Australia: Cairns

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, Scuba

Sprints:  Jon’s run #41

I have to do something to keep my running interesting so this morning I did 5 sets of sprints.  Adding time to each, with the hopeful result being some additional speed.  Of course, it would probably help if I ran a measured course but I seem to just run wherever I want.  At 4:45am there are no crowds to have to contend with and for that matter there’s really nobody to have to contend with!

The run was a bit further north to the mangrove swamp park and then down onto the path along the waterside.  No real creative thoughts this morning but I did watch the police wake up a sleeping homeless person.  It seems that the renovation in the central shopping area included the removal of most of the nice park benches that the homeless use to sleep on…which of course sends a few of them to the park on the water to catch some shut eye.  The police seem to be intent on nipping this in the bud though.  It felt just like NY!

For today’s dive trip, Jon guided the two dives.  Two of his divers needed a “Scuba Tune-Up” – in other words a skills assessment.  One of them hadn’t dived in two years, the other in seven!  So he took them down and made sure they had a grasp on their basic skills.

I led the snorkelers.  Nothing exciting happened, although that’s no for lack of trying!

Frank and Brenda

There was a great American couple on board yesterday and today.  Frank came on board with an “Air Force Academy: 1968” ballcap on, which means I immediately liked him.  Since I grew up an “Air Force Brat”, I’m quite partial to men who’ve served in the military.  Especially the Air Force.  And I also liked him because – and don’t take this the wrong way – Frank is African-American.  Think about it.  An African-American male who attended an excellent U.S. Military Academy in the height of the civil rights movement.  The guy’s got cajones.  I was immediately impressed.  He and Brenda were really fun to talk to, and Jon and I enjoyed hanging out with them.  They were on my guided dives yesterday, and they were in Jon’s group today.  So we spent a lot of time with them and got to know them quite well.

They insisted on having their pictures taken with us, saying that “we were the reason they had so much fun the past two days”.  On the way off the boat this evening, Frank stuck $40 (Australian dollars) into my hand and told me it was for me and Jon.  I love getting tips.  Regardless of the money, it just makes me feel like I’ve done something special for someone.  And that makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Australia: Cairns

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, Scuba

Just another run:  Jon’s run #40

Well, no random ruminations…really just wondering if I’m going to be able to get up at 4:15 every morning to go for a run.  I’m really thinking that I’ll run on the days that we work and will save my sleeping in for our days off so I can really sleep in.  Not much to say about the run…went in and around downtown Cairns, the bustling town that it is.  Basically, think of a town about the same size as Charlottesville, VA, but with tourism as its main industry.  The people in small town are nice–everyone says hi when you pass them, unlike in NY or even Hong Kong or Singapore.

The boat was packed today, and they needed another English-speaking guide.  For whatever reason, Horsey (Australia for “Horst”) knighted me for the golden opportunity.  Very exciting!  I had a group of 6 people to guide.

Dive #1: Jorgie’s Patches

Depth: 19.2 meters

Bottom Time: 40 minutes

Visibility: 15 meters

Jorgie’s Patches is a small reef on the way out to Norman/Saxon/Hastings.  We never go to it because it’s not well protected from the elements and so the current is often quite strong.  For whatever reason, Matty (skipper) and Horst (dive supervisor) decided to give it a go today.  It really was a lovely reef.  We saw lots of beautiful fish and some gorgeous coral.  There was a huge potato cod on part of the reef as well.

Dive #2: Hastings Reef – Angel’s Bommie

Depth: 10.9 meters

Bottom Time: 52 minutes

Visibility: 10 meters

Visibility wasn’t so good, especially around the backside of the bommie.  But we cruised around the entire bommie until we got to the plateau of coral.  This is where I unfortunately got turned around.  It wasn’t any big deal, but we did come up a little further from the boat than I had planned.  Horst came out with the dinghy to pick us up, none of my divers wanted the lift.  They all wanted to snorkel back!

Air Conservation 

The funny thing about both of the above dives is that my divers seemed to do VERY well on air.  And I was doing very poorly.  In fact, most of them were keeping pace with me almost exactly.  I was both impressed with these new divers (they each had 7 dives or less under their belts) and disappointed with myself.  I’ve worked so hard to be an efficient air-conserver, but I started to wonder if my conservation techniques fly out the window when I’m guiding divers.

