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January 16, 2002

Swimming in January

It wouldn't have been right to spend time on the boat without going swimming and so today we had a refreshing dip here in Titusville. We dropped a lock over the side while we were lifting the dinghy out of the water and after lots of fishing for it with a very large magnet, we heard it clunk onto something and thought we'd found it. Unfortunately, it's been getting down to freezing at nights here lately, so the swim to retrieve it turned out to be more stimulating than I'd expected. With my fins and snorkel on, I went over the side into the water, and felt instantly like the people you see on Russian documentaries who have just cut a hole in the ice and jumped in. Swimming in marinas is not the most pleasant thing to do at the best of times due to lots of boats pumping their waste out regularly, so as you can imagine the water was fairly murky. Nevertheless, I swam down and pulled what I thought was the lock out of the mud, rose to the surface with it, and found myself holding an empty brandy bottle!

This evening, while we were cycling back from Taco Bell, we were lucky enough to see a rocket take-off from Kennedy Space Centre (or Center as they insist on spelling it). The sky was dark and completely clear so it was quite stunning to see it light everything up like daylight as it climbed out of the atmosphere. We didn't have much time to watch it though as our tacos were getting cold.

At the moment I'm reading 'Notes from a Big Country' by Bill Bryson, which, as well as being one of his best books, is essential reading for anyone who's interested in what living in America today is really like. It's nice to see that I'm not the only one banging my head against beaurocracy, inefficiency and the world's worst payphones, but, I don't care, for tomorrow we're off to the airport and leaving the US behind for a month or two (if they let me back in then). We fly to Reykjavik for a breakfast of raw fish and then catch a connection onto London where I shall head to the nearest pub while Nina rushes across London to Stansted to try to catch a flight to Copenhagen.

August 18, 2002

Octopus snorkelling

Today it was very calm, so we took the dinghy around to a cala that was open to the sea & did some snorkelling. Almost as soon as we were in the water we saw a large octopus, the first one I've ever seen wild, and we watched as it swam from rock to rock, changing colour to camoflage itself. The water was incredibly clear and we could see for 30-50m underwater as we swam around and dived down watching the fish.

August 25, 2002

Ciutadella and free-diving

The other day we managed to get ashore by lunchtime, and caught a bus to Ciutadella on the other side of the island. The most striking aspect of Menorca appears to be that it is a very bushy island, with very many bushes everywhere. The entire island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, which I assume is due to the profusion of bushes. Once we arrived in Ciutadella we were impressed by the city but somewhat shocked by the huge number of screaming children being dragged around it by burned tourists. Nonetheless, it was worth it to see all those bushes on the way.

Having been disillusioned some time ago by the preparation and equipment needed on your back to go scuba diving, Nina and I have been working on our free-diving technique, which is diving without tanks. Today, whilst swimming through a school of fish, we got down to a new personal record of 12m, though it's still a little short of the world record of 98m, so we still have some work to do.

July 2, 2003

Scrubbing

I went down to check the prop yesterday and discovered that it was pretty clean, but unfortunately the rest of the hull looked a bit like a kelp forest. When the tidal wave had swept into the harbour it destroyed the mussel farm that used to be there, and now it seemed that most of them had found a new home on Zamindars hull. I began the slow job of cleaning it up, scraping the waterline, then snorkelling under the hull and scrubbing all the growth off. Its incredible how quickly ocean life can grow and I was half expecting Greenpeace to turn up as I set about destroying this new aquatic ecosystem. After several hours Id begun to make a difference to it, but then, after staying underwater for quite a long time, I surfaced quickly for air, hit my head hard on the outboard engine, cut it open, broke the snorkel off my mask losing it, and almost lost consciousness. I got up into the boat with blood streaming down my face but after a bit of first aid the bleeding soon stopped. So today my forehead has a huge lump and cuts and bruises on it and Im back underwater again continuing the cleanup job.

August 2, 2003

Guardia Civil and Bioluminecence

As I was making my way into town today at high speed in the dinghy I froze as I heard the sudden, loud roar of engines right behind me. Thinking that I was about to be run down and killed by a powerboat or ferry that I hadn't seen, I turned around to see a Guardia Civil helicopter thunder about 25 metres over my head. They'd approached directly behind me and dropped down to buzz the shit out of me! By the time I made it into town shaken I was badly in need of some coffee and a change of shorts!

Tonight I watched Le Grand Bleu, one of those films you just have to have onboard a boat. Unfortunately, watching it gives me this uncontrollable urge to grab a mask and fins and jump over the side to go free-diving, which is not always a good idea after drinking quite a bit of beer and wine on a Saturday night. Earlier in the day I'd been working on staying underwater longer and had managed to fight the urge to breathe long enough that my legs had gone numb, which I was quite impressed by. So I grabbed one of the waterproof torches and jumped into the blackness. It felt really amazing, and then I switched off the torch to find that the water was filled with bioluminescence - as I swam, I was lit up by green sparks which flew around me as I moved and past my eyes. It was incredible, quite hallucinogenic, and totally unbelievable. Must try in future not to watch that film whilst pissed though...

