In mid August we were fortunate enough to be able to return to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to spend a week on the live aboard “Reef Encounter” The company has an awesome program where once you have been a paying customer on the vessel you can either stay on, or return later to work as a “Hostie”. It is a mutually beneficial program where you do menial labour such as housekeeping, setting and clearing tables, minor cleaning and in exchange you get food, lodging and a couple of dives a day.
Our days started at 5:30am and typically wrapped up around 9:30pm. It certainly reminded me why I enjoy retirement. We did work hard, but I can honestly say it was fun. Our supervisors were a motivated, hard working fun group and kept the environment upbeat. One day while folding laundry in the wheelhouse (best view imaginable for such a task) some whales were spotted a short distance from the boat. We knew life was going to be ok aboard when all work came to a halt for an impromptu whale watching break for the next 20 minutes.
It was an interesting experience working on board. On the first couple of days there were some minor waves which kept life interesting. For me the greatest success was day 2 when I was able to stop taking medication for motion sickness. The waves were large enough that standing barefoot in a wet shower stall trying to clean it was tantamount to an audition with Cirque du Soleil.
There are up to 4 hosties on board at any time and we were all kept busy. There was no end to the tasks that need doing, however we still managed 2 or 3, 30 – 45 minute breaks a day plus our 2 dive sessions at 6:30am and 3:30pm. On some of the longer breaks it was nice to just dive in and go for a snorkel over the Reef for 20 – 30 minutes.
Did I mention the reason for all this work was the two dives a day. It was awesome. Though if you do this program I would recommend having your own dive computer. As a hostie you get whatever equipment is available, so you cannot use the integrated dive computer in the BCD to manage your multiply dives, you must use tables. This is not a big deal, but you certainly have more worry free time below the waves when you are using a computer that is tracking your time.
In the week we were out there we visited less than half a dozen dive sites, which was perfect. It allowed one to get familiar with an area and be happy to descend and just doddle around with your dive buddy soaking in the beauty. The Dive Master kept close tabs on everyone’s times and depths, but as a hostie you were free to explore the area to whatever degree you were comfortable with.
I have to say this has been some of the most relaxing diving I have done. Because we were out for several days and knew there was no rush to see everything, the sense of urgency that sometimes makes its presence known was not there. The time between dives was occupied by simple but necessary tasks and helped pass the time quickly and enjoyably. The time in the water, whether diving or snorkelling was inspiring. A great reminder to stop and soak in what is around you. The world is a pretty amazing place and our week on the Reef helped to remind me of just that. As our friends in Costa Rica would say “Pura Vida!”