Actually, 16,504 minutes (almost 11½ days) under the sea. That was the extent of my scuba diving experiences over 17 years from March 1993 when I first learned to dive in the Philippines.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of my first Open Water training dive that I made at Anilao, about 95 km southwest from Los Baños where I worked at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
I received my PADI Open Water Diver certification on 17 March 1993.
We were a group of about ten IRRI staff and family members, trained by Boy Siojo (left below) and Mario Elumba.
After Confined Water dive skills training in the swimming pool at IRRI (right), it was quite an experience to transfer to the ‘open ocean’.
And although I have mostly been risk averse, never having any interest whatsoever in mountain or rock climbing, potholing, jumping out of planes, and the like, I took to scuba diving enthusiastically, although it had never crossed my mind as an option when I first landed in the Philippines two years earlier. Our elder daughter Hannah had taken the NAUI course in 1992, and I saw how much she enjoyed it. I decided it was a ‘sport’ we could enjoy together, and signed up for scuba training at the next opportunity.
Our younger daughter Philippa took the PADI course in January 1995, just before her 13th birthday.
I made all my dives around the many sites at Mabini, Anilao, never straying further to other locations in the country.Click on the map to enlarge.
That’s because Steph did not dive, and Anilao was excellent for snorkelling which she enjoyed, cataloging all the fish species she observed over nearly 19 years.
I also made my last—and 356th dive—on 14 March 2010. These photos were taken during my last two dives. Fittingly my last dive was an early one, probably around 7 am, at Kirby’s Rock.
And on that last dive, we were lucky to see a sea snake, a creature that eluded me for most of my 356 dives.
Anilao was very convenient for a weekend getaway, and the dive resort where we mostly stayed, Arthur’s Place, almost became a second home to the many IRRI divers over the years.
As I gained experience, and was more relaxed underwater, I could extend my dives to at least 45 minutes and longer, some lasting an hour or more. But it all depended on whether there were strong currents, visibility, and the capability and experience of my dive buddies.
The shortest dive I made, in August 1997, was just 10 minutes at my favorite dive site, Kirby’s Rock a 20 minute or so ride across the channel from Arthur’s Place. I was diving with an American couple, Bert and Annette Gee who were also staying at Arthur’s that weekend.
The dive started normally, with a back roll over the side of the dive boat, or outrigger banca. We descended the rock face (as you can see in the video below filmed on another occasion), and then, at 90 feet, my breathing equipment (both regulators) malfunctioned and I had to abort the dive. Thank goodness for outstanding training from Boy and Mario. I coped – and lived to tell the tale!
My deepest dive, at 135 feet, was at Kirby’s Rock, and I made over 50 dives there to over 100 feet. I relished the sensations of descending into colder water and increasing water pressure compressing everything, knowing that we’d have only a few minutes at that depth before slowly returning to the surface.
It’s been 13 years since I last dived. Do I miss it? Yes and no. Been there, done that. It was great while I had the opportunity of great diving on the doorstep, so to speak. I have no desire to re-learn so I can dive in the North Sea. For one thing, it’s too damn cold. And for another, I think I’ve been spoiled by having dived in one of the most diverse coral environments on the planet.