Mike's Dive Diaries
Day 1: We were picked up at 8 and went to the CDC (Cairns Dive Centre, NOT the Centre for Disease Control) shop to have our picture taken and fill out a bunch of forms. There were 9 of us on our course, 3 Germans (Jacob, Paul and Marisa), 2 French (Adrian and Guilan), 2 Swedish (Magdalina and Peter) and 1 guy from Denmark (Oli), so a very European group.
After all the forms were signed we headed over to the class room where we talked through the basics of diving, had a doctors exam, watched a couple of DVDs and discussed the exam which we would be taking the next day. After lunch we took a swimming test in the pool next to the classroom. We had to swim 200m, but was cut short as Glenn (our instructor nicknamed "The General" because of his style of teaching....tough love is probably a nice way of putting it) was convinced we were strong swimmers, we then had to tread water for 10 minutes which was harder, but still no real issue.
After Glenn had given the ok that we were confident in the water we finally got to test some gear. First came snorkelling (Glenn hates snorkelling, simply because "snorkelling sucks"...apparently) we learnt techniques for equalising your ears, clearing the mask and breathing through the snorkel. Swiftly we moved onto the scuba gear, we learnt how check and put on the gear in order, check air pressure, put on weight belts, BC's (stands for Buoyancy Control - its the vest we wear with the air cylinder attached), then perform our "buddy checks" (Bangkok Women Are Really Fellas - BC, Weight belt, Air, Releases/straps, Final check - is the cylinder secure?), finally we sized up fins and masks and headed into the water. We performed basic skills in the shallow end of the pool. We knelt down and learnt what to do if we lost our mask, if we lost our regulator (mouth piece) and 2 ways to retrieve it, along with how to help a struggling buddy. 1 way Glenn called the porno Mickey Mouse, where one person lays out flat in the water, the other person puts the struggling divers fins face up on their shoulders and swims, pushing them along. According to Glenn from behind this looks like a Micky Mouse porno. By the end of the day I was itching to have a swim around, but no such luck. The plus side was Glenn had gotten through more than he planned to with us, so tomorrow we would have more time to play around.
In the evening we had homework to do and had to revise. We had nothing planned for the evening (with drinks planned for tomorrow evening) so I finished the homework and revised till about midnight. Long day.
Day 2: Picked up at 8 again. We started the day in the classroom watching more videos whilst Glenn runs around sorting out the exam. It's doesn't get off to a flying day as Oli oversees that I have finished the homework and is happy to point it out, Glenn is shocked and says I'm only the 16th person in over 1500 groups to finish all the work in one day....great....I look like a massive keener.
The exam was open book and multiple choice, so not too taxing, although reasonable lengthy. Lunch then followed.
After lunch we got to go into the pool again, we got straight into scuba gear with any mistake getting into everything incurring Glenn shouting at you...everyone made a lot of mistakes. In the pool we had a repeat of the drills we did yesterday plus a couple more (what happens if your buddy runs out of air, plus some underwater sign language). The last part of the day we spent swimming around the bottom of the deep end and finding how to use our buoyancy correctly. I managed to find it and spent 5 or so minutes sitting upright, cross-legged, floating in the middle of the pool meditating in weightlessness. It was too crowded to swim in the small pool anyway.
After the day ended most of us (including Glenn) went out for drinks. He told us we all passed the tests and were "ready" (I didn't exactly feel it) to jump into the ocean in the morning. When people said they had to go home to finish their homework, Glenn waved his hands in dismissal and said "don't worry, just copy Mikes. As long as I have it before we get on the boat tomorrow" and handed my sheet round. Only Oli refused saying "that's cheating".
Day 3: Onto the live aboard boat today. Alicia and I got up at the same time (about 6am) as she was heading on her day trip. Neither of us slept brilliantly. I was picked up around 6:30, we collected everyone and headed to dock to meet the day boat.