I didn’t realize what happened until I disassembled my gear after the second dive.  Before we landed at the first dive site, I’d forgotten to set up my gear.  In a rush, I’d grabbed the first spare kit I could find, even though it was a small BCD.  It completely slipped my mind that we put the small BCDs with the small air tanks.  So I was diving on one of the smallest tanks we have on the boat!  No wonder my air was going so quickly!

And considering I was keeping up with divers on large tanks, my breathing is actually quite good.  Whew!

Australia: Cairns

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, Scuba

Work Schedules

Each week, Jon and I work 4 days on and 3 days off – but we each have one day on and off without each other.  If that makes sense.  At any rate, today was supposed to be my “lone” day off.  Jon got up and went into the dive shop at 6:30, which we do every day because there’s always the potential that they won’t have enough passengers so they send some of the crew home instead.  Of course, the opposite can also happen.  And for the past few weeks of “peak season”, the boats have been packed with passengers and so additional crew has been needed

Which explains why, at 6:45, Jon came back into the townhouse and called, “Heidi!  They need to to work today!”

Dammit.  I was going to curl up with a good book.  All by myself.

So I packed up my stuff, had breakfast, and we made our ways to the dock.  But Hideki – the Dive Supervisor of the day – had mercy on me and let me guide some dives instead of snorkeling or doing look-out.

Dive #1: Norman Reef – The Wild Side

Depth: 16 meters

Bottom Time: 35 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

I had a group of 5 divers, most of which were relatively new divers.  The only woman of the group was suffering from a cold and so had some problems equalizing on her descent.  Everyone else got down to 13 meters with no problem, but she had to go up and down until her sinuses adjusted.  Once, she called me to the surface with her so she could blow her nose.  After the second failed attempt at a descent, I sent her back to the boat and took the rest of the group.  I felt bad, but the other divers had been waiting 10 minutes for her and some of them were already half-way through their air.  So the four of us continued on our dive.  We saw some oriental sweet lips and some surgeon fish, but that’s about all the excitement there was.

Dive #2: Saxon Reef – Reef Magic

Depth: 11 meters

Bottom Time: 42 minutes

Visibility: 15 meters

This was a much better dive than the previous one because I was able to talk the woman (Debbie) into snorkeling rather than diving again.  So the group was only four and the whole dive went very smoothly.  Well, smooth is a relative term.  It was smooth if you don’t count the fact that my o-ring exploded.  Imagine what the water looks like when a submarine is hit underwater by a torpedo.  That’s what an underwater o-ring explosion looks like.

After we had descended to about 3 meters, my tank felt as though it suddenly blew up.  Bubbles were pouring from the back like crazy.  So I went to the surface and the blast from my tank caused the passengers on the boat to look out, alarmed.  I knew it was the o-ring on the tank, and I didn’t want anyone to panic.  I dunked the back of my tank under water so the noise wasn’t as fierce and began to unhook my BCD.  When it was off my back, I turned around to turn off the air and laughed at myself.  There were so many bubbles that it definitely did look like a submarine explosion.  I quickly swam back to the boat, where the crew had a kit ready for me to swap.  I put on my new tank and BCD and descended to where my group was waiting for me.  The whole event probably took only 3 minutes, but it was definitely exciting.  My first o-ring explosion!

The rest of the dive was great.  We saw two whitetip reef shark and a hawksbill turtle at the end of the dive.  Very exciting!

Cricket Lessons

During the two-hour trip back to Cairns, Jon got Burkie and Tom to explain the basics of cricket.  Australia is ranked very highly on the “cricket charts” right now, so it’s on the news every other minute.  I don’t think Jon is ready to convert from a hard-core American football fan, but he has an appreciation for the overall idea of cricket.  Maybe we’ll go see a match sometime.

Australia: Cairns

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, Scuba

Today, Jon was supposed to have the day off.  But he was roped into working when Horst asked him yesterday.  Of course he said ‘yes’!  We need all the extra credits we can get right now.  Especially if we want to secure jobs after our Instructor Course!

