open water, day one

Last Friday, eleven of us packed ourselves and our dive equipment into Raymond’s small van and headed off to Malaysia for the weekend. Our mission was to get our open water scuba certifications.

Six of us left Fraser Suites just after dinner. We stopped at Raymond’s office to pick up our rented gear and another couple of divers.

Next was a truly harrowing night ride to the port of Mersing in Malaysia. 100+ kph. Skidding around tight curves. Swerving in and out of the way of oncoming traffic as we passed every fast-moving car, truck, van and motorbike between Johor Bahru and Mersing.

We arrived at our boat at about 2:30am and tried to catch a few winks before the boat embarked for Tioman Island, but the mosquitoes were fierce. Three bites on my face and one inside my ear – not to mention eight or ten on my arms – were enough to guarantee a sleepless night. All of us did manage to doze off for most of the 3 hour ride to the island, once the boat started moving.

We had a quick breakfast on the island then headed out for our first dive – ever.

Into an oil spill.

Apparently, a sizeable spill occurred off of Johor Bahru last week, and some of it made its way over to our first dive site. To be fair, we couldn’t see the oil from the boat. It was only after we’d been in the water for a few minutes that we started to notice a scattering of sticky black droplets on the surface.

While we waited on the surface for our instruction, bits of the oil started to stick to our faces, hair, gear.

We descended to six or eight meters or so and went through a few skills for about 45 minutes. When we ascended to the surface, it seemed like the oil had cleared. But I was the first to swim to the boat, and as I reached to sweep the first clump of kelp out of my way, my arm and hand were suddenly covered in globs of thick, sticky oil.

Crude oil, as it turns out, is much more like tar. It’s sticky rather than greasy, and all the divers and snorklers on the boat were covered in it. Faces, arms, hair, wetsuits, bikinis and all our gear. We had to use diesel fuel as a solvent to get the stuff off our skin and out of our hair.

After the dive, we spent a few hours cleaning our gear and ate a small lunch before heading out for our second dive.