Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Boat Mom and Boat Dad on the Great Barrier Reef

Our arrival to Cairns coincided with the end of our good weather. It was raining fiercely and all the locals chatted about how it had been raining for days. We had listened nervously a few days earlier when someone mentioned a cyclone in the coral sea, in the vicinity of where we planned a boat trip to dive the Great Barrier Reef. We learned that the cyclone went away, but the bad weather was very real.
Hey we're going diving, we're going to get wet anyway. No big deal. We piled in the van and headed to the boat.

But it was a big deal. The seas were rough and the boat pitched and rolled in ways I've never experienced. The boat had dispensers for "barf bags" and several people needed to use them. If you needed to move, you took your life in your hands. If you were on your feet, you were a toy for the boat to throw against one wall and then another. Walking was impossible. Even once we reached the dive site (3 hours later) and the boat was tied up and secured to buoys, we were still rocking and rolling and being tossed around. It was pouring rain and both the sea and the sky we're gray.
Nasty weather, but we're going diving anyway.
We're wet anyway, let's go diving. Ugh, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. We were diving in the legendary Great Barrier Reef and we couldn't see a thing. When we got back to the boat and were talking to other divers, one asked me how the dive was. She was a new diver and was thoroughly enjoying herself. I didn't want to say anything bad but I couldn't help myself and blurted out, "That was one of the worst dives I've ever had."

Most of the dive was even worse visibility than this!

The Kids

We survived, and we all gathered in the main salon for briefings. Surprisingly all the passengers except us were young kids- 20 to 34. We're accustomed to liveaboards having mostly retirees on board. We are usually in the middle of the age group. Not this time, we were the oldest by at least 30 years. Jim offered parental advice for anyone missing their family, and we were dubbed Boat Mom and Dad 😀.

We managed one more dive in zero visibility, and I said I'm done for the day. Olga, a 21 year old from Sweden, didn't have a buddy for the next dive because Anouk, from Holland, was seasick. Since Jim was a free agent at this point, he volunteered to be her buddy and told me this new dive site actually had pretty good visibility.

During the night we were treated to light shows with thunder, rain, and lightning, but the next morning brought improved conditions. We thought of the song, The Land Down Under by Men at Work
Have you come from the land down under, where women glow and men plunder. 

   Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?

You better run, you better take cover

After a while the sun even came out. We had wonderful food, great conversations with young people from all over the world and even a good dive or two.  We would love to keep in touch with some of these kids - many of them are on their "Gap Year" of travel before settling into college. They're off to Thailand, VietNam, New Zealand, and many more places. Some of them are on their way back home to England, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Brazil, New Zealand and even a couple of Aussies. We set up Facebook friendships with a couple of them, but Instagram was clearly the social media of choice for most, so we got their usernames and started following.

The afternoon dive looked like it was going to be pretty good so I decided to go and started suiting up. Olga's buddy, Anouk was feeling better so Jim could just buddy with me, but Olga asked if she and Anouk could tag along with us. They were both new divers and would feel more comfortable diving with boat Mom and Dad!

The last dive was great

On the third day there were 3 dives crammed into the morning. Jim and I actually got up and did the 6:30am. Then we figured on one more, the 9am dive.
YES! this dive was the stuff that dive dreams are made of. Some people think that the scary and stressful parts of diving are seeing things like sharks and barracuda. No, not at all. Seeing sharks, barracuda, and other creatures of the deep are the reason you go diving. The scary and stressful parts come from other things.
  1. Fear of losing your buddy because you went in different directions and there's not enough visibility to see where he went. 
  2. Fear of losing the boat because you just can't tell where you are when you're underwater, or know which way to get back
  3. Fear of malfunctioning equipment
We had none of that on this last dive. Everyone had their own buddies, so Jim and I were diving together and there was no group leader so we were on our own. Jim and I have had several hundred dives together, I think we have a force field that keeps us together with no effort on our part. We had no fear of losing the boat because this was a wall dive. A wall is what we call an underwater cliff. So, instead of just wandering around coral heads and getting lost, you just follow the wall. When you start your dive you head one way on the wall - wall to your right, open water to your left. Half way thru (about 25 minutes) you turn around. Easy peasy, no stress. All our equipment, except our masks, were rented from ProDive Cairns, and took some getting used to. The gauges were all in metric, so instead of watching your air so that you come up with no less than 500psi, we were looking at no less than 50 bars. Our safety stop is set to 5 meters instead of 15 feet. This was our 6th or 7th dive with the same equipment and we were fully comfortable.
The water temperature was wonderful at 28-29 Celsius (82-84 Fahrenheit.) Did we see amazing stuff? No. But, it was a wonderful dive nonetheless. I simply love the sensual experience of diving, zen-like relaxation, being weightless and feeling like you're flying. Then just looking around. There were some nice corals - especially the plate coral that we don't have in the Atlantic. As soon as we jumped in, we saw anemone fish, aka clown fish - another Pacific-only sight. It's funny how they are now called "Nemo's" because of the movie. We were also told we might see some Dory's (Blue Tang / Surgeonfish) also from the movie Finding Nemo.

Here's the video that Jim put together of the whole dive trip.

It was depressing how much of the coral reef was dead. The crew did tell us that the weather limited their choices of dive sites and others are in better shape, but still - the corals are not at all what they should be. There were lots of tropical fish, just not much of any size.
All in all it was a good trip. The chef - Luke - was amazing. How he managed to cook in that rocking boat is a miracle, and the food was really good. Lots of grilled vegies. One night was chicken curry and I don't even like curry, but this was so tasty!
But, I think the best part was getting to know the others on board, both crew and passengers. What an international group. These young people give me hope for our world!


Rick and Kathy Rousseau said...

Between seeing the local wildlife, meeting old/new friends, in the city as well as underwater it is no wonder you feel so tired.
Be Safe and Enjoy!

It's about time.

Tom Van de Bussche said...

When Leah and I were there two years ago, we had the same conditions. Rough seas and poor visibility at the dive site. A lot of people got sea sick on the way out to the site. What we did see was a lot of Coral Bleaching and not much color. The ride back was not much smoother, but the sea sick people were so doped up on sea sick meds that they slept back to shore. The bats in town were something also. Enjoy the trip...