The only experience I had of swimming under water was a very brief encounter with a snorkel, involving me promptly going too deep, trying to breathe water and coming up spluttering before walking promptly back to the beach.
So when I saw a special offer for a trial scuba diving lesson in the local swimming pool, I was only partially tempted. It was indeed a New Thing, and it looked interesting, but I wasn’t completely convinced.
However, I then saw an advert for a trial dive whilst on holiday. Scuba diving in your swimming pool is one thing, scuba diving off Scapa Flow is quite another. More specifically, off the blockade ships in Scapa Flow…
Those things you can see in the water? Those are the tops of ships sunk during the First World War to barricade the UK’s largest natural harbour. And I’d just signed up to dive round them.
I went with Scapa Scuba, who were brilliant. They picked me up and took me with another
idiot adventurer to the Churchill Barriers where we met up with the other two of our group. We were introduced to each other and to the facilities – a rock round the headland for the men, and a hollow on the top of the hill for the ladies!
Then it was a briefing, some training and our instructor got into the water. The two we’d met with at the barriers went first so they could then go off on their way, then it was time for me to start getting ready.
First a quick trip up the hill…
Then ‘just’ put the dry suit in the back of the van. Rob was our ‘land instructor’ and said all I needed to do was to put my feet in and pull the suit up like a giant pair of wellies. Yeah, right. Up to my thighs and I can’t reach round the excess suit to haul it any further up. Rob is grabbing handfuls and heaving it up – although I had to point out that some of it was ME and not the suit…
OK, so I get the suit on, arms in and everything. I then need to ‘just’ pull the neck over my head so I could get zipped up at the back. No chance. I can’t reach my shoulders let alone the headpiece. Again, Rob came to the rescue and I finally emerged from the van. Apparently it had been rocking so violently the others weren’t sure what on earth was going on!
By this time, Carolina was waiting for me in the shallows so it was time to hurry the best I could down to the shore. Back pack thingie on, weights round my ankles, scuba gear connected, head covering hauled on (thanks, Rob) and into the water.
Float back and stick my feet in the air. I can so do that bit 🙂 Flippers on and now for the shallows training.
This is where we go through all the stuff Carolina had told us at the van that we have now forgotten. Except we have to do it underwater.
First, put face in water and breathe. Check. Yeah, I can do that.
Next kneel down and we do more under water. Start to kneel down, feel water gradually rise up face, panic and come back up again. OK, start again. Stick face in water FIRST and THEN start kneeling. That works.
Until there is water under my nose in the mask. Splutter, panic, back to the surface.
Apparently this is normal. Water under the nose is fine. Calm breaths, try again. I can do this.
Can’t kneel down – legs go every which way but the way they should. Back to the surface.
Finally make it down and my knees are not quite on the bottom, but are bouncing and I am not sure if this is right. Try to signal to the instructor and we end up back on the surface. Then I get water in my mask and we haven’t had the lesson about clearing it yet. So, that’s right, back up we go. Bobbing up and down like one of the seals in the area.
At this point in my narration, my son interrupts to ask, “Did you actually do it?” “Yes, I did.” “OK, go on telling the story…”
I did finally make it through the shallow water training and set off, Carolina’s arm through mine as she guided me round.
If I could have squeaked under water, I would have. Within moments, there was a flat fish fluttering its way across the sea bed, a crab waving at me and a water snail on a bit of seaweed. It was so exciting! It honestly had not dawned on me that there would be sealife down there. I thought it would be all about the ships and the barriers. And it was so amazing. I was then very conscious that my flippers were dragging on the sea bottom and stirring up the little critturs’ homes. So I am signalling to Carolina that although I am OK, there is something wrong and try to explain through hand signals.
And up we are again on the surface. She said the look on my face was priceless – very clearly, “No, I do not want to go back up. Again.” but it was the only way she could let me know that, yes, she understood me, and no it was ok.
So off we went again. I never did make it as far as the blockade ships, but I was dead hot at spotting the wildlife. After a while I could feel one of my flippers coming loose, but I was so not wanting to go back up to the surface yet again that I kept quiet until it was really unavoidable. I signalled what was going on and Carolina pulled me upright. And, oh, I am in shallow water, literally only up to my waist. It is time to get out.
And out of the dry suit….and back up the hill.