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From Adult Non-Swimmer To Swimmer - One Mans Journey Vol.2 Pt.2

Lady Elliot Island

Last time Peter shared how his strokes were improving. This time Peter shares about his swimming adventure on Lady Elliot Island.

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here

October 2009 arrived and this was going to be a really exciting month in my short swimming history with a 4 day holiday on Lady Elliot Island on the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef, with my friend Richard (another Richard), whom you might recall promised to get me snorkeling once I could swim. (I helped him how to snow ski in the last 12 months). In the lead up to the holiday that month I practiced with a “top of the line” snorkel set (a gift I received from Richard) for the first time in the pool.

I immediately felt comfortable wearing it and breathing through it under water for extended periods of time. It fitted well on my face and I easily sucked the snorkel airtight on my face by breathing through my nose. I also learnt how to spit into it and smear the spit around with my finger as this stops the inside fogging up. I was also competent at clearing the snorkel tube by blowing all the water out. Using the snorkel also helped me improve my freestyle stroke as I could just put my head down and not worry about my head movement and breathing.

I spent quite some time going up and down the pool with snorkel and flippers to ensure I was going to be OK once I was doing the real thing at Lady Elliott. As usual both Richard (the instructor) and Nola, were great help, and supervised me through this process and both gave me the green light to have a go at snorkeling in the ocean.

Onto Lady Elliot Island

So onto Lady Elliot Island. Only 45 guests, the Island is only 600 mtrs in diameter, you can walk around it in 20 minutes. No phone, internet, or TV reception. Great ! Huge bird life population and fantastic corals, huge variety of tropical fish, turtles, manta rays, and reef sharks, and whales depending on the season. As I mentioned this was an island that Richard had been to many times before so I felt very comfortable with him and was prepared to follow him and his instructions. There were four of us on this holiday, a colleague of mine from Sweden, Sophia, and Richard’s girlfriend Kathy.

We arrived Saturday lunch and checked in to our lovely cabin facing to the east so we got a great sunrise each morning.

We immediately got our gear on for our first snorkel in the eastern shallow lagoon, which Richard thought would be the best place for me to start.

With some hesitation I put all my gear on and stepped into the beautiful crystal clear water which was at a perfect temperature, just cool and refreshing. The lagoon was very shallow only about 4 foot in parts and that depended on the tide being high. I had no problem with snorkeling in this environment and I was able to follow Richard and the girls without any problem.

Image of Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island

Scenery Was Unbelievable

The scenery under the water was unbelievable. It was a totally new world for me. What I did notice is that for some reason, I felt the urge to stop snorkeling every five minutes and stand up and take a break. I think this was as much as to get my bearings. It was very hard to stand up with flippers on and in among the uneven surface of the corals and this possessed other problems in terms of getting nicks and cuts on my legs. These are not good as they need to be treated with iodine ASAP, as the coral bacteria prolongs the healing process, so you end up with long lasting wounds to remind you of your experience. Fortunately, Richard being a veteran had all the necessary first aid gear.

By the end of the afternoon, I was able to get around the lagoon and felt I knew where I was and where I was going under water. I could not get over the sudden change of scenery when you put your head under, and the experience of all the various colourful fish and the fantastic majestic turtles, which I was “eventually” able to touch.

I say “eventually” because another thing I realized was how deceiving depths and distances were under water, due to the light refraction. This was new to me. I would look below the water and sections that seemed to be quite deep, but were actually half the depth I thought and therefore when I tried to touch turtles I was often left well short of the mark and touching water. Also in the lagoon I quite often thought I was going to scrape my skin on coral as I glided past but often I did not while on other occasions I thought I had plenty of clearance only to find out that I didn’t, resulting in a scrape.

