It was weird getting up so early and sneaking around in the dark. It was like getting ready to go to work back in London, yet there was an air of excitement about the day rather than a sense of foreboding.
I was at the dive centre by 06:15. You know that too early and you’re in the way, but not being early shows a passive attitude and not being prepared. As such, the cats snuggled up while I got bitten to death by mosquitos and breakfast was laid out on the coffee table. Awake by 03:00 in the morning by these evil creatures, I would have consumed a gallon of chai along with my idli and curries but, alas, there was none.
It was nice to be listening to a dive briefing, rather than giving it. Some of the staff were overly concerned that I’d be cold with my broken wetsuit or that I’d get sea sick on the way out. Reassured that the water was 27*C the day before and the boat ride was about 35mins I tried to reassure them that I’d be ok. The main instructor overheard the commotion and was amused to say the least. He clearly had an idea of the conditions that are the norm in Ireland and thought it funny – there was already gambles and forfeits that I’d be sick on the journey.
While my ass didn’t enjoy the occasional bump on the fibreglass hull of the boat rim, the gentle swell with the salty, sea breeze and the peace and quiet was blissful. We were at site #1 before long, dropping anchor and the DM (my buddy for the day – Jay) descending in to the depths to set a shot line for the 3x DSD’s (Discover Scuba Diving) on the other boat.
‘Temple’ as the site is called, is an artificial reef beginning to flourish. A metal frame was sunk here deliberately by the centre, with ropes extending along the sea bed to some crates and vehicles. The fishermen of the area occasionally try fish here and you can immediately tell why. Cardinals, fusiliers and a variety of other fish that I have yet to identify, habituated the frame, ropes and palm tree branches of the site. This has led to it not only becoming a sanctuary, possibly even a nursery and cleaning station, but a reason for Groupers to hang around like school yard bullies. These beasts look at you with a disdainful eye and intimidate you with their gaping mouth and rows of teeth, wondering if you’re going to disturb them. Needless to say, they’re all bark and no bite and we explored the site for almost an hour.
I’m not sure Jay was sure what to do with me. Matching his air consumption and spotting sealife as much as he was with a torch, he checked my air three times and then just hovered until it was time to ascend. Perhaps I was an easy dive for him, perhaps I was infuriating as to be having so much bottom time and not be reliant on him… who knows???
Together we spotted lionfish, scorpionfish, 3x types of puffers, a moray eel, squirrelfish, batfish, false moorish idols and a massive grouper hiding under a car/bus door that was on its side in the sea bed. Later, Kas, the main instructor doing the AOW (Advanced Open Water) on our boat, was telling me how the crates were full of grindstones. They tell DSD students that they are Shiva Lingas gathered from temples to go with the theme of their u/w temple structure. As such, DSD’s pray to these artefacts while being led around on their dive. An innocent joke, they helped create homes for countless fish to hide between and they looked brill.
Between dives snacks consisted of biscuits and cake. It was all the better that the AOW refused, leaving more for myself, Jay and Kas. He wasn’t doing so well with the sea sickness, but was desperate keen to finish the course before heading to Australia. It’s normally after a dive when you should really be feeling a bit better, from getting off the boat for so long and your mind starting to tell you, you can do this. Even after dive 2 he wasn’t so flash, leaving fins on during the surface interval until dive 3. Was interested to hear he’s a pro chef in Toronto and he’d cooked nearly everything he saw on the dives… Interesting that Karma should follow him half way across the world.
‘Danny’s Eel Garden’ was site number 2 and it lived up to it’s name. A short distance from site 1 (coincidence?) they believe these group of rocks in a semi circle formation are the ballast remains of a shipwreck. Not really seeing anything but marine fauna, the 4 types of moray were impressive. Closing my fist as best as possible to conceal the rings on my hand so the lonesome barracuda didn’t get any fancy ideas (magpies of the sea… that bite fingers off) the little glint of titanium was enough to entice the morays out of their nooks and crannies to be stars in their very own GoPro home video. Of course, the laptop is too old to play videos of this quality, but I’m sure they’re going to be good when they’re less than 10cm from a row of crystal, needle teeth and a wicked grin.
The resident octopus was where he should be, but do ya think Jay could remember where that was? Kas banged his tank with the butt of his knife to let us know he found it. A trick that would never work in Irish waters as you wouldn’t have a clue which way on the dive site to swim. We were fortunate to be at one end (the wrong end) of the ballast, enjoying a sea urchin with incredibly iridescent blue/purple to its shell, when I heard the banging. He was cute, changing colours ever so slightly to blend in to the type of shell he was over as he withdrew like a shadow into darkness.
There were scorpionfish and a crab (which I think I was supposed to be impressed with) along with some LPS coral dotting the rocks. The zooplankton on the ascent drifting by, were just as cool to behold as the sea bed. But, of course you must be barking crazy if you’re waving your arms about like you’re trying incantations on a safety stop. It did make my eyes go all fuzzy focusing on so much blue and silt trying to discern the opaque outline of sea gooseberries and other pelagic macro life. I had to resist the urge to go swimming after a bell jar monster and return to the shot line.
More cake and biscuits. Whoop! The countdown to dive 3 was literally to the minute. Surface interval planned to depth and bottom time and we were descending in to dive 3 (just another short boat journey from last site – sceptical much?). ‘Macro Garden’ is a muck dive, meaning you dive over muck and hope for the best. They have a line laid out on the bottom and then they swim in an agreed direction with the cox’n.
The rock at the end of the line has by happenstance become the recent home of a frog fish. So ugly as to be cute, they walk along the bottom and he swaggered around 180 to be a tad more photogenic.
Off we went, like Dory, “just keep swimming” and there was evidence of sea potatoes from discarded shells. It wasn’t long until we found 2 types of nice starfish, a flat species of sea urchin that I didn’t know existed and suddenly we’re stopping by a sand mason worm to admire a seahorse. Shy and still, the poor thing must have felt oppressed by 4 looming shadows and the sound of bubbles. We left it in search of more.
Garden eels became more frequent. Pikemen guarding the castle gates, these cowards retreated in to their holes just at the limits of the camera zoom and stayed there till the paparazzi had passed. The 2nd seahorse that Jay found was slightly more amicable. She wasn’t burdened with 4 divers as Kas had to begun his ascent with the AOW. We did try and call them back for the massive cuttlefish, but it didn’t stick around for the party. I did manage to convince Jay to come back down slightly, as the gap in the middle of the sand ridge looked too much out of place not to be investigated. Sure enough, another octopus, so small as to hide in one half of the clam shell and await our departure.
The dives were brilliant. Without any need for depth or colour, the magnitude of life we came across was astounding. The fishermen weren’t happy to see us drift over their nets on the way back up river, but if they focused less on shouting abuse at us they’d have noticed all the fish jumping to freedom over their nets. Back to the dive centre, late as always is the case, I was feeling guilty about my day diving when I saw Kat in the centre and I immediately had to run to the loo and save a bladder.
Diving in India… ticked off the list!
Monday 11th January 2016