Divers down

Bubbles... xxxxx

As a child I had two ambitions for when I grew up. I’m not sure I ever have actually grown up beyond the purely physical sense, but non the less one of the ambitions was to go gliding or hang gliding (quite..!), the other was scuba diving. The actual motivation for both of these ambitions is as clear to me now as then. Three dimensional freedom. As humans we can travel unaided in any direction, but only horizontally. We generally need stairs, a slope, an elevator or an aircraft to achieve any sort of vertical movement. I wanted to be able to fly, to soar, to swoop and dive.

The adult (I nearly wrote grown up…) Charlie Croker listens to his inner child (far more than he should is, I suspect, The Blonde’s belief). I’d emailed a good friend and keen recreational diver before we came on holiday who’d inspired me recently with underwater photos on his iphone (how he kept it dry I’ve no idea). What did he think of this Cydive company offering trial diving training in Pafos? “Go for it” came the response after he’d checked out their details on their web site, “they look a professional bunch and have all the right credentials”. Which is why the adult Charlie Croker and the ever game Blonde find themselves sat in a darkened air conditioned classroom watching a video about how to die underwater, and how, hopefully, we might avoid it.

Movie over we’re given an hours briefing by Mike, a young enthusiastic Brit who left the UK for warmer climes eight years ago. He explains the hand signals, the emergency procedures, how to share an air supply, how to retrieve a dropped regulator (the bit you breathe through), how to clear a flooded mask, how to relieve water pressure build up as you go deeper and how to check your depth and air supply. After that we get tooled up with wet suits and boots (The Blonde looks absolutely fabulous in a wet suit), help load the trolley with kit and head down to the waters edge.

Once there Mike shows us how everything works and gets us into the gear before getting us used to using it. As if it weren’t heavy enough we’re then given a weight belt each to strap on. Knee’s buckling we gingerly edge down slippery stone steps like Bambi on ice and lower ourselves into the welcoming cool calm sea. We’re fitted with flotation devices that see us bobbing happily on the surface whilst Mike fits our flippers for us. The flotation devices are brilliant, they bleed air from our aqualung at the push of a button, inflating and keeping us on the surface. Another button deflates them so we can sink and begin the dive. But first of all we stand up in four feet of water and try the gear, dropping below the surface and rising again, getting used to the experience.

The Blonde finds she has a split mouthpiece and Mike replaces it but the new one isn’t ideal. Mike changes her to the back up regulator but that doesn’t seem right either, breathing seeming harder than it should, each breath accompanied by the rasp of a valve somewhere. Mike assures her it’ll get easier once it’s wet. It doesn’t. Confidence slightly knocked by this, when it comes to the exercises we must achieve before venturing into deeper water such as releasing, capturing, purging and refitting the regulator, swapping between it and the back up, and “buddy breathing”, The Blonde is understandably uncomfortable. I totally share her concerns, even without her issues the whole thing just feels so unnatural, breathing seems to require conscious effort, the regulator seems to be forcing its way out of my mouth and I’m already wondering if I can really do this.

She’s keen not to hold up proceedings but we’re there for fun, this isn’t a serious sporting endeavour so we urge her not to push it and I feel a quiet sense of relief as Mike suggests we forget the exercises and instead have a gentle potter around in the shallower water where we’re close to the surface if there’s any problems.

At his instruction, I press the deflate button and fight down the panic as the weights drag me below the surface and water floods round and over the outside of my mask before closing over my head. I try to steady my breathing, gently in, gently out, long and slow, breathe, breathe. Bubbles cascade noisily around my head as they break for the surface.

I look around, visibility is excellent and I watch The Blonde descend in a wave of long tousled blonde locks, accompanied by Mike. He gives us the thumb and fore finger “OK?” signal and we both hesitantly reply. I’m not sure that I am really but we’re here now, let’s se how we get on. He motions us to follow and kicks gently off. The Blonde goes next, flippering by, all wide eyes and neoprene clad curves. I lie forward in the water and start to kick my fins, pushing myself along just back and to the right of The Blonde.

Mike keeps strictly to the shallows, we’re definitely properly under water but there’s not much scope for up and down, one way we’d break surface, the other we’d hit the sea bed. But it’s beginning to gel, I’m not thinking about the breathing anymore, my mask no longer feels like it’s going to fall off, I can see, I can move, and it feels fantastic. I can see the surface glinting in the sunlight above us, the sea bed rocky and sandy beneath. The sea disappears opaquely to all sides, it’s just the three of us and an occasional small shoal of inquisitive fish, scooting quietly along, soaking up this wonderful new experience.

Mike is searching for something and after a while he finds it, delicately picking up a starfish and holding it up for us to see. He passes it to The Blonde and she lets it wander across her hand. She’s ecstatic, she loves natural life in all its forms. Mike carefully returns it to the rock under which he’d found it and we paddle on a bit further, spotting fish and enjoying the weightless sensation and the alien environment.

It’s half and hour but seems like no time at all before we’re breaking surface back by the steps and inflating our buoyancy jackets before struggling out of the water and waddling up the steps, going from weightless to weighed down in an instant, bowed down with gear and weight belts. Back on shore we shower and change before a debrief with Mike. I’ve got a taste for this now and want to do the proper dive. A quick conflab with TB and she’s all for me having another go although elects to sit the next one out. We book for Friday, they’ll just hook me up with another course, and Mike runs us back to the hotel in their battered dive bus, a war horse of an old Shogun. Childhood ambition realised, almost…

We take lunch by the pool at the hotel then grab the keys to the Aygo and drive out to Coral Bay for the afternoon. Up on the cliffs we discover a small semi underground museum full of local history. The Blonde studies the glass cased artefacts and informational text and drawings on the wall. It’s just one completely circular room and I stand in the middle jumping loudly up and down and snapping my fingers, the acoustics in the place are truly bizarre, a multitude of echoes bouncing back at me from the curved concrete walls. Eventually The Blonde takes my hand and leads me back out into the sunshine in the manner of an ever patient mother with a “challenging” child.

We walk around the headland in the late afternoon sunshine, pausing to watch a small fishing boat potter by heading for port, before heading back to our own port, the hotel, for a well deserved dinner.

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2 Responses to “Divers down”

  1. AJ2 Says:

    I love the thought of you jumping up and down and snapping your fingers, Charlie. Do you do it often? In public or only in privacy? Do other people join in?

  2. charliecroker Says:

    No. Yes. Occasionally…

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