index//about me//my emails//my photos//travel tips//blog

Smile, Though Your Back is Breaking

When I left you last I had become an instructor and dropped my 'phone down the toilet, in two unconnected moves, so come with me while I fill you in on what's happened since . . .

I decided to bite the bullet where my 'phone was concerned and buy a new one - after all, the bloody thing would throw a bit of a wobbly if it even got a few drops of rain, so it was hardly going to recover from its impromptu swim, was it? The next day I took it down to the 'phone shop and explained what happened, in the vein hope that the assistant would say "no worries, mate - that won't do it any harm at all". Of course that was not what I heard, so I was persuaded to purchase a new 'phone which bore an uncanny resemblance to my old one, but was in fact an inferior model - dual-band rather than tri-band being the main (and most costly) difference. For this I paid the same as I had done for my soggy 'phone back in the UK

Resigned, I returned home consoling myself with the fact that I did at least have one new game to play on it. It also had the 'Welcome Note' facility, so I programmed it to say "please don't throw me down the toilet" when I switched it on. That evening as I was explaining what had happened to flatmate P-, I picked up my old 'phone and unthinkingly switched it on. To my amazement the lights came on, and it prompted me to insert my sim card. This I did, and was astounded to see that the 'phone appeared to be working perfectly. I cursed myself for having thrown 𧴜 down the proverbial toilet, and vowed to return the new 'phone the next day, if at all humanly possible.

I argued strenuously with P- when he told me I didn't have a hope in hell of getting my dosh back, though I barely believed my own protestations. It was therefore with some shock that I walked away from the shop with a full refund the next morning. There was just one hitch, though - I had paid for the 'phone on my credit card, but they were terribly sorry, they were unable to refund me on the card . . . I'd have to take cash! Bizarre. To date (touch wood) my underwater 'phone is still working, and would appear to be as good as new. I can't help but wonder what the new owner of the 'phone will think when they turn it on for the first time, to be greeted by the message "please don't throw me down the toilet".

Anyway, once I was back in contact I set about printing out and distributing copies of my CV - but only to a few places in town, those who taught courses. I ignored where the bulk of the opportunities (and money) here lie, which is in doing introductory dives (AKA intros, resorties, discover scubas). One of the reasons that I didn't want to do intro dives, is after hearing what happened here a couple of months ago. A girl on her very first day working as a dive instructor, had a 16 year old American girl die on her - there was a more experienced instructor with her, the 16 year old freaked out, held her breath and bolted for the surface - neither of them realised - pretty difficult to spot really. She was dead from an embolism as soon as she hit the surface - as anyone who has ever done a scuba course will (hopefully) tell you, the golden rule of scuba is never hold your breath - this story illustrates the reason why.

Anyway, this had been weighing on me since I heard it half way through the IDC, and had made me really anti the intro dives. Since then though I have finally got the message that if you work in any aspect of diving for long enough, the are you are going to have to deal with someone dying sooner or later, from natural causes if nothing else. A bit of a grim thought, but hardly incredible - more just of a fact of life. In Cairns, more people actually die doing snorkelling; this is due to two things: first a great many more people snorkel from Cairns than dive, so statistically it's bound to happen more often; and second, more elderly people go for a snorkel - being medically unfit to dive - and (again statistically) chances are sooner or later one of them will end up belly up in the water, figuratively speaking. As the guy from the health and safety people put it, whether they would have had a heart attack at 1010 on Tuesday anyway, or whether it was the excitement of seeing that big fish that triggered it is open to philosophical debate, but death is a fact of life.

Having said that, I am still loath to do intro dives, but now for different reasons; I want to do decent dives. If I can't actually be teaching (and unfortunately I am also learning that with my working holiday visa - and the restriction of only working for a company for a maximum of three months that applies - I am not going to get a job teaching . . . not in Cairns anyway) then basically I want to dive. Taking four gumbies down to four metres, looking at a sea cucumber for ten minutes, having a quick swim around then surfacing is not diving. Yes, the attitude is back!! I'm new to the industry and have no cause to start throwing my weight around, and should probably just take the first job that comes my way, but true to form I have decided to get arsey about it!

