On the 7th March 2017 we started our PADI Open Water Diving certification at the Deep Sea Divers Den. We just had a small group of 4 – the other two people in the group were called Jeremy (from Texas) and Jo-Jo (from Germany). Having four people worked well as there is a buddy system in place when diving which meant that we were easily able to buddy up for the duration of the course.
The first day of the course started at 9am in the dive centre with a morning of theory. We learnt all about diving and safety etc. and watched informative videos whilst filling in our programme guide and then we had little quizzes at the end of each section to test our knowledge.
After lunch we went into the pool. We learnt how to assemble all of our kit and had to practice clearing our snorkel mask of water whilst we were under the water which involved holding the top of your mask and blowing as hard as you can can through your nose whilst moving your head from looking down to looking up – it’s actually quite hard to even realise you’re blowing out your nose not your mouth so took a few attempts for us to get the hang of it.
We first tried using the regulator mouth piece for breathing out of the tank whilst having our head under the water holding onto the side. I found it quite hard to regulate my breathing and put my trust in the air supply but our instructor (Paolo) told me to think of a turtle and how slow and calm they are and that actually helped a lot and once I got the hang of it I didn’t have issues with it again. The pool goes down to 2.5 meters but it still makes your ear pressure change – something I struggled to regulate which isn’t ideal when we will be going so much deeper! It was good being in the water learning all of these things and having a go with your tank on.
We had to practice trying to remain neutrally buoyant which is where you don’t float up or sink down and that can be controlled by your breathing. We did a lot on the first day of the course and we were there from 9am until 6:30pm. A positive of there only being 4 of us in our class was that we got plenty of time to practice with Paolo which was helpful.
The morning started with a fire alarm going off in our hostel at 6:30am so by the time it was our 8:30am pick up we were very tired! Our second day of our course started in the pool for a 200m swim. We have to do this just to show we are capable of swimming around as we could travel that sort of distance on a dive depending on what we are doing or how much air we had. After that we had to tread water for 10 minutes which was exhausting – a crucial survival skill we could need on a dive.
That morning we did loads of diving skills including emergency towing, guiding our buddy who had lost their mask and sharing air supply. I hate having my mask off in the water and find it hard to stay calm when I can’t see where I am but I managed it alright – thankfully we only practice that skill once! After lunch we did the rest of the theory course and took a final exam to allow us to continue learning in open water which, thankfully, we all passed!
The next stage of the course was to practice our skills in the sea. We were up very early to check out of our hostel and be picked up at 7:30am. We stored our bags at the dive centre as we would be moving into a different hostel when we returned and then got driven to the harbour to board our first boat of the day, the Sea Quest. My friends Becky and Kathryn were also on the boat which was really nice – they were there snorkelling on the reefs we were diving on and loved it!
The Great Barrier Reef starts at the shoreline of Cairns but the best and most untouched reef is the outer Great Barrier Reef. It took around an hour and a half to get there by boat and then it was time to get kitted up and do our first dive. On the way there I was told about equalising your air pressure by swallowing – I know I should have known this already and Niall had tried to tell me but better late than never! I had been a bit anxious that I would struggle equalising like I did in the pool. I gave it a try and it worked brilliantly and I had no problem equalising after that!
On dive 1 we went to a dive site called Sandra’s on the Norman Reef. We had to perform some skills like the partially flooded mask (where you fill your mask with water half way and then clear it) and a breathing regulator retrieval. We saw a white tipped reef shark, a huge school of fusiliers, a giant trevally, a moorish idol, a pink clownfish and a yellow mask angelfish whilst on this dive.
After our first dive was done we had some time left before the boat was going to move to the next dive site so I went out and snorkelled for a bit with Becky and Kathryn which was really nice. They had been lucky enough to see a turtle!
On dive 2 we went to a dive site called Turtle Bay which was also on the Norman Reef. We had to perform a fully flooded mask, neutral boyancy, alternative air source (where you give your emergency regulator to your buddy to simulate an emergency situation) followed by an ascent to the surface. We saw a father and son spine-cheek anemomefish (a bit like nemo and his dad), a giant clam which Paolo blasted water to so that it would snap close and an angelfish.