It was pouring rain when we woke up, but the weather lifted by the time the passengers boarded and we made our way out to the reef.

Heidi’s Snorkel Guide

Today we went to two sites: “Turtle Bay” on Norman Reef and “The Wild Side” on Saxon Reef.  I had about 12 snorkelers, and all were pretty experienced so no one needed baby sitting.  The first site had a slightly strong current, so we stayed to the south of the boat where the current was the least.  I found a turtle to point out to everyone, and also found a blue-spotted ray.  But other than that, the first reef was fairly low-key.  Most of the snorkelers were happy with it, though.  The second snorkel was more colorful, but still pretty unexciting.  I found a few big clams to point out to people, and happened to see a brown lagoon ray hiding beneath a ledge.  But things were pretty calm.

Jon guided both dives.  Horst said that he could dive, but that Jon “had to clear it with the domestics” because Horst didn’t want to get in the middle of a domestic dispute.  But since today was supposed to be Jon’s day off, there really wasn’t anything to discuss.  Of course he should dive!

Random Ruminations

Since there’s nothing overly exciting to talk about today, here are some random ruminations:

  • Sunscreen: It’s intriguing how the anti-sun-worshipping movement is part of the Australian culture.  Because there’s practically no ozone layer over the continent and because the country is so affected by the sun, the people of the country are conditioned to avoid sun exposure at all costs.  The interesting contrast are the people from Europe.  The first thing they do when they get on the boat is to find the sunniest spot and will stay there for the entire trip to and from the reef.  The Japanese tourists are much like the Australians.  They walk around with towels over their heads to protect their skin.  It’s very healthy.  Meanwhile, Jon and I quickly realizing that even SPF 30 doesn’t keep our skin from getting sun.  I’ve developed a definite tan despite my best efforts to avoid it.  Looks like I’ll be spending a lot more time in the shade rather than in the sun!

 

  • Learning The Ropes: We’re becoming sailors.  Day by day, Jon and I have been literally “learning the ropes”: how to tie sailor knots, how to secure mooring lines, and how to dock the boat safely.  We’re hardly experts, but it’s been a lot of fun to pick up these new skills!

 

  • My New York Accent: I whip out a killer “Nanny” accent when the time calls for it.  This drives Burkie – our skipper – nuts.  It’s to the point that I do it just to bug him, and I tell him that he’d shrivel up and die without all the attention that I give him.  Today, he threatened to demote me to duty on Reef Quest (the other boat) if I didn’t shut up.  Pretty funny!  The other day, Horst asked me if I wanted to swim back to “the island” (i.e. Australia).  These guys would be so bored if I wasn’t there to amuse them!  Hee Hee!  I have to have some way to amuse myself on these two hour trips to and from the reef!

Happy New Year!

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, Scuba

When one goes running at 4:30am on New Years day, everyone wants to wish Happy New Year to the sober guy that’s crazy enough to be out running at this hour.  The only problem is that it comes out as something closer to “Appppy Nnnne Yeaaaah” or something like that.  These crazy Australians are so friendly!  The run was great and even if I didn’t get out last night I could still appreciate the partying that everyone else did.  People were still spilling out of the clubs and the line at the casino still had at least 50 or 60 people trying to get in.  Crazy.

After running through downtown I decided to run along the water so I could see the sun rise on the New Year toward the end of my run.  The first thing I noticed was all of the trash along the path.  It seems that this was a popular place last night!  The second thing I noticed were all of the passed out people trying to get some sleep on the grass/on the benches/on the picnic tables in the park along the path.  Pretty funny.  They sort of looked like corpses or something with empties bottles littered around them.  There were also a few seemingly sober folks toward the end of the path, on the northern edge of town, who it looked like were also there to see the sun rise.  

The sun rise was beautiful.  I wish I could have brought a camera…the sky was a bright purple and pink behind the two mountains that are just east of the marina, reflecting both the mountains and the sky off of the water.  Truly a great way to bring in the new year!

Happy New Year!!!!

