Under da sea

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Under da sea

Updated 15 years, 6 months ago

Right, lets get one thing straight. Diving is good. In fact it's very, very good indeed. In fact it's one of the best things you can do. As you've probably gathered I've just finished my open water dive course and three days on a floating hotel on the barrier reef.

However, it started fairly inauspiciously last Wednesday (27th March) after a friend (Yes, Mr Thomas this means you) had arrived in Cairns on Tuesdayevening and we decided to go out for that famous "couple of beers". Well, it wasn't, it was never going to be, but my powers of self deception are quite staggering. I believe I alluded in previous updates to the liveliness and debauchery that is believed to characterize Cairns nightlife. Well we decided to go and observe, if not actually participate. Somehow we ended up completely blotto, and in this den of iniquity called the Woolshed, surrounded by plastered pommie post-sixth formers re-enacting some bacchanalian revel in murky, seedy semi-darkness. Obviously the parents of these 18-21 year olds are unaware of such goings on or they would pack their little darlings off on their travels with pounds of Bromide (or perhaps the Kama Sutra from more liberal parents) rather than a sleeping bag. Shit, this stuff would shame the ancient Greeks! Anyway, I'll draw a veil over the rest of the evening, it's a bit of a haze and I don't think I come out in a good light. Suffice to say, me and Nick lost each other and I woke up the next morning somewhere in Cairns, surrounded by stoned Aussies.

I cannot say I felt in a great frame of mind to start a dive course, but thanks to an enterprising taxi driver with a new take on road rules, reached the Cairns Reef Dive office on time. I tried sleeping there, but I was taken for a medical and somehow I was passed fit to dive. I looked dumbly at him. If that stagger across the floor was walking in a straight line, then this quack needed a ruler, or to leave the meths alone.

The first two days were spent in the company training complex, mostly watching videos and working through questions to get you au courant with safety, the kit, techniques and technical info. My group was full of alert, keen and fit looking Germans, Swedes and Brits, contrasting with my hollow/red-eyed, waxy-skinned, head-split misery on day one. We did get to dive in the pool, though, and put theory into practice. The feeling of swimming and breathing under water for long periods, weightlessness and freedom from all the constraints of snorkeling cleared my head leaving a feeling of exhilaration hard to describe. However, I've always hated chlorine, it irritates my sinuses and makes my eyes swell up painfully; so the mask removal was not an instant success, causing my natural pessimism to kick full into gear. I foresaw horrific drowning scenarios and exploding eardrums when I was to dive on the barrier reef.

This still preyed on my mind as i contemplated my departure on day three for the next three days. Having breakfast, a feeling of dark foreboding ever causing me to turn from the proferred hot cross bun, I half overheard my auntie's youngest talking about someone who died today. "Who died?!?" I asked anxiously, "you did!" he said grinning, which filled me with a further sense of dread. I mean, "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings..." goes the saying, quote or whatever. Okay, he was talking about Jesus as it was Good Friday, but I still felt fate was sailing me off to my doom, and I boarded the boat with some trepidation. After sleeping all the way to Milln Reef, we got on board the "Reeftel" to find a huge early lunch waiting for us: masses of cold meats and salads. I stuffed myself as usual when free food is in the offing. We got suited up straight after, stretching the tight wet suits over our distended bellies. I always feel sleepy after a big feed and ambled foolishly about like a man in a dream, until stepping off the boat: the water brought me back to the here and now.

We did a few skills then just swam about exploring the reef. Absolutely
incredible! A turtle gracefully flapped past, enormous clams opened and
closed, probably mouthing derisive comments on our lack of elegance or style as we bumbled past(you can always spot rookie divers). Big fish, small fish, in large shoals or on their own, all spectacularly daubed with the brightest designs swooping, darting or just loafing above an artist's pallette of beautifully coloured coral. I got that Beatles song "Octopus' Garden" in my head- "I'd like to be under the sea in an octopus' garden, in the shade(? Eh? )..........". On surfacing, it seemed impossible that we'd been under for 40 minutes, I didn't want to leave. Can't describe the buzz you get, it felt like I'd done my first pill, the exhileration and sheer joy. The next few days were spent diving and eating, then loafing in between, a lifestyle which I found eminently to my satisfaction. The night dive was a totally different experience, a full moon casting eerie underwater shadows and a hazy glow. Then complete pitch darkness as you went deeper or in the shadow of reef cliffs, just your torch beam visible. Big fish would wait unseen over your shoulder and when your beam fixed on a small fish , they'd rush past your mask and devour them. This was pretty cool, so we began hunting for cannon fodder to illuminate, then wait eagerly for the carnage as some great trevally(big- 1.5 metre), or whatever, would swoop down torpedo-like. Cruel? Yes, but great fun, and it didn't always come off. Besides we'd promised to have no more than three "sacrifices" each. Wonderful sunrises, gorgeous sunsets and perfect sunny days in between, the sea was dead calm and dead clear- perfect diving conditions for all three days. When it came to leave, it felt like leaving home, the terribly sad wrench of goodbyes to people you'd only known 3 days at most, everyone ardently promising to return the next day or day after. My course group I'd known longest and were like old school friends, we all shared "in" jokes and fond memories, so landing back in Cairns was a real come-down. One of the best things I've done. If you haven't done it, you should.


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