Our Best Dives - group 3
GREAT WHITE WALL, by Sherilyn Duckworth
Taveuni, Fiji / Pacific Ocean
My boyfriend and I waited anxiously to find out if the current conditions were favourable to dive the famous Great White Wall of the Somosomo Strait in Fiji.
The strait is known as the ”Soft Coral Capital of the World” but the current needs to be just right to see the coral bloom.
The Great White Wall is also rated by some as one of the best dive-sites in the world. So there was enormous relief as the divemasters surfaced and signalled that the dive was on!
The dive with Taveuni Ocean Sports started with a cave swim-through that came to a dramatic ending – a vertical wall that appeared to be covered in snow, dropping to more than 100m.
In awe of this majestic scene, we spent quite some time staring at it to take it all in.
We didn’t think it could get much better than that but the rest of the dive was as impressive. There were all sorts of soft corals, including seafans, tree coral, leather coral, cauliflower coral and bubble coral. And they were in spectacular shades of purple, pink, blue, yellow and many others.
We were also lucky enough to see some rare marine life. The furry orangutan crab was a first in our diving career, as was the hawkfish, dartfish and Fijian anemonefish (which has only one white stripe).
There was even a whitetip shark lurking nearby. This dive really had it all, and everyone on the boat was in high spirits as we headed to the next dive-site. Suddenly, someone shouted: ”Dolphins!” and we oohed and aahed as we saw the fins coming out of the water and the captain steered the boat in their direction.
As we approached, we realised that this was in fact a pod of about 10 pilot whales. Elated, we moved about the boat to get the best viewing spot.
The boat was travelling beside the whales and they were swimming right underneath us and jumping out of the water every now and then to give us a show. Apparently, they are spotted there only a couple of times a year, so it really was our lucky day.
Our final dive was at a site called Jack’s Place, where the coral is as spectacular as at the other sites of the Somosomo strait. It is one of the few places in the world where you can see schools of blue tang, their electric blue colour stunning against the rainbow backdrop of the reef.
As we returned to our bure, nestled among fruit trees on the garden island of Taveuni, we thought to ourselves: ”Diving cannot get better than this”.
INTO THE MACRO, by Alvin Askoolum
Similan Islands, Thailand / Andaman Sea
I have scuba-dived in some great places around the world – the Maldives, Mexico, Thailand, Mauritius, Reunion, Malta, Egypt – and have seen some amazing fish, coral and big sea life such as whales, eagle rays and sharks, dolphins and so on.
However, on my first trip on a diving liveaboard to the Similan and Surin islands I had a dive-guide called Ishmael who totally changed my perspective on macro-diving.
Previously my attitude to scuba was that I wanted to see the biggest creature I could, so that I could savour the memories, boast in pubs, and post photos on Facebook of me eye-to-eye with a whale shark.
On this trip, Ismael explained that some of the dive-sites such as Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock had some fantastic macro life. I was thinking: have I flown halfway around the world to see something as small as a fingernail, if not smaller
I already knew about the beautiful nudibranchs, their array of colours and how they differed around the world, and about the elusive ghost pipefish. But this dive-guide’s mission was to find a tiny fish, and why would I want to see anything so small Why was he excited about it, I wondered, and why were others excited by it too
Extremely puzzled, I stepped into the turquoise. After 30 minutes at 30m we were greeted by a few batfish, watching us closely as if they wanted to join in. A spotted ray glided in and out of the picture, and the sea anemones hid a few black and white clownfish.
That’s when I heard the clink of a tank, and turned to see the guide pointing at a fish. Ok, it was a beautiful juvenile emperor, and its colours were electrifyingly amazing. But was that it
We approached the 17m mark and were starting our ascent. The coral wall was beautiful, timeless, and that’s when I heard the clink again. This time it was rapid.
I approached the dive-guide, whose eyes were as wide as plates. I could see a grin, and looked down at where his finger was pointing, but there was nothing there.
Then I looked more closely, and saw a speck of yellow. Hold on, are those eyes
Sitting there was a yellow frogfish. The anglerfish species may be considered ugly, but this example was somewhat beautiful. I had never seen one before. Apparently it had been there for months, and the dive-guide knew where to find it.
All I could talk about when I got on board was this small creature. The meeting with the whale shark was a distant memory.
As the trip went on, I managed to find two more frogfish myself – so out went my GoPro and in came my DSLR. All I need now is a macro lens!
BIG THRILL, by Peter Edwards
Mozambique / Indian Ocean
A perfect holiday is nearly over.
I have dived with leopard sharks, whale sharks, so many reef mantas around 3m across that I have lost count, and a whole raft of small stuff. What more could I ask for The giant manta!
The weather has been windy and the sea unseasonably rough. Now it eases and we are at Manta Reef – a manta cleaning station – for a last dive. So much to see, but at 25m time is running out, and we have seen no mantas.
The ”air” group of divers go up, leaving just the three of us who are on nitrox.
Suddenly our leader signals ”manta”, and we move over to the cleaning station. This one is big!
I watch it slowly circling for some minutes. I move up slowly and am rewarded with a view of it from above. I exhale and sink slowly so that I can see the distinctive pattern on its underside. Can it get better than this
Yes, it can! The manta turns and comes right over me – 6.5m across and so close that I feel I could reach up and touch it. That was truly awesome!
We have had 14 minutes with that manta, but now it is time to go. Thank goodness for nitrox – without it I would have been in the boat with the air group, and would have missed the best dive experience of my life.
DISCWORLD GLIMPSES, by Sian Vaughan
Galapagos / Pacific Ocean
My best underwater experiences so far have come while snorkelling on consecutive days on different Galapagos islands, and I’m not sure if my humble flapping along the surface, with no tank and no belt, and just the odd duck-dive to a couple of metres will qualify for your hi-tech illustrious magazine.
