Weekend Winter Getaway Great Barrier Reef: Snorkeling off the good ship Coral Sea Dreaming 

3 Aug

August 2016 

I’m told people at the end of their lives regret the things they didn’t do more than those they did, reprehensible as they may be.


Hence in my 61st year, with the sun just above the horizon, I jump into cold, deep water off the side of the yacht and strike out alone for the reef 50 metres in front of the boat. Of the eight snorkellers on board Coral Sea Dreaming I’m the only one keen to take advantage of an early view of the magnificent underwater aquarium that is Michaelmas Reef, 25 nautical miles from Cairns.


I’m a little anxious about being the only one in the water, especially after French crewman-deckie-divemaster-chef Roman (my spotter on deck) says half jokingly about sharks, ‘Just punch it on the nose and swim to the sand cay, it won’t follow you into the shallow water’. I hope Roman’s mother is reading this. Your son has an odd sense of humour, but kudos – you’ve raised a fine human being, he is a kind, capable man and a decent cook.


It’s less choppy than yesterday’s two snorkels (at Upolu Reef and Michaelmas Cay) and visibility is crystal clear. I counted 15 fish types in the afternoon but today I lose count there are so many. I have no underwater camera (offered for rent but I consciously opt to commit impressions to memory). Soft and hard corals, anemones, a sea snake and fish of all sizes present in a rainbow of colours, with myriad shapes and designs.


Nature has a spectacular palette. Colour combinations remind me of the saris of Rajasthani women; khaki with hints of brilliant aqua blue, stark white with yellow stripes, creamy white with black spots and glorious parrot fish with their shades of blue, pink, green and red-orange. I see more giant emerald-lipped clams than yesterday and, with less current at high tide, I can hover above them to observe them at leisure. One huge specimen wider than my arm span has a large vent hole and I can see right inside its writing innards.


I’ve been alone for about thirty minutes and my breathing has relaxed into slow, calming belly breaths. When I raise my head to check my position relative to the boat I’m slightly disappointed to see other snorkerlers jumping into the water. Some of them tend to thrash about and move too fast for my liking. I resign myself to having company but swim further along the edge of the reef where it drops away to a white sandy bottom and am rewarded with a smallish green turtle gliding several metres below me. Young turtle has just woken up (the other divemaster, Kiwi Corey, told me turtles jam their heads into the coral to secure themselves as they sleep overnight) and is moving very slowly towards a sea grass breakfast. I follow him at a distance for several minutes then spot a large dinner plate-sized beige manta ray parked on the coral and stop to observe it. The ray seems to be resting, just the smallest of ripples as the current passes his fanned body. Then he too takes off zooming smoothly over the reef.

 Happy with my sightings I turn and swim back to the boat. The hardest thing (besides jumping from the deck into deep water and swimming alone to the reef) is the swim back in choppy water with the current pushing you along. Grabbing for the ladder carefully and hauling yourself up, all the while being bumped about by waves is tricky. By the third re-entry I have the hang of it and make a more graceful ascent than the previous two efforts.

 A quick hot shower, dry clothes and I’m ready for a second breakfast; my favourite cold baked bean sandwich (I am serious, I share this love with my Father) and a mug of hot tea.


This weekend has been a special treat for me, a sailing and snorkeling solo adventure aboard the 52 foot Coral Sea Dreaming out of Cairns marina. Along with my seven brand new snorkel buddies we are four divers and three crew. Our skipper and engineer, Jan, is the owner of the company (with his wife who runs the office and comms). I quickly discover I’m the only Australian-born person on the boat and the majority language is French which leads to some interesting and amusing conversations Roman has to translate at times. That’s Roman on the right, Corey centre and Jan left.

This was my third snorkel experience on the Great Barrier Reef (which is looking really healthy by the way) but my first overnight and I am happy with my choice as I saw four different reef areas. German-born 20 year veteran of Australian tourism, Jan runs a professional setup.

 The motorsail leg from the marina to Upolu took about three hours as was the return, so we had a good length of time under sail (foresail and main making 8-10 knots), however I was disappointed that the motor stayed on the whole time. Even at night the generator hums and vibrates. Much of the beauty of yachting is being immersed in nature so I itch to switch the genny off but restrain myself. 

Word of advice if you are considering doing a trip like this: since the weather can be variable and it’s not uncommon to have 20-25 knot winds with one metre plus waves, as we did, you must prepare for seasickness by taking medication at least one hour before the boat is due to depart and continue taking it throughout the weekend whether you think you’ll need it or not. Half of our group threw up over the side, especially on the outbound leg. For at least two of the teenagers on board I think it spoilt the weekend for them.

Coral Sea Dreaming suits confident swimmers (for snorkeling) and divers (both experienced and recently certified) and has the bonus of offering a night dive. I’ve had my reef fix for the time being but it won’t be long before I’m back. Observing such beauty and majesty has been a thrill. No regrets!

PS: As usual I paid full price for this experience and did not tell Jan I publish a travel blog. If you want a small group, overnight reef experience the Coral Sea Dreaming website is the place to start your research.

3 Responses to “Weekend Winter Getaway Great Barrier Reef: Snorkeling off the good ship Coral Sea Dreaming ”

  1. Heather watt August 3, 2016 at 3:04 am #

    Snorkelling is so peaceful Sharon. Understand your delight.

  2. claire zwick August 3, 2016 at 3:21 am #

    Hi Sharon, It was an absolute pleasure having you on board 🙂 Thanks for the brilliant blog 🙂 We welcome you back with warm hearts any time. Wishing you safe travels and happy diving > Claire & Jan Zwick (Owners of Coral Sea Dreaming) http://www.coralseadreaming.com.au

    • Sharon Tickle August 3, 2016 at 6:17 am #

      Look forward to it Claire. Would love to bring the whole family next time. All the best with Kaya. Sharon

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