Huge turtles hover so somnolently you can stroke them. You fly above a carpet of white sand the way you normally would only in your dreams. It’s nothing out of the ordinary to tickle sea cucumbers and touch live sponges. Welcome to the world of scuba diving,
The word scuba is an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. This refers to your own source of breathing gas, carried in what looks like a giant aerosol on your back. This gives you freedom of movement while you propel yourself along with the aid of swimfins. The top half of your face is covered by a diving mask, so you can’t breathe through your nose the way you normally do but you soon get used to inhaling from the diving regulator’s mouthpiece.
What strikes you, apart from a beauty that would make you drop your jaw if it wasn’t clamped to the mouthpiece, is the sheer peace
It’s a thrilling, grown-up version of the snorkel-and-flippers expeditions you used to make as a kid at the seaside while your mother watched anxiously from the beach in case you didn’t come up.
But isn’t it a bit risky and scary? Well, the advanced stuff demands proper training, but at entry level, provided you take the right precautions, it’s no more perilous than driving a car. I had my chance to try scuba diving on a trip to Barbados and before we were allowed to dip even a toe in the sea our instructor put us through some primary tests in the hotel swimming pool. Safety is taken very seriously.
Can you bear to put your head completely underwater? If that freaks you out – and some people do feel unhappy doing it – then you won’t be allowed to go on.
Everything, in fact, is geared to not panicking. You’re taught what to do if the pressure gets to your head (pinch your nose and snort down it sharply). You learn how to deal with mini-crises such as a water-filled headpiece or a mouthpiece that suddenly takes on a life of its own, slips out of your mouth and starts to float away (the trick is to windmill your arms and the hose will come back and drape itself over you).
Because you can’t communicate verbally underwater, you’ll be taught a whole new language of hand signals. If things are going well, for instance, you must never put your thumbs up because in scuba-speak that means, ‘Get me out of here quick’ and you’ll find yourself being yanked up to the surface.
The next step, of course, is to experience the real thing. Once you jump off the boat into the sea, equipment that seems a nighmarish weight on dry land is miraculously light when you start floating. You feel your way down via a rope attached to the boat and when you get to the bottom you find other people there, like entering a party in an underwater room.
What strikes you, apart from a beauty and wonder that would make you drop your jaw if it wasn’t clamped so tenaciously to the mouthpiece, is the sheer peace. If you are feeling frazzled by the strum and drang of life, this is the ultimate antidote; a place where all you can hear is the sound of your breathing. In fact, the biggest danger is that you feel so happy you’re tempted to stay down there for the rest of your life.
Want to know more? BSAC, the website of the British Sub-aqua club, is filled with practical information, and Scuba Diving will inspire you with ideas for places to go, travel deals and live-aboard cruises with the promise of a full day’s diving (if you want it) and a gourmet dinner (not so much B&B as Dine and Dive). Simply Scuba clues you up on kit. For somewhere in the UK to get started on the fundamentals, try Padi.