All okay

Scuba Diving – Part Two – Feel the fear and do it anyway

Descending on my first Open Water dive

I grope for my pressure gauge on its long hose on my left hand side. The needle hovers above empty and I tap it, the skin of my fingers whitish green and wrinkled in the washed out underwater light. It doesn’t move. Reading just above dying. Already I can feel the stiffening in the demand valve as I suck on what little air remains in the cylinder.

My buddy hovers in the blue in front of me. I give him the out of air signal and the share air sign. I see him grin around his regulator and shake his head. I reach for his alternate air and he whisks away, spinning away with a flourish of fins, fading into the dark of deeper water.

I reach for my weight belt; feel the clasp cold under my fingers. I flick is loose and feel lighter as it drops away, snaking in spirals into the black below me.

I take a breath of the thin, rubber tasting air in my BCD and kick for the surface, right arm up, heading for the light and the crystal like shafts of the sun on the surface.

It’s so far away. The light is edged with black to my air starved brain. The distance is too far. This time I may not make it.

I wake to the white noise hiss of the air conditioning and the thumping of my heart. I lie there for a while listening to Shadow snoring in her basket. In six hours I’m doing my first Open Water dive. This dream is possibly not the best omen! But alternatively, if I can remember what to do in a dream then chances are if I need to use emergency procedures in real life I’ll remember then too. Endless repetition, they drum it into you until it is automatic. Hopefully!

School of fish on first Open Water dive

This may all seem a little dramatic, hundreds of people every year go to resorts worldwide and learn to scuba dive and probably 90% of them don’t worry about it the way I do. But I was brought up with a very healthy regard for the sea, so I over learn things and I need to know the why not just the how and my ambition at the end of this is to not just be allowed to dive but to be a competent and safe diver.

So I am, admittedly, a little stressy about the whole thing and this makes me grumpy as in addition to the exercises I have to get used to the terminology and etiquette of this whole new field.

Text Msg…Me to Tim (Nick’s rescue diver brother) – “Does it really bloody matter if I call cylinders tanks?”
Text Msg…Tim to Me – “Of course not! Just don’t call fins flippers!”

Text Msg…Me to Tim – “If your brother mentions one more time about diving Scapa Flow is it okay to kill him?”
Test Msg…Tim to Me – “Of course. If you do can I keep those new regulators he had posted to me?”

Emin from Active Blue takes a novice diver on their first Open Water Dive

The sea is lumpy out at Pamucak Reef, an onshore current is meeting a cross shore wind and the rib we are perched in is rocking and bumping on the swell. I lean forward to catch Emin’s enthusiastic dive briefing, which is delivered in bright smiling bursts from his position crouched in the bow. “This is the top of an underwater hill, below us the bottom is 6m, to the north the site drops to 35m but we won’t be going that deep, we will go south and then around the flank of the mountain, at 18m we will find hot springs coming up through the rocks. We will see many fish as well as octopus and large clams, hopefully we will see grouper. When you get in the water hold onto the mooring rope until we’re ready to descend because the current on the surface is strong, we’ll descend on the bow rope.”

We are diving in two groups of three, Emin taking some experienced divers and Tagmac and Nick babysitting me and another girl. She’s really nervous, which makes me feel loads calmer because my “make other people feel better” side kicks in and I stop worrying about myself.

Pamucak Reef off Kusadasi

Nick gets himself kitted up and back flips into the water from the side of the boat and Tagmac takes care of the girl then turns to me. I’m sitting with my back to the open sea, to the left of me the wide sand fringed bay of Pamucak stretches to the sad misty headlands at Ahmetbeyli and in front of me the slides and shoots of the Pine Bay Hotel are the only slice of modern in a landscape of sea and sunlight and crumpled cliffs.

“Okay?” Tagmac asks as he checks the straps on my BCD.

“No worries!” I say. I put one hand on my reg and the other on my mask and back flip off the rib into an oncoming wave. I watch my fins rotating over my head against a clear blue sky and I tumble downwards in a rush of sea green bubbles and a rash of foam. And suddenly it all clicks, it’s like coming home, I know where I am in the water, I feel myself in the space and it is back to being my friend again.

For a second I hang there, seeing the shadow of the rib on the pale, rippling blue sea floor six metres below me, then I surface and give Tagmac the okay signal and swim to Nick waiting on the down line. “Okay?” he asks

I spit my regulator out, “I think it’s going to be more than okay!” I grin at him. “I think I get this.”

And I do, all of a sudden, with room to move again, without my fins churning sand and my buoyancy all over the place sending me shooting to a too close surface I feel in control, I feel happy and relaxed and then I look down and I fall in love.

Shoal of Cow Bream at Pamucak Reef

Down there is lovely. In a subtle shaded wash of light there are new worlds to explore. Tagmac leads us over tumbled boulders, down through shafts of sunlight to rocks fringed with bright frilled seaweed, where velvet skinned octopus lurk in shallow caves littered with crab claws. He shows us thick swirling springs of hot thermal water and we touch the heat of the earth within as we put our hands in the flow. All around us fish live and play and hunt, mainly oblivious to us, just doing their thing; graceful shoals of Cow Bream with yellow stripes graze on the algae on the rocks, double banded bream with black markings whizz along, quizzical blennies with huge eyes hug the bottom, a Dusky Grouper makes its dignified away through the masses whilst bright green occelated wrasse wriggle and small rainbow wrasse flash their top coats of bright orange stripes. I adore it. Everything I have learnt in the last few weeks comes together and makes sense and the endless repetition has become habit.

When we surface forty minutes later I can’t keep the smile off my face. That smile lasts for days and three hundred times a day I say to Nick “You were right, it’s so much easier in deep water!”

It’s hard to explain just how wonderful it is. In the past I have snorkelled some amazing places, Manchones Reef on the Meso American reef, Xel Ha on the Yucatan Peninsula, the waters off Florida and the amazing blue seas around Malta. But diving is different, I think it gives you the most personal encounter with creatures in the wild that it is possible to have, the way they go about their fishy business whilst you hover quietly above them is amazing. It’s a privilege to be there.

I’m at the end of my Open Water Course now, next I will move onto specialised courses in buoyancy and underwater photography, rescue management and techniques that allow me to go a little deeper and see a little more, I’m particularly looking forward to night diving. I still get nervous, I think I always will, but it is nerves tempered with excitement which is good.

When Starfish Attack! Nick fending off an unprovoked assault.

It’s a gorgeous Friday morning in mid September, Nick and I are driving past the ruins of Ephesus down to dive from Pamucak. The air is crystal clear, the sky that beautiful deep glowing autumn blue, the only traffic on the roads are the tractors going out to the vineyards as the grape harvest has started. Nick turns to me and grins, “Not a bad start to the day, driving past Ephesus to go diving in the Aegean.” It’s not bad, not bad at all. The wide silk smooth water of Pamucak Bay is waiting for us, if Odysseus lived he must have moored here on the slow swells of the great green, I think I’ll go look for his anchor today. 🙂

We are continuing our diving education through SSI with Active Blue in Kusadasi, we really recommend them and if you’d like to join us you can find them at or if you are in Turkey visit their dive shop behind the sea front Garanti Bank in Kusadasi, near the marina.