Our trip to the Great Barrier Reef included a pick-up from the hotel, so we were spared the challenge of finding the right boat among the dozens at the marina. Boarding was a bit of a scrum as we had to pick up snorkels, flippers and wetsuits before trying to find a seat. We plonked ourselves at the one remaining empty table and were joined by an Indian couple in their 40s. At least we still had one spare seat on which to perch all our gear.
The briefing that was delivered as we left quay was all very jolly – but did rather make me fear that compulsory group singalongs might be on the agenda. Unfortunately most people lost their high spirits, along with their breakfast rolls, shortly after leaving the shelter of the bay. I managed to get about 90 minutes into the 2 hour journey before succumbing (in spite of taking tablets before we left) – Mr V was one of only a handful of people who weren’t sick. The crew were very good, handing out and retrieving paper bags and fetching water, but it was so bad that even some of them were ill.
A dive briefing was delivered when we got to the reef after which we were assigned to groups of 4 for the introductory dive. I was glad of the wetsuit even while still on the boat – with a grey sky and stiff breeze it was positively chilly. I was fitted with a weight belt and told to sit on the dive platform, and a crew member brought the tank and harness. Even sitting down it felt very heavy. Once I’d got my mask and fins on I edged into the water, put in the respirator and ducked below the surface where a crew member supervised me clearing my mask and removing and replacing my respirator.
As Mr V and another member of my group had decided not to do the dive, there were only two of us, and the other guy was also a confident swimmer – this meant that we were able to swim freely rather than just going down holding onto the rope that was used by the non-swimmers.
It was a shame the weather was so dull as it meant the colours were not as bright as they should have been, but there were large coral mounds (much bigger than those in Flores) and plenty of big reef fish. I found the diving simple enough but had great difficulty in equalising the pressure in my left ear, and wasn’t too sorry when my 20 minutes was up.
Once I’d jettisoned the tank and harness I went back in for a snorkel – I think I actually saw more as I wasn’t so distracted by the mechanics of diving, but without the extra layer of the tank harness I got cold quite quickly.
The crew did a great job really. As well as dealing with so much sea sickness and guiding complete novices safely through their first dive, they also had to cope with a large number of Chinese passengers who spoke little English, and most of whom couldn’t even swim – but that didn’t stop them donning safety vests and flinging themselves into the water, tucking pool noodles under their arms, sticking their faces into the water, and thrashing their flippers in an energetic but ineffective attempt to move forwards. You could criticise their aquatic skills, but not their courage or enthusiasm.
The lunch of meat and salads was generous and tasty but I really wasn’t hungry – just very, very sleepy. Perhaps it was the effect of the sickness tablets. According to the itinerary we were supposed to move to a second snorkelling site, but because of the weather we stayed put, and the cheese, crackers and wine was brought out while we were still at anchor instead of during the journey home. My appetite had recovered a bit by then – it would take a lot to make me turn down cheese and wine.
For the return journey I headed straight for the fresh air at the back of the boat and found a comfortable spot on an upturned crate. The captain managed to find a smoother route home and far fewer of us were ill.
Back at the flat all I really wanted to do was sleep – but there was poached salmon and potato salad to prepare for the next day’s dinner, a pizza to cook for lunch, and dinner that evening to make.
I had mixed feelings about the day. Diving was something I had long wanted to try, but the poor weather had made the journey uncomfortable, the snorkelling cold, and the reef not as impressive as it should have been. My ears were still fuzzy, and would remain so for days. Overall I was glad to have done it, but in future I think I will stick to snorkelling.