Divers is French for “miscellaneous”. But it’s also English for people who dive. That’s me and James! This post has taken a loooong time to go up, due to photo-issues. So it’s extra loooong.
This is the fourth time we have been able to spend some time together since James embarked on his superhero career. It’s always so good to see him and we always have fun, but this time has been pretty special. We went down to Unawatuna to do a PADI Open Water diving certification course.
This was initially James’ idea and as usual, I followed blindly, aware that it was probably going to be somewhat terrifying but also exciting. This has been the pattern from day one – a rollercoaster ride at Luna Park in St Kilda – and has seen me motorcycling over the Alps, climbing dizzy cathedral towers, off-trail mountain hiking (often in the dark), river-trekking, scampering about on Parisian rooftops and jumping off trees into sink-holes.
Back on topic, our diving course was superlatively superlative. Most places get you to do 4 “confined water” sessions in a swimming pool, followed by 4-5 “open water dives”. We got to do all of our training in the crystal waters of Jungle Beach bay, and of course do our dives around Unawatuna Bay.
Day one was overcast and a little gloomy, but it didn’t matter as our wonderful diving instructor Nick had a day of study for us anyway. We spent several hours watching videos about diving and doing quizzes. The videos were mostly informative although very American and FUN FUN FUN oriented. Unfortunately they also focused on listing all the things that can go wrong when diving, which makes sense, but also made me worry about details like how I might get an air bubble in my (awful) teeth fillings or how my recent migraine-sinus problems might cause my head to explode. But of course the satisfaction of writing exam papers compensated somewhat for that. By the end of the day we knew all the weird tubes and components of the diving gear and that alone was a victory!
Day two we returned and after being kitted and wet-suited up, jumped in a boat and set off for Jungle Beach. I had no idea how heavy diving gear would be – by the time I had pulled on my BCD, air tank, and of course gazillion kilos of lead in my weight belt, I could barely stand up. We stumbled into the water and pulled on our flippers and masks, and then it was time for me to bite the bullet/regulator and actually learn to breathe underwater.
I got really bad sunburn, even though I was trying to keep protected!
We spent the morning doing various skills, like taking off our masks underwater, taking out our regulators (the part that goes in your mouth and provides the actual air…), fiddling around with our BCDs etc.
Visibility is not amazing, but here I am kneeling on the left, facing Nick, and doing some skill or another, possibly removing the lead belt which means that seconds later I was shooting up towards the surface…
And here I am practicing my hovering skills whilst Nick times me. Note how he wears his sunglasses on his head even underwater. Love you Nick!
I was feeling surprisingly confident by the time we got out of the water for lunch.
Then in the afternoon, two Swedish guys joined James and myself, and Nick announced we would be heading out for a 40-minute dive along the edge of the bay. We wouldn’t be going any lower than 6 metres, he assured us.
HELLO ROSIE PANIC STATIONS! I tried to stay cool and pulled on my gear. We paddled out to the water, masks and regulators in place, and descended to the bottom. Nick set off, the two Swedish guys behind him, and James and I went last. I couldn’t breathe. At all. Well probably a little bit, but I felt like I was about to have an asthma attack. All the awful things that happened in the videos came rushing back to me. I clutched at James and gave him the signal for “something is off”. He looked at me, waiting for me to clarify if it was my mask or a cramp. I gave the international signal for I’M FREAKING OUT, pulled my inflation toggle, and went straight back up to the surface where I pulled out my regulator and had a nice little weepy-hyperventilate-y-I-can’t-do-this moment. James held my hand and tried to soothe me but by the time the others came to find us I was already convinced I couldn’t do it. So I didn’t. I went back to the beach and burned a lovely wetsuit outline onto myself instead.
Day three. Determined not to panic. Lovely Nick was now aware that he had a bit of a princess on his hands and thereafter instigated “Rosie Chill-out Time”, where we sink to the bottom of the water and then wait until I’ve regulated my breathing and am happy to move forward. This worked very well; even though Nick had allocated several minutes, within about 20 seconds I was feeling comfortable and confident. I’m so grateful to Nick for being patient about it!
We went on a couple of dives, one in the Jungle Beach bay and one in the open water directly opposite Unawatuna Bay beach (known as “Lord Nelson Wreck”).
Neither James (who took all these pictures of course) nor I could work out why my arm is in this picture, but you can draw your own conclusions.
James caught this bizarre creature — pretty much the ONLY picture we have of any marine life, due to camera problems.
As the name suggests: there was a shipwreck on the second dive! Sadly James’ camera ran out of battery just as we reached the wreck. Boo! But both of us came back to the surface thrilled with our experiences. It turns out, the easiest bit is the actual diving and swimming around.
After our dives, we headed to Flamingo to celebrate with a couple of beers, which is how we discovered that after diving a single sip of beer is like a few shots of vodka. We luxuriated and watched the sun go down over the beach… lucky us!
Day four. I woke up feeling atrociously hungover, even though I’d literally only had a sip of James’ beer the night before. The whole night I’d felt the bed floating beneath me and I was a bit nauseous and light-headed. I wasn’t feeling so keen on getting back into my wetsuit, strapping on my diving gear and flipping backwards into the water off the side of the boat, James Bond-style. But I did, because I’m TUFF. The first dive went off easy peasy – 46 minutes at 18 metres. Well apart from my sinus pain, but that wasn’t too big a deal really, once I knew it wasn’t a sign my brain would explode.
We surfaced and clambered back onto the boat before heading off to the next dive site.
Then we sat in the boat bobbing up and down for what seemed like forever (I had no watch but I’m guessing it was about 45 minutes?) whilst we allowed our bodies to release some of the nitrogen you absorb when diving. This was not only dull, but really uncomfortable, as both James and I got increasingly queasy. After a while Nick suggested we jump in the water if we weren’t feeling too good, but with instructions not to let go of the ladder, as you can be pulled out to sea VERY QUICKLY in open water.
My sickness did not improve a huge amount, even once in the water. By the time we finally hauled on our tanks (much easier in water than on a boat), I was feeling terrible, and putting my regulator in made me gag. I tried to puke but in the end the only cure is diving to the bottom of the sea, where there are no waves and bouncing around. Within minutes I felt fine and we had the best dive of all, all over the coral, seeing hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous tropical fish in fantastic neon colours. Again, sorry for the absence of pictures, especially as there were actually exciting things to see… the Go-Pro has its shortcomings! We took heaps of video but the colour was off and everything needs to be edited, if I wait till that’s done this post will never go up.
I was really thrilled by the last dive – the best dive of all – and it made me a little sad to think of all the diving I could have been doing whilst in Sri Lanka! But I am also really happy to be going back to Melbourne next week, and everyone knows Australia has some fantastic diving sites so it’s not like I’m heading off to Scotland or something. James is being posted to Afghanistan for a year; I doubt he’ll have much opportunity to practice out there….