VINTAGE PLEASURES, by Marie Jewkes
Lembeh Strait, Indonesia/ Pacific Ocean


If you like the weird and wonderful, you can’t beat the Lembeh Straits in North Sulawesi. We were staying at Kungkungan Bay. Every day we would do two dives in the morning and one in the afternoon, and every day we would see something different, from mimic octopus to hairy frogfish – and always nudibranchs.
On our last day of diving my husband wasn’t very well and decided that he couldn’t dive but, rather than spoil the day for me, he told me to go and enjoy myself. Feeling slightly guilty, I went.
The dive-boats were small and dhow-like, and it was a fairly steep climb up the ladder at the end of each dive.
Normally there were only four to six divers per boat, with a divemaster and a helper. But this morning there was only me and an American gentleman of, let’s say, advanced years.
We introduced ourselves, and on the way to the first dive-site had a really good chat. His name was Bob, and he had taken up diving when he retired.
Ten minutes later we did a quick backward roll into the water and started our dive, swimming over an enormous field of green cabbage coral.
Our guide spotted an anemone with small, thin white snakes swimming through it. Then it was on to the next gem.
The pair of us tootled along gently, spotting different things to point out to one another, from a small frogfish to a walking crab with all sorts of assorted treasures stuck to its shell. The dive lasted 50 minutes, certainly not long enough.
Back at the boat the divemaster and his helper assisted my dive-buddy up the ladder and we enjoyed a hot cup of chocolate and some nice dry towels as we sat comfortably together discussing what we had seen.
Kitted up again, we were back in our element. In the water people forget that they are totally weightless, and age, infirmities and anything else are no drawbacks.
Again we had a relaxing dive, with no rushing about, and again we saw fantastic creatures, from multi-coloured nudibranchs to Indian Ocean walkmen, tiny porcelain crabs under anemones and just about anything you can think of in-between.
I was really sorry when it was all over, especially as it was the last dive of the holiday. Bob and I had a quick 10-minute boat-ride back to the jetty. He thanked me very much for diving with him, and hoped his age hadn’t held me back on the dives.
I told him that I had had a wonderful time and that he was an excellent diver, which he was, who had made my day very memorable.
Age isn’t something you have to worry about when diving. In fact it’s much more fun when you don’t rush around or go deep just to prove something. I intend to be diving for a very long time, and look forward to meeting more people like Bob.



PROFITABLE RETURN, by John Horner
Egypt / Red Sea


So what makes a ”best” dive Is it exploring a spectacular wreck, or perhaps a beautiful reef teeming with colourful marine life
In my case it was neither. What I expected to be a routine shallow dive at the end of a holiday in 2008 proved to be a really memorable experience.
It was the final dive of a week spent on the Red Sea liveaboard Blue Pearl, courtesy of Oonasdivers. We had moored in a lagoon where dolphins and turtles are known to congregate, the latter to eat the seagrass that grows on the sandy bottom at about 15m.
The morning dive had proved to be a major disappointment. Our group of 19, plus two guides, had spent an hour searching for large mammals but there was very little marine life to be seen, just a few of the usual suspects. So that afternoon, when deciding on the venue for the final dive of the week, everyone but me and my dive-buddy Marty chose to travel by RIB to a reef outside the lagoon.
Our plan was an underwater swim towards the far end of the lagoon with a zigzag return. As with our morning dive, we initially saw nothing of interest. We had stopped to make our turn for the first leg of the return journey when, on looking up from my compass, I was astonished to see a green turtle walking along the bottom, heading directly towards us.
We approached cautiously, and the turtle seemed completely unperturbed by our presence. It lifted its head to look at us once, but maintained its steady pace and continued to feed while on the move.
Given the size of the creature and the sparseness of the seagrass, it probably couldn’t afford to waste any time if it was to satisfy its appetite.
At close quarters we could see that the turtle was carrying a remora suckerfish on its back. This was joined by a second just a few minutes later.
I didn’t know what these fish were at the time, which added to my level of interest.
We accompanied the turtle and its passengers for about 10 minutes, and it was time for us to return to the boat.
Coming at the end of what had already been a really enjoyable week, this dive was a real highlight.
We both felt enormously privileged to be able to observe such an animal in its natural habitat, and it prompted me to find out more about turtles in general and the work being done by HEPCA and others to protect them – in particular, the importance of the project to make the Red Sea a plastic-bag-free zone, as these pose a lethal threat to turtles.
With a little thought we can help to ensure that the turtles are still around to be seen by future generations of divers.



