The Great Barrier Reef
Weather: cloud and strong wind
I fondly remember my first scuba diving experience, almost 8 years ago. It was a day where everything looked postcard perfect. The sun was doing what it does best, the sea was sparkling and calm and the wind was non-existent. Perfect. But that was 8 years ago.
Today there was no sun. It was chilly. It was windy. The sea was not calm and not sparkling.
On booking, I had no inclination of bad weather ahead of me, nor of the choppy sea, waves, wind and other non-desirable conditions. Not until we were speeding away from Cairns and out towards the reef did they tell us, or more accurately, did we become unmistakably aware of such things.
As we were lurching our way out to the reef, the only thing you could do was watch the horizon and try to ignore the smell of disinfectant that was unquestionably masking yesterday’s vomit. The tea and coffee was a challenge to drink and I caught my ginger beer in the nick of time as it tried to slide off the table. I grabbed a “plan B” paper bag from the bar in case of an emergency and decided to grin and bear the rolling boat.
On our way to the reef was the briefing for the Introductory Dive, which I had opted for. I listened raptly to all the safety instructions and practised everything that was demonstrated. I did everything I could have done to prepare for my dive whilst still dry and not feeling too sick.
Wetsuit on; Weights attached; spit in the mask; sit on the edge of the boat; tank strapped on; gauges checked; flippers on. The boat was rising and falling at least a metre if not more with the surf. The sun wasn’t shining. The sea wasn’t calm. I was placed in the water and just turning round to hang onto the back of the boat was testing. Hanging onto the boat as my shins were bashing into the bars below the surface and my face was constantly punched in the face with waves, whilst trying to go over final safety instructions was hopeless. All this amounted to a total rush of panic once I was under the water. Unable to trust my breathing equipment, I hyperventilated and totally freaked out. Desperation rose over me as I waved frantically at the instructor to let me back up. He pressed the magic button that filled my suit with air and I was sent back up the one metre I had descended. Pulled to the surface by another member of the boat team I struggled again with the rise and fall of the boat whilst trying to explain what was wrong. “I’m freaking out, I am sorry!” I gasped. “Why are you freaking out, love?” was the reply. ”I don’t know WHY I am freaking out, that’s what freaking out IS!!” I could go on giving a minute by minute account of the terror I went through to get me back under water, buggering up my breathing to getting a lungful, smacking my shins again, but I did eventually get under water. We didn’t descend until I was breathing regularly and not sending a mask of bubbles everywhere. As we swam downwards, I clung onto the instructor’s arm for my life. We saw Nemo, turtles and giant clams and once I had got over myself I even managed to sign W O W when we saw such things.
Was it a mind-blowing-must-do-again experience? No. Why? Once I got over myself, I was indeed fine, and safe. But there was no sunshine to light the magic of the underwater world that I so lovingly remembered and I just didn’t feel the reef was making a big enough effort to impress me.
The snorkelling was a disappointment too. The winds, waves and currents prevented us from going out to the second reef, which is supposed to be even more outstanding than the first. The choppy sea, lack of sunshine and strong currents made snorkelling too arduous to be pleasurable. I was thrashing around, breathing through my snorkel like Darth Vader, trying to swim away from the boat, whilst fighting with my snorkel which was constantly being filled with water thanks to the waves and exhausting my arms thanks to the current. The view down there wasn’t that special either, as nothing really looked that great with no sunlight to point out all the good stuff.
The ride home was entertaining. We were given a glass of “free” wine, which annoyed me. How could it be called “free”? It’s what we had paid for! It was also hard to keep the wine in the glass as the captain seemed to be keen to race back to port, making air over the waves as we flew past other reef cruisers.
It’s certainly a day that has left me with stories to tell. After 8 hours rolling up and down on the boat, I could still feel the motion as I lay down to sleep, which was not a sensation I was happy about.
I prefer to hold onto my previous memory of diving; the sparkly, panic free, awe-inspiring one.