Scuba time

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Sunday, June 9, 2013

It seems that I'm one of the few fish swimming downstream by deciding to start my East Coast tour from Cairns as most people end their jaunt here having started in Sydney and worked their way up.   It’s all the same I guess but everyone else looks just that more tanned and has clearly lived in nothing else buy togs, thongs (the ones for your feet) and board shorts.  After checking in with the Pro-Dive shop to confirm details for my five day open water scuba diving course to start the next day, I set off to check out the waterfront and then into town.  Despite Cairns being on the water there is no real beach but instead an amazing (4800 sq metres) saltwater lagoon surrounded by plenty of parkland and a boardwalk connecting it all together by a boardwalk promenade that stretches for 3kms.  This is clearly were the backpackers hang out during the day taking advantage of the free gas barbeque facilities to cook up some lunch, when not out on a scuba, snorkel or other kind of excursion.  The centre of town was a collection of bars, restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops and souvenir shops all giving it that classic resort town feeling.  I can see why some many of those on working visas want to get a job here as it is  still has that beach town feeling but with a big city attitude.  The next morning I was picked up along with two other Canadians from the hostel and driven to the Pro-Dive training centre to join  five others (three of them also Canadian) in the English class-room were we would spend half of the next two days learning theory and the other half in the pool putting it to practice with our charming instructor Nick.  There was also the same class being run in German and the two classes would join in going out on the live aboard for three days, with others who signed up for the three day diving trip as certified divers or just wanting to snorkel.  Despite being handed a handbook the day before and being encouraged to read it (I broke the seal but that's about it), most of our classroom time was watching videos, further discussion about some things in the video and then testing our knowledge with mini quizzes that we actually could answer while watching the video.  At first I thought this method of teaching was a bit carefree but my mind was at ease when we got into the pool the first afternoon and put everything in practice.  Having to do a fitness swim with mask, snorkel and fins and 10 minutes treading water I was immediately taken back to my lifesaving training days.  Thankfully I wouldn’t have to lug any large bodies out of the pool and give them mouth-to-mouth.    After that we practiced putting together and taking apart our gear and after a few times of that we donned everything on and went into the shallow end of the pool where we practiced simple things like deflating our BCD and descending under water(barely I know being the shallow end), breathing underwater with the regulator as a humans natural reaction is to hold your breath which is the worst thing you can do when scubing, removing water from our masks and taking our regulators in and out of our mouth.  Then it was time to go in deep end (4m) and do it all again.  Strangely it felt more comfortable in the deep end then in the shallow end as I always had the tendency of wanting to stand up in the shallow end.  With the pool exercise over we had to dissemble our gear, rinse and put it all away.  The next morning we were in the pool first and basically were on our own to get our gear and put everything together.  This was after a short talk about the different kinds of masks and snorkels available in which we would be able to try out during our morning pool session.  Skipping the shallow end we went straight into the deep end, to practice the art of hovering, being neutral buoyant in the water which is not as easy as it sounds, more mask and regulatory exercises, practicing a controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA) in case we find ourselves in a situation where we have run out of air, towing a tired diver removing, replacing our weights and removing and replacing the scuba.  Our reward at the end of our pool session was of course taking our gear apart, rinsing and putting it away.  For lunch we all went to a burger joint in town and then visiting the dive shop afterward for the obligatory sales pitch about buying gear.  I got sold hook line and sinker on a mask and snorkel as they would be easy to pack and I would definitely use them again.  We also got all our dive gear together for our next three days on the live aboard.  After that it was back to the class room for our final video and quiz and then the final big exam which was "easy as".  That evening a few of us went to a two hour talk called Reef Teach ( ) that we had heard about on our first day of the dive course.  It was given by a very animated and passionate guy named Gareth and was actually very informative with the first hour being learning all about the Great Barrier Reef that is 2600kms long with 3500 individual reefs, the different types of coral and that it’s actually an animal not a plant and why they seem like they are various colours.  