Divemaster day 14

Change of plan – I’m getting used to these. As I helped sort out the gear for the Singaporean group I was due to dive with, another bus arrived crammed to the gills with Americans on a Discover SCUBA course. Eight completely amateur divers and two staff wasn’t the perfect ratio so I was switched from Tulamben to Nusa Penida.

Actually, I was fine with it. A larger group is usually more fun and it also meant I’d not be away from “home” for the night. OK, the fact that seven of the eight Americans were very attractive women may have had a slight bearing on my feelings, too. Also, I’ve not supervised a “Discover” class before and it sounded like a new challenge.

I have to say it ended up being one of the best days I’ve spent here so far. The group were great – chatty, friendly, full of questions and keen to learn. Harold, the only guy in the group, was a great person to talk to for the boat trip over. Coming from Iowa and living in Khazakstan, he’s obviously got some stories of his own. The girls all (as far as I could gather) live in China, doing various things.

The purpose of the day was to give these people – barring one with an aging Open Water certificate – their first ever experience of SCUBA diving. This is why we needed three diving staff as well as a boat handler. Anyone who’s learned to dive must remember their first time.

There really is a lot to deal with all at once. Controlling the BCD; breathing underwater; equalising ear and mask pressure; all those hand signals; and the biggest problem – maintaining buoyancy. It takes a good few dives to work out how much weight you need, how to dive level and so forth. First attempts usually end up with beginners doing good impressions of a cork in boiling water – up, down, up, down. Oh, a cork with waggly arms. And randomly kicking legs.

Some people get the knack sooner than others, and the task at hand was to guide those who’ve not quite grasped it. The best way to learn is to be under there, and this is also a discovery course – not a lesson. The group were here to experience the diving, not to learn the skills as such. So we kept tight-knit groups, and those who could just about manage the buoyancy thing swam nearby while those with trouble were escorted with a secure hand on the BCD.

I ended up escorting one of the girls who was struggling a bit. I remember all the same things from when I was doing my Open Water. Relying too much on the BCD for changing my buoyancy rather than using my breathing. By halfway through the second dive, I think she got it. It’s quite a challenge maintaining your own buoyancy while controlling someone else’s using just their BCD and a bit of pushing, pulling and so on.

As the dive progressed, she became more level and her positioning improved. She stopped using her arms to swim and used her legs less as she learned to go with the current. Towards the end of the dive, I was swimming near and around her and only rarely nudging her in the right direction. As with so many things, the best way to learn is to do.

I’m really glad to say that the whole group left with big smiles. Harold even said he reckons it’s possibly the most amazing thing he’s ever done – and at 48 with five children I’m sure he’s seen some pretty amazing things!

The waters were clear, the swells stayed down and the sun was hidden by cloud just enough to help stave off sunburn.

A great day, marred only by my smacking my head on the rear van door as I was packing the equipment away. These things are built for Indonesian height requirements and I have the bleeding head to prove it. Ow. Still, no stitches required and I don’t feel concussed…

As I walked back to my hotel, I dodged the usual cries of “transport?”, “sunglasses? Cheap shirt?” and “massage”? I was almost curious at one point as I was offered “sexy massage? Banana massage?” I really, don’t think I want to know what a banana massage is, but I’m keeping that term for use at a later date.

Tomorrow I have yet another early start to join the group I was due to be with today up at Amed. Putu reckons this is his favourite dive site so I’m really looking forward to it.

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Divemaster day 13

Early start. After I got in from the cybercafe (late as I had to sort out the stolen debit card mess), I had an SMS telling me to be at the shop at 6:30am. Argh.

As ever, I woke before my alarm and got dressed. No chance of breakfast this morning – the staff were still snoring when I snuck out. The walk to the dive shop is about ten minutes and I made it there shortly before the bus arrived.

We waited five more minutes for the first of our divers – a couple from Holland – and then set off to collect the rest of the group from their hotel somewhere outside the city.

The destination today was Manta Point on Nusa Penida, so we congregated at the boat near Nusa Dua and loaded up. There was quite a party this time – the aforementioned Dutch couple, a Frenchman living in China, an American couple with two kids and a Kiwi woman with her two youngsters in tow.

The children and the Kiwi lady were all snorkeling, and the rest diving. And it’d be my job to guide both their dives. As I said, the first one would be Manta Point, and that’s not the easiest due to high current and low visibility.

On the way, the two American children were ill and I can’t blame them. The sea was the calmest I’ve ever seen it approaching and around Manta Point, but still it’s quite choppy. I busied myself with setting up equipment and lying on my back to offset the queasies.

