I remember diving being really complicated. When I got certified almost a decade ago, we had to study a textbook and take a test before getting into the water. As a self-confessed control freak and nerd, I studied that textbook avidly. I got a perfect score, beating both of my parents. Yes, I still remember this. I am the worst.
Fast-forward ten years and the experience was different. Having not been diving in over five years, I had to do a refresh dive to reactivate my license. Jake is uncertified but was able to do the intro dive, designed for people without licenses. Fortunately, these were the same dive, meaning that we were able to dive together in the morning. He asked me what he needed to know about diving (though, of course, we would have an excellent instructor explaining everything beforehand and looking out for us during the actual dive). “Well, you’ll have a regulator giving you air and wear a buoyancy control device to control your depth. You’ll also wear a weight belt. You can clear your mask by holding the top and blowing through your nose. Most important thing is to keep breathing as you ascend, to prevent the build-up of nitrogen in your joints that causes the bends. Oh, and you want to breathe consistently and deeply.” I paused. “I think that’s about it.”
It had to be more. I remembered pressure calculations and oxygen tables and my first ever experience with oxygen saturation curves. It sounded too simple. But, after our lovely guide Vicky took us through the basics, it appeared my memory was spot-on. Diving is a bit like driving a car, you have to pay attention or you might drift off into the unknown and die. Joking. Sort of. It’s like driving a car in the sense that actually doing it – swimming deep underwater or manoeuvring a vehicle – is pretty straightforward, it’s doing it safely in all environments and knowing what to do if something goes wrong that’s the skill.
Fortunately, Vicky was taking care of all of that. We just got to head down and frolic with tropical fish. All of the fun, none of the responsibility.
Our morning dive was around St Pierre Island, only a few minutes by boat from Anse Volbert beach on Praslin. It’s a tiny little cluster of rocks that supports numerous species of marine life. We did a backward roll entry into the water, descended down the anchor line to around twelve metres and started swimming.
I was grinning the whole time. I should probably be a fish. Or a dolphin. I like hanging around in groups, playing in the waves and shrieking. But seriously, I am happiest in the ocean. I could have hung around down there for hours.
Alas, my lungs did not agree with this sentiment. Regardless of my brain’s desire to ask the fishes to take me home to meet the family, my lungs would eventually be reminding the rest of me about that thing, you know, oxygen. Obviously, it never got close to that point – the dive would have ended if any of us had reach 50 bar of oxygen left before the planned end – so it is both regulation and biology preventing me from living my best undersea life.
When I’d been booking this dive, I think I mentioned that I wanted to see sharks in every email in the chain. Vicky delivered. We saw a few sweet little white-tip reef sharks swimming around and found three hanging out beneath a rock. Vicky had assured us in advance that the only sharks in these waters were “vegetarian” and they were definitely more afraid of us that we were of them. A cursory Google search reveals that their vegetarianism doesn’t extend to the fishes they share the ocean with. I feel it is my size rather than my composition that prevents me being a viable meal for these sharks but I felt relaxed either way. It’s a shame about the occasional, highly-publicised snacking incident because sharks are incredible, beautiful and often gentle creatures. That’s certainly more than I can say for myself. I once pulled the curtain rail off the wall while attempting to close the curtains.
After the dive was over we surfaced and made our way back to shore. Our plan was that I would go out for the afternoon dive while Jake snorkelled, as his lack of licence meant that he could only partake in the intro dive. However, the Seychelles is significantly less litigious than the UK. In this instance, this worked in our favour. Vicky shrugged and said that given Jake was competent on this first dive he could come out for the second. This was probably highly illegal, but I appreciate anyone who prioritises fun and common sense over, uh, the law. That sounds bad. But in this case, it’s true. Unless the Seychellois police ask, in which case, this whole blog is a fabrication and I’m actually an American dude using the internet to live out my dream of being a London millennial with a penchant for nudity, travel and knocking things over.
Our second dive site was Red Point in the nearby marine national park. While we were chatting between dives, Vicky couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been diving in five years. “I dive at least twice a day. I couldn’t imagine going that long between dives.”
“There aren’t many oceans near London. And the ones that are have a much higher frostbite and lower colourful fish potential.” She shook her head. I feel you, Vicky.
On our second dive, we found more sharks, rays, a green turtle, an octopus and shoals and shoals of vibrant tropical fish. We’d graduated to the big tanks for this dive so were able to stay below the surface for longer, much to my great joy. In our first dive I’d been getting used to being under the surface and definitely had my share of moments of thinking ‘is my air working properly? This doesn’t feel right. Oh wait I’ve just forgotten to breathe.’ I felt a lot more relaxed on our second dive and felt a lot more confident exploring the reef and chasing after sharks.
I would highly recommend Octopus Divers, should you ever find yourself on Praslin Island looking for a dive operator. They were friendly, super competent while still being relaxed and Vicky had an almost unnatural ability for spotting amazing sea creatures in tiny dark caverns under the water. The Seychelles is known for its fantastic diving and I’m so happy I had the opportunity to see its protected marine park and hang out with the sharks. Now if only I had gills, I wouldn’t have to deal with the pesky surface intervals.