reef fish pamucak reef

Five Reasons to Learn to Dive in Turkey

Pamucak Beach April 2013
When we talk to people visiting the area about scuba diving so many say “I’d love to try it but I don’t know if I’d like it!” and many more say “I wish I had thought of it before I came and prepared!” Neither of these things is a particular stumbling block to getting in the water.

A Discover Scuba dive is a great idea if you think you’d like it but aren’t sure and with the degree of hand holding you get it’s a safe and controlled way to see if you like it. Scuba isn’t for everyone, my dear late husband had a horrific gag reflex, he couldn’t cope with a regulator in his mouth, my daughter really doesn’t like fish touching her (!!!!) and some people just don’t take to it. It’s generally better to find these things out before you commit time, money and psychological hope to learning how to dive – which is why Discover Scuba exists as a couple of hours learning the basics and then getting your head in the water.

If you try Scuba and like it and want to do an Open Water Course, which is the first recognised qualification on the road to seriously fish like, then that’s doable too, SSI (Scuba Schools International) offer free online training with videos to watch and online tests at the end of each section. You can do a couple of hours practical learning in the morning, a couple of hours online theory in the afternoon on an iPad or one of our spare computers, watch some DVD’s and get qualified in about four days and still have time to visit Ephesus, do some shopping and relax.

Turkey is a great place to learn to dive and here are a few reasons why:-

1. Uncrowded – my diving friends tell me of skirmishes in the Red Sea over the photographing of a particularly cute clown fish, they tell me of battalions of dive boats in the Maldives circling reefs like the ubiquitous landrovers circle a lonely lion on the Serengeti, I’ve seen dive boats by the score racing after the whale sharks in the Caribbean. Sometimes, it seems, it can get damn crowded beneath the waves. But not here, here is quiet, here is small groups, not another dive boat in sight and the reefs to yourself. In all my diving only once have I been in the water with more than one group and then I followed the wrong one! Crowded diving is confusing, crowded dive sites invariably get damaged and crowded dive sites are hard for beginners who need confidence boosting dives where they don’t kick anyone else in the face and they get to see the things they learnt to dive to see.

2. Instructors – my first instructor was an ex-navy diver, my second instructor teaches the Turkish army rescue divers, my main instructor is a man so obsessed with diving and learning that he has every qualification from every agency and he eats, breathes and sleeps diving. Here we are taught by people with serious experience. There is nothing wrong with instructors who follow the fast path from zero to hero offered by some agencies but you cannot beat the depth of experience that you get here. Recreational diving hasn’t been around long in Turkey so many instructors are coming from a navy background, they are professionally trained, highly experienced divers who have now moved across into the recreational field although many still spend the short off season instructing the rescue services and the military. These are thorough, belt and braces, well trained men and a lot of the time they are instructing people on a one to one basis. And they are kind, as my dear Instructor Emin said to a nervous girl on her first open water dive last week, “Down there I am your father, I will look after you!” She took her first open water dive with Emin, a Major from the Turkish army, Nick and I and her own father, between us there was something like 5000 dives worth of experience for one new diver. That’s a lot of support!

3. No tides, no currents – the sea is a living breathing thing, in my home on the Irish Sea the sea breathes heavily, the tides rise and fall by 8 metres, the currents surge through the sounds and the sea makes you work for your pleasure. Even in the idyllic Caribbean the currents off Cozumel run at a surprising speed and the inexperienced diver can struggle in the surge, surprised by the strength. Here we have few currents, the old Mediterranean breathes quietly, slowly, and the diving is easy, a drop down through clear water and clouds of fish, it’s kind to the beginning diver and that first, scary open water dive is confidence building in the calm water.

4. Weather – Right now, in mid April, our sea temperature is around 18 degrees, we’re still in full wetsuits because it’s colder on the bottom but as soon as we surface we’re stripping down because it’s hot in the sun. We are blessed with perfect diving weather for seven months of the year and good diving weather for another three months. Only February and March are cold and blowy and even then on the sunny days you can still dive. From now until end of October we are pretty much guaranteed flat calm mornings, glass like seas and a sea temperature comfortably into the 20’s. In late afternoon the Meltem wind will blow, rushing the cruising gullets onto their next mooring spot but by then we’re normally back on shore, soaking up the sun and waiting for the sunset.

5. What’s down there – No one wants to see a shark first time out, they want to learn, be comfortable, see stuff, but not be frightened to death. The diving in the Aegean has plenty to amaze the new diver without causing panic; warm springs to rub their hands in, sparkling mica in the sunlit sandy patches between the reefs, shoals of fish feeding, big eyed octopus lurking in holes, fat groupers cruising by, rainbow wrasse darting up to their mask, ancient amphora grown into the reef, crusted in sea life, knobbly with sponges. There is so much to see in an accessible, easy way.

We’ve just started our main diving season here in Kusadasi, last week Active Blue passed out the first two Open Water divers of the season. Last year 143 people took SSI courses with them and got their new certification cards and apart from that hundreds more tried discover scuba and already certified divers took adventure dives out on the reefs.

Our first boat dive on Pamucak Reef showed the reef had come through the storms of winter beautifully, the hot springs were bubbling away merrily, making the water around them 4 degrees warmer, the bream were out in force, merrily swirling above the reef and we found some new amphora at the foot of the reef. It all looks good for another beautiful summer of diving. The only thing that had changed was the depth of our tan, we’re all pale from a winter in wet suites, that will soon change!

Before you take up diving…some things you should know

A house festooned with diving kit
I am a naturally fair person, if I write only glowy happy stuff I get guilty and I have to go away and write the other side of the story because that’s fair and stops people from making huge errors in judgement – boy did they brainwash me with the informed consent stuff back in the day!

So to balance the incredibly gushy posts I have written recently about the joy aquatic please note the following issues should you decide to take up diving, particularly if you are female :-

1. VANITY – If you are vain you might as well forget this now, diving is like childbirth, you’re not going to look good doing this, it’s actually impossible. Between the rivers of snot you produce, the hair that tangles into an uncombable ball and the deeply unattractive pressure marks your mask will leave on your face this is not a sport for those who have to look good. You’re never going to surface looking like some sleek haired super model with your skin gilded by the sun.

No one looks good in a mask
Underwater your skin is greenish white like a long dead alien, but fortunately you will be unrecognisable in any pictures your evil dive friends will take due to mask and regulator distorting your features like some comedy iPhone app. I now routinely take out a contract on anybody possessing surface pictures of me on the basis that some grubby eco warrior may turn up and try to set me free but I will allow below surface pictures to see the light of cyber space as even my own mother wouldn’t recognise me. HINT – Impress your Facebook friends with your adventurous lifestyle, cut and paste a library scuba diving image to your timeline, nobody will know it isn’t you.

2. DIGNITY – Close on the heels of vanity comes dignity, prepare to lose it if you take up diving. By the time some sturdy dive master has heaved you into the inflatable dive boat and you have landed in the foot well looking like the kind of aquatic mammal that washes up on beaches and has the locals trying to encourage it back into the open sea you will realise that the last smear test you had in front of a class of teenage trainee nurses was actually discrete and kind by comparison. Before you ever get to the boat you will have wriggled and levered yourself into a tight wetsuit on a public beach whilst tourists gaze on having been distracted from the latest blockbuster by the way you bend the laws of physics by forcing so much flesh into neoprene – it’s all a bit TARDIS, we’re all bigger inside our wetsuits! If it has taken two men and a wrestling hold to zip up your wetsuit you can ramp up the humiliation factor by ten.

Side Note:- Please excuse any typing errors, I’m trying to write this whilst Nick is hoovering my keyboard! He doesn’t realise cigarette ash is all that holds it together and is an excellent conductor.

Nick a man of many attachments - he even has a compressor nozzle that attaches to his BCD hose so he can clean his dyson!
3. WEALTH – You will become poorer, quickly; this sport has more accessories than Ann Summers. Actually it’s a lot like Ann Summers, between stuff you wear and stuff that bleeps, restrains, informs and adorns, all of which come in a variety of day glo colours, scuba diving is fetish heaven with a higher price tag. The minute something is even vaguely related to Scuba the price triples, from writing slates to laminated fish identification any bit of plastic that can be used underwater will set you back a fortune. Even the stuff that holds your kit after you have finished using it costs a fortune – want a coathanger to hold your BCD and regulators, £10 please, for one! Nick, being Nick, is of course accumulating accessories at warp factor seven and the tea shop is overflowing with small packets of “o” rings (how many do you bloody need?!), lumpy and exciting parcels that contain regulators and hoses, dive tools (euphemism for large knives!), defogger for masks, silicon gel for serious slipperiness (reason unknown and I’m not asking), and other things too obscure to describe. I have bought only one thing, a little rubber necklace that allows my alternate air supply to rest just below my chin instead of being crammed in my BCD pocket or trailing behind me. This has been sneered at by assorted dive masters and dive buddies as akin to a baby having a dummy on a ribbon, but that’s boys for you, it’s so manly to contort yourself like a lightening struck shark to find your alternate air when you need it. Incidentally, your boyfriend/partner/nearest man will try to make all equipment choices for you and will refuse to take into consideration the clear fact that you are built differently to them (they haven’t actually noticed you have breasts – See VANITY above) and will therefore try and force upon you their own favourite brand of scuba bondage gear.

4. TEDIUM – You will become very boring, because you are a convert and converts tend to bang on a lot about stuff with tedious zeal. New Scuba divers only talk about diving; most sentences will begin “When I went diving in the Red Sea/Maldives/Stoney Cove…..” even if they are only talking about the price of bread. It’s amazing how any topic can be turned to talking about diving. If you ask Nick the time the reply will be “When I started my dive at Scapa Flow the time was…….” To all my friends and family who are now being subjected to the endless tedium of me talking about diving, boring for Britain about my diving courses, bitching for Britain about my lack of funds to buy diving kit and my constant assurances that they are not too old/tired/frightened/unfit or not interested enough to dive, I apologise, it will wear off, I think. It could be worse, I could like football.

Hard choices - more boots or more diving kit???
5. CHOICE – You will have to decide between a new pair of Kurt Geiger boots and an Oceanic dive computer, unless you are nicely wealthy, and this is a tough call (I went for the Oceanics Dive Computer, I’d already bought the Kurt Geigers in August, so they don’t count under the three week rule as espoused by my good and sensible friend Victoria). Equally all travel of any type will revolve around diving opportunities, it is now impossible for Nick to pop down town for some milk without fitting in a quick reef dive. Duty trips home to the UK will now be taken under extreme duress and only during very cold times of the year and stand a good chance of being cancelled if Turkish Airlines come up with a special flight price to the Red Sea (which they bloody well have! 99 Euros returns! Argh!).

Despite all of the above I don’t think I could now give up Diving, the plusses do actually outweigh the negatives and I was never big on vanity or dignity and I’ve never been the kind of girl who sits on the beach looking lovely whilst the boys play.

The people help, without a doubt, this whole thing is starting to look suspiciously like a social life, between the ever changing montage of visitors who brighten your diving day to the locals who bring you into their circle there is a lovely camaraderie that has nothing to do with nationality or booze and that’s a good thing, because it’s thin on the ground here.

And then there is the trust. Whilst I may not trust with my life every person I dive with there are many that I do, including all of my instructors, and for someone who is as quietly lonely as I am, who generally sorts everything herself, no matter how awful, to have a group of people who generate calm feelings of support around me, well that’s priceless and worth any negative. Thanks to them all.

Playing Away – Diving Adabanko Reef and Barbarossa Reef Kusadasi

Ever since I started diving I have been under the watchful gaze of my instructors at Active Blue (www.activeblue.com), they’ve trained me, guided me, mentored me and managed my baby flippering. I think they’ve done a good job, I certainly feel happy down there and I’ve taken additional courses above my Open Water cert and I think I’m doing pretty well. But there is this nagging doubt, this little ego whisper; am I good because I’m good or am I good because I’m with them? It’s time to step outside of my home dive sites and dive with other people, just to make sure!

Adabanko Reef and Barbarossa Reef are located between 1 and 1.5 kilometres offshore of Ladies Beach and Nick and I dived them last week with Kiwi Watersports (Kiwi Watersports Facebook Group) who are based on Long Beach, near the Grand Ozcelik hotel, just south of the main town of Kusadasi.

A beautiful October morning at Kiwi Watersports, Long Beach, Kusadasi
We visited first to check the sites and the set up and met Kubilay the engaging and enthusiastic owner. We talked about our certifications and what we were looking for in a dive and made plans to dive together in the near future.

The season here is winding down and the tourists are heading home and those diving now tend to be experienced and the dive masters have more balanced groups to lead and the pace slows and the enjoyment increases. A visiting Dive Master, Jean Luc, a charming and highly experienced French diver had booked some dive days with Kiwi Watersports and so we joined him on Thursday for two deep dives.

A scenic trip along the coast out to the dive site at Adabanko Reef, Kusadasi
As far as I am concerned this turned out to be a textbook dive and it was brilliant and I had a fantastic day. With the pressure of a heavy tourist schedule out of the way kitting up was done at a relaxed pace and there was time for a leisurely dive briefing (love dive briefings…geekiness on max) before boarding the tender to go out to the dive boat for the scenic trip along the coast before turning offshore at Ladies Beach to head out to the dive site.

The underwater battlements of Barbarossa Reef, Kusadasi
Turkey is as dramatic under the sea as it is above it, those mountains dropping down to the sea don’t stop at the beach, they carry on. Below the lazily rippled waters of Kusadasi Bay Barbarossa Reef is a crenulated, carved castle of rock with spires of stone and flanks riddled with crevasses and cornices whose dark holes are inhabited by morays and whose battlements are patrolled by busy bands of bream. Here the predatory Dentex, the mature adults up to a metre long, glittering silver, the immature juveniles, slightly smaller, with their blue fins and liver spots, cruise above the sea grass slopes, taking their pick from the quicksilver whirling clouds of hamsi that shoal around the reef. On a warm October morning diving here is like flying over a fantasy landscape.

Up close and personal on the reef tube worms wave graceful spirals of foliage and the long tentacle of anemone weave enticing patterns in the current. Purple moray eels with psychopath eyes lurk in their caves working on their bad boy reputation whilst ducking shyly for cover if you get too close.

Anemone at Barbarossa Reef, Kusadasi

Adabanko Reef, starting at 8m below the surface just south of the starboard clearway marker buoy that guides the cruise ships into Kusadasi harbour is a multi level dive going down to over 30 metres. Working your way around the flanks of the reef you come to a wall and drop down twenty metres to the site of an ancient wreck. Here a few scattered broken amphora and pottery platters lie in a depression on the rock ridge. I back off from the wall, over the drop, and look up across the ridge to the bright surface far above and I can see what happened, how a ship heading for a safe beach foundered and slid below the waves, sliding down the reef to rest here, teetering for centuries above the final fall.

Swimming through the shoals at Adabanko Reef, Kusadasi
Further down, at thirty metres we come to the anchor block of the clearway marker buoy, a huge concrete block with massive tethering chain, poised lopsided on the reef, its chain cloaked in slowly waving weed, quietly being eaten away by the salt sea. For some reason it’s spookier than the wreck site, that huge, uncompromising chunk of modern man amongst the ancient geology of volcanic wall and centuries old shipwreck. It feels strange, really intrusive.

We turn south, heading back to the dive boat, rising slowly up towards the surface, creeping up the reef with each breath, with the water lightening around us until out of the smoky blue we see the bottles of our spare air hanging at the safety stop.

It really was a beautiful day. Between dives we relaxed and drank hot, sour apple tea, which is amazingly refreshing to a salt seasoned mouth.

Back on shore kit rinsing and stripping down went like clockwork accompanied by many cups of coffee and leisurely chatting.

I think I am amazingly lucky that my first non-home dive went so well and that I have the choice of such great dive centres within fifteen minutes of home.

Off-Season Diving in Turkey

With the resorts closing down and the frantic daily schedules easing but the weather remaining beautiful now is the time of year the dive centres start venturing further afield.

Active Blue has wreck diving trips planned in the coming weeks, particularly early in November – www.activeblue.com

Kiwi Diving is organising an overnight dive trip to Samos for late October/early November to include accommodation, two days of diving and transfer over to the island by very swish boat – Kiwi Watersports Facebook Group

If you are in Turkey out of season and want to try some of the more adventurous dives contact the dive centres direct to see what they have planned, there is always something going on.