First Scuba Dive – The Experience of a Lifetime
Last week, we threw caution to the winds and booked a full course to learn Scuba diving – The PADI Open Water Certification course, through Alien Adventures. Going to Goa was becoming a very boring prospect and an Adventure was what we needed. Our Scuba Diving holiday had all the right ingredients – The Sun, Ze Sand and Da Sea. Into this mixture was thrown the perfect combination of the Sea Breeze, Uber cool dive instructors, the Dive Gear that made us look and feel like the ultimate professional Scuba studmuffins. The Dive shop which we frequented to get our equipment, loading and unloading the boat and of course, the incomparable, bewitching blue sea – and as the song says – The Octopus’s Garden in the shade.
Here below is our experience of the Deep Blue:
Day 0 – Preparation, travel
We packed our stuff and set off into the wild. Man, did I feel like an adventurer. The thought of being underwater for hours was scary. I could feel the adrenalin levels shoot up every time I thought about it. But the important thing was, we had decided to take the leap. And leap we did. I literally RAN out of office, whistling all the way to the house.
My suitcase awaited me. Having cross checked all my essentials – my towel, bathing suit and medical certificate – my overtly awesome adventurous friends and I set out. Taking the now customary selfie and tweeting it to the world we made our way to the train station through the llama-punching traffic that stood in our way.
We managed to reach the railway station and board the train well in time. As it sometimes happens, we started chatting with our co-passengers and found that they had been to Havelock in the Andamans and done a scuba session last year.
Day 1 – Lessons, Training, Pool Session, Post pool session vid, Daily Bread, Boat Festival
Our arrival was scheduled to be at 7:30 am, but as we later found to our surprise, shock and dismay, the Konkan line is rarely on time. We reached the sunny and spirited Madgaon station at 10am and rushed outside to catch a cab and managed to be exorbitantly late for our first lesson.
Having reached the rendezvous for our lessons, we went through the training videos and lessons with our instructor Nigel. Some of the videos were interesting and the others managed to be boring enough, but we went through them all.
After a small lunch break, we were ready for our pool session. We changed into our swimming gear and reached the designated swimming pool, where we were administered the swimming test – 200m of non-stop swimming. (At this moment, I really wished I hadn’t eaten that heavy lunch) Being decent swimmers, all of us passed this test with flying colours.
Then we all gathered around Nigel and he showed us all the components that comprised our equipment, their functions and how to assemble them. We assembled our kits our own, feeling quite professional and jumped into the pool.
The first breath underwater is something I’ll never forget. The equipment basically comprises of the following –
1. The mask and snorkel – The mask covers the eyes and the nose, while the snorkel/primary regulator goes in the mouth. One is not supposed to breathe through the nose as this tends to fog the mask. We breathe only through the mouth, which is strange but inexplicably cool at the same time.
2. The fins – These are the ducklike flippers that one wears on the feet. They help propel one to prodigious distances underwater. (Side note : sometimes distances are measured in fin-kicks)
3. The BCD/ Jacket – (BCD – Buoyancy Control Device) This jacket is where the cylinder, regulator and the other items are attached. This also inflates and deflates with the help of a button
4. The cylinder and the Regulator (will leave it at this, will get too technical)
5. Weight belt
After this session, where we were shown (in practice) and did (in person) many underwater exercises, which improved our underwater skills (and coolness quotient) even more. After a couple of hours in the water, it starts getting a little chilly as one loses body heat.
After the lesson, we hired a cab and went to Panjim to make arrangements for our living quarters. Dinner was at Daily Bread and we met a couple of friends, who told us of a “Boat Festival’ that takes place once a year, at midnight, the first full moon after the festival of Diwali. Feeling that too many coincidental convergences were taking shape, we immediately jumped onto the idea of travelling over an hour away, through roads not often journeyed upon, in the middle of the night, to see a boat festival and revel in the gentle smiling light of the apparently auspiciously awesome full moon.
Day 2 – Lessons, Exams, Lunch, Pool Session
We woke up after barely three hours of sleep, as the boat festival festivities went on for a while. Following our daily ablutions, we rushed to the Dive Centre to attend our lessons and give the technical exam, which we, of course, passed with flying colours. The lessons comprised of both video tutorials and the instructor telling us the intricacies and asking us questions. After this, we had another amazing pool session, where Nigel and Mario (our instructors) pretended to be sharks and created problems for us, which we had to communicate to our buddy and respond to in the proper manner. This was so much fun. After the pool session we were ready to take on the Big Blue Sea tomorrow and were shivering with excitement.
Day 3 – Early morning, Gear Up on the Docks, throw down the anchor
Today, was another early morning, we went down to the docks and loaded our equipment, in the full spirit of professional scuba divers. We assembled our equipment on the docks, loaded up the boat and were ready for our very first dive into the sea. I was scared,excited and calm intermittently – it was nerve wracking but an intensely enjoyable experience waiting for the actual scuba experience to begin.
