Tuesday, July 22, 2008 Malaysia Malaysia

Snapping turtles

Isla at 15m [Enlarge]

It turns out we're quite good at scuba diving. We keep diving with people who have done far more dives than us, but they're flailing around, kicking up the sand and generally not getting the hang of it whereas we seem to have been able to just do it from the outset. Go slow, breathe slowly and deeply and enjoy the scenery; be aware of everything around you and of what you're doing; and don't let anything stress you. That seems to be the key to being a good scuba diver. We just need to get the same attitude when taking public transport.

We decided to do the PADI Advanced Open Water course because it would give us lots of different dive experiences, a qualification to go deeper (to forty metres), and demonstrates to other dive operators that we're not complete noobs. We started with a navigation dive, using a compass to navigate a square, learning how to judge distance, and so on. Then we had a dive in which we focused on perfecting our buoyancy... well, trying to. We learned how to turn upside down, and stay like that, for looking under overhangs, and we learned how to swim backwards (in theory at least). Doing it for further than about a metre will need a lot more practice.

Nemos never stay still. [IMG_2207]
Clownfish [Enlarge]

On our second day we began with a deep dive, going down to thirty metres to visit the Secret Reef, a beautiful place at a depth where colour begins to disappear—red things appear black. After lunch we did a wreck dive. The Sugar Wreck is a 50-metre long freighter that, having delivered its cargo of sugar in December 2000, sank in a monsoon close to the islands. It's at an easy depth. Lying on its side, the highest point is five metres down. The huge cargo holds beneath the deck are like wide caves. In the eight years since it sank, flat disks of coral the size of dinner plates have grown on the hull. The ropes, nets, rails and masts are coated in invertibrate life and thousands of fish now live there. It was a good test of our buoyancy control with plenty of swim throughs, and quite a strong current coming over the stern. We were even able to surface in an air pocket in one of the cargo holds.

We finished the day with a night dive. Night diving is very different to day diving. Of course you only see what your torch illuminates, but because the light isn't filtered through 12 metres of water, colours are brighter and more vivid. And if you turn off your torch and stir up the water with your hand, you get to see phosphorescence: tiny plankton in the water lighting up and dancing around like fireflies. It was great. We were at the back of the group and did a lot of hanging around waiting for the sand to settle because the four divers in front of us were constantly stirring it up. But we were happy just playing with the magic water sparkles.

Leopard Shark [Enlarge]

After we got our advanced qualification, we decided to rent an underwater camera for a day and we crammed in three dives to make the most of it. We chose easy locations where we wouldn't have to worry about depth or current, and where we could just hang out and try to take photos. We learned that taking photos underwater is an incredibly hard thing to do. You're trying to hang in mid water and not crash into anything in case you damage it (coral) or it damages you (sea urchins and scorpionfish), push buttons on a camera whose labels you can't read and whose screen you can't see properly because it's in a watertight box, get extremely close to your fast-moving subject without scaring it off because if you're too far away the flash won't work properly and you'll get lots of backscatter from the plankton, and (in the case of the second dive site) fend off the evil territorial soapfish (damsel) who are swimming into you at full speed trying to bite chunks out of you for encroaching on their territory. Oh, and trying to take a well-composed photo. Glenn enjoyed it: he loves photography and thinks he'd like to buy an underwater housing one day, but not until he's really got the hang of floating perfectly still exactly where he wants to be. Isla took a couple of photos but hated it, preferring to help with finding things to photograph. All in all though we're pretty pleased with the results (see here) given that it was our first attempt and we weren't familiar with the camera.

The highlight of our third dive was when we ran across a hawksbill turtle and stayed with it for several minutes. From twelve metres down we watched it swim to the surface, have a bit of a breathe and a look around, then dive straight back down next to us to do some more munching on the bottom. Typically the camera decided to run out of battery just after we first saw it, so that was the end of the photography.

So now we're qualified advanced divers and we've done sixteen dives in total. We haven't decided what we want to do next. There are higher levels of qualification that we could go for, or we could just do the odd fun dive in places like Bali and Australia, and maybe the Caribbean. We'll have plenty of time to decide as we pass by more of the world's top dive sites in the coming weeks... We'll keep you posted.


Christine Gilbert said...

Hello! Just found this site, and loving it so far.. looking forward to more!

Glenn Livett said...

Hi Christine! Welcome and thanks for your comment. We're glad you like the blog.