Note: this entry is now complete (29/01)
We are not going to the outer reef.
Apparently, it is too rough and there are some people who ‘haven’t found their sea legs yet’.
I don’t know about them, but if I was prone to seasickness, I would probably not book a three day sailing trip. Then again, some people really don’t know. I remember a mate of ours (plus the captain’s girlfriend) suffering through an entire week’s sailing in the Channel Islands.
Still, not going to the outer reef sucks—even more than the grey skies and regular 2-3 hour long ‘showers’. Everything is wet, which reminds me of past diving holidays in Scotland. Even the sea has lost its pretty blue colour. But in Scotland nobody expects to see the Great Barrier Reef.
It was going to be a shitty day. I knew that from the moment I discovered that the Vegemite had run out (Vegemite is OK, but not a patch on Marmite which is seasoned with celery). A few minutes later, the generator stopped running. As the temperature in the cabin crept up, I muttered darkly about having to carry Marmite to Australia. A secret stash was soon discovered, but it was too late to lighten my mood. John was grumbling about his clothes, his swimming shorts had somehow ended up on top of his sole dry T-shirt. Nobody else spoke much. Nobody smiled.
I was still choking on the first Vegemite toast when Doug the Skipper walked in. The generator had sputtered back to life, but he gathered us to inform us that we would not be heading out to the reef. At 5 in the morning, he had tried and that was when things got a little shaken up. I remember waking to the rolling of the boat. It was nothing the cat couldn’t take, but it’s probably hell if you’re seasick. Saying that, some of our victims turned green at the gentle rocking of the boat at the mooring.
As I said, not going to the outer reef sucks big time. We had signed up for the trip—which was far from the cheapest—because the Pac Star is onle of only a few vessels that venture so far out, which means an extra day and night. Looking around the mooring, I saw that there were a few boats around which I knew to be day trippers—the same as we’d seen yesterday.
But there was nothing to it. Teeth gnashing, we had to accept the skipper’s decision. The sea, still vaguely blue yesterday, had assumed the slate-grey of a Scottish loch on a good summer’s day. Yesterday, visibility had been bad, today it was worse. Never mind the sharks and stingrays, I could hardly see the coral when snorkelling.
Now we will probably never get to see the Great Barrier Reef—the greatest natural wonder on Earth—unless we emigrate. Australia is too far away to justify a short holiday, too expensive for a longer trip.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the crew weren’t constantly playing surfer movies in the main cabin. I’ve never managed to stand up on a board, so why keep rubbing it in? This is a diving trip, people! What’s the big deal anyway?
As I said, I was in a stinky mood.
It was time to get ready for our fist dive—after I cleaned up the cup of coffee I spilled and managed to locate my glasses case. What else would go wrong today?
The stab jacket was too big, rubbing me in awkward places, pressing on my shoulder while the weightbelt forced my feet deeper into the fins which were too tight, squeezing my toes. My mask kept fogging up as we stood sweating in our wetsuits, waiting for the jump. A thought entered my mind.
“John, did you ever have to do a number two during a dive?” I whispered. His eyes widened and he shook his head. I banished the thought. I was OK, but perhaps I shouldn’t have had that second Vegemite toast for breakfast.
What else could go wrong?
I shoved the regulator into my mouth (it was too big) and drew a gurgling breath, while the membrane flapped inside, emitting a wheezing, hooting sound.
“No worries,” the skipper said, “it’ll clear up in the water.”
“I know.” I have dived with dodgy regulators before, during my former life in Scotland.
“Do you want another regulator?” the dive instructor asked. But the skipper was making noises. We had arrived at the jump-off point. Why cause a fuss? As I said, I’m no newbie.
“Mind the Current!” The skipper shouted a last warning as we leapt into the blue, freckled with a fine rain of tiny shell fragments and suspended sediment which danced wildly in front of my eyes. By the time we broke surface again, we were already far from the boat.
