Travel sketch: diving with hammerheads

Panic and diving with hammerheads is not a good mix. But luckily I picked up a quirky phrase that saved me from doing anything stupid.

“Don’t open your mouth to the devil.”

I heard this unusual one up in an unusual place – the Galapagos Islands. It came as a warning from my Israeli-born SCUBA diving instructor when I left my laptop bag unzipped as we discussed our diving plan over coffee. He meant, “be careful.”

Diving with hammerheads Double-Barrelled Travel

Safety first when you dive in the Galapagos!

The phrase seemed to sum this man up. Our diving trip to the world famous Kicker Rock was conducted in a ruthlessly professional manner, nothing left to chance or haphazard preparation, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had under the sea.

“Don’t open your mouth to the devil.”

I thought of it as a kind of watchword for safety, something very important when you’re 30 feet below the surface, sucking air from a tank. But the next day I learned a new meaning to the phrase, one that came at the pointy ends of one of the ocean’s deadliest creatures…

Gordons Rocks – diving with hammerheads

Gordon Rocks is a triple-peaked basin of marine stone that lies about 30 miles off the coast off the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz. Locals call this famous dive site “the washing machine” for a reason. Rough seas can transform Gordons Rocks into a sloshing, sloppy maelstrom that makes going for a dive like nailing jelly to the ceiling.

But the promise of some of the planet’s best diving with hammerheads, whale sharks, sea lions and pelagic fish make it hard to say no – even in rough weather.

The day of our trip to Gordons Rocks dawned grey and cold and as our dive boat bashed through the swinging seas I wished our Israeli dive master were with us. He’d be good in a pinch – but we were with another company now, and all I had was his advice.

“Don’t open your mouth to the devil.”

The sea was dark at Gordons Rocks – dark grey and evil black in places. The sea rode high as waves surged through the triad of rocks, pushing our boat high and corkscrewing it around.

Scuba diving Dominica Double-Barrelled Travel

Sun, sea and terrible haircuts in the Caribbean…

 

As we prepared to dive I felt scared. Most of my previous dives had been in warm, sunlit waters in the Caribbean with tropical fish, corals and ice cold beers in the chiller waiting on my return.

This was next level stuff – and down below the raging surface I was potentially going to come face to face with sharks and God knows what else! I zipped up my wetsuit, clamped my regulator in and shut my mouth tight.

“Ready!” our dive master yelled and one by one we plunged backward off the boat. After a quick gathering of our wits and a safety check we bled the air from our BCDs and went down, down, down – away from the wind and waves and grey sky, down and down to the murky depths of an underwater valley.

Diving with hammerheads Double-Barrelled Travel

Dave diving in the Galapagos

I levelled out at 30 feet below the surface. I looked around. Nothing. There was absolutely nothing to see. In the murky distance, a cliff of sparse, bare rock. Below my flippers lay a sandy sea bottom. High above was the blurry sun shining bottle green through the water.

So I waited. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Breathing in and out, steady as the swell, in and out, 300 psi falling to 250 then 200.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

I spun around to face the dive master. He was banging his tank with a metal rod and pointing over my shoulder. Urgently. Pointing. “Look over there!” he yelled silently. “Behind you!”

I turned and forgot to breathe.

Diving with hammerheads Double-Barrelled Travel

Hammerheads!

Hammerhead sharks. Scores of them. Swimming as a wall, swimming as an army, a family, a ballet. They were circling our SCUBA group, eyeing us, watching us as much as were watching them.

I felt a great electric surge of pure fear go through me – I was going to swim away like mad, break for the surface, go mad with terror… then I remembered the words. “Don’t open your mouth to the devil.”

So, diving with hammerheads 30 feet below, I let the fear go, and smiled with my mouth still closed around the regulator.

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About the author

Dave is the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel and has been nomadic since May 2013. When he's not busily working on a novel, he can be found exploring a war museum, sailing a yacht (unfortunately not his own), or hiking up a mountain.

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