For those of you who have been following me on my social channels, it will not really be news. However, for the others, here is the big news that I wanted to spill in my Travel Flashback 2017 post about the secret activity I did in November. I finally, did my Scuba Diving Certification and am now a certified PADI Open Water Diver. It had been a long cherished dream that became a determination after my first scuba dive at Havelock Islands in Andamans. I never did write about it for I had promised myself that once I complete my certification, I will share the story of how it all started. And thus, my post on My First Scuba Dive at Havelock Islands.
My love affair with Water
Ask my close friends and family about me in water, and I bet they will vouch for me as an absolute “Water Baby”. My first swimming lesson that I vividly remember was when I was maybe, 5 years old and my feet would not touch the sandy floor of the sea in Abu Dhabi. My salty tears mingled with the sea water as I paddled my way to the shore to my mom only to be lifted again and thrown by my cousin for round ‘X”. Soon after, fear gave way to wonder and a new skill – that was sharpened and honed with proper swimming lessons in school. After that day, the sea gave me a certain thrill.
Snorkeling was a piece of cake for me and I absolutely enjoyed it at various places – the best being at the Pink Beach in Indonesia. This is where I saw the best of the underwater world but sadly only from atop. A few skinny dives were all I could do and it was at that time I wished I could have done a dive. It felt so exotic and exclusive when I saw a few of my fellow bloggers head out for it. Upon their return, the stories of the colorful world underwater and their dives with the sharks in the Carribean left me feeling incomplete. I returned home only to fly out to Andamans later that year, with a mind made up to attempt my first ever scuba dive at Havelock.
The Prep for my first scuba dive at Havelock
Day two of my visit to Andamans had me at Havelock Islands and the same day, I convinced not just my hubby but the rest of my travel companions to go for a Scuba Dive at Havelock. On the same day, with the reference given by our hotel staff, I landed up at Ocean Tribe Dive Center. The only thing I knew I had to look for was a PADI certified Dive Shop and Ocean Tribe had that right up front on its porch. The Divemaster at the center patiently explained on how the assisted dives would take place – the preparation that we needed to do, the time of dive and the training needed. He mentioned that since it would be an assisted dive, there was no prior knowledge of swimming was essential.
Then came a moment, where every gulped down their saliva as we filled the Diving Liability Release form, which basically states that you are doing this on your own accord and that you release the dive center of any liability. While we quietly filled the forms, a few of us thinking, am I in the right mind to do this?
This is where our Divemaster gave us two options – one was of a shore dive and the other being a boat dive. Before the others could answer, I said – “Boat Dive“. I suppose it was the combination of excitement and conviction on my face that no one argued with me. After all – I was the one who convinced them to sign those forms 😉
First lessons for a scuba dive at Havelock
With the exceptions of the kids and another friend who had firmly said no to the activity, 5 of us stepped out to reach the dive center by 7 am. We were handed out our wetsuits and shoes and then, asked to try out the various dive masks for the one that fit us the best. In batches of twos and threes, we were taken to the shallow waters for our first lessons of a scuba dive.
The one thing that I thought might be an issue for me was carrying the Cylinder on my back but I forgot that water makes you weightless. Strapped on with my BCD (the black jacket – Ha! Showing off my new knowledge), I stood there for the first skill of Scuba – breathing underwater
The first rule of Scuba diving is to breathe continuously through your mouth and for me, that was like a huge relief for it was much easier than swimming where you tend to hold your breath. Slowly and steadily, we were taught how to use sign language underwater, how to equalize the ear pressure, clear the mask if water enters it, purging water out of the mouth etc etc. This is where the patience of the divemasters is commendable as they answer questions, quell fears and reassure us all. For this, I definitely recommend the Ocean Tribe instructors.
Taking the plunge
Now that we were sorted out on the basics of the first assisted dive, we stepped onto a boat to head to our dive site – called the “Nemo Reef“. Everyone’s eyes popped out when they realized that they would have to enter the water with a backflip. Brave as I was, I became the first one to show off. Sit on the edge, pull your feet up and splash! With the weight of the cylinder, you anyway, flip backwards into the water! Pity no one took a picture of that.
