I saw a reef shark today, at 33m underwater. My first shark. My first deep dive. I’m only certified to go to 18m, but this lodge is casual and the owner, an instructor, accompanied me the whole dive.
We had to descend on a rope that’s already growing barnacles, other life, a reef in the making, fighting a current the whole way. There are no points to fix on when you can’t see the reef below you and only have a dim sense of light above, just the dark blue force of sea, the fuzzy rope, the divers below and above you.
It’s a very intimate thing, being in the air bubbles of another diver, feeling the tickle and fizz of the release of their breath surround you. My lover is below me, and I feel the reassurance of his bubbles. But descending on a line to a sea mount that only begins 30m below is primal, simultaneously intimate and so solo. Down there, it is just you, your gear, the sea, your hope that your instincts are the right ones. In a few flicks of your fins, floating off against the current could suddenly become a cyclone, a fight not to be swept off, up too quickly, away. A prime directive to never do anything that might put other divers in danger trying to rescue you. Hand over hand against the current, this kind of descent is almost the dive itself.
You draw so much air at depth, put your body in such strain, that you only stay at the reef 5 minutes or so, the feat in getting down and then back up again safely and slowly. Letting go of the rope on the reef is faith itself, edging gently toward the ledge that drops into the chasm of flashing schools of silvery fish, a lurking reef shark, huge Spanish mackerel, the predatory blue fin trevallies with their sharp arced tails. An abyss of nothing and everything, no firm ground, swirling winds of silver, blue, yellow, black life.
My guide lightly holds my wrist as we hover on the reef edge, points out the shark, the predatory lunges, the unexpected. It is all unexpected to me, darkest blue, oppressive, suspended, breathing, among the graceful interwoven schools. On the surface later, I think, ask for names of creatures, wonder how fish make flocking decisions, exclaim with delight. At 33 m below, I am just breathing, watching, trying to signal awe. At the reef, time is nothing, and I am just lungs, eyes, my heartbeat.
As we move back to the rope, my guide, who is taciturn on the surface can’t stop pointing out marvels. Two fingers pointing to his mask, then gesturing toward the fish. He wants me to see it all.
In most ascents, at most safety stops at around 5 metres to bubble off the nitrogen in your blood, there is reef and its endless tiny wonders to look at. On this kind of dive, there is you, and the rope, and your computer marking the flickers up and down of depth as the current shoves you, a physical effort to hang on long enough to surface safely. The current pushes you harder near the surface, hand on the boat’s underside to avoid being smashed into it, the air and the ladder and the deck the unpleasant splashdown to earth.