Who Wants to be by the Sea­side?

South African Country Life - - In This Issue - Map ref­er­ence C9 see in­side back cover

Our su­per-six Western Cape beaches for es­cap­ing the crowds

wor­ried were we about our first ex­pe­di­tion into and un­der the great In­dian Ocean.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing we were taken to the beach at Sodwana Bay to be met by dozens of dive stu­dents kit­ting up and get­ting ready to hit the reefs, and nu­mer­ous boats to­ing and fro­ing, packed to the gills with fel­low aquatic ad­ven­tur­ers. In high sea­son, Co­ral Divers re­sort can be home to hun­dreds of SCUBA schol­ars, and can launch up to 30 boats per day.

Un­for­tu­nately for us, the seas were un­usu­ally rough that day, and our trip out through the break­ers to the near­est reef was tu­mul­tuous. As I glanced at all the other first­time stu­dents packed onto our boat, I was re­minded of those old movies I had seen of the D-Day land­ings at Nor­mandy. Ev­ery­one looked ter­ri­fied. Some were mum­bling prayers. Oth­ers were kiss­ing pen­dants and

cru­ci­fixes. Sam had turned green. Ti­aan was hold­ing his hand. I wanted him to hold mine too, but daren’t ask.

Be­fore long we were po­si­tioned over the reef and, one by one, like Navy Seals, we ex­ited the boat and be­gan our de­scent to the ocean floor. Down there, the swell wasn’t so no­tice­able and our nau­sea sub­sided.

But it was still pretty scary. We were sur­rounded by tons of colour­ful fish and pic­turesque corals but hardly no­ticed them, so fo­cused were we on stay­ing alive. Sam and I clung to each other like a baby mon­key would its mother. Ti­aan had to prise us apart. But be­ing the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional that he is, he man­aged to calm us down with a series of hand ges­tures that said, ‘Dudes. Calm down and re­mem­ber your train­ing’. So that’s what we did.

One by one, we re­peated the ex­er­cises we had per­fected in the pool. We demon­strated that we could clear our masks should they be­come flooded. We showed off our emer­gency pro­ce­dures and ver­i­fied our abil­ity to con­trol our un­der­wa­ter buoy­ancy. Then, back up at the sur­face, Ti­aan clapped us on our backs and loudly pro­nounced that we had passed all the tests, and were now bona fide SCUBA divers. Sam and I threw up over the side and, lo, the fish did re­joice and con­sume.

We did an­other three open-wa­ter dives af­ter that one, all in calmer con­di­tions and all with a feel­ing of seren­ity born of the con­fi­dence that we knew what we were do­ing down there. In such state of mind we could truly en­joy the busi­ness of SCUBA diving. Marvel at the co­ral and the sen­sa­tion of slow fly­ing un­der­wa­ter, and watch in awe the crea­tures that swam around us. It felt like we were there with Sir David At­ten­bor­ough, in an episode of Blue Planet.

But then, part way into our fi­nal dive, my son started to leak bub­bles from the cor­ner of his mouth­piece and thrash his arms and legs. Horrified, and as­sum­ing he was in big trou­ble, my train­ing kicked in and I grabbed him and tried to stuff my emer­gency air sup­ply into his mouth, but he just shook his head and gave me the hand sig­nal for ‘DudeCalm-Down’.

Point­ing to a small cave be­neath a par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful piece of fan-shaped co­ral sat an in­nocu­ous lit­tle fish with large doe-like eyes and pep­pered with white spots. It gave us with a pen­sive gaze.

I could see Sam beam­ing, even with his reg­u­la­tor in his mouth. There it was, the rea­son for our ad­ven­ture in the first place. The white-spot­ted puffer fish. Co­ral Divers Sodwana 033 345 6531 [email protected]­divers.co.za, www.coral­divers.co.za

TOP LEFT: Sam sur­faces af­ter com­plet­ing his un­der­wa­ter prac­ti­cal exam. TOP RIGHT: Don’t be afraid. Most jel­ly­fish species are not dan­ger­ous and, what’s more, wear­ing a wet­suit will pro­tect you even from the ones that are.LEFT: Ti­aan shows Sam how to safely set up his diving equip­ment. BE­LOW LEFT: It’s not all about ma­rine life.You will find all sorts of ter­res­trial wildlife at Sodwana Bay too, in­clud­ing guineafowl. BE­LOW: iSi­man­gal­iso, which in­cludes Sodwana Bay, in­cor­po­rates about 220 kilo­me­tres of pris­tine beaches.

The ob­ject of Sam’s af­fec­tion – a white-spot­ted puffer fish.

LEFT: Co­ral Divers staff and stu­dents head out for a day of SCUBA diving. ABOVE: A pretty lit­tle box fish, just one of the hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of fish species that can be en­coun­tered when diving KwaZulu-Natal.

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