28 October 2007

Sometimes it's just not worth getting up

This is Charlie.

He's only about two weeks old at the moment and he and his two litter mates are in care with Natasja, our wildlife co-ordinator. They were found at a local primary school and rescued by the RSPCA. Once they are old enough to be weaned, one will stay with Natasja, one will go to live with another carer, Binny, and little Charlie will go to live with Brett. Brett created the BARN website and you may have seen a pic of him in this blog holding a snake.

Doesn't Charlie look fed up? That's probably because every time he and his mates climbed out of the cage, they got put back in.

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27 October 2007

Thar she blows

Another early start yesterday morning, so we could get down to the Tweed River near the top of the tide for the final day of the diving course. I got up at 4:30am and left the house while it was still dark.

We had a few other divers with us this time, a guy from Melbourne who already had his ticket, a guy on holidays from Dublin who only had to do his last dive to qualify, and Tanya, another instructor who was taking the other to guys down.

That made ten of us and the Aussies were still outnumbered. Terry, our instructor, is from England as are Dave, Laurie and I. Matt is from the US, and Tanya is a Newfie. That left just Alex, Will, and the guy from Melbourne as the token Aussies. Actually the joke was that Matt was the token yank, in case we needed to leave someone behind.

Once we arrived at the boat the trailer was unloaded, gear was assembled, we got into our wetsuits, loaded up the boat and headed down the river and out into open water.

This time of year the humpback whales are heading down the coast back to Antarctica and we saw a heap of them in the distance, blowing and sticking the occasional tail up in the air.

Cook Island is a nature reserve, so to avoid damage to it by anchors there are mooring bouys to tie up to. We tied up to one of them and started putting on our gear ready to enter the water.

Getting into the water was different to what we'd previously done. Before we'd either slid over the side then put our gear on, or we did a giant stride entry. This time we had to roll backwards into the water. You usually see divers do it from an inflatable boat where you're close to the water. The boat we were on had about a metre drop to the water.

My first entry was a bit of a shock. My mask half filled with water and the water was cold. I took the regulator out of my mouth and took a few deep breaths to compose myself, then put the snorkel in my mouth, signalled okay to Terry on the boat, then swam round to the mooring line where we were to assemble before descending together.

About twenty years ago I went diving off Mudjimba Island on the Sunshine Coast. When I first put my head underwater there and looked down the ten metres to the bottom, I was amazed. There was so much to see. When I looked down at Cook Island yesterday I realised this wasn't going to be the same. We've had a few storms and some northerly winds just lately and visibility was pretty bad.

We made the most of it anyway, practised a couple of skills on the bottom, got to see a turtle then did an ascent on our buddy's alternate air source. After that, we all went back down one at a time with Terry and did a CESA, a controlled emergency swimming ascent. This involves swimming to the surface while exhaling all the way up so your lungs don't overexpand with the lower water pressure.

Back in the boat we changed our tanks over and had a bit of a break. Because the visibility was so bad the boat was moved to a different mooring, where it would hopefully be a bit clearer. The entry into the water this time was a lot better, probably because I was already wet and because I'd already done it once.

Visibility here was even worse than the first dive and this time we had a bit of a surge to put up with as well. The plan was for Terry to take us aside in our buddy pairs while Tanya looked after the rest of the group, get us to take off our masks and replace them, then swim about ten metres away using compasses, turn around and swim back to Terry. Once all that was done, the rest of the dive would be a look around and we'd ascend to the surface as certified open water scuba divers.

Terry took Laurie and I aside, found a spot where we could kneel on the bottom, then got me to remove my mask and replace it. We were getting knocked around all over the place and once I'd got my mask back on and the water cleared out of it, Terry took us back to the main group, gave us the thumbs up sign, meaning ascend, and we all swam back to the surface.

It was the first time Terry had ever had to cancel a dive, but he said it was just too dangerous trying to keep an eye on a class in those conditions. So we all got back into the boat and headed back to the Tweed River.

It wasn't a total loss though. On the way back we came across a female whale with a couple of calves. One of them was breaching and fin slapping and just generally having a good time, so we stopped for a while to watch until they swam away.

Because we still have a few things to do before we qualify, we have to do the last two dives another time. This is at no extra cost incidentally, so it basically means we're getting six dives for the price of four. I must admit, despite the conditions yesterday, I still enjoyed myself. Maybe I'm one of those people that enjoys muck diving.

