(pictures are on the way)
The intercom pings. It is time for the next dive. Has it really been an hour since the last dive? You roll out of bed, hastily change into your swimsuit and rush to the deck.
First thing you put on is your wetsuit. You take one off the rack, make sure it’s the right size, and pull it up and over your body. Unlike in your training, this one zips up in the front.
You brought your own boots, mask and fins. You de-fog the mask with special de-fog liquid, hoping that it won’t re-fog underwater, forcing you to let a little water in and slosh it around. You Carefully put on your weight belt – it’s heavy and you don’t want it to swing and hit someone in the face.
You have to wait to put on your fins. You are on the dive platform, inches above the turbulent waters. You try not to slip and fall onto the metal lattice as you render your feet unfit for walking one at a time.
You turn to your partner and give the universal diver’s “ok” – a circle made from the index finger and thumb with the rest extended. Then you leap in.
Your wetsuit is so called because it does not keep you dry. The Australian winter water seeps in behind your neck and runs down your back. The warmth comes from this water getting stuck and collecting body warmth rather than constantly being replaced with new cold water.
You open your mouth to breathe, but get a mouthful of saltwater as a wave crests over your face. You reach to your left and grab your respirator. You sound a bit like Darth Vader, but more importantly, you are no longer dependent on the fickle outside air.
The guide signals you and you’re off. You follow several other novice divers to a rope and pull yourself along the side of the boat through frothing water to the drop point.
Another signal from the guide. “Ok” and a thumbs down. Thumbs down doesn’t mean bad in diving. It means “go down.” You signal back and let the air out from your bouyancy compensation device (BCD). The water rises up and swallows you whole.
From the start, an enormous school of fish swarms around you. Some of the fishes mouths curl upward, quietly amused at the foolish sight of this land mammal playing at being a fish.
You feel the pressure on your ears as you continue down. Clamping your fingers on your nose, you blow as hard as you can until the feeling stops. As silly as this process sounds, it works.
At the bottom of the shallow ocean, you see the wavy sand. Huge headless slugs, sea cucumbers, sit motionless on the sea floor. Part of the sand seems smoother than the rest. When you approach to investigate, a stingray rises from the ground. It glides along the surface and comes to rest again a few metres away.
In moments, your guide is tapping on his air tank. You turn and see that he has put a fist to his head. A humphead maori wrasse is rushing towards you. You remember your training and grab the huge green fish on the lips and push it to the side. It continues past you as if nothing had happened at all.
The reefs are enormous and sharp. When you are confident in your ability to keep control of your motion, you swim very close. Tiny yellow and blue fish slither in and out through the red tendrils.
Your guide puts his hand straight up and to the side against his forehead. Indeed, a little shark undulates past high overhead. These sharks are nothing to fear.
Your guide taps his palm – check your air. You make a T with your hands – half air.
Yellow fish swim on their side, as if the reef has overruled gravity itself.
Long skinny pole shaped fish hang diagonally and watch you swim by. Enormous clams sit open, exposing their marbled insides. A sea turtle swims by and away through rays of ocean-filtered sunshine.
Another tap on the palm. Check your pressure gauge. At a third left, you’ve managed your air well. You could go a bit longer, but the guide gives the thumbs up. It’s time for the group to surface.
You return from breathing perfectly well underwater to gasping and timing your breaths against the waves above once more. Hanging on the side of the boat, you remove your fins, one hand hanging, one removing each fin.
On board, your gear that freed you to rise and fall at will now reasserts its full twenty kilograms (40 lbs). you take off your BCD and your mask and weight belt. You remove your wetsuit, wash it in the provided tub, and hang it up again. Then you’re free to go.
Eat a meal, talk for an hour, and then it’s time for the next dive.