“Peace on the reef”

The title of this post has been stolen from the skipper of our dive boat. Warren made a number of announcements to us during our three days on board and ended each one by saying “Peace on the Reef.” By the end, we were all responding in kind, and on one occasion even pre-empted him by saying the phrase en masse before he had the chance to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Having qualified as PADI Open Water divers on Thursday afternoon, Ishbel and I didn’t dive again on the day. However, we were determined to have our first unsupervised dive together on Friday, 8th February. The dive schedule had three dives planned for Friday, the first of which was to take place at 6:30am. Wake-up time was scheduled for 5:45, twenty minutes before sunrise on the reef. After Thursday’s second dive, we had moved from Milln Reef to the Boulders site on Flynn Reef, which was to be the site of Dive 1 this morning.

We had devised a cunning plan to be last into the water and, ideally, first out so that we wouldn’t be getting our newly qualified selves in the way of the more experienced divers. The first part went exactly to plan. We let everyone else off the boat then stepped in to the water ourselves. On this memorable occasion, I contrived to mess up my giant step. The key is to look at the horizon as you step out. Stupidly, I looked down, the result of which was to push my mask off my nose and up on to my forehead. Luckily, I didn’t lose the mask completely. Only my dignity. Ishbel joined me in the water with considerably more grace and we swam round to the rope which we decided we would descend before swimming off to the reef.

This particular site is one which doesn’t require any real navigation skills as you descend the rope to a concrete block to which the boat is moored, then swim off. There is a steep reef wall on your left hand side, so you just keep it on your left on the way out, and on your right on the way back and you can guarantee finding the boat again.  Finding the boat is a skill all on its own and even some of the experienced divers missed it on some of the dives. Sometimes, they were close enough to be able to swim back on the surface but on a couple of occasions, someone from the boat went out in the little motor launch to tow them back home. It was comforting to know that we were in no danger of getting lost.

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For our first dive, we had a great time. No dramas, as Australians are fond of saying. We swam along the wall as recommended and saw a wide variety of fish and even a couple of reef sharks, about 2m long. For all the hard work that we put into the course, and the even harder work our instructors put in to getting us through it, this was the payoff. Our relaxed dive along the Great Barrier Reef, going down to 18m for 28 minutes, was a wondrous experience. We weren’t even first back to the boat as we were enjoying it so much.

Winds, tides, and encroaching weather were all conspiring to make life difficult for the skipper and crew in determining where the next dive would be. The boat changed position in the hope of finding better sea conditions, but it was still very choppy. The decision was taken to cancel one of the Day 3 dives to give more down time between them and allow a longer dive rather than two abbreviated dives. We decided conditions were too rough for us to venture back down, and a couple of other people sat out the last dive as well. The boat was rising and falling quite noticeably as we sat at our mooring, so we decided this was a good time to take another seasickness pill. If it was like this when we were at rest, it was going to be very rough on the way back to Cairns.

One interesting event did occur between the two Friday dives. As we sat around the tables in the lounge area, someone said “I think I can smell burning” two seconds before a loud bang and a flash emanated from one of the cabins. There was a group of three American couples, all qualified divers, and the emergency occurred in one of their cabins. Nothing actually went up in flames, but someone had hung up a wet costume immediately above an electric point where they were charging their phone. The drips had fused the power, and melted the charger. The group are all current or former members of the LA Fire Department!

We skipped Dive 2, although Ishbel went out to snorkel the shallow part of the reef. After Dive 2, we headed back to Cairns, after repairing a mooring buoy at one of the sites that had been snagged the previous day. We ended up getting back to town about an hour later than scheduled, but it didn’t interfere with anyone’s plans so we weren’t unduly concerned by the delay.

The homeward journey also allowed for a moment of reflection on the whole experience. Our decision to go through the diving course was something of a whim that we had decided would be a fun thing to do on our travels. I had certainly underestimated the scale of effort required to get through it and certainly wish that I had worked more on some basic fitness before the course started. Our fellow open water students were a diverse bunch of people, ranging from 18 up to, well, our age since we were the oldest. They were from Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Germany and the UK. Despite the obvious differences between us all, the sense of camaraderie was overwhelming, We could always put that down to the fact that we were united in adversity, all trying to qualify as divers. But once we were on the boat, that diversity increased as we met qualified divers from Denmark, Sweden, the US, China, Taiwan. And everyone still got along really well. There’s something about the experience that just brings out the best in everyone. We loved it.

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As we approached Cairns, we were informed of a tradition whereby the instructors book tables at a German Beerhouse in town for the evening of our return to port. So it was that we showed up at 7:30 and met up with our fellow divers and a couple of the instructors for possibly the last time ever.

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After some 3 litre beer towers and schnitzels, the group moved from the beerhouse to another bar where live music was playing. We had a last drink there with our fellow divers, then headed back to the hotel.

The next post will be just a collection of photos from the dive boat that will hopefully be of interest to everyone who was on board at the same time as us.

 

 

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