Yes. You read that right. The under world. Under what is the question to be asked. Neither under crime nor under with spirits, but under water!
After all these years of travelling, I finally got to experience what could be termed as one of the most fascinating things to do on earth - diving. The very word used to send shudders down my spine, so much that I let go of a plum opportunity to do shallow beach diving in Lakshadweep, thanks to my morbid fear of water. From there, to getting 13 feet down in the mid Atlantic, I have progressed a bit I should say :)
I was in Bermuda Islands this November as a part of my month long tour in the Carribean and the US. My cousin was planning a dreamy destination wedding at Barbados and I was out there to soak in the sun and witness the beautiful ceremony. The bride's family lives in Bermuda - that was reason enough for me to travel across a few days earlier, spend some time with them and go around the island. As I started researching about the place, the first thing that popped up was 'Hartley's Helmet Diving'. I was amused.
Helmet Diving is a form of diving that originated in Bermuda and is based on the ancient concept of 'Bell Diving' (Alexander the Great is said to have practised that) . In fact, father of Mr. Greg Hartley who runs Hartley's Helmet Diving, Mr. Bronson Hartley, was the one who pioneered this form of diving In Bermuda. While Scuba is a more serious form of diving, this is more of a fun and an entertaining one - provided one shuns his/her fear of water. I was hell-bent on trying this out, so I went ahead and called them to reserve a place. It was November already - the beginning of the low season when cruise ships stop arriving at Bermuda Dockyard. However, as destiny would have it, there had been an inquiry the previous day from a group of 5 people and the capacity of the boat was 6! I was all set to dive.
The next day morning, I was at the dockyard much earlier than the reporting time. I was going through mixed emotions - anticipation, fear, adrenaline rush... phew! Those who fear water can relate to what I was going through. The boat arrived and as I was about to board, the captain threw a challenge at me. He said "Those who are courageous walk into the boat but those who are adventurous climb over the grill and jump onto the boat!" Guess what I chose? The latter. That very moment, all my apprehensions melted away.
The boat took us about 3 miles off the coast to a shallow part of the ocean, the depths varying from 12 to 40 feet. All through the journey, our captain briefed us about the do's and dont's, the marine life and the signals that he would use underwater to communicate with us. We were given wet suits as the Atlantic waters get quite cold by November (Bermuda lies in the temperate region, close to New York unlike the caribbean islands). A ladder was lowered into the waters.
The captain was the first to go down and once he made sure that the waters were clear of any dangerous and bigger fish, he signaled us to come down. Laden with weights around our waists, we made our way down the ladder to ocean bed. Just before lowering our heads into the water, heavy helmets were placed on our heads to help us breathe underwater. These helmets were connected to a source of oxygen on the boat and air was constantly pumped into the helmet.
The moment I went down, I would say, is one of the most fulfilling moments of my life till date. Happy with what I had achieved so far, I climbed down the ladder and jumped down to find land under my feet. I held the captain's hand as he helped me walk on the sea bed. A few of the group members were there before me - I was made to kneel down beside them and hold on to an iron bar as the captain swam back to bring the rest of the group down.
It was a gorgeous world out there - I could spot at least five different types of coral, sea anemones, pretty little reef fish and a few bigger ones like the Snapper and the Hog Fish. As the fish swam past us, the captain promptly displayed sign boards to help us identify the species. After about 20 minutes of under sea walking, it was time to click some pictures. We got some pictures clicked with the Hog Fish and the Snapper that lurked around us. All of a sudden, the captain seemed to have landed on an idea. He walked me to a coral formation nearby. As he turned back to fetch his camera, I understood what was going on and insisted on going back with him holding his hand - The last thing I wanted to do was to drift away in the Atlantic. He then made me hold on to a piece of dead coral. As I held it, I had a funny feeling as if hundred little fingers were tickling my hand. Petrified, I promptly withdrew my hand and went back with the captain. I didn't want a picture with the corals. I just wanted to be safe where I was.
In a few minutes, we walked back to where the ladder was. The ladder stopped midway - so while going up, one had to bend down and thrust herself upwards to reach the lowest rung. It was an adventure by itself but I wasn't complaining. It was a liberating feeling!
Back on the boat, as I thanked the captain for the wonderful experience, I mentioned the funny feeling that I had under water. He laughed and explained what it was all about. The damsel fish, a type of reef fish lays her eggs on the surface of dead corals. She gets really pissed off when strangers knock her door and resorts to biting and shooing them off. She is a tiny little thing, so even if thousands of them bite at a time, it feels like a tickle!
So if you happen to visit Bermuda or any place that offers Helmet diving, do try it out. It is an experience of a lifetime. If I can do it, so can you!
Here are some pictures.
More from my Bermuda and Caribbean Diaries coming soon...