Could Not Wait Until the Second Day

Well, I was rapt after the first afternoon and could not wait until the second day. This time Richard decided that I was good enough, to try to northern side of the island. This was open water and we had to negotiate breaking waves to get out to the deeper area we were going to explore. Coming a distant fourth, I followed the other three through the breaking waves, and I was taking my time. The waves were not that high, but were quite strong and breaking hard, so you really needed to push through them, and this was also new to me. Richard and the girls kept looking back at me as they were concerned I might not manage this, but I kept waving to say I was alright, and I eventually made it through the breaking waves and went towards a marking pole which was lodged in a rock and took a break while the others were a further 100 mtrs out exploring the depths below. I was really pleased I made it that far so I wanted to take that in first, and not do anything out there that was going to stress me, I wanted to be relaxed the whole time.

After five minutes, I put my snorkel back on and proceeded to snorkel out to the rest of the group, who by now were about 200 mtrs further out. Soon as I put my head under I thought “WOW this was so different to the lagoon”. Much darker and much much deeper, and bit more creepy until you got used to it, but as soon as I sighted colourful fish and turtles again, it helped to take away any fear or shortcomings I felt by being out in that environment on my own for the very first time. There was little swell but I finally experienced what the current was all about. It was certainly pushing me around and in a southerly direction and was hard to paddle against it in a northerly direction, which is where I had to go. Whilst I was enjoying these new surroundings, I still felt quite uneasy and vulnerable, as I was really on my own. Snorkeling and being underwater I had no idea where Richard and the girls were, all I knew was that I was well short of where they were snorkeling.

So I opted not to take any risks and every 5 minutes I would go back to what I knew, the pole in the rock, sit down and take a break. I did this routine four times, after which I was confident enough to go out and team up which Richard and the girls. This was still a little scary as it was much deeper out there, but the scenery was fantastic and well worth my effort in getting there. When I finally got there against the current, I kept very close to Richard. After a few minutes, Richard tapped me on the shoulder and pointed down below about 3 mtrs to a reef shark. I was not stressed at all when I saw it, and when we got back Richard was surprised by my composure. I really enjoyed that day and it was another totally different environment and experience to the previous day.

Day Three

Day three saw us on the western side of the island. In the morning we went out through a very strong current and swell, and in the afternoon we went out further in a flat glass bottomed vessel to some of the best snorkeling spots around the island.

I did get a bit scared during that morning session. I was really being pushed around by the current and knocked up, down and sideways by the swell. I did not mention it earlier, but the other obvious thing I noticed swimming in the seas was the high buoyancy compared to pool water, which I was expecting, but not to that extent. I was amazed that some people still used noodles on the island to improve their buoyancy, but in my case I would have been happier to be less buoyant in that environment. (salt water Swimming pool) Anyway, back to my scary morning session. I failed to swim out all the way with the other guys, getting only half way out, and then making way back to shore on three occasions. Later at lunch, both girls mentioned that they found the going tough that morning. This made me feel better, as I thought I was a bit of a woose. I kept forgetting, but Richard had been doing this since he was a toddler, and he was comfortable in all these situations, so I should not have expected to be able to keep up with him.

Richard is a keen photographer and was using a top line Canon camera with a watertight case which meant he could use it underwater. He was also snorkeling with his camera and getting into the best position by diving down deeper or staying above to get that perfect shot. He seemed to be all over the place and he did this most times. Thanks to Richard I ended up with around 400 fantastic photos from our 4 day holiday.

Following a Disappointing Experience

Following my disappointing morning experience, I was getting even more hesitant about the afternoon session on the flat vessel, as we were going to go out much further and the conditions were still quite choppy. Out we went and I tried to remain positive. The tour guide on our boat was a young guy called Nick. He gave us some terrific commentary about the sea and bird life around the island and was very enthusiastic about what we were likely to see on our little snorkeling expedition. When we reached our destination, Nick asked us to get ready and jump off the sides of the vessel that had platforms both sides just above the water line. If we got tired, Nick told us all to come back to this platform and have a rest. The water out here was the deepest I had been in, over 10 mtrs, and I must admit I found this daunting. Anyway, I jumped in with Richard. We couldn’t see much below the water, and at that point Richard started to tread water and talk to us about where we should go.

Next Peter talks about his fear of trading water.


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