I did it! On Tuesday I officially gained my PADI Open Water Diver certificate, which now means I can do open water diving whenever and wherever I want in the world – exciting stuff!
Me underwater!! I’m holding onto the bouy line as we make a safety stop on our way back up, to make sure we give our bodies time to release the excess nitrogen that we’ve absorbed from our compressed air. I am making the ‘OK’ sign – if we ever put our thumbs up instead we received an immediate beer fine from the instructor because, under water, that actually means you want to go back up to the surface – very different from things being ‘OK’!
The course has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve set myself in a while and I’m very proud of myself for seeing it through and, not only that, but actually enjoying the experience. Our second day in the ocean saw even more choppy water than the previous day plus a strong current. It seemed touch and go as to whether out boat would actually make it out to Sail Rock, and the heavily swaying boat ride became as big a challenge for me to endure as the scuba training itself.
Me taking the ‘giant step’ ocean entry instruction perhaps a bit too far – I think I was just very eager to finally get off the drunkardly keening boat.
Visibility in the water was very poor due to the weather, which made all of our safety tests even more challenging. However, our instructor condensed all the tests into the first dive of the day so that we would have the final dive as a fun dive. I’m pleased to report that all my tests went well this time, with no freak-outs, and I found myself relaxing more quickly into each dive. I still found it slightly nerve-racking making the descent each time, due to the constant need to equalise my ears and just the weirdness of descending so far below what you would normally determine to be a safe depth. However, after the descent I relaxed more quickly with each dive, and by the final fun dive I was totally in the zone and absolutely loving it.
Our group (‘team awesome’), with Luke, our instructor, in the centre, about to go down for our final dive. We also had a divemaster, Ally, assisting us all the way through, who is taking the photo.
Everything underwater seems to move slowly and lazily, and I found myself naturally matching the laid-back pace. I also became much more adept at fine-tuning my bouyancy by simply using lung inflation and deflation and, as such, was able to manoeuvre myself around fairly effortlessly. It was wonderful to look up and realise you were amidst a huge school of fish, and look across to the rock and seeing swaying anenomes and bizarre corals, all covered with a blanket of grazing fish. We also saw a large white-eyed moray eel poking its head out of its hole, lots of large shrimps also hiding out in holes and so many beautiful fish such as angelfish, groupers, bannerfish, butterfly fish, scorpion fish (v poisonous), barracudas and anenome fish. Totally magical, and that was in poor visibility, so I am very keen to get out again once the weather improves.
Here are some photos that Ally took on our final dive with her underwater camera:
A swaying tube anenome, revealing its startling blue underside.
More tube anenome, but this time spot the fish.
Entering the famous Sail Rock chimney, a hollow cylinder which goes straight up the centre of the rock, with various access windows at different depths. We went up it for a short while, which was incredible.
It is wonderful to be part of this underwater world, rather than observing it from above – being nose to snout with a large barracuda fish is a memory that will particularly stick in my mind. For anyone that loves wildlife, I would totally recommend doing the course – it’s scary, but lots of fun too, and the rewards are incredible.
On the way back after our last dive our boat broke down, and we ended up waiting five hours whilst our thai driver tried and failed to fix it and eventually gave up and rang another boat to tow us in. It was still really choppy, so I used the experience to keep working at mastering my fear of scarily leaning boats. I discovered that if I went to the bottom deck (which, in this rather dilapidated boat, was pretty much in the sea) and turned some mellow tunes on my ipod up loud I was able to cope and, weirdly, even enjoy the swaying. As a bonus, we got to see the sun set over the ocean whilst we bobbed around, and then I really enjoyed arriving back in the dark, with the strange sight of brightly-lit squid boats all around, like willo-the wisps of the ocean (the squid are attracted to the lights).
Rather bad shot of a squid boat, but you get the idea.
When we finally arrived back on dry land, members of the dive school were there to greet us with cold beers and then they put on food and drinks for us that night to make up for our long wait on the boat, so I didn’t have time to blog that night and reassure folk I was still alive. Likewise, as we hadn’t had time to sort out final odds and ends on Tuesday, we did it yesterday morning instead, over some well-earned cold beers as one of our group conveniently owns his own beer garden (yep, beers in the morning – what a contrast to my previous week of healthy living!). One beer led to another, and I didn’t end up leaving the beer garden until the evening, so once again was not fit for blogging last night.
Me and my dive buddy, Giles, enjoying a well-earned beer and, frankly, happy to be alive to do so, yesterday.
Luke, our instructor, and Ally, his assistant (and girlfriend) – no doubt relieved to no longer be responsible for our safety! A very professional (and impossibly glamorous) team.
Rather bleary-eyed today, but I wanted to get this out there. I’ll fill you in on my next adventures soon (I’m now residing at Siam Healing, a holistic health, massage and yoga place, and learning to massage – day one with a hang-over, ouch…). Off to the night market now for some more top thai fodder, yum.