You must be my lucky star

On Sat 16 July, I went for my first night dive ever. The full moon was a night old.

Our Dive Master gave a clear brief as to how the dive would pan out and how he was going to communicate with us, via torch light in the dead of a deep night sea. I must admit, i was glad to hear that we were only going down 12 metres.

I boarded the boat filled with nervous excitement. I remembered a story an old friend had told me about her equipment fucking up on her first ever night dive. She was with her fiancé at the time, who was close by and quick to respond by sharing his air. I was, truth be told, a little scared too.

We motored up to the south end of the island and dropped anchor. While I’m a very relaxed and competent diver, i sometimes find descending a tad tricky. I was relieved when I managed to get down to the floor without too much trouble.

It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the big blackness that bellowed around me. Torches of the other divers flashed in every direction. It was all very disorientating. I located the DM and made mental notes of the color of his tank & fins. And then i looked around me.

I’ve been deep inside the sea’s soul on some 100 occasions. While every dive site is different, there are generally some consistencies in the ‘land’scape, just as there is above sea level. There’s fishes & stuff, plants & rocks & coral. Nothing, Absolutely Nothing looked familiar to me.

I know my heart was beating a lot faster than it normally does. My brain was finding it difficult to make connections with what my eyes were seeing. Once I calmed myself a bit, shapes shifted into the familiar. We started off around the shallow reef. For a little while we didn’t see much in the way of fish and the like. But this gave me time to see the colors of the coral… Under the flashlight, they were a lot more vivid. Rusty ruby reds, luscious lime greens…

We followed the reef wall around a corner, and then the space opened up… I saw sparse schools of queen angel fish (pretty blue and yellow, things they are), parrot fish (who seem to change color as they move about), spotted trunkfish (they’re real dudes, these guys), groupers (I call them the labradors of the sea) and barracuda (who can be a bit too macho for my liking).

I finally had my breathing under control and focused on looking out for the big boys. Sharks, turtles, rays, lobster, squid… This is what I was really hankering to see.

Part of the group had convened near a rock so I finned over quickly to take a look. A big ole turtle had poked his head out, and was scoping for an escape route. He saw an opening and went for it. The group parted ways to make room for him.

We continued on our way, and we came to a bit of a clearing, the DM made the signal for us to all to switch off our torches. We each found a spot to rest in the sand. One by one the lights all went off. Complete darkness surrounded me, swallowing me up, sucking me in. My heart started thumping again. Then I saw some twinkly flashes of light in front of my face. I had been waiting a long time to see this underwater.

Phosphorescence is a light phenomenon which in the sea, is caused by millions of microscopic organisms such as plankton. Sometimes you can see this on the incoming waves when walking by the ocean at night. Check out YouTube for some pretty cool clips. To see it underwater in the utter blackness though, is another thing altogether. As the organisms darted about, I saw tiny lights, about the size of a match head, maybe a bit bigger, sparkle on and off in the blink of an eye.

I decided to have some fun with this. I took a big deep breath and removed the reg from my mouth and held my breath. The regulator is the link between your tank and your mouth, so is basically your air source. On the reverse side of the bit which you put in your mouth, there is a big round purge button which you use to clear it if it becomes blocked (for example, with vomit). When you purge, it pumps out a quick shot of air, so the result is a really big burst of bubbles.

When I did this, there was a flash of sparkles all around me. I started purging like a woman possessed, and then when i realized that simply waving my arms around, also sparked off the sparkles, i began a crazy conductor of a symphony routine. Sparkles! sparkles! sparkles! I started to trip out a bit. When I was a l’il nipper, Disney cartoon films all ended with Tinkerbell waving her magic wand around in circles, which would set off a trail of sparkly fairy dust. I felt like Tinkerbell on acid!

I could have played like that for a very long time. But alas, our DM turned on his light and the game was over. Poor little organisms were probably very pleased when we moved on.

The final highlight of the dive was a second sighting of a grand old dame of a turtle. I was just fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. She popped her head out from under a rock. Another diver and I just waited nearby. The others come over. She eventually figured it was safe and glided straight past us. I could have given her a little smooch she came so close. I kinda wish I had, in retrospect. She was so big and old and looked so sleepy.

Some of the others in our group were starting to get low on air, so we had to end the dive. A quick safety stop, and then we were back on the boat, swapping sightings and excitedly recounting our playtime in the phosphorescent lights.

For the second time that week, I had had an unforgettable experience. I went to bed feeling 4 kinds of lucky.

Sun 17 July

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