There are times in a diver’s life, when something so epic happens beneath the surface of the sea that the memory can last a lifetime. I had such a moment while backpacking Mozambique in 2011. A storm had ravished the coastline for weeks and when my wife and I arrived at our tiny little beach front bungalow in Tofo, I could tell that the sea was so churned up that diving was going to be dodgy at best.
Determined to get under the ocean in this world-famous scuba destination, I visited the local dive shop every day to ask if there was any visibility in the storm battered waters. Each day I was met with the same reply: “You can go out, but you probably won’t see 5 feet in front of your mask”. Gutted, I spent my days basking in the newly shining sun and relaxing on the beach.
Then on my last day in the village, I headed to the dive shop one last time and on this day I received the answer I was hoping for during the past 10 days. “Today, we have about 10 meters visibility at The Office dive site.”
That’s all I needed to hear. I suited up, joined the crew and hopped in the pontoon boat to begin the 45 minute, rocky boat journey out to our oceanic site.
As we were making our way over the waves, massive humpback whales breached and splashed all around us. Some were so close to the boat that the waves they created rocked us from side to side. I hollered at the dive master over the loud hum of the engine: “If we see whales down there, I’ll buy everyone on the boat a beer” and he replied “I’ve been diving here for 5 years and never seen a whale on scuba”.
The boat finally stopped and bobbed independently in the swelling sea. We did the necessary checks and fall back into the water backwards. As I began my descent, I could tell that something was wrong with my regulator, but it was supplying me air so I didn’t think much of it.
We weren’t under the surface for 5 minutes when we spotted a massive small-eyed stingray; one of the rarest animals in the region. It casually glided past us and as its angelic sillouette slowly disappeared into the shadows, it was replaced by three, school bus sized shapes that were coming straight towards us. As the figures came closer, their enormity and outline became clear. We all realized at the same moment that we were staring down two 35 ton humpbacks and their beloved 15 foot calf.
They kept their offspring close as they passed within 30 feet of our group of divers. The water came alive with bubbles as each of us were nearly hyperventilating, completely shocked by sheer size and grace of what we were seeing.
Just as the gigantic beasts had come, with one swift swoop of their tails they were gone. Back into the shadows and into the deep cloudy sea from which they had appeared.
Despite the regulators blocking any clear view of the other diver’s mouths, I could tell that their faces were all creased with enormous smiles and I could feel my face in the same contorted position. My smile was so big that I could feel my regulator starting to come out. I adjusted it to put it back in and decided to just keep smiling on the inside.
It was then that the best dive in my life turned to my worst.
Suddenly my regulator was dumping air into my mouth at an alarming rate. There was no stopping it. I fiddled with the valve release but still, the air was pumping into my lungs so fast that it hurt my chest. I released my lips slightly to try to sip the air and exhale without the use of the regulator, but I could see that my psi levels of my tank were depleting quickly.
I swam as fast as I could to the dive master and, with hand signals I was taught in my PADI Open Water Course three years prior, I explained that I couldn’t breathe. By this time panic had set in and she could see that I was hyperventilating, even more so than I had been when we had first spotted the whales. She quickly gave me her spare regulator and within seconds we were ascending to the surface slowly as she continued to urge me to relax and breath more regularly.
We ascended 35 meters and as my face breached the rough seas, a great feeling of relief had come over me. Not only because I had survived my little brush with suffocation, but also because the whales had decided to come and show off BEFORE my regulator crapped out. Had this happened in the first few minutes of the dive, and then the other divers had explained that I had missed three humpbacks because of equipment malfunction, I would have been devastated.
Back at the dive shop I made good on my promise and bought a round of beers. I didn’t have an underwater camera on this dive, but luckily there was an ocean photographer and videographer there, so I was able to get some videos and pictures from our incredible encounter. I was happy to have the experience recorded, but it didn’t matter, because this was one dive that I would never forget.
Nick and Dariece are the couple behind Goats On The Road and the bi-weekly column on Credit Walk. Their website is designed to show others how to turn their travels into a lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad, they’ve been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth.