My first day with Blue Ventures as their first scholar. I was up at 6.15, excited and enthusiastic and looking forward to the 400m swim test at 7 which we had to pass in order to dive with the team. Qualified with a PADI open water certificate, I was as yet not a very confident diver and this expedition was my chance of fulfilling all those dreams of learning and being a good diver. After breakfast we all changed and headed for the shore chatting and sharing jokes. With smiles and encouragement the staff explained that if we were to dive we needed to successfully complete the 400m swim. I could feel a knot in my stomach, nervousness, staying in Suva for the last 3months with only occasional weekly swims, how in the world was I going to complete the swim. I was assured that there was no pace set or timeline as long as we finished the 400m. There were 2 buoys at 200m apart and we had to start at one and after touching the 2nd buoy, we had to swim back. Thus we started Tristan and Helen were leading the swim with a SMB with the faster swimmers, while with SMB’s in hand Ruth and Theo tagged along with intermediate swimmers. Making sure that nobody was left behind were Jo and Britt and not surprisingly I was with them as one of the slower swimmers. Howard was on the shore alert in hand in case there was an emergency. I managed to complete the swim but not without touching ground 4 times, as was the only condition, thus I was the only one disqualified. I was distraught yet instead of being told how badly I had done, I had words of encouragement and positive feedback on how I could do better, not only from the staff but the volunteers as well. It lifted up my spirits as I got hugs from Ruth and Helen for making the effort. Next we were divided into 2 groups and headed for snorkeling. Ah…with mask and snorkel it was so much easier. Watching all the corals, the different types and colours of fish and a vast array of tiny colourful marine organisms, it was like being in another world for nearly 90minutes. By then it was one time for lunch, the beautiful smiling faces of the kitchen staff had never been a more wonderful sight. It was not a wonder with everybody wolfing down their plates in no time. There was excitement in voices, everyone was sharing there half day experiences and it suddenly felt like nobody had enough words to describe what they had seen. After lunch at 2 we headed to the Classroom for our first lecture with Tristan. Here we were briefed of our expectations for the next 5weeks and were given a species list of Targeted Fishes and Invertebrates. We had to start getting back to our books and snorkel point outs as this was all going to be tested. Yeah, you couldn’t just guess what each different species; there was no room for inferences of fish with Tristan and Invertebrates with Ruth, you HAD to know them at some point. We were later also divided into groups and given a chore for the week. I was in Group 2 with Linda, Goergie, Tom and Katy, and we were on Dive Shack duty for the week. With a three and half hour break to explore the island before dinner, I opted to work on my swimming skills which needed my attention. After being in the water for 40 minutes, with Theo who was more than willing to help and encouragement, I felt much better than I did in the morning. After relaxing and catching up with the volunteers over the days events, we had dinner. The board was presented after dinner which outlined the activities of yet another exciting day with a visit to Bau Island. Wearing reef boots the day concluded with a Reef Flat walk holding torches in hand to explore the little creatures in the process of feeding and sleeping. Exhausted after an eventful day and eager about the promises of the next 5 weeks, I was re-living the day in my dreams.
The second day started with more eagerness, as I had to do a 400m swim with Britt, who had kindly agreed to help me with swimming, (though not out of only pure intention to help me but to train for his Divemaster test as well which required a lot of timed swims!!) It was not the best and I touched ground twice but there was Britt with words of encouragement whenever I felt like giving up. After breakfast at 10 o’ clock the group left for Bau Island all looking very beautiful and handsome in their Bula dresses and shirts to visit one of the Historical sites of Fiji. Access to Bau Island is deemed a privilege as nobody has a chance of visiting the island without an invitation. Bau Island is the home to Fiji’s chief and customary custodian of Leleuvia and surrounding waters, thus as a appreciation gesture the group went for a visit and the presentation of a “sevusevu” . Being fortunate enough to visit the island with the first expedition group, I opted to stay back with Ruth on Leleuvia going through the targeted species list of fish and invertebrates and snorkel point outs. Before we could realize the group were back on the island. The smiling and enchanted faces of Harry, Linda, Leah, Tamara and Peter as they approached and began relating their experiences of the day at once, assured me that they had had a wonderful day out on Bau, and I felt proud to belong to Fiji, with its rich cultural heritage, and the ability to share it with other people. In the evening we had lectures from Ruth on coral reefs and Benthic Invertebrates. The 5 types of reefs were discussed in detail, along with the Porifera, Cnidarians and Echnodermatas. The different types of sea urchins, the difference between Starfish and Brittle Stars and many more!!!!!!!!!These lectures are anything but boring as Ruth tries to mimick the specie or their behavior, where you begin to find it hard to keep a straight face. Thus with food for thoughts we head to the dining table for a bit of food for the stomach as the conch shell blows at 7.30. With coffee in hand, after dinner the group gets together as a Team with the staff and volunteers to go over the events of the day and plans for the next. CHORES!!Still needs to be done, it gives you a sense of responsibility and importance. Sweeping the sand out of the dive shack, putting all gears in their places making sure they are dry and properly kept, filling water in the drums to rinse dive gears after the next days dive.They may seem petty, but they are a lot of fun,it helps build a sense of part of a working group,it’s learning how to take care of your dive gear, which don’t come cheap. And there can be nothing more frustrating then coming back after a dive to find no water to rinse your gear. With the final chores done and shouts of “Moce Tadra” we all head back to our rooms.
