So, all tucked in to the hotel and rested, first thing Monday Pygmie and I made our way out to Emperor Divers which was conveniently located directly next to the hotel ... though in my case it was more yoyo-ing my way to the dive centre as I forgot my medical form, which meant hiking back across the vast hotel plot to my room only to find that I had left the key to my suitcase in the bag I had left with my cousin back at Emperor: cue much sweating before the day had even started.
Not that I was panicking and not thinking straight!!
Thankfully, they were in the process of organising dive trips and our instructor hadn't shown his face yet, so we just sat and took in what was going on for the next fifteen minutes or so. Then up popped our instructor, right hand with a swab stuck to it covering stitches and introduced himself as Walid.
First things first, we were despatched off to the equipment shed where we got ourselves kitted out with wetsuit, boots, BCD, face mask, snorkel and weight belt. I have never had the need nor inclination to wear a wetsuit before and can only liken it to a slighly tight, full-body, zippered condom ... not very flattering but you know you need one.
With our kit all selected and boxed away, we set about the first day of the course in the classroom where Walid proved to be a very funny and likeable instructor. Because of his little 'accident', the course was structured so that we did all the classroom work and associated tests in one day.
One of the points raised was that fish will only attack if they feel the need to defend, which led on to the story of how Walid ended up with several stitches in his hand...
Something that is quite useful for a diver is to have a tool that can be used to attract your buddy's attention if you need them to look at you for communication. In Walid's case, he had a small piece of metal that he used to tap against his tank. About a month ago, he was diving with a team and dropped this tool which fell onto the reef. Without thinking, he reached down to pick it up and was suddenly bitten by a large Moray Eel ... the piece of metal had landed right outside its front door!
As with all manly tales, he told us how he had practically shrugged off the attack, with bits of skin hanging off his hand. Of course, we found out from our other instructor, Sarah, later in the course that his version of events was just a little tainted and he had actually refused to look at his hand and was a complete wuss. Her response on seeing the bite?
"Is that it?!"
And through all this, he still managed to hold on to his little piece of metal!!!!
Anyhoo, day one was finished with Pygmie and myself having to swim 200 metres and then tread water for 10 minutes. Whilst we didn't have a problem doing this, I have realised two things:
- I need to learn to swim slower if I am to be a suitable diving buddy for Pygmie
- I need to get back into the swimming lark as I did start to tire sooner than I expected.
So, day one complete, it was time to find somewhere to eat...
Dive Course: Day 2
For the rest of the course, because Walid was unable to do any water-based activities due to his mishap, we were handed over to Sarah who had 23 years of diving experience under her weight belt, so we knew from the start we were in good hands.
The thing you could tell about Sarah right from the start was how chilled out and down to earth she was, which certainly helped me heaps. If we'd had an instructor that was anything like my driving instructor I would probably have had to have been resuscitated on my first dive!!
Actually, it was something you could say about all of the guys at Emperor, they were all pretty laid back and the only stress was when three Dutch f*ckwits caused problems by not following the rules and not respecting other divers.
But I digress...
Our second day of the course was our first day in the scuba kit doing the closed water dives and I have to confess I was rather nervous. As a kid I used to have two kinds of water dream, one where I would be drowning in a pond and I would invariably wake up having an asthma attack and another where I was able to breathe underwater. Of course, I clung to the idea of the latter dream to help me relax when I first went under.
To be able to breathe underwater is amazing, and once you get over the weirdness of it, it is quite relaxing. Or at least it was until we had to start doing the underwater activities. Things like the fin pivots were fine, where we had to find neutral buoyancy, but then we moved on to mask clearing, mask removal, swimming without the mask, feeling what it was like with no air and alternate air-source breathing, to name a very few.
I have to admit that it was the mask removal that caught me out. I have a tendency to breath through my nose a lot, so clearing my mask wasn't a problem because every time I breathed out, I emptied my mask!
The first time I emptied my mask, I did breathe in through my nose and took in a load of water, so I ended up coughing with the regulator which meant I filled my stomache up with air. Sarah signalled if I was okay, and I said no, I had to surface ... and did so belching all the way like some gassy whale.
It did weird me out and I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do it, but as Sarah pointed out, I've just got to learn to do it. Fair point. So we went back down again and whilst Pygmie did his mask removal exercise, I practiced breathing through just my mouth, et voila, a successful mask removal and replacement!!
In fact, it was a success in more ways than one as I also succeeded in opening my eyes underwater for the first time, which helped when it came to swimming round the pool without the mask on, so I was rather chuffed at this :-)
If there is one thing that all of the underwater activities highlighted, its this: relax. If you don't relax then that's when things start to go awry, and for someone as tense as me, this can take a lot of work ... but it is WELL worth it.
