The ocean spray hit against my face as the cruise boat sped across the ocean surface. Nathan, Alan and I were sitting at the front as Alan desperately held on to hat as is it tried its best to blow away. We were on our way to the Great Barrier Reef.
As we became stationed, the introductory divers were summoned to the rear of the boat. As I stepped out to the loading platform, I took a deep breath. Water as far as the eye could see…Australia was no longer in sight. I had this idea that the reef would extend out of the water but here at our first stop, it was all hidden under the surface. Our dive instructor Taka came by to see if we were almost ready.
Stripping down to just my boardshorts, I slipped into the full body stinger suit. The wetsuit was a bit trickier to get into as I hopped up and down on the spot to squeeze in and as I zipped it up, I could feel the tightness on my chest. With my kick ass green flippers I looked like a superhero, a ridiculously warm superhero. Taka then tied a weighted belt around my waist and then finally the icing the top. The scuba tank and vest.
I awkwardly followed the others out into the sunlight, trying not to trip in my flippers. The most difficult part was walking down the stairs with all the gear on, until I was ankle deep in the ocean. Wait. With everything that had been going on, I had not a chance to get nervous and comprehend what I was about to do. “OK, use your right hand to hold on to your goggles, left hand to hold on to your respirator” said one of the on board instructors. Wait, what? “Take one big step forward into the water”. So I did.
I plunged into the Pacific Ocean, getting a brief glimpse of the new world that lay in store of me, before the inflated jacket pulled me back to the surface. There was a rope that we could all grab onto to practice our breathing. Pulling myself under the water I tried to become accustomed to the breathing method but after twenty odd years of naturally holding my breath, it was a surreal experience. Mentally, I felt short of breath, despite having an adequate amount of air in my tank. I started to take in deeper, quicker breaths. Calm yourself down, Ryan.
Suddenly, the rope jerked quickly, being dragged in one of the current swells. It flipped me around to see that I was being pulled towards…the ship’s propellers. They were stationary but it was an unsettling sight. I broke the surface again and noticed some commotion down the line. One of the girls was struggling. Being self-absorbed in my own situation, it was not until later that I realised that Taka had escorted one of them back on board.
OK Ryan, you’ve got this! Taka asked me if I was good with hand signals and I made the OK sign in reply and he deflated my jacket and we slowly begun to sink.
Schools of fish swam past while the coral went on forever in each direction. It was truly a beautiful sight. During the descent, one of my ears started to hurt. You are told to exhale against a pinched nose to acclimatise to the pressure. I had been doing as the instructors had told me, so I kept positive that it wouldn’t cut my dive prematurely short. We swam around with linked arms and I didn’t mind to have that security when getting to grips with everything. At one stage we swam past the reef’s alpha male fish to pose for pictures. I ran my fingertips along the beast and was surprised on how slimy he was.
Taka swum next to me and checked my oxygen gauge with a concerned look that could be seen on his face past the goggles. My gauge had entered the dangerous red zone, so with five minutes to go they dropped me back at the boat. When stripping off my gear in the loading bay I was both relieved and proud that I had completed my first dive.
After lunch, the boat drifted into the final reef spot of the day. Pumping myself up, I became excited for the next dive. Once again, Alan, Mina and I were lead out of the loading bay but instead of walking down the stairs, we had to jump from the side of the boat. Alan made his jump when I cautiously asked Mina, “Uh, should we take the stairs…?” She paused, considering it for a moment, then shook her head. “It’s grab your balls time!” she said triumphantly and jumped off, making a splash in the waters below. If little Mina can do it, I better man up! Edging, towards the side I looked down to see Alan and Mina swimming towards Taka. I took a deep breath and plummeted into the ocean.
Instead of linking arms, I was now swimming entirely by myself. The freedom felt amazing but there was the awkwardness of swimming with just my flippers. At many times I tried to do the breast stroke (method of choice) but my flippers did not like that one bit.
Finally, we swam out to the edge of the reef and the ocean floor disappeared into an infinity of darkness. My breathing piece almost fell out of my mouth as I gawped in bewilderment. It was like being in outer space or on some desolate alien world.
Swimming back to the boat, I noticed a foreign object heading to the surface. What is it? TURTLE! Taka swum down to the reef and broke off some vegetation and enticed the turtle over with it. It darted over, unafraid and started to munch away quite happily. It was just able to float there and I stroked its smooth shell. After having his full he swam off into the void. One of my highlights of Australia.
Near the end of the dive, I ran out of air once again and had to return to the boat while the others enjoyed an extra few minutes with the reef. Despite staying longer under water, Alan had almost a half full tank of air. He joked “were you breathing too heavily again?”…”It’s not my fault I have such manly lungs!”
The boat was now speeding back to Cairns and I rested in one of the chairs, tired and content. Jes came up to me and asked if I could take some pictures of her and Mina on the top deck. Once we were up there, the boat started to slow down and the captain made an announcement to look out at the water. The three of us ran over to the side to see whales playing out in the distance.