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Scuba Diving on the Great Barrier Reef

by sue n 

Posted: 20 March 2005
Word Count: 782
Summary: This is more of a personal account than a travel article but I didn't know where else to put it.

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Scuba Diving on the Great Barrier Reef
" Can we have hands up for the scuba dive?" asked the captain of the Free Spirit, a yacht that ran day trips from Cairns to Green Island. My arms remained firmly by my side.
"Not going for it then?" said my young neighbour, who'd been the first to volunteer.
"No way," I muttered.
"That's a shame, you may never have another chance," he responded.
While contemplating the implied 'at your age', I became aware that my arm was developing a will of its own and wandering upward.
" OK, you're No.6," the captain said, ticking his list before I could regain control of my mutinous limb and yank it down.
"Looks like I'm going scuba diving after all" I said, as in a daze of disbelief, I joined the sessions on safety and breathing.
To see the Great Barrier Reef that stretched along the Queensland coast over an area bigger than the UK, I'd opted for this day of snorkelling, lunch and an optional introductory scuba dive. Initially intending only to relax in the sun as the boat sailed through the turquoise water, I did have a little go at snorkelling, even though the buoyancy vest and my unwillingness to dunk my head, meant that I saw little other than a few blue fish near the surface.
Although able to swim adequately, I'm not comfortable in water, and hate putting my head under the surface. As a small child paddling in the sea in Sussex, I stepped off a hidden shelf to find myself out of my depth. All these years later, I can still remember that feeling of panic as I went under while trying to regain my footing, everyone on the shore oblivious to the fact that I was near to drowning. Obviously I survived, but the experience left its mark.

It didn't take long for the captain to note that arm No.6 was attached to a quivering mass of abject fear, and while the others were divided into groups, he allotted me an instructor all to myself. As I was kitted out with the gear, my foreboding grew.
The weight of the heavy tanks pulled so hard on my shoulders that it was impossible to stand upright, not that I could walk anyway in the ridiculously long flippers. Once the face-mask was added, the rubbery smell added nausea to my list of woes.
"Do people really do this for pleasure?" I asked my tanned instructor, but I don't think he heard me through the mask that had now steamed up leaving me blind.

Rather than jump into the sea like the intrepid youngsters, I lowered myself in gently, feeling like a battered cod going into the deep fryer. My instructor only allowed me a few minutes to play on the surface before he took my hand and led me head-first deeper and deeper into the ocean. This was worse than skiing, the terror definitely outweighing the exhilaration. When we reached the reef, the colour and wonder of a fantastic other-world for a time made me forget my panic, and I gave my instructor the OK sign that we'd practised on board.
Flat fish, fat fish, gold and silver fish, metallic blue, bright yellow, stripey, dotted, triangular fish wove around me in a dizzying swirl. Spikey, nobbly, coral was covered in delicate sponges, waving multi-coloured seaweed, fat-fingered anemones and flowers that hid when I put my hand near them. The intensity of movement and colour was so exaggerated that it felt like being in a real-life Disney cartoon.
It wasn't long, however, before I remembered that this was deep in the ocean and the worries tumbled back into my head -
"Do you suck or blow?
I'm sure that was a twinge of cramp in my leg.
I've forgotten how to breath.
My mask is slipping…"
Staying down became unbearable and I frantically signalled that I needed to go back up. When we broke through the surface, and the boat, sky and sun were again visible, I wrenched off the mask and gulped in lungs-full of real air, pretending not to notice my instructor flexing the hand that I'd been gripping.

After being hauled inelegantly back onto the boat and having the cumbersome tanks removed, both relief and elation overwhelmed me. Experiencing the reef had been so beautiful, so terrifying, so unlike anything I'd ever seen before, so awesome and so bloody awful, that, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I did both.

Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef remains the number one personal achievement of my trip around the world, but I never ever want to do it again.

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 21:10 on 22 March 2005  Report this post
Sue, I totally understand your reaction and I think you told it well.

Loved this line " I lowered myself in gently, like a battered cod going into the deep fryer." but just a picky thing - the cod doesn't lower itself. Perhaps 'feeling like a battered cod...' would do it?

I bet you're glad you did it.


Richard Brown at 11:12 on 25 March 2005  Report this post
Lovely piece! Being of a similar mind about going under water I empathised! (Skiing's different for me - I always feel the fear as each day starts but I soon reach the gain line of enjoyment).

I noticed a typo or two ('kited' for 'kitted') and stumbled a bit when reading the start of the penultimate paragraph. ('After being hauled inelegantly back onto the boat and the cumbersome tanks removed...' I'd prefer a 'having' before 'the cumbersome tanks')

But I salute your courage and much admire the graphic description!


sue n at 22:27 on 28 March 2005  Report this post
Thanks Elspeth aand Richard,
Typo's etc gratefully received and acted upon.
Glad I'm not the only water whimp.
Sue n

pastytraveller at 12:43 on 01 April 2005  Report this post
Hi Sue,

Sorry I missed this earlier - new job and all so I don't have much time scan through the articles (and even less to write some of my own). I dived the Barrier Reef last year. That was the first time I'd scuba dived and I found it similarly disorientating and claustrophobic at first. I thought you conveyed that well.

You're right that it's a personal piece rather than a travel article. Perhaps more about the reef itself and what you saw while underwater (assuming your eyes weren't closed in terror!)would make into the perfect travel article - informative, evocative and with a personal slant.



crazylady at 20:37 on 03 April 2005  Report this post
Hi Sue,
This is lovely. I really enjoy your writing style. And the "Oh Hell - how did I get into this." comes over beautifully.
Well done! On both counts the dive and the writing.

Dreamer at 03:49 on 08 April 2005  Report this post
Hi Sue,

Well written and humorous.
I too loved this line ‘I lowered myself in gently, feeling like a battered cod going into the deep fryer’.

Also loved, ‘I wrenched off the mask and gulped in lungs-full of real air’. Could taste your panic and subsequent relief at breaking the surface. I think it is the claustrophobic feeling that gets most people.

I enjoyed the story and the way you told it. As an avid scuba diver I have forgotten the fear I had witnessed in some of my classmates all those years ago. You describe it well.

I am shocked that you were taken down with so little instruction. My wife and I had run into this on our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. She was ‘tossed’ into the ocean with maybe an hour’s instruction in the pool beforehand. The dive operator did not have enough equipment so the ‘divemaster’ snorkled on the surface keeping track of his charges. As I was an experienced diver we were OK, but others could have had a serious accident.

I’m glad to hear this guy at least kept hold of your hand and stayed by your side. You hear of deaths all the time from this sort of practice of ‘tossing’ untrained people in the ocean where fear can make them do silly things that can literally kill them.

Congratulations on your dive and your story.

If you’re properly trained so your fear is diminished you may find you want to continue to do both things. Diving and writing that is.

I love the colours and diversity of life as well as the feeling of weightlessness, as if one’s flying. Glad you had the chance to experience it.


sue n at 23:29 on 09 April 2005  Report this post
Thanks Mark, CL and Brian
Unfortunately Mark I can't remember much of what I saw on the reef and if I had all the instruction in the world, Brian, I still don't think I'd do it again.
Glad I did it once though!
Sue n

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