CAN’T DO IT!, by Helen Taylor

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past two months, the concept of having a ”best dive”. And you know what, even when I am right down to the wire submitting this little diving story, I still can’t choose a “best dive” from the 300-odd that I have done over the past 12 years.
The problem, you see, is that from the moment I first dropped beneath the surface of the water, I felt as if I had found a missing piece of me. I found a place in water that soothed my soul, opened the door to another world I never knew existed and made me keenly aware of my own mortality every time I heard my breath bubble up past my ears.
So to choose one dive is like trying to choose my favourite day with the love of my life. I can’t split my love affair with diving into dives. It’s a relationship.
I did think that I could tell you about the things I have seen under the water that have made me feel truly privileged.
Like the last dive of my Open Water in Sharks Bay, Egypt, where on the final exam the instructor took the last person up to the surface and left me sitting at 10m on a sand shelf waiting for him to come back down.
I sat there, in 50m visibility, feeling that my heart was going to burst just being there, when two huge manta rays flew past me, wings outstretched like soaring eagles.
I cried.
Or I could tell you about the only time I ever went into deco off Weymouth when at 35m I finned round the side of a wreck to come face to face with a toaster-sized cuttlefish that looked me straight in the eye. For 15 minutes, I swear we had a conversation.
I thought I could tell you about the times when things have gone wrong and I have seen deep into my soul and known who I really am. Like when I was struggling with being underweighted, so I went with a trainee divemaster into Capernwray with 16kg on a belt that unravelled at 20m.
Luckily my buddy grabbed it and me, and got it back on. Here I learned raw, gut-wrenching trust in another human being.
Or the time at the Farnes that I was cold, so I put an extra jumper on under my drysuit and was then a little underweighted.
My buddy dropped like a stone, and I struggled to get down. Then, at 6m, I couldn’t get the air out of my suit and thought: ”Uh oh, I’m losing control here”, looked up and right above me was the bottom of the boat.
I remember thinking: ”If the skipper turns the propeller on now, I’ve had it.” But he didn’t. And I am still alive.
But after two months of thinking, none of these are my best dives. Because my best dive is every time I get in the water.
No matter where it is, lake, sea, puddle – as soon as I get into the water I feel its silky fingers holding me up. It slips its hands around my soul and says: breathe, just breathe.
All the noise above the surface goes quiet, and for a short time everything makes perfect sense.



‘MY DOLPHIN’, by Peter J Stephenson
Marsa Imbarak, Egypt / Red Sea


It was April 2012. We dropped slowly to the sandy seabed 7m below the boat: me, a young Dutch couple – my buddies – then Khaled, our divemaster, guiding an elderly German woman.
Visibility was less than 10m and the divers soon disappeared into the murk. I was content to follow.
A large column of coral appeared out of the haze, like a double-decker bus emerging from London fog. Flashes of movement crystallised into fish shapes and then bright, shiny colours. Shoals of orange anthias flitted in and out of cover, vying for my attention with triggerfish with their strange undulating fins, and numerous blue, white and yellow butterflyfish.
We glided across the sand, descending slowly into deeper waters. Small coral patches appeared below us, with their own small fish communities. It was magical.
Suddenly, there was a flash of movement and three huge shapes shot past me, veering across my front. For a split second I had trouble registering these unexpected images, but it was clear what they were – dolphins!
The other divers were moving ahead, unaware. Luckily the dolphins arched left and cut across the group. No-one could miss them now.
I stopped, transfixed, as two of the animals curved back towards us. One moved to the left of the divers and came straight at me. I saw his long bottle-shaped snout, large smiling face and big black eyes. He approached so close that I thought we were about to touch.
I held out my arm, only to see him flash by and disappear behind me. I looked to my left and saw two torpedo-like silhouettes pass by 10m away. They moved ahead of us, then cut back.
”My dolphin” came back, on the same trajectory as before. He swerved around the other divers and came straight towards me. I heard a clicking noise as the dolphin checked out his mammalian cousin.
As before, he passed on my left, allowing me a clear view of his face and smooth, grey-skinned body, elegant flippers and tail, before he arched off into the open ocean. This time the dolphins didn’t return.
We went on for another 40 minutes. The dolphins clouded my memory of the rest of the dive; I was left stunned and awestruck by my first sighting under water.
I remember a huge golden spadefish hanging motionless as if suspended by an invisible thread, and a metre-long humphead wrasse taking refuge in a coral canyon. We encountered butterflyfish and triggerfish and a host of other reef species – angelfish, clownfish, goatfish, schooling bannerfish, fusiliers and more.
And then the dive ended and Khaled took us to the surface. As the crew set course for home everyone was gabbling at once, exchanging their own excited tales of the experience.
The Dutch girl danced around the deck chanting: ”I’ve seen a dolphin, I’ve seen a dolphin!” These animals really do touch everyone they come close to and made this the best dive of my life.



