As I mentioned, it took a while for me to decide on which diving trip to do - the weather in Cairns was horrendous so I thought that just maybe going further up north I could out-run (swim) the torrential rains pounding the town. I finally settled on the "Nimrod" for a 3 day trip on the northern part of the reef......it was most certainly not my ride out of the rain but became my base for the weathering of the perfect storm.....
Okay, so i exaggerate a little but it was most certainly not the perfect calm.....
The group for the trip met at the office, 7 strangers who were to be confined out at sea to become 7 friends, acquaintances and a sea-sickness support group. A brief introduction to them here will help with reference to them later on in the story:
Alex - 23yr old English guy, travelling on his own before starting a job at Morgan Stanley on their graduate recruitment programme
Jo and Maddo - en english woman (40....sorry jo), and Australian guy (37) - friends and pilot, diving, and who knows what else companions (they'll get this joke)....on a weeks holiday from work.
Magnus and Mikaela - young swedish couple (20/19) backpacking
Lisette - 36yr old swedish girl on a 3 week holiday - consultant in stockholm
The trip started by boarding what has to be the smallest plane that could possibly fly - a little red devil that is used for sightseeing tours over the great barrier reef (which will be referred to as the GBR from here on). Jo and Mado both have pilots licences so we were "lucky" enough to get jo as our assistant pilot on the flight - I wasn't too comfortable with this as I was having a hard enough time just getting to grips with flying low over the ocean in a shoebox with an experience GBR pilot at the helm.....but I went with the flow and trusted that the pilot knew what he was doing by letting her take the controls ;-)
The 45min flight up to cooktown provided such an awesome view of the GBR - seeing it from the sky was like looking down on a different planet......an entire little world living and breathing and creating a life under the sea. Having seen the enormity of it from above really made the experience of diving into it that much more incredible.
We arrived in cooktown about an hour before we were due to set "sail" so were sent off to entertain ourselves until the crew were ready for us. As it was about 4.30pm we thought we'd grab something to eat and have a beer - a simple enough task accomplish, one would think. But this was cooktown. CookSTREET would probably be a little more accurate a name actually - it was like entering a time warp; it looked like a movie set that had been set up and created to look like a town - I sort of expected the buildings to be front facades only in that if you opened the door you would see only the bush behind it. We walked the street trying to find somewhere that would serve food but after peeking into every local bar (there were more bars on the street than shops) we realised that dinner in cooktown was served after 6pm only. We settle on buying a few beers to take with us from the local "bottle shop" and going back to the port to have fish and chips.
This turned out to be a great idea as it was about the best fish and chips I've ever eaten. It wasn't that a portion of chips was enough to feed the starving masses of a huge african country, it was just simply the simplest perfect lybattered fish - yum yum yum. We managed to pass enough time getting to know each other a little - the group dynamics for the trip seemed to be evident right from this point.... Jo and Maddo being the strongest characters and leading the way, Mikaela and magnus were on the outskirts of the group, just peeking in every now and again-always as a twosome and Alex, Lisette and I simply chatting and getting to know all.
I was really pleased though as I had been a little worried about what the group would be like - but I think it turned out to be a great mix and a great balance of characters.
Once we'd finish stuffing our faces we were invited to board the Nimrod - a pretty big diving boat - made to carry about 14 passengers so we had plenty of space to make ourselves comfortable. Before we head out to sea we were introduced to our crew:
Scotty - lead diver (30)
Ben - diver (and my instructor) (24)
Steve - skipper (young 40 or something)
Richard - "cookie" who fed us and fed us and fed us.....
Sharkey - 18yr old canadian hostess
Rhys - engineer and helper into dive gear
6 crew and 7 clients - after being fed the first of many a fabulous meal - set out to sea to start an expedition from cod hole down to ribbon reef 3 .....