Immersed

IT WAS SUCH A FUN DIVE! Well, until we all got horribly lost and nobody could find the boat.

The dive-guide is holding a white board as divers gather on the upper deck. It shows a felt-pen map of the dive-site. A few strategically placed sea-creatures help to liven up the crudely drawn blocks of coral and wobbly gorgonians.

The plan is simple. The boat drops us at the red pen mark. We follow the reef, in the direction shown by green arrows.

More green arrows show where we leave the reef to explore two ergs – big coral lumps. The arrows perform an elegant figure of eight around the ergs, then return to the reef wall, and continue to a shallow bay. The drawn shape of a boat is shown in a mooring position.

A few warnings: Watch your air. Don’t go below 50 bar. The crew will hang a cylinder of air beneath the boat in case you need it on your safety-stop.

Don’t mess with lionfish. Don’t put your hand on a stonefish. Here’s the signal for shark. OK, let’s go! Enjoy.

If you’ve done day-boat diving in the Red Sea, this is likely to sound familiar. It’s relaxed, after all, you’re on holiday and what could go wrong?

People are strapping on their kit and waiting to jump when told. Some fret about a twisted fin-strap. Some quietly worry about flooding a mask or dropping a camera. Others wonder about blasting through their air too fast. Most are just thrilled to be going diving.

Diving is amazing. It engages every part of you. You lose yourself in another world. A dive achieves exactly what those “augmented reality” designers strive for – an immersive experience.

You can be so “in the moment” that you forget to consider how the dive might end up.

DIVER February 2021

SO… EVERYONE JUMPS IN and descends, and it all unravels. One diver with a serious ear problem is escorted to the surface and helped back onto the boat by the dive-guide. The boat then leaves for the mooring site, dive-guide on board.

Under water, confusion reigns. At least half the group had paid no attention to the briefing, expecting the dive-guide to navigate the site for them. Buddy-pairs scatter in the light current. Some get lost among the ergs, surfacing when disorientation gets too much or air becomes low. One pair disappears in totally the wrong direction.

A few of us have managed to navigate the site at leisure and reach the mooring point. The boat is nowhere to be found. Unknown to us, it’s off retrieving the scattered divers who are bobbing at the surface, drifting further away by the minute.

We look at each other and shrug. Doubts occur. Is this right? Should we swim further? Whatever difficulties we imagined as we jumped from the boat earlier, this scenario wasn’t among them. This is nuts.

The boat finally appears at the mooring. Low on air and getting a bit chilled by now, we head gratefully for the ladder.

As I clamber aboard I realise that everyone is speaking Spanish. This… isn’t our boat.

This isn’t the dive plan, it’s the diving equivalent of Fawlty Towers. I sit down to de-kit, and hope that nobody mentions Gibraltar.