FNQ – 20,000mm Under The Sea

cairns diving july 2008

Although work probably takes me up to Cairns two or three times a year I rarely seem to have the time to take a few days holiday and make the most of being out of Brisbane. Although I still didn’t have the time I decided that this time I would take a couple of days leave and look to go out diving.

It’s been over 2 years since my last dive, when I did a day trip out of Port Douglas on a previous occasion when work had taken me up to Cairns. As I was in Cooktown I did look to go out to the Cod Hole or Coral Sea but the trips out there didn’t fit in with when I was there, plus the cost is pretty expensive, with the cheapest places being over $1,200 mark for a 4 day trip. However, I did notice when I was in Cairns that last minute empty places were being advertised in the region of $700 so if you find yourself in Cairns and aren’t constrained by time that you should look to try to get a last minute cheap deal. Surprisingly the liveaboard trips out of Cairns only have a 48 hour cancellation notice so you could book one of those as backup and cancel it fairly last minute in favour of a Cod Hole/Coral Sea trip should a cheap deal become available.

cairns diving july 2008

Day 1
A 5:30am alarm, picked up at 6am, first to the shop to sort out gear and then to the boat. The trip to the outer reef took 3 hours and wasn’t too bad considering the high winds earlier in the week. For Day 1 am buddied up with a 20 year old girl from Portland, Oregon. These days it might be a while between dives but I am trying to keep the old BUDC traditions going on the other side of the world… First dive at Milln Reef was a pleasant swim around a few bommies at 20m. On the way back to the boat we spot some clownfish, stop to have a play and one shoots out of his anemone, bites me on my finger and makes a very quick retreat. Thanks to Finding Nemo everyone thinks Clownfish are cute but they’re pure evil really….

Dive 2 and it’s the joys of getting into a wet wetsuit. This time it’s a 50 minute dive, maxing out at 16m but mostly at about 6m amongst the shallower coral. Almost got run over by a turtle doing about 100 miles/hour, but my buddy managed to miss it.

The boat moved to a different part of the reef after the 2nd dive and Dive 3 was on ‘The Whale’. Had forgotten all the Dive Supervisor’s information and bearings by the time we hit the water and so most of the dive was spent wondering whether we were in the right place. Saw another turtle and spent some time checking it out.

Dive 4 of the day was a night dive. Every night dive you do on the Great Barrier Reef will be made out by the crew to be the event horizon of diving where you will see everything and just about every night dive on the Great Barrier Reef will be a huge anti-climax where you don’t see anything. And true to form we saw nothing.

After 4 dives in a wetsuit it’s pretty cold and after long day go to bed at about 9:30am. The only trouble is my dorm is at the back of the boat near the generator and although the earplugs block out some of the noise they don’t block out that the whole room is vibrating…. So it’s not the best of sleeps.

Cairns Diving July 2008

Day 2
We are given a bit of a lie in on Day 2 so it’s just the 6am alarm call. Day 2 finds me buddied up with a girl from Perth called Tania. Dive 5 is similar to the day before’s Dive 3 when we forgot everything we’d been told about the dive site. This time we remember a bit better. Down to 20m again and saw a few white tip reef sharks patrolling the edge of the reef but nothing that we could get close to. A bit later on in the dive we saw another turtle and checked it out as it had a bit of a feed on some seaweed. On the second swim around the site we find the swim through that we’d missed on the first swim around the bommie and so head through that before surfacing.

By now my ear were starting to squeak quite a bit, and the joys of the wet wetsuit were not being helped by a cold day on the reef and a cold wind. But there were plenty of dives left to do and the boat moved over to Flynn Reef for the next set of dives. Dive 6 was an 18m dive on the outside of a reef, where we saw a few blue spotted rays in the sand but not much else. The coral was in pretty bad shape. We came onto the shelf and the coral and fish life was considerably better, in good shape and plenty of it.

With the three day dives done it was time for dinner and preparation for the night dive. The instructions were to swim on a bearing of 180° for 9 –11 minutes until we hit a bommie, swim around the bommie and find Brian The Turtle sleeping, then use the lights from the boat as a guide to get back. So off we set and after 14 minutes we still haven’t found Brian. And suddenly there he is. I’d like to think it was my excellent underwater navigation in the dark that got us here but when we’re back on the boat it turns out it was more fluke than anything as I thought we were on the other side of the bommie. When my buddy gave a signal to swim off in a certain direction I gave a funny look as I thought that was swimming away from the boat. So I made us go around the bommie a second time… Apparently we saw Brian again on our second lap but I wasn’t paying attention… We use the boat lights to get back and see a few reef sharks circling the sand under the boat. Then we ascend to the bar they’ve got under the boat for safety stops and watch the big snapper and big barracudas circling around us, and the reef sharks beneath us in the shadows. It was really awesome, a welcome change from previous night dives on the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns Diving 2008

Day 3
The final day starts with a 5:45am alarm call, despite the fact that it’s still pitch black outside. By the time we get in the water just after 6:30am in our still wet wetsuits it’s beginning to get light. After the initial cold water shock of hitting the water it’s a fairly leisurely dive and we see a lion fish, couple more turtles, a really big grouper/cod hiding in a hole and a reef shark on the way back to the boat.

Gotta squeeze those final day dives in so we only get about a hour back on the boat before we’re back in the water. We’ve moved site again in that hour and our instructions for Dive 10 are to swim along the edge of the reef and follow it as it bends around, then sit there and watch all the big fish, big rays, big sharks. And turn back when you hit 100 bar. So we get about half way to all the big exciting stuff and one of my two buddies for the day hits 100 bar. So we come back. A few people did make it to the place where all the big exciting stuff was. And saw nothing. And so finally to Dive 11, which was a bit of an anti-climax in the shallow reefs. Then it was time to pack up and head back to shore.

Cairns Diving 2008

Cairns Diving July 2008

It wouldn’t be a proper dive trip without some sort of kit faff/loss and this trip lived up to expectations with my dive computer deciding to die on me. Apparently it turned to the dark side somewhere along the way and decided that I did a 140m dive for 999 minutes. And then it decided when I was back on the boat that I was doing a rapid ascent and didn’t stop beeping every few seconds for three days…

A good trip all-in-all even though it was pretty exhausting doing 11 dives in 3 days. And I miss my dry suit. The dive computer is off being fixed and I’m back up to Cairns at the end of the month so probably going to try and fit another dive or 11 in while I’m up there.

The photos are from my cheap Vivitar underwater film camera, essentially a camera similar in picture quality to a disposal camera but with the ability to change the film. I kicked it old school and decided to do b+w with Kodak’s c41 BW400CN film. As would be expected got a few ok shots and lots of blurry/out of focus/badly composed shots (due to the difficulting in composing shots without a proper viewfinder). Might have to get around to getting a digital camera and casing at some point…

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