Who Wants to be by the Seaside?
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.