Diving has arrived in Colombo! Sort of…
I’m a newbie to the sport of recreational diving but after my initiation to it in the hinterlands of Matara (await a more detailed report on that trip) I have been ridiculously enthusiastic about it. Having a grand total of 12 dives under my belt in Matara, Unawatune, Bentota, Malibu and the Catalina Islands I was beyond excited to hear about diving in Colombo via the somewhat geographically misnomered Colombo Divers, who it turns out are actually located in Mount Lavinia or Galkissa as it is known in Sinhalese. Incidentally the former name never fails to make me smile when I think about (I suggest you do the same if you have no idea what I’m talking about).
Full of anticipation, I called Nishan to book a two tank dive, pointing out that I was inexperienced so would not likely be able to dive the 30m sites without serious injury. Hooking a tuk tuk over to Mount on Thai Pongal, I stepped onto a surprisingly crowded beach at 8am. I guess the concept of sleeping in on a holiday hadn’t occurred to the hordes on the beach. Strolling past Golden Mile and about 5 minutes walk down the beach was the innocuous dive center. I would have completely missed it if I hadn’t noticed two gentlemen wrestling animatedly with a BCD (i.e. a Buoyancy Control Device, the harness that holds your Scuba tank on your back) presumably with some kind of repair goal in mind.
Walking in I was introduced to the Colombo Divers contingent, Shafi, Maldivian but lived in Sri Lanka extensively (speaks better Sinhala than I do), Paris (apologies for any misspelling) from Greece and Jehan from Sri Lanka. The former two being instructors while the latter was an instructor in training.
Business appeared to be good, with a bunch of students who turned up to complete their courses and my dive buddy for the day turned up as well, a wonderful lady who also worked in the development field. Shafi was our divemaster and the two sites chosen were relatively simple sites, rock and Barracuda reef ranging from 11m to 21m. Loading the (small) boat we headed out from Mount Beach towards.
Rolling into the water, I found that I had made a significant error in the choice of my BCD, which was far too large. The low visibility, apparently due to Thai Pongal, and the strong current made the dive quite an uncomfortable one. The first dive was a relatively shallow one of about 12 meters called Palagala. The dive itself, apart from the less than optimal conditions was quite fascinating. There was more fish life to be seen that most of my previous dives in the south, Moorish Idols, bright green moon wrasses and Angelfish were in abundance. The rocky reef itself was quite impressive, giant rock shelves that looked almost like hewn steps, muddy brown in the green of the water. It was like swimming in a part of Atlantis.
45 minutes of dive time amongst the fish and we decided to come up as I was at 50 bar (i.e. what is generally known as a low tank). Shafi unwrapped a buoy and sent it shooting to the surface. The safety stop at 5m was a bit uncomfortable as hanging in the water there appeared to be a multitude of tiny jellyfish which stung enough to make things marginally uncomfortable.
Getting onto the boat it turned out that my dive buddy had a malfunction with her BCD and it was decided to head back and get a couple of new BCDs for the two of us. A quick trip to shore and it was back out to sea to Barracuda Reef, a site with a maximum depth of 22 meters. The current was however even worse here and visibility as bad. This was where I made a snafu which I am quite ashamed off. I didn't vent my BCD properly so was too buoyant the whole dive, annoying Shafi a fair amount. I'm not sure why I blanked on something so essential but the tricky conditions must have spooked me.
To be fair I cannot recollect much of this dive apart from some interesting nudi branches (tiny multi coloured invertebrates) and many more of the fish we had seen at the previous site. The resident barracuda were absent an unfortunately the current prevented much exploring and I came up to 50 bar pretty quickly in about 20 minutes. As Shafi went through the motions of unwrapping the buoy, I made my second much worse snafu, inadvertently pressing my inflate button on the BCD. As I shot to the surface, dismally watching the bubbles of my dive buddies receding I cursed at myself while continuously exhaling to ensure I didn't blow a lung out.
As the dark blue receded and my surroundings lightened I nervously started assessing myself for the bends, trying to separate the multitude of feelings in order to identify any sudden unexplained pains. As I bobbed worriedly on the surface I noted that I was very much by myself, the current having pushed us some distance from the boat. I couldn't even see the bubbles from my divebuddies anymore and had no idea how far I had drifted from them. The ocean and the sky merged into one giant cylinder, punctuated by the distant giant liners. The wait seemed interminable before the boatman saw my waving arms and swung by to pick me up. Thankfully Shafi didn't chew me out too much and the solution he provided, which I fully intended to follow up on was to dive more.
On the whole it was a great experience for Colombo (Mount?) diving and I will definitely be a frequent customer. Blue yonder here I come!