As a new diver I was super excited to take my first steps on to a boat and get in to ‘real’ open water in Portland. I started diving last winter, essentially to stop Doris (DLL Dive Master extraordinaire) from continuing to harass me to try it. Since then, it turns out that diving has become a huge part of my life, with every other weekend spent in a quarry practicing skills, fettling with kit and establishing that I have zero sense of direction above or below the surface.
When Kristine (DLL super instructor) asked me about my first ‘salty’ dive the following week, I was still riding the diving high from the trip. DLL trips and courses always seem to be as much about the social element as diving, so the first stop after my rather long car journey to Portland was down to the local pub with my dive buddies. As someone who has never done a boat dive, I was eager to get out on the water the following morning. That lasted approximately as long as it took for me to get exceptionally sea sick and I started to re-evaluate some life choices!
I only managed to get in to the water on our first dive on to the Aeolian Sky thanks to Vicky (Dive Queen and new diver herder) who helped me get kitted up through the haze of seasickness. As we took our first strides in to the water, I was overwhelmed by how different an experience it was. Not being used to the current, waves and change in buoyancy was something I had expected but still found a bit jarring. As we descended on the line, I was struck by the visibility, or lack thereof. The water was essentially black and I started to feel the anxiety spreading over me. By the end of the dive, we had managed to become separated from half our dive buddies and both Bernie and I had buoyancy issues sufficient to require the lovely DMT Thierry to pull us back to the wreck. Our ascent to meet with our buddies on the surface was not without its challenges and we finished the dive as a set of somewhat shocked divers.
After what felt like an eternity trying to warm up, adding still more weight and debriefing the excitement of our first dive, we made our way down to the Countess for a completely different experience. I was better weighted, the visibility was vastly improved, I managed my anxiety and air consumption better – I could actually SEE the wreck! Excellent dive buddying from Vicky and Thierry helped me get the most out of the experience and finish off the day itching for the next dive.
After an evening of birthday celebrations and beers, day two held the promise of another wreck and scalloping. Our first dive on the M2 was an amazing experience, again with really good vis and an increasing sense of comfort being both on and in the sea. This dive was pure enjoyment as I got to see an awesome wreck, fish and lobster, all of which may not be a big deal for experienced warm water divers, but for a novice who has primarily been in Chepstow, Vobster and glorious Wraysbury, this was just about the highlight of my year.
The final dive of the trip was another new experience. Diving and collecting scallops required me to have really good control of my buoyancy so as not to kick up the bottom and ruin the experience for all of us – no pressure there! Without a wreck to act as a point of reference, the exposed vastness of being in the open sea started to register and I was mindful to stay close to my buddy. We topped off an excellent dive with a beautiful SMB deployment by Thierry and a well-controlled ascent.
The weekend was a real mix of experiences, all of which I have learned from. While I may not yet have enjoyed the glory of life and colour found in warm water diving, I am increasingly aware of the value of experience gained diving in the UK. Learning how to manage my own responses, dealing with stressful situations, the importance of the buddy relationship and excitement of seeing sea life and wrecks which have a relationship with where I live has been a fantastic way to get started with true open water diving. I can’t wait for my next salty dive!