This year I took the plunge for the first time as a qualified Ocean Diver and just a few days after completing my training, I found myself in the middle of the ocean clinging on for dear life!
The first time on a hard boat, the first time on a club trip and the first-time seeing waves crashing over the bow. I must admit my maiden voyage wasn’t the smoothest by any stretch of the imagination but this weekend diving at Lundy Island was one of the best experiences of my life and finally made me understand why people made such a fuss about "The Dive Bug".
For those that don’t know much about Lundy Island, it was the first designated Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) within the UK and still is to this day. If for some reason that doesn’t paint a picture of how important and incredible this place is, then maybe the thought of towering rocky cliffs covered in puffins and pristine calm waters surrounded by sleeping seals does.
I did 4 dives over this weekend with surface intervals each day that were substituted by a quick snack and some snorkelling, but my maiden voyage below the ripple of the waves was The Knoll Pins on the eastern site of the island. After a detailed briefing from the skipper, my buddy / weekend roomy and I kitted up and stepped off the starboard side for my BSAC baptism. Left shoulder to the slope I slowly descended to my maximum depth of 20 meters and looked around in awe at the life that clung to these rocks. Jewel anemones, dogfish, pink sea fans, Red Sea fingers and mermaids purses - the list goes on, but due to my lack of marine identification skills I’ll have to stop there.
15 minutes in and 100 bar of air later, I made my way through the middle of these two prestigious pinnacles where I slowed down alongside my chaperone for a quick safety check. Air OK, depth OK, buoyancy balanced, I turned to take another look around the aquatic universe surrounding me, when something no number of hours in the classroom or controlled open water centres could have prepared me for... A GREY SEAL!
Although I know diving in 3’s is discouraged (and this certainly wasn’t part of our dive plan) in this instance there wasn’t much we could do (and to be honest we didn’t care). I wasn’t sure if what I had seen was real or some unlikely onset nitrogen narcosis never experienced before, but one thing I did know is that after swimming swiftly off into the distance, her elegance and shimmering sapphire eyes reminded me that this was her world, an amazing aquatic environment and a setting I could see myself spending A LOT more time in!
After our trio was reduced back to the original 2 founding members, we swam shoulder-to-shoulder through the final stretch of the dive making a gradual ascent up to our safety stop at 6 metres. 3, 2, 1, I ascended reluctantly through the shallows and as the light broke through the waves above my head, I couldn’t stop thinking that I didn’t want this to end. Hand in the air and air in my jacket, I lay back alongside my buddy, fin kicking as we watched everybody else emerge from the depths and swim backwards to the boat.
As I approached the vessel and grabbed the rope, fellow club members stared down over the edge with wide smiles as I hoisted myself round to the stern. With both hands on the bars, feet on the grate and a story to share, I gave the nod to the skipper as he raised the lift. I spent the next 15 minutes gleefully sharing my experiences as others did the same, and then we shovelled down our snacks, strapped on our snorkels and dove back in with another mighty splash!
The rest of the weekend was spent between the surface and the seabed, splashing around with a harem of seals as they took turns chewing fins, chasing bubbles or in one instance even snatching regulators! As I strapped my cylinder back in for the last time on the Sunday afternoon and let the air out of my jacket, I couldn’t help but feel deflated. This inaugural trip was coming to an end; an overwhelming experience with an excitable bunch of people, that I would never forget.
I spent the remainder of the summer starting the next level of my training, as well as enjoying a few more trips out with the club across the south coast. These trips included The Gertrude off of Chesil Beach, Swanage Pier and the Christchurch Ledges and each one never failed to take my breath away.
As the sun sets on another gloomy wintery day and I sit here reflecting on what a great year this has been, I glance over at my sports diver student notes and continue to count the days until I can take the plunge once again! When you sit back and relax over this holiday period and your mind turns to the resolutions you want to make for next year, please promise me that one of those will involve a boat and some bubbles.