The Rum Runner

Trip Start May 31, 2012
Trip End Aug 08, 2013

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The Rum Runner

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

We headed into Cairns early on Tuesday morning, the 16th of October, to get to the Rum Runner for 7 am. We had stayed the night before in Palm Cove, about a half hour drive and 8 roundabouts away from Cairns. Our planned parking lot when we arrived in Cairns was full, but there was another lot across the street for $3. We walked to the wharf and quickly realized we were in the wrong place. The Marlin Marina (not on google maps or a website) was quite a bit further down the shoreline and we had to walk quickly to get there for the 7:30 am departure. Dave called ahead to let them know that we'd be late.

We finally arrived at the marina and were directed to our boat. "The one that looks like it's about to sink", said the competition, leading us down the E finger wharf. It turned out to not be sinking and was actually quite seaworthy. The guys on the Rum Runner quickly got us set up with snorkel gear, a room, and a cubby hole and had us sign all the required paper work. As the boat pulled out, the safety briefing, introductions and snorkeling/diving instructions began. The sun was hot, the boat was a rockin' and the sea was rough. With all of the morning activity we had yet to put on sun screen, a hat or have breakfast. So the first chance we had, we headed down to our bunks (behind the coffin) to sort ourselves out. I had filled a container with some breakfast in the van as we parked, and it wouldn't keep long - it had to be eaten. So, as we slathered ourselves with sunscreen and grabbed bites of warm yogurt/granola, the sea began to churn our stomachs. It was a rush to the deck to fix our eyes on the skyline before we fed the fishes our breakfast! We both looked pretty green but managed to keep everything down, and felt ourselves again before too long.

The crew was composed of skipper Jason - one of the owners who had the demeanour of someone who has been in the business too long. While he was not pleasant, he was safe and knowledgeable of the good areas to dive/snorkel. I assume he was an alcoholic, but he didn't drink until the end of the day when the boat was moored.

The dive instructor was Masanori, he was professional and experienced. Things were all business for him, but rightfully so as he did a lot of work over the 2 days we were on the boat.

The dive master, Mike, was a Motley Crue fan from Tennessee who liked Dave (with his Nikki Sixx tattoo). Mike's iPod provided the soundtrack to our trip, so we listened to a lot of Pearl Jam, Warrant, and even some Motley Crue on our way to the Great Barrier Reef. He was a super friendly guy, and was a good contrast to Jason. He had the customer service flair that they pride themselves on in the USA. He liked pretty girls and partying, both of which he did a lot of. While he was light-hearted, he did admit that the downside to his life was that he didn't have any friends that stuck around for more than a couple of days.

There were two dive masters-in-training on the boat, Julia and Bart, from Germany and Holland respectively. The rest of the guests on the boat were young, single backpackers, mostly European. Everyone seemed to get on alright. Most people were snorkelers doing an intro dive like us, although there was one certified diver from Utah and 2 girls from Sweden getting their open water certification.

It was nearly lunch when we made our first stop on the reef. Dave and I donned our wetsuits, fins and masks and jumped in. The water was a pleasant 26-27 degrees, but the suits did triple duty of protecting us from stingers, the sun and the "cold". I put mine on backwards and everyone let me know - it still worked though, it wasn't worth the effort to take it off and put it back on again. Dave had never snorkelled before and it took him a few swims to get used to the breathing and enjoy the reef. However, once he got the hang of it he was like a fish, or perhaps, more specifically, the creature from the black lagoon.  By leaving his arms at his sides and rolling his shoulders and hips as he kicked, thus emulating the famous monster, he really shot ahead and I had no hope in keeping up.

The different types of coral and fish that we saw snorkeling were fascinating.  The sea turtles were a big hit, and only one, harmless, 2m long white-tipped reef shark was spotted by a French girl on our boat.  We didn't rush out and get an underwater camera for our trip, but Dave has found some pics on the web that give you a good idea of the things we saw.  Part of the advantage to snorkeling over diving is that there is more light near the surface and all the colours of the reef are much more vibrant than a few meters down. We also spotted some dolphins racing beside the boat at one point!

Included in our trip was an introductory dive, in which we went down with an instructor and learned the basic diving techniques like how to equalize the pressure in your ears, how to empty your mask, etc.  I was pretty claustrophobic on my first attempt, and the second, but the third time I was able to breathe calmly with the help of Masa, the dive instructor.  It was an odd feeling to have my lungs squeezed as I descended.  Dave did well breathing through the scuba gear straight off but wasn't able to go too far down because his ears wouldn't equalize.  In the end he had to return to the boat while I went around the reef, where I saw some big ugly fish.  It was good to try diving, but I think we'll stick to snorkeling.

We also snorkeled up to a really scary bird island called Michaelmas Cay.  There are 10,000 birds on a very tiny island and some of them start swooping at you on the approach.  It smell like bird shit and was extremely cacophonous.  It is also a turtle sanctuary, where hundreds of turtles lay their eggs.  The area that you are allowed to walk is about 50 m wide and 20 m deep. The cost of straying outside the fence is $10000, to protect the birds, turtles and eggs from the tourists.  Needless to say, we spent very little time there given my fear of birds flying around my head.

By the time the Rum Runner left the reef we had been there for over 24 hours.  We went snorkeling 6 times, for 30 minutes or so each time.  We could have gone longer but 3 hours of swimming is respectable in my books.  We were feeling like real sailors by the time we got back to shore.  The sun and salty sea had slowly saturated our senses.  Suffering succotash.

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