This week, it’s our Open Water Student Matthew Regan that will tell you the story. Enjoy and let the pictures in head talk for them self!
January 6, 2013
You know why i love mornings, nights, and for that matter, every second of a day? It’s because you never know what is going to happen next. Today something very big happened. An experience that I am truly never going to forget and something that very few people will ever, and I mean ever get to experience in their life time. Today was an incredible day.
4 days ago we set out early to catch the boat for a 2 our journey across the Gulf of Thailand to the diving island of Koh Tao. Our good friends Rob and Jasmine had previously been certified scuba divers there and highly recommended it. It was time to add to my life’s repertoire and become a certified scuba diver. It was 6:00 am and the boat was packed. Inside there wasn’t an empty seat to be had. Not a huge boat by any stretch but one that probably held 150 people. I for one did not want to sit inside. I wanted to experience the incredible scenery. Small islands that protruded out of the water like the ocean had sharp teeth. A rising sun that’s vibrant colours filled the early morning sky. Fishing boats that were getting an early start on the days catch. Little did I know what we were in for. We chugged out of the safe confines of Koi Samui’s harbour and were out to sea before we knew it. The ocean swells were huge. Rocking our boat in every direction like the ocean had us in the palm of its hand. Tipping not only the boat one way to the next but also our stomachs. When I say “our”, I mean every one on board. Before I knew it a guy came running out the back door next to where I was standing and let it fly overboard. He threw up. A feeling I wasn’t experiencing until I saw that. Next came a beautiful girl that had obviously put some effort in to the way she looked that morning. Blond hair, dressed quite nicely and one that certainly caught my eye when she got on board. Next thing I knew she came running out the back and was sick to her stomach as well. It was getting quite comical actually. Inside the boat, the crew were handing out barf bags to everyone on board. It reeked inside. Absolutely disgusting. The crew ran around with mops trying to clean up the mess. I have a strong stomach for these types of things but with my head in my forearms, standing against the back railing, I could feel my body covered in sweat, not from the heat, but from the struggle my body was going through. Mind over matter is a powerful thing, and this time, my mind had won.
We finally arrived in Koh Tao, jumped in the pick up truck and were at the dive resort before we knew it. Tucked in to a quiet little bay, hugged by the mountains on either side, on a white sandy beach, it was peaceful. Gentle waves rolled ashore and the birds sang. It felt amazing. We were quickly introduced to our instructor, Marie. Marie is French-Canadian from Montreal, who had married a Dutch man she had met while diving in Egypt. They had been living on Koh Tao for 3 years and she had been away from home for 8. She was 32. They were 180 feet below the ocean surface, a depth that far exceeds the safety limits of diving, but with 4000 dives under her belt and her soon to be husband, even more, he proposed. He pulled out his breathing regulator and with bubbles of air he mouthed the words, “will you be my wife?” She was in shock. Instead of “saying” yes 180 feet below the earths surface, she gave the divers sign for a YES. Her air was running low. For any women that has ever been proposed to, I’m sure the heart beet picks up a little bit of steam when the question is asked. Now picture that under water. Air supply control is very important, for obvious reasons.
It was our second to last night with Marie. I was almost a certified scuba diver. We had done two dives this day and it was incredible. I have a whole new appreciation for what lies below the oceans surface. Amazing colours, coral that would take your breath away, little fish and big fish that are mesmerizing to look at. Almost cartoon like, some of them are very funny looking. God had quite the imagination when he designed this Earth. I could talk all day about how amazing, how peaceful, how incredible it is under water, but I won’t. There was talk of seeing a Whale Shark, I asked Marie over a beer at the resorts little bar area that night what the chances were we would see one. She didn’t even want to guess,the odds were low. Over 4000 dives and she had only seen a handful.
The next day the boat left at 7:45 am. We were off for our last two dives before we were certified. The first of two took place at a depth of about 18 meters or approximately 60 feet. It was at a sunken U.S. Navy Destroyer that the U.S. Military had given the King of Thailand as a gift. The King gave it to Koh Tao to be used as an artificial reef. We swam around the sunken ship, had a look in the captains quarters and spent some time admiring the massive machine gun at the front of the Ship. Back on the boat we headed to the second dive sight. It was in a beautiful bay in between two small islands connected by a white sandy beach. Our group of four plus Marie were casually chatting amongst ourselves going over our briefing for the last dive and taking our time. So here we go. It’s game time as i like to say. Before we knew it, some of the more experienced divers started jumping off the boat like we were sinking. We were all wondering what was going on. Next thing we knew the captain came out of his quarters. One of the other nearby boats had radioed in that there was a giant Whale Shark in the water. Marie wore an excited smile on her face and was quick to give instructions. Off we went. We quickly suited up, oxygen tanks on, buddy check done and jumped overboard. Talk about an adrenaline rush. Never in a million years did I expect this. Marie was so excited. We stayed together once in the water. The hunt was on. Time to go and find this thing. We were looking for the worlds largest species of shark! Bigger then a Hammerhead, bigger then a Great White bigger then a small school bus. To conserve air we snorkelled along the surface. The water was too deep to see the bottom and the visibility wasn’t all that good. As I swam along the surface, eyes looking down, visibility not that good, all I could think about is what if I ran into this thing? My heart was pounding. What a feeling. We came to a point in the bay that we thought the shark would be at. It was time to dive. All of the skills we had been taught in the past three dives were going to be put to the test. Instead of taking our time to descend, we acted quickly and before we knew it were below the surface. We dove 12 meters (36 feet) and searched. My eyes must have looked like a deer in the headlights. I don’t think I blinked once while we were down there. Where was this thing? How big was it? What does it look like? Will it be aggressive if it sees us? My mind was racing. We searched for what felt like forever and before I knew it, off to my left about 30 feet away was the worlds largest species of shark. It was incredible. The Whale Shark swam gracefully through the water. He was brown in colour with light sandy spots on his back. His fins were humongous. His mouth was enormous. He didn’t seem to care that we were there. It was like he almost enjoyed the attention. His twos eyes were spread wide apart on either side of his wide body. He moved through the blue effortlessly. We swam with him. I couldn’t a take my eyes off him. A sense of peace came over me as we swam beside him. At times, only a few meters away. He wasn’t aggressive at all. He was not interested in eating me for breakfast. He was a gentle giant going about his business. I was a guest in his world and I was thankful that he let me have the experience.
Today was an incredible day. Marie has over 4000 dives to her name and has only encountered a whale shark a few times. There was a lady from Tanzania who had been a diver for 20 years. She had never seen one. Here I was, never with the intent to set out and learn to scuba dive until only a week before. By stepping out of my comfort zone and willing to try something new, I am now witness to one of Earths gentle giants. Something i truly am never going to forget and something that very few people will ever, and I mean ever get to experience in their life time to see.