Whitsunday's PADI course

The Dive
by James Travers-Murison, (photos available) . A true story of a student's dive for his PADI in the reef strewn seas off the Whitsundays in Tropical Australia.

The mini bus took us from the pool to the mariner where the powerboat was waiting. A large blue and yellow monster with dual high cam turbo propellers. There were twelve of us and a large trolley full of air tanks and scuba gear. The jetty was lined with yachts, most ocean going and power boats.

This was the mariner at Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands in the tropical paradise of Queensland's North. On the same latitude, except to the South, as Hawaii, it is Australia's holiday resort "Mecca" where island hotel complexes dot the reef’s passage.

Captain Cook sailed through here on his voyage of discovery back in 1770; naming it the Whitsundays thinking that was the day he passed through it. As is typical in this northern part of Australia he got the day wrong, but nobody much minded, so the name remains.

We formed a line and passed the tanks into the boat - a human chain with the sly old grin of the Captain looking on.

"Keep em separate from our bottles."

"Which are yours?"

"The colourful ones of course." And they were. Deep red, luminescent green and marine blue.

We were told to gear up, wet suits half-length were pulled on over fleshy bodies - there were no bronzed athletes here, for this was the backpackers open water dive certificate.

The engines began to churn as the Captain pulled out the throttle. And a big muscled Aussie of the sunburned beach and heavy weight training variety called us over.

"Now, yuz lessen gudd. Wherre gonna hav a grate day, yeah!"

There was a pause as his broad grin looked us over. I uttered.

"I suppose it’s possible depending on ..."

He looked at me like I was the most bothersome creature to have ever blessed God's creation. "Ar weez gonna hav a grate day?" There was a silent pause. " I karnt heer ya!!"

There was a general rumbling and a few "yeahs" emerged from the masses.

"Well, it's not gonna be vurry gudd if that's all yuz kan mainage."

"He's got a point," I added thoughtfully.

"What's that?" some wit responded.

He ignored us.

"Thirs is a lieff jakeeet." He held it up like it was the greatest invention ever made.

"Yu wear it like thirs," he put it over his head. "Bud only if I tell yu tu." He seemed to think this was quite funny. "Thur straps du up her. Und if one of yuz falls overburd yu kun thro it tu yer maate."

He pulled the jacket off and threw it at me.

Our first casualty was a Welsh PR officer who had been on the binge the night before, but claimed it was the shashlik from the Lebanese take-away. He was rolled up in the corner of the cabin like a dying green frog, a look of apologetic remorse on his face.

"I tried it," the geography teacher from Leeds shook his head, "and it tasted okay."

Earnest planning for the dive began, we took out our little manuals and checked the dive times and depths against the charts. This told us how long we could stay under and what category we would then be in for assessing our next dive. This is vital to determine levels of nitrogen in the blood and so avoid narcosis or the bends.


The boat tossed up and down like a slippery fish on the choppy waters. And the yachts in full sail were soon left behind. I sat in the back and attempted to remember the descend procedure. SORTED - Signal, Orientate, Regulator, Time, Equalise and Descend.

A beautiful tanned Danish instructress with the body of a model was squeezing into her wetsuit. As I was about to click the camera, our instructor blocked my view.

"Jamie, you're not in your wetsuit."

"I'll just be a minute."

"No you won't we're almost there."

"Are you sure? Is that Hook Island?"

I attempted to manoeuvre round her, but the view had disappeared into the arms of her Danish lover - a divemaster who looked like a young Norse god, Idon with a perpetual mad smile of elation on his soft lips.

We were almost at Hayman Island and the clouds filled the winter's low mid 20s June day. The wind was chopping the waves.

"This is the diver site," the bronzed god looked as if he'd just announced the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant.

"Sury, bud it’s to ruf tu go tew thur usual dieeve site."

"But there's no sand here Dave," our instructor looked perturbed. Dave shrugged his shoulders, his face the expression of a steam shovel.

