Facing Jaws In the Deep End - The Full Story Part 1

"Health is the state of being sound in body and mind." ~ NAUI Scuba Diver Handbook

Living to Be Happy 


From Tues 11th Feb until Fri 14th Feb I did my 'Scuba Diver' (Open Water) basic sub-aqua qualification at the Nautilus Diving Center in Taganga, Colombia.

The first day, I met my instructor, Omar, and we jumped on a boat to the cabaña on the coast of Tayrona near Playa Brava. I left my bag at the cabaña and was given my equipment - my wetsuit, mask, snorkel, diving belt with hip weights, boyancy compensator (BC) jacket, air cyclinder, booties and heel strap fins.

In the shallow waters near the cabaña (under 'swimming pool conditions') I learnt how to use everything properly in various possible scenarios before attaching my aluminium air supply and learning how to breathe properly underwater.

This was not unusual for me as I had already tried diving in a swimming pool in the UK and knew how it feels, but I remember the first time that I tried to scuba and how surprised I was to find out that we must move very slowly to preserve energy and air, whilst at the same time aiming to breathe very slowly in and then very slowly out - calmly at all times. Diving done properly is very much a form of underwater yoga.

Omar pointed out that sub-aqua whether scuba diving or skin diving (free diving without an air supply) is very much not like the films. Things move very slowly underwater and air whether from your own lungs or an aqualung, does not last long.

On Wednesday 12th Feb I did my first two dives. For both dives I went down to 12 metres with a dive time of 35 minutes. It is an amazing but also scary feeling when you first go down. We have a learnt desire to breathe through the nose even though we of course can't, and a fight or flight desire to get out of this new weird situation even though we cannot and must not shoot right up to the surface and must go up in stages if we wish to surface and do not want to risk serious illness.

Lung collapse, carbon monoxide poisoning, dehydration, nitrogen neurosis, decompression sickness (the bends), a burst ear drum, bleeding through the eyes or nose -  scuba diving is an extreme sport with various health risks, though they are low as long as you are careful, calm, sensible and follow the rules.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to think about when you first go down. Buyonancy is a facinating and important skill to develop; by breathing in we rise in the water as our lungs fill with oxygen, as we breathe out again we fall. The scuba jacket is a further flotation device that needs to be occasionally inflated as you dive down, because the oxygen compresses, and deflated again as you rise and the air decompresses or you will float up.

Taking a balloon full of air down with you demonstrates this effect pressure has on oxygen. As you dive down, the balloon shrinks. This is called Boyle's Law; namely, as pressure increases, volume decreases, while density (weight) increases. That is why we need 3 times as much air during deep diving, and also why it is definitely not a good idea to fill your lungs with air deep down and then hold your breath while you swim back up to the surface! ;-)

After the diving, I went with a German guy called Andre to the near-by beach to study. I learnt a lot of interesting stuff during the course. I found out that refraction makes everything in the water seem 1/3 closer and larger; I learnt that salt water is 2.5% denser than fresh water  due to its minerals which is why when you hold your breath in the sea you float much more easily than in fresh water; I learnt that breath-hold diving is called skin diving or free diving; I learnt that SCUBA means 'self contained underwater breathing apparatus'; I learnt that a skin suit made of polartec warms the body the same as a thin wetsuit (perfect for swimming in the sea in the UK); I learnt that ripple marks get closer near shore and the water gets shallower near corral; I learnt that surge is the name for the waves as they move to and from shore causing a washing machine effect; I learnt that air contains mostly hydrogen and only 20.95% oxygen; and finally I learnt that it is the carbon dioxide that makes us want to breath.

I also learnt the relevance of these facts for scuba diving. For example, when we breathe in and out rapidly more than 4 times we are hyperventilating. What we do here is fill our lungs with much more carbon dioxide than oxygen and thus no longer have a desire to breathe which causes us to pass out. Whilst diving this is called shallow water blackout because people often pass out just before reaching the surface and then risk drowning. The trick is to not take more than 3 deep breathes before diving down without air.

On Thursday 13th Feb I did a dive to 18 metres (the maximum during initial training) and a current dive. Diving in current is another initially uncomfortable experience, as you realise that you have no choice but to move along with a strong current because swimming against the current is exhausting and uses up air quickly.


Friday the 14th Feb was the day of my exam plus one extra adventure dive. Now that I had completed my initial training, my instructor took me on a deep dive to 37.5 metres (40 metres is the maximum a recreational diver should go). Diving deep down by pulling down on the boat's anchor line brought about a small momentary panic, but when down deep like that you have no choice - you have to regain controlled calm. You cannot surface without taking decompression stops and you have to rise at a certain speed too (due to the amount of hydrogen now in your system). This is why each dive should always be calculated with a dive table or dive computer.

Spirituality teaches us that the most personal growth takes place when we fight our fears and put our Self out of the comfort zone of what we already know. I passed the end test with a well-chuffed 97% and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience at the same time. At no point during my dives did I think about a potential shark attack. In psychology, facing an irrational fear head-on in order to get over it is called 'flooding'.

Michael Anthony states that "Fear cannot exist in the present. It is only when you are concerned about a future outcome that fear can exist." Diving is an activity that requires a lot of attention on the moment now which successfully distracts you from any highly unlikely event taking place such as a shark attack.

But what about when you simply swim out into deep water without all the scuba gear to distract you. That is what I needed to test out next, so off I went on a trip around the north coast of colombia to swim out into the deep in order to see if my fear of creatures in the deep had truly been overcome.

Be inspired ♥

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