Sunday 11th October
Pro-Dive 5day learn-to-dive course.
After 8months of anticipation, the time to do my dive course FINALLY rolled around, and blessedly, my fears that I would have a cold or blockage or any other illness preventing me from doing it were not realised. I did actually feel very ill on the first day, awoke at dawn feeling sick and dizzy and it took two hours and a LOT of willpower to get dressed and ready and get outside for the dive-centre pick-up.. after so long coming I was NOT going to let a little under-the-weatherness get in between me and the scuba.
First day was intro, paperwork, classroom and three videos about stuff like pressure and scuba gear and stuff then after lunch, into the pool! Having done scuba stuff in a swimming pool before, it was not as strange to me to don the apparatus and breathe underwater as it was to the others, I felt a bit like a pro! Also found the BCD with gas cylinder attached not nearly as heavy and cumbersome as I remembered; can only assume that 8months of hefting my beast of a backpack around were good training for this moment. A BCD and cylinder can't possibly weight anywhere near as much as my 22kg bag, so it was light in comparison!
Ran through some basic skills and then descended to 4m depth, with a little ear trouble, but not too bad. Back to the hostel that evening and a bit of homework learning dive tables. The next day, after a really interesting talk about where you can continue diving all over the world, from a guy who was very enthusiastic about diving off the coast of the UK, and seemed to think that the coldness of the water would be barely noticeable with a good dry-suit on (dubious looks from the four brits in the class), we were back into the pool again for more skills and a chance to try all sorts of swanky masks and exxie fins, including the "revolutionary split-fin technology", which was actually really valuable although I suspect this session at least in part is designed to make you notice the difference between the exxie stuff and the rental gear, perfectly timed just before the trip to the ProDive shop in Cairns where, unsurprisinly, a lot of people took advantage of special 10%off and purchased masks and stuff. Iwas tempted, very tempted, afterall a good fitting mask CAN make the difference between a frustrating dive and a perfect dive, but to get a good one you do have to spend around $100, which I really can't afford and plus, I can't be arsed carring snorkel gear around with me, more baggage is the LAST thing I need! Second pool sesh was good, more classroom then that was it!
A super-early start the next morning with a 6.10am pickup from the hostel, to meet at the dive shop then out to the boat, ScubaPro2. The boat was lovely! A great breakfast was spreadout immediately after we boarded and were shown to our (very comfortable) 2-berth cabins. Intro by the crew and a bit of brek then we were off on the three-hour trip towards the Great Barrier Reef.
Our first dive was at 11am and after assembling our gear, it was time, finally, to jump into the sea. We were all a bit nervous and apprehensive, I mean, what if I didn't LIKE diving in the sea, now I was just embarking on a 3day trip with very little other goal than repeatedly doing so??! There was no need to worry.. after the initally salty-shock (why is it always a shock that the sea is so salty?), we were descending down the anchor line to 12m depth. I had a couple ear probs, and had to hover at depth for a few minutes to clear them, quickly learnt that the way to deal with it is to equalise after every breath, pre-emptive of my ears hurting. the first dive was a "FUN DIVE", we just got to look and see the reef and it was amazing. Having read about it and learnt about it and seen it on films since I was little, to actually get to see it for real was just as good as I was expecting..we had been warned that the colours are not as bright as in the photos, but they are still pretty damn bright... bright yellow angelfish, swirly blue parrotfish, blue christmas-tree-worms, bright red nemo, tiny metallic blue fishes hovering above coral bushes(?). The sea was so WARM, I didn't feel cold atall. Being our first dive, there were the inevitable mishaps, fins going everywhere, stirring up a cloud of sand, a couple of the team getting a bit too buoyant and shooting up to the surface (this happened to me on the second dive! I couldn't figure out why or what or how to stop it, until POP, I had risen from 10m to be out in the sunlight again! Apparently my mistake was in inhaling, inhaling, inhaling with only small exhales.. I think it has to happen to everybody at least once.)
We had another dive later that day and two the following morning that were 'training dives', once we were down there had to kneel in a circle on the sand (so funny with the water moving to and fro, six inexperienced novice divers trying to keep their balance on their knees by means of hand waving in unison, but you can't laugh at the spectacle because smiling causes laughter lines, which let water into your mask!) and do skills such as chucking the regulator away and retreiving it, buoyancy control, emergency ascent with the air turned off and the dreaded filling and clearing of the mask. It's just a horrible thing to have to do in saltwater! First you have to fill your mask with water, then tip it back and blow gently to clear it. It sounds easy but it fraught with difficulties such as seawater up your nose, and even once the mask is empty, my eyes still stung and smarted and wartered from the saltiness, my nose-pocket filled up with seawater which meant that every time I squeezed my nose to equalise, I squirted salty water into my eye.. bad times! Managed to master them all though and it was a great moment on day2,dive4, when we completed the final skill and were certified divers!
