Australia Part Six: The Last Dives

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 9:53 am

I woke up Tuesday morning hacking up a lung, but determined to dive (with Nitrox, no less). The skies were overcast, and the surface a little bit choppy, but hey – we’re tough California divers. There was no stopping us.

My mood improved immediately once we were underwater. The visibility at our first dive site – The Great Wall – was better than any we’d seen the day before. We enjoyed the extra time the Nitrox gave us at depth, and not constantly worrying about whether it was time to ascend. Once we found something worth photographing, we could just stay put and relax (well, except for worrying about our air consumption – but that’s rarely the limiting factor for us at this depth).


After finding a couple of nudibranchs, we spotted Shea waving us over to a coral head. In the dive briefing, he’d mentioned that another divemaster had reported a black frogfish at this dive site – common in Papua New Guinea, but rare in this neck of the woods. Amazingly enough, he’d managed to find it!


We surfaced to an unpleasant sound: silence. The compressors were off, and so was the air conditioning. Apparently, we’d lost one of our engines for good this time, and would be limited to nighttime AC and slow compressor use.


This meant there was no way to squeeze in more than 3 dives a day – but that kind of worked for me, since I was continuing to feel sick.

The next (and last) two dives were both at Lighthouse Bommie. It’s kind of a funny dive site; there’s a skinny pinnacle from about 70fsw to 20fsw, with a bit of a mound off to one side at depth. Only half the divers went in at any given time, to keep from overcrowding the bommie. After the boat moored, we were greeted by a turtle and a sea snake popping up at the surface to check us out. Well, probably just to breathe. But it was still a fun welcome.

They weren’t shy underwater, either. On both dives, we spotted multiple sea snakes at depth, even friendlier than the one at Snake Pit. There were also a handful of turtles, including one who was clearly very used to divers.


The visibility took a nosedive for the worst before our second dive at Lighthouse, as did both the current and the surface chop. Just hauling myself back the surface line to the boat took all my effort, and I was happy to sit out the night dive and drink some tea.

By Wednesday morning, I was done getting sick; I was sick. My cough had been joined by a stuffy nose and a sinus headache – really not a good combination for diving. (If you’re one of my instructors, stop reading now.) I could still clear my ears, and I didn’t want to miss out on our last day of diving, so I decided to start popping Sudafed. Since I’d just finished reading the Nitrox book, which had a big bold section about NOT TAKING SUDAFED especially if you’re on Nitrox, I had to ‘fess up to the divemasters that I was feeling ill so they’d switch me back to normal air. Although they’re supposed to care if you try to dive sick, they mostly seemed amused that I was worried – I guess when you’re a divemaster on a liveaboard, you spend most of your year diving sick, thanks to all the germs people bring in!

The first dive was in no way worth all that effort. We headed down the anchor line into a screaming current, lousy vis, and another dive site that might have been pretty in better conditions. I can usually find a redeeming feature of any dive, but this one just sucked.

Luckily, conditions improved at the next dive site, Gorgonia Wall. It still would have been nicer with sunshine, but hey – that’s what video lights are for. We saw tons of interesting little gobies and juvenile fish hiding in gorgonians or in soft coral, and spotted a handful of whip coral gobies.


I was looking at something tiny on a sea fan when I noticed a few bits of something drifting down, and Jeff grabbed my arm and pointed up. A huge school of humphead parrotfish was above us – and had just been pooing on Jeff’s head. (Thankfully, parrotfish poo is basically sand.)

The only downside of the dive was that the tender boats had dropped us off a little too far from the boat. (They consistently overestimated the distance that underwater photographers are able to cover in an hour-long dive!) We ran low on air and surfaced to find ourselves only halfway back to the boat… and heading in a straight line to the SpoilSport put us right over reef, in about 3 feet of water – too shallow to call over a tender boat. We made it eventually, though Jeff completely drained his tank, and my lungs were about done for.

Our last dive was at Flare Point, a nice shallow coral garden. I was delighted by a school of juvenile blue tangs in a small coral head, bopping in and out. Of course, as soon as I waved Jeff over to photograph them, they all disappeared down into their hidey hole!

My ears were still able to clear, but as I went up from my initial depth of 50′ or so, I started to have problems clearing my sinuses. Any time I headed back down – even just a foot or two – my head felt like it might explode. Since every time I went up a bit, I couldn’t go back down, it wasn’t long before I found myself in 20 feet of water, trapped. (Well, I could have gone up. But dammit if I wasn’t going to finish this dive!) Jeff continued to amuse himself beneath me, occasionally attempting to get me to come down and look at something. But if it was deeper than 20fsw, it just wasn’t worth the pain.


Despite being stuck in the shallows, I really liked this dive. I didn’t get much video or see anything too spectacular, but it was a pretty way to spend an hour. As we finished our safety stop, we could hear a hissing noise; we looked up to see that it was caused by a steady drizzle of rain on the surface.

We surfaced in rain and chop, and the tender boats quickly came to whisk us back to the boat. There had originally been talk of a fourth dive, but that idea went out the window thanks to the deteriorating weather and the slow return of divers. My sinuses couldn’t have handled it anyway!

The original plan was to have another barbecue while the boat was moored. But with the seas kicking up and only one engine to get us the 100km back to Cairns, the captain needed to get moving. Dinner was quite an adventure in the rising seas, and quite a few of us had to pop seasickness pills once it got dark and the horizon was no longer visible. (Seasickness pills weren’t the only ones being shared around the boat – two or three other divers were struck with the same cough and cold as me.)

It was too bad our last day of diving wasn’t a better send-off, but I think most of us felt like the weekend at Osprey Reef had been worth the price of admission by itself. Well, almost. And despite the murky water and strong currents of the last few days, we saw sea snakes! And… sea snakes!

1 Comment

  1. These pics are fantastic! For such mediocre-quality vis and health, you guys sure manage to bring home the winners…

    Comment by Ben — 3/25/2007 @ 11:50 am

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