On Sunday I swam with a whale shark, this is how an amazing week on St Helena started, as Bev the boys and myself embarked on my first whale shark watching trip of the season. By St Helena standards this season has been disappointing, poor sea conditions and the sharks basing themselves to the North East of the Island have meant difficult conditions for swimming and for travelling for those of a delicate stomach. Although in good numbers around the Island as a whole, the sharks have been in smaller groups than last year. Coupled with their new tendency to feed just below the surface as opposed to breaking the surface as they did last year, they have been difficult to spot. Our first trip out proved to be a disappointment, a strong swell, members of the group with sea sickness, and a confusion over the booking numbers meant that I was already disappointed before a shark was even found. Once the solitary male was found, three boats and one shark, meant that our time in the water was very limited, and a brief glance of a shark swimming away from me was all I had. But that is nature, it cannot be predicted or harnessed, and neither would you want it to be, and undeterred I booked for a second trip on Wednesday morning.
On Monday I started my PADI Rescue Diver Training, in the water role playing rescue scenarios, and pretending to give mouth to mouth whilst dragging my instructor through the water proving both amusing and damn hard work. It is just another privilege of being here that the value and shear accessibility of diving means that just over 12 months since passing my open water, I have embarked on my Rescue Diver course*
On Monday evening I was diving again, but this time in my favourite capacity, a night dive. With great excitement we travelled to a site North East of James bay and, my excitement grew as our dive leader explained the cave that we would first enter, before taking a drift dive down the coast line. This time with my won dive torch I looked forward to a bright light to unveil the night’s mysteries I descended with the last light of sunset still showing the way ahead. We swam towards the cave and, once given the all clear from the dive leader popped up inside the air pocket. As gentle swell compressed the air pocket we needed to keep equalising, a strange experience when sat with you head out of water with mask and regulator off. Another strange product of the swell was the intermittent fog, generated in the air as the pressure rose, and disappearing just as quickly as the swell dropped away. With each swell the fog reduced visibility in the air to near zero, before quickly revealing the depths of the cave just as quickly as it had disappeared.
We descended back into the water and headed off along the coast line, a visual theatre of glowing eyes, strange worms, crayfish and octopus. More at ease than my last night dive I took it upon myself to find a quite space and turn off my dive torch, to once again experience the kaleidoscope of glitter around me as bioluminescent bacteria in the water glow and twinkle like stars all around.
After more than an hour in sheer amazement we rose to the surface and back onto the boat. Diving is a strange experience in that the group all share the experience, but it is not until the experience is over that we can talk about it. Did you see the octopus, how big was that lobster and, much to my disappointment, “did anyone else see the turtle”? I didn’t, but as I drank soup and retreated into my own thoughts on the journey home I reminded myself once more of how lucky we are to of had the opportunity to live on this Island.
On Tuesday, I was back in the water, completing my rescue diver course, Im proud to say I am nowe a qualified rescue diver, and have subsequently started my Dive Masters course, having racked up over 40 dives since we arrived.
That afternoon I was diving again, my week moving from the ridiculous to the sublime. A lovely dive to one of my favourite sites at Robinson’s valley. This time with an relatively inexperienced group, or those who dive infrequently, and including 13 year old Harriot who has just passed her open water.
On Wednesday I had another opportunity to swim with the whale sharks, and this time, far from being disappointed I was left somewhat speechless at a wonderful experience. Once again the sea conditions were poor, and as a result, by the time we found a shark many of the party were feeling too ill to swim. This left me, and just three others keen to jump in the water.
We swam with a huge female shark, some 11-12meter in length. As she swam gently feeding near the surface she provided ample opportunity for me to swim all around taking photos, video and generally hanging in awe as one of the most stunningly beautiful animals in the animal kingdom did its best to enthral and entertain. I leave you not with words, but with the video that hopefully goes some way to showing just how incredible an experience this is.
On Sunday I swam with a whale shark, that was just the start of another extraordinary week, on this extraordinary Island.