Diving on the Great Barrier Reef has been on my bucket list for a very long time. As the fates would have it our dive is scheduled for our very first day in Australia. We had planned to meet with our dive guide on Thursday afternoon to carefully plan our excursion for the underwater photo shoot. Missing our flight from Brisbane to Cairns we arrive later than planned and have to move our meeting to early the next morning. Arriving to the hotel in Cairns fully disoriented, we unpack, eat and pass out.
In the morning I feel half dead and dehydrated. I don’t even know what day it is until I see a newspaper, we left on Tuesday and its Thursday! We scramble out the door to take the twenty minute brisk walk to get to the pier by 7 am to rendezvous with Adam. I am immediately struck by his kind, friendly personality and excited to work with him. I am also struck by the business, Passions of Paradise, as a first class operation. The boat is pristine, the staff are professional with a safety first mentally while making sure to have some playful fun.
Our first stop is the Hastings Reef. I am feeling pretty good about the idea of buddy breathing with Adam and not having to suit up in l scuba gear. Additionally we carrying a Spare Air so I can take breaths if needed between the buddy breathing. As I remember from Jamaica, the dress and swimming underwater present quite a physical challenge so I am grateful not to have to manage dive equipment in addition to the dress. Jeff’s challenge with diving is mostly his motion sickness. He gets sicker than anyone I know and I feel awful. Today, however he is wearing the patch and we are blessed with calmest and clearest of days. Jeff is feeling well and that makes me feel confident.
Returning from our equipment briefing I learn Adam has a different more conservative plan. He wants us all to be in full dive gear and do ten minutes swimming around. Then he will take off my BCD and we can start buddy breathing. I am instantly sick. I remember the last time I had to do this on my check out dive and I hated it. In my head, it is one thing to go down without air but taking off my tank and giving up my octopus goes against a diver’s desire to breathe normally. I am worried but say nothing. As we suit up another staff member notices my shaking hands and tells me to look at him. He holds my hands and we inhale for three seconds, hold for three and exhale for three. We repeat the process three times and I do feel calmer! I got this.
We all take a giant stride off the aft of the boat and begin our descent. I am breathing heavily at first but then feel better. I even practice taking the octopus out of my mouth and replacing it, which requires you clear it before breathing. It’s going well until Adam begins to take off the BCD and trade buddy breather and octopus back and forth. As I am too buoyant I feel panic creeping in so we slowly surface. We get me back into the BCD and I feel safe again.
We continue on but after ten minutes I need to surface to explain that I can’t keep up. My fins get caught up in the train constantly and I completely winded trying to keep up. I am afraid I won’t have any strength by the time we get to good coral. Adam drags me with him as we scout out sites and begin to shoot. It goes against my proud nature to accept help, but I would rather have help than be defeated. We see some lovely coral, clams and fish and shoot until Jeff is out of air. Truth be told, I am glad I am ready for the boat and a break.
One problem, there is the boat but no break. We change tanks and dive back in. We are doing better now that I know Jeff wants me swim past him when he finds interesting corals. We continue moving around Hastings Reef until the divers are coming in and I am cold and very tired.
Lunch is a fantastic spread of culinary delights. I couldn’t tell you what most of it was just that it was plentiful and delicious. For those with culinary restrictions I heard them specify to vegan or gluten free, I was too tired to bother for myself. As we eat we review the photos and while some are decent they are not great. SeaLife Cameras was kind enough to lend Jeff some great gear. Unfortunately, unknown to Jeff, he had the settings wrong or the photos would have come out even better. The reef was teeming with life but we did not quite manage to capture the beauty.
So we will dive again at Michael Man’s Cay. We are in sync, Adam is dragging me from one spot to the next and then setting me free swim in circles a few times until I get an okay or thumbs up from Jeff. We are searching for another spot when commotion strikes. Everyone is shouting and pointing, “Manta Ray!” Adam can’t resist, he knows we will stay put and high tails it to grab some amazing footage of the graceful giant. We finish by shooting the many fish by the boat before both Jeff and I are absolute toast. Right after we get on board and shuck our gear the commotion begins again. This gorgeous manta swam right by the boat for all of us to see. It was the perfect end to the second dive.
Continuing their stellar service we are treated to fine meats, cheeses and crackers as we settle in for the ride home and process the photos. We breathe a sigh of relief as we find one that is an interesting abstract shot of the dress with a jelly fish. In the end we got two more and one of the two a real keeper. I will say this if you want to experience the reef in Cairns, go with Passions of Paradise, but a word to the wise leave your wedding dress behind.