The day boat was a relatively small catamaran called "Reefkist" that's mainly full of people out for day trips. The weather is overcast and a bit windy (not the best intro to the reef) but it was making a few people feel very sick. A few day trippers turned green but unfortunately so did Marisa who was sick in the toilet. After a quick stop to drop people off at Fitzroy Island we had a 2 hour journey out to our live aboard ship "The Kangeroo Explorer", a much larger catamaran which thankfully made it a lot more stable. We arrive around 11:30am where we were given some ground rules, a quick tour then down to the large common area for a buffet style lunch of pasta. I don't eat too much though because at 12:55 was our first dive. After lunch we were assigned our rooms, some were lucky and got a private room, I was in a dorm with Adrian, Guilan and Jacob, which was still good fun.
For the dive Glenn would have had to take us in two groups because the max he could take per dive was 8, but Marisa was still ill so she couldn't go. I buddy up with Adrian. We chose our wetsuit size (in the pool we only had swim shorts), fins and mask. Trying to perform our checks on the dive deck at our station (mine was #26) was interesting, everyone was a little apprehensive about getting into the water for the first time with a lot to remember. Needless to say Glenn did a lot more shouting. We checkout of the boat by giving the amount of air we go in with, the time and our buddy then we queue up to jump in.
Dive 1 (Moore Reef) - once in the water we signal the boat we are ok, wait for everyone to jump in and instruction from Glenn. The water is fairly warm and the sun has come out, making the water look much more inviting, although there is still a slight chop as we swim to the back of the boat using a rope.
Once at the back we all descended slowly, one at a time, down the rope which led to the bottom. We could just about see the bottom as soon as you put your head in the water which is a relief (visibility is 12metres), at the bottom we didn't perform any skills, it was just a case of trying to get your buoyancy correct, constantly locating your buddy, avoiding other people in the group and trying to enjoy ourselves.
It was much nicer than the Whitsundays, the coral and fish were plentiful (although not the vibrant colours of "Finding Nemo" that some people expected), the highlight was seeing a Giant Clam that had purple with green spotted flesh inside, Glenn invited us to touch the flesh one at a time as doing so would cause it to close suddenly, then immediately open slowly. Endless fun. We were under strict instructions though that we couldn't touch anything unless Glenn touched it first. Otherwise you incur the wrath of Glenn and his Vegemite punishment (basically, if you mess up he threatens to put the disgusting tasting "Vegemite" in your regulator so that you have to breathe it in for the next couple of dives).
The first person to reach 70 psi of air had to signal Glenn and then we had to all slowly ascend and head back to the boat. In Queensland you have to be back at the boat with a minimum of 50psi, normally it's 30psi though.
Site name - West Timor
Location - Moore Reef
Vis - 12m
Depth - 11.4m
Total time - 29 min
Parrot fish (various)
Once on board we checked in, turned off our air, strapped everything up, changed and dried off. Buzzed, everyone discussing the dive, comparing notes on what they saw, had trouble with etc. We all relaxed on the front of the boat, sunbathed and drip dried in the sun. After a while the boat slowly made it's way to another dive site on the same reef (the reefs are big, and there can be many dive sites on the one reef).
Dive 2 (Moore Reef) - this was our first dive were we had to perform the skills we learnt in the pool. Marisa was better so we had two groups and I was in the first group to go in. We got ready and jumped in at 15:40 although the wind had got up and the sun retreated behind the clouds so the water was still warm but it didn't look that inviting to jump in. There are sharks in there you know!?
We free decend this time which means just swimming under the now moored boat. As we went deeper it's noticeably murkier, but still the fish are swimming round us in abundance and there is coral everywhere.
After a little bit of swimming around Glenn finds us a patch of sand to kneel down on to perform our skills. The sand was completely clear apart from a big spiky Sea Cucumber which looks like it should hurt if touched, but Glenn picks it up and passes it round for us to touch and play with, it's a rubbery or hard foam texture. That was pretty interesting. Then it was on to the skills, all our mask skills and regulator skills as well as sharing air on the ascent, I was the donor.
Site name - East Timor
Location - Moore Reef
Vis - 8m
Depth - 9.8m
Total time - 24 min
Great Barrier Reef Clown Fish (like a bigger, redder Nemo)
Once back on the boat, that was us done for the day dive-wise. We tuck into another big buffet dinner, discussed the day with other passengers, had a briefing from the videographer who will be filming some dives the next day and head back to our room for some rum and coke I snuck onboard. Not a late night though, everyone was knackered and people started to head off earlier, tomorrow is an earlier start.
