Archive | 11:30 am

We found Nemo . . .

19 Jan

And lots of other stuff – Scar, Little Squishy, Puffer, Crush… even Bruce. But this dude’s still got serious thrill issues.


When I started writing this blog, I thought I was going to have to do it without pictures – I didn’t take an underwater camera, and chose to invest my cash in something other than hiring one. And part of me wanted to experience the moment viscerally, directly, rather than through a lens. And yet I did manage to get some photos of the trip from one of the divers on the boat..

This boat

Scubapro Sunset

So… the Great Barrier Reef. One of the ‘big five’ that I wanted to do on this trip. I expected to go out on a boat for a day, do a couple of dives, come home… but instead I chose to go live aboard with Pro Dive out of Cairns – and so I found myself at 6:15 on a Saturday morning, an unearthly hour that no-one should have to see, with 35 other divers in various stages of nervousness, excitement and anticipation. Some of them have just completed their pool sessions and now it’s time to hit open water to complete their training. Others are newish divers like me, keen to see some more dive sites and add to their experience… and then there are the hardened, experienced divers, who swish up with their kit, and act cool in shades and Reefs.

It’s a 3 hour ride to the reef – which is one reason that a live aboard is a good thing. The sea isn’t calm, but neither is it raging.. the seasick baggies aren’t required (I don’t know. Do I get sea sick? I never have – and if I take the tablets, I’ll never find out. Turns out I don’t – at least so far).

Scubapro SunriseDive Deck (1)

We have a cool crew – apparently Saturday is ‘Japanese Day’ where more of the divers are japanese, so we have Masi aboard to translate. We’ve got a girl on the longest job interview ever – 5 days in total including 3 days as crew. And I thought my two day interview with Mars was a long one. And a mixture of Irish, Kiwi, Australian.. I get my priorities right and make sure I’m on the right side of the cook. And a mixed bunch of divers too – my Swiss roomie and dive buddie, Thierry, turns out to have more thrill issues than I do. But more of that later.

Gear up time – and I CAN remember how to assemble Scuba gear. No wetsuits this time (sorry girls) – just a stinger suit which does even less to hide my figure (although said figure is a lot better since I started this gig). Meanwhile, the boat has arrived at the first mooring – and it’s time to get in the sea.


First problem is that I’ve managed to forget to remove the bungee cord that holds the tank in place while the boats moving – resulting in me standing up and then sitting down again quickly. Time to get out of the BCD, take my kit apart to remove the offending cord, and then gear up again. Perhaps time for a bit of diving equipment terminology for those that don’t

  1. BCD – Buoyancy control device, designed to help you float
  2. Weight belt – designed to help you sink
  3. Pair of lungs – designed to balance the BCD and the weight belt
  4. Brain – supposed to control the lungs but not all that good at it some times
  5. Regulator – designed to provide air to lungs
  6. Secondary regulator – designed to provide air to someone else’s lungs in case they run out of air (clue – this might be of interest later in the plot)
  7. Tank – critically important source of air to the regulator. Filled to 200bar, lasts about 30 minutes to an hour depending on how well item 4 is doing.
  8. Dive computer – also critically important to tell you how much you have in #7 to make sure that air still gets delivered to #3. Requires use of #4 to make good use of it. This too may become important later in the story.
  9. Fins to help move through the water/Mask to keep water out of eyes/Snorkel to keep water out of item #3 above. None of these are entirely successful at doing their job

OK, for the non diver – how deep you go is a balance between your weight and the weight belt dragging you down, and the BCD and the air in your lungs lifting you up. The BCD is used to get balance roughly right, and then by varying the depth of your breathing, you control whether you sink or rise. Get it right, and you look cool and in control. get it wrong and you look like you’re on  a theme park ride at Alton Towers.


Time for the first dive, and I am feeling slightly nervous. I’m not expecting to die, you understand – I’m afraid of looking stupid.

Buddy check. Is the other guy’s system working,…. paying particular attention to the secondary regulator because you might need it yourself. Last minute check to make sure that my air is turned on…

Right hand on mask & regulator to stop it falling off and one giant step off the deck into the 29 degree sea over the Great Barrier Reef. Signal to the crew that I’m OK. No-one’s looking. Signal to buddy that I’m OK – fortunately Thierry IS watching, and with a quick OK gesture and a thumbs down it’s time to empty the BCD and descend into the depths..

We’re on Milln Reef and the sea life is incredible. We have four types of things in the sea here.

We have coral, which is the pretty stuff that comes in two sorts – hard like rock, and soft like plants. Well, I say two sorts, but there are a million variations on shape from ferns and fronds, whips and needles, fingers, golfballs, brain shapes… and a billion colours – pinks, blues, greens, reds, luminous electric blue and haunting pink…

gorgonian fanReef Scene

We have sand, which comes in pretty much one colour – sand colour – and a lot of which has been pooped by parrotfish, who eat the coral.

And we have fish, which fill in the gaps between the sand and the coral. And there are a lot of fish. In lots of colours. And lots of sizes. And shapes. And temperaments. (and for simplicity, I’m going to include eels, crabs, worms, nudibranchs, anemones and everything else in with ‘fish’). And turtles.


And then we have divers. Some of them look better in a stinger suit than others. Some of them look slightly different to the others based on colour of fins and weight belt. One of them has a bald head. I call it streamlining. Some of them flail around a lot, some of them look cool and serene. My goal is to move from flailing to cool over the next few days. My goal is also to make more effective use of my brain to control ‘up’ and ‘down’

So into the ocean… and it’s incredible. Fiji and Hawai’i were beautiful, but nothing has really prepared me for the incredible beauty of the reef.

