It has been awhile since I posted here, and that was primarily because I had run out of interesting things to do in Bangkok. I don't want to bore anyone, least of all myself by writing "Went to Burger King for lunch today...." so I have just held off on the posts. But Last week I found something new, at least to me and it turned out to be a pretty interesting week. I got certified as an Open Water SCUBA diver.
To make a really long story short, I studied the book one night and took written tests the next day. Aced them all. The following day I had the pool sessions. No problems there either. And the next day I went diving in the Gulf of Thailand near Pattaya, Thailand. That trip was not so problem free.
Much to my surprise I became quite uneasy as I descended for the first time into 10 meters of wild water. Visibility was poor and I could not see the sandy bottom until I was well over half way down. Of course that means that I also could not see the surface once I was down past 10 feet or so. I have never been anxious in the water, but this experience rattled me. My anxiety was exacerbated by some equipment problems too. My rented bouyancy vest was old and not functioning correctly (it actually sprung a leak later in the day and had to be scrapped) and I had on too little weight on my weight belt. These two things and my inexperience meant that I had a very difficult time keeping myself at the proper depth to stay with my group. My anxiety and the exertion used staying at depth lead to heavy, anxious breathing that used up my air tank in about 45 minutes. They should last a lot longer than that. But my first dive was complete and I was on track for certification. The pic to the right is a black sea urchin. It stings.
During my second dive, I still did not have my weight belt configured properly and I was too light to stay on bottom again. Well, it was actually a couple of things. During this dive my bouancy vest gave up the ghost. It sprung a leak and refused to hold air for more than 30 seconds. It was also too big for me (too fat, not too tall) and would cantankerously hold air in folds when I didn't want it to be there. To make matters worse, this was a skills dive in which I had to do things like flood and clear my mask, ascend from the bottom with no air supply and what not. To do all that I had to be able to stay in position so my instructor could see me. But after clearing my mask for the second time, I had to signal my instructor that I had to surface. I was fighting my bouyancy vest so hard I just could not stay down. We surfaced and added a Kilogram to my belt and went down for more tests. I got them all done, but I was not getting any more comfortable in the water. It seemed like nothing was going well, and I was thinking that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. But the second and final dive for the day was over and I headed to the surface after about 1 hour and 10 minutes on the bottom. Better than the 45 minute first dive.
My dive group consisted of Eleven age 30 something Thais who invited me to spend the evening with them. We went to a Thai seafood resturant where they passed plate after plate of "not too spicy" foods over for me to sample. They all laughed heartily as the expression on my face indicated that some of the dishes were maybe a "little too spicey" after all. We had a good time and I ate things that I have not eaten before. I may have some of them again. Some I may not.
In the morning our group went to a Thai breakfast place for another meal like I have not had before. Thai breakfast apparently focuses on soup. Not what I am used to but it was hearty and satisfied my hunger.
After breakfast, and a quick stop at Starbucks we got back to the boat for the second day of diving tests. I had a new bouyancy vest (that worked) and I had finally found the right set-up for my weight belt so the first dive this day was perfect. I was comfortable and performed all the skills easily, just like in the pool. Finally a good dive that boosted my confidence. Back on track. At the end of this dive we found a nearby coral reef and poked around a little. A fishing net was tangled on the reef and my instructor freed it while I kept back a little and rolled it up to carry back to the boat. I hope the reef is happier now. My instructor got stung a little bit, but she obviously felt that her effort was worthwhile.
A rain squally blew in while we ate lunch and it looked like it would not clear very soon so we took the dive boat to the other side of the island and prepared to dive the abandoned pier near an Island resort. Unfortunatly, I am a big guy and we took nine novice divers into this pretty confined space with very poor visibility. There were lots of fish to see, and corals, sea fans and all sorts of things growing on every piling. But I cannot yet put myself in postion and maintain it very long, so as the instructor would find interesting things, by the time all nine of us tried to get a glimpse of them, I found myself more often than not drifting into something that would sting me if I didn't get myself out of there. Another less than perfect dive, but this time it was just because of my insufficient skills and a group that was too large for the dive site.
Well, I am certified for open water diving now, but I have alot of practicing to do before I am competent. I intend to go back for another practice dive next weekend and hopefully I will be ready for a real dive into clear water with lots to see in August. Might even dive at night. We'll see.