Travelfish ran a 5th birthday competition with loads of great prizes last summer and I was the lucky winner of one of them… an open water dive course on Ko Tao … so here’s my trip report.
I did my course at Master Divers which is run by Ayesha (who posts on Travelfish) and her boyfriend Wilco. All the staff there are very friendly and from what I saw it was a pretty professional outfit as far as the diving is concerned too.
Ayesha and Wilco helped me find (discounted) accommodation near their dive school during my course and Charlotte the receptionist was a mine of information about good places to eat on Ko Tao. Ayesha also kindly sent me my coursebook to Bangkok so that I could study it in advance.
I’m a keen snorkeler but I’d never done any diving in my life before so it was all new to me. Wilco was my instructor and I was fortunate enough to have one-to-one tuition from him.
My OW course took just 3 days to complete which was a bit too short for me to feel entirely at ease underwater (even with Wilco as an instructor). The Padi OW course only involves 4 actual dives so I also did a couple of fun dives afterwards with Master Divers to help consolidate what I’d learnt. I had been intending to do more dives in northern Sulawesi straight after the course too but unfortunately Air Asia cancelled my flights to Manado at the last minute so that plan got knocked on the head!
Some of the diving skills you have to learn for OW are surprisingly easy to do. Sipping air from the air bubbles coming out of a leaking regulator while you’re several meters underwater isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds for example. Losing your regulator (the air mouthpiece) and recuperating it wasn’t too hard either. Getting your air supply cut off (so that you know what it feels like to be out of air) is OK because you know the instructor will turn it back on again straight away. Even using another diver’s emergency air supply is doable.
But one skill, clearing a flooded mask while underwater, did not come naturally to me. The first morning I kept zooming up to the surface to breath (one tends to do this when drowning) and Wilco was not impressed at all.
“Tomorrow you’ll have to take the mask off and swim about a bit underwater for a bit before clearing it,” he said. “Preferably with your eyes open. There’s no way I can take you diving until you can do this.”
Yikes. If it hadn’t been for the fact I knew I’d have to write a trip report on TF, I probably would have given up there and then!
Luckily it was low tide all afternoon so we couldn’t do any more skills training that day. I spent the afternoon watching the Padi video and doing practice tests and reflecting on how nice it was to breath fresh air like human beings are designed to do.
The skills session on the second morning was marginally better. Before starting my OW course, I’d signed a clause in the contract exonerating Master Divers of any responsibility should I perish while learning how to dive. On the other hand, me drowning would be quite bad publicity so Wilco probably wasn’t going to let that happen. Armed with this logic, I somehow managed to take off the mask, swim around with my eyes open, put the mask back on and clear it without heading to the surface for air.
Wilco still wasn’t satisfied.
“Would you like to practice that some more,” he said.
“No, not really”, I spluttered.
“You’re going diving this afternoon and you’ll have to flood the mask and clear it during the dive. Masks leak all the time when you’re diving so this is one skill you really need to learn.”
I can’t remember clearly (probably suffering from oxygen starvation) but I think I practiced a bit more.
After a quick lunch it was time for my first two dives. We went to the Japanese Gardens which I’ve snorkeled before. The coral didn’t seem quite as good as I remembered four years previously but maybe that’s because my attention was mostly riveted on Wilco’s instructions and breathing through a regulator. I was surprised to discover that even though you’ve got a great big heavy tank on your back and lead weights and you’ve deflated your BCD you don’t sink all that easily… you have to exhale more than you inhale. At the same time you have to equalize your ears by pinching your nose and blowing through it.
It takes a while to learn to co-ordinate all this breathing stuff.
We pottered around for a bit looking at fish and a saw cool nudibranch that I hadn’t ever seen before which helped me relax before doing some more skills practice. Wilco had said I could leave the mask flooding exercise till the end so we practiced some other skills first like fin pivots (buoyancy control). Fin pivots are OK because they don’t involve any water going up your nose. We also practiced doing an emergency ascent… I had to do that one twice because the first time I took 6 minutes to ascend about 10 meters and Wilco seemed to think that was a wee bit slow for an emergency ascent.
Day 3 and I’m still alive. In the morning I did some more theory work (dive tables etc) and the final written exam which I passed. In the afternoon two more dives, this time at Mango Bay and White Rock. There were more fish there than at the Japanese Gardens though we didn’t see any nudibranchs. Each dive got a little easier and on the final dive I even managed to take off my mask and clear it in a relatively calm manner… something I’d never have thought remotely possible on day one.
Anyway, in spite of my obvious lack of natural aptitude, I’m now the proud owner of an OW dive certificate and am really looking forward to using it, especially for underwater photography.
Many thanks to Travelfish for giving me this opportunity to learn to dive and thanks Wilco for your infinite patience while teaching me, and thanks Ayesha and the other staff at Dive Masters for all your kindness!
Thanks for the report. Sounds like a great time. And don't worry too much about the trouble learning to clear your mask. I had that same problem and so did everyone else in my OW class.
Hey, congratulations! I remember the clearing my mask as being a bit tricky as well, especially as I wear contact lenses. I had no problem clearing my mask, but couldn't swim around without a mask with my eyes open. I think I must have gotten an exemption for that part...
I snorkeled around the Jap Gardens just a couple of weeks before you, and was very disappointed this time around. Last time I was there was in 2008 and remember it being much better. Mind you, the entire time I was on Koh Tao the winds were up and visibility was down, so snorkelling didn't end up being a highlight for me.
I kind of regret not trying a dive on Koh Tao this trip, but the weather just wasn't going to cooperate.
Glad you completed the course. Since neither of us made it to Sulawesi, maybe we should meet up in Fiji and we can try out the diving there! (Isn't Fiji kind of on the way home...?) Mind you, I just heard that they are being buffetted by a big cyclone....
Hi SBE, congratulations on completing your OW course. Thanks for the trip report. Sounds like you covered all the bases to get you into the diving world.
On the masks,yes there can be quite a few problems.Apart from clearing, you can find masks that are past their use by date and fog up and leak etc.
When I'm doing a daytrip and having a couple of dives I now ask the diveshop if they take a couple of spare masks,so you can change after your first dive if there's an issue.This happened on the liveaboard when I swapped masks with the DM on one dive when it just wouldn't clear.
If there's one piece of equipment I would take from home that would be it.
all the best
Great trip report SBE - glad to hear you enjoyed it -- now all you gotta do is fit some more diving in!
#5 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,789
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really great and best trip report...after reading this i really feel good and want to say that you people for sure had a wonderful trip....thanls alot for uplaoding this...really enjoyed alot
#6 bobkerry has been a member since 5/11/2010. Posts: 4