On our third day in Bol, an island off the coast of Croatia, we decided to try our hand at diving in the Adriatic – a first for us both! A is a an Advanced Diver (with about 60 dives under his belt) and I am merely Open Water Certified, this being my 6th dive! For those of you who remember when I learned how to dive last year in Indonesia, and how big of an accomplishment it was for me given how scared I had been initially, I will tell you – I was almost just as scared this time!
Having been “out of the water” for about a year, I started to panic if I would remember all the right signals, how to inflate my BCD (the vest you wear when diving), how to equalize, how to descend. The thoughts were floating through my mind, and the dive school where we were was not particularly helpful in easing my concerns. Since I wasn’t taking the course with them, they assumed I knew all I needed to know and were ready to let me charge in the water and flail! (Okay, not really – they would not have wanted me to fail at diving, but they weren’t quite the coddlers I had gotten so used to at Diversia Diving in Gili Trawangan!)
So I un-confidently put on my wetsuit – full body including hood (apparently the water remains at a cool, even 15°C (59°F) through winter and summer, and the deeper you go the colder it gets, (logically!) I didn’t believe we’d really need it actually (after baking in the sun before we got into the water, but of course once you are about 20 meters down your hands and face are legitimately cold and you are grateful your core is snug and warm. We were putting on the wetsuits when my panic first arose – the suit was too small and tight and I couldn’t figure out if it was the right size or not. It took much help from A to pull and contort to fit until I finally decided maybe the larger size would be easier. It was, but not by much!
Then we fitted our shoes, fins, masks, and placed our BCD on the air tank, (I forgot how to even do this! The dive master had to help me remember the basics for how the straps went on, etc,) and we walked it all out to the boat. In the boat were about 10 other divers of all different levels of advancement (some at the very beginning and others with years of experience behind them.) A and I were placed in a group with another man from Germany, who had been diving about 7 years, but who wisely chose the “shallower” group as there was more to see and the water was less frigid. As an Open Water diver you really aren’t meant to go below 18 Meters, however we were aiming for 25.
While on the boat A refreshed my memory of the basics, how to inflate and deflate, the symbols for “OKAY” and “Let’s go up”. The dive masters reminded us to tell them when we had 100 Bar and then 50 Bar remaining in our air tanks (you always start out with 200 Bars of pressure and monitor closely as the dive continues to make sure you don’t run out of air – plus, the lower the air in the tank, the harder it is to maintain them, apparently.) So I spit in my mask (to avoid fogging) rinsed it in the salt water, put on my fins, tested out my breathing tubes, and fell backwards into the cold (but clear) water.
I was feeling disoriented, but calmer once I put my face under the water and reminded myself that I could, in fact, breathe and all would be okay. We three divers awaited our Dive Master and began our descent.
I didn’t realize this at the onset, but the Adriatic is not particularly known for it’s abundance of wildlife. Either the water is too cold, (or maybe too salty!) but you tend to see more lobsters, cuddle fish, octopi, and I’m sure nameless other fish lacking in color, but not in diversity. Compared to my previous dive experience filled with brightly colored fish and coral, giant sea turtles, and Nudi Branchs, the diving was somewhat unspectacular. It was, however, a great experience to get back in the water and familiarize myself with the weight of the BCD, the feeling of breathing air from a tank, the sights of fish and water around you, and the knowledge that this is really f*cking awesome!
It took me a while to neutralize my buoyancy and find a place in the ocean where I neither sank nor drifted up. In fact, I probably spent a lot more energy than usual doing just that – swimming instead of floating – and breathing in deep, satisfying breaths. So much so that I was down to 100 Bar in no time. With no watch of my own, I had no way of telling how quickly I was using my air, nor how my fellow divers were doing on theirs, but I let the dive master know and continued on my way. Within what seemed like mere minutes, I checked my air again – 50 Bar. How was time passing so quickly? Or was it… I once again let the dive master know and continued to follow his lead through the ocean, all the while closely watching my air pressure decline – 50, 45, 40, 35, 25. When I was down to 20 I let him know (the PADI books warn you to aim for an exit close to 50 Bar so you don’t risk running out of air and so you don’t damage the tank.) He was calm. I was trying to remain so.
Finally, he must have realized it was time to take me up and alerted the other divers to wait below while he helped me to the surface. I inflated my BCD, a little too enthusiastically, and began to free float to the top. He grabbed my vest quickly and pulled me back down to his level for a minute to decompress – then we floated up together. Once on the surface I could see exactly where were in relation to the island and the boat that brought us there (something about being underwater is so disorienting that you never really know where you are or where you’re going!) He mentioned something I didn’t quite understand involving “run out of air, swim to the boat” and asked if it was clear, I said sure, and he quickly popped below the surface. Wait, what did he say?!
Still a bit confused, I realized I still had about 10 bar to get me safely to the boat (and of course I could float above the surface of the water if I ran our sooner.) Not equipped with a snorkel, I put my face under and continued to use my air, while floating with the current and paddling gently to see if I might be missing anything special underwater. I wasn’t. Well, not if you don’t count other divers below the surface! So I ventured forward and eventually found my way back to the boat.
All in all, the dive was cool. I use the word cool, because it’s the perfect descriptor for the cold water, the relaxed nature of the staff, the fact that I did actually remember how to dive, and that I was officially a diver with more than one location under my belt!
For my next adventure, I’ll look into locations with more sea life and colorful coral. I may just work towards my Advanced Certification sooner than I thought!