounters with Wally and our turtles!
What is one of your most memorable moments you’ve had at Sunlover?
VF: The reward of being able to take someone diving who is terrified at the start, and see them totally blown away at the end even in some cases reduced to tears, to be told you have “changed their life” or given them the Highlight of their life is just the best feeling in the world.
I remember one particular guest who returned the favour to me with an incredible experience.
He flew out by chopper & was short on time, I took him on a GREAT solo dive. He was blown away and tipped me $100...! As if that was not enough, turns out he was the lighting tech for BOB DYLAN , who was performing in Cairns that night!He arranged for tickets for Nikki & I to go to the show.
When we got there, we were escorted down to the front of the Convention Centre, where we were ushered into the closed off area containing all the sound mixers & lighting controls.. and a table set up amongst them just for us!
We sure made a lot of people jealous that night!
What other hobbies and interests do you have in your spare time?
Still playing Music and working with Sunlover.
We designed & built our own pole home out at Trinity Beach 24 years ago and just love it there.
My 2 kids grew up & I love to catch up with them every time I go back to Melbourne --- and the 4 grandchildren I now have.
So pretty much feeling blessed and loving the life I live!
We think Vance is an actual LEGEND and are so proud to have him continue to be part of our Sunlover story!