In my previous post, I shared my experience of how I had a Panic Attack during my Underwater Navigation dive which was the second dive of my Advance Open Water Diver certification.
We had to re-surface and go back down again. It had not only left me shaken but also highly embarrassed. Mostly because it was a panic induced by my carelessness and inability to control my nerve!
The whole fiasco taught me a very valuable lesson. Always Pay Extra Attention to The Pre-Dive Safety Check! I learnt a lesson that day and went on to de-stress at a beach-side massage place, I mean it was Gili Trawangan after all!
Now I had 3 more dives to complete before I could obtain my Advance Open Water Diver certificate. One compulsory Dive (Deep Dive) and two other Adventure Dives that I could choose.
It was ‘Day 2’ of the dive and the night before I had broken into a nervous sweat, thanks to the panic attack nightmares that kept me awake all night! My first dive of the day was the compulsory ‘Deep Dive’. This meant diving up to 30m (nearly 100 feet). *Gulp*
Dive 3- Deep Dive
Sometimes the deep end of swimming pools makes me queasy, so the very thought of depth of this magnitude made me nauseous. As if going deep down wasn’t scary enough, the dive site was called, Shark Point. Because of, yes, Sharks. It was one of the dive sites where white tip reef sharks are spotted frequently.
While moving towards the dive site, Andrea, my instructor, explained to us about the Narcosis Test we will be completing as well as how it affects the brain.
Nitrogen Narcosis is the effect of breathing Nitrogen under pressure which produces an intoxicating effect. The deeper a diver goes, the greater the narcosis. Basically, it is like being in a state of pleasant drunkenness where divers can experience anything from euphoria or happy emotions to morose. Either ways, this state can become very dangerous when diving deep into the ocean.
The test was quite simple. We had to read out the jumbled number sequence on a slate on land. The time would be noted. And once we reach 30 m, the same is repeated by pointing out the numerical sequence and the time is noted again.
As we descended, all I could see was the line disappearing into the oblivion.
Slowly we descended until we reached a point where I could see the bottom. So far, no Sharks. But there was a boat wreck nearby and the water clarity was superb. I could see the whole wreck.
We descended to the soft sea bottom and started the exercise.
While reading the numerical sequence, I could sense that I was much slower here than I was on land. But I didn’t know whether it had anything to do with Narcosis or just because of the various changes in the environment. He also showed us how colours change at that depth and what you see may actually not be how it really is. Krysten’s pink nail paint was a weird sort of brown now. We wrapped up the tests and still no Sharks.
Now that the test was over, we spent our time exploring the wreck nearby and swimming with turtles. With hardly any current and nearly 25m of visibility, I was having the time of life!
I never thought that the one dive that I dreaded the most would be the one that would turn out to be the most interesting one! We still hadn’t bumped into any of the Sharks but with the number of turtles here, they should seriously consider renaming this as Turtle Point or something!
Dive 4- Fish Identification Dive
Initially I had no intention of choosing this dive. Not because it wasn’t interesting but because there were so many other challenging dives I could chose! I had initially chosen to do a Night Dive but chickened out after the previous day’s panic attack. I opted for something lighter and might I say, more colourful!
The Dive pre-read was all about different classes of fish families and how to differentiate between them. As a kid, I drew all fish in the same way. A simple streamlined body with silvery scales, big popping eyes, a triangular tail and tiny fins. This was new for me.
We went to a dive site called BioRock. The name is as interesting as the dive site. It is named so because of the Bio Rock technology used here to regenerate the damaged reef and increase the biodiversity of marine organisms. The technology involves the use of low voltage currents passing through steel structures. Here the corals can grow 5 times faster than their normal rate. Which is good news but not good enough because it is still slow compared to the percentage of increase in pollution and water temperature which is slowly killing the corals and the marine life. But small steps like this are a big step towards marine conservation and restoration.
Such places are a refuge for many fish. Box fish, Scorpion fish, Lion fish, Stone fish, Butterfly fish, Trigger fish, Damsel fish, Trumpet fish… you name it and we saw it! It was a beautiful site!
Even though we saw many turtles again, octopus and massive Blue Star fish, what really left me in awe were the Garden Eels!
I was following a stingray darting across the ocean floor when I saw a bunch of snake-like things popping out of the ocean floor simultaneously.
After the stingray went past, all of them popped out again!
Whitish grey and tubey, all of them swayed back and forth like a bunch of people singing hymns or chants. As I swam closer, they started popping back in again!
I was totally fascinated by them because it was the first time I found something ‘Creepily Cute’. I don’t have a photograph to show you but here is a Youtube video by WIRED, that will give an idea of what I am talking about.
Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me!
Dive 5- Underwater Photography Dive
This was one dive I was really excited about! As a photographer, I thought underwater photography would be easy but I guess I was wrong.
We chose Halik Bay for this dive. Halik has a stunning coral reef that runs parallel to the shoreline along the North side of Gili Trawangan which made it a perfect site to practice our underwater photography skills.
While on land, me and Krysten fiddled around with our camera settings to understand how to adjust White Balance and Exposure underwater, with Andrea giving us instructions on composition, etc.
It was a shallow dive with superb visibility and with the light flowing around the colourful reefs, it felt like being inside one giant aquarium!
Immediately we started clicking. We saw an anemone with a bunch of false clown fish and started practicing with them as subjects.
I tried my best to hover above them but the slight current kept pushing me away. With both hands busy holding the camera and clicking the button, it was difficult to keep still in one position. This is where I realized the importance of Peak Buoyancy (Dive 1). To be motionless underwater and hold still to take pictures was a skill by itself.
I struggled a bit here because I either kept drifting up or away with the current and had to swim back to the subject, which would either swim away by then or hide under some coral.
To play with camera setting while trying to focus on composition and keeping neutral buoyancy was tough, especially when your subject is trying to swim away, hide or bite you maybe. All this while keeping an eye on your pressure gauge and other dive equipment. *Phew* It wasn’t as easy as I thought.
Most photographs in this post have been taken during this dive. And I can tell you with absolute conviction, Photography Above and Under the water are absolutely different. In fact to be a good Underwater Photographer, first requires one to be a good Scuba Diver!
Finally, after learning about various class of fish and buoyancy, swimming with innumerable Turtles, having a Panic Attack, learning better diving techniques and trying to click the perfect photographs while floating, I became a certified Advance Open Water Diver!!!!!
Final OK from Andrea and me! 🙂
I dived with Big Bubble Dive School in Gili Trawangan, who I can absolutely recommend. They were professional and also very patient with someone like me! Dive groups were small with experienced instructors and updated equipments.
In case you have any queries about the dive or Gili island or how to start your dive journey, you can ask away in the comment section below! 🙂
Until then, it is time for me to kick back, watch the gorgeous Indonesian sunset and celebrate with some Sangria…