Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: Anaconda II (Part II)
Date: September 20, 1994 03:47 Continued from Part I

18:49 Cardwell, Queensland :: 12 SEP 94

I've been on several sailing trips but none have been nicer, or smoother, than the 3 days and nights aboard Anaconda II. As a rule I don't get seasick unless I foolishly go below decks in high seas, but on a rough ride I do get cracking headaches that leave me miserable for at least a day. It's too bad because viscerally I enjoy the sights and sensations of sailing rough water even if physiologically it doesn't agree with me. However, on the Anaconda II we encountered 2 meter seas with 25 knot winds and I suffered only a mild headache (that disappeared immediately on beginning the first dive). A 30 meter vessel with a 70 ton keel doesn't quite knife through such rough conditions, but it never shudders or shies away from a wave either. There's very little pitch or yaw, and sturdy would best describe the ride.

Unfortunately, the intention was to dive the great barrier reef not enjoy the sailing. The high winds kept us off the outer reef for 8 of the 10 scheduled reef dives so we had to content ourselves with diving the reefs surrounding Hayman and Hook Islands in the Whitsunday chain.

Without a doubt, the outer reef is the place to dive. There I drifted in the current past 40 meter tall coral pillars and saw a Maori Wrasse (a fish) bigger than a man. Even with the ocean whipped to a frenzy the water is clearer at the outer reef than the islands inside its protection. Coral and other sea life thrive in greater abundance and variety in the clearer water.

Still, diving the Whitsundays could occupy the next couple years of my life. We saw cuttlefish, and sea turtles, bat fish and an enormous squid during a night dive. There were stingrays and moray eels, sea cucumbers and gorgonian fans.. Even around the Islands you'll find more varieties of coral than I'm able to enumerate. I know the diving would have been more extraordinary than the Islands, but how much extraordinary can a guy cope with?

Learning to dive is a series self-confrontations. I don't mean the "God, do I really want to stuff my tired, aching body in a cold, damp wet-suit and jump in that frigid water?" question I brought up in an earlier mail. Everyone on the course admitted some fear or reservation that would make diving a personal challenge. Not everyone overcame their fears and a couple people never completed the course and one never dove in the ocean. My personal discomfort is open water. I like to see the bottom below my feet, not just rays of sunlight disappearing into the deeps.

2:30 Ravenshoe, Queensland :: 15 SEP 94

Actually, it doesn't even need to be all that deep-shallow murky water can throw me off if I'm not sure what's on the bottom. Learning to dive didn't dispel that fear, however, I discovered that I could quell it when necessary.

At a more fundamental level, however, is a completely alien underwater environment at odds in every way with our land-dwelling physiology. If God had meant us to hang out at 30 meters below the surface we'd all have gills. As it stands we don't and our most fundamentally necessary conscious action, breathing, must be relearned.

The fundamental lesson of scuba is, NEVER HOLD YOUR BREATH. Well, that's an ironic thing to say to an air-breathing creature about to duck its head under water but ascending even a meter with full lungs can be deadly. If there's no passage for the expanding air to escape...ugh What if for one reason or another there's no air available to breathe? PADI teaches you to just, "open your mouth and say, 'Aaaaaaah'" which maintains a vent, an open airway, and air will easily escape through this passage as it expands in your lungs. This and other breathing 'skills' must become automatic habits of underwater breath taking.

The human form evolved over tens of thousands of years to efficiently walk erect on land. Swimming just ain't in our genes. Under water a human being is like, well, like a fish out of water. Arms are useful during a dive for grabbing things, pointing at things, and for hanging inert at your side. With fins, a BCD and some experience a diver soon learns to control their orientation in the water by maintaining neutral buoyancy and subtle employment of fins and, this one's harder, body position. Your arms and hands simply can't exert enough force on water to effect much positive influence on a fully geared diver's orientation and frantically waving them about will likely only worsen the situation.

As for the dive course itself, well Oceania Dive not only operates the best boat in Airlie Beach, it probably staffs the best instructors in Queensland and has the awards to back up the claim. Not only that but Keith, one of the two partners in the operation, is an expat Canadian. And there can't possibly be more than one Robin Bujega in the world. She should have been a fish, instead she teaches people how to act like one. Robin acted as my teacher and became something of a soul-friend by the end of the course.

The only thing I don't like about traveling is making great new friends and then parting ways. Realistically, it's usually a permanent split.

19:25 Koombaloomba Dam (Ravenshoe), Queensland :: 15 SEP 94

The course unfolded over 7 days. We completed all the pool work and classroom theory in the first 3 days. Generally we'd spend about 3 to 4 hours in the 26 degree pool. Much of that time had us watching and listening to Robin, or watching one of the other 9 students trying to repeat the skill Robin just explained. Even in a wet suit in a 26 degree pool if you're not moving around you're gonna freeze. Brrrrrrrrr. Robin warned us that there would be penalties paid by whoever complained of being cold (easy for someone wearing a full-length wet suit with boots and gloves to say when all her students are in half-length wetties). Her suggestion was to fan oneself briskly and repeat the mantra, "Bahamas, Bahamas". Well, soon enough we graduated from the pool anyway.

This left the remaining 4 days for the ocean with 2, 4, 4 and 2 dives on each of the successive days. This became an absolutely exhausting routine and it required some will-power to drag yourself back into the water. As I mentioned in an earlier post, exhaustion disappeared immediately upon descending below the surface (only to appear again within an hour after surfacing.) For the first two dives we boarded the Tri-Tingira, a 40 foot trimaran, and headed for Langford reef just off Hook Island, one of the Whitsunday Islands. I remember that day clearly because there was a thermal blowing down off Hook Island much like what happens at Squamish. Great for windsurfing, lousy for diving when you have to swim from the boat to the sight with whitecaps breaking over your snorkel. Choke, gasp, ptuiiii. Also, at 22 degrees Celsius the ocean was a fair bit cooler than the pool had been and we still had plenty of skills to master.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --