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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Love Below

As you may have picked up, my addiction to diving has grown from a slight, itchy discomfort to full on herpes like level…I talk about it with everyone, I dream about it, I do artistic renderings and interpretive dance about diving…it’s absolutely ridiculous.  If diving were a man, I’d be all Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction”, boiling his bunny and stalking his wife.

I’ve stopped drinking on the weekends because of my diving. I don't flirt in case a man takes me away from my diving obsession. Really I'm totally focused on diving as my main hobby (besides Texas Holdem Poker...I won against 26 contenders last weekend!!!  Great night courtesy of the Solomon Island Poker Association...check them out on Facebook!) 

Hello strange underwater night creature thingy!  Copyright to Joanna O'Shea ...
(Yes she has to admit that we are friends now....sorry Jo.)

I am literally becoming a nautical or diving nun.

Maybe its the breathing in and breathing out or the weightlessness or the communion with the fishies, I don't know.  But I feel amazing EVERY TIME I get out of the water.  I always have a few minutes of adjustment to this hard world, where everything is solid instead of fluid.  The underwater world is by far my preferred environment and only spending a few hours a week there doesn't seem enough.

Seriously, I haven’t loved a hobby so much…pretty much ever (except singing and playing piano).  I do about two to three dives a week right now, mostly on the Boneges because it’s close by and I always see something new and interesting on the wrecks. 

With my obsession in mind, I decide to sign up for an advanced diving course.  The PADI advanced diving course is designed to allow divers who have the PADI Open Water from an 18 metre depth to a 30 metre depth.  It also has things like night diving and navigation diving.  Good stuff!  The reason why I decided to do it now is because its warmer in the Sollies than N.Z. and I like Tulagi Dive.  The owner is a laid back and unnaturally dry humored fellow, so much so that when I show up for a night recreational dive, he mutters: 

“All right, your course starts tonight, Sara.”

Gabe, my former instructor balks slightly.  I can tell that with my slightly bimbo attitude and plethora of back talk, I’m not entirely his favorite student.  But he takes a breath, sighs out and takes it in stride.  It’s off to the beach we go. 

As the sun sets over the ocean, the crew of eight adventurous souls strap into their tanks and stumble into the water, with torches in hand.  We look like the Skexis from that movie the Dark Crystal, hunched and slow...slightly menacing.  

 He's one bad mother...Shut your mouth! I'm just talkin' about
weird rock crab thingy... Copyright Joanna O'Shea. 
Night diving is quite different from day diving, obviously.  First, you only can see what your torches illuminate, leaving an air of mystery and downright creepiness to the dive. Its like being in a horror movie and I'm just waiting for more torch to illuminate some toothy sea monster.  We all know the redheaded, busty slightly slutty types are the first to go, so obviously I'm on watch. 

Secondly, the creatures in the deep have fallen asleep.  Reef fish have covered themselves in a mucus membrane to protect themselves and jamming themselves in rocks or coral to for the night.  Sounds…gooey and oh so comfy.  Gabe warns me not to shine my torch on these fish because they wake up and escape their mucusy home, leaving them without protection. 

Torches (flashlights, for my yankie readers) can be utilized not only as light sources but also as a way to communicate information, like being okay is communicated by circling your torch.   In trouble can be communicated by moving your torch erratically.  Under no circumstances should you flash your torch in someone’s eyes. This will blind your buddies for about ten minutes, leaving them pretty pissed off with you.  Beer fines, apparently, are given immediately if this happens.

Not wanting to incur beer fines or wake up muccusy fish, I let the air out of my BCD, gripping my torch tightly and only shining it to the bottom.  There is something downright spooky and scary about falling into the deep and as the waves slip over my head, I have second thoughts.  I turn my torch upwards and it refracts back into the waves at an opposite angle, signifying to me that the rules of the over world have now changed and I’m heading down into a completely different reality.

We sink onto the sandy white floor. Gabe has brought along his big camera, which has a fantastic spotlight.  The camera looks like a gigantic arctic crab, spotlights all akimbo on dark metal arms.  He lets me hold it while he fixes another dive buddy’s camera…I’m terrified.  The thing is probably worth more than I’ve earned this year.  I gently cradle his camera and whisper that I’ll take care of it…the thing looks so animal like I can’t help but feel maternal towards it and slightly protective.  After all the spotlight alone saves me from having to peer in the dark with my pathetic torch that barely illuminates three metres in front of me.

Gabe and I do a few quick exercises including underwater navigation away from “Mr. Blinky”, his camera (sorry Gabe, I couldn’t resist giving your camera a name.  I called my BCD Dr. Bubbles...its what I do).   I can barely see, which adds to the creepy factor. As we finish the exercises, it’s off to the wreck for some alone time with the fishes.  There is surprisingly little going on with the fish; everything moves slowly and sleepily, not like during the day.  Even the night fish seem slightly bored and sleepy. 

As we get close to the wreck, Gabe motions for us to turn our spotlights off.   It almost becomes dark except for two more inexperienced divers who sit five or so metres above us, just following us around (to be fair, one of the divers was a) her first time since her PADI and  she was understandably nervous and b) her mask kept filling with water.  The fact that she stayed in the water is pretty amazing, I would have been outta there if that had happened to me!).  It was like being on a date or trying to have a romantic moment with your parents around.  The thing is about turning off your lights is that the disco and electric fish come out and swarm, as does the phosphorescence, which dances around us.  After a few minutes we just give up.

It’s up from 25 metres to the shallows to play around with the fishes.  We peer under a rock and see a cone shell (known for its poisonous darts that has a deadly neuro toxin at the tip…stay away), making a quick escape.  Now, cone shells are essentially big sea slugs, so making a quick escape is really a joke because besides send a dart out at you, these fellahs don’t do anything quickly.

Gabe grabs a small crayfish (rock lobster) at me and it’s not very happy.  We quickly release it and it escapes back to the depths.  My favorite group is probably a group of small, transparent prawns with blue outlines rocking out in a big group in one of the holes in the ship. These guys are hopping and dancing around like its Extreme dance club on a Friday night.

As we swim the dark, spotlights and divers everywhere, its feels like that movie,  the Abyss, from the 1980s. As a child, I loved that movie and I can see why, now, people would have all consuming obsession with diving in the dark.  There is nothing like feeling of absolute weightlessness in darkness.  Its creepy and sensory depriving, except for the crackling noises the sea life makes.   I can see now why Michael Jackson slept in one of those tanks, it’s a crazy experience.  You simple have to trust that everything is going okay.  You can’t worry about what is beyond your spotlight because, really, there is nothing you can do about it.

I feel sorry for Gabe; I am a bit nervous to go away from Mr. Blinky so I keep bumping into him, bringing up sediment with my fins as he is trying to get the perfect shot.  I know its no fun to be crowded by another diver but I can't help the shadows, there lurks things I'm slightly afraid of.  Plus he keeps highlighting cool things and I don't want to miss out. 

We pop up, and the air above is cooler than the water we are standing it.  Its cloudy and not a full moon which explains the lackadaisical nature of the sea critters. 

As we drive home, the crew speaks excitedly of a turtle which I didn’t get a chance to see.  Mark, my favorite dive buddy, is completely in love with the dive that night.  He has that far away look of a true addict, coming to me the next asking when we can go next.  I think he too has the diving is his blog account of it.

I can’t say I blame him.