Friday, 15 June 2012

Days 35-45: Scuba diving in Utila

Like most travellers that come to Utila, the main objective is to take the PADI Open Water (OW) course so you are certified to dive up to 18m. It took 3 days to complete and included the theory behind diving and several practical dives. We spent a lot longer there.....
  
The Moray Eeel

The Theory

We were required to watch 5 painfully patronising and cheesy videos made in the early 90’s about the theory behind diving. 

Each video was followed by a classroom session the next day with our super cool instructor Ben. He was so laid back that he managed to make some of the dry material interesting. To get the OW certification, we had to complete 5 sections of the course. A Knowledge Review and a mini test followed each section and then there is the final exam which encompasses everything we learned… it was designed with the intention that 10 year olds can get their OW, so it was dead easy and pretty much just common sense.

Ben, our awesome and potentially hungover instructor

The Dives

The practical was much better. We learned to set up our gear and started in the shallow dock practicing breathing underwater, clearing water out of our masks, replacing our regulator and mask to mimic losing them under water and then controlling our buoyancy. It was a little overwhelming at first knowing you were completely submerged under water, which goes against all human instincts but after one day it already felt natural. 

We then went into open water. First to 12m then 18m. Being underwater exploring the barrier reefs was like nothing else. I felt like I was in either a David Attenborough documentary or in Finding Nemo with countless brightly coloured fish swimming around a glorious and complex reef structure which we were definitely not allowed to touch!  

After being certified we got to go on our fun dives where we saw rare fish, eels, rays and best of all a sea turtle!! That was my highlight!

Luisa nearly drowned when she saw this (Photo taken by our friends Abe and Robyn)
The Relax

As a reward for finishing, Parrots took us to one of the small islands just off the main island, Water Key. It was a totally crazy ordeal with lots of alcohol and chilling but in the most beautiful location imaginable. To me, the island resembles the small island Jack Sparrow was marooned on in Pirates of the Caribbean. Just sun, sand, sea, rum with the addition of some really fun people who loved to go diving. We also got to see dolphins riding the waves on the way back.

BUCKET LIST CHECK

After we completed our OW, we were told about the next level, Advanced Open Water (AOW) which was basically 5 seriously cool dives to greater depth…we were sold by this! So we decided to stick around for another week. 

Swimming against the tide, everyone just stays in Utila, we felt like this fish when trying to leave. (photo taken by Abe and Robyn)
 

Advanced Open Water

The AOW is by far superior to the first level. There is very little classroom work, only 5 Knowledge Reviews and a couple explanation sessions. 

The sunken tanker, Captains room
Our first dive was to see a ship wreck! We dove down to 30m where there was a sunken (on purpose) oil tanker. It was sunk in 1993 by Haliburton for divers to explore. It was quite sinister as there was no surrounding reef, just open blue water with a wreck covered in algae and barnacles. We got to swim into all the rooms where previous divers had left items behind.


The second dive was to test our Peak Performance Buoyancy control. We completed a small obstacle course under water, going through hoops and knocking over weights with our nose and then played Frisbee and did black flips; essentially messed around for 40mins under the water. 
The third dive was deep water where we went down to 30m again to see how “narked” we felt. When you ascend down to 30m plus, the concentration of nitrogen begins to make you feel a bit high and your reflexes slow and you can potentially do stupid things. We ended up just being a bit slower at doing mental arithmetic. 

The fourth dive was the navigation dive, definitely the most boring, where we just did compass work swimming in squares and triangles afterwards we explored a small wreck but didn’t have enough air to get to some caves. 

Setting out for a night dive
The fifth dive was the night dive, and was the absolute highlight of all our dives so far. We left the dock just before sunset and suited up just as the sun set. It was still light above the surface when we first descended but 1m down it was pitch black and a torch comes in handy. The coolest thing about using a torch under water is that all the colours are way more vivid and you really take notice of what you are looking at in that moment. We got to see all the fish that come out at night to feed, such as moray eels and barracudas and also saw all the day time fish sleeping. But the absolute highlight was seeing the octopus! It was blowing itself up trying to intimidate us. Harry also saw a Lobster over a meter long, Ben said it was the biggest lobster he has ever seen in his life. At the end of the dive we surfaced in the pitch black night, underneath a clear starry sky. Can’t beat that!

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