By Bob Halstead
When I am not diving solo I prefer to dive with a female buddy, and have been fortunate enough in my career to have dived with some of the world’s great Women Divers. Valerie Taylor, Eugene Clark, Leni Riefenstahl, Norine Rouse, Annie Doubilet and, of course, Dinah Halstead among them. They are at home in the water, in harmony with the marine life and they always seem to have plenty of air just as I am running out.
You will never hear from me the scurrilous story that the reason they have plenty of air is that they cannot talk underwater and therefore do not need any. That is ridiculous, there has to be another explanation. Surely?
Having thought carefully about it, I realize that women do have special needs underwater and I think that these have not been addressed in those important but tedious articles about how pregnancy, menstruation, fat percentages, high intelligence, empathy and so on might affect a woman while diving. As compared to a man, that is.
What women need to know has far more subtlety. For example if a women diver lost her buddy, but he was her boyfriend and she was going to dump him anyway, should she bother looking for him? Also, since the regulator is traditionally held in the right hand, is it permissible to remove one’s regulator with one’s left hand while applying lipstick underwater, or should you learn to apply lipstick with the left hand? (ignore this if you are already left handed).
Many lady divers do not realize, and that is probably because I am just making it up, that the Australian Government has lifted its ban on carrying handbags underwater and, yes, it is permissible to carry that stupid snorkel, which is always tangling up your hair when attached to the mask, in the handbag. Whatever you do, please do not stuff the snorkel down the leg of your lycra suit, as this might alarm your buddy, especially if he is male, or female.
Mike Ball is a Good Sport. When a last minute cancellation created space on the Cairns -based Queen of the GBR live-aboards, Spoil Sport, I was able to arrange with Mike and the agents, Diversion Dive Travel, to get on board with a few friends both to see how the reefs are faring north of Cairns, and to test some of my ideas about women divers. And to have a few evening drinks, enjoy the view, meet people, get wet and have a good time.
The three-night adventure included a magnificent low-level flight along the Great Barrier Reef to Lizard Island. Mike personally saw us off and even used his shirt to polish the window of the high wing aircraft so I could shoot great pictures of the reef. Thanks Mike, sorry about the shirt! The hour flight was spectacular and all too soon we were landing at Lizard Island to be swiftly transferred to the anchored Spoil Sport.
Here we met with the crew and were told the Spoil Sport procedures. Trip Director was “AJ”. He is a truly friendly and knowledgeable fellow, and he helped me get my pony bottle filled ready for the late morning dives at the Cod Hole.
Leigh Paine volunteered to model and her first task was to select a pair of suitable fins from the splendid Italian Spring Collection on board Spoil Sport. It is so important to get the right color combinations and latest styling so I was amazed she managed to have her fins sorted in less than an hour!
The water was clear if a cool 24 deg C and the famous Potato Cod were in attendance. An incoming tide presented the opportunity for a drift so for the second dive we took a dinghy ride into the current and lazily drifted back to the boat through some fascinating coral grottos. At one point a huge school of large Chinaman fish surged past us. I guess it must have been a mating congregation.
We then moved on to Challenger Bay which has the healthiest hard coral reef I have seen anywhere on the GBR. It is truly wonderful with lots of fishes including Barramundi Cod, Common Lionfish and Snoutspot Grouper. If you do not know what these fish are I humbly suggest you buy a copy of my Coral Sea Reef Guide. Please. I was thrilled to see copies of the book on board Spoilsport for sale and the ship’s copy in well-worn condition.
Ship’s Champagne from the bar was my preference over a night dive, and after stuffing myself with the Chef’s Thai Special, sampling the complimentary wine, getting to know the other guests and signing a few books, it was time for sleep. My sweet dreams were caressed by the kind comments as to how young I looked in person compared to the photo on the back cover of my book. They must have drunk Champagne too.
Our first dive next day was at Two Towers and it was time to get out the handbag. Being new it had not yet accumulated all those necessary items that women carry on land, and the ship’s hoist was not required to lift it. Hair brush, Chanel lip-stick , sun glasses and naturally the Gold Card were however checked. The bag is recommended to have at least two compartments, one of which is zippered. This one is necessary to secure the essentials, and the other so that the bag can be inverted and used as a lift-bag to get any shopping to the surface.
The dive was interesting with a big spread of knobby Pavona coral and Giant clams. Some lucky divers saw sea snakes and turtles, but we missed out, slowed down by Leigh’s insistence that she brush her hair after every photograph.
Another vital question for women when selecting a dive boat is “How handsome is the Captain?” No problems on Spoil Sport, Larry is a dashing ex Navy type who looks spiffy in his uniform. He dives too, and Leigh was thrilled to get a private guided tour of Lighthouse Reef.
Pixie Pinnacle had a raging current swirling over it – just my kind of diving – so in we went. Applying my dive principle “Get to the bottom as fast as you can and ask questions later” we dived straight down and worked our way round to the front of the bommie to see all the myriad fishes. There were heaps, but too much current for sensible photography, so I only shot a full roll. Others sneaked a dingy ride, and, later, the current eased off.
Next morning Gorgonian Wall gave us a chance to try the shark deterrent effect of the Handbag. It works! A nice fat Grey Reef Shark came to inspect us at 36 m, Leigh swung the bag, and the shark shot off. After that excitement it was time for a complete makeover, hair, lip-stick the lot. I liked this wall, with many crevices and gorgonians, but Leigh was rushing from one to the other. Perhaps she thought the reef was closing in five minutes?
Steve’s Bommie was next, and fabulous with zillions of fishes and good hard and soft corals. Big Eye Trevally played with us in the deep blue off the reef, and yellow striped snappers were everywhere. I have never seen so many. Our final dive before the overnight cruise back to Cairns was at Flare Point where we saw good corals, sweetlips, and stingrays. The last evening aboard we scoffed barbecued prawns and were encouraged to come as something “P”. I tried Proctologist, and my mate was a Pervert but the prize went to Sybille of Diversion Dive Travel who did a convincing Pole Dancer. And I thought the poles on the barbecue deck were to hold the roof up. Silly me.
It was a great trip, and revealed that GBRMPA should be advised to allow the construction of shopping facilities underwater. They will soon become artificial reefs. An hour is a long time for women to be out and about and not buy anything. We have shown that it is feasible, now all that is required is an entrepreneur to set up shop.
We will have to redefine some terms, CESA will become a Controlled Emergency Shopping Ascent, and life Saving will only take place at Sales. Buddies should be required to practice dropped handbag rescues, and the handbag mirror will augment the whistle as a signalling device. These are all things we can take in our giant stride.
I have had a bit of fun here at women’s expense, and I have no doubt I will pay for it later, but I must admit that, in truth, diving is a sport which women can perform better than men, and often do. Strength, speed and effort are disadvantages where harmony is appropriate, and macho usually ends in disaster. Because they do not swim as fast, women are much better than men at spotting rare critters, and bargains at the underwater sales coming to a reef near you. Soon.