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20 March 2000, Heron Island, Queensland

With the earplugs helping us out, we slept until 7:30. At breakfast, we signed up for a picnic hamper again. We wanted to do some snorkeling, and there was a free lesson at 9:30. We rented snorkel gear, bought an underwater disposable camera, got into our swim suits, and headed for the small pool where the lesson was to take place.

I had been snorkeling once before, but it was ten years before. I hadn’t really enjoyed it then because the water was cold and sandy. Once we were in the pool, it was much easier and more fun than I had remembered. During my earlier attempt, I hadn’t dived below the surface. The instructor told us exactly how to do it, and it was a lot of fun. After twenty minutes or so, we were off to the real water to try it on our own.

We had seen snorkelers in the reef area next to the pool several times, so we decided to start there. When we got to the steps that lead down to the water, though, we began to have second thoughts. The tide was just starting to go out, so it was quite high, and waves were crashing against the rocks. We gingerly got into the water and swam out. There was a lot of sand stirred up in the water, and the current was pretty strong. Since we weren’t all that sure of ourselves, we swam over to a beach to get out. The waves were quite strong, and we didn’t so much walk out of the water as wash up on the beach.

We went a little ways around the island to its northeastern tip, a place called Shark Bay. There was very little current there, and the waves were much gentler. We put on our snorkeling gear again and headed out. The water was still pretty cloudy, limiting visibility to about twelve to fifteen feet, but we saw lots of fish, lots of coral, lots of things we couldn’t identify, and a couple of manta rays. We were enjoying it so much that we didn’t want to stop, but we were getting tired, so we got out.

It was time to get our lunch, and we wanted to stay where we were, so I walked back to the restaurant and brought the cooler to Shark Bay. We discovered later that we were at the place on the island that is farthest from the restaurant. The round trip was almost a mile. We spread our picnic out under some trees, ate our lunch and lay down to rest for a while. When we got back into the water, the tide was much lower, and we were just skimming over the tops of the coral. We saw pretty much the same things we had seen in the morning. After about an hour of snorkeling, we walked back to our room. We dropped off the leftover crackers, cheese, and water from the picnic, then walked to the dive shop to return the snorkel gear.

We had heard people talking about the semi-submersible tour, and asked if there was room on the boat that afternoon. The semi-submersible is a type of glass-bottom boat that is long and narrow with clear panels set into the hull below the water line. Everyone sits below the deck, and you can see out to the right or left. There was room on the 3:15 tour that afternoon, and we signed up.

After the rain

We cleaned ourselves up back at the room. While we were there, a very brief, but drenching shower hit the island. It was enough to quiet the birds for five minutes and to knock down the dust, but it lasted only about two minutes. The sun was shining again shortly, and we went out to wait for the boat to load. The boat jetty is right next to the helicopter pad, and we got to see a helicopter taking off while we waited. We also enlisted a fellow passenger to take our picture.

There were about five other passengers on the boat with us; it could have held four or five more. There were also a pilot, whose name we didn’t get, and a marine biologist named Justin. Before we left the harbor, we couldn’t see anything out the windows because of the sand in the water. Once we were in the open reef, though, we saw all kinds of coral, lots of tiny fish, and plenty of big fish, too.

We passed one school of fish who were very curious about us and swam right up along side the boat.

We even saw a turtle, but it was near the limit of our visibility. I took lots of pictures with the digital camera, but they aren’t very clear. The visibility was only about twenty feet, and the water filtered out all of the red and most of the yellow. The pictures have little contrast, and everything is light blue-green. We’ve been able to tweak the color on a couple of them to get some detail.

After the tour, we went to the bar by the pool and played scrabble. After the game, I noticed that there were 103 tiles, when there were supposed to be only 100. (I counted because there were three blank squares and there are supposed to be only two.) We spent the next twenty minutes with both scrabble sets, getting the right letters in each box. Fortunately, one of the games had several dozen extra letters in the bottom of the box, and we were able to get two complete sets out of all the available letter tiles.

After the sun set, we headed to the restaurant for a nice dinner. We hadn’t ordinarily been ordering dessert, but I had to have the chocolate mousse. There must have been lots of caffiene in it, because I could barely sleep that night, despite the earplugs dampening the birds’ noise. As we got ready for bed, I noticed that my back and shoulders had gotten pink from the sun. It must have happened when we were snorkeling. It didn’t really burn yet, and I hoped it wouldn’t get bad.

Next day

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