So one Sunday within the next few weeks we'll be heading off for another couple of dives. Hopefully we'll come back qualified.

25 October 2007

A fart in a wetsuit

For the last three days my brother Laurie and I have been doing our open water diving course.

Now I was going to update the blog daily with news about the course, but after a morning of doing theory, the first thing we did in the pool was a two hundred metre swim and ten minutes of treading water.

I haven't been in a swimming pool for years and I've certainly never been much of a swimmer. I didn't have much of a problem from the fitness side of the swim, it's just that I was using muscles that I probably haven't pushed hard since I stopped working out in the gym about ten years ago. I thought I could cheat it a bit by pushing off from the side and just gliding underwater part of the way. It doesn't pay to cheat, at least not if you haven't tied your swimmers up properly.

Anyway, by the time I got home that night, my shoulders were so sore and tired I couldn't find a position to put them in that was comfortable. So I had an early night.

Of course the two hundred metre swim and the treading water weren't all we did. We practised a lot of the skills you need to know before you go in the open water. Stuff that could save your life, like finding your regulator and putting it back in your mouth after someone has kicked it out accidentally. Clearing water out of your mask while underwater is something that comes in handy, especially when you're bearded like me. It's surprising how much there is to learn. It's not just a case of strapping a tank to your back and breathing underwater.

The second day involved more theory and an exam, which everyone passed quite easily. Then we started off in the pool with a bit of snorkelling. First we had to duck dive to the bottom, three metres down, swim through a hoop and come back up. It's very easy to get down there and get through, but just about everyone of us got our fins hooked as we went through, even those of us that had watched the others and tried to swim as low as possible.

Then we did it after hyperventilating, which allows you to stay down longer and swim through the hoop more than once.

There were a couple of toys on the bottom, a shark and a lobster. Laurie went just before me, picked up one of the toys and swam through the hoop three times. Now, I was going to do that just to show off, because no one else had done it yet. Laurie had knocked the hoop sideways when he went through the last time, so I turned to Terry, our instructor, and said, "leave it crooked". Then I dived down, picked up both the toys, and swam through the hoop three times.

Of course the next person, a retired guy called Dave who's in his sixties, dived down and went through four times. I should mention at this point that out of six students on the course and the instructor, not one person doesn't have their fair share of grey hair. Most of us have pot bellies too.

The rest of the day was spent practising more skills, like breathing from an alternate air source, ie. your buddy's second regulator, and hovering.

You might think hovering, staying stationary in the water, would be easy. It's certainly important if you're diving near a reef to stop you crashing into it. It's harder than it sounds though, because as you breathe in and your lungs fill up, you become more bouyant, as you breathe out, you become less bouyant. You need to have just the right amount of air in your BCD (bouyancy compensation device, like a life jacket), then you control your breathing so that you're breathing out as you start to ascend and in as you start to descend. Of course the deeper you go, the less bouyant you are, so you have to make adjustments again.

Day three was today and involved an early start as we had to be down the Gold Coast around eight in the morning due to the tides.

From the Southport Spit we had a quick ten minute boat trip to Wave Break Island. We jumped in the water in our snorkelling gear and wetsuits and put on our BCDs and weight belts in the water. Putting on a weight belt in the water is easy, you just lie on your back holding the belt with one hand, then roll over onto your front and do it up. Putting on the BCD is a different matter as you invariably get tangled up in your straps.

After two days of swimming in a pool that's heated to around 30 degrees Celsius, jumping into seawater at 20 degrees was a bit of a shock, even wearing full length wetsuits.

For the first dive we just practiced a few of the skills we'd done in the pool and went down to about seven metres. It's a sandy bottom there, so there isn't much to see and visibility was only about three to five metres anyway. It was still a good first dive though, so different to being in the pool, and we did see a few fish.

We stayed in the water after the first dive. We just handed our BCDs up to Max in the boat, who changed the tanks over and passed them back down to us. Then we went down again and practiced a few more skills. By this time we'd been in the water for close to two hours, so some of us were starting to feel cold.

I must say, the biggest relief on getting back in the boat was taking off my mask. Leaving your mask up on your forehead is considered a sign that you're in distress in the water, so you don't do it. Instead you just leave your mask on, or push it down around your neck where it can be a bit of a nuisance.

Tomorrow is an even earlier start as we're diving at Cook Island, just off Fingal Head, near Tweed Heads. Hopefully the water will be clearer there. We don't have many skills to practice there as we did most of them today, so it'll be more of an experience thing. Terry reckons we should get to see a few turtles.

