I haven’t dived since I traveled to Thailand nearly five (!) years ago. But my skill set is pretty ingrained since I did hundreds of dives in the early ‘00s. I had no concerns of a technical nature at all. The mnemonics “latches left” and “right hand release” were still there. Since it was guided and I had a dive computer, I also didn’t have to concern myself with the dive tables either. Thursday dawned sunny and only a little breezy. If conditions held, it’d be a beautiful day on the reef. Unfortunately, conditions didn’t hold. Once we cleared the harbor and the protection of the headlands, the winds picked up to nearly the limit of the dive operations: 30 kts. They are precluded operating when winds are over 30 knots. We were under the limit, but not by a lot. And here I am, somewhat prone to seasickness. Remind me to tell the story of chumming through my regulator in Belize, many years ago.
Ninety minutes later, we dropped anchor in a much calmer spot on Norman Reef. I guess reefs do their job of breaking the waves pretty well. We went far north to get the calmest waters. The surface was still quite choppy, and the wind was steady, strong, and when I was on the deck and wet, cold. The water temperature was around 24C (78 F or so), requiring me to wear a 5 mil shorty wetsuit. I hoped for warmer, but there ya go. Since I had a 5 mil on, I needed more weight than in Thailand, but it was satisfying to see reactions of my fellow divers at how little I strapped on.
When the guide asked me what my certification level was, she was surprised as well. She asked if I would trail the group and keep the swimming cats in sight, as she was leading. No problem. I like it when I don’t have people above, below and behind me. Vis wasn’t great – only about ten meters, and during the trip out, we lost the sun as well. The combination made the reef a lot less vibrant than it might have been. The reef life didn’t seem to be as prolific as it was on other reefs twenty years ago either. Despite “not great” conditions, I enjoyed my time underwater, reminding me of why it was my passion back then.
The trip back to the harbor was a real rollercoaster. The wind hadn’t abated at all while we were out, and on the return, we were quartering into the wind and the swell. This combination makes for a nausea-inducing semi-sideways rolling motion. I had taken some ginger prophylactically before the trip, and had stationed myself in the wheelhouse with the crew and skipper in a location where I could stand and keep the horizon in sight. Even though it was up higher and forward (contraindicated for combatting seasickness: typically you want to be as close to the water and at the stern), it worked out well. I overheard stories of what was happening in the saloon below. I’m quite happy not to have been there, or on the dive deck where those who’d been stricken went to, um, work it out.
Dive trip done, I hoofed it back to the hostel, and enjoyed a plate of pesto pasta (the dinner special at the hostel’s kitchen) and a beer. My friends from the night before, Ben and Max (who had plied me with far too much beer after I bought the chili dogs for dinner), had moved on, so it was a quiet meal with a book for company. Sometimes a book is all the company one needs.