Yes, I have finally got my backside into gear and am writing a report bound to make the most ardent fan of the drysuit and UK diving jealous...
So here goes.
I did have a minor problem I think I should tell you about. The holiday in question was our (myself and Emma's) honeymoon - now how exactly do you go about explaining to your beloved new wife that on this romantic getaway you have planned you will be buggering off on your own to go diving? As most of you will know this is a cunning trick I managed to pull off (certified by a full logbook and compliment of limbs) thanks to a very understanding wife. Thank you Lord!
So, we get back from our wedding in Ireland and have a few hours before we have to set off for Manchester. After running late and our first married argument over who's fault and lack of communication we set off down to Mannie at 6:30pm. Traffic hold-ups and the occasional roadwork aside we make good time until a slight error in communication and having two sets of directions to the same over-night stop-off mean we spend the next hour circumnavigating the M62, M60, M61, Manchester Airport and a few A-roads, and at one point end up heading for Moss-side!
We eventually find the hotel, get checked in, and promptly head for Huddersfield where we have arranged to meet friends for dinner. So two hours late we turn up at Mark & Adams, are treated to a veritable feast and have to hit the road again! I finally get to bed about 2:30am.....
Relaxing stuff this holidaying
All too soon my alarm is going off. It's 7am. I thought I'd had a smart idea - I'd bought a digital camera from Dixons Tax Free in the airport already and had arranged to get a memory card from Expansys. Due to a minor blunder, the credit card transaction never went through and I was left with the prospect of a camera with no card. Fortunately they were based in Manchester - so guess what I decided to do 2 hours before we were due to check it? Yup, drive through Manchester to a place I'd never been to! I set a limit of 1 hour for this before leaving for the airport so after finally getting the card 90 minutes after I set out I was a tad concerned. A rush back, swift checkout, and straight to the airport (which I knew the way to - see above!).
Worry I should have not (thank you Yoda) for there was a glorious queue for check-in. After meeting another pal of Emma's in the airport, a bite of brekkie and coffee, we rush though, pick up our shopping and head for the gate.
"Where's Puerto Plata?" Emma asks. I grim maniacally as the gate gives no clue to our destination and Emma didn't want to know until we got on the plane. "Lanzarote" I say and Emma looks crestfallen. Suspicion is aroused on the plane though when the Captain announces a nine-hour flight. "And just what am I suppose to do for NINE hours on a bloody plane?" - valid question, one I wished I'd asked. Thank God for seat back TV's, three inflight movies and headphones! At this point the penny drops and someone realises Spain is not a nine hour flight....
So we sit back and relax. Or try to in "World Traveller" class
So enough of my inane rambling - on to the diving!
We arrive at our hotel, get sorted out and ready for a day of action. Thursday is planning day. We sort out our weeks plans and I meet Lobbo, the SeaPro rep at the resort. After his 15 minute description of the PADI diving philosophy and open water course I hand over my Rescue Diver card. "Oh okay, ignore what I said, you can dive anywhere you want then." Excellent! I'm told I will be buddied up with someone of similar experience so not have to do any babysitting. That sells it for me and four dives are booked.
So Friday morning, with only a mild "All-Inclusive Bar" hangover, I'm picked up from the lobby of our hotel - why can't UK diving be like this? A merry whisk down the road and I'm left standing around like a lost sheep watching lots of nervous looking people try on wetsuits and fins. The fins given out look remarkable similar to the Gul-Dive ones I have but are called Snap - copyright? What's that Gov'ner? I think my relief is obvious as the Open Water lambs are led off and I’m taken down to a waiting wooden boat.
There's six of us in all. A Dominican DM, an American, two Germans, myself and another Brit called Graham. I get chatting to him and discuss diving - he's a regular at Stoney and starts complaining about drysuit diving. "Why?" "Well, the kit is so heavy, and with my 18Kg weightbelt" - 18 kilos in a trilam drysuit! He's also decided to bring along his Beaver dive knife for some reason....
We arrive at our first site called Five Rocks - guess why? So we merrily kit up and roll in to the lovely, clear 28 degree water (air temp is 30 by the way). I can see the bottom. I'm still on the surface. I start to suffer from a bad case of "Smiler's Reg" namely the #### thing keeps falling out as I grin!
So down we go and within 30 seconds I know what a brain coral looks like! The bottom is coarse sand, interspersed with small reefs and the five BFR - the dive consists of (BFR = Big Friggin Rock). So we start swimming and I see more fan corals, tube corals and more fish that I've ever seen before. These are not the dirty browns I'm used to but dayglow blues, yellows, purples and silvers. We find a couple of Blue Tang (Acanthurus coeruleus) to play with. Heading on round the first rock and I get a true view of the site. Looking to the left there appears to be no limit to the visibility - the pale yellow of the sand fades into the clear blue of the water.
At this point of serene tranquillity the Germans invade! The DM has found a small, juvenile Moray poking it's head out of a rock and everyone dives in for a looksee. I
meander past the ensuing chaos and investigate a few corals. We head on round another rock to find a few blue tang sitting in the shadows. There's Banded Butterfly fish (Chaetodon striatus), Angelfish and even a few Jack's (Caranx rubber). Next we come across a shoal of Sergeant Major fish (Abudefduf saxatilis) hiding under an overhang - there must be a good 50 of them!
All too soon my buddy is signaling 800psi and it's time to go up for our safety stop. First dive ends after 44mins with a max depth of 23m. We're taken into Sosua Bay for a 90 minute surface interval and get hussled to buy drinks, fruit and very suspicious looking scampi. Fortunately the excuse "I've no money" is plausible in a wetsuit and we get left in peace. Soon we are back out into the bay for our second dive at the Point.
