DAY 5 - Wednesday 1st July 2009 - Super Scuba

Diving. No other sport has ever instilled such fear into me. Except cross-country running, perhaps.

Splashing into the sea, the actual, huge, wet, salty, critter-infested sea, caused my bowels to positively loosen with terror. Hence Nick having to pry me out of my bed at 6:30 in the morning so we could prepare for the coach; the coach which would deliver us to the harbour and my impending doom.

Our “coach” turned out to be a type of open-aired van. The dive instructors (buses to the dock and boats to the diving sites are communally shared by fellow diving schools), including Nick, hauled bags of scuba gear onto the roof and were strapped down by the driver. Crammed with other dive students, the vehicle whisked us away, swerving around potholes and avoiding fellow commuters with typical Thai finesse, and arrived at the port half and hour later.

Me on the coach

Nick on the coach

My spirits lifted when the clouds cleared and Adam proclaimed it to be a stunning day. Boarding the boat, an old but sturdy catamaran, with around 30 other men and women of differing ages and ethnicities, we were briefed on the journey and events of the day by another instructor before being served a scrumptious cooked breakfast of sausages, bacon and eggs. Nick and I immediately rushed to the top deck and claimed the bow to ourselves, as the vessel skipped through the water.

Adam was right. The weather was incredible. A few clouds dotted the sky and reflected in the sapphire water, which bubbled and foamed and parted for the boat’s passing. As we passed out of the harbour, picking up speed, it truly became clear why Phuket is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations. The sun shone. The wind blew through what hair I had left. Best of all, dozens of islands dominated the horizon: mountainous, blanketed with luscious green fauna and surrounded by sun kissed beaches, they drifted past, many of them untainted by human presence. It was an incredibly welcome escape from the commotion of Patong. I must have snapped 30 photos in the first 20 minutes, hungrily capturing the outstanding natural beauty, and pushing it into my memory bank forever.

After the hour-and-a-half of lounging on deck, allowing all of my fears to evaporate in the rays of the sun, the boat rumbled to a halt in the aquamarine bay of Rachayai, but another isle orbiting Phuket.

Nick was officially assigned as my scuba buddy, although Adam, as my instructor, would be attending as an obligation. After tying myself into the wretched gear and stumbling around like an astronaut (although I had remained true to my word – no wetsuit was sported, replaced instead by an old t-shirt and swimming shorts), we splashed into the bay and signalled our safety to the boat boys. Slowly, Nick, Adam and I began our descent underwater.

The air canisters on deck

Immediately, all of my inhibitions and reservations about scuba diving dissipated with the bubbles which streamed from our masks up to the open air. It was another world. The water of the bay was crystal clear and the sunlight slid through on the surface, streaming down with us, where it danced on the sandy ocean floor. Glinting fish of all shapes, sizes and colours darted back and forth through the water, inquisitive about these new visitors to their concealed home. I felt weightless and free of the heavy mass of my air canister. And the silence. It was truly one of the most calming and peaceful moments of my life, with only the sound of breathing, slow and deep, echoing through my mind.

I felt like a child, re-discovering the Earth; it suddenly occurred to me, as we carefully swam towards the coral reef, that I had never truly understood or comprehended the life which lies within every corner of the globe. Yes, we all know that fish live underwater and that coral takes hundreds of years to grow, but to be plunged suddenly undersea, to be surrounded by an entirely different ecosystem: to really see it and to know it’s really there, is an eye-opener like no other I have experienced. I recalled the oft-reported news of coral disappearing, destroyed by human interference, and I could scarcely believe such wicked intentions and so grievous a crime to be committed to such a sacred place. Surely if the perpetrators were shown the outstanding natural beauty of these places first hand, they would instantly lie down their motives and promise to conserve instead of devastate.

Viewing the Thailand coral reefs for the fist time was, without a doubt, the most extraordinary hour of my life. I also realised that being submerged at 12 metres was the deepest I had ever been.

We carried on, Adam and Nick expertly gliding past the many towering cliffs, every single one encrusted with coral and buzzing with life; we passed as observers of this secret place. Adam would often point out interesting specimens with a short steel rod, such as two small Clown Fish flitting in and out of an anemone, a large and distant Trigger Fish (one of the only threats to divers in these waters, fiercely territorial as they are) and a Scorpion Fish, virtually invisible buried in the sands.

I began to play around. Unsteady as I was, with arms flailing everywhere (Nick and Adam would conveniently cross theirs), I danced a small jig, turned to Nick and jokingly rubbed my mask in disbelief whilst gesticulating to the coral, and gleefully shot forward with arms outstretched, spinning freely through the depths. Adam would sometimes shake his finger disapprovingly, and signal to tuck my arms in and remain by his side. Nick observed later that I was “spinning around like a crazy lunatic.”

Eventually, after communicating my dropping air level to Adam at his request, we left the mystical place, ascending to midwater, and Nick confidently inflated the signal to the boat with his air and it shot to surface. As we waited, Adam reclined and blew air rings, which I batted, amused by their explosion into thousands of tiny glimmering dots.

After we dragged ourselves onto the boat, we ate lunch and awaiting the second and final dive of the day, which I completed with similar emotions.

As I stood on the deck on the journey back to Phuket, I had to convince myself that the events of the day hadn’t been some splendorous dream, or the result of the copious consumption of Thai beer. Diving had in one day succeeded in becoming my favourite activity, and I could barely wait for the next two dives of the subsequent day.

If you, dear reader, are ever given the opportunity to scuba dive, I thoroughly recommend that you seize it with rapturous enthusiasm.

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