Last Saturday I finally got around to my first dive of 2009, and my first dive in the Year of the Ox. South China Diving Club went to the South-west corner of Basalt Island, near Sai Kung.
I’ve never been an enthusiastic winter diver even in Hong Kong, where the water temperature only dips to the mid-teens Centigrade. This is because my old 2 piece 4mm wetsuit never felt particularly warm even when it was new, 18 years ago. Oh, and I don’t like hoods or thick gloves. But this weekend I was planning to dive in Andreas’s old Mares 6mm semi-drysuit, which looks as though it will be a really good suit – when I’ve grown into it. Since he’s at least 4 inches taller than I am, the neck seal seals perfectly around my forehead. Brian reckons I need a periscope. Sadly, at the moment, the only bit that fits me is around the beer gut.
Anyway I gamely got into this suit, but Andreas wasn’t going to let me off that lightly, because he also lent me a pair of semi-dry boots and semi-dry gloves. Plus a hood. I have never needed a “dresser” before but this time I did, particularly when I’d got the gloves on because my hands became completely useless. My only contribution to this dressing process was to tear the seal on one of the boots, at which point Andreas and Rita took over to make sure I didn’t damage anything else. I then tried to expel all the air from the suit but that was a waste of time, since, while the neck seal sealed perfectly around my head, it didn’t seal at all around my neck. Despite all this I have to say that I felt pretty warm, even if I looked a bit odd. To finish off with I put the hood on and immediately went deaf, and then had to be helped into my harness and wing because I couldn’t bend my arms properly to do it myself.
Meanwhile Rita was having her own problems. After trying the third tank that only had 120 bar in it, she began to suspect that the contents gauge might be the problem, not the tanks. A quick check with another gauge confirmed her suspicions, although if we hit her gauge hard enough we were able to get the needle to move. After scrounging another contents gauge she was back in business, but without her regular console she was now compass-less, giving her a good excuse to be lazy and make me navigate. In addition, she was diving in her old 5mm suit and was worried she’d be too cold.
We jumped in and did a buoyancy test and I passed, by which I mean I was buoyant – too buoyant. Another 3 lbs later and we finally dropped into relatively clear water. Visibility must have been around 6-8 metres, dropping off slightly as we got deeper. Since the boat was anchored relatively shallow, we headed out and down a slope to 16 metres. There was quite good fish life and we came across a large moray, a pair of butterflyfish and a number of nudibranchs. There was some nice soft coral and a school of sweepers hiding under some of the bigger boulders. After 20 minutes we turned around and headed back. I was reassured to see the same moray we’d passed on the way out. The boat had swung slightly, but the visibility was good enough that we were able to find it without too much trouble.
For the second dive we headed shorewards towards one of the large caves, before turning parallel to the shore. There was some surge, but a very interesting rocky topography. Fish life was good along here as well, with more nudibranchs too. We headed back towards the boat and I decided to deploy my dSMB. This is where I found that my unfamiliarity with thick gloves was a slight problem. It took me longer than usual to connect the spool to the dSMB, then it took me 2 attempts to get any air into the bag. Finally I managed to fill it and then I hit my biggest problem – I couldn’t wind the line round the spool properly. My left hand couldn’t hold the spool tightly enough so it just turned in my hand, and the gloves were so bulky that they kept getting in the way of whatever line I did wrap around it. The one positive thing to come out of this is that I provided some much-needed entertainment to my cold, shivering buddy, who had to keep clearing her mask because she was laughing so much. Finally I made it to the surface, then nearly dropped the spool before I’d had time secure the line.
All in all it was a couple of pretty good dives, and I have to say that, despite all the aggravation kitting up, I was toasty-warm in the water. At this rate I might be doing a few more dives this winter than usual. Although I need to do something about those gloves!