At 7.00 my swim buddy is at the shore and I complete my first 400m swim without touching ground. Already in the water having their morning swim are Leah, Tamara, Asa and Muriel. I start to develop an easy and comfortable feeling in the water and my confidence increases, which are actually turning out to be more fun than I thought. Breakfast of toast, butter,jam and banana with fruit juices and coffee feel the best thing in the world after the swim. The PADI open water guys Peter, Kate, Georgie and Tom begin their skills training in confined waters, whereas other Open Water Certified Divers are taken for a tune up. I start to mentally prepare myself for the swim test with Tristan, swimming 400m and having a swim test of 400m somehow seem two different things and TESTS are meant to be scary, which I found out later in the afternoon that tests with Tristan are anything but scary. I had successfully completed 350m when it started raining and currents got stronger, for a moment I was reluctant to continue and felt panicky but with Tristan’s chant of “You can do it”, “You can do it” I passed my test. We also went through Shore Marshall and Boat Marshall training during the day. Shore Marshall’s duties included updating the dive board before each dive, being in touch with the Boat Marshall by phone on the status of the dive. One of the most crucial role is played by the Boat Marshall for safety reasons. The Boat Marshall is responsible for putting the extra kit, life jackets (enough for everyone on board), oxygen kits, protection materials, spare bottle of water, first aid, oars and GPS on the boat. Imagine reaching a dive site only to realize your Mask strap is broken or you don’t have enough weights!!They are also responsible for noting down all the important information about the divers and keeping in touch with the Shore Marshall on the status of the dive. Each volunteer is trained in both the duties.
Another Fish lecture by Tristan where he explains the different biology of fishes. From the bony fish such as the Emperor Angelfish to the rover predator such as the Trevally or Tuna to the Lie-In-Wait predators such as the Barracudas. We also look at surface oriented fish such as the flying fish to bottom rover fish such as the goatfish, bottom clingers the gobies to bottom hiders the blennies. From deep bodied fish such as Butterfly or Surgeonfish to Fish with scales such as the Parrot fish.
Relaxing on the sun lounges watching the Sunset on the West side of Leleuvia, chatting with Kate and Linda with Harry’s comments when he occasionally passes by compliments the ending of yet another comprehensive and exciting day.
At dinner table, Reef Fish Identification Book seems to be found with every plate as fish similarities and differences are discussed over dinner.
Passing my swim test has made me lazy or the sea is really a bit rough to swim!!I end up just having a huge breakfast. I bury myself in my Reef Fish Identification Book after breakfast for an hour. I am more of a giant clam and Cetacean person than a fish person, but slowly the different Damselfish, Butterflyfish, the colourful Anthias the pretty Angelfishes, Parrotfishes, Rabbitfishes and Pufferfish all start holding a fascination with the Groupers, Snappers and Sweetlips, the more I look at it. I am buddied with Ruth on my 1st dive of the expedition and on the 2nd dive of the day. As Ruth helps me kit up, she explains our recreational dive. I feel the same knot on my stomach which forms at unusual terms and then I realise I’m nervous and scared. As we finish our buddy check,on the boat and travelling towards our dive site, I can’t help feeling panicky and then I look up to see Howards encouraging smile, Ruth’s thumbs up and feel Duncan’s pat on the shoulder, I begin to relax. At the dive site on Asa, who is Boat Marshall for the day, on the count of 3 roll backwards. Ruth is by my side when I surface and after checking on all of us Howard, who is leading the dive, gives the signal to descend with our buddies. My breathing seems quiet heavy and I have problems equalizing. The maximum I’m able to go is till 6m and my 1st dive duration lasts for less than 10minutes before I surface and head back on the boat with Ruth. Well, it didn’t go to well but it was a start…
Back for lunch around 12.45, after lunch we headed back to the classroom for another lecture from Ruth on an “Introduction to Benthic Lifeforms”. We differentiated characteristics of algae and troll’s hair (cyanobacteria). If u wafted over it and it closed than it was a Tunicate and if it did not u knew you had just been in contact with a Sponge. The tentacles provided you with the conclusion on corallimorphs or zooanthids. Octocorals wafting in the wind were soft corals and the trees or fern under the sea were Gorgonians and Sea whips. Surrounded by anemone fish were anemones. Reef forming corals were the various types of hard corals. Something to look out for were Fire coral and the list went on.
Hooray!! Helpful Helen takes me for a dive tune up with Linda and Ruth at a sandy depth of 10m. We did Reg removal, mask clearing and mask removal under water. Saw Stunning sting rays and were surrounded by blue streak fusiliers.It felt so much better to be in the water again.
Feeling elated after a long day hit bed at 9.00pm.