Stephanie’s Scuba Story

Stephanie’s Scuba Story

Created: 2020-12-15

Blog by Stephanie Hodnett

 

One cloudy 2019 June afternoon, I was driving back from Bournemouth with my mum and stress levels were running high. We had visited Bournemouth University that day as part of the grand search for where I was going to live and study for the next 3 years of my life, and frankly I was letting the pressure of making such a big decision in a short space of time get to me. After only just finding my feet at sixth-form college, having to think about moving on again so soon was a surreal experience.

As the marine environment was one of my subject interests, and scuba diving as a skill is inextricably tied into its science, my mum suggested we try a Discover Scuba Diving session, partly influenced by the fact that we’re Hampshire-based and already knew about Ocean Turtle Diving. As someone always up for trying something new, I agreed and 4 weeks later, we were pulling up outside the dive centre. 

After a very friendly introduction from Callum and two dive doggies and after watching a brief DVD about the basic physics of an underwater environment, we made our way to the pool (but not before trying to get into the school grounds through the wrong entrance *facepalm*.) 

The first thought I had as we walked in, dressed in oh-so-flattering wetsuits, was “what on EARTH is all that equipment?!?”, which is probably not an uncommon thought to have. You have a big air cylinder with hoses feeding out of the top at all different angles strapped onto a jacket dotted with clips and straps; the whole setup resembles a slightly haphazard squid and looks a little daunting to a newbie. But anyway. My mum, sister and I were introduced to the basics of how everything worked and got comfortable with the equipment and before we knew it, we put our regulators in, dipped under the water and…

I shape-shifted into a fish. (Oh, if only.)

The magic of being able to stay underwater for a prolonged length of time whilst actually being able to breathe immediately became apparent; it is so quiet, so peaceful and calming that you feel your mind focusing in a much more efficient way in the absence of land-based distractions. I marvelled at the clarity of the bubbles streaming up in front of me, and then laughed at myself for being so fascinated by BUBBLES, of all things. But it was intriguing. That first breath underwater is etched in my memory.

The session passed in a blur of swimming through hoops, underwater roly-polys, regulator and mask skills and communicating via hand signals, the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of which I still find oddly funny to this day. As one of millions whose childhood dream was to go to space, bouncing around in an alien underwater environment with a life-support system on my back is probably the closest resemblance to floating above the Earth I’ll ever get (and, comparatively, with a lot less expense and danger than flying in a rocket.)

Whatever weird dive bug bit me that day, I embraced it and knew this was something I wanted to continue doing.

Of course, no training is ever completely plain sailing, or, in this case, sinking… Ears refusing to equalize were a problem on my Open Water course, meaning I had to postpone my qualifying dive (October in a wetsuit; barmy!!!) – but it was all the more satisfying when I finally passed with the help of the incredible OTD staff, one of my proudest achievements to date.

I completed my Advanced Open Water course a few months later which is actually my favourite course to-date, as it was exciting to try different styles of diving which expanded on the skills learnt in the open water course, such as poking around wrecks (a plane underwater, as you do), deep diving to 28m and learning to use a dry suit which is a must for UK diving! The arrival of lockdown then brought the opportunity for distanced dry speciality courses such as Nitrox and Equipment Specialist, which both built on the skills I’d already learnt.

At the time of writing (December 2020), I am currently qualified as a Rescue Diver and Tec Gas Blender with so much still to learn and so much diving still to do. I work part-time at Ocean Turtle’s dive centre (which is a whole ‘nother story!) and am hugely passionate about not just the UK diving scene and its potential for exploration and research, but being able to share my love of diving with other people, as everyone has a different reason for why they dive with many more yet to find theirs. I’ve had the privilege so far to dive in Cornwall, Lundy Island and off the coast of Weymouth with some brilliant people; the diving community in general are a lovely, varied bunch of sociable, chilled-out people and it’s great to meet, share with and learn from people from all walks of life.  I will forever be grateful to my mum who, despite not being a fan of underwater submersion, agreed to do that first scuba session with me, and whose ongoing support along with my dad’s I will always be indebted to.

I am aiming to achieve the Master Scuba Diver rating by the end of 2021, with my sights set on Divemaster and beyond after that. And as for the university issue – I am currently studying BSc Environmental Science with the Open University as part of their distance-learning scheme alongside work, and am absolutely loving it.

 

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Where's your favourite warm water diving destination? Anna's sharing another of hers with us today.

SAPARUA ISLAND – BANDA SEA – INDONESIA

Where is Saparua and what’s so special about it?
Saparua is such a tiny island that a google map search probably won’t leave you much the wiser as to its location. Where many avid divers have heard of Raja Ampat (an area, not a single location), a few of those now consider Raja to be dived out, and favour a longer but ultimately more rewarding trip further south to the Lease Islands. Saparua, a speck off Ambon well known for its incredible muck diving, is home to breathtaking wall diving, superb muck sites and gigantic plate and brain corals. Tourism here is virtually zero, I had a guide, a boat and a resort totally to myself for a week. It’s not for everyone, for sure, but as an experienced diver with all my own equipment, getting off the beaten path and having the option to laze around the top of a wall for an hour and a half following an oblivious ghost pipefish, watching a solar powered Nudibranch meander the reef or have a staring match with a scorpionfish was a real bonus.