BIG FIRSTS, by Tom Cowan
Vancouver, Canada / Pacific Ocean


My best dive still has to be Dillon Rock. It was back in October 2007 when I was lucky enough to experience with like-minded friends the wonderful diving to be had around Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
So what was so special in 2007 Imagine diving accommodation so remote that there’s no TV or mobile signal. It’s a place surrounded by trees and wildlife, but it’s not on land, nor a liveaboard. It’s the Hideaway, owned and run by John de Boeck, an old loggers’ float home consisting of wooden huts on a load of logs chained together and anchored to the seabed.
John has enough equipment and supplies to dive there safely and live in comfort. The food is excellent, and you bring your own wine and beer. There’s now a new dive lodge, all rooms with en suite bathrooms – progress, yes, but not quite the rustic charm I can remember in the old bunkhouse.
The Hideaway is in a small backwater called Clam Cove, 12 miles north-west of Port Hardy at the top of Vancouver Island. The local dive-site Browning Wall never fails to amaze me – every inch is covered in life, wherever you stop.
Of the dive-sites further afield, two are indelibly printed on my memory: Nakwakto Rapids and Dillon Rock.
At Nakwakto there are very strong currents of up to 14 knots. Turret Rock sticks out of the water and trembles in these currents, so it is known locally as Tremble Rock. It’s famous for large red gooseneck barnacles, and to see these we dropped in at the lee of the rock.
When the tide turns there’s about a
20-minutes window to see the barnacles and get to the other end of the rock and safe shelter.
Saving the best until last, we moved on to Dillon Rock. Both above and below the surface nothing seemed out of the ordinary – until I saw the male Pacific giant octopus out in the open! It was huge, sitting there not at all concerned about us divers kneeling around it.
We stayed observing it for what seemed like ages. Further on, there were quite a few wolf-eels, larger than those in Scotland and tolerant of divers. One came out to say hello and show its size.
Another first were ratfish. These usually live in deep water, but here they were swimming around on the sandy seabed at about 20m. Although there were all the usual rockfish and other life to see, I remember this dive because of the number of firsts seen on one dive, especially the gigantic octopus.
John describes this as the best temperate diving in the known universe, and he’s right.



TIMING, by Marco Crisari
Maldives / Indian Ocean


A few years back, my partner and I decided to cap two weeks’ diving on Kuredu in the Maldives with a final dive at the famous Kuredu Express site.
Express is a channel dive between Kuredu Island and its neighbour. It is dived on both incoming and outgoing tides and never fails to deliver a thrill-ride.
However, this time the divemaster jumped in to check the current and we had somehow managed to hit slack. Never mind, we said, let’s get going anyway.
Our group of 12 dropped right on the corner of the channel, and immediately we were investigated by a half-dozen large grey reef sharks. After 15 minutes’ hanging out with the inquisitive greys they seemed to lose interest, and started drifting off into the blue.
The DM signalled the group to continue to the outer reef. On a whim I caught my partner’s eye and suggested that we two should stay. We let the guide know, and waved the rest of the group off.
With just two of us left the greys came back in close, and for another 10 minutes we had a close-up view of these magnificent sharks swimming around and checking us out.
Just as I was signalling my partner that we should start following the group, the sharks suddenly swam off. I began to hear a noise. It was like the sound of old-fashioned TV white noise, but high-pitched. We looked at each other, confused.
The noise started to grow louder and louder, and eventually in a sudden flash an enormous school of dolphins came flying out through the channel less than 10m in front of us, heading into the blue.
I have no idea how many there were but they were massed and moving very fast. This wasn’t social behaviour – they were off to hunt. It was breathtaking.
Once they were gone and we had regained our composure, we headed up the outside reef wall to shallower water to finish our dive. Around the 10m level we noticed two more big greys cruising the wall beneath us, and in the time it took to get to our safety stop we also came across a huge Napoleon wrasse and a lone great barracuda.
On the safety stop itself we were treated to an octopus and a juvenile sting ray, as well as the usual array of stunning Maldivian reef life.
Back on the boat, it turned out that the rest of group had had a pleasant enough dive after the greys on the channel corner but had missed the dolphins (they had heard them), the extra sharks, the Napoleon, barracuda, octopus and baby ray.
All of which goes to show the difference just a couple of minutes can make in the ocean.
Frankly it’s a miracle we weren’t thrown back in the water and made to swim back to Kuredu against the current – which had, strangely, only just started to run again after we exited the water.