...and other misconceptions I made 10-01-26
2010 Jan 26

Archive for January, 2011

January 30th 2011
A few quick pictures

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I did a dive with my camera today (as part of my Advanced Open Water certification. And then I took a few more from the boat.

self portraitL and the giant clam

I don’t know why I also look so startled under water…

coralsome fish?


sunset over the great barrier reefsunet from the boatreflections

not bad

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January 29th 2011
Day One of the Great Barrier Reef Liveaboard

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So here’s what I had intended to post the last three days – I have already posted most of the pictures, but haven’t told you what we actually did. Fair warning – this is a longish post with no additional pictures… I’m breaking this down by days so it’s not completely out of hand – and I’m backdating the post to match the correct date.

Saturday morning at 6:30am we met at the dive store in Cairns, checked in and headed to the harbor. On board we watched the mandatory safety video and then got a quick briefing from Warren, the skipper. After repeating the highlights of the video he came straight to the point “I don’t want to lie to you, there’s Tropical Cyclone to the South West of us, it was hear a week ago and had drifted out to see, but last night it changed direction and now it is coming back our way. We’ll keep you posted as soon as we have new information”. Umm. Awesome?

The boat left a few minutes after seven. It was sunny and hot, the waters around Cairns were fairly calm. About half an hour into the three hour boat ride things got rougher and rougher and rougher. Since I do appear to have a tendency to sea sickness I took a sea sickness pill. At this point the boat was moving like an out of control carnival ride. Corkscrew plus up and down and what not. Ugh.

I made it through the three hours, but it was close a few times. We arrived at the first dive site, the sky was overcast, it was quite windy and the sea was still rough.

The first dive was just a fun dive – look around, relax, get used to diving again (well, we had been diving just two days earlier, but several others hadn’t been scuba diving in months). There were 15 divers on the boat (it holds twice that many), two instructors who were working with classes, one supervisor, an instructor just along for the ride and of course a cook. It turned out the latter two were both German…

The visibility was rather disappointing. Lots of sediment in the water, all the wind and waves had really made a mess of things. Also, we were supposed to wear these full length “stinger suits” with integrated hood and gloves to protect us from jelly fish. To say that I hated that thing would have been an understatement. I argued my case that I’d rather dive in my 3mil wetsuit and forget about hood and gloves. One of the instructors looks at me and says “you have to wear this suit. Unless of course you are too cold in the water and agree that we are not liable if you get stung by a jelly fish”. Ah. I get it. I suddenly realized that 84-86F (29 or 30°C) water is actually rather chilly and that I really needed my wet suit to stay safe and warm. Case closed.

We had lunch and after lunch the Advanced Open Water Diver course started. Masao Miki was our instructor – he had four students. Claire and Alex from the UK and Taylor and me from the US. First dive was Peak Performance Buoyancy. A class that I really looked forward to. Taylor and I were buddied up (poor L had to dive with Taylor’s buddy – his girlfriend, a very cute and very nice 27 year old Chinese American girl… I think L was ok). Claire and Alex had some problems with the class. The idea is to be able to be neutrally buoyant in water – don’t drift up or down – without kicking your fins or doing anything else. Just correct inflation of your BC and breathing control. As Alex (who turned out to be a hilariously funny guy) described it himself afterwards, he was going for the helium balloon effect at the Thanksgiving Parade. Not exactly as intended. We were supposed to swim through (very slowly) three hula-hoops that were anchored at different depth. No problem for Taylor and me, Alex destroyed the installation. Then we were hovering in a circle and Masao handed us three pound lead weights. The idea was to take the weight, stay at the same level by simply breathing in deeper (which increases the lung volume and therefore your buoyancy) and then hand the weight on to the next person (and exhale again to still stay at the same level). Masao ended having to hold on to Claire who first hit the ground the moment she got the weight, then inflated her BC to compensate (we weren’t supposed to do that), then handed the weight to Taylor and of course immediately started drifting up. It was rather funny.

In the afternoon we did the Navigation dive. Again, rather simple. Swim along a 100ft / 30m line, count your kicks. Swim back. Take the average and remember. Now swim 30m along a certain compass heading, turn around and come back. Taylor and I did this. Easy. When we came back to the starting point, Alex and Claire still weren’t there. Claire appeared to have problems descending. Masao sent us on our square pattern: again, 30m along a compass heading, 90° right turn, 30 more meters along the new compass heading, another turn, etc., to swim a square. Taylor and I returned perfectly to our origin (there was no current whatsoever – the visibility was still very poor, so we clearly did have to navigate). We found Alex alone at the anchor block, and no sign of Masao or Claire – so all three of us waited. A few minutes later Masao finally managed to get Claire to the anchor, but of course she and Alex had been breathing like crazy, trying to descend, and were already out of air after just the first step (counting your kicks). So we aborted the dive for them.

The dinner conversation was so funny that several of us had coughing fits. Hearing Alex describe their “attempts in buoyancy” (all delivered dead pan with a strong British accent) was just too much.

After dinner came the night dive. Since this was part of the certification, the students were supposed to navigate. Claire and Alex were understandably worried, so we agree that the four of us would stay together and that Taylor and I would sort of worry about direction, Claire and Alex would focus on not popping up to the surface. It was a really good dive, lots of cool fish, a few crabs, a few sharks – very nice. We all got safely back to the boat and had an after dive snack (there was a meal or a snack after every single dive – certainly no shortage of food).

Throughout the day the weather had gotten increasingly worse. Rain, heavy rain, heavy winds, significant surf at the end of the night dive, so bad that a few of the divers had trouble making it up the stairs to the boat. But Warren told us that the Tropical Cyclone was still more than 100km away and that we’d stay out at the reef since so far the Cairns harbor hadn’t been included in the alert area (which would have forced all boats to return).

Everyone was very tired and we all went to bed fairly quickly. The night was rocky; the wind and the surf pushed the boat around quite a bit. But as far as I know no one got sick.

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January 29th 2011
Great Barrier Reef

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In bullet form

  • Tropical Cyclone Anthony is about 100 miles south
  • Its rain, storm and waves are here
  • Visibility under water is similar to Hood Canal (i.o.w. rotten)
  • Internet connection is shaky, slow and expensive
  • I’m having a wonderful time

More (including pictures) when I’m back on land, I gues.

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January 28th 2011

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You may be excused if you don’t know where Cairns is – unless, of course, you are a scuba diver.

directions and distances Cairns is on the Northern end of Australia’s East Coast in the state of Queensland (just like Brisbane – only further North, i.e., closer to the Equator).

As this very useful sign shows it’s about 15Mm (or 15000km) to London from here, 2000km to Sydney, and the Great Barrier Reef is right there in front of us. And that’s why we are here. My diving buddy L and I left Brisbane and came here to add some more fun to this work trip.

drive throughWhile Brisbane is the business center of Queensland, Cairns clearly is the party center. We saw a disturbing number of alcoholics around town, and maybe even more disturbingly this drive-through liquor store. That’s a first for me.

By avoiding the board walk and looking for a smaller, less flashy restaurant we ended up in a wonderful little Greek place with truly authentic (and delicious) food. Not exactly what I expected in Cairns, but very welcome.

Tomorrow morning we’ll start a three day liveaboard to the Great Barrier Reef. Lots of scuba diving and not much else. Should be fun. Allegedly the boat has internet connection – so there may be updates from the dive trip. But I’ll put this in the “I’ll believe it when it actually works” category.

For now I’ll leave you with a picture that shows a view of the harbor peninsula from the Boardwalk.

harbor view

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