Why on earth would I want to do that?! One of the first things you learn is as a diver is “never dive alone” or even “dive alone, die alone”!! So not really confidence inspiring when you realise that solo diving is an option. But of course it’s an option, and of course, when you sign up, which ever organisation you do the course with extols the joys of solo diving and that the “buddy system” has some glaring problems in reality (compared to it’s perfect theoretical application).
On the whole, I’ve generally had pretty good experiences with my allocated dive buddies. But, particularly here, it’s not always so easy to get a dive buddy to come with you. For example, to Atauro Island. As much as I enjoy the dives with the dive centre there, it would be great to be able to just enjoy taking photos in the shallows.
So the course is pretty much a revision of one’s core diving skills. Making sure you don’t run out of air (probably most importantly) or get lost and run out of air… 😛
It’s much like skills that are drummed into you during the Dive Master training, with emphasis on planning, checking gear, and having a gas plan (with the concept of the rule of thirds).
I enjoy courses and learning, and to be able to be qualified to dive on my own is appealing… as I’m not always feeling terribly sociable.
I have to say that the book on the course was written in a humorous/sarcastic manner, and so it was rather difficult to be totally clear on what they wanted me to learn. Although, on the whole, I got the gist of it. I was more looking forward to actually doing the dives than reading a book.
After a quick briefing it was into the water. Two new dive sites were on the list (what fun!) but I have to say I was a little concerned about my navigation skills breaking down. Having said that, I wasn’t really alone. The entry was simple, although with using a large stage tank, it all got a little awkward. The plan was to get to a large sea fan at about 30m depth. We really rocketed down without much notion of pausing to take in the surroundings. Although I decided to take a moment to enjoy the view of a massive frog fish sitting staring at me as if I was some kind of sea monster (the give away was it’s gapping wide mouth…). After a moment and a couple of photos, I kept going until I caught up with my instructor who was already at the sea fan searching for the pigmy seahorse that is known to inhabit it. After a few minutes of no success, we headed up to about 18m were we explored the rest of the reef, and finished the dive.
Our second dive was at “Sandy Bottom Beach” that lived up to it’s name. Beautiful coral and massive sponges 2 plus meters in height and diameter. My tests here were to deal with replacing my mask, dealing with my primary air source running out (and switching to my other tank), and swimming for twenty minutes with only one fin, which was a little awkward to say the least. I have to say I lamented the absence of my regular camera.
Having passed my course, yay, I was determined to get out on my own. Unfortunately this experience wasn’t as pleasant as the first. Once again, we headed West. This time to “Bubble beach” where in some spots the sand bubbles mysterious gas. On the way there was an evident swell in the ocean, causing reasonably large waves to crash onto the shore. Not a great sign when you’re trying to enter the water carrying and extra tank and a large camera housing
The crashing waves churned up the sand in the first 20 meters from the shore. So as we descended I immediately lost everyone around me. I guess that’s one benefit of solo diving, no one is waiting for you! I kept going and the bottom appeared quickly, to my surprise but not a soul in sight. Well, nothing for it than to keep going. I struggled to get my bearings as the current turned me around and swell had turned me around. After a little battle with mild frustration/panic I managed to orient myself correctly with my compass and headed through the murk. Reaching a depth of about 12m the water cleared and I could finally see what was around me. The coral was becoming sparser and the beach began to give way to the deeper abyss of the continental shelf, upon which Timor sits. I have to say, I was a little apprehensive as I was really alone, and I knew that heading back would be a tricky bit of navigation (at least for me). As I poked around the corals and sponges that littered the sea floor, I was startled (but ultimately thankful) to see the others over my left shoulder. We ended up finishing the dive together, although somewhat off target when it came to the exit point. Unfortunately, the surf had only gotten bigger, and I was quite nervous about getting out without damaging my camera or myself. I’d completely forgotten about the little point and shot camera I had tucked into my wetsuit leg. As I was pushed to the sand for the second time (having safely handed off my big camera to the dive master, my stage tank must have pushed my little camera out from under my wetsuit and it was lost to the murky shore… Thankfully, it’s not the most expensive camera in the world, but still 😦
The second dive was changed to a more local dive site as our first choice, Sandy Bottom Bay, was troubled by the same surge and crashing waves. Dilli Rock offered the same murky depths but I did manage to see a beautiful banded pipefish, which as a little red and white “flag” of a tail. I was still awkward in the water, not able to find my trim with the weights I was using. Which made of an uncomfortable dive.
All in all my first experience solo diving wasn’t wonderful. The murkiness, swell, and overcast day made the conditions less than pleasant, and my state of mind was somewhat preoccupied. And really, a diving experience is very dependent on being of a reasonable state of mind. I wasn’t feeling sociable, and my heart was heavy. That and I lost a camera, with a decent memory card, so I decided I couldn’t go through another day of it today. Perhaps the next time I go diving I’ll feel better rested, better prepared, and more interested in the people around me.
Until the next time I suppose.