20th April 1986

There must be an ecological reason for their colours and design but to my uniformed eye corals look like the creation at play, fantasies invented for the delight of invention.
Martha Gellhorn – Travels With Myself and Another

My passion for snorkelling has grown. Every chance to take a boat out to the reef has been eagerly taken. To step off into unknown depths is still a journey into the unknown, but no longer do I plumb my darkest fears. I can float and I can see.

Each stroke away from the boat or beach is an exploration of an ever-changing vista – colour life and movement. The coral reefs are deceptive, animal, very much a look but don’t touch anything in the garden. A scratch or scrape can bring about pus filled swellings that linger for antibiotic ridden days, yet so inviting. I dive down for a closer look until my ears start aching and my lungs need a refill of fresh air. I may be clutching an encrusted shell, home for a hermit crab or a memory as like a champagne cork being popped out its bottle I burst up and out of the waves.

And curiosity draws me back down; so much to see, so many fish to follow. Some fifty feet below I can see my slow moving friends crawling in search of those colourful and exotic shells which are rarely within my reach. Sea anenomes, sharks, manta rays are there, but out of my reach.

It all looks so rationally easy. A buddy system, navigational aids, triple checked air supply sending up columns of bubbles that slowly rise to tickle my body and burst before my mask. There can’t be too much to fear, except fear itself.

Seven pounds of dead lead weight are fitted around my waist; an inflated life jacket and tubes with mouthpiece to breath through; and an aluminium canister on my back with a few minutes of guaranteed air supply of essential air. Nerves calm but stomach a-flutter, I knew this was to be one chance.

Phil said I got down two metres, but, dammit, I can duck dive deeper. Still, by all accounts we stayed down longer than a minute, which is longer than I’ve ever free-dived. But I knew that my rationality was becoming forced. To panic could be fatal. So much to think about. Lots to see but, with the poor visibility, we would haver to go deeper. To go deeper meant distancing ourselves from the freely available ocean of air above. To go deeper meant having to rely on technology. I held Pam’s hand tighter as complicated thoughts intruded. To think of not panicking meant that I was thinking of panicking..

O.K. That’s enough!

So I’m disappointed yet somewhat pleased. I did stay under water for longer than ever before. A month ago I felt claustrophobic wearing a mask. To feel mildly claustrophobic while wearing an ocean is a considerable improvement in my psyche.

Another time and another salary hence I could perhaps feel freer to explore more of Man’s last frontier. My frontier is still trapped inside, but the door is slightly more than ajar an I’d like to dive through.


About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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