So, day two down and we could now look forward to undertaking the open water dives, but there would be more of us for this as we had a referral coming from the UK. We wondered who it might be. Could it be some sexy young thing (unlikely), or some lad who was going to join us whilst his girlfriend was off shopping or sunning herself?
Dive Course: Day 3
Day three started off a bit late as we were waiting for the referral to arrive so that we could all head off to Shark's Bay. It turned out that it was a lady that would be joining us and that she had been having problems getting to her hotel and then to the dive centre. When she arrived, if Pygmie and I had bet, then I would have won as she wasn't a young babe.
Her name was Mary, a widow who was basically filling up her time trying out new things ... which I really have to admire her for, as I would never have gone out to Egypt all my own or tried a new activity without having someone else I knew there. Nothing like having the moral support of friends and family.
And having someone you can talk to about it afterwards.
So, we headed off to Shark's Bay to perform two shore dives, riding in the coach with the Dutch who we thankfully weren't having to dive with.
You're probably thinking that for our first open water dives, going to a place called Shark's Bay may not be a great place to start. It turns out that the bay has actually be misnamed by tourists as sharks do not enter the bay at all. However, it is frequented by Milk Fish which have a habit of finning at the surface, so tourists see the dorsal fins protruding from the water and immediately think of sharks, hence the name of the bay :-)
The purpose of these first open water dives was to practice some of the techniques we had performed in the closed water dives, such as fin pivots and mask removal - thankfully not swimming without the mask - and to have one of our first normal dives, swimming around in order to get used to controlling our buoyancy and getting into the habit of checking our depth and pressure gauges ... which is quite hard when you're diving for the first time and there is so much amazing stuff to see!!
One activity we did have to perform that we could only simulate in the pool was the Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (CESA). In the pool, we had to swim horizontally across the pool in order that we could cover the 10 metre distance. This was another of those activities that I had to attempt twice as the first time I blew out too much air and had to take a breath halfway, which kind of defeats the object!
Performing the CESA in open water did have me nervous, but Sarah assured us that it would be a lot easier as we would be rising vertically and so the changes in pressure would make it feel like we had lots of air to expel. Logical. Rational. Absolutely physical science. But until I'd done it and known what it felt like, I was still going to be nervous about it.
I need not have worried! I totally understood the science behind it but actually doing it and feeling it was quite an experience.
Basically, 10 metres down, you are looking at 2 atmospheres of pressure, or 2 bar. This means that if your lungs hold 5 litres of air at the surface, then they will hold 10 litres at 10 metres (twice the capacity as there is twice the pressure), due to the pressure compressing the air. As you surface, the air in your air spaces expands, so as you ascend doing a CESA it is necessary to gently breathe out constantly so that your lungs do not over-expand.
It is a weird sensation to surface after breathing out for 10 metres and find that there is still air in your lungs and you're not squeezing out the last molecules available!!
With two dives out of the way, and getting more understanding of the recreational dive planners, we all headed back to the dive centre to wash our kit off and head out for the night.
Dive Course: Final Day
For the final day of the course, we were heading out on the Mahy Tours boat to undertake the last two open water dives and to do an excursion dive at White Knights, Ras Bob and The Tower, respectively.
I honestly can't remember too much from these dives insofar as what we saw where as I have to confess that I was still in awe of the whole thing. All those fish and coral!
Although for the first two dives we were still doing our skills training, such as surface and underwater straight-line navigation, further mask removal and fin pivots, as well as surface BCD/tank removal and replacement, Sarah did allow us to take our little Fujifilm cameras so that we could take pics at the times where we were doing some swimming about.
It was on these dives that Cat joined us from Video Bubbles who video'd the dive for all of those on the boat, though she did tend to focus on us newbies as we were actually doing activities which made for more interesting filming, so we ended up with a rather personalised video of our final dives, albeit a bit on the expensive side!
After getting out of the water after the dive at Ras Bob, Sarah then congratulate each of us on becoming divers. Oh, wow!!
I never thought I would actually get through the course but to then be congratulated on a successful completion, I did have a bit of an emotional moment and got a bit shaky, but felt so ecstatic.
Then we had an option. Sarah approached us to say that we could either do the excursion dive or we could join them for a night dive. I did like the idea of a night dive as we had heard it was beautiful down their at night, but I knew that if I did, there was no way I would be in any condition to do the two adventure dives that Pygmie also wanted to do the next day.
So, I opted for the excursion dive. I know Pygmie wanted to do the night dive and I feel bad for that, but there is plenty of time to get it in. We don't have to cram it all in now :-)
Our final day of the course then, was finished off nicely with a dive at The Tower, no skills tests or activities, just a straightforward dive where we could take in the sights and photograph the fish.