Learning to Live-Aboard

Australia, Fitness & Workouts, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Solo Travel — By on September 22, 2007 at 1:43 pm

I first heard about live-aboard dive trips about four year ago, when I got my SCUBA certification in Grand Cayman, and almost immediately decided that it was something I’d never do. The idea of stranding myself at sea on a tiny boat for several days sounded pretty unappealing (claustrophobic, even) and I couldn’t imagine that some people were actually willing to pay beacoup bucks for the privilege of seeing some better fish. Really?

Fast forward to last summer…and yes, that’s me shelling out nearly a grand for not one, but two live-aboard dive trips in the Great Barrier Reef. After dives in Thailand, India and Kenya that ranged from disappointing to downright depressing (from the underside, Goa’s waters reminded me of a decaying fish tank), I was determined that my next marine adventure would be nothing short of mind-blowing.

Getting to the good stuff would be no simple feat. Decades of irresponsible tourism had already destroyed parts of the reef and efforts to resuscitate the world’s largest living organism were only now getting underway. The only way to really experience the GBR, I’d been told, was on a live-aboard dive boat. These operators could take passengers to way out on the reef, far beyond the reach of the day boats to sites relatively undisturbed by humans.

Doing a little independent research, I learned that the Cairns Dive Centre, one of the largest dive shops in town, ran three-day, two-night trips out to the reef. Signing up would be an opportunity to get my feet wet (sorry, had to!) and check out the live-aboard scene without a huge financial commitment. The trip I selected cost AU$451, but the haggler/regulator that I am, I asked for and got the “locals only” price of AU$361 (a 20 percent savings!).

The two and a half hour powerboat ride out to the M.V. Kangaroo Explorer was nothing short of nauseating. Our not-so-tiny ship tossed on enormous swells that are a constant feature of the ocean between the mainland and the reef. When we’d boarded the boat, and the crew gave a lecture on how to properly barf over the sides of the boat or downwind into a small sack provided, I figured that this was just another twisted version of Aussie humor. Once the chorus of vomiting began, and grown men started turning chartreuse and whimpering like babies, I realized that the crew had been entirely serious. Thanks to a childhood of long car rides, I no longer suffered from motion sickness, but the surround-sound barfing was almost too much to bear.

As the powerboat eventually approached the reef, the waves began to flatten out, and we all stumbled aboard the Explorer to get settled. I was thrilled to discover that instead of a tiny, claustrophobically small boat, we would be staying on massive, 82-foot catamaran with 16 cabins (some bigger then friend’s bedrooms back home in New York), a sun deck, dining room and lounging area and a library.

More impressive than the ship? The seriously hot crew of dive instructors and photographers hailing from all part of the world. Suddenly, the idea of being trapped on a watercraft miles and mile s from shore might not be the worst thing I could imagine.

After getting our first briefing from Sam, an overly randy Aussie who flirted shamelessly with every single woman on the boat, I learned that I could tack on an Advanced Open Water dive certification for less than a hundred bucks. At this point, I was dipping to the last reserves of my saving account, but I fed myself the same line I’d been using since arriving in Oz.

When am I ever going to be in this part of the world again?

I slapped down the plastic and paid for the course, plus another $30 for an underwater digital camera. Totally a bargain!

With those minor details settled, it was time to shimmy into my wetsuit and get to diving. Instructor Sam, taking his role as teacher a little to seriously, showed me how to close zipper running up the front by doing it himself.

Such a gentleman!

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  • Dellie says:

    Great trip! I never knew that long car-rides could immunize you from future motion sickness… ‘Can’t wait to read about the GBR…

  • Bella says:

    I am amazed at how cheap it was to do this! I am Australian and I thought it would easily be over a grand!
    Love the stories by the way, I just found this page and I am just about to travel for the first time ever! Being 28 this is going to be HUGE.