Day 4: 5:30 wake up call today. Getting up is difficult but we knew that we only have 20 minutes or so before we jump in the water. On the way out of the room I remember that the videographer (Craig - who was ALWAYS full of energy, even at 5am) was waiting at the bottom of the stairs filming us, I put on my best "I'm awake" face and headed down the stairs. I ate a banana as the rest of the people head down, apart from Marisa, who Glenn and Craig had to check on.
Craig films us getting ready for the dive, putting on our wetsuits, heading down the stairs, putting on our gear etc. I forgot to put on my weight belt (the first thing you should put on), Craig took great pleasure in telling me this on camera - in my defence, it was 5 in the morning!
We jumped in the water at 5:55am whilst being filmed by Craig, Glenn leads the way with "The Korean" which is in homage to all the Korean divers they have on board (none when we were there though), Glenn awkwardly jumped in sideways whilst screaming through his regulator. I try the "James Bond" entry out for the first time (a forward roll off the boat) with some success. Craig doesn't join us on this dive.
The water was choppy and still a little gloomy, apparently the visibility is excellent, but the low light makes it hard to appreciate. The purpose of this dive was go to deeper (18m is the maximum) and go over some of the skills one more time to make sure Glenn is happy before the final dive. The definate highlight of this trip was seeing "Wally"! Wally was a humongous Bump Headed Maori Wrasse that is extremely tame, he would swim eye-to-eye with me only a foot or so away, swim around, above, follow me and the group. It was amazing. We would later find out that people regularly touch, ride and even kiss Wally, but Glenn didn't like him because Wally once bite him. Consequently, Glenn completely ignored him on the dive and if Glenn doesn't touch it.....
Site name - East Timor
Location - Moore Reef
Vis - 20m
Depth - 17.9m
Total time - 24 min
We checked onto the boat as the other group dived in, time to have breakfast a sort of strange half-an-English breakfast and other bits and bobs (hash brown, egg, beans, fruit, toast). Again we discussed our dive and my close call at going to 17.9 metres, it turns out my buddy, Marisa had gone to 18.1, we all feared a Vegemite punishment was heading her way.
Once everyone was back on board (unfortunately the other team didn't meet Wally) the boat started up and we were excitedly told by Craig that we were heading to his (and Glenn's) favourite dive spot "Fish Bowl", the whole trip he would literally run from place to place singing "fish bowwwwl, fish bowl" repeatedly. Unfortunately the weather was still choppy and the trip had made Marisa feel ill again. Meaning when we stopped she wouldn't dive with us. Some feared of the Vegemite punishment might have something to do with it, but Glenn didn't know and this was the dive that was being filmed. It was a shame.
After only 2 hours on the surface we were ready to jump in again, I had the dubious honor of being Glenns buddy. For this dive Craig (a Brit himself) had asked me repeatedly the day before to wear my Bristol Rugby top. I was a little worried it'd damaged it, but assured it wouldn't, I agreed.
Dive 3 (Briggs Reef) - we started descending at a dive site called "360" and then swam over to Fish Bowl, the water was choppy but the visibility was excellent (it was like being in one huge fish bowl). Followed by Craig we swam along the bottom, along the way we saw 4 sea turtles(!), truley amazing, I even got to stroke one on the back. They really didn't care that we were around and I tried to swim along side one, but I was hurried in a different direction by Glenn.
We headed to another sandy patch and performed our skills for the camera, this time with a nice twist. We would take off our mask, put sunglasses on, then take our regulator out and pretend to drink a beer. The first person to go was Maggie, she did it all fine apart from forgetting to take the glasses off, me and Peter were laughing between ourselves (off camera), Peter goes next and does exactly the same thing with the glasses! Again, I was laughing off camera. My turn and the only thing going through my mind "remember to take the sunglasses off", luckily I did, much to the disappointment of Craig and Glenn. After that's done Glenn presents us with some dummy cards and that's it, at the end of the dive we are certified divers. The final piece for the camera was to hold up a sign we made yesterday. After a reasonably amount of time trying to come up with something pithy and witty (and that'd fit onto the board) I lumped with "I found Nemo" on one side then turn it over and it'd say "but also Jaws", then Craig would pretend I'm getting attacked by a toy shark. The joke fell flat though as on the swim there, all the words washed away. Oh well.
