Reefs, Nemo and Sharks!

Trip Start Jan 20, 2007
Trip End May 06, 2007

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Where I stayed
Ocean Quest

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

After a few days back in Cairns we began our PADI Liveaboard Open Water Course. This consisted of spending 2 days at a dive centre in Cairns where we had a medical (peeing in a cup is very messy!) and lots of classroom lessons about safety etc so we were prepared for our theory test (I smugly got 100%, dive lesson nerdy swot!) Then we were able to complete lots of training in the pool mastering the art of breathing underwater (so weird but also fairly natural as I am half-mermaid) as well as all the basics like using your buoyancy aid to take you up or down and being able to swim on the same level. Then lots of skills such as hand signals, clearing your mask when it fills up with water, removing your weight belt and taking out your regulator (breathing mouth bit) without panicking. Also some other safety stuff like towing a tired diver and sharing alternate air sources etc.

Then we were ready! So we went out on the 'Reef Quest' boat and did a few practice dives to 12 metres to re-inforce some of our skills we'd learnt in the pool but it was pretty terrifying as when we were resurfacing I got a sharp pain on the side of my head which was excruciating. I remembered from our lessons about nitrogen bubbles that can get stuck if you ascend too quickly, and can then explode as they expand with the decreasing pressure as you surface. Hmm. I didnt fancy being decapitated fish food. So I hung back in the water too afraid to rise any further and the pain was still unbearable. I eventually had to come up slowly and as I made my way to the boat clutching the side of my jaw, I tilted my head slightly and heard a 'pssssfth' and felt the air pop out from one of my teeth!! Wow, pressure relieved I now felt fine but had a pretty close call as apparently its possible that my tooth could have either cracked or worse, exploded into my brain.

Anyway then we transferred to the 'Ocean Quest' boat which was going to be our home for the next 3 days. It stays moored on the Great Barrier Reef and was pretty cool with 3 floors (sorry, decks) and cosy little cabins. We were fed great food and met some pretty fun characters. There we had to complete our dive course by doing all our skills down at 18 metres which really is quite deep! You cant really make out the surface when you're down that far so its a little unnerving but I was far too content in my little underwater world to really mind. So, once that was all done we were signed off as certified open-water divers! Then we could spend the rest of the time on the boat doing fun dives and moving to different sites along the reef.

I saw so many incredible things it was awesome, like part of an enchanted magical world. We found Nemo in his anenome home and tons of super-colourful fish in all sorts of varieties including scary looking barracudas and pretty parrot fish. The coral was also amazing and spectacular and it was truly fascinating to drift around it all, watching things swim in and out of their little sea homes. Saw some nudie worms which were cute and wiggled about and also played catch with an underwater sea cucumber. Met Wally the giant fish (nearly 2metres long) who let me tickle him, and some rays that are cool to witness effortlessly gliding as well as a huge sea turtle.

On the first night Ash snuck us up to the front part of the boat where there werent any divers or disruptions to hopefully spot some sharks. The lights on the bottom of the boat attract loads of fish, which attract bigger fish and in turn, sharks! And woah, we could see heaps of them! Couldnt believe it, as they all surrounded the boat. Then Ash shouted as he'd spotted a sea snake which are apparently really rare. So we were watching it wriggling along the surface feeling very lucky to have seen one, and then a shadow appeared getting closer and closer and BOOM a shark leapt out the water jaws open and smashed it!!! Gobbled it right up, extremely cool to witness.

However the next evening was our turn for a night dive. Hmmm, but didnt we just see all those sharks eating things in the sea last night? Errrr.... But hey, bring on adventure! So we got all kitted out and jumped in. Alex instructed us to snorkel round this way and 'dont stop kicking' which sent me into a slight panic trying to keep up with her while taking in gulpfuls of water as it was quite choppy and very dark. Made it round to the spot where she wanted to descend and fear gripped me as it was so dark and I knew there were sharks around so I think I sort of started hyper-ventilating a bit- pretty scary when you are submerging into water. However as we descended a bit further I forced myself to take some deep calm breaths and holy-shit this is amazing! As I scanned around me all fear was lost, I was in absolute awe. Very eerie and definitely creepy but I didnt feel frightened anymore. Just utterly entranced by my surroundings. If I wasnt depending on my mouth piece for oxygen then my jaw would have been at me knees!

We were SURROUNDED by sharks. Some of them at least 3 metres long. Just casually swimming around effortlessly with swift flicks of their tails. They came shit-your-pants close too, one was like 4 metres away from me at one point and I held my breath as it came towards me and then changed tack at the last minute. SO COOL! We were just accepted into their underwater kingdom and they pretty much ignored us and got on with their hunting. We were each given a torch too and that became a fun but possibly cruel game of shine-your-light-on-a-fish-and-wait-for-a-shark-to-come-and-eat-it. All in all an experience to never forget!

Following our dive trip I had an unlucky visit to the Hospital in Cairns. Unfortunately the game turned into shine-your-light-on-Sams-foot-and-wait-for-a-shark-to... haha only joking! I just had terrible ear pain and had horrifying visions of it being some weird tropical parasite infestating in my head. Turns out it was merely a slight ear infection from being in the water so much and treatable with a couple of ear drops. Phew!
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