We boarded the boat and it took us about an hour to get to a place called Grande Island (even saw a couple of dolphins on-route!!). This is where lies the wreck of S.S Rita also known as ‘Suzy’s Wreck’ – an old Cargo ship sunk in the place now known as Rita bay. We kitted up and dropped into the water, James bond style, and proceeded with our buddy checks. It was finally time to descend into the water. The visibility was low – making it a bad day for diving but a good day for learning. We deflated our jackets and descended along the anchor line. As the rest of the group descended down, I felt the pain of equalization in my ears. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the air pressure in my ears to equalize.
On performing the Valsalva maneuver and descending slowly, I was able to reach the seabed and finish my exercises with the rest of the group. Having water all around was a pretty insane thing. There was no horizon and everywhere we looked, it was the greenish-blue hue of the sea. I even managed to see a fair few fish! Some were even adventurous enough to snuggle close. Man-o-Man!
After about forty minutes in the water, we resurfaced for our Surface Interval. Getting back on the boat, all we could talk about was the amazing dive experience. But we hadn’t even seen anything yet. As we prepared for our second dive, we were given a lot of tips and tricks specific for the day. This time we made our way down and followed our instructors to the wreck of S.S. Rita. Visibility being low, we weren’t able to make the most of it. But it was exciting to see other divers exploring the wreck. The wreck in itself was quite exciting but the low visibility prevented us from fully enjoying the beauty of the underwater wreckage.
Day 4 – The Dive of a lifetime
This was quite clearly the best day of the lot. Getting up early was now a habit. We reached the Jetty and got our equipment from the dive shop to the boat. We kitted up on the boat and relaxed till we reached the scheduled dive spot – the exceedingly beautiful Shelter bay. We again managed to spot a few dolphins from the boat.
On reaching the sweet spot, we spotted other divers who were just about to finish their dive. One of our instructors hailed them and they showed us the armfuls of trash (beer cans thrown into the sea) that they have collected from the bottom of the ocean. We geared ourselves, and dove into the waters with our fins and snorkels. Akshay, my buddy, managed to lose his snorkel tube and we decided to circle for a couple of minutes to look for it before proceeding to the meetup site. The visibility was so much better today. The waters were clear blue/green and we could see the clear sand covered sea bed. Up ahead and below, I managed to spot the brightly coloured snorkel and swam down to retrieve it. I felt the increasing pressure in my ears and was able to equalize my ears much more easily today.
As we reached the bottom of the sea bed, we gathered around in a circle to finish our mandatory training exercises which included the ever useful mask and regulator clearing and the all important CESA – the Controlled Emergency Surface Ascent. Having demonstrated our proficiency and skills, one by one, in this, we gathered below again to explore the underwater sea-life and alien environment. We were assigned buddies to stick to each other and followed the instructor as he kicked his fins gracefully and glided along to the Corral Garden.
We first came across a certain kind of reddish flat plate like corral that grows only in this region of Goa, due to it’s adaptability to the low light experienced at this depth. As we approached the corral bed, another entirely different world started to unfold and unravel its secrets . I was constantly trying to look around in all the directions simultaneously to make sure that I wouldn’t miss anything. A couple of inquisitive fish striped like the zebras start swimming by. A different kind of “plant-creature”, shaped like a reedlike stick/string that stuck straight upwards in a single straight line from the seabed and rocks. I later learnt that this is also a corral – appropriately called the Red Whip Coral.
We kept swimming and looking around till one of the instructors asked us all to gather around as he picked up an oblong, black and furry misshapen thing from the bed. He then mimed for us to touch it. As we all took turns to touch the creature with our finger, I was particularly happy to see my smile of amazement reflected in the faces of my fellows. This funny looking thing was the Sea Cucumber, which is commonly found on Sea beds across the world. We passed through the corral garden and came again to a sandy bed, where we practiced our navigation skills using a compass.
Then it was time to pass through a small passageway between two massive rock structures, the walls of which were liberally sprinkled with the spiky sea urchin, also known as the hedgehogs of the sea. Navigating carefully through this, we came across to the other side where there was another Corral garden. This was even more populated than the first and looking up we saw and entire school of silvery fish pass by. The fish here were beautiful and varying in size – large black fish with surprisingly blue fins, a pale drab fish with two silvery young on either side, ones painted like zebras, others like a golden version of a Zebra, some with extended fins, others with red markings. It was AMAZING!
As our oxygen cylinders were running out of air, we managed to click a few pictures before surfacing. I believe that I speak for each and every member on that trip when I say that we didn’t want to surface and end our dive. Our entire conversation for the next few days comprised of our diving experience and here it is recorded for posterity.
Article produced by Kshaunish Jaini