I got out of bed around 7am, but I’d been awake since before six. Ah well.
As I walked back to the hostel from breakfast at McD’s, the dive company rang me to ask where I was. They’d arrived at the hostel and banged on all the doors, and nobody knew where I was! Well, if you will turn up five minutes early… Scott, the Dive Master and ute driver, did a u-turn and found me on the second attempt. We had a good natter on the way to Geographe Bay. There I was kitted out and met the others I’d be diving with. One local, an Irish girl and an English girl with 298 dives to her name!
With the staff – one pilot, one dive master (not including the English paying customer) and one assistant-DM we nicely filled the dinky boat and shot off at breakneck speed for the HMAS Swan wreck. This is a frigate, deliberately scuppered on my birthday in 1997 to create an artificial reef. The Aussie diver with us had been down there the year after it went down and was still shiny and metallic. He was doing a deep diving course today, which also included a trip round the now-furry vessel. Oh, as it turns out, Hopper at the Witch’s Hat was part of the group who organised the scuppering. Pretty impressive thing to say you were involved with!
This was my first wreck dive and it was an amazing experience. Most of the dangerous parts of the ship have been removed – things like the propellor and doors. Edges have been kept as blunt as possible and gaps are plenty wide enough to swim through. Having said that, I did snag my main respirator feed at one point. Given that I am actually mildly claustrophobic I’m amazed, looking back, that I didn’t freak out.
It’s all very Titanic down there (though sadly no dead annoying cherubic American actors) with the captain’s chair even remaining for you to sit on. Some areas are pitch dark and on our second dive we were provided with torches so we’d not lose our guide.
The wreck’s pretty large, though it’s hard to appreciate that when you first get there as visibility is only around 15m. You simply can’t see enough of it in one go to realise how large it is. Definitely recommended, though.
Between the two dives, we motored five minutes away and moored near a beautiful beach with crystal clear waters to drink tea and eat sticky buns. And for me to strip my wetsuit off, dive in and pretend to relax while relieving my bladder. Well, if fish can do it in the sea then so can I.
After the second dive, we zoomed back to Busselton. There we guzzled more tea, refilled tanks, and swapped the Aussie and Irish divers for the English girl’s sister – who’d not done a dive in five years. After the quick turnaround, we launched the boat airborne a few times on the five-minute ride to the Busselton Jetty – the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere at 2km long. I’m not sure if this includes the 10m at the end that’s no longer attached to the rest. Wooden jetties are great for attracting marine life, but they rot far too easily and never seem to be well maintained. Up until a few years ago, a train ran along the length of the jetty, but no more due to safety concerns.
Even around sea level, there are signs warning divers to stay back as the structure is unsafe. This is the same structure into which has been built an 8m-deep underwater “observatory” for those who want to see the underwater world without getting wet. As a diver you’re not allowed within 10m of this window, but you can sit nonchalantly on a huge sunken anchor nearby and wave at the humans, hopefully not scaring them too much.
The area around the jetty is teaming with life. Nudibranches, coral, squid, octopi, cuttlefish, angel fish… More than I can name, mainly because I simply didn’t recognise them. And they’re all so tame, you can “hover” a couple of feet above any given species and just watch it go about its daily business. Swimming through a shoal of fish as if it was an intangible curtain is a wonderful experience.
We had an hour down there, during which time the two sisters and the two staff went their own ways, while I was left to my own devices with my camera. The only disappointment of the day was my battery conking out just as I discovered a very tame cuttlefish which let me follow it about in good light. The one I did get photos of was hiding under a rock and hasn’t come out in the photos.
At the dive shop, I enjoyed probably the best hot shower I’ve had this year and was given the remains of the sticky bun to take home – a huge bread-loaf-sized lump of it! This went down very well when I got back to the hostel where it was shared out.
The staff of The Dive Shed even made sure I was dropped off right at the coach station office in good time for the bus back. I’d recommend them as a dive company any day of the week. Relaxed, fun, great attitude and lovely sticky buns! The cost of the three dives, including full kit hire, was a very reasonable $215 as well – less than I’d been quoted.
The bus back was fairly uneventful. I read a lot more and “babysat” for the woman in front of me while she nipped to the loo. Her son in the seat next to her was a very cute 6 month old with the endearing quality of smiling at strangers instead of screaming at them. Too cute!