September 10th, 2007 – by: Tannith
We got up at 4.30am to grab a shower and get packed again for our flight to Cairns to join a 3-day diving expedition on the Great Barrier Reef. I don't dive unfortunately, though I started a course about 9 years ago hoping that scuba would help my application to read Marine Biology at university. Sadly I never completed my open water training as it would have taken up 3 of my remaining 8 weeks of summer before Uni and I didn't have the £1000 for hiring gear and transport. Plus the prospect of dark, cold, murky reservoirs filled with eels wasn't more enticing than hanging out with my mates. So for me this trip is for snorkelling, which I'm reliably informed is as good, if not better than the rigmarole of diving. All that kit is such a pain in the arse it seems.
We flew with JetStar (though I'd like to mention that there is another airline called Aeropelican, which I find amusing) and the flight took about 3 hours.
We arrived to sunshine and 26 degrees. I've been told that Cairns is a bit of a dive (no pun intended) but the drive from the airport was through rich green vegetation on hills rising to mountains, blue sky, island-style properties. Really beautiful, almost Caribbean, if the Carribean didn't sometimes feel so synthetic. We got a taxi to the wharf and got on board our new home, a sea view room on The Spirit of Freedom. The trip is for up to 26 people doing 3 days, 7 days or perhaps longer as the boat moves around the Barrier Reef. On our first day there were 2 dives, 5 dives next day and 4 the day after, at least one will be a night dive. The price (about 600 pounds each) includes bed and board, 4 meals a day with complimentary wine if you are not diving again in the next 8 hours, and the dives themselves. The rooms are the usual wood-panelled affairs, with ensuite shower and WC. We wanted the sea view State Room but the increase in price didn't justify the addition of a writing desk, though in retrospect it affords more floor space as a result.
We started off at 12 midday and had a tour and briefing.
Our room has a flat screen TV and DVD and there are books, DVDs and magazines to borrow in the saloon. The bar operates on a honesty basis, what you take from the fridge in the way of soft drinks, chocolate or alcohol you record and tally up at the end of the trip. Meals are 4 times a day, cold brekkie of yoghurt and cereal before the first dive at 6.45am. Andy tells me the first dive is the best usually. Then a second hot breakfast of bacon and eggs etc when we return. Then lunch at 1ish and dinner at 7ish. Our lunch today was smoked salmon, prawns, parma ham, salad and pasta. Yum. Then it was getting ready for the first dive.
There are only 3 snorkellers on board, myself included and although there are facilities for snorkellers there is the definite feeling that we come second priority to the divers.
We waited for them to get out of the way with their kit before driving out in a tender (inflatable dinghy) and dropping over with a member of staff and a life buoy until we become accustomed. The idea was that Kylie (staff) would swim pulling the life buoy which we could hang on to until we were sure our legs could combat the current but very quickly I found my 'sea legs' again and in no time was flat on my front, face in water, staring at the fishes and surfacing only to beg to know what I was looking at.
Unfortunately my companions were having difficulty with their wetsuits and snorkels so the tender returned to collect them and Kylie and I swum off alone to explore the reef. We saw green and purple Parrot fish (heaps of), black and white striped Angel fish, Rays, blue-tailed Wrasse, Damsel Fish, a shoal of Oriental Sweet Lips and a shoal Trevally.
She tells me also there was a Puffer Fish but I'm not convinced I saw it among the others. When the divers returned it seemed we had seen much the same things except for a white-finned shark and a turtle, so I don't feel too bad about not being a diver.
We returned and sat reading on the sun deck catching the last rays of sunlight and about half an hour later the group went out again for a second dive at Atlantic Clippper. We forwent this one as it was just a return to the same reef which by all accounts was good but not spectacular because visibility wasn't brilliant. Dinner was leg of chicken on risotto with snap peas and yellow courgette followed by chocolate bread and pudding - I like the cook here! Knackered now so going to bed early before the early dive tomorrow - apparently that's when all the good stuff comes out!