Here's what turned me from a 'Why don't we just stick to daylight?' diver to an 'OMG when can I do this again?' type
In general, I’m not a massive fan of night diving. I feel guilty about this confession, because I feel I ought to be less of a wimp about it. And why? I’m pretty gung ho about most other aspects of diving and the zeitgeist of most dive communities is ‘Who Dares, Enjoys!’ But the psychological truth is that we all ought to be afraid of night dives. It is natural to experience a strong, primal fear of dark places where unknown beasties might lurk.
For me, a night dive only becomes thrilling after a challenging conversation with myself that goes something like:
‘There is no bogeyman.’
‘What about in the cupboard?’
‘But what about under my bed?
It was with this miserable sensibility that I took to the water one calm tropical evening in the Andaman Sea somewhere near Phuket in Thailand. I kitted up in silence, and my buddy playfully branded me a wimp.
My anxiety rose when I remembered I had chosen to make this dive on a moonless light, which, I reasoned, would reduce my chances of avoiding any nasty, bitey monsters in the vicinity.
Then another thought popped into my head – I had also been told that the only opportunity to see a reef spawning was at full moon. Why hadn’t I planned better?
Now my mind was picturing the amazing dive party I had missed – blithley swimming around a reef in full spawning mode, with amazing puffs of mini-mushroom clouds bursting all around me.
Fortunately, I re-entered adult mode just in time to do a proper gear check. We approached the water from Kata Beach. The area is landscaped with giant craggy rocks, and is truly the ‘haunted castle’ of night diving in Phuket. But by now my fear was becoming assuaged, as I marvelled at the brand-new world in the circular stage revealed by my torch.
My inner dialogue became animated as, right in front of me, our leader was pointing out something I’d never seen before. ‘Are you kidding me? What’s that? Seriously? It’s a walking salad!’ I could have watched that whacky decorator crab for hours.
I had spent the previous day with elephants, so when I began to see cuttlefish I couldn’t help making comparisons – something so similar about their trunked snout, eyes and profile, but striped like a zebra. They wisely fluttered off, while their neighbouring octopuses appeared confident, territorial critters, who stood their ground and looked at you as though to say: ‘You lookin’ at me? Take a hike!’
So far so good. There were plenty of paint-by-numbers nudibranchs around, and some vibrantly coloured jellyfish that apparently do not sting. But, people, here’s what turned me from a ‘Why don’t we just stick to daylight?’ diver to a ‘OMG when can I do this again?’ type.
Our leader motioned to us to circle around each other. I thought she was going to point out some marvellous creature, but instead, she turned off her torch. (‘What the…?’). Then my buddy turned off his, and everyone else followed suit.
Then they all looked at me until I reluctantly took the hint.
The blackness was unbearable, but for only one second. Suddenly, I could see our leader waving at us, but her hands were outlined with a kind of chasing light pattern consisting of myriad neon blue sparks!
Others copied her, and I became mesmerised by the electrifying beauty of my first underwater bioluminescence experience. The ‘scatter’ was green, blue, gold and frosty silver. Anyone remember the Sixties? It was an underwater acid trip.
We began to play like children by ‘throwing it’ towards each other, causing ripples against hard surfaces, and bouncing it all around us. We could now ‘see’ each other in the water as we moved, following the sparkles created by our kicking fins.
This was truly the Disneyland of all night dives! And, far from being unlucky, I had been fully blessed to do this night dive during a so-called ‘black moon’, when, without the bleeding of ambient moonlight, bio-luminescence is usually at it’s best.
What a way to do a safety-stop!