Our first day started in a coffee shop where we met our instructor, a Spaniard named Sergio. Now in his thirties he has been diving for many years, clocking up thousands of dives. In the summer he runs his own school in Spain and in the off-season comes to Koh Tao to teach.
To begin with we went over the first few chapters in our text book, focussing on equipment, dive physics and primary dangers along with the techniques required to avoid them. Our small class size of three had plenty of questions, and after an extensive Q&A we collected our gear and headed out to the beach where a longtail was waiting to take us over to the dive boat.
Other students and recreational divers were already there with their own instructors. And soon a good fifteen people were speeding out with us, toward the ancient dive boat that rocked gently in the west bay of the island. Climbing on to the boat, we were introduced to the deckhand Ow, and the captain whose name remained a mystery – I asked, but the surly man either didn’t understand or chose to ignore me. The boat started up its engines in a cloud of black smoke and Nicole and I both grimaced as the smoke hung like a blot on the landscape of the bay.
Soon we had arrived at our first dive site, the ‘twins’. Swimming away from the boat into shallow chest-high water, we started practising the use of the buoyancy vest and the regulator which provides the air. Sitting on the bottom of this shallow sandbank was brilliant. The water was a balmy thirty degrees, visibility was good up to fifteen meters, and the crystal clear waters hosted hundreds of small fish which swam around us, occasionally letting curiosity drive them closer towards us for a better look.
Nicole didn’t feel so comfortable with the diving and so bowed out after our initial day under water, this left me swimming on subsequent days with one English chap named Joe and some other already-qualified divers along for fun-dives.
I found some of the safety exercises to be fairly challenging. One of these had me take my weight belt off whilst on the sea-bed. I was supposed to then hold it out in front of me before strapping it back on. As I held the belt out, I developed an incredible cramp in my leg. Kicking out my leg to ease the pain I was suddenly upside down, legs in the air, with my mask letting in water. The belt to which I was still clinging, was anchoring me to the floor!
Over the next few days I dove three other sites which featured fantastic arrangements of coral. One site was a giant submerged rock with a tunnel through the middle of it, which we then swam through. All around us pieces of coral grew out from the rock and spectacular fish swam in the dull light which filtered down from eighteen metres above us. We emerged from the tunnel and Sergio turned to us and tipped his hand like a gun, forefinger and thumb extended. This was the signal to indicate the titan trigger fish was in the area. Following his gesture I saw four of these fish a few metres out. As instructed we all turned onto our backs and started swimming away from these volatile fish. As the distance increased a sudden flurry of movement broke out amongst the trigger fish and they started fighting amongst themselves, smashing and biting at each other before swimming (thankfully) further away.
I saw many other types of fish on these four dives, including blue ringed angel fish, stone fish (which are well camouflaged and very difficult to spot), beaked coral fish, chevron barracuda, butterfly fish and parrot fish. There were many others that I was unable to identify, along with sea cucumbers and sea urchins. I found the variety of life to be the most amazing part of diving and can’t wait to use my newly-acquired ‘open water qualification’ to explore more sites; hopefully in the future with an underwater camera.