I love the ocean and have spent around 265 hours exploring her depths from below not to mention all the time I have spent snorkeling on her surface. Despite the hours and all my courses, I still consider myself somewhat of a novice. My relationship with the sea is still developing as I learn more and more about her ways, her tides, her currents, her fickleness and her hidden treasures.
There are times when she scares me. When her waves are big and she threatens to hold me below the surface when I swim at the beach. When plankton and other particles are suspended thickly amongst her molecules so that I can barely see a metre ahead of me as I descend below her surface. Sometimes, as I cruise over her surface, merely thinking about her depth and what possibly lies beneath flickers a little fear. She is so big and I am so small that if she embraced me in the middle of nowhere I would surely be lost. And of course there are those Hollywood monsters that I can’t see that lurk below. Not being able to see what is there. That is what scares me.
The dark escalates my fear. Dark forests. Dark deserted roads. Being at home alone in a big house at night. These things ignite my imagination where hidden dangers linger. Vicious monsters, ghosts and perhaps even murderers. And then there is night diving. Combining both of my fears, the dark and not being able to see in the sea.
My first night dive was from the beach off Koh Phi Phi Don in Thailand some seven years ago. It wasn’t something that I really wanted to do. I just needed another specialty to complete my Advanced Open Water certification in the time I had left on Phi Phi and a night dive saved part of the day. Our instructor suggested it and I just agreed without really thinking about what it involved.
I remember standing in the black sea, torch off, moving my arms through the water and watching fascinated as sparks shot through the water like mini silver fireworks as my movement agitated the phytoplankton. Then it was time to dive. Torches on and we descended. It felt suffocatingly black. My heart raced and anxiety compressed my chest. I wanted to stay near our dive guide but he swam so fast and was so far ahead of us. All I remember of that dive is finning fast, trying to keep up and follow his light. I was relieved when the dive was over. I didn’t enjoy it and I was never keen to night dive again.
Jump forward five years. I have completed my Divemaster and I am called in last minute to work on a four day live aboard in the Similan Islands. Four dives a day including a night dive. I have no choice. I have to guide at night. This time we dived from the boat. At night the boat has its lights on which you can easily see for some 50 metres under the water. There is no fear of getting lost and the lights make the immediate area a little less black. I relaxed and went to explore the dark world around me looking for shrimps and crabs and cowries whilst impossibly trying to keep my dive group together. It really was like herding cats. They never did like to follow me even in day light. After 45 minutes shallow dive we surfaced. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. I repeated it one more time but still wasn’t keen to do it again.
A week ago I left on a three day three night liveaboard diving trip to the south Andaman sea diving at Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Koh Haa, three sites I have long dreamed of diving. It included an optional night dive. I decided to dive in the dark. For fun. Just looking at the sea after the sun had set, the water felt deep although the coral floor was only 14 metres below. I felt my usual level of anxiety rise compressing my chest with the fearful wonder of what lurks below that I cannot see.
I turned my torch on, jumped in, took a few deep breaths and then we descended. The boat’s lights projected through the dark sea so it was not blinding black. I relaxed. I shone my torch around and started to explore the area looking into holes and crevices to see what I could find. Crabs, shrimp, lobster. Lion fish were out hunting. Parrot fish were sleeping in behind coral overhangs. A pair of giant pink nudibranchs slivered slowly along a rock. Feather stars came to life gracefully moving their feeding arms and recoiling in my direct torch light.
I dived at the back of the group and I often held my torch against my wetsuit and looked back into the blackness. My fins flicked invisible plankton shooting sparks from my feet. I found myself wishing every body would turn their lights off so it would be completely dark. I turned back around and I was surrounded by thousands of pairs of beady eyes staring at me. Shrimp were everywhere. After 25 minutes we turned around and started swimming back towards the boat following the dim glow until it became brighter and brighter and we surfaced at the back of the boat, my darkness anxiety left behind in the black sea.
I loved the dive. I loved being in the darkness. I loved shining my torch into the black surprising fish with my torch light. And I loved watched the phytoplankton sparks. It felt adventurous and I felt brave. I climbed back onto the deck and looked back at the shimmering liquid black. Momentarily, the memory of fear flickered through my cells. But I know what lurks below. I know the gifts of darkness. And I can’t wait to dive at night again.
|An almost full moon, Phetchaburi, Thailand|