The following day I thought I should maybe be very slightly less choosy, and drop off copies of my CV to another three places in town that don't teach people to dive, but do instead take out certified divers to the ribbon reefs and Cod Hole - so basically do some world class diving. One of these companies in particular I knew I didn't stand a chance with, the long established and well respected Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, specialising in catering for your better bred passenger - most definitely not a back-packer boat. They tend only to employ experienced staff, but I thought I'd pop in, just for a laugh.

The girl at the desk told me that, no, they were not hiring right now, but actually a spot had just become available for a volunteer deck-hand. There is normally a two month waiting list for the volunteer (AKA slaving) positions, but she had had a cancellation the night before for next week's trip, and was I interested? Hmmm, the chance to do some world class diving for just the cost of two uniform T-shirts and a pair of blue shorts . . . yes I was! I would meet at the office at 1800 the following Thursday, assist in transporting the passengers' bags to the boat, welcome the passengers on board, travel over the next three days up to Lizard Island, stopping at some prime dive sites on the way, wave these passengers off, greet a new crowd an hour and a half later and do the trip in reverse. Passengers would be paying between $1000-$1500 for one leg of the journey, I would get to do it twice for an outlay of around $70. Yes, I was definitely keen!

During the interim week I completed a CPR refresher (actually turning up 48 hours early for this course due to some confusion about the days of the week - got my Tuesdays and Thursdays muddled up - D'oh!), and a full day of advanced resuscitation techniques, and generally flitted around enjoying my new found freedom now all my studying had been completed. I went out at the weekend with Heidi and Jen, the two American girls who had been on my course. They both had jobs already, Jen on Fitzroy Island, and Heidi with C- R- D- - whom for some reason we had all been warned off of. She wasn't sure why, as they seemed really nice. I also went out for a goodbye drink with P-, my flatmate, who had decided to stick his job and go home to New Zealand. He'd be flying out around the same time as I'd be getting off the boat the next week.

Thursday came around, and my excitement built (along with a few nerves, of course) as I headed down to the office where the passengers had left their luggage, and began to load it onto the pickup - sorry, the ute - forgot where I was there for a minute! I have to say that seeing the ridiculous amounts of luggage some of these people had brought along - especially considering most of them were only in the country for three weeks max - made me feel much better about the accumulative crap I have. It was here that I met Flavia who was the galley volunteer, who was coming out on her second trip

Once we got to Supersport, the vessel that would be home for the next week, we were given a bit of a pep talk by Gavin the skipper, and told to be really "in the guests' faces", keeping them sweet to maximise the tip potential. We had a bit of time to run around getting the ship shipshape (though surely it already is by default, isn't it?) before welcoming the passengers on board. Once they were all on, we ushered them into the main lounge and urged them to drink champagne and eat the beautifully prepared snacks that had been laid out. We were to mingle and make small talk . . . those who know me will know that I am not at all the small talk type person, so I found this a bit surreal. In my first attempt, I approached a friendly looking middle aged guy, and asked if he was there with his wife. As the words left my mouth, my brain tried to call them back, pointing out that this was a potentially sticky question. Inevitably I inwardly cringed as I was told that, no, the gentleman was actually divorced, and had come up here on one of the weekends when he would not be seeing his children.