The First Breath & View
My Dive Instructor was already beside me before I emerged out from my cool backflip and he pressed something (now I know that it was my BCD) so that I kept floating around. I watched my hubby do a clumsy flip (Ha! The one thing I am better in) and the rest of them being gently coaxed into making their entry. With a quick signal, my dive master gave me an ok sign and deflated my BCD gently to lower me into the depths of the cool blue sea.
With a blink of an eye, and the first spray of bubbles from my mouth, I looked around in wonder. I was underwater amidst the cool, colorful looking fish. My swimming instincts kicked in as I went horizontal and with the dive master assisted, made my way down to the bottom.
Exploring the depths of the sea at Havelock
It’s funny but true – instinctively I knew what to do. I had already aligned myself in the dive position and as much as I was not supposed to kick, I was moving like a pro. While the rest of my travel companions were vertically led to various coral sights, I pretty much swam with my instructor to them. He admitted to me later that he only kept a hand on me to guide me but I was pretty much on my own.
The blue waters were so colorful beneath with various corals decorating the bed and stunning clownfish peeking out of them. Seeing Nemo, in reality, is far more exhilarating than what you saw through a screen. Colorful Parrotfish and schools of vibrant swimming beauties crossed my path. I swam with some and chased a few big ones. Every moment was wonderous, every moment was a surprise.
We posed for a few pictures, including one couple pic with my hubby 8 m below the sea. I even managed to get down to the floor bottom and hover there – thanks to the confidence that my instructor had in me. It seemed like a pity, when he signaled that we had to get back to the boat.
Back on the Boat with a promise
As we broke to the surface, my heart sank. I did not want it to be over. I wanted more. And even before I was on the boat, I had decided that I was going to do my open water certification. I wanted to do this over and over again and by myself. It was my special thing. This was that thing that made me feel alive.
My hubby in his quiet manner acknowledged that this was one amazing experience. However, not so much of a swimmer, he was just happy to do the assisted dive. We decided to return back with our daughter the same noon, so that we could share the wonders of the ocean depths with her. She had just turned 10 and was at the right age to do the assisted dive. Return we did, and as my minx made her way into the water, I sat on the boat and stared at the water longingly. I imagined swimming with the dolphins and the turtles. I dreamt of exploring sunken ships and hidden treasures. This I knew, was something that I had to do!
I made that promise to myself to finish this course over the next one year. Upon my return to land, I announced it to my hubby and with his encouragement, a year later in November, I signed up for my PADI Course. I finally, completed it in January 2018 (a month over a year promised) at Netrani Island and this post, as promised is a celebration of that. With my new PADI certification, I feel as if I have been handed an exclusive pass to the beautiful oceanic world.
Getting to Havelock Islands
- Havelock Islands is accessible from Port Blair by boat only. To know how to get there, take a look at my guide to Andamans.
- Port Blair is connected to the Indian Mainland by water and air. You can either take a ship here or fly from Chennai or Kolkata to it. All this is explained in the same guide that I have mentioned above.
- Please read this guide for all the dos and donts and the restrictions in Andamans
- When attempting Scuba Diving, please look for Dive shops with an authentic PADI certification
- If you have a cold or are unwell, please do not attempt a dive
- Please listen and practice all the instructions given by your dive master. It is easy enough but staying true to it, is what will keep you safe.
- You need to wear a swimsuit under your wetsuit.
- If you wear contact lens, please inform your dive master in advance. It is not really a problem but they will instruct you accordingly on how to clear water from your mask. P.S: I wear them too!
- The best time to dive is early morning when the water is relatively undisturbed.
- Sleep well and be rested for your dive
- Carry your memory card for the underwater pictures with you. The Dive center inserts it into their camera and helps you with your pictures.
- If you feel any discomfort during the dive, inform the instructor and head back to the boat
- Do not attempt to touch any of the marine animals when on a dive.
- For your first assisted dive, you don’t really need to know swimming. However, if you wish to do a course, it is another matter altogether. Coming up on my next blog, all about doing the PADI Open water certification.