With all the recent news about the 12 ‘Wild Boars’ Thai soccer team that got rescued from a cave filled with water, there was a lot of talk and respect for the expert divers who volunteered their time and effort to rescue them.
While I could only vicariously follow the news coverage and technicalities behind the mission, it made me want to find out more about diving and inspired me to pick it up.
Kudos to those divers, because taking on such a mission meant that they not only needed an open water certification, but also the advanced open water certification, AND the search and rescue certification.
Getting an open water certification seems intimidating, and you’d think not everyone will be able to take it on. Truth be told, you can start your basic and advanced certification as early as at the age of 10! With the low age barrier, I feel that all of us shouldn’t be too afraid to pick up a skill like this.
And just like that, I decided to get my basic open water certification with The Dive Ship. The certification process actually only took one weekend on Tioman Island, so you can do it too even if you’re short on leave-days.
Unlike other companies that require a 3D2N process, The Dive Ship sets aside one of the days in Singapore for you to take the pool and theory lessons, for you to gain some confidence before entering the deep seas.
Usually, your pool and theory lessons will take place a few weeks prior to the actual dive, and the timings for these lessons are flexible. The theory lesson will take place at the office located at Singapore Shopping Centre, while the pool class will be conducted at Outram Secondary School‘s pool, which has a depth of 2.2 metres.
As much as you’d love to breeze past the instructions, you can’t skip the theory of diving. It covers the risks and safety procedures, and most importantly, you learn about the equipment and how to use each piece.
Trust me, this is essential for your diving journey, and it takes just slightly over an hour. There’ll also be a test with 50 Multiple Choice Questions and you’ll have to get at least 38 out of 50 correct to pass! If you fail, you’ll just have to re-do it, so it’s nothing too tedious.
For the pool lesson, you’ll pick up basic manoeuvring and troubleshooting techniques. I found out that we’re actually capable of breathing through large air bubbles when the regulator is free-flowing.
A week after that, the journey to Tioman began!
We boarded a private bus at The Dive Ship’s office at 3.30am on Saturday, and a three-hour journey to Mersing Jetty was then followed by a two-hour ferry ride to the island.
If you’re prone to motion sickness, I urge you to prepare some motion sickness pills. During our journey there, the seas just happened to be choppier than usual but thank God I was one of the rare few who was immune.
It was my first time to Tioman, and it was really a peaceful kampong. Accommodation-wise, it was four to a room, with two queen-sized beds.
But if you’re a princess, then I’d suggest paying a little more for a room to yourself.
Almost immediately after we set our bags down, we were scheduled for a shore dive. For our quick lunch, we bought ourselves Ramly Burgers from one of the few shops along Salang Indah, and got ourselves rigged up for the first dive.
During this first shore dive, we had to practice the basics of what we learnt during the pool lesson, such as half-mask clearing and full-mask clearing. After these exercises were done, we followed our instructor and explored the realm beneath the surface of the calm sea.
As we swam deeper into the sea, we found ourselves within an entire school of yellowtail fish. One of the students startled them, and a frenzy ensued.
The most important rule of diving is to always stay relaxed. Whether you find yourself in a storm of fishes swimming or losing your regulator (the mouthpiece that provides you compressed air), you’ve got to calm down!
After a good 30 seconds, this fish frenzy stopped.
The subsequent dive was the most eventful of the entire trip; and I would label it “Search & Rescue”. But no worries, things worked out in the end.
On our second dive, we arrived at a dive spot where the current was awfully strong. There was a buoy attached to a sunken ship on the seabed, and our group of five, was supposed to make our way down the rope attached to the buoy.
I was all ready to get down the moment I reached the buoy. Our instructor Charles told me to follow the rope down and my dive buddy would follow after me. My overly enthusiastic side decided to just keep descending, without checking who was following after me.
By the time I reached the base, there was no one above nor around me. The currents were so strong that I could hear the whistling of the ‘wind’ underwater, so I had to hang onto the rope with my dear life.
I waited, and no one seemed to be descending, so I decided to ascend a good 10m, and yet I didn’t see anyone at the buoy. I went back down, and saw a few divers at the far end of the ship.
That must be my group! I quickly followed them, but they turned out to be a bunch of Chinese tourists. Since there was a dive instructor with their group, I felt I was in safe hands and stayed with them. (The protocol for losing your dive group is actually to ascend, and look for each other at the surface.)
I still had sufficient air to join their dive, so we explored the shipwreck, and actually found a turtle that was almost one metre in size! As much as I wanted to enjoy the beautiful marine life, I knew my group would be freaking out up at the surface so I had to go back.
Finishing the dive, I boarded their boat and I explained my situation. It wasn’t long before my boat finished circling the small islet, in search for me, and saw the captain of this boat signalling.
I transited across boats, and was greeted with familiar faces. I guess I had my very own rescue team searching for me!
Jokes aside, losing your group can happen occasionally, but always remember to carry out the protocols you’ve been taught and all will be fine. Just don’t panic!
The subsequent dives were decently manageable, with nothing too exceptional that happened. It was a pity we didn’t get to visit the underwater playground at Renggis Island due to the choppy waters that made travelling tough.
Once you’ve logged a minimum of four dives over the weekend, you’re a fully qualified open water diver!
Being qualified as a diver can feel like you’re opening a door in exploring the seas, but it’s important to remember not to be too ambitious as this is just the start of your journey.
If you’re thinking of exploring the seas and watching marine life in their natural habitats, try getting your PADI license to begin this journey!
Prices: S$600 (excludes food and other expenses)