Before we overwhelm you with underwater blue pictures, let's talk a bit about the whole experience.  What Alli and I did this time (along with Kristen and Tim) is what the scuba divers call a liveaboard.  Rather than walking into the ocean from the shore like we did in Bali, or sleeping on land and waking up early to get on a boat like we did in Tioman, we just called the boat home for a few days.  We were not entirely sure this would be a fun thing to do-- friends warned us that it could depend heavily on who else was on that small boat with you, so we figured doing it with Tim and Kristen was our best safety net and chance to give this a shot.

The advantage of living on the boat is mostly that you can just get more dives in during whatever time you have.  Wake up first thing in the morning and hop in the water.  Have dinner in the evening, then hop back in the water for a night dive.  And potentially you can reach destinations that staying on land in the interim would preclude.  For instance, it was about a 2.5-3 hr boat ride from the coast to the Outer Barrier Reef where we did our diving.  We were practically in the middle of open ocean, but neatly enough, the ocean floor just rises up out there, corals grow, and life abounds.  Anyway, if we had to take a 3 hr ride to and from the reef each morning and evening, you can see how this would really cut into the dive time.

So basically, pretty bright and early Thursday morning, we were picked up by the dive shop, taken briefly to pick up equipment and sign forms, and then out onto the boat for breakfast during the milder part of the voyage.  There was a briefing about the ship, safety signals, lifejackets, life boats, and other general protocols.  We were then assigned rooms, where we could just almost begin to lay down prior to the boat picking up speed in what we were told were calm conditions.  You be the judge of that.  So, no napping during that interim.

Here I am attempting a brief rest as we first got into our room. (fail)

There were, I believe, 32 passengers on board including the crew.  One skipper, one dedicated cook, and the rest were dive instructors that doubled as all-purpose cleaners and helpers.   The 4 of us signed up early enough to snag the 2 double rooms, which were quite nice and seemed to allow a decent amount more space than other rooms which were all bunked singles.  There were 8 bathrooms on board complete with hot showers (though we were asked to limit to one 3 minute shower per day to save water)- which worked out to no wait for any reason ever.  The boat has a large general purpose/dining room in its center where we had all of our meals and joined for any major briefings (not pictured, sorry!).  And there is a sun deck on top in the back of the boat where you could go to sun or relax.

 Before the very last dive, Alli refuses to take the wet suit off and put it back on one more time. 

Finally on the main level in back is a nice spacious area for the taking on and off of all dive equipment. Each tank had a slot and our equipment was always tethered to our tank.

Alli gears up

Tim and Kristen practice advanced buddy breathing techniques
As soon as we finished the 3 hr trip to the reef, we were briefed on our dive site and on our way into the water.  For each dive, the dive supervisor spent a few minutes describing the layout on a hand drawn map, walking us through recommended paths to take.  Our previous dives have all been simply following a dive master, although we are certified to get in the water without one at any point.  We were a little bit nervous about doing this for the first time, but based on the way each dive was very well laid out, we really did not need one.  In each dive site the boat was parked in such a way that you knew one direction was to shallow water, the other direction out to open sea.  The boat was always in about the same depth of water, so it would have been difficult to get too lost if you were paying any attention.  And since the supervisor basically told us exactly where to go he practically did lead the dive, he just stayed on the boat afterward.

Digby sets the scene for our next dive

On that note we were provided and used dive computers for the first time.  Our dive masters have always had them, but if you dive completely without one, you have to be quite conservative, as you measure a dive by the greatest depth attained for the duration of your time underwater.  So if you can only be 20 meters underwater for 20 minutes, you can not dive to 20 m for 10 minutes and then spend the next half hour at 5 meters, despite that you could easily stay at 5 meters for an hour.  Anyway, the dive computers constantly monitor your depth and air use and provide a much more accurate gauge of when you need to surface.  Peace of mind and longer dives.

 Kristen is headed in.

For each dive, we performed our buddy checks as usual, and then were checked over again by the staff immediately prior to jumping in.  The staff checked us off in a log one by one as we entered the water.  Then after completing the dive, we signed off that we had returned, and reported how much air remained in our tanks, maximum depth, and total time.  Each dive also has a prescribed maximum depth.  Those who exceeded their prescribed maximum depths were forced to eat vegemite.  Lots of details to say it was a really well-run operation with many safeguards to ensure our safety, and this put us all at ease and made it a fun trip.

 Crew checks Kristen's equipment out

In between every dive, there was food.  Lots of food.  Good food.  breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks a day.  unlimited cookies, tea, and coffee, and soft drinks and candy bars for purchase.  We were allowed to bring our own alcohol on board- but again, first drink means no more diving that day- safety again.

11 dives over the course of 3 days.  Our first 2 night dives.  Wake up, brief, dive.  eat, brief, dive.  eat, brief, dive.  eat, brief, dive.  sleep. repeat. (worth it!) Lots of fun creature sightings (next post), really just a great trip.

Enjoying an Australian beer on the way back to Cairns harbor at the end of our trip.