One of the things I was most excited about while planning our trip to the Philippines was the chance to go diving again. I completed my open water course this January and have not been diving once since. That meant I had four dives logged in my book, all of which were part of the open water course.
The Philippines is known for having some of the best dive sites in the world and I was really looking forward to getting in the water. Unfortunately diving isn’t the cheapest hobby so Kirsty told me I was only allowed to go diving twice… Reading reviews I settled on Malapascua island and Moal Boal, the last two locations on our trip.
However, during our whale shark interaction trip one of the guys mentioned he had been diving in Donsol the day before and seen manta rays and whale sharks, now that does sound appealing. It just so happened our guide that day had his own dive shop and was already taking a couple of people out the following day. I agreed to join them and signed up later that day letting Bobby, my guide turned divemaster, know that I had only just done my open water and these would be my first real dives, it didn’t seem to bother him.
The next morning we met at 7am, had a quick briefing mainly explaining how he had renamed all the dive sites to include his name, set up our equipment and headed out on the boat.
My dive companions included two chaps in their twenties who had a lot of diving experience all over the world and a couple living in Singapore who I overheard mention they had over sixty dives logged each over a number of years. I was very much the novice on this trip.
The first dive began with a backwards role entry about 4 feet high, my first such entry. No problems there, it’s nicer entering the water head first. We descended down to around 10 meters in very clear water before swimming away from the boat towards ‘Bobbys Wall’ a gorgeous coral wall that immediately outdid anything I had seen on Koh Tao. What I wasn’t expecting however was the current, Bobby had mentioned very briefly there is sometimes a very small current but this was different.
I stayed close to the wall to try and avoid getting swept away but it was still very strong. As the dive progressed the current frequently changed, one moment we would all be drifting uncontrollably and the next fighting against it and barely moving. There were up and down currents to contend with too. At some points I would be floating along upside down and had no way to control it.
By the time we made it back to the boat I was exhausted, more mentally than anything after dealing with situations I have never experienced before. My more experienced companions even commented straight away on the difficulty of the currents which re-confirmed my suspicions that this probably wasn’t the dive I should have been doing so soon after my open water course.
Despite checking my depth gauge during the dive it didn’t occur to me that I had exceeded my 18 metre limit by nearly 10 metres. All round it had been quite an exciting but challenging dive and the next one Bobby had planned sounded even harder.
It was not only I who admitted to being nervous in the group. We would be diving ‘Manta Boal’ where the current could get even stronger than our last dive. So much so that we would be using hooks to hold ourselves to the bottom in order to wait and hopefully see the manta rays and if we were especially lucky, whale sharks.
The plan was to sit at around 12m where it was apparently sometimes good enough to see what we had come for but when that didn’t work out we headed down to 20m (there goes my depth limit again). Other than a rough 20m head on swim between two sheltered areas the current wasn’t much of an issue this time. However, I remained quite nervous throughout the dive expecting to swept away at any moment and my air consumption was showing it.
We drifted back out into the current and I searched for somewhere suitable to hook in and wait. After a few moments holding on I began to relax and we spent about 15 minutes out in the open on the look out for something coming towards us. Unfortunately it seemed none of the big boys were out to play and I was running low on air so we had to begin our accent.
Climbing back onto the boat we told the snorkelers on board of our disappointment at seeing nothing but although I was disappointed I definitely felt like I had achieved something that day. Dealing with the currents was a completely new experience and on the whole I was just happy to be diving again and have my first dives after open water under my belt.
It was definitely a baptism of fire and despite diving lots more during our time in the Philippines I faced nothing nearly as hard. An instructor we met later in our trip who used to work in Donsol looked horrified when I told her they were my first dives since getting certified.
It may not have been the best route to take so early on in my diving life but it definitely made me a better diver in the long run and now my air consumption is awesome 😉