People struggled to hook up their octopus regulators to the scuba tanks. BCD jackets were strapped to the tanks. The hiss of regulators being tested and the snap of hoses being attached to BCD inflator valves filled the boat.

In the meantime the Danish couple had hidden themselves on the top deck, body and lips entwined in passion.

"Excuse me, Jamie." As usual I was blocking the only walkway to the back of the boat.

"He is hopeless," I heard someone mutter as I attached the octopus primary stage backwards onto the tank. 'Diving training' is the swimming god we had been taught.

During training in the swimming pool, my air-tank had somehow mystically detached itself from the BCD. The instructor had come to the rescue and re-attached it - she was getting used to me. Now back on the boat she spoke to me.

"Jamie, this is the seventh time you've done this."

"Well, don't you think it looks more artistic backwards?"

She raised her eyes, her strong jaw smiling mischievously.

The group was divided in two and I was allotted to the second team. We watched the new divers ‘giant stride’ into the sea for the first time, regulators in their mouths, palms pressed to their masks. Looking not unlike unconvincing extras acting as space-monsters from Doctor Who. They swam after the instructor like goslings chasing their mother.

A buoy was placed where the group was to duck down and one by one they bobbed down to the wavy depths. The cold began to seep through our wet suits as we waited for their return out of the windy waters. Hans, the Dane divemaster looked to his watch and gave the signal to suit up.

Five minutes later the diver goslings appeared and as they made their way in, we made our own ‘giant strides’ into the sea. The weather beaten captain snapped my leap into posterity. A wave of the camera and a broad smile reached across his face. I swapped regulator for snorkel and made the long swim to the buoy, BCD partially inflated.

At the yellow buoy, the instructor took my hand and SORTED with my buddy, I began the descent. Left hand to my inflator, right to my nose, I began to blow through my nose and wiggling my jaws as I slowly dropped into the Great Barrier Reef and the realities of another vision where sound travels twice as fast and distances seem half what they really are.

A squeaky popping as my ears gradually equalised. Then as the murky waters enclosed through the plate glass of the mask, I could make out the corralled bottom. The light drained the colours so everything became a blue - greyish green. I checked my gauge, 9 metres, signalled the round thumb and forefinger 'OK' to my buddy, an English bricklayer, and then we were off in search of sand. Twisting and weaving amongst the gorges of coral and rock.

Outcrops hanging over us, a blue-grey cliff face suspended in the void. The occasional flock of small white-red-black fish. The gentle motion of the reef surge pulling us up and down. The erotic splendour of the deep filled my visored view with a feast of fish and coral....

The spirally shapes of mushroom coral and staghorn. The water surrounding us was now the colour of a browny tub and my mind was awash with fear. The coral sea opened up into a mass of stony coral.

Blue lipped thorns coming out of the sea bed, yet still no sand. Finally a muddy bottom a few square feet opened up. The instructor held up her hand and the mass of floating divers behind held their places as best they could.

Hovering in mid flight in the deep. A mass of eight aliens floating in the void... and into it all the image of our blonde haired instructor. Tousled locks that gently waved in the current. She grabbed my hand and pulled me thrusting me down to the muddy hole. The rescue hand signal was made and the finger pivot. Ascending into the cold depths of the murk. Knee crashed into coral and silt, trying to buoy myself up on my fins and fell down onto my stomach. That was good enough and I was signalled off with a handshake and an OK. Only to be replaced by the next victim...

The dive proved to be a worthwhile experience if only to say "you had done it". I did, however, blow my ears, which took several weeks to recover, the previous year when I first attempted a course. Never go down before you have equalised, even if the instructor is pushing you and has a whole class to worry about. I failed, but the diving company let me have another go.

I completed my "advanced" a couple of days after I experienced this dive.

The best Whitsunday dive courses for your PADI are run by Oceania Dive…. go to www…whoops they are no more.. instead go to


Next Editions:

Annaconda II - Sailing in a luxury maxi-yacht and completing PADI and advanced on the same trip.

Airlie Hell - Backpacker city has strange effects on a dive student


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