Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Last Thursday I began instruction for scuba diving. The day began around 730 and I was nervous! Somehow in planning this trip I had been focusing on how much I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef and all it's wonders and beauties and it didn't occur to me until scuba instruction began that this is, in fact, a rather technical, and potentially dangerous activity! My instructor was named Rhiannon, Rhi, and there were 6 other girls in the class. Apparently it was the first class ever to be all girls. Beginning the process of learning about and assembling equipment it all seemed so complicated and overwhelming so much to remember, and if anything goes wrong underwater there are so many complications and hazards in which the best decision needs to be made for safety.

We first did a number of laps around the pool and treaded water to be sure we could all swim sufficiently well, no problems there. Then we put on fins and snorkels and practiced duck diving and comfort with breathing. Then we put on scuba gear... it is SO heavy, and also quite buoyant in water which means on top of all the equipment you also wear a weight belt to ensure when you want to sink deeper, you can. On to the underwater skills, we needed to practice removing our regulators (what the air comes out of) and finding them again underwater so in case they fall out or get yanked out underwater we can put them back in safely. We also practiced removing and clearing our masks, this was the one skill I had great difficulty with. I always seemed to breathe in through my nose once the mask was removed and consequently would swallow a great deal of water which doesn't help with performing the skill or remaining calm throughout.

It turns out that I am an airpig... the first day as I had one final skill to perform, removing and clearing my mask and replacing it, I ran out of air. So, day two once we performed all our skills under 4 meters I ended up trying that skill for the first time. I did it, with a great deal of difficulty, and once our training was over for the day spent a while practicing it in shallower water.

Of the 7 of us in the course, two failed. We had a Chinese mother and daughter in the course and the mother spoke no English which made it quite difficult for her to understand the instructions or what she should do. Consequently she did almost everything wrong and held the whole class up in learning and practicing skills. On the second day as we were practicing removing our weight belts and replacing them underwater. She took off her weightbelt and let go, so started floating up to the surface butt first while vainly attempting to swim back down and grasp her weight belt. She looked so funny floating upwards butt first grasping around I started to laugh so hard. I could barely catch my breath and was crying so hard, afterwards I asked Rhi what I should do if I started laughing in the ocean and had difficulty catching my breath and discovered regulators are delightful, you can do anything into them; laugh, cough, spit, puke, whatever needs to be done underwater can be done into them, whew!

Day 3: first day on the boat, we left on the day boat to meet up with the boat which remains out on the ocean around 9am. The sea on the way out was perfect, aqua blue like in the postcards, glassy, calm, barely any wind, sunny, all the instructors said it was the most perfect weather and conditions they had ever seen :) We also saw 4 dolphins on the way out leaping in the boat's wake!

We arrived to the boat, had lunch and prepared to jump into the water for our first dive. It was so much fun to really dive! We went under and swam around for a bit, then found a patch of sandy bottom to practice our skills in the ocean to ensure we were comfortable enough to pass. I had no difficulties with any of them, but got extremely nervous to remove my mask at 10 meters under the ocean and refused. Had a lovely rest of the dive, we were told over and over again not to touch anything underwater as there are venomous fish, snakes, corals, all sorts of deadly creatures underwater and unless you know what you are doing should never touch. Rhi picked up what looked like a large piece of spiky, maroon, rectangular styrofoam and handed it to each of us to touch - sea cucumber. There are also plants which grow out of certain corals called Christmas Trees as they look like tiny red or blue Christmas trees. These plants, if you snap your fingers close to them or wave your hand, will jump back into their holes - so much fun! Upon surfacing, I was told that in the next dive I would have to remove and clear my mask three times!

Second dive at 4pm; this time I felt so much more comfortable jumping into the water, got down and practiced our skills. I removed my mask once, removed it a second time and nearly panicked, was about to swim up to the surface and then just reminded myself to breathe, remain calm and completed the clearing. Rhi took pity on me and we swam around for the rest of the dive until we needed to return to the surface at which point I cleared my mask for the third time. At the surface I was told that in the next dive as well, I would have to remove and clear my mask three times until I was comfortable doing so... Swallowing ocean water makes you quite gassy, I spent the rest of the dive burping into my regulator to clear my air passages. Upon climbing onto the boat, I had a little difficulty breathing until 5 burps later I was good to go!

I didn't dive again that day as for the night dive you either need to hire an instructor to take you, or be certified. The next day, during our 8am dive, Merete and I (the only two to spend overnight on the boat from our class) were going to be filmed by the ship's videographer performing our skills and had also been told to bring props for skits. One prop we had found was a dinosaur egg which hatches after 12 -24 hours in water. We forgot until the evening to put it in water, then stuck a large egg into a plastic bucket on the saloon bar. All the instructors and other divers thought it was hilarious and names were thrown around for the new ship's mascot. Clare, one of the hostesses started singing a song from some childhood tv program about "--- the last dinosaur" and couldn't remember his name - she was convinced that it was Denvis. Croccy and Peter were the other two front-runners. I relaxed on the boat and went to bed early.

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