Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Part Two

Ian and me and a sea anemone!

Dive #2 – The One Where I Get Publicly Shamed

“Jack and Stephanie?  Do you need a guide?”

“No, we’re good.”

“Anne and Kevin?”

“No, we don’t need one.”

Our dive supervisor, Gary*, a hearty and hilarious Australian, was taking note of the clients who wanted a guide for the upcoming dive.  Guides cost extra and are mostly unnecessary for experienced divers.

“Ian and Christine?”


You Shall Not Dive!

But before we could decide, John, the guide who had taken Ian and I down for our first dive, interjected, helpful as ever.  “NOOOO!  These two DEFINITELY need a guide!  Ian has some serious problems equalizing – he was way behind everyone else on the last dive.  And Christine can’t even clear her mask properly!”

He looked at me pointedly.  “Christine, you should NOT be taking pictures while diving – give the camera to Ian, if you really want to bring it.  You have other things you should be focusing on, that’s for sure.”

“It wasn’t me, I swear!”

There was a brief silence after we were outed as the worst divers in the group.  Nodding briefly at John and Gary, we tried to pretend we hadn’t just been humiliated in front of a group of strangers for gross underwater ineptitude.  The others in the room looked at the ceiling, the floor… anywhere but us, like a classroom of children averting their eyes from the kid who crapped his pants, as if not acknowledging the culprit would make the offending smell disappear.

Ian and a giant sea cucumber

Despite the public shaming, our next dive happened without any hitches.  John, probably disgusted by our aquatic idiocy, traded us off to another guide, a soft-spoken Chinese diver named Wei, who offered to hold my hand if I was scared.  With the mannerisms and patience of a kindergarten teacher, he seemed perfectly suited to leading my nervous ass 15 metres below the surface of the water.  On this dive, we spotted sea cucumbers, sea anemone, damselfish, and butterflyfish.  Wei even humoured my underwater signals of joy.  He was perfect.

Anemonefish in a red sea anemone

Disconcertingly, though, I re-surfaced with very little air.  So for the next dive, I requested a larger tank.  I was always ascending with much less air than the rest of the group, and this was making me a little nervous.

Gary passed his own tank on to me, completely filled up and larger than everyone else’s tank.  With a friendly grin, he challenged me, “Try running out of air now!”  If this had been a horror movie, the sky would have grown dark and ominous music foreshadowing impending doom would have started to play…



Dive #3 – The One Where I Almost Die

Ian and I descended with two other divers and a new guide, an experienced British diver named Mark.  Ian was still having trouble equalizing and was pretty far behind the rest of us.  I descended with no problems and was feeling pretty confident at this point.  It was the third dive, and I was proud that I only humiliated myself once today.

When we reached the bottom of the site, Mark noticed that Ian was no longer behind us and so motioned for the rest of us to wait at the bottom while he looked for him.  For a few minutes, we kneeled in the scratchy white sand waiting for Mark’s return.  I was shivering from the cold, and most likely hyperventilating more than I realized.  But Mark came back and signaled that Ian was okay but had gone back up, so we would continue on without him.

A stingray and two cleaner wrasses

This new dive site, Playground, had less visible marine diversity than the old site, Troppos, but there was still plenty to catch the eye.  As we made our way over red, blue, and green coral and through schools of tropical fish, Mark made sure to check my gauge regularly to see how my air supply was doing.  We had started to ascend when I hit 50 bars of air – this is usually the time when you re-surface, but we were still slowly ascending.

Fish and coral

I wasn’t too concerned at this point – the dive had been going well, I was mesmerized by all the underwater beauty, and I thought I had been controlling my breathing pretty well.  That was up until I ran out of air.  Yes, I actually burned through 250 bars of air in about 30 minutes, which is pretty much unheard of unless you are severely obese or having an adrenaline attack due to a body part being consumed by a shark.

No air!

