Saturday, July 5, 2008

It's Dive Tiiimmme...

At long last, we were ready to head out to the Great Barrier Reef. The shuttle from Deep Sea Divers Den picked us up at the resort bright and early. After a brief stop at their dive store to handle final details, we were taken to the Marina to board the Sea Quest.

If you've ever been to Catalina from Los Angeles, then you know the kind of boat we took out to the Reef. I was a little concerned because there were a lot of people and not a bed to be found anywhere. The next thing I found strange was the request that everyone go barefoot while on the boat. I was a little squeamish at first, but soon got used to it.

After about an hour, we dropped anchor and prepared for our first dive. On the ride out, we'd been given briefing based on your level of diving experience. Both Jenni and I are certified, but I hadn't been out since my class. I chose to do a brief test instead of going guided for our first dive.

Putting on the equipment was an adventure by itself, but finally we were ready for our first dive. Jenni had her camera, but I chose to leave mine onboard. I wanted to get used to diving again before taking extra stuff out. Good thing I did, too.

Diving is supposed to be fun as the equipment does everything for you. Except, I'm really buoyant. That turned diving into a lot of work for me because I didn't have enough weight on top of being nervous.

Having recently returned from a dive trip in Honduras, Jenni had her camera and was ready to explore. Here's some of what she saw:

Yes, that's me floundering around. I know you can do major damage to the reef if you touch the wrong thing. It can also do major damage to you. With that in mind, I needed to get control before I dared get close to anything. So I didn't really see too much of anything during that first dive. I was too busy trying to stay under. I found that I could if just kept moving. Except Jenni was stopping every few feet to explore.

To make matters worse, the more you breathe, the lighter your tank gets. By the time I reached the half tank mark, I was heading straight to the surface. I got myself slowed so my head was just underwater, but I couldn't get back down. And then I remembered good ole synchro! When you're upside down doing a figure, you hold your height by doing a support scull. Thanks to the decision to not bring my camera on this dive, my hands were free and I was able to support scull myself back down to Jenni.

Once I was deep enough, the water pressure helped me stay under, but I had to really watch my level. And then the photographer swam up. She beckoned me over and gestured for me to hold a tiny corner of the reef so she could take my picture. By that point, I had very little control. The last thing I wanted to do was crash into the reef so I declined. I don't think she understood exactly how much control I didn't have because she kept trying to get me over there. Finally, Jenni took my place instead.

Yeah. That's me in the background flailing around. See the tiny corner Jenni is holding? There was no way I wasn't heading right back to the surface if I tried to hold on to that little piece of rock.

Jenni got a photo shoot while I was concentrating on getting out of this alive.

Jenni took pity on me and held me under while the photographer got us both.

By this time, our air was getting low. Mine, more than hers because I was working so freaking hard. We headed back to the boat.

I happily shucked the dive gear and settled in for a much safer activity. Lunch.

They allowed us to eat out on the bow which was the best part of the day thus far. Once they got everybody back on board, we moved to our second dive location.

Jenni and I talked over my difficulties and she agreed to swim faster so it would be easier for me to stay under. It worked, too. Until I'd breathed half my tank again. Alas, I went right to the surface. This time I scared Jenni half to death because she'd literally just turned her back on me for a second before I floated off. When she turned around, I was gone.

I was waving at her trying to get her to look up, but she kept looking around. Getting more frantic by the second. Finally, I did my support scull thing again and dropped in behind her almost as if I'd never left. She was a little startled at my sudden reappearance. I pointed to where I'd been and we swam off.

We ran into the second photographer. Feeling braver and because Jenni held me under, we posed for another picture. I even took the regulator out to smile.

When we got back to the boat I told her if she ever loses me to just look up. We also figured out that the swimming faster wasn't working because she couldn't keep up with me. And it's not ideal because you don't get to see as much which is kinda the point of diving.

After that second dive, I was exhausted. Can you tell?

A short time later, we docked with the Ocean Quest which was the boat where we'd be spending the night and climbed aboard. We were due for our next dive in about an hour, but I was more than willing to sit that one out. Jenni agreed. Besides, we had a night dive coming up after dinner. A short rest was welcome.

My courage was back. I was eager to try the night dive. But got a bit nervous during the predive briefing and wanted to go guided on that dive. I think it was all that talk of sharks that did it. They told us that we could shine our torches on any fish we saw and the sharks who were following us would dart between our legs and eat it. Nice, huh?

