Sick as a parrotfish

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Oceania » Australia » Queensland » Rainbow Beach
November 10th 2006
Published: November 25th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

Rainbow Beach takes its name from its coloured cliffs, created in Aboriginal legend when the rainbow spirit of the gods, Yiningie, was killed in a fight, spreading his colours across the rock. Though it's an entry point to Fraser Island, I went there to do a dive at Wolf Rock, a little-known dive site that (from what I'd read on the web) appeared to be awash with leopard sharks and (endangered) grey nurse sharks.

The dive shop, owned by a chap called Kevin and his wife, had said that the dive was fine for beginners, but I began to get a little concerned when I discovered that the least experienced of the other 3 members of the group had 40 dives - making me the junior member by a long way. One reason that this was a little worrisome was that beginners tend to use up their oxygen faster and, when you reach a certain threshold amount remaining, you need to surface - with your dive buddy. Since I was by far the likeliest to reach that threshold first, that would mean one of the other guys would have to end their dive earlier than they would want. Though this is an issue on any dive, it seemed that this group was too small to be so diverse in terms of experience. To add to the fun, Kevin described the weather conditions as "borderline", i.e. any worse and the dives would have been cancelled.

I then demonstrated my greenness by attempting to get into an inside-out wetsuit, though I was gratified to see that one of the other guys then did exactly the same.

After sorting out all our kit, we piled into a 4WD towing the Zodiac that would be our launch boat. A minor disaster struck before we'd even reached the beach - the steering broke in the 4WD, fortunately when we were going slowly and attempting to turn at a junction, and Kevin had to drive onto a convenient grassy area just ahead of us. He then hacked the steering back together and returned to the dive shop to get another 4WD, leaving what must have been the amusing spectacle of 4 guys in wetsuits standing next to a dinghy on a trailer, on a patch of grass with no sea in sight.

That obstacle overcome, we reached the beach and launched off it. Kevin used to be in the SAS, though his current paunch might not pass the entry requirements now, which seemed entirely in keeping with the way he piloted the Zodiac, skimming over the waves at a rate of knots and taking us airborne on occasion. I might have had some James Bond fantasies if I hadn't been clinging to the dinghy like grim death, inhaling sea water every so often and having the thought go through my mind that I was unlikely to survive the day without throwing up.

Things didn't look much better once we reached Wolf Rock itself, with the "medium swell" looking more appropriate for a surfing competition than surface conditions for a dive. Wolf Rock is several pinnacles jutting up from the sea bed, and we moored simply by throwing the anchor onto one of these rather than having a proper mooring buoy. Getting into my BCD jacket and fins was an interesting balancing exercise in the restricted confines of the heaving boat, and once in the water (my first ever backward roll entry) I was unnerved by the height of the chop and the occasional mouthfuls of sea water coming down my snorkel.

Wolf Rock is a deep dive site, so I doubled my previous depth "record" by getting down to 35m. Unfortunately my buoyancy went completely to pot, no doubt partly due to wearing a full wetsuit for the first time (previously I'd worn a "shortie") as well as having 1 more ingot on my weight belt than before. What had previously been a tendency to float slightly upwards became a marked tendency to go down. As I was conscious of needing to conserve oxygen, I tried to swim my way out of this rather than put some air into my BCD, resulting in some ungainly flailing that used up more air than if I'd simply pumped some into my BCD - though at least it saved me landing horizontally on the seabed, which is never a positive thing, especially not in an area full of stonefish and cone shells.

There was some current near the pinnacles, but the underwater conditions were quite good. Immediately we saw 3 stunning leopard sharks, covered in remora and relaxing on the bottom. Kevin tried tickling one, as apparently they sometimes respond to this positively in a feline way, but not this time. Minutes later we encountered 2 grey nurse sharks gliding menacingly through the water with their mouths open and their teeth exposed (though they are harmless to humans unless provoked). The sightings of these 2 species were highly exciting, and constituted the major plus points for the day.

Unfortunately all my buoyancy issues and general nerves about the conditions meant that I was gulping oxygen like it was going out of fashion, and it was with a heavy heart that, all too soon, I had to give Kevin the signal that I'd reached the threshold. The other 3 guys then signalled to him what their current levels were (anywhere between 30 and 50% above mine) and the "lowest" one had the unwanted task of accompanying me back to the boat. Surface conditions hadn't improved - even Kevin's wife (who had stayed in the boat) was saying she felt nauseous - but it was warmer in the water than in the boat so I stayed in. A combination of the constant bobbing motion and the emetic properties of a good few cc of swallowed salt water made me realise that a chunder was inevitable, and after a couple of dry heaves the 2 Starbursts that I'd had for breakfast came up and floated away on the swell. I'd taken a seasickness pill so I'm wondering if maybe it was simply having too much salt water in my stomach that had caused the problem.

We returned to the shore for the surface interval, which was a less harrowing journey than coming out had been, and I knew that I wouldn't enjoy the second dive so I said I'd stay on the beach. Though this meant that my 1 dive was highly expensive, there was no point in going if I wasn't going to find it fun. As it turned out, the others only saw 1 shark so I didn't miss much anyway. Unfortunately, with no sunscreen on, I did manage to successfully blister my nose and cheeks.

So maybe not the most comfortable dive I'll ever do, but it's all good experience and hopefully I can find some better conditions further down the coast, with people closer to my level of (in)ability. Seeing the sharks was worth the discomfort.


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