“Fin along now, come on!” The instructor called from ahead.
The boys were fast; I could hardly keep up. I rolled on my back and then back over, finning as hard as I could while the stupid stab jacket floated around me. I deflated the thing as far as possible and finned just below the surface. By the time I caught up with the group, I was out of breath. The water was about 28°C, and the damn wetsuit didn’t help. I drew deep, resonant gulps through the regulator which filled my entire mouth but barely exhaled any air.
“OK, down!” The instructor pointed and disappeared below the surface, quickly followed by the others. I squeezed the stab jacket, holding up the air hose, and descended slowly into a sea of bubbles. I still couldn’t breathe properly. The air was stale, and there wasn’t enough of it. I drew greedy gasps and stared into the silty waters below. The bottom was nowhere in sight.
Up at the silvery surface, I could still see people’s fins. It wasn’t too late yet, and the risk was too great. I pulsed air back into the stab and rose.
The instructor’s head popped up next to mine a few moments later.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s not happening, mate. Can’t get the breathing right.”
Was I really doing this? I have never aborted a dive before—dodgy regs, nighttime, low viz and gastric discomfort nonwithstanding—and I had only just earned the guy’s respect, being allowed to join on a ‘certified’ dive. But yes, I was really doing this. It was the right thing to do.
If the instructor was irritated, he didn’t show it. “OK, hold up your arm, and they’ll pick you up.” With that, he donned the regulator and disappeared from sight.
We seemed to have stopped drifting, but the boat wasn’t close. Besides, which of the two catamarans was ours? Without my glasses, I couldn’t be sure.
I bobbed in the wavelets for a while, holding up my arm, making sure not to wave as that would indicate distress. There was no rush.
When my arm threatened to go numb, I started snorkelling towards the boats, stopping every now and then to get my bearings and resume signalling. It was slow going, but I drew steadily closer.
What was taking them so long?
Once I even used the red whistle which adorned the air-feed on my unwieldy stab jacket. But feeling sheepish, I quickly decided to swim rather than draw attention from other boats. Eventually, somebody would see me and fish me out of the water.
At long last, I spotted Leslie in the little rubber dinghy. He pulled up next to me and took the damn stab jacket and weightbelt. It was cool, he said, I could have a little snorkel. The beach wasn’t far away. Feeling slightly dejected, I started finning towards the other snorkellers. Looking around properly now, I saw that the viz was only about three metres before the twisted shapes of the coral melted into a grey-blue screen of suspended silt. But further up towards the beach, the colours started to show—and then something magic happened.
Something was moving through the water with exquisite grace.
Two snorkellers were following the shape and, spotting them, I performed a reality check. There, about a metre below the surface, with sunrays painting a mottled pattern on its carapace, a green turtle glided through the water with effortless ease. It was close enough to touch, but by unspoken agreement, we kept our distance, grinning like idiots as we finned slowly alongside.
Er, no. Since I was going for a dive, I left the camera in the boat
Twice the turtle surfaced, taking a tiny gasp of air before continuing unperturbed. Its ancient reptile eyes fixed us with a beady gaze, then focussed downwards. Occasionally, the turtle descended to pick up something from the silty bottom. I remember what the divers told us: green turtles are opportunists, and cigarette butts, carelessly flicked overboard, can kill them.
Gently, with no haste, the turtle rose again and continued on its path. We watched in complete silence as it melted into the background, followed by one of the snorkellers who was lucky enough to have a weightbelt. The yellow-green flashes of his fins gave away the turtle’s position when we could no longer see it in the murky water.
Back on board, I found JD our ship-mum in the galley where she set out a delicious lunch of lasagne, salad and nachos. I told her all about it.
“Phew,” I said, “and I thought it would be such a shitty day!”
“There is never a shitty day in the Whitsundays,” she said and smiled.Tags: Australia, Diving, Travel, Whitsundays, Tag Index