Onwards and upwards with my Open Water

Despite the horrors of my first ocean dive, I wanted to press on and get my Open Water qualification – I don’t like to give up (which may account for a broken neck and broken shoulder obtained from falling off badly behaved horses that no one else wanted) but I was also worried that my first dive had been so disastrous that I had already failed. I ran this theory past the instructor who laughed, and said I’d be fine and just needed to take a seasickness pill.

So one sunny Tuesday morning Caty, Raph and I trooped off to Peri Peri again, me to do my second and third dives and them to do their third and fourth. We also needed to do a 200m swim, without any equipment, from the boat back to shore. I took a seasickness pill though wasn’t convinced of its efficacy. We headed off in the boat to a different reef, called “Salon”. I was absolutely ecstatic that when the boat stopped and we started pulling our gear on, I felt absolutely fine – or at least, not seasick. I was still very nervous, because I felt like my buoyancy control was pretty rubbish and was worried I would accidentally kick the reef or a fish and get eaten.

We did a positive entry into the water, and began our descent. I had no problems equalising, which was a relief, and I did my next skill at 6m, the CESA: Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent. You have to pretend you’re out of air and swim up to the surface, breathing out the whole time to prevent lung over expansion. When you surface, you have to orally inflate your BCD, which is incredibly hard to do when you’ve only taken one breath what feels like hours ago. But, I did it, and then descended again, down to about 16m.

My second underwater skill was to take my mask off for 1 minute and then put it back on and clear it (of water). That was fine, just unpleasant to be blind in the middle of the ocean! We also had to do a compass skill, where our instructor gave us a point to swim to and we had to use compasses to swim there. This was absolutely terrifying because the visibility was rubbish, probably about 4m, so I swam off into the murk by myself and then panicked about 10 seconds later because I couldn’t see anyone or anything. We soon regrouped and it was all fine. We ascended after about 25 minutes, and had to remove our BCD and oxygen tank in the water, in order for the skipper to change our tanks for our second dive. Taking everything off was easy enough, but trying to get back into it was much harder, as everything wants to float and roll around, made even more difficult by the rolling waves. But eventually we were all in our gear again with full oxygen tanks, and descended again.

This dive passed without incident, and I started to get the hang of buoyancy and staying horizontal rather than vertical. For some reason I feel more vulnerable staying horizontal, like I won’t see the shark heading for me until my head is in its mouth. But I want to be technically correct, so am practising that!

When we clambered back onto the boat, I was absolutely thrilled that I had completed both dives without problems, and hadn’t felt at all seasick. Such magic pills! Turns out that sometimes the drugs DO work.

As promised, 200m before we reached the shore, the boat stopped and we stripped off down to our swimmers, and leapt back into the sea – I felt so vulnerable without fins, mask or wetsuit, but equally very free. The waves were quite strong, engulfing me with every stroke I made, but it was OK.

Then, the screaming started.

Caty and Raph found themselves surrounded by… jellyfish. There are a lot of jellies here, big white ones that are usually fairly easy to avoid, but also blue bottles, also known as man o’ war, which are really hard to spot and they pack a serious punch. Poor Caty and Raph were both being stung by these guys while swimming. We started yelling and waving for the boat to come back and pick us up, while trying to avoid the jellies. I was hugely relieved that we weren’t being attacked by sharks (my initial assumption, obvs) and concentrated on treading water while trying to keep as still as possible – not an easy task in the open ocean. The boat soon picked us up, and we zoomed back to shore. I was lucky not to be stung, and felt so sorry for the others who had nasty red rashes over their arms and legs.

We were able to finish our 200m swim in the diving pool which was lovely, and 22 lengths later Caty and Raph were qualified Open Water divers. I needed to go back the next day and do my fourth dive, as we were off to Barra and Zavora for a long weekend of team building and diving the following day, and I really wanted to be able to join in with the diving.

My fourth dive was with a small group of rec divers, and I buddied with an experienced diver called Eva. She was an amazing woman, on a year long sabbatical from her job as a teacher in Switzerland. She had travelled all over the world, volunteering here and there, studying in America, doing all sorts of awesome stuff. She was a great dive buddy, very reassuring, but got a little closer to the fish than I was comfortable with! We had problems at the start of the dive because a couple of the other divers had trouble with their equipment, so we sat on the sea bed for about 15 minutes waiting for them to join us, getting colder and colder, to the point that my hands went blue. Eventually we got going though, and saw some cool stuff, including moray eels, scorpion fish, stone fish and lion fish, which was awesome, though the vis was still pretty bad. I was so thrilled to be diving with no problems, just practising my buoyancy and hovering skills, and getting more comfortable with the reef and its inhabitants.

And, when we got back on the boat, I was officially an Open Water qualified diver! I was so happy, especially after such a bumpy start with all the seasickness and feebleness. Everyone has said that if you can dive in Tofo, you can dive anywhere, so I’m really proud and glad that I kept at it, and now officially love diving! But the best bit? As we started heading back to the shore, a pod of dolphins appeared next to us! It was one of those amazing, unique moments in life that was basically perfect, and if I weren’t such a cold fish, I might have even shed a tear.

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