Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

In case you didn’t know, that’s what SCUBA stands for; Self-Contained, Underwater, Breathing Apparatus. Good to know huh? One for the pub quizzes anyway, lol. 😉

going diving

Now I’ve never been SCUBA diving before, but I was rather excited about giving it a go. Actually I initially wanted to do my PADI certificate (or ‘dive ticket’ as the locals would call it) but unfortunately they didn’t have any dive courses running while we were in Port Douglas, so I had to settle for the introductory dive course instead (though I’m glad I did, and I’ll tell you why in a bit).

We had to delay heading out to the reef until our last full day in Port Douglas because of the afore mentioned hurricane, and even then as we headed out the weather didn’t look too promising.

grim weather heading out

Thankfully though the Great Barrier Reef, being a long way out, had a whole other weather system sitting on top of it, and when we got out there it was sunshine and blue skies all the way.

a sea of blue

clear waters

We did our trip with Blue Dive, on a boat called Poseidon, for the grand total of about $305 a-piece. That got us three dive sites, with the option to dive all three (first one included, $50 and $30 each for the next two respectively) or just dive one and snorkel the other two. But it also got us our own dive instructor (for just $35 extra each – normally $270), a fellow countryman named Vic (Vicky, I think) who showed us the ropes one on one, and took us down separate from the other, larger group on the boat.

nice outfit(s)

I was admittedly a little nervous about the dive. There’s an awful lot to get your head around in a short space of time, and ten metres under water is not the place to be trying to remember what to do in an emergency. But still we got our heads around the emergency procedures (I say ‘we’, but Lena is already a qualified PADI diver, and in fact that’s the only reason we could go down just the two of us and an instructor) and after a bit of practice just below the surface we were off towards the sea bed. That’s where things got a little hinky.

great barrier reef

I won’t say I panicked, because I didn’t, but I could definitely see panic approaching in the rear view mirror. When we got to the bottom I instantly had problems with buoyancy. Vic had checked that I was neutrally buoyant further up, but when we got to the bottom I found myself floating back towards the surface. There was no air in my floatation device, and there seemed to be nothing I could do, so she had to resort to putting an extra weight in my pocket to keep me down and level.

scuba divers

Level that is, with the sea bed, but the extra weight on one side meant I felt like rolling over all the time. It was difficult for me to keep face down. Plus I was still too buoyant, down to the fact that I was breathing rapidly into the top of my lungs, retaining a lot of air due to my mild panic and not thinking.

coral

coral growth

And I wasn’t thinking. My entire brain was concentrated on one thing; survival! I hardly saw any of the reef, I was too busy not drowning. In the end Vic pretty much had to drag me around the reef, for the most part anyway, to stop me floating off into the wild blue yonder.

deep blue

Not that it was a total nightmare. I managed to calm down a bit, though I still wasn’t breathing properly, and I got to see some bits of the reef, and the fish that were down there. But pretty soon it was over, and we were heading back up the rope toward the surface. I’ll be honest, I’ve never been so glad of something in my life.

poseidon (with thumb)

Much reflection was done on the surface. Vic thought I’d done well, all things considered. She explained why my buoyancy was messed up (the retaining breath). She’d checked nearer the surface and it had been fine, so obviously I was the varying factor. And she said she hadn’t “…dragged me round the reef.”, as I had said, but it was more to stop me from floating away.

And I’ll give her her due, she did explain everything that we needed to know going down, and she checked that I was able to do all the emergency procedures before the dive. She also said she wouldn’t have taken me down if she hadn’t been confident that I could do them all myself. But we also agreed that we were a little rushed, what with the other group waiting to go, and that didn’t help with my nervousness or make life easier by any stretch.

The actual exchange when we got on deck originally went like this;

“Well, how was it?”

“I dunno. I think I need a cup of tea first before I can tell you that.”

A cup of tea and a rest later and it quickly became apparent to me that I was not going to do another dive. I mean I really wanted to, since we were there, but it just wasn’t worth the extra $50, considering how much I’d ‘enjoyed’ the first one. So we opted to snorkel the next two spots instead.

snorkeling the open ocean

It didn’t take long for me to realise I’m a snorkeler by nature. Snorkeling is great! You get to see so much more, or at least I did anyway, and best of all you can just float around on the surface doing nothing if you like, and there’s nothing you have to think about (like breathing).

lena underwater

keith underwater

I also got to play with the disposable camera I’d bought at the chemist, which turned out to be a lot better than I was expecting. Just check out these shots.

disposable underwater camera

fish on the reef

underwater cameraman

a school of fish

nemo!

lena of the deep

In the end, despite the freakiness of the SCUBA dive, we had a great day on the Great Barrier Reef. We got to see and do lots of stuff we hadn’t seen and done before, and I can say I’ve been SCUBA diving now, which a great achievement for me. We even celebrated with a victory curry afterwards.

a victory curry

And just one final thought for anyone thinking about doing a trial dive of their own. We were chatting to the captain of the boat at the very end, and he said that he though snorkeling was harder than diving, and that if he was going out for the first time he’d snorkel first to get used to breathing with your face under water before giving the SCUBA diving a go; and on reflection I’d have to agree with him.

If I’d snorkeled first I’d probably have felt better about doing the dive. I’d at least have gotten some confidence in the water. I mean I know why we did the dive first, so it gave us the option of diving all three sites, in the event that we loved it. But a snorkel and two dives would have been just as good, and possibly even better. If I was going out again for the first time that’s what I’d do. Snorkel, dive, then see how I felt about the last site, deciding on the day. I doubt you’d feel like you’d lost out, and you may even have a better time because of it. That’s my two pennies worth anyway.

47. great barrier reef headstand

Right, that’s it for Oz (for now). Next stop New Zealand, where much fun was had by all; including boogie boarding on sand, and a visit to a little place called Hobbiton. 😉

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