Just to look at the coral is stunning.. the different shapes and colours make it look like a subterranean garden. This is a fairly flat site, here, and not very deep – although I manage to get down to 17metres. If I look up, I can see the sun through the surface of the waves, adding its own iridescent beauty to the scene below.. and in between the coral, darting in and out of the coral and through the anemones are the fish… little fish in beautiful colours.. every single colour of the rainbow is represented, sometimes on one fish (take the parrotfish, for example – a rainbow of colour). Fish naming is pretty straightforward, actually. It’s like an episode of ‘Catchphrase’ – you say what you see. So the Black Tailed Humbug looks exactly like that – a black and white striped humbug. The parrotfish has a beak and looks (particularly with the colours) like a parrot with fins. The anemone fish is so called, because it swims in and out of anemones. The cleaner wrasse does exactly that – cleans other fish. The sea cucumber looks like a cucumber, while the pineapple sea cucumber looks like a cucumber trying to disguise itself as a pineapple.

Sweetlips 2

My dive book hasn’t got that much space for notes… which is just as well, because my poor little brain hasn’t got enough space to remember what I’ve seen. For goodness sake, it’s only 30 minutes and I can manage to forget it all.

We had huge trevally a metre long sitting under the boat. We had enormous bumphead parrotfish, not much shorter, floating in shoals. And in and around them, the ‘pretty fish’ in whites and blacks, and reds and pinks, and yellows, and any possible combination of those colours – we have electric blue tiny schools of damselfish darting in and out of the coral, or lazier, slower fish who’ve seen it all, looking up as we glide past (well, Thierry glides.. I sort of wriggle)

Giant TrevallyYellowfin Parrotfish

I could document all the fish I’ve seen… but I think this might be a little bit long.

And soon, I’m down to 40 bar and overdue on the boat. It’s only been 30 minutes, and Thierry has hardly used half his tank. But the first dive is exhilarating, amazing, wonderful. I’m hooked… and the deep slide into addiction has begun.

On dive 2, Thierry decides to take a camera out. This preoccupies him so much photographing the sea life, that I can’t attract his attention to let him know I am running low on air – and I can’t dive deep to tell him, because I need to take a rest stop at 5m down to allow excess nitrogen in my bloodstream to filter out (for the non-diver, this is the nightmare called ‘the bends’… the nitrogen in the compressed air dissolves in the blood.. come up slow enough and it filters out.. come up too fast, and the nitrogen causes bubbles which can kill you). My dive plan goes badly wrong, and I end up out of air. Fortunately, I have at least planned to be on the surface when that happens – but rather than being able to inflate my BCD so I can STAY on the surface, I have to blow it up like a balloon. Oh well… a learning point.

On the third dive, I’m getting the hang of it…. my dive times are longer, and I’m in control of my air. It’s all down to relaxing, of course… breathing slowly and making as much use of every bit of air in my lungs. I’ve worked out that the sudden alarming rise to the surface half way through a dive is due to the fact that with half my air gone, the tank is much lighter.

And we find Nemo. Full name – the Clown Anemonefish. Darting in and out of the anemone that protects him from being eaten, while it doesn’t sting him. A real live Disney character. Along with his tank pals Scar, the Moorish Idol, and the pufferfish. We don’t find Dory, but she’s around somewhere. And while we’re at it, a blue spotted stingray rises from the ocean floor and slowly flies off into the distance with a leisurely flap of its fins? wings? I’m not sure anymore.


Christmas Tree worms, looking for all the world like Christmas Trees (or, possibly, twisted bottle brushes) retract back into the coral as I brush past them. And in the distance, the steel cylinders of barracuda sit looking vaguely menacing as they hover in the water.

Christmas Tree WormBarracuda

Back on board for dinner – washing the plates creates incredible excitement amongst the Red Bass hanging out for scraps at the end of the boat. Tigger and Snuff are on board, of course… and Tigger has his own mask, fins and snorkel. I’m not trusting him with deep dives yet. No, Snuff does not have a snorkel. Snuff is a seal. Snuff does not need a snorkel.

Ready to dive

We move the boat to a new reef (Flynn’s Reef) but the fish stick with us. Hiding underneath, looking for food. Wally is a huge Napoleon Wrasse…


And then the final dive of the day – my first night dive. Each of us has a glowstick, making us look like customers at a fetish disco, and a torch. The water is inky black as we jump in and descend – this time of night, the big boys come out, and some of the more cautious denizens of the deep decide to show their faces, illuminated in the weak beams of our torches.

Night Dive (1)

A cuttlefish rises from the sand, its frills driving it forward like a spaceship from ‘Close Encounters’. And it changes colour too… There are some even bigger trevally under the boat now, and they are joined by a Titan Triggerfish.. this one, at least, decides to ignore us. A lionfish peeps out from under the rocks, and a skate soars over the sand bed. Just 30 minutes for this dive – but the combination of darkness and the faint illumination of the torches makes this an unforgettable experience… and hovering on the edge of the torchbeams we see our first shark – there’s a white tipped reef shark checking us out.


CuttlefishRagged Finned Lionfish

So much to the day, I’m not sure i will sleep – but the gentle rocking of the boat lures me to slumber.. although I wake in the night to look out at the sea and marvel at just how incredibly lucky I am – and I give thanks for the opportunity I’ve had to enjoy an incredible, amazing, wonderful experience that will stay with me forever. And as far as I know, I have two more days like this to go….

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