The engine hums mechanically shooting rhythmic vibrations pulsing through the cabin as it propels our 75 foot boat towards our dive site. Today, the waves are small, and we gently rock and roll from side to side on the undulating ocean. The outward journey is just under three hours. I don’t wish any of it away. It’s part of what I love about diving, time spent just being on the sea. The movement, sound, vibration, soothe and excite.
It has been 8.5 months since I last submerged myself below the ocean’s silvery skin. 8.5 months of walking on dry, sometimes cold land, occasionally finding the opportunity to hold my breath and immerse myself in a beautiful liquid sea. But 8.5 months since I have been able to stay below for an extended period of time.
We arrive at our dive site. Koh Bida Nok. I stand, geared up and waiting. Sleek in faded black wetsuit. Aluminium tank on my back plus six kilos of weight. I am heavy and awkward and sweating in the tropical heat. Then finally the moment comes to jump and I stride forward into the warm azure Andaman sea. Regulator in my mouth, I exhale and sink far below the surface to that perfect point where I am weightless and free, suspended in the ocean’s deep blue. Breathe in and I rise. Exhale and I fall. Life becomes that simple.
For an hour, we glide around the rocky formation that is Koh Bida Nok. There are critters large and small to find and see. A small cuttlefish camouflaged with the sand that glows ominously in warning as we approach. A nudibranch, bright purple and white, slithers slowly, its antennae flapping in the mild current. Anemone fish dart back and forth whilst glaring mock-menacingly, asserting their territory. Shrimp hide in tiny rock crevices whilst a flat flounder hides in the sand. A goby guards the hole of its burrowing shrimp. Schools of tropical fish circle rocky bommies. A few black-tip reef sharks whiz silently by. One giant unblinking eye of spiky puffer fish remains fixed on me as it glides past, curious about the smooth black bodied, finned human hovering and blowing bubbles in its terrain.
Some creatures are shown to me by our dive guide but many I discover for myself. It is these self-discoveries that I love the best. Excitement spikes the pit of my stomach when I find for myself something small hidden away or a creature camouflaged against its surrounds. It’s as if I’m finally succeeding in slowing down and really paying attention to the world around me.
Mary Oliver asked, “Listen--are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” And in these moments when I am breathing fully, slowly, mesmerised and awestruck by the magic mystery of our planet, of this life I can answer that I am fully alive.
After one more dive, we pack up our equipment as the dive boat powers back towards port. The surface of the sea is now almost flat and I watch a million tiny stars dance upon its surface forging a path towards the horizon. The movement, sound and vibration accompanies our journey home but this time mirrors great peace.
Passing Koh Dok Mai on the way out
Fierce anemone fish
A pair of nudibranchs
Me after a dive in Phi Phi
Beautiful rippled Andaman Sea
On the way back to Chalong