My 17th and 18th dives, also my 5th and 6th with Colombo divers. The dive master this time was Dharshana who was standing in for Shafi because of a bunch of new divers they had starting in the pool.
Crown Rock: Bottom time – 27 meters; Depth – 27 meters
The boat bounced through the swells towards our initial dive site of Temple Rock, spray sharding off our bow as the boat seemed to go on interminably. On getting to the site the heavy ship traffic in the area made diving there seem a bit risky especially since a rather ominous looking contraption linked to a tugboat that was directly over our site. Prudently deciding that getting rammed by a container ship wouldn’t be too much fun we headed over to Crown Rock, another 10 minutes boat ride away.
Gearing up and rolling into the water, I was a bit discomfited to find that water appeared to be coming into my mask. Attempting to clear my mask at the bottom turned out to be impossible due to my heavily congested sinuses, instead of the mask clearing I just sprayed snot all over the place. Since water has infinitely more visibility than mucus I decided to leave well alone and settle for a bit of water sloshing around in my mask.
I was still a bit nervous on the dive, especially since the computer read 27 meters, which was a good 4 meters deeper than I’d ever been. Dharshana later asked me if I’d felt narc’ed (i.e. nitrogen narcosis) at all but I wasn’t really sure. The bottom of the reef was relatively unimpressive, flat and sandy. A shoal of Trevalley livened up the proceedings by insisting on following us but overall it was a quiet dive in terms of fish life.
Coming up for our safety stop was however enlivened by the sudden appearance of a shoal of small jellyfish, gentle globules of clear material around half a golf ball in size pulsated past us as we hung in the water at 5 meters. Trailing behind their impossibly delicate bodies were innocuous looking filigrees of tentacles, loaded with stingers. Thankfully being small jellyfish we were pretty much impervious to their stings apart from on the more sensitive parts of our skin like our lips. It was a beautiful, ethereal experience hanging in the ocean as the jellyfish swept past us, and it turned out it was also an unusual one as jellyfish tend to only swarm from April onwards.
Barracuda Reef: Bottom time – 27 meters; Depth – 23 meters
What a dive! As soon as we rolled off the boat and descended a trumpet fish swam by as we hit the bottom eliciting some enthusiasm from me. The rocky reef loomed out of the blue as we swam slowly over and through a liquid paradise. A shoal of Glassfish, matching the blue ocean behind them, swirled around us and parted as we swam through. Flocks of Damsels, with their distinctive yellow tails moved around the rocks, while blue-black striped Cleaner Wrasses searched for customers.
I was much more relaxed this dive and started to really appreciate the amazing diversity on this reef. A couple of tiny Long Nosed Butterfly fish stood out yellow against the rocks and tiny blue seafans. Dharshana peered into a low grotto and pointed out a Pufferfish hiding from predators. We floated over a gulley in the rocks where two tiny shrimps were sheltering, apparently on a secret tryst. I’m afraid whatever romantic intentions they may have had were shelved by our appearance, bubble breathing monstrosities that would have killed any invertebrate’s libido.
Macro life was also apparent with a stunning orange and black nudibranch present, which I later (somewhat proudly) identified as a…wait for it…Phallidia ocellata. Not everything of course needs to be big to be beautiful. Next we came across a surprisingly dark coloured lionfish which flared its fins alarmingly and turned to face us, it was sort of like being courted by a small, aquatic, deadly peacock. The lionfish did have an amazingly pugnacious air about it, confident in its ability to inflict pain yet not arrogant about it. I never thought I would say a fish had personality but this one certainly did!
Amongst all this abundance however, there was one creature that ruled the show, the golden yellow shoal of Pickhandle Barracuda that churned around the reef, magnificent and I assume deadly if you were a small fish. Thankfully being a reasonably sized human it was all I could do not to whoop into my regulator as the shoal executed some beautifully coordinated rounds before fading into the blue yonder. Barracuda Reef certainly lived up to its name!