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March 23, 2004, 16:00: Cairns, Australia - Pete's Backpackers
__________________________________________ I didn't quite know what to make of the reef at first, sure, there were rocks, a few corals, and some fish, but the colours didn't seem as vivid compared to many photos I'd seen. I was made aware later, that due to the crazy weather conditions, and the biggest tide out of the cycle, the visibility was very much affected. I'm not saying I didn't have a good time on this first dive though. It was quite amazing to see the reef's aquatic life outside of a glass box. I recognized a large Regal Angelfish, which must have been at least a foot long. I wasn't used to seeing the real full size specimens - what's made available in the aquatic trade are juvenile specimens. I saw a Tomato Clownfish in an Anemone, and huge colonies of Umbrella Corals. The dive was cut short due to my buddy's air getting low. This dive was repeated a couple of hours later, but this time with a disposable camera. After grabbing my buddy's fin, and issuing the "stop" signal, I tried taking a few photos, but had to swim away quicker than I wished, due to the buddy not stopping when signalled. Visibility was getting better, also the conditions out to sea. Less clouds, smaller waves. This was nice.

The Advanced Course now began with a staple dive, the navigation dive. This was pretty easy; swim around 30 feet underwater in a square. Next was a night dive. This was pretty cool. I saw hundreds of glowing red shrimp eyes peering out from the rock formations, but very few bodies. It was pretty cool swimming through dark water, startling fish with my flashlight. Also, a short dive due to it being night. I was ready to sleep.

Next thing I knew, it was 6:30 again, and time to get up and dive. I hadn't been up for more than 10 minutes when I plunged into the water for my deep dive. I wasn't thinking this was the best thing to be doing first thing in the morning. I couldn't have been any more wrong. We settled at 90 feet underwater, which I could only tell because of my depth gauge. It didn't seem any different than the other dives - the scenery was pretty much the same, just a few less corals. On the slow ascent, I saw half a dozen royal dottybacks swimming around the rocks, which I found particularly nice, as I was reminded of my Royal Dottyback fish in my tank at home. Progressing further on my course, I did the Naturalist dive, which pretty much was a free dive, where you come up and write down the names of 5 vertebrates, and 5 invertebrates. This was a piece of cake, and the list resembled a shopping list of stuff I'd like to have in my tank at home. I was amused by this.

We had been given the opportunity to hire a higher end dive camera for the dive, and I took this offer, hoping for slightly better results than my 4 disposable cameras. I figured between 5 rolls of film, one roll being taken by a good camera engineered for the task of taking pictures underwater, I could get a good picture or two. As it stands now, I'm still waiting to see the results. This dive was probably one of my favourite dives - I saw a sea turtle picking away at some rocks. The sun was out and shining in full force, and the reef we visited, Gordon's Mooring on Flynn Reef, came up within 5-6 feet of the surface. Visibility was much better. I spotted 3 bicolour angels hanging around the same rock, just casually picking away for food. I wish I had more film, and a video camera, I was really getting into it. We sat down afterwards for dinner, and within a few hours, we were back in the water for our night dive.

At this point, my back was getting really sore. I had been on the top deck for all of 5-10 minute for a briefing without a shirt, and that was enough to fry my back and neck. Putting on and taking off a wetsuit was just aggravating this further. I was alright once we got in the water, and I really enjoyed this second night dive. Hundreds more red shrimp eyes peering at me from the infinite crevices on the rocks, and I picked up a couple of 2 foot long sea cucumbers. I saw a much larger sea turtle resting below an outcropping of rock. I spotted a cuttlefish towards the end, it resembled an octopus, quite cool. My new buddy saw a shark, but it eluded me. I had changed buddies earlier on during the day for the photography dive, and got another 20 minutes more time each dive as a result. Once we got back to the surface, I got another view of the sky at night. It's really amazing to see the sky here in a location with very little light pollution. Thousands of stars you couldn't see appear, and the sky is totally full, hardly a spot with nothing in it. I can't even begin to do it justice by trying to put it in words. I was exhausted from a full day of diving and settled to bed content, knowing that my course was now done, and I was pretty much certified on the next level of diving.

I skipped the morning dive, opting for slightly more sleep. My legs are going to be huge when I get back between the bushwalking, surfing and diving. I went on the second dive, and I saw 3 white tip reef sharks right towards the end. They weren't there for long though, they took off within a couple of seconds of me spotting them resting on the bottom. We surfaced, had some food, and it was time for the last dive. This time I think I got a picture of a shark - we'll see how the photo turns out. I finished up the last camera, and was very glad to get that wetsuit off. I didn't really want to surface on the last dive, but my air gauge convinced me it wasn't such a bad idea after all. We completed some more paperwork, and hey, I'm officially an Advanced Open Water diver. Rock on.

The boat ride back took a couple of hours, and I thought about what I'd just seen... I highly recommend this trip to anyone that has the slightest interest in going. I don't think anyone would have less than an excellent time out here. The sunsets were gorgeous. It was all so relaxing. Now I'm back at the hostel, and the weather's beautiful now - Cairns looks like a different city entirely. I'm very anxious to see what the underwater photos turned out like. I'm getting them put to cd, so I'll be able to post a few of the better ones along with this entry.

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