Monday, February 09, 2009

Cairns

We arrived on Wednesday and didn't even get into our transport shuttle before a deluge of tropical monsoon came down on us. Fortunately, the rain was warm, typical of tropical monsoons, but with word of three cyclones in formation in the area, the prospects did not look good for good diving. We gave Spirit of Freedom a call and they confirmed that we'd be picked up the next morning.

Cairns turned out to be extremely oriented towards Japanese tourists. Lots of stores had Japanese speakers and Japanese signs, and we counted no less than 3 Japanese restaurant, including a Japanese noodle place that was extremely authentic. We then explored the town, which seemed pretty dead in the monsoon.

The next morning we were picked up at 7:25 sharp by the van from the Spirit of Freedom, and were taken to a local small plane airport to get weighed and flown to Lizard island. The flight was a nice low one, at 2000', granting us what would have been a nice view of the area. However, we did see a few squalls and I worried very much about the weather on the upcoming dives.

Landing on Lizard Island, we found that our boat was on the other side of the Island from the landing strip because of the prevailing conditions. We were taken to the Spirit of Freedom by 2 tenders, and the luggage moved separately. Once everyone was on board we were given an orientation, checked out on rental equipment, and provided with snacks. The boat schedule was organized around eating and diving. You'd wake up, eat, dive, eat, dive, and repeat up to 5 times a day.

We started with 2 dives for our first days, and I could definitely see the effect of having three cyclones in the area. The water was murky, with lots of particulate matter in it --- so much so that I resolved not to bother with a camera under-water while I re-oriented myself to diving. The food was amazing. I couldn't believe what Chef Andrew managed to produce from his tiny kitchen.

The next day, I woke up at 6:15 for the early morning dive, and then chose to skip the second dive. I resolved to do no more than 3-4 dives a day, including the night dive, since DCI sounds scary, and I don't always trust computers. Others on the trip did all the dives with no side effects, but I was told that the previous week, someone got bent. If you do 4-5 dives a day for 3 days straight, I'm not going to be too surprised that DCI rears its ugly head.

After lunch, however, we received an announcement --- the rest of the dives were canceled while we searched for the lost divers from SpoilSport. Passengers with binoculars broke them out and helped search, but I didn't have binoculars, so spent the day reading. We did eventually help the tender which delivered doctors to Fascination, which eventually picked up the lost divers get back to SpoilSport.

Saturday morning brought us more diving, and my first night dive. The day dives were pretty good, but the currents were so strong that I could easily see how one could get swept away. In fact, on my second dive of the day, I exhausted almost all my air getting back to the boat because returning to it took intense swimming against the current. I'm normally a strong swimmer on the surface, but with scuba gear and underwater, I'm not as good as I normally am.

The night dive was fun, everyone wearing glow sticks, and a flash light that let you see what was going on. The water wasn't any clearer but since you only were seeing what you pointed your light at, you weren't getting it in your face all the time.

The last day had 4 dives, two of which were Steve's Bohmmie. What a fantastic dive site that was. Gobs of wildlife, and the crew were so enthusiastic that we dived it twice. After 3 dives, I was so exhausted that I skipped out on the last dive, choosing to spend it chatting with the skipper of the vessel instead.

All in all, while I was disappointed by the weather, I was not at all disappointed by the experience. The Spirit of Freedom is highly recommended if you're going to do a dive trip in the area.
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