The second half was all about the different types of fish, turtles, sharks and whales we might see, and finally learning about the life of a sea cucumber and now, whenever I’m having a bad day I will always be thankful that I’m not a sea cucumber.  It was a really informative and fun two hours and got me all excited for get out on the reef the next day.   Getting picked up yet again we stopped in first at the dive shop to check in and then were whisked off to the marina to get on our boat and home for the next three days.  After boarding we were each assigned a roll call number that we had to say each time roll call was done and would be done twice by two different crew members each time the boat moved locations.  They also had a log sheet detailing the time we went in the water, time back out and our depth and we had to sign in every time we got back on the boat.  The true story depicted in the movie “Open Water” I’m sure had a lot to do with what might seem like excessive security; comforting though all the same.   It was a three hour ride to the outer reef and we had been warned on numerous occasions the day before and minutes before that it was going to a rough ride and urged us to be preventive in taking seasickness medication.   Although I’ve never been seasick to date, I took their word for it and took one before even getting picked up but decided to take another once onboard.  Even with that I was pretty nausea and out in the back of the boat to keep that fresh air coming and tried to keep my eyes on the horizon and was still praying that it would be over soon.  As we were approaching our first mooring spot called Millns Reef, we were all summoned to get our gear on, which we had set up just prior to heading out and we were ready to go on our first dive in the ocean.  Scared and excited at the same time, I jumped in and made my way to mooring rope and waited for the rest of group and Nick and together we made our descent under the water to a depth of about 9m.  As this was our first open water dive it was all about completing a subset of the exercise we did in the pool.  After they were done we had a little bit of a tour around the reefs and to be honest I was so focused making sure I was breathing properly, trying to stay neutral and keeping track of my dive partner I didn’t really take much in of what I was seeing. And before we knew it Nick was signaling for us to ascend and up we popped to the surface near the back of the boat and climbed back aboard.  We had been down for 37 minutes but honestly felt more like 10 to me.  Taking our gear apart, drying off, having Nick walk through putting our first entry in our log books and lunch passed the time for us to do it all over again.  Second dive was very similar to the first with more drills to do including the dreaded CESA and the tired diver tow. We were pretty much at the same depth and down for the same amount of time and this time it felt like I had been down for the amount of time.  Again once out of the boat and signed in we had to take apart our gear before calling it a day.  Very shortly after we were done the second time we went through double roll call and then we were off to move to a different part of the reef called Flynn Reef.  Here we had a chance to go snorkelling while other certified divers had an opportunity to do another dive. In the evening while half the boat was out for a night dive, I helped the crew decorate the lounge area as it was one of the crew’s birthdays and there was to be a bit of party complete with birthday cake after the night dive was done and the crew was finished for the day.  It was a complete surprise for the birthday girl when she came down from her duties as “night watchman” from the upper deck and she was, you could tell really touched.  It was nice to see the crew be really good friends, I supposed they have to be and they “played hard” that night just as they  “worked hard” all day long each day we were no the boat.  If they weren’t getting us sorted out with the diving, they were cleaning the toilets, dishes and anything else that needed to be cleaned.  I didn’t “play hard” as I was exhausted from the day and wanted to be on top for the four dives we had to do the next day.  Our first two dives were still part of our training so again it was more exercises as practiced in the pool.  In  our last dive while we were doing mask removal and replacement we had a huge Maori wrasse fish swim amongst us and basically hung out with us until we were done and moving on to learn some new skills; navigating with a compass. In this dive we also got to do more of a tour around and really explore what the coral had to offer.  We also had to practice maintaining our depth and were told not to go below 14.5m or else we’d face the “biscuit of dome”.  I thought this task would be easy but without a blink of an eye I some had somehow gone down to 14.8m and so after we grouped in the cabin to fill in our log books, myself and two others had to face the “biscuit of dome” which is a Ritz cracker covered with vegemite, mustard, garlic and any other bad things Nick could think of putting on it.  