Our Best Dives - group 4
VOLCANIC ACTIVITY, by Anthony Bowen
Solomon Islands / Pacific Ocean
The liveaboard Bilikiki embarked from Honiara, Guadalcanal. Honiara Bay is known locally as Iron Bottom Sound because of the number of warships sunk there during World War Two.
However, virtually all the wrecks here are undiveable because of the depths.
Diving was from tenders that made the short journey to the dive-site. We dropped onto the top of an extinct underwater volcano at 12m that continues down to more than 700m. There is an active volcano towards Papua New Guinea, and its rumbling could be heard distinctly while we were under water.
It was possible to descend through a chimney left by an ancient lava eruption. Looking up through the chimney to the surface provided a perfect photo opportunity of a Hickson’s fan coral with the dive-tender framed on the surface.
Further down the shaft, it was possible to exit into the open sea at 37m. Looking through the bottom of the shaft to the open sea I could see a passing grey reef shark, but by the time I exited it had gone.
Given my nitrox mix the PO2 was 1.5, so I slowly ascended towards the top of the volcano, keeping a wary eye out into the blue. A slight movement caught my eye, and I spied a crocodilefish. It allowed me to take a number of photos but then darted over my head, and although I spun round quickly it took a few moments before I could identify where it had come to rest, as it was now completely camouflaged again.
On the edge of the plateau at the top of the volcano a small brown leaf was swaying backwards and forwards – a leaf-fish, about the size of a little finger. On top of the plateau were barrel sponges and soft corals in pristine condition.
There was an abundance of small clams, but also a massive giant clam. Determined to get a picture of the inside of this beautiful creature, I inverted myself with fins towards the surface, established neutral buoyancy just above its wide-open jaws and then exhaled. This allowed me to descend into the clam’s jaws and take the photograph as they started to close.
I then inhaled to rise back above the clam, whereupon the jaws opened fully once again. I repeated these manoeuvres several times, obtaining a photo each time.
Also on the plateau was a large old discarded anchor and some wreckage. Perched on a hatchway was a female Napoleon wrasse, which I anticipated would take off on my approach. However, it allowed me to get close to the point of obtaining a close-up photograph of its eye.
It was then time to ascend and finish the dive, overwhelmed by the kaleidoscope of colours and the fascinating diversity of species I had been privileged to experience.
IN CLEAR VIEW, by Phil Pattinson
Iceland / Atlantic Ocean
In 2008, I decided to take a career break from being a mathematics teacher and use the money I had saved for a deposit on a house to undertake an ambitious round-the-world trip.
I cherry-picked some of the places I had always wanted to see, booked my round-the-world ticket, handed in my notice and, three months later, was on a flight to Johannesburg.
So where does scuba-diving enter this story Well, having selected Australia as one of my destinations so that I could see the Great Barrier Reef, it made sense to get my PADI Open Water certification to experience more than I might simply by snorkelling.
I had started the course in April in the cold and murky waters of Bouley Bay, Jersey. At the time I was told that if I could cope with these conditions, anywhere else would be a walk in the park (or the scuba equivalent).
Initially, I intended diving only when I got to Australia, but having caught the scuba bug (which was much more pleasant than the malaria I caught in Tanzania) I found myself diving at every possible opportunity, from popular sites such as Belize’s Blue Hole to lesser-known sites such as Lake Malawi and Mexico’s cenotes.
However, the dive I would like to share is the one that provokes the most surprise when mentioned. It was towards the end of my trip and I was in Keflavik, Iceland, hoping to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights and experience the Blue Lagoon’s hot thermal springs.
When I went to the hotel reception to book my trips I saw an advert for scuba-diving. October in Iceland was almost certainly going to be colder than diving in Bouley Bay, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity. I was met and taken to Silfra ravine, a fissure at the edge of a large lake.
Following our buddy check we waddled along the volcanic stone path towards the fixed metal staircase that entered the crystalline waters.
