Brits Abroad

Today was the most idyllic day. The ship put down anchor at 8 am and the tenders to Mystery Island followed shortly after. 

It’s been raining quite a lot the last couple of days, intermittent and heavy. But today, even though the clouds were dense and grey, the forecast was for clear skies in the afternoon. 

Today was the day that I was finally going to get some use out of my brand-new snorkel and mask. I say brand-new, but I actually purchased them about three years ago whilst doing my PADI Training. The very next day the PADI teacher did a runner and they have sat in the bottom of the wardrobe ever since! 

To be fair they did have an inaugural dip earlier this week, but only very briefly and actually there was very little to see anyway, except the sticky label still attached to the outside of the mask. When I came out of the water and looked more closely it said in yellow letters ‘Please remove before use’. 

Whoops. 

But today was going to be different, today we were going to a coral island!

Packed up with water, cameras, towels, snorkel and mask we boarded the tender, and it only took a few minutes to make the trip ashore. The island is somewhat picturesque, with glorious white beaches and sparking turquoise water; It’s small enough to walk around in forty minutes. Locals are flown in to set up a market for the tourists, using a second world war grass airstrip for landing that looks just like a rather long lawn. 

But we weren’t interested in markets or locals. We were there to snorkel! 

We found ourselves a stretch of beach and claimed our stake. Bags down, towels out, we slapped on the sun block and headed into the water. 

Having one snorkel between us isn’t a problem at all. It’s mine. Occasionally I let Paul have a turn if I’m bored or a bit tired. 

As I mentioned earlier, I have actually done the PADI training, or most of it anyway, so I am familiar with the correct procedure one should adopt to de-fog a mask. For the uninitiated, this involves the highly sophisticated technique of spitting into your mask, rubbing the spit around the lenses and then briefly rinsing out. This supposedly helps prevent the mask from steaming up underwater. So, preliminaries done, feeling like a professional I set off to explore. But after searching for ten minutes or so, I had still only seen a couple of fish; And so somewhat disheartened I agreed to let Paul have a turn. 

After a few embarrassing slap-stick attempts at trying to get the mask on over the top of his spectacles – so he could see the fish, and more importantly see where he was actually going – we eventually succeeded. But as soon as he put his head underwater we realised that there was a rather obvious flaw in the plan. The part where the handles of his spectacles came out of the mask to wrap around his ears, had a bit of a design fault. They were creating a significant sized hole on each side of his head where the water could get in! 

Although I didn’t actually look around, it’s highly likely that at this point we were beginning to draw attention to ourselves.

The whole ‘spectacles inside mask’ theory was clearly not panning out as envisaged. Or to put it another way, further experimentation would have put us in serious danger of becoming the nautical equivalent of the village idiots. So Paul abandoned his spectacles and headed out to sea blind. Not surprisingly, he didn’t see much in the way of fish either.

Shortly after this an Australian family joined us in the water. Now when it comes to water, the Ozzies do tend to know a thing of two. ‘You’re on the wrong side of the island for coral they informed us, you need to head over to the other side.’

We came out of the water just as it began to rain, and scooping up our possessions we  headed across the island, dodging in and out of the cover provided by the coconut trees. 

Once on the coral side of the island, we decided that rather than faff around wasting the rest of the day pretending to know what we were doing, we would do that oh so un-British thing and ask for help. 

And boy did it pay off.

We soon had a lovely pitch on the sand right by a ‘drift’. Two knowledgeable people showed us where to get in the water, and explained that the current would gently carry us down the side of the beach and we would be able to get out just about 200 metres down. 

Naturally I went first. And I think it’s fair to say that I was blown away. Not only was there every kind of coloured fish imaginable, the coral itself was absolutely magical. I drifted for ages completely captivated with this underwater paradise. The rain came and went, and when the sun broke through the clouds, the fish sparkled. 

We took turns with the mask and snorkel, alternately drifting and sitting under the coconut trees. And the sky turned grey, then blue then grey again, and once more the rain came and went, and the day passed in the most wonderful way. 

It was only when we came to pack up that we realized we had a problem. The first I knew about it was Paul saying, ‘don’t move, stay exactly like that’. And still I wasn’t quite sure what the fuss was all about until he showed me this. 

While blissfully drifting, the sun had lambasted my poorly protected skin. After the first application of sun screen we had completely omitted to reapply, safe in the knowledge, we thought, that it was cloudy and rainy, and so really what was the point?

On the way back to the ship we saw these. But it will be some time before I will be able to sit down easily again, even with the aid of a ‘comfortable chair’.  

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