I did my best to put my poker face on and pretend it was nothing but god it was awful.  And then with a stamp here and signature there we were all certified divers with the best part being we no longer have to take our gear apart after each dive,  and in a couple hours would be out there on our own…Gulp.   At the dive briefing we were given plenty of options but my dive buddy Sarah and I decided to keep it simple and just go out and back using the compass direction given.  With that said after having an amazing time down under and seeing my first green turtle and huge very unattractive yellow moray eel,  I sensed from underwater that although we were following the return compass direction given, things looked unfamiliar and getting deeper.  So I motioned to Sarah that we should go up and sure enough when we reached the surface we were about 50m in front of the boat and heading deeper into the ocean.  We tried to descend again having gotten our bearings but it was proving to be too difficult with the rough waters so agreed to just snorkel back to the boat.  Despite getting a bit of track it was still an awesome first dive.  After dinner we went as a group again led by Nick to do a night dive.  What an amazing experience to be under the water at night and while we had torches and LED lights on the back of our tanks it still felt as if you were travelling into the unknown.  The highlight of this dive was seeing “Brian” a huge turtle, who they reckon is over 100 years old, sleeping in his coral cave at the bottom of the ocean floor.  Doing our safety stop at 5m under the boat it was amazing to see all the fish surrounding the bottom of the boat.  We were hoping we’d see some sharks and I could vaguely see one or two in the distance but they didn’t come close enough fo me to actually say I saw them.  I was completely thrilled with the day but completely wrecked and was going to celebrate with a beer but as I was about to pop the lid I suddenly felt very nausea and the thought of beer made it worse.  I tried to ignore it but with the rougher seas I felt myself getting worse so popped a Gravol instead and went to bed as we were scheduled to do a 6:30am dive the next morning which turned out not to be that great for many reasons.  First off, my ears were starting to let me know that enough was enough and I was having a very hard and painful time equalizing on the way down.  However once down things were ok and really enjoyed going along the reef wall, so much so that I lost track of my depth and went to 16.8m and was told by the dive master to only go to 16m; thankfully there would be no “biscuit of dome” involved this time.  Unfortunately Sarah seems to go through the air in her tank a lot quicker than I, so after about being down for about 10 minutes we had to turn around and go back to the boat.  We were only down for a total of 23 minutes and I still had enough air in the tank to be down for at least another 20 minutes.  The plan was to switch up dive partners but with my ears giving me so much pain and the weather not being all that great I decided to skip out on the last 2 dives knowing I will have a chance in Thailand to dive again.  After a quick lunch and helping the crew to disassemble everything in preparation for returning to land, we had the dreaded three hour journey which I survived on only one dose of Gravol and lying down on upper back deck.  The trip was worse  than on the way back as the boat was rocking side to side so much so a few of us actually got rolled over and slammed against the rails as we were lying down and people learned quickly not to try and walk around as it would just end up in injury.  To celebrate there was an optional meet up for dinner and drinks at a place called the “Court House”  and about half of the boat came out sans the crew which said would go but don’t blame them for not.  After working so hard for us for three days I’m sure they just wanted to do their own thing.   It was a semi quiet night for me, leaving the gang at The Wool Shack after having had a few dances.  My final day in Cairns was taking in the atmosphere and inspiration from the 70.3 and Ironman event that was taking place all day.  I hung around most of the day, periodically waiting at the finish line to see finishers come in from both events.  I went back in the evening as late as 9:00pm to continue cheering the finishers on.   They had started at 7:45am and 13 plus hours later they were finishing and being rewarded by the announcer with “You are an Ironman”.  Finishers would be trickling through until the wee hours of the morning; truly inspiring with a touch of crazy.   Witnessing the Ironman was a good way to end my stay in Cairns as it re-enforced a lot of things for me especially that if you put your mind and effort into something you can achieve.   Getting my open water scuba certification was my version of the Ironman.
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forward mugayi on

so nice , you had bests the moments in life. enjoy your traveilling in asia. take care

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