At the site, the dive briefing was given (by me, natch) and we plunged in. And then we hit problems. Well, this is the thirteenth day of my Divemaster

My BCD wouldn’t inflate using the low pressure hose. I’d swapped into this one as one of the guests had been issued it. Thing is, I know I’m fine on the surface and that I can control my buoyancy without it. At worst I could inflate it manually if need’s be. Fine for me, not good for a paying customer. The downside was that it was an extra-small, so she ended up with my medium one.

Then we struggled to get her to sink. I think this was partly due to her BCD now being too large and difficult to get the air out of – she couldn’t get it to deflate completely. Also, we didn’t seem to have enough weights on board to ensure all our divers could become negatively buoyant.

And finally, our French diver had to pull out when he couldn’t equalise after the first metre. He had half-expected this as he has an injury from a recent jet-skiing accident and his doctor had told him it would likely be another couple of weeks before he could safely dive. To his credit, he did the correct thing – tried it, didn’t push it at all and gave up at the first hint his doctor was right. He said he’d have regretted not trying as he’s heard how good the diving is here.

So with one unsinkable person, who was also not too chuffed, and one with bad ears back on the boat, we regrouped and descended. The major downside of the messing about swapping weights and so on was that everyone had used a bit of air. Thankfully there’s not much swimming involved at Manta Point – just get to the rock and float around hoping the manta appear!

Which they didn’t. We stayed down for around thirty minutes before the first diver hit 50 bar and We had to start our ascent. Then… Mr Sod and his law put in an appearance. Just as we were ending our safety stop at 5m, a manta ray swam around 5m beneath us.

The previous two dives here have been swarming with the things. Today of all day – my first one in charge of a dive – and the darn things play hard to get. Hey ho. As I said on the boat, you can’t guarantee anything with wildlife – and at least we did see one.

We headed up to Coconut Bay (where I’d been dropped off for my hotel the other night) for lunch and our seasick munchkins were off the boat first. The young girl who’d been the most ill was sat on a rock all wrapped in a towel feeling sorry for herself. I went up and asked her if she was feeling a little better. She said, “Yes, thanks – and I’m really sorry for being so much trouble.”

I could have hugged her. She’d had a dreadful journey over and all she was bothered about was putting people out. Thankfully as our lunch break progressed, she got a lot more lively and by the time the divers an snorkellers set off for Lembongan Bay she was on her feet and starting to eat. Her mum’s excuse – “we’re from the mountains!” No such excuse for being so well mannered, though. That’s just good parenting.

Her mum was the lady who’d had the BCD issues and she opted to stay on the beach for the second dive and look after her two nippers. In fairness, not a bad place to be stuck for an hour or so as an alternative. A few people around to chat to, great water to snorkel in and the sun was just right.

The rest of us tootled off a few minutes’ boat ride away so a much simpler site. Again, I gave the briefing and down the three of us went – all sinking this time! Lembongan Bay is a long and spread out area of coral. The water’s anything from two to twenty metres deep – the hardest thing is to find the deeper areas so that you’re diving rather than snorkeling with a tank on your back! It’s also a huge expanse of really cool stuff. If you’ve dived in the area before, there’s nothing really unique to it. It just has a lot of everything and it’s beautiful.

Because of the shallow depth, we managed an easy fifty minutes out and partway back. To try and name everything we saw I’d need an encyclopaedia and about two weeks. The main thing, I’m glad to say, was that we had three happy divers after this underwater swim. I just felt sorry for Patrice as he’d joined us on the boat and didn’t even snorkel in case he got water in his ears.

All aboard, we doubled back to pick up our castaways and set off for the mainland. I’m glad to say that nobody felt ill on the way back, partly as the sea was as calm as I’ve ever seen it around here.

So, back to the dive shop for bills to be paid (and haggled over) and my tasks for the next three days to be laid out. Erna’s managed to sort it so I have three dives a day for the next three days. This takes me well into the realms I need for certification. It does mean another night away, this time up at Tulamben. No complaints there, as I like the diving off the wreck and drop-off.

Another early morning tomorrow, though, and don’t expect an update till I get back. I think the internet will be expensive or non-existent up there.

As I sat down to dinner at the usual Gong Corner, I was surprised to have Maria walk up to me. She’d just arrived back in Kuta after a trip all the way over to Flores and back by boat. By her own admission she’d not showered in four days! But it sounds like a great trek. I’ll have to add it to my “maybe next year” list. She wandered off looking for accommodation, but my place is full. Still, I offered her the use of the shower and the offer of the spare bed if she wants it. As I said, I’m away tomorrow night so she’ll have the place to herself for long enough.

