How do you put in words the experience of the first scuba dive? I don’t know how but I am still going to try. I spent a week in Port Blair and Havelock. I came back to reality just yesterday. I had more nights at Port Blair and less at Havelock but that is another story. This was my first package tour trip and I did it with Make My Trip. But then I am again going on a tangent. Everything else can wait. First I need to talk about my scuba dive.
Fida of the Unusual Travel Destinations says I cannot stay away from adventure. But I have a slightly different take on it. I do not go out of my way seeking adventure, they just come my way! I have had my share of fun with Hot Air Balloon Ride, Rafting and Cliff Jumping, Para-sailing and trekking. But scuba diving was different from everything else as in every other activity I was breathing through my nose and not through my mouth with a cylinder.
It all started with an introductory video with Dive Andamans at Sea Shell Resort at Havelock. It did not look easy at all. The diving was to happen on the last day of our stay at Havelock. My friend and I decided to dive the next day itself and with the extended package called DSD or Discover Scuba Diving. We wanted to enjoy it at our pace and for whatever time we could.
So with our hearts in our mouths we went to the beach on Friday (7 October 2011, 7.30 am)and waited for our instructors to arrive. They were Anne (from France but she has been diving in Andamans for the last 4 years) and Rehan. So off we walked with them to do the skills exercises and then to dive. On the way Anne told me it was her first dive too and other such slapstick stories. At one point she told me not to flap my hands while diving as she would be next to me and she doesn’t like getting slapped. I told her back that I would of course like to keep her in good humor as my life depended on it!
The first thing they did is to hand us the wet suites. Getting into them was the easiest part. Then standing near a boat that had the equipment, we started donning them one by one with the help of our instructors. First came the weight belt. It is a belt that has stones so that we would sink. Then came the buoyancy control device (a jacket) with the cylinder and everything else attached to it. You can see a great introduction to the scuba diving gear here. Then came the mask which covers your nose. I was OK with the mask this time because a few days back I had done snorkeling and knew how it feels when your nose is covered. Then came taking the air regulator in my mouth and learning how to breath with it first above the water and then under water! So far so good.
Then came the skills part. You need to know a few hand signals to communicate with the instructor while diving, as obviously talking under water is not possible. Thumbs Up in scuba diving means ‘take me up, I am not comfortable’ and not the original thumbs up as we understand. Thumbs down means take me lower. The OK signal is making a round with thumbs and index finger and the other three fingers pointing up. Actually you can see a lot of hand signals here, the second from the top is the OK signal. I think I used it the most.
After that came the exercise which tells you what to do in case you let go of the regulator from your mouth. The obvious thing is to recover it, put it back in the mouth and start breathing again, while exhaling the breath underwater. I did not like the idea at all. While doing the exercise I stood up once and went over water as well. But in the end I learned how to recover the regulator even when it was not visible. Oh and I forgot the fins that you put on your feet as it helps to swim easily. Also I would need to equalize to release the pressure from my eardrums and this can be done by pinching the nose and blowing out gently.
Then came the crunch time. We started walking underwater for our dive. As soon as I was really underwater I relaxed a bit knowing there was no escape now, I could not surface above the water without Anne’s help! Also I could breathe easily through the regulator and that too counted for something! I went with Anne and my friend with Rehan. And Rehan, the master diver is a 18-19 year old young lad!
Before the dive I was telling my friend that I would not expect a National Geographic scenario but how wrong I was! It was as if I was in a national geographic movie! It is a different world out there! Before coming to Havelock I visited the Naval Museum at Port Blair. At that point I never thought I would be able to see a lot of the fish from the aquarium under the sea! I saw the clown fish (made famous by the Movie Finding Nemo) and that was the only one I could identify. Then there were big fish and small fish, blue fish and yellow fish, colorful fish in general, sea horses and what not. Then there were corals and corals. Anne would point to something that would close into a ball on our approach. She pointed out to things that were half hidden. It was a riot of colors out there! Also she picked up a sea cucumber and let me touch it too!
The day was clear and so was the water hence we had excellent visibility. At one point Anne came in front of me waved her hands and signed that I was on my own! I gave her a big OK sign but after a few second she held me again. She told me later that she could have left me but my gear and hence my weight was tilted to one side.
I found it easy to equalize so I never had any pressure on my ears. But sometimes my head felt quite heavy. I almost wanted to show the thumbs up sign but then I persisted. I was not ready to get out of the wonderland!
In the end Anne decided to come out. She was checking the pressure gauge and knew the depth and duration of the dive. I was not aware that we were on our way up. But then I saw an anchor of a boat in the water and I realized that we were heading up for sure. Then suddenly Anne’s head was no longer visible so I too raised my head and surfaced. I have to say it was a relief to breathe through my nose once again.
As soon as the group of four came together, the chatter started. I hugged Anne and Rehan, I felt so happy for the experience. My first question was how long did we stay under water because it felt like for ever. Anne told us we dove for 52 minutes and went down to 11 meters.
Later I said that the pros must be finding this excited blabber of the first timers rather boring but they replied that they actually liked that, as it told them that people were happy! I was wondering that there must be really only a few jobs in this world where you get the money as well as a hug too at the end of the job!
And while diving I never let go of the regulator even once. I hung on it with all my might as I had no intention of breathing out under the deep sea while trying to recover the regulator! By the next day my gums were sore from clamping on to the regulator. And that is all you need to do in the end if you are diving with an instructor, clamp down on your regulator and breathe!