In the midst of the wide ocean, with no visible reference to land or rock, the boatman threw down his anchor. The currents were strong, the coral below weak, and the anchor did not catch. Slowly but surely the boat was drifting away from the spot we were all gearing up to dive at. The captain changed the plan. He asked us to kit up on the boat, ready for our backroll into the water with our BCDs deflated. When we were all ready, masks defogged, fins on, regulators in our mouth, he made a small circle with the wooden boat and when we were directly above the secret spot he gave us a count of three and we tipped off the boat into the water...
Upon touching the water we all flipped our position so we were now descending head first into the blue, each exhalation like a surrender to the great ocean, and each surrender opened her up to us more, accepting us deeper and deeper. For several minutes there was only a dark indigo blue lit up intermittently by glowing specks of plankton. With no view of the surface and none of the sea bed, the suspended dots of phosphorescence were our only reference of depth. There is no greater peace in the world, no silence more profound, no nirvana other than the stillness of the mind that comes with falling freely out of one world into rebirth in the deep.
Then at about 35 metres beneath the surface we spot an oasis of life. Sheltered in the deep we sight the coral patch we were searching for. Our finning now has direction and we make our way to it. Steadily, until here comes a distraction. Attracted perhaps by our bubbles a school of more than a hundred curious batfish come into our vision. Flat but wide like sheets of paper, their ghostly grey and white bodies flit past us, we watch mesmerised. They ascend a little, hovering above us, while we continue descending deeper. Out of the darkness come the sleek cruel bodies of the dog-tooth tunas. They swim swiftly and menacingly towards us, before cutting a sharp turn just millimetres before us. We see an army of giant barracudas, still despite the current, prepared for attack. Simultaneously we feel threatened and sheepishly amused.
The lack of anchor line reference meant that we landed directly above the coral head rather than on the side by the base of it. We are mildly disappointed for it means that we missed the alley below the outcropping, where the sharks and remoras rest. We try and swim out towards the side of the coral, but ocean currents at depth won’t let us. Today she will only allow us this far, but it the powerful sharks are defiant and want to see us too. Three large reef sharks come to make the inspection, circling us from a distance once, twice, three times before they are bored of our non-fishy selves and go back to their hunt. We are distracted too, only minutes left before our computers will start beeping at us to ascend, and we still want to soak in the splendor of the gigantic groupers, the majestically slow Napolean Wrasses, the thousands of jacks.
Since we missed the usual beginning of our dive site and the currents are pushing us off it, our dive time is cut short and we begin our ascent that must be slow and interrupted with decompression stops at various depths in order to facilitate a controlled release of nitrogen accumulated in our blood streams. Diving is an experience that is at once most all encompassingly spiritual and most precisely scientific.
We hit 5 metres for our last and final decompression stop of 3 minutes, but I must have made it there a minute later than the group, for while their computers give them an all clear for surfacing, mine asks me to remain 1 minute longer. The group leaves me, and the surface surge turns me to face away from them. I do not fight it for so near the surface I do not feel the need to keep the group in sight constantly. I am about to ascend too when in the distance I see the silhouettes of what appear to be large graceful bodies of something. In the pauses between my breaths I hear not the silence that I expect, but the musical high notes that I associate with dolphins after years of watching Discover Channel. I am excited like a child that hears the rustling of cellophane paper on Christmas Eve, and I frantically wave down the group without taking my eyes of the sight developing in front of me.
Just metres away I see a group of about 15 to 20 dolphins. They must be a family, some are big, some small. They seem to be perfectly at ease, playing lazily with each other engrossed just in the joy of being with each other rather than focussed upon getting anywhere or catching anything. I am laughing underwater, their joy is infectious. Spinning, rubbing their bellies against each other, they seem to be as entirely oblivious of me as I am oblivious to anything but them. They gradually, naturally, begin to move away from me. I’m over the moon, I’m about to move towards the surface. I turn my back to them, smiling up at the rest of my group and the boat man whom I can see peering over the surface from the edge of the bow when I see them motioning wildly for me to turn around. I do. A young one from the group comes right up to me. His body vertical to mirror mine, his head is centimetres away from mine, my wide eyes locked in his playful ones. He has come to say farewell. To say I was not ignored during their play but included in it. I am delighted. He flits his tail then, and I feel the water he has displaced with his powerful young body nudging me in a playful shove. Then he sinks a little and flips around to rejoin his pod. I resurface to join mine.