Up too early…darn phone automatic time zone decided it was an hour earlier than it was so the alarm went off at 5:15 am instead of the 6:15 am it had been set for. Tossed and turned for a bit then got up. Night before had moved the food from the fridge in the upstairs kitchen to the downstairs one as the upstairs one wasn’t working so well. Not cool. Room key would fit the lock so no problem getting in even though the kitchen didn’t open until 7am. Only thing was that the upstairs kitchen key was different from the downstairs one. Couldn’t access the food so recently moved to the downstairs fridge. Cold cereal bars for breakfast it was. Gotta be tough sometimes.
Van picked up at 7am. Made a few more stops then arrived at the “Reef Station”. Here it was a very crowded scene as people were lined up in ques for the respective dive/snorkel boats. Hundreds of people wanted to be on the reef this warm sunny Sunday. Who could blame them? The whole process was a well oiled machine as one might imagine when large amounts of money are concerned. Snorkelers were the mainstay. On a boat of a hundred passengers only a half a dozen were actually scuba diving. Of those only a few were already certified. It was definitely what was termed a “cattle boat” in the dive business. It was a very nice one with lots of chrome, white tables, padded benches, a bar, a kitchen and all the amenities.
We boarded the vessel which was a huge three story trimaran. It’s beam was 30′ wide and maybe 75 feet in length. The stern became an entire staircase which lowered into the water once we had reached our destination. Small platform wings on the sides were for divers to take a giant stride in.
Our dive guide was Dancy, a cute, funny. vivacious small dynamo who would be our dive master for the three dives. The support crew was attentive and good at what they did. All of them seemed to be constantly busy attending to the various chores associated with such a massive undertaking.
It took about 45 minutes to reach “Normans” coral reef, our first stop. We were running at a good 15 – 20 knots. Quite a ways offshore. The certified divers were a lofty lot. Frequently being photographed by the many snorkelers on the vessel. We were given free wet suits to use as well as mask,snorkel, fins and BCD. (Boyancy Control Device) as well as the tank and regulators. Used to my own better equipment, it was but a small cross to bear using their stuff. Especially since it was not necessary to bring all that stuff with me. Lord knows there’s already enough to carry. The fins were pretty basic. Just slip your foot into the rubber pocket. Normally dive with neoprene boots which fit in larger fin pockets and really protect your feet. These were going to pinch and chafe to be sure. Asked a guy on the boat about renting better fins. Said there were none available. Then he told me about a trick. If you take Vaseline and smear it around the parts which make contact with your foot, there will be little friction. Said no Vaseline with with me …he produce a jar. Nice! Applied it to the fins and it was much better than it would have been.
Upon arrival our group of 6 certified divers donned our gear. We shuffled over to the small 6’x8′ nicely padded platform. When it was our turn we entered with a “giant stride”. This is exactly what it sounds like. You just take a really big step off the platform so that your tank will clear the edge. One puts one hand on you mask and the other on the weight belt an off you go. Upon hitting the water one inflates the BCD using a button attached to a arms length hose which siphons air from your tank. It is also possible to inflate the vest by blowing into it if one is out of air. Conversely, to descend one simple pressed a release button on the hose, holds it above the vest if underwater, and air is released thus controlling one’s buoyancy. It is important to retain neutral buoyancy when one reaches the desired depth.
The dive was not very deep. Water was about 77 degrees. Not bad. The visibility was about 75 feet. Pretty good for us as we were weaving around large coral heads. The reef itself was in pretty good shape considering the sheer number of new divers which learn there. Lots of sea anemones complete with clown fish ala “Nemo”. Lots of tropical fish as one might expect. Giant bi-valve clams were seen as well as cuttlefish. Similar to Florida diving but the coral was larger. Came up at the end of the dive with still over half a tank of air left. Other newbies had burned through their air quickly and had to surface early. We were only allowed a maximum of 40 minutes bottom time. Spotted a large grouper and pointed it out to Dancey who shared it with the group. It is a well camouflaged fish making it difficult to see. Would have made a fine dinner in another time and place…but not in a Marine Sanctuary. Only saw one small shark on all three dives.
Upon reaching the surface I could barely hear at all. While going down I was able to equalize the pressure in the ears easily. Still having the persistent cough perhaps caused some blockage in the Eustachian tubes of the ears. Took a while to clear. Gotta be tough to be dumb. Went right back in. Those few who were doing the full 3 dives took only a short surface interval before we were back in the water while everyone else ate lunch. By the time we got out the food was nearly gone…had the leftovers. Such is the price for being gun-ho.
The next reef was called North Hastings. Here the wealthy among us were able to take a trip over the reef on a helicopter which had landed on a nearby floating deck built for that purpose. OK, guess there are some perks to being wealthy. Still, our focus was under the water, not above it. On our last dive there was a fairly large fish..can’t really say what kind it was…but it followed me around and swam along side of me the entire dive. Forty minutes by my side. Never had that happen before. Even Darcey talked about it once we were back on the boat. She had never seen it either. Curious. Have to look it up.
It had been a perfect day of diving and exploration. We headed back to shore through calm seas. Before long we made port and disembarked. There was a shuttle waiting for those who had been picked up in the morning which took us back to the respective hostels in reverse order. Having been the first to be picked up the ride was brief. Back at the hostel it was time to pack up and get ready for the first bus ride on the Australian Greyhound line after sharing a few well deserved after dive drinks with new friends at the laid back hostel.
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