Most Drops Off are fairly tame: in Boracay our first is at -9m, down to about -18m. Following this is a sandy slope (dull) down to about -33m, which then drops to about -60m. This is a good wall – but it’s a quick dive because there are no shallows. It’s straight down and up again, 17 minutes later.
At Tubbataha the Drops Off are majestic. My favourite dive was Black Rock, where the wall starts at -4m and drops down to -70m. For the landlubbers out there, let me give you a sense of perspective – 66m is about a 22 storey building.
Imagine a cliff face 22 storeys high, a vast hanging garden of soft corals, giant gorgonian fans, huge barrel sponges jutting out; schools of bat fish tumbling down it’s sides, bright blue fusilier fish marching across it’s window ledges. Sharks sweeping back and forth, and me – suspended, weightless, mid-water, just trying to take it all in.
Day 2 | Dive 1 | Location: Black Rock
“I might go deep if the conditions are good,” I said to my dive buddy just before we back rolled. He gave me a wink and an ‘ok’.
“You stay below us?”
“Ok, enjoy. Bang if you see a hammerhead! I will come down for that!”
We dropped straight in on the crest of the wall. The conditions were perfect – maybe 30m visibility. The early morning sunlight was glinting in the shallows, making excellent silhouettes of the triggerfish as we started our descent. I left my dive buddy feverishly taking photos at about -15m. The DM and the less experienced divers all stopped at about -20m. It was a glorious wall, sheer with shelf like layers; on one sandy shelf I saw my first white-tip of the day, snoozing quietly. I moved out, away from the wall, about 6m into the most perfect shade of blue and surveyed the scene. I was at about -30m, looking up at the wall above me, 8 ‘floors’ high and dropping below me for another 14 ‘floors’. I left the crazy Russians* behind at -35m and then it was just me.
At -40m I saw the bottom clearly, still a fair way down. I could see many sharks down there, lazily meandering to and fro. I looked up: the first group looked a long way above me, even the Russians seemed a fair distance. I kept dropping. At -56m my computer bleeped to tell me that was far enough! I have my alarm set to an Oxygen Partial Pressure of 1.4 (or 140%). You can have too much of a good thing: beyond 140% it is possible to ‘overdose’ on oxygen. The cut off point is actually 1.6, but I am a safe diver (honest Dad!), at 1.4 there is a risk, so that’s as far as I go.
I did look longingly at the bottom for a moment though and then up, by now the nearest diver was my buddy 20m above me. I took one last look down and there, with perfect timing was a huge eagle ray. They are a rich wine-red in colour, but at this depth he looked purpley-maroon. I could still clearly make out the white spots across his wings though. He was big, maybe 2m wingspan, with a long tail stretching more than 2m behind him. His ‘flight’ was effortless and looked slow, until he overtook me several seconds later! I tried to keep up and managed to for maybe 30 seconds! By which time my computer started to complain about Deco. One last look around me, up the beautiful wall and at the soft sunlight so far above… and then I started my slow ascent and rejoined the group.
Thanks to Sandy for the excellent photos!
*Obligatory in all diving stories!