The boat rocks precariously and the storm’s waves slap and crash over the dive platform that stretches across the boat’s stern. While we pull on our scuba wetsuits, diving tanks and masks, dark descends over the boat and The Reef, the locals’ name for The Great Barrier Reef. The battleship gray clouds obscure the moon and stars. The ocean is the color of charcoal, the foam a greenish tan.
It really is a dark and stormy night. This is my second dive into the ocean, and I am having serious second thoughts about the sanity of this night dive.I see our new Australian friends, Linda and Rob, who are experienced divers, jump into the water together, eager to go night diving. I watch as they struggle against the rough waves and finally they sink into the hopefully calm waters below. Instead of the standard 30-minute dive, though, they surface after 15 and have to fight against the water to get back to the boat. Waves crash over their heads and the sea buffets them so hard, they have difficulty swimming to the dive platform. Finally, Linda reaches the ladder and starts climbing out, but a particularly rough wave knocks her off, forcing her to reach again and again for the rungs. She finally pulls herself onto the platform, breathing heavily, and says she is calling it a night. My insides are trembling, watching them.
I am a newly-certified scuba diver and not very confident of my skills. I look at William, our diving guide, and say, I am uncertain about the safety of diving in this weather. He replies, its fine. I will help you and make it OK. He hands us small torches (flashlights) and instructs us how to use them under the water. After you descend to our rendezvous point, place the torch next to your temple so it shines forward. This way you will be able to see the red eyes of the crustaceans. You can look around and see the nocturnal sea life, which will be different than what you saw during this afternoon’s dive. Remember, when you illuminate sea creatures, predators may see them and eat them. You are permitted only two such kills. I think, Whoa, predators!
I think I am not lying
I stand on the edge of the diving platform preparing to enter the water and think, Well, how long can 30 minutes last? I take a giant stride–my preferred technique to enter the water—splash into the churning waves and turn toward the boat giving the signal that I am OK. I think I am not lying. Then I start swimming toward the boat’s front mooring line where all five of us are to meet. The rough water slaps at me and pushes me this way and that. I focus my attention on each stroke making it as powerful as possible and trying to breathe calmly through my snorkel, instead of instinctively gulping for air. Also, I am keeping an eye on my husband who is my diving buddy. I spot him nearby and he is doing well. I am doing OK, but as I swim William comes up to grab a ring on my BCD vest to make sure that I get there. It is reassuring. We all converge at the mooring line, grabbing hold of it. The line is so thick that when I reach around it with both hands my fingers hardly overlap. We each swap our snorkel for our breathing mechanism and then slowly descend into the calmer water below.
Needless to say, it is dark under the water, but I can see my husband’s lighted torch and William’s red flippers. As we pause to let everyone gather together, I put the torch next my temple and look around. The water is full of silt, no doubt due to the storm, so the light reflects back to me. I cannot see much except the particles. I breathe slowly calming myself and float there about 20 feet below the surface.
Turtles, clams and coral, oh my!
William checks with us to see if we are OK. We are. He turns and glides toward the wall of the nearby reef. We follow. He points with his light to a sea turtle with its head poked into a hole and its shell outside, as if it is a natural bulge of the reef. We sink another five feet or so to look at a closed-up giant clam. Later we swim slowly through a channel in the reef. This is a slow motion activity. Coral rises on both sides of us. I don’t see any fish, but I imagine predators seeing us lit like delicacies strung up in a gourmet shop.
It is here that I lose sight of my husband because his torch burned out. He is not spooked as he can see everyone else. I, however, am spooked. Finally, I spot him as he swims to William, who gives him a spare torch. I focus again on breathing calmly. We continue circling the reef formation. I am never fully comfortable in this dark alien environment. I do not know where we are or how far we have to go. I feel edgy. I fleetingly wonder if the insurance company will deem “getting eaten by a shark” as an act of God. After what seems like an interminable amount of time, William signals us to slowly ascend to the surface.As I rise, I feel the water becoming more turbulent. I brace myself for the battle to get to the boat’s platform. I am pleasantly surprised, however, to see that we pop up close to the stern. With a few strong strokes, I grasp the ladder and pull myself up. My husband is right behind me. The other two follow closely. Then William seizes the ladder and nearly leaps onto the platform with the impressive athleticism of an experienced and strong dive master.
When I took my diving classes in the swimming pool back home, my instructor said that we might have the opportunity to go night diving. I could not imagine why anyone would ever do this. Crazy! I dismissed it out of hand. I lay in bed after the night dive, however, and am pleased with myself. Scuba diving at night into stormy seas and not panicking in my mind means success.
In the morning, I plan to jump up and go diving in the daylight, and tomorrow night I can have another go at diving into dark waters. Who knows—I might find it fun.