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Thursday 30 May 2013
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Advanced diving with bumpheads

The Advanced course consisits of five dives: A Navigation dive; a Deep dive (to 30m); and 3 more from a choice of 15 specialties. I chose Underwater Photography - which I am sure will surprise no-one! - Fish ID and a Night Dive. I also chose Peak Performance Buoyancy as an extra specialty dive because I thought it would be a useful thing to learn. My first photography dive proved me right...

Daniel, a lovely Spanish Instructor from Valencia, trained as a photographer before he became a diver so was a great person to learn from. We looked at some of his photos to discuss light source, direction and composition to understand what makes a good underwater photo. We also watched a freedive video to see how much colours are affected by the depth of the water - the diver's mask started off bright orange and faded to green as the red rays were lost. It means using a flash is important to help regain some of these lost colours.

Mai, Chris and I had a camera each on the dive at Shallow Halik. It was amazing how quickly we all forgot our diving techniques the minute we held a camera! The current was strong so I developed a style of drive-by shooting as the current took me past, because it was too difficult and used too much energy (and therefore air) trying to stay in one place for too long. Understandably, out of the 90 photos I took, only a handful were any good. Afterwards, Daniel helped us enhance our best shot with Photoshop to bring up the colours and levels. I was very pleased with my turtle photo, but it made me realise how much further I need to go to improve my buoyancy control and composition underwater if I want to take a decent picture!

The next day we started off with a Deep Dive at Deep Turbo, named after the strong currents that flow through the deep channels between the coral mountains. In order to dive to 30m, divers have to get their Advanced OW certificate or choose a Deep Dive speciality (two dives and a theory test). Going deeper means more dive sites are accessible and things like shipwrecks are usually in deeper waters. Descending can be disorientatin, because the bottom is often out of sight, so you have no visual references around you other than your fellow divers or the boat above you. In some dive sites there may be a static line from a buoy that you can follow, but not Gili waters due to the nature of the currents. Going to a deeper depth also means you breathe through your air at a much faster rate (ten-fold more for every 10m depth) and nitrogen builds up in body tissues faster. Consequently, there's a shorter time limit on deep dives and a safety decompression stop at 5m is important to allow the residual nitrogen to be released. Divers who stay down too long or come up too fast are at risk of the Bends. At the end of our dive, we would signal the boat with a surfacy buoy marker (inflatable fluorescent sausage that pops up above the water) and they would drop down an extra air tank with regulators attached for anyone low on air. We would practice breathing off this tank at the end of our dive.
Daniel led the dive again and we were joined by an Austrian family. Father and son, Harry, came with us, while Max, Cecile and their step-mum went with Nadja for the Open Water course. Harry was well over 6' tall and distinctly reminiscent of Stephen Fry. He seemed a bit awkward on land and had no control whatsoever under the water and seemed oblivious of everyone and everything at times. During the dive, we all struggled with the very strong currents, but because Harry's buoyancy was all over the place he spent the whole time going up and down, consequently he blitzed through his air in under 20 minutes and had to use the emergency tank that was dropped down for us. It was interesting to experience a deeper dive, but swimming into the strong currents was very hard work and I didn't come away thinking it was anything special.

Our next dive was Fish Identification. Daniel taught us a lot of hand signals used to indicate different fish - fingers interlaced and pointing upwards for lionfish, three fingers across the back of the forearm for barracuda, thumb on nose and fingers wiggling upward for clownfish.
This dive was far more interesting than the deep dive. We saw loads of different fish and I got most of the symbols right when Daniel pointed to each one. I even got the classification right between Hawksbill and Green turtles, which I had previously had the wrong way around. Daniel also showed me a very cool little creature called a Christmas Tree Worm. They live in small holes on coral bommies and look for all the world like tiny fir trees. When you wave at them they vanish back into their holes faster than you can blink. Passing your hand over the bommie is like a magic trick of 'now you see it, now you don't'. Very cute.
However, by far the most amazing thing I saw was a herd of bumpheads. Enormous parrot fish, they have big bumps on their foreheads, hence the name, and travel in big groups known as herds. When I saw the giant Maori Wrasse in the Whitsundays, it was the biggest fish I'd ever seen and I was taken aback, but it pales into insignificance compared with these bumpheads. I counted over 20 of them drifting along the edge of the reef like a herd of sheep. If only I had had my camera on this dive! So graceful despite their size.

My third dive of the day was proably the most exciting - a night dive. There were 8 of us, including an experienced diver who had signed up for the dive that afternoon. I buddied up with Rupi again. She was the only one wearing pink fins which made her easy to distinguish even in the dark. Each person had a torch with an extra torch per buddy pair just in case. We stayed above 12m and swam in a group. At one point I spotted a single torch beam quite a way behind us and showed Rupi. She didn't seem to understand so I pointed it out to Daniel too, worried that someone had got left behind, but he seemed equally unconcerned. I eventually worked out it was the extra diver and Daniel was content to let him follow the group at his own pace. I needn't have worried, but at least my concern was for the right reasons.
The night dive was great fun. I saw lots of new creatures, such as crabs, lobster and even my first blue-spotted stingray. When I got back I was excitedly telling Trish all about it, then realised I was standing in the kitchen doorway, dripping wet and waving my arms around mimicking the lobster's antenae. She thought it was hillarious and made me do my lobster impression all evening... D'oh!

I decided to do another deep dive the next morning as I didn't feel that I'd had the best experience with the first one. This time I enjoyed it much more. We saw more varieties of fish and coral and even a black lobster peeking out of a cave, which made me smile after the impressions last night.
My final dive was the Navigation Dive. Jerome, my partner from my Open Water course, was back after a few days in Lombok so I buddied him. His buoyancy had not improved and I spent half the dive dragging him back down as he kept swimming upwards each time he looked at the compass. Again, I stress I am by no means perfect, but I was definitely not as bad and the Austrians were worse still.
Fortunately, I had done enough to pass my Advanced Open Water Certificate! Yay!

That evening we all went out to celebrate. Rupi, Daniel, Guelay, Nadja and I cycled into town and had pizza (oops, coeliac wagon stumble, but it was sooooooo good!) before heading up to Mango Dive to meet some of Nadja's friends. One of their Dive Master Trainees had just qualified and was getting the traditional Gili Snorkel Test - he had to wear a mask and snorkel with a funnel attached. Assorted alcohol concoctions were poured into the funnel and he had to keep drinking as long as possible... Some things never change no matter where you are!

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