Frans loves diving. I think that this was the real reason we returned to Ilha Grande. He just could not bear the thought that we never even attempted to scuba dive in such a lovely environment. Now we can truthfully say we did attempt it.
Our first dive was on Father’s Day. We had a real bizarre time in sorting out the equipment as the last time we dived together as a family was on St. Helena – 5 months ago. The children insist on growing – well Karin J and Sophia do – and things that used to fit do not fit anymore.
We managed to kit ourselves out and then began the swim to the rocks. Dive plan: swim to the rocks, climb over the little rocky beach, enter the water on the other side, commence diving. Easy peasy!
From Shang Du it looked really close, but once inside the water and actually swimming, it was another story. Swimming with Scuba Gear can be very tricky. This is only the transport phase, so you do not want to use any of your precious air. You could swim on your back, but this means you don’t know where you are going and you also have the hot sun in your face. Swimming on your stomach, the cylinder pushes your face into the water and you need to use your snorkel to breath. This way too, you can’t see where you are going and need to push your cylinder up to get a bearing. Either choice is hard and Frans ended up dragging more than one family member most of the way.
Now, we were only part of the way. We needed to climb over the rocks – in full view of a load of holidaymakers.
We must have seemed like a tribe of aliens. If you do not remove your fins, you can only walk backwards. To remove fins, you need to be able to bend double in your super thick wetsuit and reach your feet. If you lift your feet so that someone else can remove your fins, you are in danger of falling over backwards in the direction of your cylinder. But by far, the most difficult part of all is standing up when the water becomes too shallow to float. The rocks are slippery and very uneven. The problem lies in the kit. All of your equipment – the suit, the cylinder, the bc, the demand valve and even the weight belt is now waterlogged and we all know how heavy water can be. These things that only a moment before seemed weightless, now pull on all your muscles to keep you in a horizontal position. Then, just as you manage to get off your knees, your foot slips and the whole exercise is for nought.
Karin J was a little in front of me walking, falling and resting in short bursts. Just before I reached her, she had a bad fall and drew blood on her knee. Some holidaymakers rushed to help her and I’m nearly certain that I could see the reproach in their eyes. What kind of parent does this to their child?
We did eventually all make it to the other side and from then on, we dived our plan.
It would have been a truly great dive if the visibility was better. Even in the 4-5 metres we had, we saw some amazing things. The fishes were clearly different and the reef too. We saw beautiful flying fish and ugly sea cucumbers.
After the dive we were in much better shape mentally to tackle the way back home. No holidaymakers to glare and no rush. Still, Frans had to go back for the two younger members to help them safely over the water and on board.
We learnt some lessons from that first dive and decided to do things differently the second time around. We were anchored at Sitio Forte. After kitting up we hung our gear on the outside of Shampoo (three sets to a side) and drove to the site wearing our wetsuits and with our weight belts at our feet in the dingy.
Armed with the coordinates and the GPS on Frans’ waterproofed tablet, we set out to find the wreck. Frans had to do 3 reckon dives to find it and he tied our buoy-line onto it. We all agreed that with good visibility this could have been one of the best sites we have ever dived on. The wreck was amazing and very approachable.
A few times during the dive I heard noises that sounded like a distressed child and I diligently checked all four. No problems. After surfacing I learnt that the noise was made by Karin J, as she was happily singing along into her mouthpiece right through the dive. She rated this as her best dive ever. Sophia had to come up early due to feeling cold and I accompanied her up the buoy-line and we waited in the dingy for the others – Sophia in my lap to get some warmth.
For a place that can become unbearably hot during the day, it felt strange to have the cooler, rainy weather and before this dive we nearly forgot what it was to feel cold.
The last site we chose to dive on was that of an old helicopter wreck. According to the information the coordinates lay very close to an “Isolated Danger” marker-buoy.
Frans, Marike and Sophia went out in Shampoo to find the wreck while the rest of us waited on Shang Du.
Frans nearly exhausted himself, diving many times, but the wreck just seemed to disappear. Again, the visibility was terrible. In clear visibility, it should have been possible to see it miles away. Frans and the girls chose to dive anyway, but I easily opted out of this one. At this point in my life, I do not need to dive for diving’s sake.
Not one of them regretted diving, but it seemed that the spectacular diving experience that we had wanted at Ilha Grande was not to be. Whether this was due to the time of year or maybe just some bad weather causing the bad visibility, we will never know. Maybe next time…………….