On the way back we got to see a proper Nemo, correctly called a Clown Anemonefish (aNEMOnefish - see what they did there?) floating in and out of it's anemone home, they are tiny!
When we reached the surface we were a long way from the boat (due to swimming to the other reef) so they had to send out a tender boat to pick us up, getting in with a bunch of scuba gear on wasn't very cerimonious though.
Site name - 360
Location - Briggs Reef
Vis - 20m
Depth - 14m
Total time - 29 min
3 green turtle
1 hawksbill turtle
There was a while to the next dive, it gave us all a chance to relax on deck, we had another excellent lunch of salad, fruit and toasted sandwiches. We sat in the common area and filled out our dive logs and Craig had hurriedly put the videos of us getting certified together for us to watch. We all have a good laugh at each others. The DVD's were expensive but I arrange that if I buy one I could get a camera to take down on the next 4 dives.
A few of us even got to go snorkelling after lunch but we only got 20 minutes out there before the boat was scheduled to move. Breathing through the snorkel felt odd now compared to how natural the breathing with a regulator was. But the snorkelling itself was excellent, with us diving underwater to get closer to the multitude of fish and coral.
The next dive was our first dive without Glenn, we had to go through all our checks and navigation by ourselves. The boat had moved to be directly over Fish Bowl, much to Craig's excitement ("Fish bowwwwl, fish bowl").
We got a briefing of the underwater area and what we could expect to see, navigation points etc. Marisa is a couple of dives behind, so hasn't passed, I buddy up with another Swedish guy called Emanuel.
Dive 5: (Briggs Reef): The weather was sunny again, warm and with only a little chop, we were all looking forward to getting into the water. I was hoping to swim with a turtle now we could go where we wanted.
In the water, it took some concentration to balance everything correctly, keeping an eye on air, your depth (can't go below your last dive), locating the boat, and an unfamiliar buddy when everyone looks the same underwater all whilst trying to relax and enjoy yourself.
The relaxation came when I spotted a turtle, I got my picture taken next to it and swam slowly along side as it glided through the water. It was a really tranquil moment, just swimming in complete silence, slowly and effortlessly along with this turtle that almost seemed to be flying slowly through the water.
The rest of the dive from then on in was a bonus. The coral and fish around Fish Bowl was the best on the entire trip and as we headed back to towards the boat we spotted more divers from our boat and we joined forces. I felt something sharp pinch my leg, I jerked round and there was the cook from the boat looking confused and gesturing that he only tapped me on the shoulder, I shook my head and point at my leg, at that moment we saw a little white fish fly at me and bite my leg. I didn't hang around and even then it was zooming towards my face and body but turning round at the last minute. I would later find out there are called "White Damsel Fish" and they are little gits! They attack anything that comes close to them, Glenn's even witnessed one fighting off a shark. At least they aren't bigger, they'd be a real menace.
Site name - 360
Location - Fish Bowl
Vis - 15m
Depth - 10.9
Total time - 31 min
Bitten by a white damsel fish (twice)
Gold spotted Travally
Many Spotted Sweetlips
False-eye Toby fish
On the surface we all compared notes of the last dive with each other, everyone had a different experience, some people even saw a shark swimming under the boat as they were resurfacing.
Time for a spot of dinner, I also had a quick shower, but unfortunately it was the wrong time as I had completely forgotten that it was the night dive that evening.
I really did not want to do the night dive. One or two people had already chickened out and I was considering joining them. The pre brief talk didn't calm any on our nerves either. The girl leading the talk and night dive had never done so before and imparted gems of wisdom like "if you see green dots, that's sharks eyes. They are attracted to the lights". Brilliant.
When it came time to decide I just sucked it up and put my hand up to go. We changed into our still wet wetsuits, passed around torches and dove into the black water.
Dive 6 / night dive 1 (360): Everyone's first reaction when bobbing on the surface waiting for other people to jump in was to put their face in the water and shine their torch all around.
Underwater at night was a very strange thing. In one direction you could see a green glow in the water from the boat, the other way you couldn't see anything without your torch.