Who knew?  Who knew that we’d be working on a boat in Australia right now?  If someone had told me that a year ago, I’d have told them to get therapy.  Isn’t it funny how life works out sometimes?

But we’re healthy and blissfully happy, so there are no complaints from down under.

New Year’s Boat Trip

Today we dragged ourselves into the shop to be greeted by some very tired and hung-over faces.  We had a full boat today, so poor Cliffy got the “can you work tomorrow?” phone call last night.  When we saw him this morning, he was wishing he’d never answered the phone.  Despite that, he was still in his usual chipper mood.

Horst – our Dive Supervisor – was looking tired but chipper, and Matty – our skipper – was his usual jolly self.  And of course the Japanese crew were raring to go.  So we were a much cheerier crew than I’d expected.

Snorkel Guide #1 – Turtle Bay

Jon did lookout today and I took out 8 snorkelers for both trips.  There was an older American couple from San Diego on the trip, and the woman – Dee – was less than confident in her swimming abilities.  So I ended up holding her hand (literally) through the entire snorkel trip.  She panicked on me twice because she got water in her mask.  So this meant that she grabbed onto me for dear life until I could calmly talk her out of her death grip.

No worries.  This is what I’m paid for, right?

Aside from the occasional panic attack, the snorkel was very nice.  We saw a large turtle and a shark that swam away very quickly.  The trigger fish have definitely calmed down, which is a good thing because I’m tired of having to back away from them each time one rounds the corner.

Snorkel Guide #2 – Troppo Lounge

Dee decided not to go out on the second snorkel trip, which was fine because that meant I could practice some free-diving.  Or so I thought.

On my way out the reef with my group, Horst called me back to the boat.  One of the Japanese resort divers got into the water and panicked, so they pulled her out and gave her snorkel gear instead.  Hiroko (one of the Japanese instructors) was already out on the reef with a group of Japanese snorkelers, so I needed to get this woman to them.  The woman (of course) spoke very little English, but knew enough to say “No!  No!” when I tried to get her to let go of my hand.  No such luck.  So I towed her out to Hiroko’s group in the shallows and – still – she wouldn’t let the vice hold go.  Hiroko talked her out of it and I was free to go on my way.

I saw a couple of porcupine fish.  Having seen them before, I never knew what they were.  But I finally looked them up in the book and am hereby educated.

The second snorkel was just fine and without incident – just the way we like it!

A Day Well Done

I got a tip!!!  Dee was very pleased with my “patience and understanding” during the first snorkel, that she decided I was worth a $20 tip!  Isn’t that cool?  I don’t think I’ve ever been tipped before.  I’ve never worked in a capacity that prompts people to tip.  No one ever tips consultants.  In fact, it may be illegal in some government situations.  So this was my first real tip.  So exciting!  I probably should have put it in the “beer kitty” for the crew, but I’m sure there are some sort of sacred rules regarding the very first tip.  In the end, it didn’t matter because Dee and her husband Ed gave a “crew tip” anyway.  So, after we washed the boat down, Horst, Cliff, Chris, Matty, Jon and I sat around and had a few beers before heading home for the evening.

What a great way to bring in the new year!

Australia: Cairns

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, Scuba

Cliff and Jon at 7:00AM on Sea Quest

Our second day of work!  Today, we got more of a grip on what’s what and who’s who on the boat.  We feel a bit more secure for what to do, but we’re a long way away from tying the correct knots on the lines.

Snorkel Guide

I  was snorkel guide for both dives, and Jon was lookout.  There was one high-maintenance snorkeler: an older woman who didn’t kick her fins.  The current on the reef was pretty strong, so each time I looked up she had drifted further away and was trying to use her arms to get back.  A lot of good that’s going to do!  So I ended up towing her around the reef.  Her daughter, Sam, was about my age and reminded me of Laura from Tibet/Nepal.  Sam saw me doing some free diving and wanted me to teach her, so I gave her my weight belt and showed her what to do.  It was really gratifying to watch her get the hang of it and improve each time she dove!  I really can’t wait to start instructing.  This is what I get for being the daughter of a teacher.

