Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

DIVE IN; Lindsay Johns Discovers Heaven beneath a Turquoise Sea When He Learns to Dive off the Coast of Malaysian Borneo

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

DIVE IN; Lindsay Johns Discovers Heaven beneath a Turquoise Sea When He Learns to Dive off the Coast of Malaysian Borneo

Article excerpt

Byline: Lindsay Johns

JAMES Bond and Jacqueline Bisset have a lot to answer for. Most people learn to dive because of a love of aquatic life. I, on the other hand, wanted to learn because I was mesmerised as a kid by all those underwater scenes in Bond films, where Sean Connery or Roger Moore would rip off baddies' masks, harpoon them, then rescue the girl and escape to safety through turquoise waters. That, and when Bisset emerged breathless from the sea in the classic 1977 film The Deep. From that moment on, I was officially hooked.

So after decades of procrastination, where better to take my first step -- the Padi (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Open Water Diver course -- than off the east coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the northern tip of Borneo, where islands such as Mataking and Sipadan regularly top the expert polls of the best place to scuba dive in the world? After a three-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur across the South China Sea to Tawau, then a one-hour bus journey to the fishing village of Semporna, followed by a 45-minute boat ride, I am finally at the five-star Mataking Reef Dive Resort, where I shall be doing my four-day Open Water Padi scuba diving course.

I am met at the jetty with garlands and songs, and the island's beauty is immediately overwhelming, like something out of a waking dream.

At night, as I drink in the crimsontinged sunset from the veranda of my beach-front deluxe chalet, sea gently lapping below me, I feel like a brown Robinson Crusoe, and am reminded that life really is beautiful.

Now I am ready for the Padi course.

Day one involves a morning of theory, with some basic principles and guidelines. Even with my rudimentary grasp of physics, I am able to understand the essentials -- buoyancy and pressure -- and learn a few technical terms, such as BCD (buoyancy control device), SPG (submersible pressure gauge) and regulator (the mouthpiece you breathe through). I also learn the two most important rules of scuba diving: breathe continuously and never hold your breath.

My instructor Neo takes me out for my first confined water dive. After the requisite buddy check, I give the OK hand signal, and wade gingerly into the sea. The next morning starts with more theory, hand signals and currents, interspersed with two more confined water dives, to acquire, practise and master a few set skills, like how to clear the mask underwater, how to signal that I am out of air, and also how to perform a controlled emergency ascent.

Some more bookwork follows, this time dive tables to calculate residual nitrogen levels in the blood, then three dives. Inspired with confidence by his knowledge and professionalism, I excel under Neo's expert tutelage, and quickly progress from "confined" to "open water" (in practice, from diving from the shore to diving off a boat in deeper water). …

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