The first dive of the second day was our deepest, up to 17m of the maximum allowed 18m for open water divers.. the site was a sandy area then out onto a reef drop-off, a shelf of reef going down to pretty deep, nearly vertical in places, great to dive because of the different life at different depths under the surface, colours gradually fading to mostly blues down at the base. 18m was no probs! It's funny how when you go to 4m in the pool, you can't imagine how it is to be any deeper but when you are three times deeper in a way it is barely noticeably, still plenty of light and with 15m visability can still see a long long way. We saw our first white-tipped reef shark nosing around the sandy bed at the base of this shelf, and a little bit further on our first turtle, grazing on the coral.
So after a total of just 2hours sea-time, we were released to dive without supervision.. a scary moment! It was a very good and strange feeling to be just my dive-buddy Angela, and I, all alone, up to 18m below the surface, in the big blue sea. we survived though! Didn't quite make it back to the boat (navigation not being our strongest point), but we weren't too far off and just snorkelled over to the dive platform to exit. Later on that evening was the Night Dive, preceeded by a highly amusing talk designed to give people the jitters, with info about the "ring of steel" you must form when a shark starts to circle and goes into attack. Apparently it is a legitamite reccomended course of action to lie flat on the sea bed so when the shark goes in for the bite he gets just a mouthful of metal cylinder instead of diverguts. Some poeple were scared, but I was so so excited! Out on the dive deck, kitting up, the crew were chucking bits of bread off the back of the boat to attract the big fish and sharks. Mask, fins, check and in! We had a torch each, which cast a beam in the water but other than that, all around was inky-black.. as we clung to the anchor rope, waiting for everyone to get in the water, looking down saw reef sharks circling below! The dive was great, we saw a HUGE bumphead parrotfish and a lionfish in a cave and some other stuff, following the instructor. Very disorientating not being able to see, I had a few problems when my ears started really hurting but becasue I couldn't see, didn't know if it was due to going deeper or shallower, so didn't know whether to rise or sink to make them better, got a bit freaked out and scared of going the wrong way and making them worse. Also, on the ascent started feeling really lightheaded and the world receeding like I was going to pass out (caused again, I think, by ascending too fast, not being able to see how fast I was going up) so THAT really freaked me out, and I eventally got out of the water, a bit shaking and spun-out. was good to experience the night diving though! Think it would be much better just me and a buddy, not part of a train of ten divers, which means that anything worth seeing hears you coming a mile off and is well away by the time you get to where it was.
The next morning was our earliest start, 6am Dawn Dive. Angela and I did fantastically, our navigation was perfect, and it was just amazing. Dawn is "rush hour on the reef".. we saw multiple reef-sharks, still out from the night, four or five turtles (hawksbills) grazing and swimming and gliding in the currents and literally hundreds of thousands of different fish. Bumpheaded parrotfish were stacked up to make a wall in the water, 30 or so of them, hovering mid-water, apparently to appear larger to predators. An awesome sight. There is just so much to see on the reef, easy to belive there are things hiding in amongst the corals that have never been seen or identified by humans. All the while we were swimming around the sun was rising slowly and we surfaced into bright morning sunlight.
Six dives down now and my ears were giving me quite a bit of pain, so I missed the second dive that day, instead sleeping for an hour in my bunk.. diving really takes it out of you! It's not a particularly energetic sport, you move very slowly and take your time and stuff, but it is exhausting to do multiple dives.. I needed that rest, I felt much better and was ready and raring to go for our final dive of the trip. We had no suggested route to follow, could go where we wanted and just explore the reef, which Angela and I did, we meandered around, saw nemos and turtles and fishes and corals and swam around stacks and along troughs and through tunnels and we both just looked and looked and looked and tried to take in as much as possible. I felt as if I was drinking in the reef with my eyes, trying to store it away in my brain to take sips of later, once back on land. It was slightly twinged with sadness that this was our last GBR dive, and our last dive as buddies.. after 10sessions, you really get to know someone, we both knew how the other swam, their "diving style" if you like, and knew what each other was about to signal before they even did the hand movement, it makes diving a lot easier when you know your buddy so well.
Then it was over and the boat back to Cairns.
Discussing it in the van on the way back, our whole group were in agreement that this has been the BEST think we have done on our trips. It was just brilliant, we had a really good group and the diving was just out of this world. Good, also, that after the training we had the opportunity to do four further dives, just with a buddy, to gain confidence to the point where I feel comfortable diving without an instructor now, which is what you want.
And (after being worried that I wouldn't), I LOVE diving. I can't wait to do some more, and all over Australia.