This was an amazing dive, not because of the aquatic life (I saw only one fish) but for the lucid vibrant blue, the like of which I haven’t experienced on any dive since.
In places, my dive profile resembled that of a yoyo, because one had to get over boulders that had fallen into the fissure.
At one point we were virtually floating and clambering over rocks to get to the highlight, the aptly named Very Blue Lagoon.
At the end of the dive I was asked if I would like to go through again. When the blood finally came back to my mouth and face, I replied: definitely!
Not the longest (27 minutes) nor the deepest (10.1m), but this was definitely the coldest dive and clearest visibility I have experienced to date.
WONDERFUL THINGS, by Dave Peake
Cornwall, England / The Channel
The weather forecast was looking good for the next day, dry with sunny periods. I needed to get up early and drive along the spine of Cornwall to the very end of mainland England, at Lands End and Sennen Cove.
I arrived at the harbour car park at 8am. What a beautiful morning, with sunlight dancing over a turquoise, almost blue, sea!
My arrival was timed for a low spring tide and the intention to snorkel around the exposed granite reef, the Cowloe.
I had previously snorkelled around this reef but the feeling on this beautiful morning was one of anticipation. 21 June, 2009, was the time for oceanic visitors – large and small.
Scanning the sea with binoculars from the harbour wall, I could count around a dozen basking sharks out there near the reef. Money was placed into the dreaded car-park machine, the boot opened and wetsuit donned.
With weightbelt, mask, snorkel, fins and a compact camera with a wide-angle lens,
I started swimming away from the harbour wall and entered another world.
Vis was 12-15m. Between colourful granite boulders golden kelp, oar weed and green and red plants swayed in a dancing rhythm, all backlit with sunlight flashes.
Just ahead, I saw a grey triggerfish swimming away, and carried on to the reef.
A grey seal looked toward me, then twisted and turned away, not wishing to be photographed. I floated over the kelp forest and dived down into gullies and through the kelp fronds and holdfasts. Starfish and spider-crabs were there in abundance, and grey mullet shoaling near the surface.
I swam into deeper water until, frequently looking up, I could see an area where large triangular fins and tails were circulating. They were not close, and stronger fin-kicks were needed to somehow, casually, get into a suitable position.
I focused on one shark, anticipated its movement and lay as still as possible with the camera outstretched in front, waiting and hoping. The dark shape appeared out of the blue, came closer and closer, turned away slightly and I took the image. Then it was gone, and didn’t return. No luck with the others, so I finned back to the reef.
Suddenly I was overtaken by a large shoal of bass. Over a sandy area a pulsating compass jellyfish hung in the water at the surface. It had long tentacles and was in good condition, and I captured its beauty.
Heading back towards the harbour, I looked up to see thousands of people now on the beach, sunning themselves. I was the only one looking under the sea.
Standing in the shallows, taking off my mask, snorkel and fins, two boys no bigger than my freedive fins came up and one said: ”What you seen, mister”
I turned and said: ”I’ve seen lots of wonderful things.”
SHARK, SHORT & SWEET, by Mateusz Bednarczuk
Darwin, Galapagos / Pacific Ocean
It is 7am on our second day of diving. I’m still half-asleep. Big swells, the RIB going up and down wakes me up a bit. Equipment has been checked. Regs, fins, computer, mask. We are reaching the dive-site.
The guide shouts the command and here we go, roll back into the blue. Air out and we go down. We go down. Oops. Everybody goes, just not me. Damn! I don’t have my weighted pockets in my BC. Group is already gone but I don’t want to miss out.
I climb back on the RIB. Using sign-language, I explain my problem to the boat-driver. He doesn’t speak English, and the only words of Spanish I know are huevo and tequila.
Yes, he has more lead! Without thinking, I stuff my pockets with it. Quick look for the bubbles and splash, back to the water. Just follow the bubbles and you will find a diver, they say, so I
go down, fast. They must be at the end of them.
Bubbles become smaller, then disappear completely. I stop. No bubbles, no divers. Sharks instead. A few, a dozen, hundreds. Wall of sharks, circling around. Quick glance at the computer, 38m.