From there I managed to stick to safer topics, and didn't do too badly at the whole small talk palaver . . . for a social inadequate, anyway. As early as was possible, I checked with Bevan the Trip Director, and sloped off to bed knowing that I had to be on the dive deck at 0630 the next morning. My cabin was at the front of the starboard hull of the catamaran, and I shared it with Flavia and Lorraine, the (paid) hostie. I had hoped that having an early night would ensure a good night's sleep, but no. The boat would be travelling through the night until about 0500, and being alternately being squished into your mattress for a second or so, and then nearly levitating above it, is not conducive to a good nights sleep, I can tell you. I had maybe half an hour's sleep after the boat stopped, before the galley girls got up just before 0600. I was not the only one, though, and soon found out that this is basically par for the course the first night - crew or passengers, no-one sleeps.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed (not!) I made myself available the next morning to do what I could. My official duties were basically to be in charge of towels and water. Each passenger gets a lovely towel to dry themselves off with after the dive, which must then be dried between dives, folded and placed back above their gear ready for the next dive; this is what the towel-meister part of my job consisted of. The water side of things meant that I was in charge of the 'Hydration Station'. Dehydration is a significant factor in decompression sickness, so the idea being to pour as much water down the punters' throats as I could cajole them into drinking. To this purpose I was also orange monitor, trying to persuade them to munch on orange segments cut by my own fair hand.

Of course in between I would help out with anything else that needed doing. It may surprise some to know that I actually worked really, really hard. I made sure I was on top of my jobs the whole time, and ran around bugging people to see if they had anything that needed doing, and helping out in the kitchen whenever I could. All the staff were impressed with me, and said I did much more than the average volunteer - apparently some weeks it's all they can do to prise them off the sun-loungers. I've been given a couple of contacts, and promises of references if needs be, so I think that will help. It was also really good to be on a boat where things are done properly, and I have learnt a lot and my confidence has increased too, which is great.

My cheeks ache from all that smiling, but I think it probably does me good having to be nice to people - I spent 12 years being nasty to them for work (not to mention in my spare time, tee hee) so time for a change. Half the crew went straight back for another trip - not sure I could keep it up for two weeks, but I guess you get used to it. They said that the only killer with that is that nobody gets much sleep on the last night either, so by the Friday of the second trip, half the crew have had two consecutive sleepless nights . . . then still have to be all smiles for the passengers. Most of the passengers I saw on the two trips were actually OK, though there was the odd awkward one, like the woman who just refused to drink any water, and basically complained about everything. I made it my mission to get the odd smile out of her, and actually succeeded.

I am also pleased to report that I did get my sea legs after a couple of days - I munched on the occasional tablet, just in case - if you've got to work and smile, you can't be feeling pukey - but on the whole I wasn't too bad at all. I am also really glad to say that I seem to have lost my fear - I didn't get scared or anxious at all, even coming back when it was 25 knots and the bow was slapping on to the waves. I was also among the few people who didn't vomit, and managed to sleep homeward bound - had the best night of the whole trip. Think the four or so beers before bedtime helped me get off.

Nearly forgot to mention the diving, which was super. The highlight was a dive at Lighthouse Bommie with olive sea snakes, and also big (metre and a half, maybe) bull rays one of the rays kept swooping underneath me, would turn and swim back under - amazing experience - my best ever dive! I saw two cod feeds at the (world famous!!) Cod Hole - where I actually dived four years ago, when I was a brand-new makey-learny diver, not the seasoned old pro that I am today. Hmmmm! On the trip back about half of the passengers were new divers (and some were pretty atrocious too), which is unusual for Mike Ball trips. This meant I had some guiding to do, and only got slightly lost a couple of times - much to my amazement, navigation not being my strong point.

One of the crew makes a video of the trip, and the standard was very high. I was sucked in, and bought one - we do get a discounted price - and Kerin the video man made up a tape for me of the highlights from both the North and Southbound trips. I did previously get a diving video last time I was in Cairns, but it was just after I'd done my open water, and it makes me cringe now to see myself doggy paddling and bicycle kicking around. The whole trip was a great experience, and it is nice to have the personal satisfaction of knowing that I can do well on one of the better boats. A real confidence booster.

When we got back, Flavia came and crashed at mine for a few days, until she had to head down to Townsville where the lucky thing is going out on Spoilsport, one of Mike Ball's other boats. Might have to put my name down to do that before I leave Queensland. Flavia is a really nice girl and a good laugh, and being a gorgeous Brazilian belly-dancing divemaster and veterinarian, I am sure that most of my male friends would love her! I felt certain in the knowledge that if we went out on the pull, I would get stuck with the ugly ones. No change there then! We went to see Finding Nemo before she headed south, and I can highly recommend the movie.