Why should I dive there?
You’ll be diving where very few people have been, getting into local culture and enjoying the sunsets. As I mentioned above, the dive sites around the island are superb, from an underwater arch entered at 5meters and spews you out at the top of a 100m wall, to huge table corals as far as the eye can see, to fabulously coloured coral covered walls and white sandy valleys for superbly long dives. You can motor down to the uninhabited island of Molana where there are several dive sites.

When to go?
February – April & September - November is good. Ambon, which is the muck diving heaven to the west, can be dived year-round as it’s sheltered, but Saparua lies to the eastern edge of the island cluster. The liveaboards that cruise the Banda sea avoid the in-between months due to those wet and windy seasons. Water temp is around the 28C, air temp up to 30C.

What to take?
Take your own gear – have it serviced beforehand. Take spares / redundancy if you can. Definitely take your own entertainment! And your camera.

Preparation, preparation, preparation !

Consider the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy for holding your position whilst photographing. Definitely look at investing in a good underwater camera with housing and light for both night and wall dives and get to know your way around your rig with the PADI Underwater Digital Photography specialty. I’ve mentioned before… my favourite mid range rig is the Olympus TG6, though I’m itching to get out with one of the new Sealife iPhone housings for (much) lighter travel. (Disclaimer, sadly none of the photos below were taken with either of the above, so don’t judge the quality of the cameras on my photos!). Do consider the PADI Equipment Specialist to get to know your way round your equipment and how to fix any niggly problems that may arise.

Where to stay
I stayed at the most amazing Mahu Lodge. Built and owned by local Paul, it’s now managed by his wonderful son Johann – both of whom speak great English. Mahu lodge is no-frills simple, and the grounds are stunning: huge mature trees including Clove, Nutmeg and giant palm; hibiscus, fruit trees and expansive green lawns give you ample space to relax after diving. The rooms are basic, clean and some have a/c (which, due to the number of trees around, isn’t strictly necessary to be honest). Meals are included and you can ask cook to prepare the local “Papeda” – a seafood stew made from the local sago palm. (Be warned. It’s a texture thing, but it’s cooked right in front of you and it’s an … interesting process).

Splurge. There is no splurge accommodation on Saparua. There are no restaurants in Spararua to spurge on either. And you don’t have to splurge to get pretty much a private dive experience here, that’s just par for the course! You can rent a scooter to see the sights, though you can also hire a driver to do just that. I did splurge (£15) on getting back to Ambon for my flight, as it was Sunday and I’d forgotten the ferry (£7) doesn’t run. See the photo of my private speedboat below! Of course, you could do a liveaboard in the Banda sea which is most definitely a splurge!

Bonus
Do visit the old Dutch fort Benteng Duurstede in the town, and do not miss the detailed, superb but slightly dusty dioramas at the museum next door. You’ll have to hunt around for the keyholder but definitely worth it to learn about how these islands were once the very centre of the nutmeg trade and fiercely fought over. A few metres away is the market – see the sago I mentioned earlier, and a plethora of different fruits and vegetables. It’s incredible to read the history of these once fiercely fought over islands at the centre of the spice trade and realise that they have reclaimed their culture and way of life. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banda_Islands

How to get there?
Fly to Ambon via Doha/Singapore and Jakarta, then take a ferry.
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Please join me in congratulating Ocean Turtle Instructor @alunsalt on the amazing achievement of #masterscubadivertrainer

To earn this accolade he has studied to become an instructor in five PADI Specialties and certified 25 divers in various courses. No mean feat!

#diving #scubadiving #padi #oceanturtlediving #sea #ocean #ukdiving #adventure #underwater #livingthedream
#coursedirector #padiinstructor
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If you own an EON Steel, please contact us for upgrade information. enquiries@oceanturtlediving.com
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One of our Ocean Turtle Diving Hatchlings, Maisie, has written this great blog that we wanted to share.

My name is Maisie, I am now eleven years old and earlier in the year I passed my Junior PADI open water and dry suit diver qualification in February 2020 when I was ten years old. I saved all my money I got from my family for Christmas to be able to pay for the course. The course was tough and being in February very cold; but the Ocean Turtle Team were incredibly supportive.

I got inspiration for diving when I went to Greece in 2019. I did a pool dive followed by scuba diving in the sea. I started then to realise I loved scuba diving.

I love going scuba diving to see all the sea creatures and I would like to start helping the underwater environment. I am planning to go diving in the Red Sea next year (2021) and to hopefully get my photographer diver course, to examine the different types of sea creatures from Egypt (Marsa Alam) and the UK (Cornwall or Porthkerris). I have done multiple dives in different places, for example: Porthkerris, Vobster, Wraysbury and Greece. I also practice and keep up to date with my diving by practising my skills in the swimming pool.

In the future I hope to become more skilled and one day get my Master Qualification and learn more about the underwater world.

Maisie

To book your Hatchling onto a PADI Junior Open Water Course click the link below. They can begin their self-study over lockdown. https://shop.oceanturtlediving.com/shop/diving/en/view-course/padi-courses/begin-your-learning-journey/padi/open-water-diver-winter-12701
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