Oh, and apologies for the lack of photos recently. I have been taking my camera, but always left it on the boat. If I’m in charge of people, I’d rather my attention was on them and not my camera. I’m hoping the Singaporean group will send me some of the better ones from their dives with us.

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Divemaster day 12 – The big five-oh

After a breakfast of cornflakes and orange juice, which made a nice change from banana/jam jaffle and tea, I strolled along the beach to Coconut bay where Kadek and Robert (who’d slept on the boat) picked me up. We nipped round the corner to get the Singaporean group… who were still on Singaporean time! After the standard twenty minutes, we had everyone on board and set off for our first dive site of the day.

Thankfully the sea was feeling much nicer about us today, and was relatively calm. The sun shone and we got to SD very quickly. The “SD” name for the dive site comes from the initials of the Indonesian for “elementary school” as there’s one on the coast nearby.

The other point of note is that this would be my 50th dive. And, no, I didn’t do it naked.

This one’s a drift dive, though the current wasn’t too strong. Visibility was around the 15m mark, so again my main task was to ensure everyone stayed fairly close together so we didn’t lose track of anyone. Tricky with one person intent on spending five minutes taking pictures of everything (which is understandable as it’s a great dive with lots to see) and another who made a mistake I’ve been guilty of in the past.

See, the “shelves” you get on wall dives aren’t always level. Your mind is telling you that by following one, you’re staying at the same depth. Not always so. Which is why I had to nip down to below thirty metres to point at someone’s depth gauge and get them to swim back up (slowly) and rejoin the group. Not a problem, and it is why I’m there. Kadek leads the dives as she’s familiar with the area, but it’s hard to keep an eye on everyone when you’re at the front.

Biggest surprise of the dive was seeing a turtle swimming away from us. They’re not too common round here.

I came in useful again towards the end of the dive with one person running out of air earlier than the rest of the group. We can’t send people up on their own willy-nilly, so I ended my dive slightly early with him to ensure he surfaced and got to the boat safely.

Not too long afterwards, the rest of the group boarded and we headed into one of the bays with nice calm water to swap our equipment over. It was too early for lunch, so we milled and chatted as we whiled away our surface interval.

Toyapakeh was our second dive site, and a great one it was. Starting at around 20m and working our way gradually shallower there was such a variety of life it was amazing. One of the most stunning scorpion fish I’ve ever seen; beautiful yellow and blue eels that were easy to “tease” out of their eel-holes; some gorgeous varieties of coral; defensive clownfish…

One thing that’s changed over my last dozen or so dives is how I watch what I’m seeing. At first, it’s all you can do not to just gape at everything and be swamped by the variety and colour of all the life down there. After a while, spotting new species is trickier so instead I’ve found my attention drifting more onto details, behaviour and so on.

For instance, those cute clownfish from Finding Nemo – if you see a full-grown one face-on, they’ve got a pretty evil face with a jaggy mouth. More like a colourful piranha than a cuddly toy.

It’s also interesting to watch how some fish behave in groups, or solo or in pairs. Some are fighting, some patrol together (like the aforementioned clownfish), some sit back and let other fish clean them. No matter what you watch on TV or read in books, you simply can’t beat being down there and just seeing this stuff right in front of you.

We managed just two minutes shy of the hour on this dive and reluctantly re-boarded the boat where we had lunch. Annoyingly it was tuna sandwiches and chips, so I just had chips. Ah well. I’d had a big dinner and a decent breakfast (and more than my fair share of Oreos) so I wasn’t left hungry.

The trip back to the mainland was uneventful and comfortable. I just lay back and covered myself with a waterproof jacket to ward off the spray.

Back at the dive shop, we exchanged details and made sure everyone had all the dive figures. I even got my first tip – thank you, folks! That’s dinner covered for the next two nights at least!

I already know I’m back at Nusa Penida again tomorrow. I hope the wind doesn’t pick up.

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Divemaster day 11

Once again, prompt at 7:40 Singaporean holidaymaker time (that’s 8:00 Balinese), I was collected by the minibus and we headed for the beach near Nusa Dua where the boat is docked.

It wasn’t the best day weatherwise for the boat trip or the dives we were making, and Kadek dished out seasickness tablets to those who wanted them. I grabbed one, but I seem to have “hit and miss” lick with these things. Still, may as well try.

Our first dive was Manta Point, and the swell by the time we got there was unreal. The boat was tipping perhaps 45 degrees at times. Two of the group were ill and I wasn’t too far behind, but somehow managed to keep my sea legs. Everyone was happy with the dive, though not the ill effects, as we did see the mantas. They’re pretty much guaranteed at this spot, and will come very close to divers.

