Thursday, December 18, 2008

Scuba diving down under, literally!

Holy Crap....

I mentioned earlier that I was going scuba diving this week. Well I'm back safe and sound. The above photo is the area where I was today.

Overall, an amazing trip, yet one of the scariest happenings of my life as well. Maybe some of you have been scuba diving before and thought it was amazing and easy, but for me it was terrifying. While you were sleeping, I spent 25 minutes under water, sometimes down 30 feet.

The tour cost $115, but when I arrived, they told me I was upgraded to a tour worth $289. Good sign right? I arrived at the pier after a 40 minute walk into town and was greeted with the good news. The first perk of this tour was free coffee. I had myself a cup and looked for friendly people. I found a nice couple. Matt from England and his girlfriend Amy from Darwin, Australia. Also at our table was Tina from Sweden. Lets just say she looked Swedish. (Another perk!)
They were easy to get along with. It was a 90 minute trip out to Michaelmas Cay, one of the better spots on the Great Barrier Reef outside of Cairns.

We had a 30 minute presentation on some of the wildlife we would see below the surface. It was pretty informative. A lot of the fish in Finding Nemo we would expect to see down on the reef. After that, I was pleased to learn I was in group #1 which meant I would be doing my scuba dive as soon as the boat arrived to Michaelmas Cay. After a 20 minue briefing on what to remember, which seemed like a lot of info, I was ready to go.

Have you ever done something that you knew was scary? Well with scuba diving, I think its a pretty normal thing. When I think of people in movies scuba diving it looks easy, unlike when I see someone jumping off a building in a movie. That looks difficult and scary. Scuba diving, however, in my mind, is comparitive to jumping off a building or cliff. I am honestly very scared of being under water for more than lets say 5 seconds. But I didn't quite realize that until it was time to suit up.

It was my turn to sit on the edge of the boat and get geared up. They applied some weights to me that would help me sink once in the water, but honestly, and unknown to me, I didn't exactly need them. I was the last one of my group to get suited up and they basically pushed me face first into the water.

I swam over to this horizontal bar they had connected to the boat. Totally nervous and scared now, I practice breathing with my mouth piece. It doesn't feel like Im getting enough air, but I really am. I'm thinking "Just breathe and you'll be okay. People do this every day in a lot worse shape than you are."

The instructor has us practice breathing with our heads under the water for a few moments, then, one by one, pulls our group of 4 across down to the next bar located probably 6-10 feet below the first bar. It could have been less, but it felt like 50 feet. He reminded us before the dive that making sure the ear pressure is stable is very important. This terrified me.

The signal the instructor gave us was the "All good!" sign which was the thumb pressed against the pointer finger with the remaining three fingers stretched out. When he pulled me under, he gave me the sign, looking to get it back. And of course, I gave him the signal.

Down to the second bar I went. At this point, the group had to demonstrate that they can take the mouthpiece out, and put it back in. What I had to do was take it out of my mouth, which I was not really up for, then release a few breaths of air, then put it back in. I was the last one to go, and I pulled it off. When I put it back in, I needed to cough, or blow a bit of air out so that I wouldn't swallow any salt water.

I would like to say that at this point, I am still freaking out a bit. I am just trying to stay alive and breath. I realize that I have another half hour to go and there's no turning back. Well actually there is a turning back. That would require me to get the instructors attention, then give him the thumbs pointing towards the surface. But I really didn't come here to do a 2 minute, 2 foot dive.

So I'm hanging there on the second bar, with my fellow group. Three women. I think they were Australian. All these accents are hard to tell right now. So for all I know they could be kiwis or pommes. Next the instructor, named Siril (Sounds like Cereal, easy to remember) linked our arms together and then pushed us away from the bar.

Ah! Now I've thought of it. The mouthpiece is called the regulator. From now on, I will say "regulator" when referring to the mouthpiece.

Did I mention how scared I was? All I could think about was biting my regulator, and breathing. I could have been looking at the pyramids of Egypt or the Grand Canyon, but I wouldn't have noticed because priority number one was LIVING!

We started swimming down, all the while my ears were getting very pressurized. I realized that I didn't have much trouble stablizing my ear pressure which was good. I had to also empty my mask of seeping water, which I would have to say, I was better at than anything else...except breathing. It's fairly easy actually. I just had to look up, and blow air out my nose, and that would get the water out. But still it was scary.

We're a few minutes into the dive. I can see some beautiful Coral. The reef truly is amazing. There are fish, and just hundreds of colors and shapes to see. But that would probably be the third best thing floating through my mind. Number one would be again: Stay alive and breathe. Number two was: How much time could we possibly have left, because I want nothing more than to be on land. Not a boat, not a beach. Get me to a mountain ASAP.

The instructor then brings us down to the bottom of the ocean. I believe the max depth he brought us was 10 meters or roughly 30 feet. So this was probably at least 18-20 feet. We kneel down on the sand. This was really comforting because I could just relax and breathe. He had brought us down to a big clam. I think it was a clam. I didn't care remember? He had each of us touch it. It felt...I have no idea, like something wet. Then we moved on.

