A Reef Encounter

September 18, 2007 Andy 7 Comments

I write this from Sydney. I have a headache and I am absolutely shattered. I’ve spent the last week and a bit attempting to fix the van, running between mechanics, stressing, frequently visiting Super Cheap Auto (Australia’s Halfords equivalent), faffing and abusing the hospitality of friends. Needless to say, I will write up about all that at a later date when I’m able to look back at it and smile but for the moment I am over a month and some 10 posts behind with this blog.

Casting my mind back… The Great Barrier Reef. The worlds largest living collective organism, the only living thing visible from space, stretching some 1600 miles. (I’ve no idea if the above is correct or not, but I’m just to tired to bother checking it.) The reef is not actually continuous but made up of some 3000 individual reefs.

Mention the Barrier Reef to any diver and it should evoke an excited reaction. Diving The Reef was on my 100 things to do before I die list but I’d been warned by several travellers that, at least with regards to individual dives go one shouldn’t expect any better than what SE Asia has to offer. Still that was no reason not to find out for myself. The cost of dive trips, however, was.

Thankfully through our camp site we found out about a “Hosty” program where by we could go out to a live aboard boat for 2 days as guests and then stay on as hosts for free, cleaning the rooms, making the beds, washing up etc, in return for food, accommodation and some free diving. I couldn’t sign up fast enough…

We were taken out to our boat, Reef Encounter, by a day tripping boat owned and run by the same company. It was old, small and slow… about three other boats steamed past us on the way, but “no worries”, we got to see some more whales, once again nice and close.

After the old banger that brought us out to the reef, I wasn’t expecting anything special. As a result I was more than pleasantly surprised when I saw our gleaming white home for the next few days surrounding by pristine blue shimmering water. This was a big luxury catamaran. With large dive platform, sun deck, hot tub (I can’t spell jacusy) and helipad, I was amazed by the size and levels of comfort aboard this vessel.

The boat also had a huge dining room and lounge, ideal for enjoying the well prepared meals and tasty beverage afterwards lounging on the comfy sofas. I couldn’t help but feel that despite being quite an expensive trip, it should have cost more.

Being on board for four days meant we got to meet a lot of people. Most spent only one night aboard before returning to terra firma but there were a few who were on board for longer, especially other hosties who we were working with and the crew members who, with the exception of our second boss, were all good fun. It was really pleasant socialising with people with similar interest in diving and travel. My only gripe here was that with all the diving, eating and ‘hosty-ing’ there wasn’t enough time for anything else.

On our third day on Reef Encounter two Spanish chaps came aboard. My attention was first drawn to them when the dive master was trying to tell off one of the guys who had surfaced without his buddy and had no air, absolutely none, left in his tank. With less than basic English I ended up having to translate and tell the guy off myself. These guys were relatively inexperienced, but this was was not the only time we saw them diving carelessly. Unfortunately I’ve got the impression from Chris and others, that this is quite common in Spain with people not having a great deal of respect for the rules.

That said, I can’t take anything away from Ignacio & Miguel-Angelo. Along with spending time with them on Reef Encounter, we shared the return trip to Cairns together. Top chaps, especially Ignacio who started learning English 15 days before coming to Australia and despite having very little grasp of the language wasn’t afraid in the slightest to try.

I suppose I should mention a bit about the diving really. The reef’s were good, the turtles and sharks abundant and with giant clams (and I mean giant), barracuda, lion fish, super fast giant travelli, bat fish and wonderfully diverse and colourful coral there was plenty to see.

After hearing so much hype about the Great Barrier Reef, I’d dumbed down my expectations so not to be disappointed. At the end of the day, when up close it is just another reef. The most impressive reef I can recall was in Thailand, but that was my first ever experience of coral reefs so of course it seemed incredible. The Great Barrier Reef is incredible, mainly because of it sheer size (best seen from the air no doubt but our budget just couldn’t stretch to that), but after spending the two months leading up to this diving in Asia it had a lot to live up to. Add to that that the fact that we only visited two different dive spots meant my experience of The Reef is very, very limited.

Having switched back to the transfer boat at the end of our trip we got an hour’s snorkeling over one of the reefs. This was such a different experience from all the dives we’d done, and a very pleasant one at that. While diving you are always deeper and at the edge of the reef. While snorkeling over the top. This results in different lighting, different coral and different aquatic life.

