You may remember last week I wrote about an unlikely phone call which invited me to learn to dive (which I baulked at due to my acute dislike of being cold or wet) and participate in a secret marine conservation mission (which instantly got my attention and meant that I said ‘yes I’ll do it’). Well, I’ve started. Last Saturday I rocked up at the lovely heated indoor pool of the Vespasian Spa at Reads Hotel in Santa Maria for day one of dive school. I was joined by the other pupils: Nicky, Alex, Duncan, Tom and Stroud. None of us had dived (dove? diven? I’ve been wrestling with that one all week) before. My bag was full of work: phones, notes, and my laptop, fully intending to crack on with some emails at lunchtime
Our instructor, and wannabe Kung Fu master, Brad Robertson from Ondine Escape welcomed us and took charge, ‘Good morning, young grasshoppers, are you ready?’ First off we learnt how to set up our kit, and got changed. Wetsuits don’t do much for the larger girl, let me get that straight now. Yes, they hold those flabby bits in, but they also push them around and put them in places that you aren’t expecting. Add on a gas bottle, something called a BCD and flippers and suddenly you feel like everyone’s favourite baby elephant, Dumbo. That BCD thing can inflate and deflate btw, and I’m telling you when it was full of air Dumbo could potentially have flown.
So, ungainly and uncertain, I entered the pool and breathed a sigh of relief as the water took the weight of the kit off of me. ‘Right my young grasshoppers’, said Brad with a twinkle in his eye, ‘what’s the first rule of diving…? To keep breathing’. And so we did, whilst sinking to the bottom of the pool and onto our knees. Well everyone else managed that one, but I kept floating away upside down. I had to use Brad as a sea anchor.
It was a shock to find that we’d been in the pool for well over an hour, learning how to use the equipment. After that we were in and out of the water all day, learning safety and technical skills. It’s a serious business, breathing in and out and staying calm when you’re submerged. In fact, it’s all consuming. That’s all I thought about. All day.
It wasn’t until I was driving home that evening, with my untouched bag full of work still in the boot of the car, that it hit me. I was happily exhausted, I’d started to learn something which I had never imagined I would, and I had met some fantastic new people. The following day we went in the sea, and you know what? Due to some top of the range wetsuits and a brilliant support team, it wasn’t cold, even at 8 metres below the surface. What an amazing experience, I haven’t been able to stop thinking or talking about it since.
We won’t know until April 17th the reason why we have been taught to dive, but in the meantime (as I pick up my diving text book) I think I’ve just discovered a new species, the marine gryllus elephas maximus: a.k.a. the sea elephant grasshopper.
Final installment here:
(first published in the Euro Weekly News on April 7th 2011)