We woke up pretty punctually on Saturday morning to go for our first dive of the expedition. Cameron and Des needed to sort out some equipment so Cam woke up extra early to drive Des’s car over to his house, pick up the scuba kit and then we would meet Simon, our Dive Master and aquarium spy, down on the beach. I offered to help but Cam said not to worry and that they’d meet me at the landing site. I set my alarm for 6:30am, pulled on a swimsuit and some clothes and headed down to the site. I got there a little bit early so sat down on a big driftwood log to wait. I called Cameron to let him know I was there,
“Okay cool. We’ll be there in a sec,” he replied. ‘Uh oh’ I thought. Cameron’s idea of a second was… shall we say… unique. For example one afternoon Yael and I were sitting at the beach bar and asked Cameron to bring our books down. He said he’d be there in a sec and when we called him twenty five minutes later he said the same thing. He eventually did appear after about another twenty minutes.
It was a lovely beach but I was rather hoping I wouldn’t be sitting on this log for forty five minutes.
The water was calm, as it usually is early in the morning, which is why we had woken up early to go. Little waves tentatively lapped the shore and even further out past the reef the breaking waves looked a little half-hearted. The clouds reflected off the water turning it silver and the reflections of the little fishing boats turned into dark smudges. Rays of light peeped through the clouds and sent golden lines down onto the distant sea. Not a bad view to have to wait with.
At seven thirty I gave Cam another ring.
“Are you nearly here?” I asked, my butt now totally numb from the log.
“Yeah, yeah we’re in the car now,” he replied. About fifteen minutes later they pulled in and I was relieved. Okay – we were actually going diving. I walked up to the car and we started unloading all the kit. There were BCDs, tanks, regulators, fins, masks and weight belts all needing to be removed. We started hauling them down from the car to the beach and piling them up.
“Simon’s running a bit behind,” Des said and my heart sank. More waiting around on the beach time, staring at the water I longed to delve into. I kept my voice light,
“Any idea how long he’ll be?” I asked.
“No idea. I think I woke him up when I called,” Des chuckled. ‘Ah, great’ I thought. We waited a little longer.
Des was having an impromptu meeting with a couple of guys waiting at the landing site so Cameron, Khamisi and I started loading the kit onto Khamisi’s kayak so that he could paddle it over to the boat. I was convinced that the six tanks (not entirely sure why we had six tanks for four people but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry) along with everything else would sink the little yellow boat but it was fine. Khamisi paddled it over while Nicko, one of the locals, and Cam swam out to the boat help. I walked back along the beach to Des to tell him we were nearly ready.
“I’ll call Simom now and if he doesn’t come soon we’ll just go without him,” Des said. I felt a little knot of anxiousness in my stomach. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Des, but we were all only Advanced divers with no Dive Master or Emergency Rescue qualifications. I knew the chances of anything going wrong while we were down there were slim but diving has the potential to be very dangerous and I hated the idea of getting complacent. Luckily Simon was nearly there and so at about eight thirty we were actually on the boat, driving out of the lagoon.
Then came a slightly tricky part. We had to assemble four lots of dive gear whilst on a boat with a limited amount of space. We hadn’t assembled the kit before because we thought we needed the O rings (penny sized rings made of rubber that sit between the tank and the regulator) that Simon was bringing. It turned out that we didn’t need them after all.
We managed to get everything set up though, heaving tanks across the boat and disentangling regulators and pressure gauges from each other. Maybe it was the rocking of the boat while we attached our gear combined with a bit of nervousness that always comes with the first dive but I started to feel a little queasy. The neck of my short wetsuit felt way too high and dug into my skin, restricting my breathing. I told myself I was being silly. Everything was going to be fine.
Finally our BCDs were assembled, weight belts attached and masks and fins on. Cameron took us through the safety briefing (which was pretty brief in itself) and then we were ready.
“One, two, three,” Khamisi said and we rolled backwards over into the water. Bubbles crowded my vision and, like always, the irrational fear that I would sink sparked inside of me. Seconds later I bobbed up at the surface and signalled to Saeed that I was okay. Simon indicated that we were going down and we let the air out of our BCDs and began to descend. The water was so rich with plankton it was like falling through something gelatinous. Occasionally one of them would glow blue with bioluminescence and I watched transfixed as they switched themselves on and off like lights.
It’s a weird feeling drifting down through the water when you can’t see the bottom. You feel discombobulated, unsure whether to look up at the disappearing surface or down towards the murky blueness. Saeed indicated that we swim towards the reef, it wasn’t worth sinking all the way down to the sandy bottom. It would just be a waste of air. We swam into the current towards the shallower area. I kept Cameron, my dive buddy, close by my side. Des and Simon had drifted apart and whilst I knew they would be fine I was comforted by old safety habits.
When we reached the reef it was beautiful.
The visibility wasn’t great, maybe five or six metres, but it was amazing watching these huge boulders of coral loom into view. I watched the reef fish swimming in and out of crevices and started to get excited. I had spent so long memorising all of these species of fish now that I was seeing them in real life (as ridiculous as it sounds) they felt almost like celebrities. ‘A many-spined angelfish!’ I thought in delight ‘A skunk anemonefish!’ I glanced upwards and saw Des pointing at something. I couldn’t tell what it was until I saw a stingray zoom out from its resting place in the sand. Surrounded by all of these incredible animals and lulled by the familiar mechanical sound of breathing through my regulator, I was totally calm. All of the faffing around at the surface and heaving the kit along the beach was totally worth it.
It was incredible.
We saw another stingray as clouds of fusiliers drifted over us. Cameron spotted a nudibranch and I watched it shift its tiny form across the rock. He then gently tapped a piece of coral and like some magic trick the whole thing turned white. I stared at it and then at Cam and then back at the coral, totally astounded.
(side note the coral is fine, it’s not bleached, it just retracts its polyps from the water)
Then up ahead I saw the shape of a turtle swimming off into the distance. I grabbed Cam’s arm next to me and pointed furiously. ‘Good spot’ he signed back. Simon came over and signalled to us that he was out of air. It felt like we’d only been underwater for minutes how did that happen? He told me and Cam to stay under for a bit longer and then come up when we were finished. This was diving like I had never done before. I had never had the freedom of choosing when I surfaced.
Cameron and I didn’t stay much longer as he ran out of air too so we had a safety stop and then came up to the surface.
“Wow,” I said, a smile breaking the seal of my mask, “That was so cool,”
“It was wasn’t it,” Cam said, adding more air to our surface marker buoy. We could see the boat nearby and so drifted along until it came closer. I took off my kit in the water and passed it up to Khamisi.
“Thank you so much,” I said, clambering up onto the boat. I pulled my wetsuit down to my waist and wrapped myself up in my towel, still lost in thoughts of the reef.
We’d hardly been driving for five minutes when Cameron called out,
“Dolphins!” My head snapped up and Cameron turned off the engine. I frantically searched the horizon and every cresting wave tricked my desperate eyes.
Then they appeared.
There was about ten of them and they seamlessly crested the waves. Their bodies were impossibly smooth and shone silver in the water. We tried to follow them and launched ourselves into the water when we were close by. I couldn’t see them underwater, but could hear their percussive clicks and whistles rattling through the water and could see their bubbles rising from the deep. The noises gradually faded as the dolphins swam on but I was left reeling by the awesomeness of their presence.
We pulled ourselves back onto the boat and I was grinning from ear to ear. Cameron drove us back towards the lagoon as Des pulled half a watermelon out of his bag. He pulled out a knife as well and started carving chunks and giving them out to us.
And we bounced along the waves with watermelon dribbling down our chins until we got home.