After putting together my own signature rainbow dive kit in dribs and drabs, it finally became time to lead my first dive. The only pieces of kit that have been deemed unnecessary to purchase as personal items are the BCD (buoyancy control device) and a set of regulators. These are positively abundant at the dive centre, with the single downside being that if we are overrun with customers who require my extra small BCD and regs, us DMTs without our own will be left on the shelf and not able to dive. Fortunately for me, hardly anyone out there uses my size, and the small is just as dandy in a pinch.
My adjustable fins, mask, snorkel, booties, kit bag and wetsuit have all been essential, trusty items that were bought at the very beginning. Shopping around for a dive computer in Sairee and Mae Haad for the past four weeks has been an entirely different story. Fellow DMTs recommend the Koh Tao for sale Facebook page to find a second, third or fourth hand billy bargain, whereas local instructors insist you need the warranty that comes with a brand new boxed dive computer, that will never let you down. Being the safe, non-risk taking person that I am, my search has been for the cheapest brand new Suunto Zoop on offer. A basic, bulky watch that gives you the bare minimum dive information, but is all you need to start off with on the path to becoming a Divemaster.
Using my powers of charm (and bringing in friends to buy multiple compasses), the lovely owner of a shop I cannot name offered to pop down to the nearby dive supply shop and use his hefty discount to buy me the Zoop. Usually costing 10,350 baht (just over 200 pounds), he said ‘Just give me 8,000 and promise not to tell a soul!’ Locking up shop, he whizzed off and came back straight away with my beautiful new equipment.
Feeling as happy as can be at the sheer kindness of people in this world, I only went and splurged my cunningly saved thousands on a floaty dress and some cheeky bottoms. The obligatory staring out to sea shot was completed on the morning boat, courtesy of our wonderful friend and photographer, Maria.
Armed with all the gadgets and raring to go, it was finally my time to shine and lead a dive. We moored the boat to the Southern buoy line at White Rock, and my first dive brief consisted of explaining the plan of the dive, and going over safety procedures in case of separation. The plan was to descend down the buoy line (slowly, because we’ve all had some issues with equalising lately), swim North over the coral patch to reach White Rock, do a figure of eight and finally swim back South along the other side.
As you can guess if you know me and my complete lack of sense of direction, this plan absolutely did not turn out to be the case in practice. We were innocently swimming North, clocking a Moray eel out and about from its cave along the way, with no glimpse of White Rock coming into view whatsoever. Little did we know, the current had been pushing us West the whole time, so we ended up swimming over the most wildlife-barren sand for what felt like forever. Eventually, Tess got out her pencil and slate (a lifesaving tool, some conversations cannot be spelt out in hand movements) and we scribbled our thoughts down, deciding to swim back South to find the dive site. At this point, it was all feeling a tad too ‘Open Water’ for my liking.
Thanking the heavens above, we finally ended up finding it and had a little explore of the rock. On the way back to the boat, poor Maria had to get a spurt on to catch up with me, pulled on my fin and made the hand signal to slow the eff down. Being a smidgen partial to the odd panic, I was positively gunning it through the water, thereby racing through my air with the stress of it all. My poor fellow divers were exhausted by the end of our marathon underwater sprint! Sorry, guys. Lesson learnt.
With the visibility being so atrocious that day, lo and behold I lost the boat, so we decided to surface in the middle of nowhere. We were running too low on air to afford searching around at 20 metres, and poor Maria was on the brink of collapse. Our three minute safety stop was successful this time, with no one losing their surface marker buoy (seeing as though mine was borrowed from Sam, I held onto it with an iron grip). When we bobbed up and took a look around, the Simple Life boat was surprisingly right next to us! My inner compass actually hadn’t let me down too badly, we just couldn’t see a darned thing down there, so it was all a bit of guesswork.
All in all, it was both the most enjoyable and terrifying dive of my life. Having a dive computer to tell you your depth, dive time and when to do your safety stop makes it all the more interesting. Feeling totally knackered and drained after coming back to shore and washing the kit, I met Abi at our local taco shack for my favourite mustard beef burrito, feeling particularly accomplished for the day!