Electric Noise and Madonna on the Rocks; Diving In Nha Trang, Vietnam (TheByteWeek Issue 4)

Today I went diving. To be fair, just reading that sentence brings a smile to my face because I love SCUBA diving; my first dive was in the Maldives in 2006 and since then I’ve SCUBA dived whenever I’ve been physically able to and whenever I’ve actually been capable of doing so. I should begin with a little bit of background history: during my time in the Maldives I volunteered at a SCUBA diving center and I continued to do so for the subsequent two years. I spent my summers there and the rest of my year back home and it was an insane amount of fun. I must mention that, while under any normal circumstance saying that you want to strap a heavy metal tank to your back filled with air so you can dive underwater and experience 1-2, if not more, extra atmospheres to enjoy yourself might get you institutionalized, it’s something I do not because I’m insane, but because it’s relaxing, calming, fun, and, most importantly, really one of the only ways I perform modern athletics. Though, that’s a bit of a digression I suppose.

Following the Maldives, I didn’t go SCUBA diving for another two or three years until I was convinced, quite fluidly I might add, to do so. Suffice it to say, when you’re underwater, absolutely nothing compares to warm temperatures because (and I’m talking about Lake Ontario as I continue) the freezing cold is not a pleasant dive site (no matter how beautiful the water may look; again though, Lake Ontario. Nuff said) and the worst part is going from wearing nothing more than a short wetsuit to having to wear a long jump suit, in addition to a jacket, gloves, and a hood. Don’t get me wrong, after you get past the cold and the fact that you still can’t feel your fingers despite your armor, SCUBA diving in cold water is just as much fun as SCUBA diving in warm water (if not more so, because now you’ve got adrenaline pumping through your body to make sure you don’t freeze, or worse: fall asleep). However, my reason for writing today isn’t to complain about cold water (but not cold weather) and praise warm water (but not warm weather, not entirely anyway), it’s to talk about the half day trip I took today in the nice warm waters of lovely Nha Trang, Vietnam.

The morning, for me, was excruciating because I had to wake up at 6:30 AM to catch the bus that came to the hotel, almost daily, at 7:00 AM to pick up the SCUBA diving guests. Luckily for me, however, not only did my alarm work, but I also got the wake up call I needed and, after literally forcing my body to move out of bed, I brushed my teeth (to be generous. Nothing is worse than using a regulator used by someone else who didn’t brush their teeth. Trust me when I say that no matter how much you clean the mouthpiece, you can still taste the lack of fluorine), got dressed, waited in the lobby for five minutes until I was greeted by one of the divemasters from the company I arranged to go diving with (a fantastic enterprise known as Amigos Divers; this is going to sound like a plug, but I’m not kidding when I say that their staff is excellent, their equipment clean, and their dive sites beautiful). Skipping past all of the uninteresting parts, we got to the dive site at about 8:00 AM and after a briefing (not to mention the buddy check where I learned a new acronym for BCD, Weights, Releases, Air Supply, and Final Ok: Bruce Willis Ruins All Films. It’s interesting because it’s so true: now, Bruce Willis does ruin all films) of the site, we dove. At this point I must mention a few things; to begin with, the name of the first site was Electric Noise (named because of the noise heard when the wind blows through the two rock formations that constitute the location). Next, we entered the water without inflating our BCD’s (buoyancy control devices) meaning that instead of hanging around the surface before giving the final ok and deflating (so we sink), on this dive, we sank like rocks. In case anyone’s wondering how fast a person sinks, 9.8 m/s/s doesn’t even come close to describing the feeling of sonic booming down realizing, within seconds, that you’ve hit 30 meters deep. That’s the other thing about not inflating your BCD when you enter the water: you don’t have any air in the device, meaning you don’t achieve neutral buoyancy (the point where you float in the water; moving neither up nor down) until you’ve actually stopped and tried to do so; again, we sonic boomed down.

The last thing I need to say about this certain dive site was the fact that it was beautiful. I mean, I’ve seen fantastic sites before (diving in the Maldives does that to you), but I’ve never seen a site like this before (quick point before we continue: I only have 17 dives on log; any half decent diver will tell you that for the total years I’ve spent diving, I should have far, far more. My only excuse is this: diving in Lake Ontario isn’t fun, no matter how much I love the sport, though I do digress), especially for a deep dive (30 or so meters deep constitutes a deep dive under most diving associations’s set of considerations and teachings; PADI, for example, counts 18 meters as the highest possible depth before a normal dive becomes a deep dive). The point of Electric Noise (as far as I could tell) was to start near the bottom (we didn’t reach the exact bottom of 45 meters) and then spiral for the duration of the dive to the top. Doing so meant that we could see almost every part of the rock formations, and get a good look at the coral and other marine life; it’s actually due to this reason that Electric Noise was my favourite of the two dive sites, despite a few problems I encountered.

