While sailing around the Fiji Islands, I signed up for diving lessons. There were two dive instructors on board (Kim and Dan) and the course was 3 days long. The first thing Kim said was that my beard and moustache would hold me back. That night I shaved. I’d had the beard for 16 years so seeing my chin was a bit of a shock. In the last 10 years it has gone quite white so the general consensus it was an improvement.
We were given the course materials and told there would be a written exam on the last day. Most of the instruction was practical and we dived twice a day. We also practised some emergency procedures in the ship pool and in 5 feet of water just off the beach.
In diving you always have a buddy who will keep an eye out to see that you are OK. There were four people getting their certification; me, Harry and Eli (brother and sister from Australia) and Laurence from PNG. After the first dive our instructor, Kim, checked our air levels and assigned us buddies based on rate of oxygen consumption. Eli and I were fairly efficient so we were buddies. Harry and Laurence burned through their tanks more quickly. This meant Eli and I could stay down longer while the others had to surface earlier.
We spent the first few days learning the equipment and practising emergency techniques like how to find your regulator if it is lost and how to clear your mask if it fills with water. This reminded me of getting a pilot’s license. It is important to learn the material but it is critical to remain calm in a crisis. I suspect some percentage of people panic during these simulated emergencies. Everyone in our group passed with flying colours.
We also learned hand signals for communicating under water. The most important thing is to remember that thumbs up is not OK but instead means you are heading for the surface. Using thumbs up instead of OK costs you a beer, payable to the instructors. Thanks to our diving diligence, Kim and Dan remained sober for the entire course. Sorry guys.
Even out of the water our instructors Kim and Dan communicated with hand signals.
After we graduated we had the pleasure of seeing our instructor Kim performing a hula dance. Hand gestures underwater were terse and to the point: I’m OK, I’m out of air, Don’t touch that! Hula hand gestures on the other hand are complex and mesmerizing.
Once we had learned these basics we did several open water dives and even some simple cave diving. Swimming into a cave with the only a tiny light in the distance takes a certain nerve but underwater caves and canyons give a strong sense of flying.
The best dive was at Sacred Island. Legend has it that this was the home of the first Fijians. It is forbidden to walk on the Island but there is excellent diving off the shore.