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My first night dive and shore entry - 31 March 2011

thumb_resized_DSC_6198_shrimpPaul van Jaarsveld reports on his first night dive and shore entry he did with African Waters Scuba on the evening of Thursday 31 March 2011.

When I got word that Jacques is planning to do a night dive in the Marina Martinique, I was immediately excited by the news. I never thought of actually diving inside a saltwater channel. I have known the channel for some time, and even knew that there are some sharks.

I was so excited that I found it really hard to sleep the previous night. One of the local shops, Usave, sells quite a powerful head mounted waterproof light, which is perfect for diving. I purchased one during the day, and bought some hybrid batteries to power it. (They are rechargeables, but are charged already when you buy them. Gives about 1000 charges.)

A change of plan

When evening came, I was a little late and it was already dark when I parked at the meeting point. At first I thought I was the only one there, or the dive had been cancelled, because I could not see any of the other divers around, nor the African Waters Scuba Landrover. After a quick call, I looked up as my eyes adjusted and saw the Landy and some other cars and some dive rigs in the moonlight. They were setting up by the seaside and not the canal!

Great was my delight when I was informed that we are in fact doing a shore entry into Paradise beach because the sea is so calm and we can´t waste the opportunity. There was some lighting and light rain showers around, but we did not really care because we were going to get wet anyway. Jacques issued us each with our cylumes. (This cool chemical tube light thing that you have to break so it can shine) The more experienced divers got red ones tied to their cylinders, and guys like me got green ones. Jacques,  took the buoy line and had a flasher on his buoy as well as on his BC. He buddied more experienced divers up with less experienced divers.

As some of you may know, I have quite a heavy camera setup. I take 6 weights on my belt, and another two in the BC, and on that particular evening I had to use a 15L Cylinder which is pretty big. I was the last one to enter the water. One observation that I made was, there is no gracious way to do a shore entry. The reefs start almost immediately, and the water remains very shallow for a long time. We walked about 60 metres in shallow water before putting our fins on. Being a surf photographer, I am pretty used to doing shore entries with my camera, but without a rig strapped to my back.

Taking photos at night is not so easy

The moment we started swimming out to sea, the action started. There were gazillions of little shrimps everywhere. They are the cutest little funniest things I have ever seen. Do you remember the one in Finding Nemo? Anyways. Apart from night diving for the first time and doing my first shore entry, this was also the first time I tried taking photos underwater during the night. This proved to be a great challenge. The flashlight that was strapped onto my head, would work perfectly, until I brought my mask closer to the viewfinder to compose the shot. Then everything would go dark! It must have taken me several minutes to realize that the light on the head is a great concept for diving, but it´s not going to work for me taking photos. We were also staying quote close to each other, and I kept on bumping into other divers.

Eventually, I removed the flashlight from my head, and held it in my left hand, while holding the heavy housing with only my right hand. At least I could get my eye close to the viewfinder to actually see what I was taking photos off. I  used the flashlight to illuminate whatever I wanted to take photos off. It was still very cumbersome, and the shrimps did not sit still and pose for photos either. Out of several tries, I only managed to take one or two photos where you can actually make out shrimps. Part of my crises was that I set the camera up at a wide angle, (24mm) because I was expecting to get photos of sharks perhaps and I also wanted to take photos of the other divers.

As we moved out further, we eventually got to a place where the water was about 3m deep. There was a sandy bottom, and the water cleared up nicely. By that time, everybody was very tired from struggling over the rocks, and I had just about figured out my settings, when Jacques showed me I must turn of my lights. In fact, I surfaced at one point, and could see nobody anywhere, and got a fright for a moment, until my eyes adjusted and I saw the bubbles and cylumes. On the ocean floor, there were millions of little phosphoric lights pulsating. Very similar to fireflies, just the underwater version. I did not have time to take photos of it, because the call was made that we need to go back to shore. Being fit to a certain level, and used to swimming with my fins in large surf, I was not aware that the others really became tired. On my way back, I spotted a small catfish, and managed to make a quick snap. Photographic results of the evening was really lacking, but this was also a new experience for me and I will know what to expect next time!

Some photos from the night dive

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No gracious way to exit from a shore entry

I learned that there is no gracious way to exit from a shore entry either. Especially if it´s over shallow reefs. To shallow to swim, and very difficult to walk. Neville, one of the Divemasters in training and chairman of the JBay Underwater Club, explained to me that the trick is to roll over when you get stuck. He basically swims on his back, and if he gets stuck on a reef, he turns over on his belly with the aid of a wave.  I was also the last person out of the water, apart from Jacques who kept a watchful eye that everybody made it safe to the shore. Our total bottom time was 30 minutes. Doing a shore entry is way different from a boat entry, and I can understand why people rather do the boat thing if they can. Fortunately African Waters Scuba has a good boat and we almost never do shore entries, apart for training purposes.

After we debriefed and got dressed, we were quite hungry and thirsty, so we just drove over to Tappas, 100m away and spent the rest of the evening hanging out and listening to each other´s dive stories. I took two cylumes home for my son, because they were still shining very bright. When I got home everybody was fast asleep and I left them next to his bedside, hoping he would wake up and notice them. Around 2 in the morning, he did wake up and was highly impressed by his new toys. They kept going for another 24 hours and he still played with them till late into the following night.

Looking back

I learned heaps of things from this experience. I thought it may be frightening to dive at night, but found it quite surreal and comfortable. I suppose the fact that I have done a couple of dives with low viz helps a lot and I recall forgetting totally that I am diving or even that I am in the ocean. When I surfaced and I heard waves breaking, then it was as if I was awoken out of a deep sleep. Very much like that feeling when you just completed your safety stop and you look up and see the surface, knowing you don´t want to leave yet, but you have to go. Knowing, you will come back at the first opportunity.

See you on the next dive!