Divernet


Newfoundland is a beautiful, craggy, wild lump of rock moored precariously on the north-eastern coast of Canada. Perpetually battered by muscular swells, it trembles in the teeth of a freezing current that barrels down from Polar waters, from what little remains of Planet Earth to the north.

Its a wild, rugged place but very beautiful, and we are all excited at the prospect of jumping in on our first dive as we anchor beneath massive cliffs, with puffins wheeling overhead.

This idyllic sensation - first dive of a new TV series, the adventure begins again etc - is rudely shattered the moment my neoprene-sheathed buttocks hit the surface of the water.

This water is 1°C, which is 34°F in imperial, or painfully cold in any other language. It shimmers and pulses with cold, and the fish swim around looking pinched and pained.

My full-face mask, never my favourite piece of kit, is subjected to a blast of invective unprecedented in the first series, causing it to steam up immediately, either from the volcanic force of the obscenities or the visor-cracking cold.

But the diving here is well worth it. We dive the ghostly remnants of the whaling fleet, as well as the whale graveyard, where the bones stand in serried rows just offshore from the old whaling station.

We also see masses of passing humpback and minke whales, giving us the opportunity to carry on a long and glorious local habit of harpooning them, although before the phone starts jangling its worth pointing out that the latter is a whale biopsy (taking a sample of flesh for analysis for a local monitoring programme).

This is done with a crossbow from a speeding boat while chasing an irate whale thats having unpleasant flashbacks to a few years ago. Whales, incidentally, are a bit large. To be on top of one in a small rubber boat firing a crossbow bolt into it is disconcerting, but its all in the interests of the whale population, I hasten to add.

We also get screeched in, another Newfoundland tradition. Essentially, you drink rum while a large man hits you over the head with an oar and his mates bay him on.

It strikes me as one of those initiation ceremonies made up on the spot, but after eight years in the Marines and lots of rugby clubs, the entire thing seems to be a pretty good night out, as far as I am concerned.

From there it is (slightly) west and (a long way) north to the tiny community of Churchill, on the shores of Hudson Bay. Here they have something of an annual problem, in that polar bears land on the shore about 200m away from the edge of town every year when the ice melts to the north.

Having several hundred of the largest land carnivores on Earth rumbling through town looking for buns is a problem with which the locals have learned to live, although they do have a somewhat hunted expression, wear trainers a lot, and make sure that no house or car is ever locked - so theres somewhere to dart into when pursued by half a ton of galloping furball.

We are in Churchill to see the beluga whales, the most expressive and vocal of all the whales. Snowy-white, they chirp and cackle away, giving them the nickname canary of the seas. They also have facial muscles and the ability to crane

their head sideways to look at you, rather an unnerving experience. Our trip culminates in a nose-to-nose encounter in the gloomy waters of the Churchill River, an extraordinary experience in an extraordinary place.

And so to Brazil - what a country! You feel like a grotesquely gangly pale-skinned Englishman the moment you step off the plane, as everyone here is so absurdly beautiful.

They are all 6ft tall, have olive skin and flashing brown eyes, pert bottoms and perfect bosoms, and sashay around in the tiniest of bikinis - and thats just the blokes.

I feel thoroughly out of place in my lucky boxer shorts with the gusset rotted out and the dodgy waistband elastic, I can tell you.

We travel down to a wonderful place called Laguna, where the dolphins hunt with the fishermen. This has been happening here for thousands of years, and is an incredible spectacle.

These are completely wild dolphins, and every now and then they dish out a good ticking-off to the fishermen, hurtling past them and slapping the water with their tail flukes if the nets are missing the fish they round up.

One of them swims past the line of boats, flipping a fish into the air again and again, as if to say: This is a fish, chaps, this is what were all after. Everyone got that Good. We may continue.

And so to the Forbidden Island - Fernando de Noronha. Its a tiny speck in the Atlantic, 190 miles off the coast, circled by one of the largest resident pods of dolphins in the world.

A rock that rises from the middle of it dominates it completely, and is said to look like a willy. There are also a couple of rounder rocks that are said to look like boobs.

I cant see it myself, but I suppose the chaps who discovered it in the 17th century had spent months in a boiling wooden hull surrounded by sweaty men, and most things looked like boobs by then. I bet the guy who said: Yeah, and the thing in the middle looks like a giant willy struggled to get anyone to share the night watches with him.

The diving off the island is very good indeed. There are huge populations of turtles here, and we take part in a very successful tagging project run in conjunction with local dive operations. This is a groundbreaking initiative to tag turtles under water, to avoid distressing them by removing them from the sea.

Our dive guide is excellent but tiny - about the same size as Frankie Dettori standing in a hole - and takes a tremendous kicking from a green turtle before getting the tag on. Mission accomplished, however.

The diving is also excellent, culminating in an encounter with the biggest shoal of anchovy Ive ever seen, like a storm front rolling in, pulsing and splitting as jacks and barracuda knife through it.

The spinner dolphins are staggering. A truly incredible level of interaction with us, quite beyond anything Ive ever experienced before. These are the most acrobatic of all the dolphins, and can spin up to seven times in the air. They are strictly protected, and we are very lucky to share the water with them in the company of a local researcher.

Surrounded by hundreds of pirouetting bodies in azure blue water off a mysterious island in the Atlantic Ocean - glorious.


Next month: Mexico and British Columbia.

 


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