The front of the Sea Quest

After we docked back in Cairns, we gave the boat a full washing.  And I mean FULL WASHING.  Top-to-bottom, inside and out.  This vessel sparkled.  Deep Sea Diver’s Den ain’t kidding around with their standards.

Of course, Jon and I were exhausted by the time we got home.  Dinner was a plethora (and a hodge-podge) of leftovers from various dinners before: leftover turkey, leftover Mexican, leftover Thai food.  But we ate it all and made a significant dent in our overflowing ‘fridge.

We were asleep by 10:00.  So pathetic, but it’s amazing how physically draining the boat-work is!

Australia: Cairns

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, Scuba

MERRY CHRISSIE!!!! (Australian for “Merry Christmas”)

Our first day of work with Deep Sea Diver’s Den (DSDD).  Very exciting!

We reported to the dive shop at 6:30 and introduced ourselves to the rest of the Sea Quest crew.  We were all in our uniforms: white collared “Sea Quest Crew” polo shirts, navy shorts, and tennis shoes and socks.  We took one of the DSDD buses to The Pier and went to the boat to meet the rest of the crew.

The Sea Quest Crew

Here’s the low-down:

Burkie: the Sea Quest skipper.  A hilarious Australian who gave us a great overview of the boat.

Horst: the Dive Supervisor and basically, our boss.  He’s from Germany but has lived in Cairns for 6 years.

Cliff: Dive Instructor for the resort courses.  From the UK, and a very cool guy.

Andy: one of our fellow instructors-in-training.  Tall guy from Finland, and pretty quiet.

Tom: Dive instructor and guide.

Hiroki:  Japanese Dive Instructor

Timoko: Japanese Dive Instructor

Adam: videographer

Sea Quest – the boat

So the story with the Sea Quest is that it’s DSDD’s “up-scale” dive boat.  The people on this boat pay about twice as much as the divers on the Reef Quest, which is the boat we were on two days ago.  Reef Quest is marketed toward the backpacker crowd, and our boat is marketed toward people who want more service, attention and hand-holding.  Today, the boat will be almost full to capacity with 30 divers/snorkelers.

Here’s what we do as part of our “Four Star Service”:

  1. Greet the passengers as they come on board.  (Make sure to smile and say good-morning!)
  2. Walk them into the cabin area and show them where to store their day bags
  3. Bring them out to the deck and size them for gear, and then set the gear up for them.
  4. Show them the tea, coffee, and water, and chat with them if there’s time.
  5. When it’s time to dive, they sit on the edge of the boat and we bring them their BCD, tanks, and flippers and help them put all of it on before they enter the water.
  6. When they come out of the water, help them remove their gear and put it away for them.
  7. At the end of the trip, back at the docks, line up and wish the passengers a good day.

So it all sounds a bit regimented, but the crew is actually really fun and the trip itself was really laid-back.  Half of the passengers were Japanese, which means that Hiroki and Timoko took care of them.

“What’s that Island?”  Oh.  That’s Australia!

Jon went down for the first dive and I took a family of Australians out for a snorkel.

The Snorkel – Norman Reef

The family was really nice, and had all snorkeled before so we had no problems.  While I’ve always said that I would never enjoy snorkeling after have dived all these years, I was actually pleasantly surprised.  The reef was beautiful and the fish were everywhere!  Since most of the marine life hang out near the surface, a snorkel on the reef is just as good as a dive on the reef.  The family looked like they were having a great time, and I got to practice my free diving and give my lung capacity a workout.  Halfway through the snorkel trip we saw a BEAUTIFUL turtle!  It was so lovely and graceful and we just hung out above it and watched for a while.

Most of the family had gone back to the boat by 12:00 or so, except for one of the teenage boys and myself.  That’s when we ran into Wally.  Wally is a HUGE Maory Wrasse about 3-4 feet long and very, very friendly.  His lips are the size of the palm of your hand, and we know this because he loves to be petted.  We saw him playing with some divers below the boat, and we did some free dives down below to pet him ourselves.  It was very cool.

Definitely a nice trip.  And I have to remind myself – I’m getting paid to do this?

