As we step of the catamaran Andréa is waiting on the pier for us. She asks how the visa run went and wasn't surprised to hear our hellish tale then asks if we are up to watching the video at 4pm, I reluctantly say yes. We fill in forms and move in to our beach bungalow (accommodation is free or at least included in the price). It's small, in fact it's tiny, barely big enough for us let alone our bags and full of mosquitoes, but I guess we have stayed in worse. We just have enough time to grab a coffee before we settle down to watch the video which is the start of our Open Water Course. Bear in mind that after just reading the first chapter of the book I am totally petrified and watching the video only compounds that fear. I leave the class room an even bigger bag of nerves than when I entered it while the others, Ben, Gareth, Tom and Marie Louise are all excited and cant wait for the skills test tomorrow
. The England match is on tonight but I am so tired I can't even be bothered to watch it; it's against Sweden so I know it will be a draw and we have qualified anyway so I figure my sleep is more important to me (sorry guy's but this girl has gotta get some sleep).
Begins in the class room as Andréa explains far too many things for my aching weary body and mind to take in. She tells me I will love it once I am down there, I tell her I won't! The more she explains the more scared I am. If I'd have been designed to swim under water I would have been born a fish of some sort; with fins and gills (probably a shark or maybe a clown fish). Ok class room over, meet at pier at 12.30pm. I force myself to eat as the fear inside grows and grows and at 12.30 everyone including me is surprised to see me trying on my wet suit and fins. Ok this is it. We take our boxes to the boat and climb on board; away we go. The plan is to do our skills test at Japanese Gardens as it is called in a few meters of water, knelt down so if anything goes wrong we can just stand up. Of course the tallest in the group is 6 foot and I'm only 4 foot 10 inches so already I'm at a disadvantage. As the boat anchors we gear up; wet suit, BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) with all its attachments, namely the tank of air which lets you breath under water, fins, mask and hey presto we are ready to jump in and swim to shallow water
Standing at the edge of the boat on the top step of the ladder is enough to make me want to pass out. Everyone is waiting. Ok, breathe through regulator, hold weight belt with left hand, hold mask and regulator over face with right hand and jump. Just writing about it now is giving me palpations so I'm sure you can imagine how I'm feeling stood there? So I jump. I hit the water and once in I'm flapping like mad to get back to the surface (while all the time trying to remember to breathe through my mouth not my nose). Why did it take me so long to get back to the surface, because I forgot to put a bit of air in my BCD to make me float. Ben was almost ready to jump in after me because he thought I was drowning. Anyway I managed to get back to the surface, was floating nicely and then Andréa says 'put snorkel in mouth and snorkel to Japanese Gardens.' It seems like miles away and I keep getting mouthfuls of salty sea water so she tells me to just use my regulator; I sound like Darth Vader, May the force be with you Rosey! By the time we get to the shallow part I've swallowed half of the ocean, had enough and want to get out but can't; we are in the middle of no where (though there is a small island close by), the boat looks to be 20 miles away so I may as well give it a go. We deflate our BCD's and sink to our knees, I equalise my ears ready to begin the skills test. I'm not sure I can remember them all or in what order (I was more bothered about remembering to breathe) but we had to take the regulator out of our mouths, find it dangling in the water and put it back in while remembering to keep blowing tiny bubbles out of our mouths because if you hold your breath your lungs expand due to the pressure of the water and basically you can die!! I managed it even with a pulse rate that would have been of the scale. Next partially flooding the mask; you pull it away from the top above your eyes a little and let it half fill with water, take a big breath through your regulator and blow out of your nose and bingo you can see clearly again
. I managed this too even though I nearly choked as I tried to breath through my nose. Andréa calmed me down and I felt ok. We did shared breathing and then had to completely remove the mask, put it back on and clear it. Ok I've had enough now and am surprise I have not drowned because I'm still trying to breathe through my nose and I'm sure I can feel the ocean getting lower due to the fact that I've swallowed most of it! As well as the fact that I really need to pee and the weight belt keeps pressing on my bladder so I feel like I'm going to burst too (if we had been in a swimming pool which is where most places do this part of the course I would have got out I know this for sure). I go up to breathe normal air and Andréa follows asking if I am ok. NO I AM NOT! She tells me I can do it and that I will like it so back down I go. It feels like we have been under for hours sorry, no bloody days as we swim back to the boat. No prizes for guessing I am the first back on the boat. Andréa tells us all we have done really well and then goes on to explain tomorrow; we have an exam to complete and will be doing dives 1 & 2. We all head to the pub, them lot thrilled at what we've done, me still on the verge of having a seizure but glad to be alive. We get an early night.
