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Dolphins About two years ago, I learnt to dive in a location that can only be described as complete paradise - The Maldives. (This is where my buddy Chris reaches for the pillow, because he's fed up about hearing of this superb setting for learning to dive!) The Maldives are a collection of over a 1000 islands situated on the equator in the Indian Ocean. The water temperature there is a pretty constant 31°C at the surface, dropping to around 28°C at 30m - just a tad warmer than the water around England! And with visibilities frequently in excess of 70m, you'e got to say that these are ideal conditions in which to learn how to dive. The beauty about diving in such conditions is the freedom you experience underwater, as there's no need for a wetsuit, and a 10L aluminium cylinder easily provides enough air for a 60 minute dive, so only 2 to 3kg of weight are required on the weight belt. Compare this with when I went diving in Cornwall one Christmas - a semi-dry suit, doubled up to 14mm thickness, a 15L steel cylinder and 22kg weight belt - what a nightmare! And if you can see your hand underwater, that's good visibility!

Anyway, without wanting to bore you further with dive talk, I have to tell you about my very first dive after I'd qualified. In South Africa as a young child, I developed a fascination and love for sharks. I think they're beautiful fish, and completely misrepresented in the media. So it's always been my ambition to dive with a shark sometime. And my dream came true - in style!

There were five of us diving, two instructors, two of my German friends and myself. We descended onto the coral reef, at about 15m, and lazed along with the current, looking into every nook and cranny of the reef that always hides some little gem. We spotted several moray eels, and lion fish - all the norm in the Maldives! As we rounded the coral reef, the current became stronger, and swimming up and down in the current, only several metres away from us, were around 30 sharks, mainly white tips, and grey reef sharks. It was brilliant! They started swimming really close to us, and so the instructors couldn't resist taking loads of photos of them. The sharks ranged from about 0.5 to 2.5m in length - and although you'd think it's the big ones you'd watch out for, it was the smaller younger sharks who'd dart in and see whose these strange awkward moving visitors were in their world. It was absolute magic, and the temptation to swim out to be amongst them was hard to fight. We just pressed ourselves against the coral and watched this underwater ballet. The two Germans, who weren't exactly keen on sharks, had a bit of a problem controlling their air supply, and it wasn't long before one of them signalled that he needed to get to the surface. So one of the instructors led then back along the reef away from the sharks, so that they could safely exit to the surface. Hammerhead

A little later, I signalled to the instructors that I was on 50 bar, (ie. my air supply was getting a little short) which in PADI terms is a recommended time to make a move to the surface. Unfortunately, the boat we were to head for had drifted with the current to be above us, unaware that to get to it, we'd have to mingle in with these sharks. Hmmm... this was going to be tricky. We waited to see if they'd leave, but at 20 bar, the instructors decided that there wasn't much of an alternative, but to go straight up. So we headed up, to join the sharks.

For me, this was the best part of the dive. We huddled together, back to back, with the instructors firing off their cameras when the sharks darted too close, as the young sharks seemed to be frightened by the flash.We kept rising slowly, turning around as a group to keep an eye out in all directions. When we got to around 8m, we stopped rising to stay there for three minutes so that the dissolved gases in our bloodstream could adjust. This was the longest three minutes of my life! We were so vulnerable, and yet, the excitement and adrenaline rush was one hell of an experience. After what seemed an eternity, we got to the surface and into the boat very quickly.

On the boat, we stripped off our gear, and we were all grinning and yabbering on about what we'd seen and experienced, whilst the two Germans were chain smoking! As we headed back to the island, we noticed some dolphins playing in the water, and so we approached them slowly, and the boat turned off its engines. In my experience, wild dolphins aren't anything like the dolphins you see in films or documentaries where they are use to humans, and love human contact. Rather, they are both curious and at the same time wary of humans, and most do not like scuba apparatus. So the two instructors and myself eased ourselves into the water to minimise any noise, and we headed over to them. I don't know why I'm even trying to describe this - it's something you really do have to experience. The dolphins, with young, kept playing, and as we got very near, one just turned on its back, and with that beautiful dolphin face, looked into my eyes. That moment was indescribable - a religious experience, and I immediately felt a mixture of love, calmness and total friendship feelings pass between us - I can't explain it and I can't describe it - you have to experience it. And with that, she rolled over, and they all headed off into the deep.

Ever since then, I've been hooked on diving - I hope you can see why now, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my account of this incredible dive. I wish I had the time, and server space to add a few more!
If you want to see a great site dedicated to sharks, check out this site now!

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