We were back on the boat by 12:15, which was just in time for lunch to be served.  Of course, we crew members hung back until the passengers were fed.  We had sandwiches and a few different pasta/potato/lettuce salads.  I had worked up such an appetite, though, that I could have eaten peanut butter and jelly and been happy.

Heidi’s Dive #1: Saxon Reef

Depth: 13 meters

Bottom Time: 44 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

For the second trip, Jon took the snorkel family out and I followed Tom’s group around the reef.  He had five divers and I tagged along in the back.  Nothing really exciting to see on this dive, but it was nice to go under for a little while.  We did see some trevelli, and there were just schools and schools of fish swimming around the wall we were on.  I really need to get a “Reef Fish Guide” so I can start to identify all these fish.  I suppose it’s like bird-watching, but underwater.

The two hour trip back to Cairns was pretty quiet.  Everyone kind of crashed because of the early start and the full day.

The Downstairs Cabin

Part of the Upstairs Deck

After we’d lined up and said good-bye to the passengers, it was time to clean the boat.  Since today is Christmas, Burkie and Horst decided we would only do a “partial” cleaning, which consisted of washing down the decks and the bathrooms only.  Usually, I guess they do a lot more.  I took the vacuum cleaner and cleaned the wheel-house and the cabin area.

After Burkie finished hosing down the deck, he told me that we needed to do a “Bitsy Check”.  I wish now that I hadn’t asked, but I wanted to know what that was.  A Bitsy Check consists of going around the desk and picking up the “bits” that the hose didn’t clean off.  The general rule of thumb is “if you can see it, then the passengers can see it.”  So it’s gotta go.  Of course, this is AFTER the deck’s been hosed down, so all the “bits” are wet and icky.  I told Burkie that I didn’t like this job at all.

Mexican Dinner

After we got back home, Jon and I shuffled into the house – completely sweaty and smelly.  He went up to shower and start laundry, and I worked on getting dinner in the oven.  This Chicken Enchilada Casserole is one of our favorites from home, and is something we found in a Cooking Light magazine years ago.  I happened to do some quick searches on the ‘Net and found the exact recipe on a Yahoo group page and I’ve copied it here if you’re interested.  It’s a great recipe because it can be fixed ahead of time and thrown into the oven for an hour before dinner.  It was just as good as we remembered.

We followed it up with Apple Pie which was just as yummy as yesterday!

Then – and I’m not kidding – we were in bed and asleep by 9:45.

Australia: Cairns

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, Scuba

What was I thinking??!!:  Jon’s run #34

OK, so I realize that my running logs may be a bit boring so I’ll give those people still reading a thought to ponder:  what kind of person wakes up at 4:15am to run 14 or 15km?  Apparently that would be; as Heidi said, “You are insane.”  Of course, I had to ask her to repeat this statement three times because she seemed to be saying this only to her pillow.  I thought it a bit odd that she was calling her pillow insane.  A little while later I realized she was talking to me and not the pillow!

There are a few nice things about running this early in the morning in a tropical environment:  1. the sun is not yet up, so the direct sunlight doesn’t have a chance to increase the effect of the heat and humidity; 2.the heat is still bearable enough for a comfortable long run; 3. it is very peaceful to get to watch the sun rise and use it’s progress as a measure of how long you’ve been running.

That said, by the 9am I was convinced that I must have been crazy and ended up taking a nap!  

And the run?  I ran the the northern end of the esplanade then ran along the shoreline park heading south, running the entire length of the park.  Past the marina with all of the dive boats and seaplanes, past the convention center, past the commercial port with all of its oil tanks, and eventually what looked like out of Cairns.  Then I turned around and did it all in reverse!  

I’d also like to point out that I saw more than a few people heading home after a long night out last night.  Some of them heading for an early breakfast and even a couple smoking something that smelled kind of funny, but hey, it’s Australia isn’t it?

The Great Barrier Reef – FINALLY!

Today, we FINALLY went diving!

Our “Instructor Training” program allows us to go stand-by on one of the boats for a ridiculously low amount of money.  And since we finally have our paperwork in order, we decided to spend the day on the Great Barrier Reef.