Some time around then he had us swimming real close to the reef and I am sinking. The four girls are doing great and I'm holding them down. So much for those weights right? Ciril swam over and inflated my life preserver a bit, causing me to float up to the pack. Thank the Lord. Oh, I am still latched onto the girl next to me. I never got her name but I did thank her later for not getting mad at my "death grip" I had on her arm. At one point I was nearly holding her hand, but then wrapped my arm back with hers the way I was supposed to.

Swimming over the Great Barrier Reef was truly amazing. Although mentally, I wasn't there the full 25 minutes, there were times where I could think "Wow, this is pretty amazing, I will hold onto this memory as long as I'm alive." There were times where I was a bit paniced. Either when my mask started to take on water or when there was nothing around us but blue sea. I just had to keep returning to a sane state of mind. If you've ever seen "Happy Gilmore", Adam Sandler had to go to his happy place. I think that's what I did. I had to think of something that would take me back to calm.

Also during the whole trip, the underwater camera I purchased (which has no photos from my dive) was getting tangled with my regulator. Its lucky that I was on the end of our linked group so that I could unravel the camera.

Towards the end I saw a large chain spanning from the bottom of the sea to the surface. I wanted to think, "YES this is it!" but throughout the dive, I made sure I never expected the end, and that helped me stay calm.

Finally I saw the two bars that we had started out on. And we slowly reached the surface. I have never been so happy to breathe fresh air. We got back on the boat one by one and that was my first scuba dive. It could be my last. Who knows? But at least I can say I've done that. I truly believe I would have an easier time skydiving. Some people fear spiders. Some fear water.

After that, we had an amazing lunch, all inclusive. I had fruit, shrimp and some other meats. Tina from Sweden was very gracious in helping me reapply sunscreen as we headed out for our afternoon snorkel.

It was pretty fun. I finally took some underwater photos. Tina took some phots of me and I took a few of her with her camera...and maybe one with mine. We spent 30 or 40 minutes swimming around, then headed back to the boat.

The last 90 minutes were spent heading back to Cairns. I, along with Matt and Amy had a few beers, sun tanned and got to know each other. We then departed the boat and headed home.

I went out to dinner tonight with Matt, Amy and Tina to a Thai restauant. Then we went to the casino where I won $53 which paid for my dinner, drinks and cab for the night. Not a bad way to end a great day.

Before I go, I want to tell you about yesterday's Crocodile Farm tour. First of all, I'm not a huge nature fan. I mean, if you say to me, "Hey Ryan, look at those awesome looking trees." I might say "Yep!" but really think "Wow...trees...really?" So the boat ride down this river was kinda boring. We went through over an hour of Mangroves. So it wasn't completely a waste; I did learn about mangroves.

What was disappointing was (A) it was pouring rain and (B) there were only 10 others on the boat. There was a family of four from Ireland, a couple from Germany, another couple from Austria, a third couple from Melbourne, and myself. Not a lot of people to converse with. The couple from Melbourne (Glendan and Donna) were pretty nice. Glendan invited me to have a drink with him and we talked a bit about world issues.

After the (yawn) long boat trip, we arrived at the croc farm. I'll post some pics soon. It was fairly interesting. All the crocs at this particular farm will one day be hand bags, belts, wallets, you name it. The tour guide was a bit boring, but overall informative. He said a couple times "Boy you guys are lucky to see so many crocs." and at one of those points Glendan says to me "Its a bloody croc farm, I woul HOPE to see some crocs!"

It was over an hour bus ride back to Cairns when we were done. I slept the whole way.

HEY! I'm off to Brisbane tomorrow for a few days. I know a couple people there and expect to meet up. Will update you when that happens. Thanks for listening to my LONG story. Talk soon.


- Edmund - said...

I snorkeled on the reef. Couldn't handle the scuba. I am an asthma nerd and can't breath lol! I went to a croc farm in Rockhampton, which was awesome! Good stories.

TMPJ said...

Ryan!! Your description of the scuba excursion is enough to provoke an anxiety attack in New England!!! It doesn't sound like you saw a Great White--save some of the adventures for later... you have a whole year.

You are our hero!

Love the Swedish girl description and so will Johanna.

Toby, Mary, Paige & Johanna

Crystal said...

Ryan this is the funniest thing ever. I SO understand what you are talking about. Diving is pretty much the LAST thing on my list to do in life. EVER.
I'll watch Planet Earth. LOL But good job!! I'm impressed and I'm glad you stuck with it. hehehe a new memory! LOL

Jon said...


I too am so damn impressed you stuck with it. You do a great job of describing the fear--it almost feels like a tangible object. (When I was in the Dominican, I couldn't snorkel one bit--felt like the old days at the Ouellette's pool when everyone was racing in the pool and I was holding on to the side. Not wanting to risk breathing in water, not having success with flippers)

Were there flippers?

From the way you wrote it, something tells me you're underselling the beauty of Ms. Tina....I expect a full report. Haha.

The picture accompanying this post is amazing.

I'll talk to you soon, bro.


Shelby said...

okay wow! You are seriously brave, I would be scared out of my mind!!!!! Your scuba diving story is hilarious! I am certainly glad you made it out safely. Seriously you should write a book these are sweet entries. I love reading about your friends! They sound so cool. it must be so neat to be around so many accents. Pretty soon you're gonna be so prone to the strong Australian coffee you wont even remember what dunkin's is.