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[livejournal.com profile] dalg and I went off on a diving trip in the Red Sea today. It was an 8:30 pickup at the Happy Diving Center (this is how they spelt it) which we got to at 8:10. The dive instructor (Khaled) and his entire family arrived at 8:20. He appeared to be much impressed at how early we were. We had gone along to the diving centre the evening before and selected what equipment we were to use on the dive. I had a “shorty” wetsuit, A BCD (Buoyancy Control Device, which is similar to an inflatable jacket), fins, mask and a diving regulator Octopus. All of this was packed into something like a milk crate and it was your responsibility to make sure it all went out and came back together. We then all jumped into a small minivan and drove off to the dock where we would be going out to the dive boat.

We got into a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, sometimes called generically a Zodiac or a RIB just at the end of a pier in shallow half meter deep water. We had to transfer all the crates over into the zodiac as well. This was my first time in one of these boats and it was difficult to keep your balance. Eventually we had about eight to ten people on the boat balanced on both sides, with me holding on to the rope on top of the inflatable bit for dear life. We had a real Sea Arab (and I mean that in the nicest way) piloting the Zodiac and he also helped with kitting out, preparation of the food, making sure the anchors were secure and once or twice piloting the dive boat. He was crew, but appeared to be first mate. He was swarthy with a fine black beard and a perpetual, disapproving expression, maybe even a slight sneer for the paying customers. He never wore shoes and just had a tennis shirt and trousers which stopped half way between knee and ankle. He could have walked into a casting room and got the job as Sinbad in any movie without even opening his mouth.  

Off we went out to main diving boat which was a big cabin cruiser about 60 to 70 feet long. Sinbad, when navigating from the dock and getting to the dive boat demonstrated his complete professionalism in handling a full zodiac without even splashing us once. There was then a 45 intermission while the boat moved to the dive area. This was called “Marsa Abu Gallawa” and was a coral reef with a small lagoon where I was to get re-certified for my Open Water Diver (OWD) qualification. [livejournal.com profile] dalg kindly agreed to join me in this even though he had a Dive Master certification although he had last dived 6 years ago. 

We checked out all of our equipment and connected up the diving regulator to the tanks and the BCD, put on our wetsuits, got on the weights, tanks and mask, got down to the back of the boat and put on our fins. I was just about knackered by this time. My fins were the kind where you put you feet into the fin like a slipper, [livejournal.com profile] dalg had boots which then slotted into the fins and strapped round the back of the heel. I stood on the edge of the boat with about a four or five foot drop in front of me and thought “I haven’t dived since 1997 and I have NEVER stepped off of a boat at sea”. So I took the “big step” out and promptly left one of my fins on the deck. I hit the water like a ton of bricks and lost my regulator out my mouth, basically a complete fuck-up on entry. Here is a good image of someone doing it right from the back of a boat (bottom of the page). 

I was bobbing up and down choking (and without enough air in my BCD to stay afloat) and trying to get a bead on the instructor who was grinning suspiciously (fortunately it turned out later that he grinned like this all the time). He handed me a grab line hanging off the end of the boat, pumped up my BCD while I looked up into [livejournal.com profile] dalg surprised and amused face on the boat. Naturally he stepped in without problems while someone handed down my missing fin and I put it on.

We sank down to about 2.5 meters and moved off towards the lagoon. I was not looking forward to this bit as I remember the mask tests from Lanzarote which I hated. We had dropped to about 3 meters when we started the tests. The first one was to let a little water into your mask and then clear it by blowing out the mask through your nose. I did not like this as I appear to be a nose breather rather than a mouth breather so I had a tendency when my mask was partially filled to suck in water through my nose. As you can imaging coughing three meters underwater with a plastic brace in your mouth supplying the only air your gonna get is not a nice feeling. I flaked out at the second test which was to half fill you mask and clear it. So the instructor when through the same process with dalg (perfect, of course) and then moved on to the more complex tests, which comprised taking off your weight belt and then putting it back on (more difficult than it sounds as this is the main thing keeping you underwater). Then taking off your tanks and BCD (trying not to rip the breathing regulator from your mouth) and putting them back on. No problems for me with this. Then we went back a step and the instructor wanted me to take my mask off and put it back on and clear it. Now, strangely this was not a problem for me as I have some kind of hindbrain thing where my nose would just seal off when I took off my mask underwater. So I did that and was left with dalg and the instructor staring at me in puzzlement. Then we went off past the boat, round the reef and out into the Red Sea to see what we could see. The reef was a four to five meter wall to our left (on the way out) and was alive. We saw tiny, white moray eels, endless small fish and a number of parrot fish of different colours. We swam out into deeper water down to a depth of 11 meters and saw a number of garden eels that formed a well defined field where they looked like question marks dotted across the sand. It was quite amazing. 

We returned back along the reef with it now on our right and watched the amazing wildlife on the reef wall. We also saw some spiny fish in small caves towards the bottom of the reef. We came back to the boat and did the compulsory 3 meter, 5 minute stop (not really a stop you just swim around at that depth) and then climbed back onto the boat. This was actually pretty difficult. I handed up my fins and assumed that the climb up the ladder would be OK. Instead you are trying to drag all your weights, a wet wetsuit (obviously) and your BCD and tank up a vertical, slightly swaying ladder. Fortunately, one of the helpers (I think maybe Sinbad) took off my tank and dragged that onto the boat which made it much easier to climb. 

Once we had been debriefed by Khaled (still expressing surprise at my poor performance at the simple tests and no problem with the more complex ones) we then had a complete laze about boat for a couple of hours. The crew also prepared lunch, which was mostly Egyptian style food (lentils, aubergine, small kofta sausages, chicken and rice). [livejournal.com profile] dalg had to finish my plateful as I was still nervous about the second dive and then... second dive which was a lot more accomplished from my point of view and just amazing viewing along the reef. We saw Trumpet fish, yet more spiny fish as well. I noticed at one point when we were at the reef wall with Khaled pointing out interesting things how much the dive actually felt like one of these wildlife programs on diving in the Red Sea, except much, much noisier. You are  breathing from your tank and normally the breath goes out through the regulator. This is pretty noisy in itself but I was being a bit casual and letting the air bubble around my mouthpiece and also through my nose (which had the handy effect of keeping my mask clear. The bubble noise in my case was pretty loud, and as I was sucking in air like there was no tomorrow, I was blowing out much of the time.

There was also the high pitched wine of other dive boats and smaller fishing boats passing overhead. If fact during the second dive it was like Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour. 

One the second dive we also saw a white sea snake on the bottom beside the reef with black stripes which we could not immediately identify. We also saw what we think was a couple of Octopus entangled together, what they were up to I can't imagine. I began to get into the zone on the return from the far side of the reef and felt a lot calmer and relaxed. However, once aboard the dive boat I had the embarrassment of finding out that Khaled still had 140 bar in his tank and [livejournal.com profile] dalg  had 100 and I had less than 50. I was, unfortunately, the weak man of the team, a theme which was to persist throughout the diving on this holiday. 

I was really tired when we got back and went for dinner, although dalg seemed OK. After dinner the four of us lazed about the bar and then dalg and I walked down to dive centre to book for Monday. I’m a glutton for punishment.

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March 2012

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