During the dive I had to drop one of my weights and pass it on to one of the other divers as they were struggling to sink. This is when you realise why they make you practise removing and replacing your weight belt underwater as part of the Open Water course.

Lunch was on the beach at Crystal Bay, under the palm trees and scorching sun. Yes, I’m red again. One day I’ll learn, but I doubt it’ll be any time soon. Some kids came round, hopefully proferring necklaces for us to buy. Of course, everyone was wearing wetsuits which don’t generally have a pocket for wallets! It was a lovely spot to eat, chill out and chat.

Dive number two was in the bay just off the beach. We left one chap to sunbathe as his stomach was playing up and enjoyed the better part of an hour breathing air from a bottle and ogling at the variety of life down there. Let me tell you, the Japanese may have a reputation for photographing anything and everything – Singaporeans are every bit as bad!

With the current washing us around, it was a bit of a challenge acting as “sheep dog” to ensure the group all stayed within visual contact with each other, but it was fun. It’s a nice feeling to be useful on a dive as well as to enjoy the scenery.

Somehow we managed to clamber aboard the boat which seemed to be doing its level best to make this impossible, then we returned to the shore to collect our non-diver before heading further around Lembongan Island to the resort where the party were staying.

With them settled, we popped around another peninsula so that I could be dropped off near my (cheaper) accommodation. A nice place with a wonderful view of the setting sun (which took the last opportunity of the day to scorch my face). Of course, I took the opportunity to wash all the salt off in the shower… which wasn’t hot. Gah.

I got talking to, and had dinner with, a guy from Oz and a girl fro Nottingham who’s currently working in Saudi. The food was good, though pricey compared to what I’m used to in Kuta. To be expected on a remote island.

After dinner, I took a quick walk around “town”. This amounted to two streets, most of which were residential. As I neared a temple I could hear music and thought I’d get to see a ceremony taking place. Instead, there were several people sat watching TV on a huge LCD telly in the temple forecourt! I guess everything’s getting modern now.

I found an internet place at almost five times the rate I pay in Kuta and did a swift email check. Back at the hotel I decided to close my eyes for five minutes. And next opened them at 3am. I guess diving takes more out of me that I realise.

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Divemaster day 10

Change of plans as I got home last night to a message from ProDive. Instead of helping with an Open Water class, I’d be getting up early and joining a group going to Tulamben for the day. I’m rather glad I didn’t go straight out on the beers after dinner!

Prompt on 8:00, the bus picked me up. Which was a shame as it was meant to collect me prompt at 7:40, but the large group of Singaporeans I was diving with were enjoying accidental lies-in! We met up with an American, Alan, at the equipment store and I joined him in a car for the journey north. The bus wasn’t big enough for all of us and the equipment.

Alan was great company on the drive and we talked about a lot of things. One thing he recommended highly was re-doing my Advanced Open Water with another school, such as NAUI or SSI. The simple reason for this is to avoid liability in case of an accident on a dive which I’m purely a spectator/pleasure diver on. A friend of his got caught up in all kinds of mess when someone in their dive group got into trouble. Their legal beagles sued every dive professional in the group, regardless of whether they were operating staff or fellow holidaymakers. His friend had signed up for the dive using his Divemaster card, and therefore was included in this.

Madness, and of course the friend was cleared but still had to cough up for costs (or his insurance did). Thing is, even if he’d used his Open Water card, PADI would be forced to reveal that he has Divemaster status. However, by certifying at a lower level with another organisation and using that card as ID, there’s no need for professional status to be revealed at all. Much cheaper than liability insurance and a once-off purchase.

This kind of waffle passed the time nicely and we tailed the Singaporean bus all the way to the dive site.

As usual, one dive on the wreck and one of the drop-off. Today’s dives were probably the best two I’ve done there. Visibility wasn’t as good as the first time, but we got a good variety of stuff. With a large group (9 divers plus Kadek and myself), I had plenty to do and the whole bunch were great fun. Also, everyone was good with their air so we managed 45 minutes on the first dive and 51 on the second.

Everyone had a great time and I’m diving with the Singaporeans for the next two days as well. Another four dives towards the sixty I need for Divemaster qualification.

I was supposed to meet Alan for a couple of beers this evening, but he didn’t show. In fairness, we were at least an hour later getting back to Kuta then we’d hoped as the traffic was awful. I also thought I had a late start tomorrow until I found out I was diving again – and I’ll be away tomorrow night, sleeping out on Lembongan.

It’ll be worth it if the place we stay has hot showers. I’m packing my Imperial Leather just in case.

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