Ten Men in a Boat

Cameron, Des and I drove back from the office in the village, picking up some petrol on the way to put into the boat. We were going scuba diving.

“So how many of us are there?” I asked, knowing that some of our friends that lived up on the Ridge would be coming along for the dive.

“So there’s you, me, Cam, Simon, Tilda, Al and Titch,” Des replied, counting the names off on his fingers.

“Seven people?” I asked, trying to keep the surprise out of my voice. The boat wasn’t very big and it was tricky accommodating five people with five sets of scuba gear let alone seven.

“And Max, Al’s son, is coming on the boat to do some fishing,” Cam added.

“So with Max, the divers and Khamisi there are going to be nine of us?” I asked and mentally tried to map out where so many people would sit.

“Oh I think Khamisi is bringing someone else as well,” Des said casually.

“Is there going to be enough space on the boat?” I was unsure.

“Yeah don’t worry it’ll be fine,” Des said with a confidence that I was slightly lacking. We arrived at the house and said hello to Al, his wife, their son Max and daughter Ella, Titch (who’s actual name is Tamsin) and another woman I didn’t recognise. Simon was bringing more scuba gear from Mombasa, but I thought it would be a good idea to get a head start by assembling the kit that we already had.

Seven loads of gear would take a while to assemble. Titch had brought her own, as she was a Dive Master and Instructor, so that was easy. All we had to do was give her a tank. Also she has spent the last eight years working in Dubai for a sky-diving company. You know, as you do.

We had assembled four BCDs when Simon arrived, bringing the necessary remaining three tanks and regulators. But getting everyone organised turned out to be quite tricky. There were four or five conversations happening at any given time as we attempted to track down enough fins, masks and wetsuits for everyone. You’d put your fins down, turn around and they’d be gone as someone else with the same size feet scooped them up.

It was all pretty hectic. After a lot of faffing around I decided to start lugging some equipment down to the boat in the hope that it might encourage others to do the same. It took a while but eventually the boat was loaded up with dive kit, as well as rods for the three who were fishing. Simon was trying to count the equipment and make sure we had enough of everything.

“Does everyone have a BCD, weights, mask and fins?” He called out after giving up on his attempt to count the entangled mess of regulators and weight belts that lay in the boat. There was a general consensus of nodding and we all piled in. It became clear that the nine life jackets we had brought would take up far too much space so we took them all out (apart from one for Max) and left them at the house.

We heaved the boat out of the shallows and set off for the reef. It was pretty packed and all of the heavy equipment meant we sat very low in the water. I tried to ignore the slightly wheezy sounds the engine was making under all this load. Luckily the water was calm and we got out of the lagoon without any trouble, the water underneath us the purest colour of blue I’ve ever seen. When we got to our dive site ten or fifteen minutes later then came the challenge. How were we going to get seven people kitted up and ready for diving in this quite small and rocky boat? I buddied up with Titch, in the hope that we would be able to stay down for longer as we both didn’t use up much air on dives, and we decided to just clear out and get in the water as soon as possible to make space for the others.

I squirmed into my BCD and we ran through our safety checks, making sure we were fully inflated and weighted, had enough air and knew where all of our straps and buckles were. Titch had a dive computer so we decided that at forty five minutes we would end the dive and surface with a safety stop for three minutes at five metres. I also took this moment to mock her for wearing a full body, 5mm wetsuit on a dive in thirty degree water. For comparison, I was wearing a rash vest.

“One, two, three,” and splosh – we were in. We bobbed up to the surface and saw that, despite our very stable anchor of a sand bag tied to the end of a rope, the current was pushing the boat away from us at quite a lick. We had to swim back towards it so that we could wait for the others to get in.

About five minutes later the others joined us. I’m not sure how but we all seemed to end up in different places. Cam and Des were out with Al whilst Titch and I stayed at the boat. Simon was sort of in between with Tilda and called out to us,

“Guys, come closer,” I could see the stress of trying to negotiate so many people on a dive and did not envy Simon’s role as Dive Master. “Closer,” he shouted out again, as we still seemed to be drifting in different directions. Titch turned to me and said,

“Shall we just descend and meet them at the bottom?”

“Yeah, let’s do it.” I replied. “Simon, we’re going down. We’ll meet you there,” I called out.

“Okay guys let’s descend,” Simon replied and emptied the air out of his BCD. I was relieved to get under the water, where the tranquility and quietness would take over the mess and faff.

