|Pro Dive 5 Day Open Water Course - Great Barrier Reef
We were all collected from our hostels in Cairns bright and early (7am!)
and taken to the dive school for our first of two days pool and theory training. Barely awake, we were introduced to the staff and were shown the first of about 4 DVD's that day teaching us all important aspects of what the learner diver should be aware of. i.e. The number one rule is to never ever hold your breath while diving as your lungs will probably explode!
Shortly after, we all had to sign disclaimers in case of death as we were embarking on a dangerous activity hmmm. However, that did not deter us, so we continued and sat two tests in the afternoon before venturing out to the pool for a 3.5 hour swim!.
We were introduced to the tank, BCD (Life jacket buoyancy aid), the second stage (breathing apparatus), the computer (with depth readings etc), wet suits, mask, snorkel and weight belts. It all seemed a little too much to take in; however after feeling the weight of the tank and the weight belts everyone was only too keen to get in the pool!
Once we were in, we were shown how to breath underwater, how to inflate and deflate the BCD, how to equalise our ears and how to clear our masks of water underwater!
By 6pm we were exhausted, however, it was not over yet as we had a 'Reef Talk' evening to go to, where a company in Cairns do lectures on all aspects of the reef (especially the wildlife). The chocolate biscuits and tea turned out to be the highlight of the talk as the man conducting it felt a compulsion to raise the tone of his voice up and down to the extreme and run up and down the stage all night (which was funny for the first 2 seconds of the night!) We left early and eventually made it to the hostel at about 9pm.
This was our last day of training before going aboard the boat. Yes it was a day of more classroom lectures, videos, an exam! and another long session in the training pool. This time, however, the level of difficulty increased as we had to do the following;
Dive down to 4 metres WITHOUT breathing apparatus,
Remove and replace our weight belts in the water,
Remove our jackets in the water,
Take our masks off underwater at 4m deep and replace them,
Have our air supply cut off underwater and buddy breathe to the surface
and last of all, learn the classic diver straddle jump thing into the pool
After another strenuous day it was back to the hostel to pack our things and get an early night for the trip out to the reef the following day.
We were picked up at 6am in the pitch black and taken to the wharf to embark on our 3 day live aboard trip. We were advised to take sickness pills as the journey getting to the reef is pretty rough, and to make it worse for us there was a wind speed of 20 knots, but we declined the offer of sea sickness pills, as we didn't want to feel drowsy. After boarding the pretty cool looking boat, and having a nice breakkie spread, we set off. 30 minutes into the journey however, the conditions were so bad that the boat had taken several victims and paper sick bags were being issued like they were going out of fashion! Marc was one of those victims, commenting "The person who decided on the size of those bags clearly hasn't seen me in action". Pretty soon with most people on the boat looking green and holding paper bags, most of the boundaries had been broken down and everyone on the trip was well acquainted.
After 1.5 hours of 4m high waves, we eventually arrived out on the much calmer reef, and were told we had 30 minutes to get ready for our first dive. The weather was so bad and our stomachs were so churned that no one was particularly looking forward to jumping in, however we assembled our gear and soon found out that under the water was a much calmer place to be. We went down to our deepest dive yet of around 9 metres, practised some exercises and saw a turtle which was really cool. We were also taken on a guided tour around a bommie (big rock) and got used to swimming horizontally.
In the afternoon we set off for our second dive of the day and were tested on towing a tired diver, emergency ascents, mask water clearance and other skills.
We spent the rest of the afternoon/evening relaxing and enjoying the food that just kept on coming!
This was the final day of our open water course for certification. We embarked on two morning dives, where we were tested for compass navigation, mask removal and replacement under water, diving to a depth of 18m, breathing exercises, signals underwater and more.
During the end of our final test dive, our instructor presented us with a Magna Doodle board under water on which he had written 'Congratulations!'. We knew then that we were now free to dive on our own without an instructor.
After lunch, we all had a briefing and were shown a map of the area and places of interest to look at. Marc and I set off nervously on our own to attempt the recommended dive. Initially we set off in the right direction, however straight away we saw 2 huge turtles eating on a bommy and went to investigate. After that we were distracted by a puffer fish that we tried to follow to get a photo, however after not getting close we realised we were pretty lost and decided to try and find the original route. On the way, we were lucky to see clownfish and sting rays but no sign of other divers or familiar land marks. It wasn't long before our air was getting low so we decided to surface. We saw the boat was about 100m away so decided to head back underwater. When we resurfaced again, the boat was still really far but we had no air so had to swim to it. Overall we had a fantastic dive, but there was a lot to get right for the next dive! i.e. follow the compass and swim slower to conserve air.
Our last dive of the day was at night, with torches and glow sticks. This was a guided tour which was pretty strange and eerie, however we were disappointed we did not see very much. We did see a 100 year old turtle sleeping under a rock but apart from George (as they named him), everything else was hiding and there was a strong current in the water which made it quite difficult physically.
On our last day we were woken at 6am for a sunrise dive. This was promised to be great as we were told the 'night shift' swaps with the 'day shift' and there are fish and aquatic life everywhere. Marc and I did our best to follow the compass and make the most of it and we did really well. We immediately saw two giant turtles coming out for the day, then a shark sleeping on the bottom, plus more turtles, giant clams, lots of colourful fish everywhere, sting rays and lovely coral. We also managed to surface closer to the boat this time!.
We had 2 more pleasure dives on our final day and both times we made our way back to the boat underwater which we were really pleased about. The quality of the fish and coral improved and our navigation improved leaps and bounds.
After the final dive, we headed back on board for lunch and the journey back to Cairns. We had completed 9 dives over 3 days and had an amazing experience. We are now well and truly hooked on diving and when we can afford to, we will take the opportunity in Sydney. We thoroughly recommend learning or at least trying it once as it has opened a new hobby for us and will influence our choice of future holiday destinations.