Oh yeah...and the other divers on the boat thought it would be a great idea to toss rolls off the stern of the boat to feed the fish. Three or four sharks were a part of that frenzy. It was surprising that no one seemed concerned that we were about to jump in the water right where they were luring the sharks.

Fortunately, Jenni and I were in the last group to dive in so hopefully the sharks were full by then. Or maybe just scared off.

During the dive, the guide had to finish testing a woman - she was on the trip with her twin who works up the street from me at Disney- for her advanced certification so the rest of us were asked to kneel on the bottom and wait for them.

You know all about my previous difficulties, so needless to say this was much easier said than done. Because I had a torch in my hand, I couldn't support scull. I couldn't drop the torch because then I couldn't see where I was going. Jenni saved me. She grabbed my fin and pulled me to the bottom and held me down.

The instructor and student soon returned and the group was off. By this time, I'm sure you know what's coming. My tank hit the half full point and you know where I was headed. That's right. The surface.

As I said before, sculling wasn't an option on this dive. I thought about dropping the torch, but then I wouldn't know if I was directly above the coral or not. I decided not to chance it and just stayed on the surface. The rest of the group was about 20 feet below me and I could just make out flashes of their torches. It was just enough to follow.

I really had to fight to keep my wits. Oh yeah and there was a lot of praying involved. Here I was all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at night. I couldn't see the boat. I could just barely make out the other divers. And I knew there were sharks nearby. Yeah. I was slightly terrified. But I just kept swimming.

At long last I ran into the boat's mooring line. I just hung out there until everybody else surfaced. The guide actually had the nerve to look annoyed that I was on the surface. "What? You couldn't come back down?" Of course I could. I just decided not to because I wanted to keep the sharks company.

After that dive, I was nearly in tears as I shucked the gear. I was trying to figure out how to tell Jenni that I was done since she'd have to find a new partner for the rest of the dives. At that point, I was ready to never dive again. EVER! One of the other crew members, Peter, teased me out of my funk, but I was still determined to give up diving for the rest of my life.

After a shower, I started feeling better and we explored the boat bit more. There was a lot of interesting art onboard.

Seriously. It was dead when we found it.

These are our funny crew guys. Peter is on the left. He was hysterical.

As you can see by the smile above, I was getting over the horrible night dive. By the next morning I was willing to give it one more go. Jenni and I signed up for the 5:50a wake up call. After a restful night sleep, I had calmed quite a bit.

The next morning, Peter went door to door for the wake up call. We were in a front state room and heard him coming. The first couple of doors, he was okay. By the third door, we could tell he'd gotten bored. The wake up call got worse and worse as he made his way down the hall. The poor guy sounded like he was dying. By the time he got to our door, Jenni and I were cracking up.

He asked, "Are you laughing at me?"

We answered in unison, "Yes!"


"That lame wake up call."

"Well what do you want me to do?"

"A song and dance would be nice."

Then he started singing! But it wasn't a peppy song. He sang a ballad that would put anybody back to sleep. By this time, Jenni and I were dying laughing. We let him off the hook and he finally moved on, but he called us Trouble the rest of the trip.

I was ready to get down to the business of diving. Jenni suggested that I get more weights. Since things were a lot less chaotic with fewer people trying to get in the water it was easier to get to the equipment. We jumped in and I sunk like a rock. Finally!

I actually enjoyed this dive. The weights were a bit heavy, but I used a canoe scull to guide me a little and I was just fine. I finally got to explore the Reef.

I was even confident enough to take pictures like the one below.

I saw a shark...

...who swam away as we got close and a sea turtle...

...who was just waking up that morning and giant clams...

...that looked more dangerous than the sharks.

We did one more dive that morning then sat out the final dive. Since I'm especially buoyant in salt water, I decided to use it to my advantage. While the others went out on the last dive, I had Jenni take a picture of me doing an eggbeater in the ocean.

Look, Laurette! My shoulders are dry!

And check out this ballet leg. I gotta get my shoulders back, but the toe of my non ballet leg is dry. Not too bad for being in the choppy water of the Pacific Ocean.

All too soon, we transferred back to the Sea Quest to head back to Cairns. I didn't notice until the end, but the crew sticks with the passengers on the overnight dive so Peter and gang were with us from beginning to end. When we got back to the city, he had the honor of driving us back to the resort.

He teased us about owing him for the tune and we said he needed to pay us for listening. He was racking up quite a bill 'cause we charged him every time he broke into song which he did pretty often.

The trip was coming to a close. I headed for the airport at 4:30 the next morning and Jenni left about 45 minutes behind me. My Australian adventure was nearly over.

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