Initially I didn't really plan to stop in Cairns on this holiday. But circumstances changed and I found that I'd be in Cairns for four days. So I decided to book a dive trip. I was a bit limited in my choice, because I really had to leave on a Thursday or a Friday. In the end I chose to go with Pro Dive Cairns. If you've read my Airlie Beach trip report, you might be a bit surprised at this choice. Fortunately, Pro Dive is a franchising operation, so they are not all the same.
The cost of the trip was A$420 for three days and two nights for divers. There were also some people on board who were just there to snorkel. This price included equipment rental and even the reef tax. The pickup time was around 6am in the morning. Pro Dive have two boats and I was on their new one, called Scubapro. By 1999, they should have a second boat of the same type. It was possibly the best liveaboard boat I've been on, especially when you consider the price of the trip. It was quite large, with plenty of room on the back deck for kitting up, and there was room for everyone to sit down in the lounge. Rooms were mostly twin bunks, though there were a few doubles, so book these in advance if you want one.
Once on the boat, we were given the usual safety spiel, and given a waiver to fill in. The waiver was the most encompassing I have ever seen and even seem to release them of claims due to negligence. I don't suppose it would hold up for a minute in court. At least I hope it wouldn't. It also claimed that, if you had had flu in the last 30 days, you were at risk from an embolism. This came as a surprise to both myself and a fellow passenger, who was a doctor.
Pro Dive Cairns give everyone a dive computer, so there's no need to stick to square profiles. Apart from the usual rule about returning to the boat with 50 bar, the only really strict rule they had was that no dive could be deeper than the previous one. Whilst this is undoubtedly a good idea, it lead to the ridiculous situation where we were told where to go in the dive briefing so that we could get our maximum depth on each dive and not restrict our freedom on subsequent dives. On lots of the dives we spent most of the time at depths far shallower than the maximum, so our maximum depth wasn't really that relevant.
The first dive of the trip was at a reef called Miln Reef. The site was a large bommie called "The Whale" because waves hitting it can cause water spouts sometimes. I was buddied with a couple of guys who weren't that experienced. We were told that our maximum depth was supposed to be 18m, though on this site you could get 24m. It was quite a short dive as my buddies weren't that good on air consumption. It lasted a whole 26 minutes. When we got back, I persuaded them to use a larger tank, though in the end I didn't dive with either of them again. I had a variety of buddies because some people were doing courses and so they didn't do all of the recreational dives.
At this point my sinuses, which hadn't given me problems up until then, decided to block up as I came down with a very slight cold. I decided to take the risk and use some Sudafed. I managed the next couple of dives, which were also at Miln Reef. The coral was very good. It was in good condition and there was lots of staghorn and needle coral, which is fairly abundant on the GBR. The usual small tropical fish were in abundance as were a couple of Napolean wrasse and a stingray. That night I decided to give my sinuses a rest and skip the night dive.
The next morning was another dive on "The Whale". This time we were allowed to go deeper. I got around 23m, but it was essentially the same dive as the previous day. The only extra attraction was that there is a swim through around the 21m region. After this dive, we finally moved to a new location called Pellowe Reef. We only did one dive here. It was quite shallow and there were loads of small overhangs with squirrelfish in them.
Then the boat moved to Flynn Reef and a site called Gordon's Mooring. The highlight of the next dive was 3 large barracuda, which were hanging around the mooring line at the end. That night we stayed in the same place to do our night dive. There were loads of shrimps, their eyes glowing in my torch beam, as well as squirrelfish and a large turtle sleeping in an overhang.
On the final day, we stayed moored at the same spot on Flynn Reef and the first dive was to a site called "Little Tracy's Bommie". This meant we had to navigate in a different direction to find the bommie in about 18m. Although the first part of the dive was different, we still finished up in the same shallow area as the previous three dives. People were starting to make jokes about recognising the fish. This dive was one of the better ones though, because I saw a large shoal of buffalo wrasse and a turtle. My buddies managed to miss the buffalo wrasse, mainly because they insisted on swimming off too fast, rather than taking things slowly and having a good look around. We also managed to get a bit lost on this dive, which I deny all responsibility for because I wasn't leading. We surfaced a reasonable distance from the boat. It would have been swimmable except there were some jellyfish in the water. They were of the non-lethal variety, but they still hurt. One stung me on the arm, but it didn't leave any mark on the skin. So we signalled to the boat and they came to pick us up in the small outboard.
After the first dive, I decided my sinuses had had enough and skipped the next two. So in the end I did 8 out of the possible 11 dives. The schedule on the last day is fairly hectic with a dive at 7am, 9am and 11am, so I don't think I would have done all three even if I'd felt OK.
In general, I did find the diving with Pro Dive a bit disappointing. The coral was nice, and the viz was always 20m or better, but the fish life wasn't that good. There certainly wasn't that much big stuff around, and I didn't see a single whitetip reef shark. On previous trips to the GBR, I've seen them quite regularly. Someone else on the boat did see them, but it was while they were snorkelling, rather than diving. There were no big schools of fusiliers or trigger fish either. I think this is because they don't dive anywhere where there is a significant current. This is apparently for safety reasons, but it really does impact the quality of the diving. That said, I would think that Open Water students would be more than happy with the diving and Pro Dive are probably a good school to do your course with.
The boat was very good and the food wasn't bad either. As well as 3 meals a day, there were also a couple of snacks during the day. Tea and coffee were available all the time. Beer and soft drinks were available for purchase. You weren't allowed to dive after drinking. The divemasters/instructors on the boat were a good crowd. I didn't find things too restrictive. The only day that depth limits were really strictly enforced was on the last day, when the three dives were all done in quite quick succession. The equipment was of a reasonable quality, and it was obviously replaced fairly frequently.
When we all got back, we met up for a meal and a few drinks in the Cock and Bull. Well I had a few drinks, some others had rather more. I wasn't that impressed with my steak. They overdid the chargrill bit and it had an overwhelming charcoal taste.
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