Here we drop down to 18m and follow along a reef. Within minutes I'm getting frustrated as the German guy has whipped out his MX5 and has it glued to his forehead. As soon as anything of remote interest comes into view we are scattered by this blue of neoprene and fin torpedoing its way to it, sending the fish scattering usually. So after being bounced into four or five times I decide to break the 18m max depth and head to 22m. A few signals to the DM and gestures about the Germans have him in stitches and signaling OK for me to stay where I am.
Calm returns and as we reach the point of the Point (hence the name) I spy a shoal of small silver fish nestling in a hollow. As soon as I'm in position to look the MX5 wielding German pushes me out of the way and scatters the fish with his flash! Aaaargh! So we head back down the other side and side at 5m. Now the real fun begins - sitting in a close group of 8 or so is not too easy when certain members don't have too hot buoyancy control so it's a constant fight for space and an attempt to keep away from the shark netting! After two minutes everyone decides they have had enough and surface, leaving me and the DM to shrug at each other as to what to do. I signal I've one minute to do, he OK's and surfaces. Hmmm, oh well. On the boat the German with the MX5 turns to me and says "Und you haff no buoyancy control, you kept banging unto me" - I bite my lip...
So that's it for the day, and we soon discover why. What was a mild swell on the way out has now turned into 1m breakers and the boat is in serious danger of being swamped! So we are finished by 2pm and soon all delivered back to our hotels, complete with tales of daring do!
My next and last two dives are not until Monday. This proves to be a mild concern as I'm struck down with the Dominican Two-Step and in danger of giving the fish (and my wetsuit) more than they bargained for. So I skip brekkie but pinch four bread rolls for the fishies.
So the usual happens and off we go. Graham's there as is a wee lass from the UK, the two Germans (Urgh), a Canadian called Colin and a guy who will video the dive and take photos. I get buddied with Colin and decide I must have words with Lobbo as he qualified in '97, has 12 dives and has not dives for 18 months.. To my relief, as we get the dive briefing, Colin says he doesn't want to do decompression diving (we are off to 25m) and the DM picks up on his inexperience and I get buddied with Graham (and his knife again!).
One first dive of the day is to a site called The Wall 3 - originality personified eh? We drop of a sandy bottom at 14m, fin along and find a gully going down to 22m. Heading down vertically into this I see the most amazing variety of small tropical fish, the kind you would associate with aquariums. I'm not sure what they are but in the walls are loads of these fluorescent striped nimmows (I think). The photographer is snapping everything is sight and proving to be an expert in the frog kick and buoyancy departments! Along we go and the wall on the left opens out revealing a large squat rock on the middle which we are motioned over to. The photographer disappears and as I swim round, see that they are getting everyone to do a swim through. Now the rock is a good 5m wide and the tunnel is about 1m high by 1m wide! Great.
I'm duly about to follow by buddy through when the DM grabs me to let the German girl through. I follow through and find my way out and start the search for my buddy. We get sorted out and all too soon he and the German girl have emptied their Ali 80's and need to scoot. Fortunately, the DM signals me to stay with the photographer, along with the German guy and English lass. We spy a tube coral and the German decides it will be funny for him to sit with his legs either side of this - and who says they have no sense of humour! I cringe as he bangs into and manhandles the soft coral. In al the excitement I forget to check my computer for a while and notice we end up at 25m with only 5 minutes until we hit the NDL! So a brief swim round before heading to the top of the wall at 16m for five extra minutes. Up to the boat and back to Sosua Bay to be offered more suspicious scampi and plead the usual excuses....
My final, and I must admit favourite dive came that afternoon. The name of the site currently escapes me (The Canyon I think). After munching on a bread roll and getting told off for eating the fish food, I stow the three remaining rolls into the bcd pocket and head on down. We head out over a fairly sparse sandy bottom to a series of rocks. The DM signals to get out the bread and I'm instantly surrounded by a baitball of Sergeant Major fish with the odd 1.5-2 foot long yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus) coming in and tearing chunks out of the bread. Just as the fish roll finishes and the fish disperse I look up to see the sun streaming down and two jacks swimming past in perfect sync. Amazing!
We head through a gully between the rocks and find a needlefish hovering on the way through. The Sergeant Major fish and a few of the snapper follow me along as I toss the occasional lump of bread out but soon disappear when it runs out. So we head over a field of coral and kelp, admitting the beauty and acting up for the camera. To my horror I see the German guy spy a massive (1m+ across) barrel coral - he decides it will be amusing to grab both sides and pull himself into it - bloody environmental vandal! (Bren, this was the bit on the video you were less than impressed with).
The rest of time dive passed by uneventfully and we started to do the safety stop. Again, everyone gets bored and heads to the surface leaving the cameraman and myself hanging around. I'm just about to ascend after another 2 minutes when the boat pulls up and parks directly on top of me – nice seeing a moving prop from 5m down!
All in all it was good fun. The best time of year to go is Feb - April, the worst Oct - Dec when about half the diving is cancelled due to poor conditions.
Outstanding copy dude. Just as I remember from the video. And yes, if I ever see anyone, on my watch, even so much as breath heavily on a piece of coral (let alone dick around and trash that barrel coral) I am quite want to shake them warmly by the throat - above or below the surface.
I have had occasion in the past to swim up to said numpty diver and press the button on his inflator hose so that the next question to himself is 'how do I stop this rapid ascent?' Like I care, at least you're not destroying the Gog-given.
Glad you enjoyed it son and love to you and Emma on a safe trip and return to the slightly less warm waters of the UK.