It has been almost 15 months since I last put my dive gear on. Not being able to dive whilst pregnant, and then the three-hourly feeding cycle, has just made it impossible to get a dive in as yet. That’s not to say I’m not keen – I am desperate to get back in the water and see the fish!
It always seems so strange to me when people say they don’t like the idea of diving because they are claustrophobic. Rather than making me feel closed in, for me it brings a complete sense of freedom. Simultaneously exhilarating and relaxing. I can think of no better way to shake off the stress and frustrations of a bad day than to sink below the waves and blow bubbles for an hour or so.
However, I am still a way off being able to get out on the dive boat yet. So in lieu of actually diving, I seem to spend a lot of time thinking about it at the moment. Reminiscing about past dives, day dreaming about places to include on my dive wishlist.
We’ve had some pretty incredible dives so far. A ripping drift dive through Kandooma Thila in the Maldives, tumbling past a blur of kaleidoscopic coral. A night dive on the wreck of the USS Liberty, Bali, catching glimpses of dozens of sleeping bumphead parrotfish. Ian’s 100th dive in Sipadan, rolling back off the boat into a swirling mass of trevally, with a huge vortex of barracuda beyond them, blacktip and grey reef sharks cruising along beneath us.
Doing a safety stop in Malapascua, Philippines, with a mother eagle ray and her baby seemingly as interested in us as we were in them, as they dipped and weaved around us before disappearing over the horizon. Seeing the majesty of the purple soft-coral encrusted limestone façade of Richlieu rock, looming out of the darkness on a dawn dive as the sun slowly rises in the sky, clouds of bannerfish quivering in the pumping current. Those kind of dives are supreme privileges.
But there are so many more run-of-the-mill dive experiences I’ve treasured as much, if not more. The many dives on Bruneian reef sites seeking out cuttlefish. Me mimicking their waving tentacles, them ‘chatting’ back, coming in for a closer look, with their big soulful eyes, and their beautiful iridescent skirts pulsating and rippling. Or watching the platax batfish approach a cleaning station, changing colour from silver to deep grey to indicate their wish to be cleaned by the little fish on duty. And then there are the hours and hours Ian and I have spent as dive buddies, just bimbling about in the shallows and making the most of the extended dive time. Watching anemone fish bustling out and then darting back to safety, observing the hunting lionfish in the shadows, enjoying simply being underwater and seeing what surprises the dive has to offer.
Sometimes it is not even the dive itself that is the best bit of the memory, but the people you dived with, and the good times you shared. Like the dive I did on an awesome holiday with a friend in Egypt when I realised I wanted to be a diver. I might have felt sick as a dog on the rough boat journey, but nothing had ever felt more right when I was under the water watching the clouds of reef fish darting about. Or on the dive deck of MV Whirlwind during my first Red Sea liveaboard, Kasabian’s Fire blasting out, getting kitted up alongside friends, and feeling the collective adrenalin and eager anticipation for the dive. Even now, every time I hear that track it makes me smile.
Feeling a huge sense of team pride and achievement, working with other volunteers to clear abandoned fishing nets and crown of thorns starfish from a fragile reef which was being destroyed by their voracious appetite for coral. Even the dive with friends in Ecclestone Delph quarry just weeks before leaving the UK. Normally it is about as uninspiring as you can get. But this time the sun was shining, the site was quiet, and there we were, pootling along in the shallows, the water crystal clear, fish milling around us. It felt totally unlike the place I’d spent many a weekend at, helping out on courses, calming new student nerves and guiding them through the murky waters.
My first dive this year will probably be at least another couple of months away. I’m sure it won’t be the same total escapism it was before motherhood. In fact, I’m sure I’m going to spend most of the time wondering if baby girl is okay without me (which she will be, of course, but that’s motherhood I guess!). But if I’ve learnt anything from my dive experiences to date, it is to enjoy each dive for what it is. So even if I see nothing except water and bubbles on that first dive back in the big blue that will be enough for me!