The night after we got back we did go out, first meeting up with almost everyone from my instructor course. I was the only one who had not secured a job, and also the only one who had done any decent diving, so I would not have swapped with any of them. Heidi, one of the girls from New Orleans, had already quit her job and was now working in a coffee shop. It seems that the warnings about C- R- D- were indeed accurate, and she had had an awful time of it, and was expected to do seven or eight dives a day, and teach people even before she had been authorised to do so by PADI. After a week (where she had also been hit on constantly by the instructor who was showing her the ropes - as she told him "I'm in the industry, I know what instructors are like - I am one!") she got such a bad ear infection that she couldn't eat for a couple of days, her jaw was so sore, and told them to stick the job.

On my return I was all fired up to find a job (well for about 24 hours, anyway) so did another round with my revised CV. Got one tickle, but for a job that was two days as purser (collecting money for drinks and food and putting out the trays for lunch) and three days assisting with something more dive related. I had decided that (although I should probably just jump at anything) I wasn't that interested . . . which is just as well as I had a call half an hour a go to say that the post is not available after all - he'd said at the time he wasn't sure. Have purposefully not gone crawling around Pro Dive. Before I went out on the boat I'd gone in to see Paul (the hirer and firer), as asked, had been kept standing around for forty minutes and then told that he had another appointment and no time to see me so I should come back the next day.

Yesterday morning I had a call from my dad's cousin, Clive, who is in Airlie Beach (600 km south) at his winter home, but heads back to Victoria in under three weeks. I had intended catching up with him while he was there, but hadn't realised time had crept on so. He says he has contacts down there with divey people - and that aside, things are different down there, it's more of a village than a city, and has the more laid back pace of life I'd been hankering after. I told Clive that I'd mull it over, and get back to him in a couple of days, and over the next couple of hours pretty much decided that that was the way to go. Then at three o'clock, I got a call from a company in Port Douglas, 60 km up the coast. Sounds like they may need an instructor, and it might even be teaching! Port Douglas is also a quieter, smaller place - and apparently a bit of a playground for the rich and famous!

So now I'm kind of back to not really knowing what I'm going to do. I shall have to see what the score is with the job up in Port - whether it really is teaching, how much they'll pay me (as the cost of living will be higher there). If it sounds good - and immediate, people seem to have the knack of stringing you along around here - then that may be my best bet, if not I'll head south, catch up with family and enjoy the atmos in Airlie. Either way it looks like I'm leaving Cairns. Reckon that's a good thing - I've been here over three months now, and am starting to stagnate. The opportunities for gaining experience that I had expected to find here don't exist, so time to move on. Oh yeah!! That said, I would like to remind everyone that I am prone to changing my mind much, much more often than my underwear (that's not to say I'm a skank, just very indecisive, OK???!), so who knows what I'll actually be doing.

Work aside, another one of my original (lazy) reasons for wanting to stay in Cairns was the fact that I'd got a flat here, but since waking up to find a cockroach in bed with me (and I'm not talking about the human variety that one can pick up at the Woolshed any night of the week . . . apparently, ahem! And talking of which, the Woolshed was featured on TV the other day in an expose, Watchdog-type program due to the overindulgence of alcohol and gross public nudity that are encouraged therein! Well that's the only reason I go along!) the novelty of my flat has now worn off. I'm just grateful to the mosquito who bit me five times in an endeavour to wake me up, so that I could notice the cockroach that was grubbing around a mere foot from my head. Yuk! Don't you just love the tropics . . . hmmmm.

Anyway on that rather disgusting note, and having realised that I have waffled on even longer than usual - sorry everyone, especially anyone who has to pay for their internet access.

Okay, I am going to shut up now, honest.

Hope you are all well and happy, and do write back, let me know what's going on in your lives.


index//about me//my emails//my photos//travel tips//blog