Immediately we had some big, toothy red fish swimming round us. They would sometimes worry me because I would find them swimming only a few feet directly below my stomach or would shoot past me almost brushing my shoulder. What they were doing though was very clever, they would wait for our lights to shine on a fish then they would zoom out to try and eat it.
I saw a sleeping turtle hidden under some coral, although when I tried to signal to the others (you do this by shining your flash light in front of them and waving it) I couldn't because my torch was rapidly dimming. Eventually my torch became completely useless and when I wanted to get someone's attention to look at something else and there was no light, the guide heard me underwater swearing at the useless torch and luckily she had a replacement.
At a couple of points she told us all to turn off our torch which I didn't think could be a good idea. But we did, when we turned them all back on a large school of fish had appeared in front of us, that was a nice touch.
Site name - 360
Location - Fish Bowl
Vis - 20m with a (good) torch
Depth - 10m
Total time - 28 min
Red Wrasse hunting smaller fish in our lights
Sleeping parrotfish (they cover themselves in a mucus membrane to hide their heart beat from predators)
Bright blue/purple starfish
Urchin (small black body, long black needles)
We all got out of the water at 8pm in one piece and with all limbs attached. Night diving was interesting, but I'll stick to the daytime I think.
The rest of the evening we spent drinking the rest of my smuggled booze and I taught them all the lighter game (card game learnt in Ecuador), that turns way to competitive for many of us. Maggie is fighting for the lighter and she has long nails, Guilan thinks the pain is worth it and the two were constantly fighting for it. Sometimes they'd even wrestle each other off their chairs, one particular incident when they had wrestled their way under the table but didn't realise the lighter had come loose and Jacob casually bent down to his feet and picked up the lighter, letting them continue to fight for a little longer until they realised.
Day 5: Last day on the boat today, but it doesn't stop the early mornings. The first dive was at 6am again and I am buddied with Paul.
Dive 7 (Briggs Reef): Although it was early the sun was coming up and there aren't any clouds. After a quick recap briefing on our navigation we headed into the water, the main aim of our first dive today was to get as deep as we can, as we had to get shallower and shallower with our next dives. We stuck with the group for a while, but when we reach a bommy (underwater hill of coral) we headed off in a different direction to the others, a quick glance at my dive computer tells me I'm at 17.9m, I quickly try to head straight up a bit but in the process catch my hand on the coral and cut it, observing the cut confirms it's bleeding a reasonable amount. As we head round the bommy I see a shadow on the sea bed. I turn to Paul and make the signal for shark, his eyes widen and I make the signal again and gesture that we should go closer. I pressed my hand as hard as I could against my chest to stop the bleeding. Turns out it was a white tip reef shark chilling out on the sand. I managed to swim in closer to get some pictures before it swam off. Excited that I have finally seen a shark we swim off, as we are about to leave the area I look back and see another type of shark swimming around. I was trying to get Paul's attention but he is too far away, by luck he looked back to check where I was and I gestured there is another shark. He couldn't believe it. We headed back again to see a small Epaulette shark who had found something under a rock and was trying furiously to get at it. Whilst it was distracted I pressed my hand against my chest and got as close as I dared for a picture. We observed it for a bit, but we were a long way from the boat, so we started to head back, on the way I saw a juvenile Lion Fish, it was on my list of things I really wanted to see whilst diving (I only missed out on seeing a Manta Ray) they are really poisonous however, so we kept our distance. I tried briefly to get close for a better picture, but my buoyancy wasn't right and I was sinking, I decided it was not worth the risk.
We headed back to the boat with enough oxygen for more time underwater, but Paul was worried about the strong currents. I am happy to go in, doubt we can top that, unbelievable dive.
Site name - 360
Location - Fish Bowl
Vis - 20m
Depth - 17.9m
Total time - 23 min
White tip reef shark
Juvenile Lion Fish
Back on board we heard that everyone else had more of a standard dive and were amazed to hear what we saw. It was just time for breakfast and to wipe my hand in disinfectant. They tried to cram a lot of dives into today to give us the most out of it.
The next dive was at 8:40am and we have strict instructions not to got below our previous depth, not a problem for me as I had gone to 17.9 out of 18m anyway. Also the current was strong so we had to surface in front of boat.
