Confession: I don’t like open water, I hate getting my face wet, and my idea of a swim is to the other side of the pool for a glass of ice-cold pink lemonade.
So when I found myself fighting seasickness, on a sailboat, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, sporting an anti-jellyfish-sting suit—I had to do a bit of a double-take. What exactly had I signed myself up for?
The thing was, I hadn’t exactly signed myself up. Back in June, I had decided on a weekend in Cairns to celebrate my 23rd birthday. When I realized a couple of girlfriends were heading up that same weekend, I booked in on the sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving trip they were on without doing any research. Then Tiger Airways cancelled my flight, I stayed home, they went and I wallowed in my misery and refused to listen to their tales of the epic reef until my trip was rebooked five months later. I decided to kick off my post-Melbourne life with by finally ticking skydiving and scuba diving off my Australia bucket list.
Even though I stepped onto Coral Sea Dreaming with a bit of hesitation–my friend’s only advice had been to take them up on their offers of seasickness tablets early, and often–the two-day trip was a fabulous way to experience the Great Barrier Reef.
“Keeping a respectful distance on the surface, I have watched underwater scenery and fish with joy all these years,” writes Martha Gellhorn in Travels with Myself and Another. “It is not that easy in life to find an unfailing source of joy.”
I found myself thinking back to those words as I simply float on the surface, watching the schools of long and short, black and white, neon- and sand-colored, big and small fish scurry to and fro, darting in and among reefs and clams and anemones and sea turtles. Snorkeling and scuba diving are such a rare chance to observe wildlife in its natural habitat: the mundane everyday life of underwater is suddenly stunning to ye with no gills.
The laid-back vibe on the sailboat meant we enjoyed sunsets and sunrises over the ocean’s horizon, delicious meals while watching dolphins dance around the boat, conversations under the sun’s warming rays and rocked by the sea breeze.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of those natural wonders with an uncertain future: overfishing, pollution and global warming are slowly ruining on an incredibly large and fantastically diverse underwater ecosystem. Certainly, tourism must take its toll–the flurry of boats in and out of Cairns harbour is a testament to that–but it’s still a sight to see.
The trip taught me that I’m not a sailor–or, at least, I’m one who is heavily dependent on Travacalm–but I can still enjoy the vastness of the open water and the unfailing joy that comes after spotting a sea turtle.