Why Being Stuck Out At Sea With 20 Other Obsessives Is So Wonderful
Imagine if you had to stay in a small hotel for a week or even two with around 20 guests plus staff, your passport was taken from you, you had no shoes, and no possibility of leaving. And that you would be woken at some ungodly hour (6am or before) most days; eat together at the same times; change in and out of wet clothes in a damp confined space three or four times a day together plus the certainty that, should your bathroom activities cause a plumbing issue, the rest of the guests would be certain to know about it. To make matters worse you would also be monitored by the hotel management and if seen in an overly inebriated state or hungover, discreetly banned from any activity until recovered - everyone knowing about that too.
Perhaps it doesn't appear much of a draw on paper, but having done the above six times (only keeping inebriation until the last night and no plumbing issues yet…) with the same award-winning operator, Scuba Travel’s Tornado Marine Fleet (of course other operator’s are available), I have loved these weeks with every molecule of my being. Every trip bringing friendship, laughter, reflection, challenge, deep relaxation, the extension of comfort zones I did not know existed, and most of all in our fractured online driven world, a sense of camaraderie and sheer unadulterated joy at being connected with fellow human beings in the greatest place of all, Mother Nature.
The call of the sea and what lies beneath, is of course what leads divers to take the plunge and go through all the indignities involved in the process of learning to dive. I remember desperately trying to recall how to attach the regulator to the tank valve, nerves making me want to pee as soon as I hit the water, every moment a ‘what am I doing?’ one. The staying with it and following years of sporadic diving and a beautiful shore diving holiday in Egypt, led me to book my first Liveaboard, back in November 2013.
I had no idea what to expect, little kit except my own wetsuit, fins and mask, no preconceptions and knew absolutely no one.
It was amazing.
'The shared passion leads to an affinity and manners on a liveaboard that one can only pray for in real life. '
Arriving at Sharm airport I found myself on a coach with 22 BSAC divers from Sheffield, all blokes apart from a non-diving partner plus some lovely people, one a lady, the sweetest person who became my cabin mate for the week. Whisked in the heat of the Egyptian night onto a coach surrounded by banter and divers with eons of experience, I only had one choice, flow with it.
The first approach to a liveaboard vessel can seem an overwhelming one, everything suddenly becoming a heightened reality. I remember that first balmy night the crew and guides meeting us, taking our bags and the walk over the gangplank into this new world - the dive deck, compressors and tank filling cables overhead. This was real. There was to be LOTS of diving. I recall my then tiny kit paling into comparison compared to everyone else’s and when on deck and being allocated my deck place and tank number, staring at my hire BC and regs like a rabbit in the headlights. Little did I have to worry as a kindly guide and expert instructor spotted my overwhelm and came to my side. I will never forget how cared for and reassured I felt by the experts that first Egyptian night.
And now, after many trips with a much-loved operator and old friends waiting on the boat, arriving seems like settling into the comfiest pair of slippers you can imagine. For a start, everyone is there because they LOVE diving. Non-divers, underestimate the power and addiction of being underwater at your peril. The shared passion leads to an affinity and manners on a liveaboard that one can only pray for in ‘real life’. With a usually ongoing sense of comedy that only comes from that trust and respect.
Whether an experienced diver or not first night briefings always cover boat safety, the crew and guides, passports taken (so the captain can verify all nationals onboard should the authorities or military board the vessel while you are underwater), legal and medical docs filled and signed and a brief given about what to expect from the days ahead plus rules of the road. I have never seen anyone seriously question or retaliate against any of these rules which run from not being late for dive briefings (or the chef’s tireless work) to not baking your nitrogen loaded body in the sun or drinking too little water. The all-important taking your name off the dive deck board as soon as you are back after every dive (or pay in ice cream and beer.)
And the loo briefing. Possibly one of the most important (after dive safety) about what does and does not go in there as blockages can affect every cabin on a deck… While everyone absorbs this info freshly shoeless (a weird leveller), hot and tired from the flight, you then receive the cabin allocations. Most are known but if travelling out blind - to share your private sleeping space, changing space and bathroom space with a complete and utter stranger requires dropping any issues with your ego or yourself.
Fortunately having enjoyed a weekly boarding school education, sharing space has never been an issue and I have been blessed with dream cabin buddies. One of them now one of my closest friends. It works a dream if you genuinely embrace and respect space and communicate. Rather like a marriage. And easy without the triggers of surface life - rushing, deadlines, bosses, traffic, commuting, bills to pay… But no escaping yourself and what surfaces from within at sea.
It's about settling into a pattern, a microcosm of life back home, except now about - do you want to use the bathroom pre- or post-dive first? And not being there for those minutes so your cabin mate has their privacy. It's about physically keeping it tidy and knocking. Knowing which damp towel is yours on which hook. Its the saying ‘borrow my toothpaste, shampoo, sun lotion etc’ should you need. It's ‘can I get you a beer up on the lounge deck?’ Its kindness and support and celebrating which each other. Its the joy shared when you surface (from the water, not bed) before 7.30am having dived a wreck to 28m or seen your first shark and now are grinning ecstatically in your cabin and it's not yet breakfast.
Which leads me to food. After diving, meals are never soon enough as all that energy burned just getting wetsuits on and in and out of zodiacs as well as the actual diving makes you ravenous. Liveaboard food is beautifully presented and delicious, normally a buffet with various options and any dietary needs catered for. No one queue jumps, no one rushes - its a place to take your time and enjoy, perhaps chat with those you have not chatted with before or listen to the many dive tales shared. Likewise going up and down deck stairs is a ‘please, after you routine’. A delight in manners. If only the Victoria line at 7.11am on a Monday morning inspired the same graciousness. And the crew and stewards will do anything to ensure your comfort, the best drink of all being a cold juice or hot chocolate placed in your hand on the dive deck immediately after a dive. And breakfast eggs done any which way you like!
But the best bit? Getting over yourself. Being half in and out of wet kit all day long, surfacing with snot coming out of your nose or having a good spit out of the side of the RIB because you took in a smidgen of seawater. No one gives a toss.The ‘stress’ when you temporarily forget where you put your computer. The hysterics in landing like a drunken seal being hauled into a zodiac. The understanding if you sit out a dive because you are tired or want to read or simply have time to yourself, no one will patronise or judge you. Although they may tease you about the whale shark, manta and huge family of hammerheads you missed. Everyone looking out for each other.
I have had a GP remove a contact lens stuck behind my eye on the deck in front of everyone’s post dive beers, a guide tenderly clean and plaster a sore area on my ankle from a rubbing dive bootie, a professional dive technician kindly change my regulator mouthpiece, sobbed my eyes out in front of club friends and other guests over recently being dumped by a snake of a boyfriend, dives where my training has been challenged…But out at sea, I have rarely stopped smiling.