As a freshly trained Open Water diver, I haven’t had as much experience as most other divers. Indeed, I’ve never gone diving in the ocean before, so Swanage was always going to be a new experience for me. However, it never occurred to me that I was not only going to have a weekend of diving, but also a weekend to spend with close friends and try new things; a truth I learnt by having an absolute whale of a time!
The trip was three nights in length for me, starting on Friday with a long car journey to get to the site, in a van that had a back packed in such a manner that it practically had explosive force upon opening it! Thankfully, my tent was still very much pitchable, and after a small fight with the poles I was able to settle down and get myself ready for the time ahead of me. Courtesy of the wonderful Zoe, there was no way I was going to go hungry, as out came enough pasta to feed our little group three times over! We sat in the shade of the gazebo and enjoyed each other’s company, excited for the dives ahead of us. At that time, my nerves were still not quite steeled against the big blue, but I was strongly (and rightly) assured that with all the master divers around, combined with how gentle the water was, that the only way something could go wrong was if I was trying to make it happen on purpose. We stayed up until the early evening, where we all retired for an early start to beat the traffic.
And by ‘early start’, I mean ‘they almost left without me’. Whoops! Thankfully, I’m great at cutting things fine and even managed to sneak a shower in before we headed off. We all watched the sun rise from the horizon we would enter, as we all had porridge and bacon to fill us with energy for the dive ahead. The water was as calm as a sleeping kitten as we all suited up; the borrowed underthermals and drysuit keeping me warm in the cold morning air. With our kit ready, it was time to have our first dive, a simple refresher and muscle stretcher under the pier. And once I entered the water, all my anxiety was just washed away. I’d seen fish before, diving in lakes, but never a full shoal, moving as a single shimmering organism around us, as dirty crabs scurried over wreckage and refuse. We even met the infamous lobster, who has evaded capture for years inside its little hole, and who made it quite clear who owned this joint. A round trip later, and I was back to the surface, dry as a bone on the inside, but just then, I really became one with the water.
The next dive of the Saturday was the drift dive, and that notion did dizzy me a bit. Surely it was unwise, letting the ocean be the one that moves you? But rest assured that experience was far from foolish. Indeed, as I descended down, past depths I’d never reached before, I did not feel myself move; rather, it was like the world was moving around me. It was simply stunning, as the lightless depths parted to reveal a floor teeming with life, crabs scurrying as corals bloomed crimson. I felt like I was dreaming, being pulled along this world I’d never seen before. It was marvellous, and the only bad thing about it was the fact it had to end.
The day of diving ended for me after that, and we returned to the campsite to have a good grilled dinner, with sausages that brought me closer to Nirvana than I ever thought I’d be. The smoke of the fire kept the wasps away, and we all reminisced on the fun we’d had. But it wasn’t over yet!
The Sunday following was the most eventful still. Our start was less disruptive than last, and we enjoyed another breakfast by the sea, as I had a porridge with golden syrup (which is significantly superior to the bland alternative I’d had the day before, let me tell you) and more bacon. Our diving began with good ol’ Gary taking us kids down the old pier, which I’m sure would have been gorgeous had the visibility been greater than zero. Still, the seaweed was very pretty, and we rerouted to the new pier, where we had a gentle investigation of the ocean life, seeing fish I hadn’t the day before. If it was revealed that man was Poseidon, I would be anything but surprised. After that, I had enough air in my tank to in fact have another dive with my friend, so under the pier we went once more. He was determined to get that lobster, but alas, like many before him, it was not meant to be. We swam instead to the end of the pier, turned around to get back… And our navigator got lost and turned around again. A fact which I noticed, but failed to point out, resulting in my running out of air and a tired diver’s tow.
After that chuckle, it was time for my final dive: the wreck dive. Again the boat went out with us in it, and again we entered the water, with me putting my mask on as I was stepping off the boat. Still, everything went well, and we descended to look at the wreck – which was just amazing. The currents gently eased our group around it, and it seemed to go on forever, as massive fish lazily pecked at the foliage, unmoved by our presence. It was such a shame the dive could not go on forever, as my air and energy were sapped quickly, and we retired to the surface and returned to the boat – where I discovered in my haste to enter the water, I had forgotten to seal my right sleeve properly, resulting in the wool of my thermal getting sodden! Thus, I ended that day’s diving and just enjoyed the weather; at least until the sun’s wrath burnt me silly. Whoops!
We wandered over to the town to get a fish & chips, which despite my convictions I just couldn’t finish by virtue of its size, before heading back to the campsite. It was so dark there that we decided to stay up, and we watched the stars come out, the constellations webbing together as satellites glided over us. What a wonderfully small world we’re on!
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and this excursion ended Monday, with us all heading our separate ways as I snoozed on the way back – with only a slight pause for a trip to a drysuit store.
Overall, this weekend was like something out of a gorgeous novel, and I had just such a most wonderful time! Without a shadow of a doubt, I would do that again in a heartbeat, see all those sights and feel all those feelings with my friends, nay, my diving family, once more. Swanage was just the most fun I’ve had in years!