Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Part Three

Click to read Part One and Part Two of the adventures of Ian and me on the Great Barrier Reef!

Reef sharks – photo by Tom Fone

Bad Canadian!!

Dive #4 (kind of) – The One Where I Am Officially Banned From Diving

I am lying on a metal board floating in the ocean in a wetsuit two sizes too big for me.  The night air is cool and I can feel the water sloshing around in my suit uncomfortably.  It’s maybe 22 degrees or warmer, and being from Canada, that temperature should have felt just balmy.  But I’m shivering with the cold and my teeth are chattering – I know, I am the worst Canadian ever!

The whole point of a wetsuit is to keep the water against your skin, warming you up in the process, but it doesn’t seem to be working.  I’m almost regretting the fact that I’m out here and not lying on the sofa watching an old episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and drinking wine from a box, which is how I normally spend an evening.

Best. Night. Ever.

Life is good

After a disastrous dive earlier today, where my friend Ian and I both panicked and re-surfaced without our instructor, it had been highly recommended to us that we not participate in the night dive this evening – which seemed a fair punishment for being THE WORST.  So Ian spent the afternoon taking Advil and chugging water, and I lay out in the sun on the top deck of our boat like a beached whale, listening to mildly offensive hip hop on my phone and trying to forget that I had run out of air and almost died a most pathetic death just a few short hours ago.

As compensation for the fact that we were being politely banned from the night dive, Gary*, the dive supervisor, and Mark, our former dive guide, had said we could still go out and watch the shark action from just off the boat.  Hence the floating board and the oversized wetsuit.

My sad attempt at underwater night photography

“You’ve seen how bad things can get… Well, they can get a whole lot worse!”

What we were lying on resembled an overturned chain link fence, attached to the boat so we wouldn’t accidentally float away to New Zealand.  We put on our snorkel masks and, breathing through the air tubes, we could easily see the reef sharks, giant trevally, and red bass that our diving counterparts were swimming with.  Gary and Mark had assured us that the reef sharks were harmless and would pretty much need to be violently pummeled in the head before they paid us any attention.  Although I trusted the guides, I was still a little put off by their conniving grins and the giant white daggers protruding from their mouths.  As they circled below us, I had the thought that just a few drops of blood in here could turn this into a scene from Deep Blue Sea, minus the impassioned speech from Samuel L. Jackson.

More weirdness as I attempt night photography

Ian and I watch the trevallies and the red bass slowly making their way over the reef while eyeing the other nocturnal reef inhabitants carefully.  Above us, Mark is dropping bits of bread into the ocean close to our heads, causing me to jump in alarm as sleepy-looking fish would suddenly become alert and snatch the desired morsel just inches away from my face.

I pull my head out of the water and glance up at Mark.

Idiots banned from feeding fish

“Can I feed them?” I ask him eagerly.

“Uh… no,” he answers.

Awkward silence.

I guess not diving well also precludes me from being able to throw a piece of bread accurately into the water.


What underwater night photography should look like – photo by Tom Fone

Before the dive, Gary and another guide had gone over the new site with us during the post-dinner briefing.

Gary had dramatically told the group with the gravitas of a funeral eulogizer, “Tonight, you get to play… GOD!”

He held up a small underwater flashlight for all of us to see.  “The trevallies aren’t the brightest crayons in the box, shall we say, and they’re pretty much blind in the dark.  So they’ll follow you around once they see you with the light.  And when they see another fish in your light, they’ll go for it.  That’s their dinner.”

He looked around at us with a solemn glare.  “So tonight, with this flashlight, you will decide who lives and who dies.”

With great power comes great responsibility


I put my head back into the water and try to follow the movements of the sharks and the lights of the divers in the murky blue depths below us, realizing the wisdom of Spiderman’s uncle’s words:  With great power – a pencil-sized flashlight – comes great responsibility: the ability to decide the fate of poor, unsuspecting baitfish.


Dives #5, 6, and 7 – The Ones Where I Redeem Myself (sort of) and Prove That I’m Not an Idiot

Don’t break up with me!

For our second and final day of diving, we had yet another dive guide, a slim young Japanese diver named Hiro, who had likely been warned about Ian and I, the dynamic duo of underwater mishaps, judging from the way he gingerly approached us.  However, his encouraging smile and patience won me over, and I was hoping he wouldn’t dump us after the first dive like every other instructor had done.  I was feeling a little low self-esteem-y from all the dive guide rejection.  I think my ego can only handle one break-up a day, and in our first day we’d already racked up two!  Well, we ended up keeping Hiro for the entire day, probably due to the fact that he had no choice – but I’d like to think it was my charming personality and passion for the ocean that kept him around.

The dynamic duo of underwater mishaps!

That day, we completed three dives together with Hiro where literally nothing went wrong.  I kid you not.  NOTHING WENT WRONG.  We went from a disastrous Day One, where Ian’s ears almost exploded and I guzzled through my entire tank of air within 30 minutes and almost died, to Day Two, where we both managed to equalize properly, clear our masks correctly, and keep at least 50 bars of air (the minimum you should have) in our tanks by the time of re-surfacing.  And although the sight of grumpy parrotfish, bright orange anemonefish, and Wally, the friendly neighbourhood Napoleon Maori Wrasse, almost caused me to go into hysterics again, I managed to contain myself and NOT point excitedly, start hyperventilating, or flap around uselessly in a circle.

Heeeere’s Wally!

After our last dive, we exited the water and changed out of our wetsuits.  I had grown quite fond of being damp, moldy, and cold for the last two days, so it was hard to hang up that suit for the last time.  We spent the final hours on the boat going through our underwater photos, filling out our dive logs, and enjoying a celebratory beer.

And done!

So, although Ian and I were publicly shamed, caused some major drama, almost died (well… just me), got banned from a dive, and got dumped by 3 different dive guides, there was definitely some good that came out of all of this:

1. Everyone was super-nice to us – like REALLY nice.  Like the way you’d act towards a child who hasn’t yet found out that her parents have just been arrested and are going to prison for life.

2.  We didn’t have to pay for the guides!  Although guides are supposed to cost extra, apparently if you prove grossly incompetent in diving without one, they come free of charge.  Hurray for saving money at the expense of your dignity!

3.  We now have an epic story to tell people.  After all, where’s the fun in recounting an adventure if nobody gets hurt or publicly humiliates themselves?

*The names of all dive guides have been changed to protect their privacy.

To see more underwater photos, please check out my photo album on flickr!


4 thoughts on “Diving the Great Barrier Reef: Part Three

  1. ‘Hurray for saving money at the expense of your dignity!’ made me fully crack up
    Thanks to you, I now know that diving would probably not be wise for me, seeing as I think I fall under the ‘incompetent and potentially a hazard to one’s own life’ category
    Not to mention it was also a very enjoyable and cringingly funny read.

    • Maddy! Good to hear from you! Thanks for your comments. I hope the post didn’t give you a negative impression of diving, though! I really think anyone can do it, it’s a lot of fun and you can see so much more than you could just snorkeling. But, just like any other adventure activity, it can be dangerous and things can go wrong. But as long as you accept that, it’s fine. The good stories I have of diving outnumber the bad – it’s just that the bad ones are funnier. 🙂

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