August 16, 2004

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Temperature 26 C.

February 15, 2006

Sharks of Koh Adang

We were lucky enough to get the very last tent on Koh Lipe - all the other accomodation was booked by three hundred Thais who were visiting the otherwise uninhabited island for the weekend. Maybe lucky isn't the best word; the tent seemed to be a remnant of World War II, full of holes and of the ancient triangular school of tent architecture, with a central pole at each end to hold it up. I wished I'd brought my own tent on the trip, but we had a beautiful pitch at the top of a tropical, white sandy beach, our nearest neighbours were almost out of sight, and Carita set to work sowing up the assortment of holes in the tent.

One of the reasons we'd come to Koh Adang was to go snorkelling on it's coral reefs, which we'd heard were terrific, so once we'd pitched the tent we dived straight in. The sealife was amazing, with brightly coloured parrotfish, angelfish, and triggerfish everywhere, and it felt wonderful to be swimming over coral reefs again, floating weightlessly with so much action going on below us. We watched a huge, black pufferfish swim away and hide beneath a rock from us, and the water was so warm it felt like we'd never get cold.

We swam out to deeper water where the coral began to shelve, hoping to see something bigger, and suddenly the dark shape of a shark appeared about ten metres away. Powerfully and effortlessly, it slid through the water with hardly any force at all. We didn't feel frightened, just in awe of this majestic creature, though we were a bit on edge. A black-tipped reef shark, less than two metres long, it just swam over to check us out before disappearing back out of view. This experience was worth the entire trip by itself. Even still, we spent quite a bit of time checking behind us on the rest of our swim, just in case it reappeared!

It was really windy that night, and we were woken regularly by the gusts and lay wondering if the fragile tent would be blown away to Malaysia. The following day the huge party of Thais left and we moved to a bamboo sheltered tent. This was really lovely - a cross between a tent and a bamboo hut, shaded from the sun and built on a raised wooden platform off the ground.

Koh Adang has a couple of good treks, one of which is a near vertical 500m climb up a cliff face, which passes through bamboo forest and emerges out to a stunning view across to Koh Lipe. At one point whilst walking I heard a loud squeek from the undergrowth and spotted a rare mousedeer running for cover. The other notable forest trek takes you to Pirates Waterfall, and whilst returning from this walk at dusk a large, black snake slithered across the rocks next to us, and out of our way. We decided to watch our step after that.

On our last morning in Koh Adang we awoke to the sounds of a cockerel and looked out through the mesh door of the tent to see the sun rising behind the Malaysian island of Langkawi. We're convinced we're going to return with camping gear on our next trip to Thailand and spend a lot more time staying in the national parks as we had such great experiences and got close to so much wildlife.

May 1, 2009

Free-Diving Course

I was chilling out by the beach in Blue Wind, trying to get some work done and failing, when I overheard Kester, the Scottish yoga teacher, telling someone about a free-diving course on the island. Immediately interested, I asked him where it was, and a couple of days later I found myself sitting excitedly in a classroom learning the basics of free-diving.

After working on our breathe-up, we headed out on the boat in the afternoon and began diving in deep water. I'd gone down to 12m before on my own, and that was our limit for the day, so I knew I could do it. I dived right to the end of the line, touched the weight at 12m, and swam back up.

The following day was a bit more challenging. Looking down from the surface, I couldn't even see the end of the 20m line, the maximum depth you can swim to on the course, and it still didn't appear when I was swimming down. After a few tries, however, I pulled myself down the rope using my arms and as little oxygen as possible, reached the marker, turned around, and pulled myself back to the surface.

Next, was swimming down next to the rope, which is tougher as it uses up much more oxygen. I kicked my way down to about 17m, clearly saw the weight, and decided to go for it, knowing that if I passed out my instructor would take me to the surface. I hit the 20m mark, but out of air by this time, I turned around, knowing I was risking a blackout and began finning back to the surface. Trying to keep my mind focused and calm I was suddenly hit with cramp in both my thighs, but knew I had to force myself to keep finning through the pain. My Argentinian instructor met me at 10m (most blackouts occur within 7m of the surface), with her big, brown eyes staring at me, and I kept pushing until finally I broke through the surface. Low on oxygen, with bad cramp in both my legs and things beginning to spin and blur ever so slightly, I recovered and gave her the OK sign. Although everyone who blacks out free-diving describes the feeling as euphoric, I was glad not to experience it.