At around 3ish, after we had completed two dives and had some lunch it was time for us to transfer onto the live-aboard boat called Ocean Quest. It was here we would be spending the night and it was fantastic! The boat was enormous and we were welcomed aboard with a melt in the middle chocolate pudding – probably the best I’ve ever had! The living quarters were so nice and comfy and we were even given towels to use (a massive luxury when you’re travelling and only ever using microfibre towels!)
We got ready for our final dive of the day and it was a phenomenal one! We had a few skills still to complete but also got to explore a new dive site. On our 3rd dive of the day we moved to the dive site called Coral Garden on the Saxon Reef. We had to do a mask removal and replace and a navigation swim using a compass. We saw a spotted unicornfish and a swarthy parrotfish as well as a manta ray. The manta ray was probably a highlight of our diving as they’re rare to see and not many people on the dive even saw it! Niall was the one who spotted it and he quickly shook me to get my attention so that I could see it too. It was enormous and gliding near the top of the water. We weren’t 100% that it was a manta ray that we had seen it until another dive instructor was very excitedly taking about it as it was only the second one she had ever seen during 8 years of diving. We even got a high five for seeing something so cool on our 3rd ever dive!
After dinner we then had night snorkelling where you have your snorkel and mask on and then lie on the dive platform at the back of the boat that’s then lowered into the water a bit. This allowed you to have your face in the water to see all the fish without actually swimming in the water (in Queensland it’s against the law to snorkel at night and only qualified divers can dive at night). We had seen some grey reef sharks from the boat but they went away when everyone jumped in for the dive so we didn’t see any whilst we snorkelled but we did see huge Red Snapper fish which were right by your face they were almost hitting you.
We were very well fed on the boat and after everyone had snorkelled and dived we had a vanilla custard dessert that was very tasty and then Paolo (who did a degree in marine science) gave everyone on the boat a small talk on sharks – it was really interesting. Our last job before bed was to have a briefing on the plan of action for our last dive in the morning. This was going to be a guided dive by us to prove we could be trusted to dive on our own – needless to say we were all very nervous! All the diving had made us very tired and we had to be up early the next day so we all called it a night.
We woke at 6am for a morning snorkel. It started off rainy and dark so it took us a while before we could see much in the sea. I wasn’t so fussed by the snorkel until a beautiful green turtle came swimming by – the one thing we hadn’t seen yet – and then ended up coming up to breath right by us. It was incredible to see it swimming so gracefully so close to us. It was definitely a highlight of the whole diving trip!
After breakfast, which involved us all running through the steps we would need to pass our dive, we got ready for the final dive of our certification. This was a mock ‘fun dive’ where we had to plan the dive between us and look out for each other, navigate and then get us back to the boat. We carried this out on the Troppos dive site on the Norman Reef. It all went really well and we saw a blue spotted stingray and some Dory’s (palette surgeonfish) which were super cute! It was a great feeling coming up from the dive and being told by Paolo that we had passed and were all certified divers. We had a big cheer and before the next dive the whole boat gave us a round of applause. After much pleading, Paolo also let us take Jeremy’s GoPro down with us so that we could get a diving selfie because Paolo wouldn’t be coming on the next dive with us – something that’s not really allowed before you’re certified.
After a bit of paperwork we had our first solo fun dive all together. It didn’t start so well as when I jumped in the water my GoPro came off the wrist strap and sank to the bottom of the sea. We went down to get it and Jeremy picked it up for me but it meant he went to 20 feet which is more than the 18 feet we are certified to go – he was ok though! That disorientated us a bit and we didn’t stick to our plan as much as we had hoped to but we still saw really pretty coral and lots of fish so it was still a good dive and really cool that we were out there on our own! We then had lunch and swapped onto the day boat to be taken back to the mainland.
The whole trip was incredible. We had an amazing time and really enjoyed diving on the Great Barrier Reef. It was fantastic to get to do so many dives and we got to see everything we had been hoping to see which was a huge bonus.
WE ARE NOW CERTIFIED OPEN WATER DIVERS!!!
Sending love from under the sea x