Oh, and if you've ever wondered, when you fart in a wet suit the bubbles run up your back and escape out around your neck. That means if you do it under water, the bubbles from your regulator as you exhale should hide it.

22 October 2007

Jacques Costeau, at one with nature

I've got this week off work and it feels great.

The reason I'm off, is because tomorrow I start the open water scuba diving course with Pro-Dive. The course involves two days of theory and pool dives, then two days of open water dives in the ocean, putting into practice what we learnt in the pool.

As I type this, I can see out the window that it's quite windy today. I'm hoping it's not too bad on Thursday and Friday as I sometimes get seasick. My brother Laurie, who is also doing the course, used to be in the navy and didn't have much trouble with seasickness unless it got really rough. I may have to pack some Kwells in my bag, just in case.

We used to be able to get a drug called Travecalm which was really good for motion sickness. Donna used to take one when ever I took her flying. It was taken off the market after it was found the manufacturers had serious problems with their quality control. Batches of Travecalm were going out with way to much of one of the ingredients and it was causing people to act strange after taking it.

Not the sort of thing you want at six thousand feet in a small aircraft.

Anyway, I'll naturally be blogging about the dive course, and I suspect Laurie will write a bit about it in his blog as well.


And speaking of nature, we have two new additions to the family. Rufus and Rusty are a pair of orphaned ringtail possums. Rufus's mum came into our care last week after she had her tail run over by a car. Unfortunately, she died a couple of nights later. Rusty joined us yesterday as ringtails are best kept with others of their kind.

You can read about the two of them on our carer's blog, A Possum in my Pocket.

19 October 2007

Come with me

and you'll be.

In a world of pure imagination.

I caught a bit of Australian Idol tonight. One of the contestants is a bandsman in the navy. Listening to him sing, he reminds me a bit of Harry Conick Jr, and he's not a bad horn player.

I used to play the trumpet. Now I never played it long enough to get good at it, but I liked to tell people I had a 21 inch horn, even longer with a mouthpiece on it.

The thing is, this Idol contestant, whose name I don't even know was singing one of my favourite songs.

Scroll back up for a hint.

I haven't been following the series much this year, so I don't know really what they're like. One contestant, Brianna, reminded me a lot of a friend of mine, but I suspect my friend had better pitch control, and Brianna got voted out a few weeks ago. So this navy guy is my pick to win this year.

Anyway, in a round about way, this blog entry is a way of saying, "we saw a famous person last night".

We went to the Dockside Comedy Bar last night for Jess's birthday, which is tomorrow. I can thoroughly recommend it (the comedy bar and Jess's birthday). Anyway, during one of the breaks between acts, those of us that didn't need to, were outside with those that needed to (smoke). I looked over toward the entrance and there was a guy chatting to one of the staff, and he had the biggest afro I've seen in a long time.

"That's... um... Side Show Bobby", I said, as discreetly as possible. I'm sorry, but I couldn't think of his surname at the time. Being the designated driver (actually I volunteered so I didn't have to listen to Sarah's crap music, which would have happened if she drove) my mind was a bit twisted by orange juice. Anyway, I drew attention to him and everyone agreed it was him. It was Bobby Flynn, from last year's Idol. Oh, and the hair is much bigger in person than it is on the tele.

Now I quite liked Bobby. A lot of people said he had an original sound, which I disagree with. He reminded me of Boz Scaggs, someone you're average Idol viewer would be too young to remember. I just wish he'd hurry up and get his album out.

Getting back to who I'd like to see win this year's Idol, here's a reminder of what Gene Wilder sounded like when he sang, Pure Imagination.

12 October 2007


We're still in the process of planning out our holiday at the moment.

The flights are paid for, and we've been going through the Trafalgar Tours brochure and website. We've pretty much decided to do a four day tour up to Scotland and back, do a trip down to Poole to visit an aunt, then a seven day tour to Rome. After that we're going to travel around on the trains using Eurail passes and head back to England.

As the Australian dollar is quite strong at the moment, it works out cheaper to buy a Eurail pass online via their official website than to buy it from Australia. I ordered the passes the other day and they e-mailed me back with the Fedex tracking details. They started off somewhere in Massachusets (or wherever MA is), went to Memphis, now they're in Hawaii. They're getting to see more of the world than us.