I spent two full days in the pool learning important diving skills like breathing without a mask, clearing my mask, throwing away and retrieving my regulator, breathing from a free-flowing regulator, towing a tired diver, treading water for 10 minutes, swimming 25 lengths of the pool . . . all in all, not a bad couple of days.
Martin joined me the second day in the pool to review a few things before our first open water dives the next day. Steve also threw me back into the pool with a full cylinder of air and told me not to come out until I could achieve neutral buoyancy or my air ran out – whichever one came first. Let me tell you that I now have an intimate knowledge of every crack, dent, and discolouration of the deep end of the pool at 72 Sandown Road, West Beach, Cape Town. Frigging neutral buoyancy eluded me until we actually got in the sea.
I did actually do a few other things during my month in Cape Town and a very memorable night was spent on the beachfront with TLC, a Christian outreach program in Blouberg, who were giving out meals to the underprivileged in the area. I went with Julie-Ann, who is a friend of my aunt Carol’s. She had invited me to church on the previous Sunday, and since it had been a while since I’d gone, and since I like to experience different kinds of religious services, I went along. The service was actually pretty fun, sort of like a rock concert in honour of Jesus. She had told me that they were going to be singing carols and giving out meals on the 24th of November, and offered to come and pick me up so I could join in. I went along and had a great time singing and dancing with everyone that showed up. At the end of the evening, Julie-Ann drove me and about 10 of the underprivileged women and their children home. We dropped the women and children off first; at the unfinished end of a street, and they slowly made their way into the sand dunes and bush. Illuminated by the headlights of the van, we watched them disappear into the darkness of the night, their happy chatter drifting back to us until they were out of sight. I turned and looked at Julie-Ann: “They’re happy”, she said. “They have everything they need and a bit more tonight”. I couldn’t help but believe her, as their smiles and warmth had certainly brought a bit of brightness to my day.
The following day we were all up early and at the dive shop by 8 – Open Water Dives 1 &2!!! No more pool! Yay! Steven had chosen Sandy Cove, near Camps Bay, as our dive site for our qualifying dives. I hitched a ride with Martin and as we waited for the post office to open so we could get our dive licenses, I called the panel beaters: it was NOT good news. Apparently Honda Civic/CRV hatchbacks are very rare in SA, and the bumper that Lisa had expertly crashed right off the car would take 3 WEEKS to show up, and another few days after that to assemble. It was November 25th, 3-4 weeks was Christmas – great, fantastic, swell. *SIGH*
With nothing I could do at that point, we kept going and showed up to the side of the road just before 10. Literally, we parked on the shoulder of the highway, kitted up between our cars, and scrambled, in full gear, down the embankment to the beach. It was sunny and warm that day, about 24°C. We completed our pre-dive safety check and waded into the water – the 10.7°C water!!! Yeah, it was COLD. Even with a 7mm hooded wetsuit, and 5mm boots and gloves. In Umkomaas I had worn a 5mm wetsuit, without gloves, boots or a hood, I missed the Indian Ocean already!
Looking out at the water we were supposed to dive in, I was struck by my unexplainable and rather paralyzing fear of kelp, and it was EVERYWHERE. Not just little bits of little kelp here and there, no, no, no, big, huge stalks of kelp in giant kelp forests made up the dive site. Ugggghhhhh. I told Martin and Steve of my fear, and they just looked at me like “Kelp?” Thanks guys. Luckily the wetsuit protected me from actually feeling the kelp on my skin and we swam on the surface past a large portion of the frightening aquatic plant. We dropped down to a sandy patch (about 7m deep) to do some dive skills and I pretty much instantly fell in love with kelp. Seriously. Kelp forests are incredibly beautiful, especially the one at Sandy Cove. Since the water is so frigging cold, there is not too much to see in the way of aquatic life . . . the odd small and mid-size fish, a few starfish, maybe a crayfish if you’re lucky . . . but there is KELP and it is stunning. I can truly and honestly say that I am no longer afraid of kelp; I think knowing what it looks like, knowing how it acts in the water, and knowing that it is not actually hiding the Ogopogo who will come and eat your toes helps quite a bit.
After about half an hour we emerged, freezing and shivering from the water to clamber our way back up the hill to the cars. A quick break, some water and snacks, cylinders changed over and back we went for another dive. More comfortable in our gear, in the water and with the temperature of the water (a balmy 10.6°C this time) we managed to explore a bit more and had a nice 45 minutes swimming around before it really got too damn cold and we were out of air. All in all, a successful diving day!
Martin and I decided that we needed a reward for ourselves after all of our hard work, so we headed out for some much needed-grub. As an homage to the sea, we went to Ocean Basket, an incredible (and incredibly cheap) seafood restaurant chain in SA. For the bargain price of R89 (about $13.25) we each got Platter 1: 6 mussels, fried hake, chips, and 6 princess prawns – delicious!! In case that was not going to be enough food, we started off with a dozen raw oysters. I have truly found my seafood soulmate in Martin.
By the time we finished stuffing ourselves, it was nearly 5. Since we were to repeat the entire process the following day, it was back ‘home’ to 28 Windlass Way to relax and dream of kelp.