The sharks are pretty close. Visibility is a maximum 10m and I can see them really well. Hammerheads mostly. Too close for comfort. I have seen them before, but I was never alone.
Let’s pump the BC and get out of here.
I am massively overweight from all the lead in my pockets. Jacket is full of air and I am not ascending. Sharks are still close, the panic starts to build.
I am trying not to make any rapid movements. Painfully slowly, I am swimming up. I don’t want to be here any more. I have noticed the shadow of the RIB. This calms me down slightly. The vision of death leaves me.
Oh, great! There is a huge Galapagos shark circling under the boat. What should I do now I remember my camera. Taking a picture could be an option.
As soon as I have snapped the first one, the nasty fish decides to leave. I am back on the boat, breathing heavily.
I am thinking now that I couldn’t find the group because the current pushed their bubbles and me away from them. Somehow I can’t quite believe that the sharks had the others for breakfast.
I am checking the computer again. Dive time: 9 minutes. Seriously!
BEST (AND WORST), by Graham Wadie
Egypt / Red Sea
Get your gear on!” Those simple words sparked a frenzy of activity on the boat, and marked the beginning of my best dive yet.
We were in the Red Sea, relaxing on deck after an enjoyable but uneventful dive of a pretty little wreck. We’d been told that dolphins often turned up during dives there, but none did and, of course, we weren’t surprised.
It was some time later that we first spotted them, a small pod in the distance. This wasn’t the first time we had seen them but this time, to our amazement, they came right up to
We rapidly donned our snorkels and jumped in, not wanting to miss the opportunity, but it soon became clear that the pod wanted to play, and with no sign of them departing, the guide gave us the go-ahead: ”Get your gear on!”
And in that instant, all of our training was forgotten! We broke records in donning our kit, rushed through the buddy-checks and were in the clear blue water within minutes.
Down we went. At least, some of us did. Others just bobbed around on the surface, wondering why they were so buoyant today, until their hearts sank and they realised their weightbelts were still on deck.
I was one of the lucky ones, and as the surface group shrank away and the light began to fade, the pod closed in around us.
These were not timid beasts; they were full of curiosity and desperate to show off as they swam in tight circles around us, changing direction in an instant and seeming to laugh when we couldn’t keep up.
It felt as if we spent hours watching them play, and with no computer (on the deck, with the weightbelts), who knows how long it really was
Eventually the pod had had enough, and we were left alone on the bottom. Our guide pointed and swam off in the direction of the boat. Two of us divers were together then, and that was when we noticed that the current had really picked up.
I didn’t have the strength to swim against that current, and all I could do was grip the seabed to remain still. The other diver was there, but the guide was out of sight.
Fear started to kick in then. How far had we drifted What if they couldn’t find us Were there other boats around
I started unravelling the DSMB.
And then the guide reappeared, thumbed up, and up we went. The boat was right there where we had left it!
Stories were excitedly exchanged, but as the adrenaline slowly wore off the mood noticeably dulled: ”Plan the dive and dive the plan.” We had been reckless.
To this day I don’t know the depth of the dive or how long we were down, and so this was also my worst dive, and a lesson long remembered.
We skipped the night dive.
GRAHAM’S PRIZE… A £2800 trip for two to Tobago
Graham Wadie’s Best Dive wins him a week’s diving holiday for two in Tobago, organised by UKtour operator Oonasdivers (www.oonasdivers.com).
The prize includes return flights from London, transfers, seven nights’ B&B at Blue Waters Inn & Dive Centre and five days’ diving, including equipment hire.
Tobago is one of the Caribbean’s best diving destinations and Blue Waters Inn is located in Speyside, where some of the island’s best dive sites can be found, including the world’s largest brain coral.
Visibility can be impressive at sites such as Angel Reef, Black Jack Hole, Book Ends, Japanese Gardens, Batteaux Bay Drift and Coral Gardens.
Here’s hoping Graham gets to enjoy a new Best Dive!