I was not born to swim – indeed my skill in the water thus far can be likened to that of driftwood i.e. able to float but poor at moving in one direction with any efficacy. So it was with some trepidation that I learned from the Madman for whom I work that I was to be wrenched from the comfort of the bush and dropped on a Caribbean island in order to learn to dive – that is to say swim under the water where there is no air to breathe. The point? To gain some understanding of how the marine biologists of diveLIVE ply their trade and to take our safariLIVE viewers on a journey with me under the sea and then leave them in the capable fins of our exceptional diveLIVE team.
My teacher was Simone Herrmannsen, diveLIVE marine biologist and an Australian of South African heritage. (Like a leopardess with a bit of Tasmanian devil tossed in for good measure). People with my attention span – about 12 seconds – need teachers like this. I concentrated very hard in order to escape her wrath. Simone was quite exceptional. I know this because I am alive after eight magical sub-surface experiences with stingrays, parrotfish, angelfish, fairy basslets, spiny lobsters, corals, sponges, algae and thousands of other unidentifiable creatures.
The first time the BCD deflated (see I’m even using the jargon now), my head dropped below the surface and the world changed. There was some anxiety, more accurately panic, as my terrestrial brain wrapped itself around being aquatic and then I was breathing underwater. Bubbles rushed past my ears with each breath and I looked around me in awe and some trepidation, eyes fixed on my instructor as we sank. A little while later, we were suspended over the Caribbean reefs, life in myriad colours and forms exploding all around.
For me, the sounds of the wild are almost as important as the sights. It was disconcerting that the only noise was my anxious breathing. This was until Simone, suspended upright with impossible skill, pointed to her ear. I stopped huffing and puffing briefly. Myriad crackles touched my ears as the creatures of the reef went about feeding, fighting and mating. The most dominant sound was that of hundreds of parrotfish beaks cracking against the coral.
The new wilderness that the Madman and Simone have exposed me to is enchanting. Obviously it’s not new – as Pat (diveLIVE marine biologist) said today, it is, in many ways, far more ancient than any terrestrial ecosystem. This underwater world also profoundly embodies the leveling mantra ‘the wilderness will just as soon kill you as find you’ that I like to repeat to myself when my sense of self-importance becomes outsized.
While I have appreciated countless underwater documentaries, it is not until I sank into the weightless blue and looked into the beach ball-sized eye of a tarpon and lay on the sand next to a stingray that it touched my heart. I hope that the diveLIVE experience provided by our amazing team here will inspire a love for the blue wilderness in you and perhaps draw you too under the sea.
Written by: James Hendry
There is a special magic for divers when they descend into the water. The feel of the water as it is pushed by the fins on your feet, the sound of air being inhaled through a regulator, the gradual lowering of a human body deep into the sea, the weightlessness of one’s self as you propel yourself through the water is such a magical feeling. And then, to see everything that those on land cannot see—the graceful movement of an octopus as it floats past, the gleaming teeth of a school of barracuda as they silently glide by, the backwards dance of a spiny lobster as they back up to hide in a reef hole. The colors are spectacular, the quiet is deafening, the undersea life is unique and mesmerizing. It is peaceful yet thrilling, calming yet exciting. It is one of my favorite things to do.
Having said that, let me add that James Hendry is my favorite guide on S.L. His experience of diving must have been hysterical—for some reason I am surprised that he doesn’t know how to swim! Having grown up on the eastern coast of the United States, I am always taken aback when I hear of people that cannot swim–perhaps James is taken aback by people who have never seen a lion or elephant! I think James has an incredible wealth of knowledge about the African bush and can explain it in a very understandable, interesting way. I have not been to South Africa, but every time I watch a drive with James at the wheel, I wish that he was my personal guide to show me everything about the African bush.
As always, James Hendry writes in a delightful and serendipitous fashion. I am thrilled the brilliant genius, Mr. Wallington, aka “the mad man” insisted James experience the wonders of the ocean so he can use his experience and prose to entertain and teach us. Thank you Wild Earth, Mr. Wallington, the Dive Live Crew, and Mr. James Hendry.