Learning to scuba-dive in Tenerife

In May 2000 I decided to learn to scuba-dive (SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus by the way), primarily because my eldest son, Liam, had just turned 12 in the February, and so he was now old-enough to learn to dive with me. Actually, they had just reduced the age to 10, but Carl, my youngest son, would not be 10 until the 10th July -and Hayley had only turned 8 on Christmas Day -and so the pair of them did the ‘bubble-tank’ course, where they are taught all the principles of diving in the confines of a swimming pool -the same as Liam and I would be doing, -only they would not be allowed to do the final dive in the ocean at the end of the course. The P.A.D.I. (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) course was due to last for 5 full days, but because the children were only on holiday for 2 weeks, we asked our dive-master if we could do ’10’ half-days instead, starting early every morning and finishing at around lunch-time, thus giving us the rest of each day to ourselves. Our request was kindly granted.

The first obstacle I had to overcome -apart from getting my wet-suit over my pot-belly, was putting-on my ‘fins’ -which are more affectionately known (quite wrongly I might add) as ‘flippers’! Because of a motor-cycle accident I had when I was 17, my right foot has a very high instep, where it was rebuilt after being crushed in the crash -and so getting a fin to fit securely on it took quite a bit of manipulation -but we got there in the end! Now that we were all suited-and-booted, the next task was to put on and secure our B.C.D.’s (Buoyancy Control Devices) -a kind of waistcoat, which has all the gimmicks we would ever need to survive in the ocean, such as our ‘regulators’ -a mouth-piece connected to a breather pipe, which is in-turn connected to a single air-cylinder, after being firmly strapped to our backs, before entering the pool. Connected to the bottom of the jacket is an air-pressure gauge, which tells us how much air we have left in our individual cylinders from start to finish -and at the top of the jacket is a small pump, which inflates the jacket at the push of a button, should one need to ascend the water -or even float on the top of it, should the need arise.

The jacket can also be deflated, should one wish to go deeper into the water -and either way the amount of air inside the jacket is totally controllable. On one of the shoulders there is a light and a whistle for emergencies -i.e. should one need to be rescued -heaven-forbid! With everything totally secured -thanks to a handful of buckles and numerous Velcro-straps, the next item on the agenda was our belts -which weighed about the same as the air cylinders, and had to be securely fastened around our waists -which is easier said-than-done when one has a waist that is somewhat rounded! Last, but by no-means-least was our snorkels and face-masks, the latter being secured around our heads (but only after spitting into them, in order to clean the glass), over the hoods of our wet-suits, which were supposed to keep our ears and hair as dry as possible during the dive. The snorkel was a secondary way of breathing, should one be swimming near the water-line and wish to save precious air, before diving deep into the ocean. With all said and done we took our ‘BIG STRIDES’ into the pool -a kind of John Cleese (German) walk -rather than falling backwards off a dinghy or a boat, as one sees in all the movies.

Over the course of the next week or so my three children and I would all learn all about breathing safely underwater, which included being able to share a regulator between two people, should one run out of air, how to recapture and re-secure our belts, should they fall-off in the ocean, how to help our ‘Buddies’ (diving partners -always swim in pairs) to the surface should they get into any difficulty -and a whole host of other things, too numerous to mention. We would also learn a load of hand-signals, along with being able to ‘equalize’ -holding one’s nose and ‘popping’ one’s ears’, whilst descending and ascending the water around every metre. And then came the big day -when Liam and I would do our boat dive! Much to our dive-masters dismay the sea at Las Galletas was so choppy it was unreal -but the six of us who were doing our final test of the course were all adamant that we wanted to go-ahead with the dive today. By now I had learned to let my fins do all the work, instead of waving my arms about like a football fan whose team had just scored -and I had finally mastered the art of inflating and deflating my B.C.D. to the perfect level, thus keeping me in-line with my fellow divers.

Liam had been a natural from the start, of course -and so he was gliding through the depths of the ocean like he didn’t have a care in the world -the big showoff! Under the water was a calm and serene world, interspersed with great shoals of multi-coloured fish -all of them darting in every direction in unison, as we headed into their pathway -and lining the ocean-floor and covering literally thousands of tons of rock, were such beautifully shaped corals -all the colours of the rainbow, that I never wanted to leave the place -my mind was so at peace with the world. When we finally got back to the boat the sea was a raging tsunami (well, not-quite -but it was really rough) and while our dive-master was busy pulling everyone into the dinghy, I was hanging onto one of the dinghy’s ropes for dear life, as my whole body was continuously being hauled completely out of the sea with every wave that hit us! Thankfully we all made it back to the shoreline in one piece, but only after a few of our counter-parts had kindly donated their breakfast to the fish -the turbulence having brought-on bouts of sea-sickness to us all! Now it was time for the written exam -something which none of us were looking-forward to -but the good news is that we all passed with flying colours -and so Liam and I were now qualified P.A.D.I. divers -‘buddies’ forever. It was definitely a ‘Father-and Son’ thing.