A day after we arrived in Cairns, we took an early morning bus to Port Douglas and boarded a boat for a day diving on Agincourt Reef, one of the ribbon reefs on the Continental Shelf of the Great Barrier reef. This was going to be a first diving experience for both of us, snorkeling and a couple introductory dives for me.
It was our second full day in Cairns where we had flown from Alice Springs in the Northern Territories. We opted for a longer flight by flying west to Uluru / Ayers Rock and then flying east to Cairns. This longer flight gave us an opportunity to view the Red Center where we had spent the last week hiking and exploring the Macdonnnell Range, Kata Tjuta and Uluru.
We had great arial views of the Red Center, particularly of the dried salt river and beds. They looked larger and more impressive from the air.
American government facilities near Alice Springs
We also flew near the joint CIA / US military listening post at Pine Gap where many Americans work and reside in Alice. Pine Gap is the largest CIA facility outside of the U.S. The facility has a large and controversial role involved in directing military air and drone strikes in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the ‘shock and awe’ air strikes in Baghdad.
Pine Gap is also controversial within the halls of the Australian government. Federal Australian officials are denied entry into the secret facility except in certain ‘joint exercise’ areas.
Americans also work at a NASA satellite tracking facility near Alice Springs monitoring electronics from various satellites and missions like the Voyager and Mars Landers. A NASA ground launched balloon recently malfunctioned at launch at the facility and caused a little damage on the ground with no injuries.
Agincourt Reef is about 65 kilometers or a two-hour boat ride from Port Douglas. All of us, snorkelers, divers, and riders talked excitedly about being out on the reef, so close to the Continental reef.
Tour companies offer afternoon, day, or overnight trips to the reef. Resorts offer similar diving and snorkeling on the quays or off shore islands.
We were taking a three-day diving adventure later in the week, but wanted to get into the water, snorkel and experience the reef on an easy day trip first. We didn’t want to miss any opportunity to experience the Great Barrier Reef.
After an hour orientation about equipment, safety, and underwater communications, we suited up, slapped on weight belts, hoisted tanks onto our backs, checked regulators, snorkels, fins, masks, and CBD’s, and headed to the duck board on the back of the boat.
We put one hand over our head to hold our masks and the other hand over our regulator and stepped off into the water.
Once in the water, we switched to snorkels to get final instructions before heading down the tow line to the bottom. We changed back to regulators and slowly made our way down the line to the reef a few meters below. Within minutes, we were swimming among tropical fish; a beautiful experience.
I made two dives that afternoon. It had been many years since I used scuba equipment in the Caribbean. So many technical improvements had been made in regulators, masks, tanks, and CBDs. The last time I dove, they didn’t have auxiliary regulators that fit a sleeve on the right arm. Something goes wrong with your regulator, grab your auxiliary and keep on breathing.
Snorkels had also improved; they now have a flap over the top to prevent water splashing into the tube, a risk in heavy seas.
Snorkeling on Agincourt
After a couple dives, we headed into the water again to snorkel together. The reef was about two meters below the surface, we swam along, surface diving to watch the tropical fish darting over the reef. Schools of silver, blue, fish swarmed around us, dazzling us with their numbers, colors, and speed. Amazing to see them the first time.
We couldn’t wait for our next diving adventure, a three-day over night trip off Cairns.
We met interesting people on the boat, snorkelers, divers, and my instructor who had migrated from Finland about ten years ago to live in the tropics and become a certified instructor. She even talks like an Aussie!
Agincourt reef was another Australian adventure for us, with more to come in Cairns and Queensland. We’re having fun!
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Next: Great Barrier Reef
As many of you know, I also write mysteries and romantic suspense novels.
I recently published my first international thriller, Thirteen Days in Milan, which is available on Kindle as well as other ereaders, tablets, and smartphones.
I’m back in Europe for the summer to hire a translator and to research my next book which will also be a thriller based in Milan. I’ll be posting along the way from Milan, Stresa, Zurich and other locations.
I have a few posts on another blog, Anatomy of a Thriller, where I write about the process of researching and writing an international thriller. I’ll add more posts there as well.
Please share these links with writers or readers who might be interested.