The tension in the guest house could be cut with a knife. The owner was up till some ungodly hour making phone calls and watching videos on YouTube just outside our room. I eventually fell asleep at 03:10 but at this stage I had disturbed Katherine and neither of us quite felt like smiling over breakfast, especially as we could hear the chef chopping onions at 06:00. It was a relief to have an excuse to leave for the day and we headed off briskly for an adventurous day.
Katherine got on with reading LOTR on my eBook, chilling on the boat, rocking with the waves, (having no excuse not to use it) and I had a negative descent (don’t bother with air in your jacket at the surface, descend straight from the jump so as not to be separated by the current) in to Guraidhoo Corner in search of more sharks.
The thermocline mixing the hot and cold water from different depths made the overhang look like a Van Gogh painting, with triggerfish and bannerfish getting in on the paparazzi action. We found a nice outcrop to position ourselves and waited for the sharks to relax and come a bit closer. Up above us, perfectly designed to swim against the current without swimming or moving an inch, were 5 eagle rays in a ‘v’ formation. Such was the majesty of their performance that even my guide/buddy for the day (owner of the dive centre and something of a local legend, Mr. Kuday (think of pronouncing today, except with a ‘k’)) was enthralled by them.
My camera and photography skills certainly need to be improved, or at least focus on one or the other. For it was by happenstance that I was recording the jack fish in front of us while I noticed the queer behaviour of 2 sharks… They examined an area just behind and below the shoal on the atoll slope and swam with the current just out of the edge of vision. Then there was a tremendous burst of speed from one of them followed by two others close on its tail and it dived head first in that very same patch of reef. Immediately there was a feeding frenzy like you would witness on a documentary with about 20 grey reef sharks, mostly juvenile, emerging from the blue, above us, beside us and joined in on the action.
The trevally and jack fish dispersed and circled around the action only to form a collective shoal again. A napoleon wrasse, or Maori wrasse as its sometimes called, also appeared, but not before I had turned off the GoPro and started the drift dive. It was incredible to witness and I was giddy with excitement. The drift dive itself was challenging. Lack of sleep and out of practise against such turmoil, we headed in closer to the reef where the current was lessened by the overhang and the edge of the atoll reef. We passed forests of black tree corals, past an amazing pink bubble tip anemone, a very poorly camouflaged stonefish and various other delights.
I was a bit confused as to the need and repetition of the deep stops we were doing along the drift. The computer algorithm on Kuday’s computer had been more severe for his depth and time, and had accrued 7mins decompression time which was counting down at various depths along the way. Much to my annoyance, I had inadvertently managed to award myself 1min deco time, but that wouldn’t be accounted for until the depth was between 6 and 3m. It was a dizzying feat that had me swim like a burglar up the slope wall, over the overhang and edge, and find a large and suitable rock that I could grasp without a) breaking/damaging any coral or b) breaking any bones in my body. I was tossed about like a flag in a storm, like a sad, lonely sock in a washing machine and emerged with only a small laceration to the side of my hand by the index finger. But, did it matter after what I saw? It was a little bit tricky to deploy the surface marker buoy with only one hand, but practise of the sort was all too welcome when I managed to mark our location for the boat to pick us up on the surface.
We killed a few hours chatting and downloading the video clips. Then we headed back for an afternoon of more fun. Jona was almost finished with the rescue course and the 6 students and herself were planning on going to Vilivaru Giri, so I convinced Kuday to be buddy again. It was a beautiful dive site and perfect for snorkelling. Katherine was off like a shot, any excuse not to read the book, while we descended the wall of the sugarloaf-shaped reef.
I loved it. The perfect place to bimble around, the bottom section sloped gently down to 25/30m, with the walls itself being anything from 20m upwards. We swam anti-clockwise in a gentle spiral staircase fashion, passing a very impressive camouflaged stone fish (unlike his cousin earlier today), gliding past lawns of electric green polyps and xenias, finding a few nudibranch (Phyllidia alyta – for those whom are fans of the colourful sea slugs), facing off with the cheeky clownfish, hovering in sight of fire goby’s, and playing follow-the-leader with a free swimming moray.
At one point I looked up the canyon to see through dense clouds of basslets, fusiliers and triggerfish, none other than Katherine snorkelling away merrily on the upper reef section. I know what she’s like so I took note of the depth, being 18.9m down, but somehow felt like only a few metres. She even contemplated duck diving down to say hello as it looked so clear and near. Back at the dive centre (after watching an arrest being put on a prison boat) everyone wanted to watch the shark video, being quite rare to see such a thing, rarer still to get it on video. I think it has quite made up for months of diving in Egypt without seeing a single shark.
Showered and refreshed we settled bills after dinner at Rip Tide and some intense games of UNO (if one can ever call a game of UNO intense?). Packed and ready for an early morning, we were relieved that we were leaving Coral Heaven, but sad to leave such a charming island.
Friday 4th March 2016