Frazer's first sea dive !
Category : Articles
Location  : Goa

Willie Downie ( professional scuba diver and instructor)

It was a day like any other. We had taken a group of 6 divers of varying levels of certification and experience out to Grande Island for 2 dives. I was the Divemaster in charge of the day's events, responsible for selecting the dive sites, nominating buddy pairs, presenting the pre-dive briefing and, of course, being the under-water guide.

I would guide 3 of the divers, whilst my colleague would guide the remaining 3. On the short boat journey out to the island, I spent some time familiarizing myself with the various divers and their levels of experience.

Frazer was the least experienced with only 6 dives in his log¬book, all of which had been done in a flooded flint-quarry in England. As there had been no currents or tides in his English quarry, he was concerned about his first sea-dive and any currents he might encounter. It was easy for me to put his mind at rest since we choose our dive sites for their lack of strong currents and the minimal tidal effect is negligible from a diving point of view.

I assured Frazer that he would not notice the presence of any but the mildest of currents and that he would be my designated diving buddy for both dives. The first dive on the wreck of the SS Mary a steam ship built in England in 1948 which foundered during the monsoon of 1960 due to engine failure, was a good one with reasonable visibility and lots of fish hanging in and around the remains of the wreck. Even though we could feel the gentle pull of a slight surge from the small waves passing overhead, I could see Frazer's confidence building with each passing minute.

During our surface interval before the second dive, which was to take place at the other, leeward, side of the island, I chatted to an excited Frazer who was busily writing down the names of the many and varied marine-life we encountered.

I recall telling him that since we were now going into shallow water only 8 metres deep - on the side of the island protected from the prevailing breeze, not only would there be no current, there would be absolutely no surge.

For those of you have not dived, I should mention here that the effects of surge are a to And fro, or alternating backwards and forwards current, the strength of which depends upon the size of the passing waves. And so, here we were, the day after Christmas, getting ready for what promised to be a relaxing dive In ideal conditions.

The first 20 minutes of the dive were spent exploring the nooks and crannies of the ancient coral structures which form this dive site known as Dudley's Garden. We were taking our time to stop at various overhangs which provide a dark shelter for the resting groupers and their attendant cleaners small wrasse and shrimps which perform the necessary removal of parasites and dead skin from the largerfish.

The first indication that something was amiss, was the sudden, erratic behaviour of the observed marine-life. The shoals of red-toothed trigger fish, normally happy to swim around the corals, were wedging themselves into crevices in the hard coral structures, whilst the large groupers disappeared further into their dark recesses.

The remaining, free-swimming fish all huddled together behind coral outcrops. At this point I found myself having to kick my fins fairly vigorously in order to maintain a stationary position. As I looked to the other divers and Frazer in particular, I could see that everyone was grabbing hold of the dead portions of the hard corals to prevent themselves from being swept away by what was now a moderately strong current. I followed suit and used my hands to cling on to the nearest limestone outcrop.

When things go awry whilst diving, we are taught to stop, think about a plan of action and then put that plan into effect. So there I was, being blown about like a flag on a flag-pole, thinking about the best course of action as the raging torrent of waterdissipated as quickly as it had come. We had time to look at each other with questioning eyes before the current started up again, but this time in reverse direction!

Everyone frantically grabbed onto their anchorage points as the current built in strength. I found myself thinking about the possible causes for such wild and opposing currents and even considered the possibility that a nuclear bomb had been detonated in the vicinity!

Perhaps a minute or less elapsed, as one by one, we were wrenched from our respective anchorages by what can only be termed as a raging torrent of water. I found myself being spun like a rag doll and arrived at the surface without realizing that I had been making an ascent.

Noting that the current had again disappeared, I made the "OK" hand signal to my group of 3 divers who were all close-by and in good spirits despite being somewhat confused. As we started to question each other as to what had just occurred, the surface of the sea took on the appearance of a white-water river as the current again increased to epic proportions.

At least we were now being pushed towards our dive-boat which was straining mightily at its anchor.

With little effort, we reached our boat and exited the water even as the current again reversed direction, but this time with less force. Our priority now was to collect the remaining group of divers who had been spotted at least 500 metres to our east. Although the regular, reversing current continued to operate, it did so with diminishing magnitude, and so, without Further incident, We picked up the remaining divers and headed for home. Frazer's first comment to me was a bemused question about my statement that we would not experience any strong currents. I, of course, was at a complete loss at how to explain what had been a totally new experience for myself.

The group of divers who had been under the guidance of my colleague were all thrilled by what had been for them, an extraordinarily vigorous drift-dive. They let themselves be pulled along by the current which took them away from the reef and onto a flat sea-bed and therefore were not subjected To any upwards pull. We, on the other-hand, were at the mercy of the deflected current as the water pushed against the reef and thereby formed rotating eddies much like a river flowing over rocks and boulders. Still, we were all well and looking forward to entering the details of this strange dive in our respective log-books.

Just before reaching the beach, I received a text message on my mobile from my sister in London. She was aware that we would be diving at that time and was concerned about our well-being. Thinking that there must be some credence in tales of telepathic connection between siblings, it was not until we were carrying. Our dive-gear passed the local beach restaurant and heard the TV news that we Learned the truth.

It was the day after Christmas 2004 and we had felt the effects of the awful Tsunami which destroyed so many lives throughout Asia and beyond.

Although we were never in any danger at any time during the dive, the experience serves to remind us that good training is an essential for adventure sports and one should expect the unexpected!

I'm sure that Frazer will never forget his first sea-dive.

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