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The Slow Descender

November 29, 2010

Note: all of the underwater photos in this post are by Anne Lesage

I learned to dive in the Semporna Archipelago.  The tiny island of Sipadan is considered to be one of the best dive sites in the world.  The island sits on top of near vertical walls of an extinct volcano rising hundreds of meters from the ocean floor covered in corals upon corals, surrounded by a diverse treasure trove of dive sites, some of which are drift dives where you get carried along, quite swiftly at times, by the current.  And crazily enough, I dove there after two days of an open water diving course at nearby Sibuan Island.  I had a few uncomfortable moments, but like the wimp I am I grabbed onto the dive masters hand, he helped me out, and it was all good.

Here follows a short rundown of learning to dive in the Semporna Archipelego, Malaysia.

Sibuan Island

my first dive (picture by Lena Amanda Koch)

Day 1: Sibuan Island, First In Water Day of Open Water Course

My very first dive I see a giant turtle and clown fish (aka Nemo).  My instructor, Jim from Barcelona, demonstrates diving skills which I then perform in the water.  I’m lucky enough to be his only student that day, so it’s very relaxed and comfortable.  Sibuan Island has a few shacks on stilts surrounded by the softest white sand and coral.  Between dives I buy a young coconut for 1 ringet (about 30 cents) from a boy who lives on the island.  He swims from shore to the boat with the floating coconut and a machete.  He hacks off the top with the machete so I can drink the coconut milk which isn’t very milky.  It’s cool clear liquid, sweet and sour – refreshing.  Once all the liquid is gone he splits it in half with the machete so I can scoop out the creamy young coconut meat.  Jim takes a nap and I hang out with the crew.  Then back in the water for my second dive.  The colorful corals are especially bright when the sun shines.  The water is bathtub clear.  I see a few sea gypsies – people with no nationality or identification who live on the water their whole lives.  It rains hard and I feel sorry for the sea gypsies. 


Jim napping

the crew

Day 2: Sibuan Island, Second (Final) In Water Day of Open Water Course

During my second day of diving class, on the first dive, I FORGET HOW TO BREATHE.  That sounds impossible, but I’m very talented.  When scuba diving you have to breathe in and out completely through your mouth to the regulator hose, never through your nose.  If you do breathe through your nose, air bubbles go out of the mask and let water in, filling the mask and making you blind until you empty it.  I couldn’t convince my nose to stop breathing.   Jim helped me to calm down, think about my breathing, and the second dive was calm and enjoyable.  I finished demonstrating all of the necessary skills, and became a certified Open Water Diver.

Day 3: Sipadan Island Fun Dives

SIPADAN!  First dive Barracuda Point, strong current.  I feel like I’ve been thrown into the deep end.  My open water class didn’t prepare me for the fast current which after we surfaced they informed me was called a “drift dive”.  I had a baby freak out and the divemaster held my hand for a while.  See tons of schools of……well lots!  I’m not good at identifying fish yet, I’m like a baby looking at shapes and colors.  I do remember sharks, turtles, eels, nude branches, and a striking variety of coral.  Second dive is the Hanging Garden.  Swimming under a rock overhang with corals coming out “hanging down”…… favorite dive yet – very relaxed, no current, no breathing issues, HAPPY.  Third dive the Turtles Tomb Cave; cyclones of fish schools; turtle skulls. 

Day 4 Rest Day on Mabul Island

Mabul Island

Day 5: Mabul Island Fun Dives

Three dives, all comfortable, I feel like a “real diver” now.   First dive Kapali House Reef; loads of wrecked ships and sunken house frames from houses on stilts.  The wrecks are home to giant groupers – really giant like my size.  The groupers have a football sized gaping oval mouth filled with tiny fish swimming in/out/around.  I am diving with a guide and two other divers who are more experienced than I – Anne from Paris and Ada from Barcelona.  Anne takes underwater pictures.  She actually dives for a living – she’s a police officer / diver in the Seine River where the visibility can be zero, and is very much enjoying the clear waters here.  We do two more wall dives around Mabul. 

bubble coral

cool fish

me with diver and underwater photographer extraordinaire Anne

By now I have come to think of myself as The Slow Descender.  Yes, I have no pride.  Either I have more ear pain than most people when descending to scuba dive, or they all have a way higher threshold for pain than I do.  Others have better described the child-like wonder of being underwater hovering among the fish and corals, so I’ll spare you, but I will say the effort and discomfort in learning to dive is very worth it.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2010 7:25 pm

    hurray! welcome to the diving club! Glad you had fun. We learned in australia back in January and dived everywhere else we went (more or less). A new, expensive hobby for you!
    It gets better and better with practice, BTW. Of course, one of the best things about being qualified is no one can MAKE you clear your mask underwater just for the fun of it anymore…..

    • November 29, 2010 8:40 pm

      oops – reply below. That pesky little reply button got away from me again.

  2. November 29, 2010 8:38 pm

    Thanks Ice! What’s your favorite place yet that you’ve been diving? I will get to try it again shortly in Mexico. And yes, another expensive hobby – at least I didn’t pick up skydiving like you guys.

  3. November 29, 2010 10:48 pm

    favourite dive spot? Hmmm. Well, since I learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef, I’ve dived the wreck of the Yongala off Townsville in Queensland, the Poor Knight’s Islands in New Zealand, off Vancouver Island in Canada, and a couple of times on reefs off the coast of Vietnam (including the Cham island reserve). My favourite? Hard to choose. The night dive on the reef when we saw sharks bigger than me on the prowl was pretty cool. Hmm. The Poor Knights was nice. Temperate waters but washed by a warm current, with kelp moving with you as the waves broke above you, making it look like the rocks were moving and you and the kelp were both stationary. Lots of curious fish who came to have a look at you when you knocked your knuckles together; caves with huge-eyed fish….. really nice.
    Yeah, the Barrier Reef. I want to go back in winter when the whales are there.
    Mind you, I haven’t dived in Europe yet, even……

    It’s a great hobby. Oh and a tip: get your own dive computer so you don’t have to rely on anyone else’s equipment. I fell foul of this in Canada, of all places (lovely guys, but the least safe operation I’ve dived with – they were miles ahead in Vietnam, never mind Australia) and it’s never going to happen to me again. I need to be in charge of my own safety with interval stops and so on…… (that and getting your own mask!)


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