Where it started

A list going round on Facebook, February 2016: "which of these items have you experienced" etc. Some yes, some no, some didn't interest me. However, it put some ideas into my head, and I figured it was time I followed some of my friends in committing them to (virtual) paper. And then trying some of them out. The first challenge was undertaken on 1 March 2016, and I have no intention of ever completing the list: the more I tick off, the more I'll add.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Scuba try-dive

Now, this was a challenge I never thought I'd attempt.

Our good friend Milton has been a keen scuba-diver for many years, and has often offered to take me on a 'try-dive' - giving the chance to have a first go at using the complex equipment and to experience the extraordinary sensation of breathing underwater, but in the reassuringly safe environment of a swimming pool. Until now, I'd always refused. However, when it came up on my friends' suggestions for my Life List, I took a deep breath (above water) and said OKAY - not least because we were due to visit Milton and Dorothy for our post-Easter break.

In the event, our short visit didn't allow Milton to act as my instructor due to timetables (so I thought I'd get out of it for the time being). However, they weren't going to let me off that easily, and Milton's fellow instructor, Sue, stepped in. So on the last day of our holiday, I headed off with Sue to the HQ of Bolton Area Divers.

Scuba is one of those activities which is completely safe at the same time as being potentially dangerous - rather like driving a car, really. In other words, as long as you learn carefully, follow the rules, don't panic and do as your instructor says, you'll have an exciting, enjoyable and magical experience.

The first 90 minutes or so of my experience consisted of learning. Watching the DVD, receiving instruction from Sue, answering questions to make sure I understood what was involved, signing disclaimer forms, being fitted for fins, wetsuit, mask and the rest of the kit, learning what all the tubes and controls were for and how to fit them together, experiencing the extraordinary weight of the air tank on the back. Then, after a drive to the local swimming pool, we spent about another 90 minutes in the pool itself.

My first attempts were very strange and mostly infused with panic. Being a performer, I'm used to the 'in through the nose - out through the mouth' technique of breathing, so the fact that one has to leave the nasal breathing out of the equation at all times took a lot of getting used to. My first couple of tries resulted in a panic-stricken splutter back to the surface. Breathing through the reg (regulator) and never through the nose was incredibly weird.

However, as the brain tuned in to what was needed, and with Sue's patient encouragement, I managed it. First, just face into the water while in the shallows; then swimming along the surface but with face submerged; then sitting on the bottom of the pool; and finally, swimming along the bottom of the pool (although still in fairly shallow water). By now, I was managing to stay under the water and breathing through the reg for a few minutes at a time.

Among all this, I also needed to get the hang of inflating and deflating the BCD (buoyancy control device), which is effectively an inflatable waistcoat. One of the myriad of tubes is used to inflate (keeping you nearer the surface) and deflate (allowing you to sink deeper). This took a lot of getting used to!

Lastly, Sue weighted a couple of hoops, and set them up for me to swim through. The sense of achievement was immense. Comically, I ended up collecting the hoops (they got caught on the cylinder) so by the end of the manoeuvre, I looked more like a triumphant sea-lion than anything else.

I didn't manage to pluck up the courage to go to the deepest point in the pool on this occasion; and I know that I'd need to practice in the safety of the swimming pool quite a bit before I might feel brave enough to try the Open Water course. The thought of 'real' scuba - and, of course, underwater photography - is hugely exciting and still pretty scary.

However, having learned the basic 'breathing underwater' technique, I also realise that this might open up the possibilities of snorkelling, which is something else I'd love to try, and previously wouldn't have attempted.

Sue was a brilliant instructor, patient, thorough and clear, and I was so glad that I let Milton talk me into trying out this amazing experience. It's pushed my boundaries once again - and I'm feeling really proud of myself!

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