The morning is spent in the class room and we all complete our exam then head off for lunch before meeting at 12.30pm at the dive shop. We climb on board and head out to the same place as yesterday, but today we will do a controlled descend from the boat, which means we will grab the anchor rope and pull ourselves down to 12 meters. We gear up and jump in, this time remembering to inflate my BCD a little so I don't sink and off we go down to 12, yes I said 12 meters
! We sink to our knees for more bloody skills tests. This time we have to find our buoyancy which means breathing and partially inflating our BCD to keep us a few feet off the sea bed so you can swim comfortably and look at all the pretty fish and coral. Of course I am up and down like a prostitute's pair of knickers and every one is killing them selves laughing. I want to go up and breathe normal air but Andréa won't let me; she pulls me along by the tube which inflates/deflates by BCD. Ok so I'm starting to enjoy it just a little and even managed to laugh several times while maintaining my breathing. We come up right at the side of the boat and you guessed it I'm the first back on board. We rest for an hour and prepare our selves for dive two. Ben can't wait to get back in I can't wait to get back on land. Off we go again this time we just descend, deflate BCD and basically sink to the bottom, find our buoyancy level and swim. So I'm swimming and breathing nicely when a hug rock finds its way right in front of me (inconsiderate rock I know) so I take a huge breath to take me up a tad then as I breathe out I should go back down, only I keep rising and rising. Andréa signals me to get my arse back down by deflating my BCD so I do and I sink a foot then go back up again. She looks pissed, swims up grabs me by my fins and drags me back down barely giving me time to equalize on the way. Everyone is laughing including me and off we go again swim, swim, swim. 10 minutes later I am back up to maybe 3 meters while them lot swim along at 12. They all do there buddy shared air ascend while I just ascend on my own thankful that today is over. The journey back is spent laughing at my expense, Andréa is still convinced I will love it, I again tell her I won't and you can't make me. Tomorrow is the final day and we will descend to 18 meters?
Having to get up at 6.30am is a struggle in its self for me; anyone who knows me knows I hate getting out of bed on a morning, least of all to do this
. I don't like it and I don't even know why I'm putting myself though all this anxiety. We grab a coffee and set sail to Shark Island (as if that ain't scary enough) for dives 3 & 4. Oh forgot to say today is being filmed. I am a nervous wreck, I feel sick and my heart is beating faster than I'm sure it is actually capable of. Andréa says today we do the James Bond roll off the boat; what's she trying to do make sure I have a heart attack! She also tells us we have to do the mask flooding skill one more time. Ok so I'm stood at the edge of the boat all geared up and I freeze, I can't or maybe won't do the James Bond roll so I just step off like before. We make our way to the anchor rope for the controlled descend and prepare to do the mask flood, I go first. So I'm under the water just a few feet, breathing and Andréa signals ok for me to begin. I lift it from the top like before, breath though my nose and am choking to death, panicking like made; this is it I'm going to die! Andréa grabs my BCD and shakes me, telling me with hand signals to breathe through my regulator trying to calm me down. I am hysterical, I can't get my breath back, she pinches my nose so I have to breathe though my mouth, I signal to go up but she keeps hold and won't let me then sends Ben down hoping he will reassure me that everything is ok. I am not interested, I still can't get my breathing back, my chest is tight and I can feel tears sting my eyes. I really need to get out now; my life is way more valuable than a piece of paper that says I can dive to 18 meters. Everyone else does their mask flood and starts to descend, Andréa signals to ask if I am ok, I say NO I want to go up. I can see the disappointment in her eyes but she has no choice she has to let me go up, so she simply waves bye, bye and I come up, breathe normal fresh air and start crying my eyes out as I watch her descend. I wondered if I'd be able to get my breath back and maybe rejoin them but no the captain calls me back to the boat, helps me on board and I cry some more, not sure why; maybe relief that I am still alive, sadness for letting everyone down and anger as my dream of diving in the Great Barrier Reef slips away before my eyes
. So that's it I've failed. When they all climb back on the boat I am still crying and Andréa tells me to dismantle my equipment so I cry even more. They prepare and head of for their final dive while I cry and cry still not knowing fully why I'm crying. They return as certified PADI Open Water Divers, while I feel like a complete failure, defeated, deflated, dejected and wishing I hadn't bothered wasting my money. They all jump off the top deck of the boat for the video and Andréa asks me to come up, I refuse and continue to wipe tears from my eyes. Then she tells me I haven't failed she can certify me as a Scuba Diver (meaning I can dive to 12 meters) or I can try again tomorrow if I want. I say I will think about it and let her know later. We head back to our shoe box and Ben says he is so proud of me because 3 months ago you wouldn't have even got me to sign up let alone give it a go. Andréa is proud too cause she thought I'd quit after the first day so why do I feel so shit? We all meet back up at 4pm to watch the video which makes me cry again and I tell Andréa that I will settle for the Scuba Diving Certification; I can't go through all that again tomorrow, the fear out weighs the wanting to complete it. Maybe one day I will try again but for now I'm happy being a certified Scuba Diver, yippee! I would like to thank Andréa she's a natural teacher and a lovely person who got me to do far more than I ever thought I would or could. We went out to celebrate that night even though I just wanted to cry some more. We drank a few beers, played pool and had a good laugh which was much needed I can tell ya.
Ben will have a day off then start his Advanced Open Water, he's a natural.
To be continued. . . . .