Thursday, November 08, 2007

Into the blue

Having just obtained a PADI Open Water diving certification, in the less-than-clear waters of Clearwater Bay in Hong Kong, my first series of “real” dives was in Palau, in Micronesia. We were there for the Micronesia Cup and the following weekend were heading to Guam for the Heineken Cup (where, incidentally, my crew won gold in the Women’s 16K). During the week inbetween, we did 11 dives in total in the most heart-stoppingly amazing conditions: clear blue skies, beautiful water, sunshine, and incredible locations such as Blue Corner, Blue Hole, German Channel, as well as a wreck dive on a sunken Japanese warship, where I peered through a darkened porthole almost expecting a face to come up to meet me. We saw giant manta rays moving langourously through the water like stealth planes; turtles carrying their ancient burden and protection; black tip and grey sharks; wicked schools of black barracuda; my favourite, the noble, sad-looking Napoleon wrasse; and cute little matt black fish with blue sickle-shaped tails and pouty blue lips.

The technicalities of diving are quite straightforward: panic is the only enemy as long as you remember to keep breathing. There was one moment at Blue Corner when we swam alongside a massive wall and I looked down into unimaginable darkness below as the wall went on and on, falling away beneath us, and I had to look round quickly for someone else nearby to reassure myself I wasn’t alone. I also had a “Lost in Space” moment when we hooked into the reef at German Channel: against the current, if you don’t hook in, you can float away, and when my hook came free I was saved by one of the others, as if in slow motion, reaching out to grab my string as though I were an errant pet.

On the boat on the way back, in the sunshine, speeding between muffin-shaped islands in the clear evening, I was thinking that I must be the luckiest person alive.

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