Any swimmer could probably tell you that from the time they were a little kid they dreamed of being able to breathe underwater. Well, if you want that to come true, start scuba diving.
I left for the reef last Thursday morning after a fun night out with some new friends I had made in Cairns. Cairns is mostly known as a launching point out to the Great Barrier Reef. My friend had told me about a great trip she went on back in May 2014 where she got to do a few dives, sleep under the stars, and enjoy the reef. When I new I was coming to Australia, I knew that was a trip I wanted to do, but I didn’t know that doing this trip would bring about a new passion.
We began our voyage out about 20 km into the reef at 7:30 am. Our captain, we’ll call him Al, was an eccentric, tattooed, one-too-many-puffs-on-his-joint kind of guy. When I first boarded the boat, he promptly yelled at me to take off my shoes and pay him his $300. Being somewhat nervous, I didn’t want to piss off the captain that early on so I followed his orders and hurried to get him some money.
We soon met the rest of the crew, 1 guy and 2 girls, our Dive Instructor, Master Diver and Master Dive trainee. All of them we’re really great and I could tell it was going to be a great trip.
Our boat, a fairly beat-up vessel, set off for a 3-hour journey into the reef. Enough time to start to get to know some of the other 15 people on my trip before hopping in to dive with them a bit later on. These people ranged from American ex-pats now living in Brisbane, to a deep-sea search and rescue diver from Germany. They came from 4 different countries - Canada, Germany, Australia, and the USA - but mostly everyone was between the ages of 23 and 30.
The great thing about our trip was that there was a mix of both divers and snorkelers. The trip also included, for the snorkelers, an introductory dive to teach basics of diving. I’d never dove before and really never had a huge interest in learning, but I figured this would be a good way determine if I really enjoyed diving, or if I could pass on the idea into the future.
We got some basic instruction on diving, but really not enough to be considered “knowledgeable” on how my dive equipment worked. I’m fairly confident that what we did on this trip is only legal in Australia. Figures.
Once our basic lesson was over, we hopped into the crisp, yet balmy, water to start our first dive. I had a lot of equipment on me, most of which I wasn’t sure what it was. We did a little introductory breath control work and then it was under water. For 30 minutes. Without air…
For a swimmer this is a dream come true.
The first bit we spent under water was a little tense. I was unsure of how to control my breath, my ear pressure, the water leaking through my mask, and the concept of being 15 feet under water without the slightest thought of breathing naturally. It’s a surreal experience.
As a kid, I used to have thoughts of just being able to sink to the bottom of the deep end and sit on the bottom. Unfortunately that could only last for about a minute as I’d run out of air. Diving made this a complete possibility. Mix in 10 meter columns of coral and a thousand fish of every color imaginable, and I’m sold.
I added on 2 additional dives that day at a couple of other sites that weren’t quite as good, but still incredible. The best was still yet to come.
During our day on the boat, we were provided with amazing food prepared by our captain for every meal. The food was great considering the nature of our captain. He definitely didn’t look like chef.
We watched an incredible sunset (pictures to come later), which were quickly followed by the most incredible stars I’ve ever seen somewhat covered up by a lighting storm about 30 miles south of our location in the reef. I’d never seen so many stars, and I’ve spent summer nights up in the northern part of Michigan where the stars are incredibly mind-numbing. We had great views of the Milky Way, Orion, Venus, and early in the morning, the Southern Cross.
I ended up sleeping on the boat in the hopes of seeing a sunrise on the reef, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I woke up around 5 am to the early morning light and watched the oranges and reds overtake the sky. It was really an impressive sight.
Our morning started early with a snorkel and dive (by the divers) around 7:30 am. This was quickly followed by breakfast, and then a short drive to our final sight, The Canyons, before heading back into Cairns for the evening.
My final dive was meant to be 20 minutes at 10 meters depth. I’d heard that this site was the best place we’d see and I was excited to experience something even more amazing than I’d already seen.
I slowly sank from 2, 5, 8, 10 meters down, and I found myself floating in the middle of a 100 meter deep canyon staring at a pillar of coral stretching all the way up to the surface. The water was so unbelievably clear that i could see every detail of the coral. This moment was likely one of the most incredible moments in the water in nature I’ve ever seen in my life. I couldn’t believe how unbelievable the corals and colors were.
We proceeded to swim through canyons of coral on both sides, fish swimming above and below me, and the sun beating through illuminating the colors around me. 40 minutes later I found myself starting to run low on oxygen and emerging back on the surface to real life. What’d I’d just seen I knew I needed to see again.
)ur trip concluded after that and we headed back into shore. A quick nap and then dinner, drinks and some clubbing late into the night with our crew capped the best two days of my trip to Australia yet. I left bright and early the next morning to head to Sydney for the last leg of my trip.
For any swimmer out there, you have to go diving. It’s something you’ve probably dreamed about before, or thought about being possible, yet never was. It’s amazing what an oxygen tank, mask, and some sinker weights can provide you with under the water.