So we rang up the dive shop at 6:30 to see if they had availability on either of the boats.  They have a 24-hour booking service, so they never know until 6:30AM that day what the schedule looks like.  They told us that we could go on “Reef Quest”, which is the larger of the two boats and is not the one we’ll be working on when we start on Dec 25.  (We’ll be working on “Sea Quest”).

We went to The Pier to check in an pay our $35/per person for a day of diving.  What a bargain!  (That’s $17.50/pp in US Dollars).  Reef Quest is a HUGE boat that can fit as many as 120 people, but Deep Sea Divers cuts off at 80.  The boat wasn’t even 1/2 full.  But it’s a lovely boat, with great air-conditioned lounges, cushy seats, and some televisions.  And it’s a catamaran, so it FLEW to the reef in just under two hours.  Here’s our dive log:

Dive #1: Norman Reef

Depth: 17 meters

Bottom Time: 33 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

Despite the strict regulations surrounding diving in Australia, they let us go out without a guide.  In fact, if we wanted a guide, we had to pay extra for it.  This is the first time I’ve ever been on a paid dive where a guide wasn’t compulsory.  Interesting.

But Dave – the dive supervisor – gave us a nice a briefing before we went in.  He showed us a huge aerial picture of the reef, including our boat position.  So we knew where we were and where he suggested we go.  We dove north around the wall and then up through the shallows.  The reef, while it’s beautiful, isn’t nearly as gorgeous as the Red Sea.  But the sheer size and magnitude of the Great Barrier makes it a sight to see.

There wasn’t anything extraordinary about this particular dive, aside from the insane trigger fish.  They’re particularly ornery around Christmas Time.  I’m sure it’s because of the stress of holiday shopping, but it could also be because this is their breeding season and they’re trying to protect their eggs.  Either way, trigger fish and I have a Love/Hate relationship that goes back to a few close encounters in Thailand (See November 7).  We weren’t charged by any trigger fish on this dive, but it seemed that there was another trigger hovering around every corner.  So most of the dive was spent backing away from the reef with our fins out to protect us.

I’d forgotten to de-fog my new mask, so I couldn’t see for most of the dive.  Also, my second stage was taking on water whenever my head tipped to the right.  No big deal, but it was still annoying.  After a few minutes of fighting with it, I decided to switch to my alternate air source rather than be troubled with purging the water every few minutes.

Dive #2: Norman Reef

Depth: 14 meters

Bottom Time: 30 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

The second dive was great.  It was in the same part of the reef as Dive #1, so we stuck to the shallows instead of the wall.  And that was the place to be.  All the gorgeous fish hang out in the shallows within a few meters of the surface.  We saw some huge fish with wonderful colors.  And – toward the end of the dive – we were hanging out in about 3 meters of water when a white tipped reef shark swam by.  It was only about one meter long, but it was incredibly close to the surface and was very graceful.  Absolutely stunning!

Lunch was after Dive #2 and was sandwiches, pasta salads, potato salad, and fruit.

Dive #3: Norman Reef

Depth: 12 meters

Bottom Time: 50 minutes

Visibility: 20 meters

This dive was at a different corner of Norman Reef.  We did a shallow wall dive and then explored the shallows.  While we were swimming along the wall, we saw a white-tipped reef shark swimming in the blue.  It was further away than the shark in the previous dive, but still nice to see.

Again, the shallows are the place to be.  We saw a blue spotted ray swimming along the sand.  Jon and I spent some time exploring the little nooks and crannies of the reef – and there were a lot of them!  In one of the “nooks”, we saw some HUGE beautiful fish that were white and yellow with brown spots.  I have no idea what they were, but there were about 7 of them hanging out just looking at us.  So we stayed there for a while and watched before we moved on.

The third dive was done about 2:00PM, and we all climbed back aboard the Reef Quest and headed back to Cairns.  Jon and I sat in the sun and talked to a cool girl named Lisa who is from Washington, DC.  It was a lovely day, but the sun was incredibly strong.  So we spent much of the time in the shade.

We got back to the dock around 4:00 and drove back home.  There, we made Chicken Madras with potatoes and onions.  Then we hung out for the rest of the night.  Not very exciting, I know.  But we were pretty tired after three dives.