Over the four days I got eleven dives in and my log bog is only a few pages away from being full. This was the first time, bar one ill faited experience in Las Islas Hormigas, that I was left to navigate and guide my own dives. Up until now we’d always been following a Dive Master. With Espe and I being on our own we were, after a dive site briefing, able to explore at our own pace looking at what we wanted to see and only surface when we got low on air. Navigating for myself was a real confidence booster, and as Nicky has been telling me for years, it really isn’t that difficult.

I’m still more than dozen dives away from the magic 100 but I’m feeling more and more comfortable in the water with each dive, or at least I would have if the equipment was up to spec. Of the 11 dives, on two of them I was cold. On the others I was frozen. The company charged us extra to hire wetsuits, yet were only able to provide thin, warn out shorties. At 22 degrees, with my frame, a shorty is not going to keep me warm. So I squeezed on a second one to in a desperate attempt to slow the loss of all that precious body heat but alas this wasn’t up to the job either.

Being so lanky very few suits fit me. If they are long enough then they are too loose. If they are tight enough then they are too short. It was better diving with the second suit but I was constantly having to pull the suit down to prevent the suit from castrating me. I actually had to abort one dive due to the pain. Again, it annoys me immensely that companies can provide such good service with regards to comfort and dive equipment (even dive computers were provided) and yet not offer suitable wetsuits. If you are not comfortable to the point that you are not enjoying the dive then what is the point?

Rant over. All in all, it was a good trip and I think that the up close and personal encounters with the turtles will remain in my mind for ever.

This was the first time in the water with my new camera and case. With it’s underwater mode and combined with the use of my strobe, I’m pretty impressed with some of the results. After enjoying the diving so much without the camera in the Philippines, I only took the camera in on every other dive or so to make sure I got the best of both worlds. I’ll leave you here with some of the best pics of the trip. I’m off for a beer, some food and to see what England can manage against New Zealand in the Cricket.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, spare a thought for an ex work colleague and friend of mine, Alan, who has been in the wars lately (and here I was complaining of some cut and bruised knuckles).

7 People reacted on this

  1. I wouldn’t say we had time for eating, especially with our second boss chasing us to see if we were relaxing too much.

  2. Awesome pictures again Andy. What camera did you use the for the underwater shots? I see you found Nemo and Crush too 🙂

    One thing you haven’t told us about is when you got mugged… it seems someone stole your razor and clippers. Get a haircut boy 😀

    Oh, and sorry about the cricket and rugby, maybe you should switch your allegiance – South Africa is always a good bet 😉

  3. Thanks Colin, appreciate the comments, well the first ones at least. The camera is the cheap but excellent Ixus 70 and the case is the official Canon item. The underwater mode is very good, but the real magic comes from the big external strobe / flash that I take in with the camera. I still need more practice though.

    Hmmmm… yes the cricket and rugby. I was aware that things weren’t all so rosy but your blog just served to rub salt in the wounds. The England NZ game was also a disappointment but entertaining none the less.

    And as for the excess hair, I’m on a budget and thus all non essentials such as razors and hair cuts cannot be justified… Also note, these pictures are over a month old. I now look like a yeti!

  4. So when you come back to England in 3 months you are expecting us to fund the hair removal for the sake of the neighbours?

  5. Thanks for the … I was going to say add, but er….
    Reading your stuff cheers me up – the polar opposite of my experiences in Crawley ENT outpatients waiting room.
    And the hirsute look is a MAJOR plus. You look like Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals!

  6. HI GUYS!!

    Im buzzing about finding your site 🙂 and thanks for the kind comments you posted about turtle bay divers, Im really pleased!!
    Sounds like your having a brilliant time and Im happy (yet very jelous) that you’re still enjoying the diving! Very funny that you’ve been on Reef Encounter working, as I did exactly the same for 3 weeks in december 2005! I LOVED IT! Hope you got some nightdives in there too?!

    Well.. I live in England now with my boyfriend Stevie. Came back from Malaysia and Perhentian Islands a month ago and now here to save up some money.. to spend on more diving!!

    I hope you’re both well and ENJOY the travelling and diving!!

    Amelie xx

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