Breathing underwater for the first time is a feeling you’ll never forget. Matt Blackwell went to explore the watery world that lies below Oman’s waves
A comforting silence descends, punctured only by the occasional sound of your own slow, methodical breathing.
Lying suspended in the crystal-clear azure water, brightly coloured corals and twisted rock formations fill your field of vision, creating an almost alien landscape through which myriad of fish dart back and forth. To scuba dive is to enter another world in which we are mere guests.
Water covers about 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface and the sea has always held a fascinating allure for me, tempered by a deep respect for its, at times, frightening power.
With stunning dive sites and a huge variety of marine life, it was only a matter of time before I would give in to the call of Oman’s waters, submerging myself to discover what lies beneath.
After a leisurely and scenic 40-minute boat trip from Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, I arrived at the Jebel Sifah resort. An early morning fine fog was settling, shrouding the tops of the surrounding mountains and hills from view. This did nothing to dampen my spirits, however, as my attention would be focused exclusively below the waves.
Nestled within the luscious grounds of the Sifawy Boutique Hotel is the Extra Divers Sifah dive centre, my base for the day’s operations. The friendly staff greeted me with huge smiles as they handed over the mandatory paperwork to fill in and began the process of kitting me out in the necessary gear.
Buoyancy control device and wetsuit fitted, I joined the other divers and enjoyed a sumptuous three-course lunch in the hotel’s Al Sabla restaurant. We were treated to warm, marinated prawns served on a zucchini carpaccio with saffron vinaigrette to start, followed by grilled rack of lamb with vegetable ratatouille and a trio of crème brûlée to finish. After such a feast, I don’t think any of our party needed the weight belt to counteract the buoyancy of our bodies – the amount of food we’d consumed would surely see to that.
Returning to the dive centre, I boarded my second boat of the day and, after a short equipment and safety demonstration, was skimming the waves on the relatively calm sea, heading out towards the designated dive site.
Along the way, the three dive instructors separated the group into pairs – selecting their victims as they playfully called it – and gave us a further briefing on what to expect, along with a rundown of the various hand signals used to communicate underwater.
Our instructor was the incredibly knowledgeable Heike Trohorsch, who has been diving since 1997 and come face-to-face with whale sharks, dolphins, rays and a whole host of other marine life around the world.
All three inhabit the seas around Oman, but it was unlikely we would encounter them, having opted for the centre’s introductory Discover Scuba Diving course, which gives you the option of either one or two dives at a secluded cove location.
“It’s a feeling like no other,” Heike told us, as we donned our fins and sat on the side of the boat, ready to drop into the water below. “It’s as if you are flying.” And she was right.
After demonstrating a suitable proficiency in using the breathing regulator and controlling our buoyancy in the shallows, Heike set off ahead, guiding us into the depths.
The sensation of weightlessness was fantastic and it was easy to manipulate my movement through the water simply by angling my head in the desired direction and kicking in long strokes.
Dozens of species of fish and other forms of marine life were visible as I glided gracefully through the water, going down to a depth of about five metres below the surface.
More experienced divers may scoff, but it was perfect when you consider that most of our group were scuba diving for the first time.
A pleasant sense of serenity settled in me as I explored the underwater world that surrounded me and although I completely lost track of time – along with life’s worries – I guess I spent somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes in the water.
It wasn’t enough – I found myself hooked and in need of more. In fact, I spent the entire duration of our return boat trip quizzing the instructors on how I could go about getting my scuba fix and the further services they offered.
Open Water Diver course, here I come!