When I was a teenager, I attempted my first try-dive on holiday in Thailand. Botching several attempts at removing my mask underwater – a compulsory safety skill – was enough to put me off diving, and I decided all the equipment made me feel claustrophobic and panicky.
Fast forward a decade, and word reaches me that Al Boom’s dive centre at Atlantis is offering guests the chance to obtain their PADI scuba licence in a single day, and dive with dolphins at Dolphin Bay first thing
the next morning. It’s enough to persuade me to leave my adolescent theatrics behind, sign up, and start working my way through the open-water diver manual.
As I’m only on the basic scuba diver course, I just need to read the first three of the five chapters in the book. Once we’re done, I’ll be able to dive to depths of up to 12 metres under the supervision of a dive master or instructor – and if I go on to complete the full open-water course, I’ll be able to go as far down as 18 metres.
After ploughing through three chapters, covering everything from buoyancy to currents, breathing to dive preparation (there’s quite a lot to take in), I arrive at the Al Boom dive centre at Atlantis feeling as excited as I do nervous. If I fail, I will be mortified. Fortunately, when we meet our instructor Nick, he explains we’re going to learn skills in the pool first and move on to the classroom session in the afternoon, before heading out to the beach for two 20-minute dives, and then returning to complete a quiz. Our pool session goes well, and time flies. I complete all of the basic skills reasonably easily, and without having to re-do anything – I even manage the mask clearing I’ve been dreading for ten years without incident. It’s a minuscule triumph for most learner divers, but something that had represented a huge mental hurdle for me, and I find myself relaxing into the feeling of being underwater with enormous pleasure.
After a shower and short lunch, we head into the classroom to review the three chapters we’ve read by going over the answers for the quiz at the end of each section. After an hour and a half, I’m itching to get back into the water.
For the beach session, we head to a dive site called The Pipeline, just off the beach at Atlantis Unfortunately, visibility is barely two metres, so I don’t see anything at all, which is a little unnerving. We do
a short run, changing depths and then going to the surface to regroup, before heading back down again to perform the skills we’ve practised throughout the day. As we wrap up back in the dive centre, I’m thrilled to discover both my dive buddy and I have passed, and am in a celebratory mood as we depart. Unfortunately, as we’re diving again in the morning, I won’t be able to toast our achievement in the manner I’d
hoped (it’s not recommended).
The next day, we arrive at Atlantis’s Dolphin Bay early, unspeakably keen to get in the water with one of these incredible creatures. Once we’ve donned our wetsuits (the water is kept at around 24°C here, much cooler than the sea, which is around 32°C), we’re told we’ll be meeting and interacting with Black, a male.
Once in the water, we form a circle with four other divers and follow the instructions for our encounter with the playful dolphin, holding out our hands as he whizzes past beneath them, offering a cheek for a kiss, and clinging on to his dorsal fin tightly to be towed a few metres. Hearing Black make calling sounds underwater adds another dimension to an already remarkable interaction.
It’s an incredible experience, and only serves to fuel my thirst to carry on diving and complete my open-water qualification. The days are getting cooler, and there’s a diving trip with my name on it off a dhow around the coast of Musandam. If you’ll excuse me, I have a manual to finish…
‘Learn to dive with dolphins’ package Dhs1,999. Al Boom Diving Centre at Atlantis The Palm, email@example.com (04 426 3000)
Two more to try… open-water courses
Pavilion Dive Centre
This PADI centre offers three- to five-day Discover Scuba programmes, PADI courses and instructor development, as well as dive trips into the Arabian Gulf and off the coast of Musandam.
Dhs1,850 for PADI open-water course. Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 406 8828).
This Ras Al Khaimah diving centre offers a variety of PADI programmes, including a two-day scuba diver course and four-day open water.
From Dhs2,160 for PADI open-water course. Hilton Beach Resort, Ras Al Khaimah (07 243 3800).