First of all, I hadn’t gone diving for well over 4 months, meaning my lungs weren’t used to the experience of more than one atmosphere. This meant that I consumed an unfathomable amount of air in a very short time to compensate (I’d like to point out that the deeper you go, the more air you consume. Considering all the time spent away from depth, starting the dive at 30 meters was a definite jolt to my system), which reduced the overall time of the dive significantly. A dive that normally takes 40-45 minutes (on average; optimistically, the dive should have taken 45-50 minutes) ended in 32 minutes. The second problem I encountered was buddy contact. Having been taught to stay close to my diving buddy for safety reasons, I can safely say that I clung to my fellow diver on the first dive; this isn’t good because, in tight spaces (like Electric Noise is capable of providing), it means that anyone clinging will get hit by fins and so forth (which I did; I learned that lesson quickly). The final problem I encountered was my inability to sit still; under normal circumstances (these dives today were normal circumstances), a diver only uses their legs to move. The feet have fins and the fins are far more powerful and produce a far greater applied force than the arms and hands do, meaning that during diving, using the arms and hands wastes energy, (subsequently) the air supply, and (finally) the dive time. As such, divers usually cross their arms and train themselves to maneuver using (mostly) their legs and feet. Doing so also allows a diver to monitor anything on their arms (like dive computers and compasses) with far greater ease. Suffice it to say, I was flailing my arms (not literally of course; there’s far too much resistance in water to be able to do so properly) during the first half of the first dive and this also contributed to my reduced time. The fact of the matter is that the first dive was to get reacquainted with the experience; the second dive, however, was meant (for me) to fix my mistakes, extend the dive time, and (for everyone around me, and myself of course) have fun.

Having fun is incredibly important in SCUBA diving not because of the psychological ramifications of the event, but also to insure that the divers aren’t stressed and (potentially) harming themselves and those around them. The thing is, if you’re not relaxed and are tense throughout the dive, more oxygen will be used up and (more importantly) mistakes can be made and life threatening medical conditions can stop being text book scenarios and can become very real, very fast. It was important (in my opinion) to be confident in my ability to dive and not get killed, so this next dive was very important. Here, instead of one fellow diver, we got an extra divemaster (not because I was so bad that I needed more help, but because it was more or less an empty boat, and the point of diving is to enjoy one’s self. Besides, it was a fun dive; the more the merrier, simply put) and so instead of two, three divers entered the Madonna on the Rocks divesite. Luckily for me, this time we entered the water with preinflated BCD’s (again, not because of me, but because the divesite required this specific entry) and after reducing the total air in the devices, we dove. The first thing that I must mention about Madonna on the Rocks is the fact that, due to the lack of overall depth, the water is warmer than Electric Noise. The next point I must make about Madonna on the Rocks is the fact that it’s very spacious, meaning (for someone like me) it’s easy to branch out, but also stick to the group, so during this dive, it was easy for me to apply the necessary corrections to my prior mistakes. For this reason, I found that Madonna on the Rocks was the easier of the two sites; I was able to maintain a safe distance from my buddies (yet not get lost), I didn’t flail about like a mad man (and let my legs do most of the work), and (due to the previous reason in addition to the depth) it was the longer of the two dives (the computers clocked in at 63 minutes when we surfaced; this included the 3-5 minute safety stop that is done on most, if not all, dives).

In terms of aquatic life, Electric Noise had more to offer, but in terms of sheer relaxation, Madonna on the Rocks offered far more. However, despite the fact that I fixed most of my prior errors at Madonna on the Rocks, Electric Noise still remains my favourite of the two sites. Additionally, I must mention that despite my best efforts, during the end of the dive I still moved my arms more than I should have and I also bumped into my original buddy 4 times in total. The bumps were minor, but next time I’ll focus on distance; though, it would be unfair if I didn’t say that I did get carried away in the breathtaking beauty of it all. For example, I was lucky enough to see an Ornate Ghost Pipefish (a species that isn’t normally native to the site we were at, if to Nha Trang at all) and I was also lucky to finally see a frog fish disguising itself from predators.

I suppose I could talk about the beauty that underwater nature offers, or how amazing the world we live in really is, but I’ve noticed that when I go diving, I very rarely think about the overall picture and I spend more time taking it all in. Perhaps it’s due to my diving youth, or perhaps it’s because I’m easily overcome, but the fact still remains that SCUBA diving today was (as it has always been; cold water or not) incredible. It was relaxing, educational and, perhaps most importantly to anyone including myself: it was fun. I really can’t stress that enough; SCUBA diving is, above all else, fun and enjoyable. Frankly, not very many things are when you break it down to it’s core pieces; that’s a luxury that SCUBA diving is afforded, more so than most things in this universe.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

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