Dive 8 (Moore Reef):
I was buddies with Guilan for this dive, we all made sure about our depth, so we immediately went down to 15m and started to swim along at that depth using the floor as guidance, about 5 minutes later I look at the dive computer 20.6 metres! I signal immediately for Guilan to check his dive computer and we headed up towards a more respectable depth, although the damage is already done. We headed round a couple of bommies and saw a stingray camouflaged in the sand. We got a little closer and it swam up out of the sand and away. We spot the giant clam from our first dive and I was just above Guilan when he signalled there was something cool under a rock he was looking at. Without thinking I swam down to where he was only to be met with a splitting pain in my head. I shouted underwater cupping my ears and closing my eyes to try to block the pain. I tried to swim straight up but Guilan keeps calling me lower so we can perform our safety stop. I try but I can't help it, I need to get out of the water, the pain although not as intense, isn't going away.
Site name - East Timor
Location - Moore Reef
Vis - 15m
Depth - 20.6m
Total time - 27 min
Going over 20 metres
When we do get out of the water the pain subsides quickly but I still had a cracking headache. I told the guides on deck and they say that it isn't anything to worry about. In fact they all seemed to focus on the fact we went too deep and were determined to get across to Glenn that it wasn't their fault, all we heard was "YOU need to tell Glenn, and you need to tell him that I told you not to go too deep", surprisingly the other guys (me, Guilan and Jacob) seemed just as worried about telling him, they joked that I'd have to tell him and they'd hide behind me and just pop out briefly to say "me too". We found Glenn on deck and I explained we went too deep. The others in the group laughed and joked "oooh noo Vegemite time" Glenn just points to them and nods - great.
Not long on the surface before the next and last dive at 11:30, I was keen to go because Marisa had just passed her certification and so on our last dive, we could finally go as buddies. My ear was still a little painful, but I got given ear drops by one of the staff that might help.
We suited up, checked our equipment and jumped in. Marisa was excited about her first dive with no guide, but as soon as I got under water I felt that same splitting pain in my ears, I surfaced then tried 1 last time with trying to equalise all the time, but no joy. I had to head back to the boat and quickly try to get someone else to dive in with Marisa. My dive computer said I was at a max depth of 4.3 metres and my total dive time was 1 minute. My head was killing and I missed the last dive. Gutted.
I caught up with my dive log and grabbed some lunch as the others come back from their dive in dribs and drabs. Glenn was very sympathetic when he returned and was told by the staff what happened, he just walked through the canteen and said "You didn't equalise, now you've probably bruised your eardrums" before walking out the other side.
Later he returned, a big pot of Vegemite in hand. He picked up a spoon and dished out a small bit for Marisa (0.1m over on her second dive). Then half spoons for Guillin and Jacob and a full spoon for me (my prize for going deepest). The looks on all 3 of the victims faces that had preceded me had given me some indication that it'd be nasty and yep, sure enough, I pulled the same face as all the rest. The taste of vegemite had a way of staying with us for hours after as well. T'was grim.
I did manage to get back out in the water though 1 last time for a second snorkel.
The snorkelling was again excellent, because of the strong current Adrian and I swam past the boat and beyond the bommy and then just floated back using the current. The bommy reached almost to the surface which meant we couldn't swim anyway, but because it was so close and it was sunny it showed the colours of the coral much more than when you dive under. The fish also were right in front of your mask. At some points we had to steer ourselves away because the coral was so close to the surface we couldn't float over it and so we had to navigate the bommy like it was a forest. Although there wasn't anything big or individually awesome, the concentration of the fish, the colour of the coral and the clarity of the water made it fantastic to be out in. The hour we were out there was no where near enough. Glenn thinks snorkelling sucks, Adrian and I both disagree with that whole heartedly.
Snorkelling was a nice way to end it, rather than the disappointment of the last dive.
On board some of us moved our stuff from Kangaroo Explorer to Reefkist and made our way back to land, whilst others were staying another day on the boat.
Back on shore, we all headed back to the CDC shop to pick up our cards then back to the hostel. I was looking forward meeting back up with Alicia and meeting the guys for a drink the next night.
Amazing couple of days.