At the bottom we all met up and Cam motioned for us to swim alongside the reef. There was an amazing slope that went from about eight metres deep to about thirty, with the most fantastic coral formations on the upper parts of the slope leading down into the rather less interesting sandy bottom. There was always a bit of a dilemma on these dives. Did you stay up in the shallower water where you would see countless beautiful reef fish and corals? Or did you stay in the deeper and less pretty waters and hope for sharks, which wouldn’t venture up into the reef? I usually went for the first one, so excited by the prospect of seeing skunk anemone fish and huge clouds of fusiliers that the idea of the fleeting shadow-shape of a black tip shark just couldn’t compare.

We swam along, Titch and I at the front with Des, Cam and Al behind us. I suddenly realised that I couldn’t see Simon and Tilda. I looked around and caught sight of them quite far above us. They can’t have been deeper than about six metres and seemed to struggling with something. Maybe Tilda didn’t have enough weights. There wasn’t really anything I could do, as I didn’t want to abandon my own buddy, and Simon was a fully qualified Dive Instructor so he would be able to handle it.

We swam on. Titch quickly pointed out, using her fancy instructor baton, a mantis shrimp darting along the corals. He didn’t stay for long and promptly disappeared down into his burrow, safely out of reach. Titch made a love heart with her hands to say, ‘I love those guys’. When I turned back again Simon and Tilda were nowhere to be seen. I mimed at Des, ‘Where are the other two?’. He used his hands to indicate that they had gone back to the boat and shrugged. Oh well, I thought. Not much we can do about that.

We swam along and reached a thermocline where you can feel the different layers of the sea get much cooler as you swim down and you can see them mixing in murky spirals like adding elderflower to water. Titch looked over at me and rubbed her arms to say ‘Crikey this is chilly isn’t it’. I turned and disdainfully (or at least that was what I was going for, it’s quite hard to convey through a mask) pretended to fan myself because of how warm the sea was here. I could see her laugh and break the seal of her mask so she had to clear it.

The rest of the dive was gorgeous. There was one point where we swam along towards a weirdly shaped rock and I was extremely surprised when it began to move. What I had mistaken for a rock was actually the biggest green turtle I had ever seen. I grabbed Titch’s arm and pointed at it. It was a green turtle, a male, and must have been over two metres long. I turned to find Des and Cameron but they were looking in a different direction. I pulled my regulator out of my mouth and shouted into the water. They turned just in time to see him as he propelled himself into the distance. Des looked back at me and spread his arms wide to say ‘That was huge!’. I nodded in agreement. He was majestic.

Sadly we had to surface soon after, stopping for three minutes at five metres for our safety stop, and then meeting at the top. We used a marker buoy to get the boat’s attention and soon we were back to trying to get everything on the boat. At least this job required much less precision so shoving things onto the floor, making sure not the damage anything, was enough.

“We’ve been watching humpback dolphins,” Tilda said to me as I clambered on.

“That’s so cool,” I said, instinctively looking out to sea in case they were still around. “When?”

“Just now actually,” she said and my heart lifted. “There!” She said and once everyone was on board we followed them. There was a pod of about fifteen of them, which was very unusual as they are mostly seen in twos or threes. There was even one baby that can’t have been more than about a foot long. The waves were a bit more choppy now and between the swells we could see their distinctive outlines, with a fatty hump below their dorsal fin. I was entranced. There were so many of them and they were all so close to the boat I could look right into their eyes.

We stayed with them for about twenty or thirty minutes, waiting for them to surface and then following them when they did until we were right in the middle of their pod. It was heartbreaking to let them go, but we had to get back inside the reef before the waves got too big. It was a fantastic experience, made even more wonderful after all the stress of getting everyone together and in the boat. Because it made it so totally worth it.

I mean anything’s worth it for the dolphins.



Itinerary:

16/02/19

  • Early morning TaeKwanDo
  • Trip to the office
  • Scuba dive and humpback dolphin spotting
  • Website content editing
  • Acting as bar tenders at a drinks party at Dave’s house in Vipingo Ridge

17/02/19

  • Finished Daphne Sheldrick’s book Love, Life and Elephants
  • Scuba dive with Simon and Yael (we saw TWELVE TURTLES!!)
  • Snorkel
  • Helping Yael paint at the wall
  • Watching Bohemian Rhapsody

18/02/19

  • Trip to the farm to plant beans and weed the watermelons
  • Snorkel
  • Painting the wall

1 thought on “Ten Men in a Boat

  1. Envy-o-meter running v high right now Dod, I’m going to have to go down the garden and look at Dad’s fish… xx

    Liked by 1 person

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