I sucked in air and panicked when I couldn’t actually feel the air filling my lungs.  I checked my gauge and saw that it was at 0!  I had literally checked it minutes before and it was at 50 bars, so this was completely unexpected.  Panic rose and I swam over to Mark and signaled that I was completely out of air.  He immediately handed me his alternate air source, which every diver carries, and I tried to put it in my mouth.  Unfortunately, because I was having a conniption fit, I couldn’t actually fit the regulator (the mouthpiece connected to the air tank) into my mouth.  That’s when I realized I was going to die.

I did the only thing my body could think of doing at that moment – I performed an emergency ascent.  Pushing all the air out of my lungs as fast as I could by screaming “Aaaaaaaaaahh” underwater, I kicked up and tried to ascend.  Having never done an emergency ascent outside of a swimming pool with a depth of two metres, I only hoped that I was pushing the air out faster than I was ascending.  If not, I would experience some serious decompression sickness when I re-surfaced.  If I re-surfaced.

It seemed like minutes, although it was in reality probably less than 20 seconds.  I hit the surface of the water and breathed in salty air.  Mark was right behind me.  He had been pulling on my leg to try and slow down my ascent so I didn’t end up with the aforementioned decompression sickness (which causes severe pain or sometimes even death).  He immediately inflated my BCD (vest) because that was the last thing I was thinking of as I gulped in lungfuls of air.  He looked more terrified than I felt.

I’m alive!

“Are you okay??” he asked, gripping my arms.  I had sucked in enough air by now, and the panic was subsiding.  The water was warm, and although I was a little shaky, I felt pretty good now.

“Yeah, I’m fine – I don’t know how I ran out of air so fast.  I’m so sorry!”

“Don’t talk – just relax!” he commanded me.

I looked around and saw that we were far from the boat, and that other dive guides, crew members, and the dive supervisor had all come to the deck to see what had happened.  Oh god.

I’ll save you!

Just when I thought I couldn’t embarrass myself even more, Mark started to rescue tow me, which is when the lead swimmer pulls you to safety by your BCD and you basically lie on your back and do nothing but feel the humiliation of being completely infantilized.  This is how you would pull in an unconscious person, someone with the bends (another name for decompression sickness), or an idiot who couldn’t gauge her air supply properly and guzzles oxygen like an underwater Hummer.

We hit the boat, and Gary pulled me out while Mark went back to lead the rest of the group up to the surface.  I realized that while I was creating more drama than an episode of Breaking Bad, the rest of the divers were still underwater, waiting patiently for the guide that they had also paid for to return for them.

Gary and a few of the other guides looked at me with a mixture of terror and sympathy.

“How are you feeling?”

“Are you experiencing pain anywhere?”

“What happened???”

Please don’t eat me

Considering that moments before, I thought that I was going to have the most ridiculous death known to humankind, perhaps beaten only by death from choking on a ballpoint pen, I was surprisingly calm.

“Uh… I ran out of air.”  Props go to me for being able to state the painfully obvious while under stress.

I explained what had happened a little more articulately after I was given a towel and some water.  Gary listened and stared at me with large, sympathetic eyes.

Happiness in a box

After briefing several different people on-board on the details of my mishap, I was tired and ashamed and wanted chocolate and alcohol.

Ian also wasn’t feeling stellar.  He re-surfaced because he hadn’t been able to equalize properly, and his ears were killing him.  We found water and medicine, which was a less desirable but perhaps more suitable substitute for chocolate and alcohol.

Mark found us shortly after, and approached us the same way I would approach a bratty teenager who had just thrown a psychotic temper tantrum.

“Hey guys… how are you doing?”

We assured him that we were both fine, just a bit tired, and apologized for causing him so much stress.  He brushed it off, but looked at us a little remorsefully.

“Yeah, so I’ve been thinking…”

Oh god, I thought, He’s going to break up with us.

“Are you breaking up with me???”

“Since you both had kind of a rough day with the dives today, maybe it would be best to sit out the night dive.  I know neither of you have done a night dive before, and the first one can be a little scary… So maybe take it easy for tonight, and then we’ll get back in the water first thing tomorrow morning.  How does that sound?”

Yep.  We just got dumped.

More to come soon… 

*All the names of the guides have been changed to protect their privacy.

Coral structure

For more underwater photos, please check out my flickr album!


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