On the first day I had swum out, marvelling at the fish and having my breath taken away at least twice by passing sea-lions. I had spotted a couple of Galapagos penguins out on a rock, so decided to swim over to take a closer look.
I was circling the rock when I came mask-to-beak with a darting penguin. It seemed as stunned as I was, and we both came up (in a somewhat undignified manner) and eyed each other on the surface for a few intense seconds, before going our separate ways.
We had been cautioned about not causing damage to the corals with our feet and not approaching the wildlife, particularly the turtles.
On the second day I swam along, in my best non-interfering, non-damaging way, wondering whether I might spot a turtle, only to have first one, then dozens of these gentle green giants swim under and around me.
I can’t explain my elation. The sea-lions had been playful, curious, almost mischievous; the penguin was alarmed, but I felt we had shared a very similar experience.
These turtles, however, were beautiful in an alien way, effortlessly flying through their world, completely unconcerned by the clumsy, visiting bipeds.
Being a Terry Pratchett reader might have influenced me (Discworld fans have a soft spot for turtles and elephants).
These experiences will be with me for the rest of my life, and they confirmed my love of the undersea world and its inhabitants.
THE NEW ME, by Anthony deCaux
Tenerife, Canary Islands / Atlantic Ocean
In August 2013 I wrote to DIVER about my health issues and new love of diving, and my letter was published.
At the time, despite the severity of the emergency surgery I had undergone (an ileostomy on my wedding anniversary in late July), I was feeling positive.
But a few days later my health suddenly took a major turn for the worse.
Complications with my heart, accompanied by the realisation of what I had just undergone, meant that my positivity was rapidly discharging itself.
Life was beginning to look very different – lists of dos and don’ts, cans and cannots overwhelmed me, and the longer I stayed in hospital, the more ”normal life”, let alone diving, scared me.
Towards the end of a three-month stay, more surgery was needed. My family tried to keep my spirits up, and my wife surprised me with new diving equipment and a promise that we would dive again.
I appreciated the support and encouragement, but loathed the idea – it wasn’t going to happen now I had a new addition to my body, aka ”it” – the stoma bag. However, after the last bout of surgery this February my consultants said that there was no reason why I shouldn’t lead a normal life, so diving was back on the cards.
Believing them was hard with my confidence at an all-time low. I felt very different, and it was difficult getting used to how things were.
I needed a break, time to relax and my wife suggested that I try out the new dive gear. What
I did my research, got the relevant checks and certificates, and on paper I was good to go. My confidence told me otherwise, but we were off to Costa Adeje, Tenerife.
We met a dive instructor at our hotel. Knowledgeable and understanding, he gave details on the location of what was to be my first ”new” dive. Was I doing the right thing, would ”it” be OK
On the day of the dive, concentration levels were at an all-time high, kit, pre-dive checks, ”it” and a whole load of what-ifs – I was nervous.
Then I was in and off. I suddenly felt completely free, in my own world. I didn’t think about ”it” at all but remembered why
I loved diving so much. I went onto autopilot and enjoyed every second.
I saw a host of different fish and dived with a sea turtle, an amazing experience. What a first ”new me” dive – wow!
After the dive I checked my air out, my dive computer, got my logbook and recorded my dive, and that was it – without realising it, this was the old me.
So for me this dive was and will be forever a massive step in my recovery.
I learnt that ”it” doesn’t have to stop me doing the things I love, I feel a little more confident in myself and I now can’t wait for my next dive!
THE TURNROUND, by Alastair Reid-Smith
Gozo / Mediterranean Sea
I have only ever dived in Gozo, but the relaxed atmosphere and willingness of everybody to do everybody else a good turn changed one day on which things were going quite badly to truly memorable.
I arrived in the shop and the instructor was gobsmacked when I explained that we were supposed to go out that day.
We had arranged it a couple of days previously while the staff were very busy, and the booking had not been written down.
As there was nobody else going diving that morning we had a short conversation about where to go, and decided on Reqqa Point, as I had never dived there.
We grabbed the gear, jumped into the van and drove down. Gozo is such a small island that it takes only a short time to go anywhere, so we arrived within 10 minutes.
The waves were a gentle 2-3ft, but about 500m off the coast there was a lot of activity. I asked if there was a reef there and was told there wasn’t.
I was shown the exit (a bit awkward) and entry points, and we started to kit up. To my horror I had forgotten my regs!
A short, embarrassing conversation with the instructor took place, and we concluded that regs were essential.
Rather than drive back to collect them, he phoned the shop and a few minutes later they appeared in a car – it was unbelievably good of them to take this trouble.
I set up my gear and found that my BC was auto-inflating, making a dreadful whistling noise as it did! We tried to repair it with no tools, which at one point involved whacking it against the floor, but gave it up as a bad job.
We decided that the best course of action would be to inflate manually as required and fix it later.
The divemaster had referred to diving at Reqqa in almost mythical tones. He had seen a sunfish there before and, on another memorable occasion, a swordfish. If he was ever going to see something unusual he had decided that Reqqa was the most likely place to see it.
We had a really nice dive, and the visibility was great, the sea a perfect colour and all too soon we were preparing to get out.
As we surfaced, we noticed that the top of our heads were being slapped. We had surfaced into a baitball that had been forced into the shore.
The exit point we had chosen was a small pool about 1m deep and the fish had been herded into it.
We still had enough air to drop back into the water and as we were watching we couldn’t stop laughing.
After turning up unexpectedly, forgetting my regulator and equipment breaking, the world had seemed to be against us – and then we had a magical dive, finishing with a baitball. On the way back to the shop we were still laughing, and writing this now I can’t stop smiling.