Sex apart, it was the shortest thirty minutes of my life.
At the end of my debutant scuba dive, the instructor indicated it was time to come to the surface, and it was with the greatest reluctance that I said goodbye to the delightful new world I had discovered beneath the waves.
The guy who had his hand on the air control from the tank on my back throughout the dive was Bruce Willis lookalike Alex Diamond, who runs Diamond Diving in Golfe Juan with his French partner Noémie Broglio. With him as my guide, I learned that it wasn’t necessary to journey to the Great Barrier Reef or the Red Sea to discover an amazingly colourful cosmos of fishes and other assorted aquatic wonders. The rocks which are marked by the Formigue lighthouse between the Lerins islands and Cap d’Antibes hide wonders enough.
In the early stages of my Try Dive I was more like a fish out of water than a fearless frogman. The belief that the mouthpiece through which arrived my vital air supply required no effort from me to stay in place was ill founded. The first session underwater with Alex ended with me gurgling unhappily and giving the thumbs up sign, perversely the accepted signal for I’m a Floundering Fool Get Me Out of Here.
“Just give the mouth a permanent big kiss,” Alex suggested. Mouthpiece repositioned and the kissing in full swing, we dived again. This time, Alex told me later, I was much less tense and nervous – the French have a better word for it: crispé – and able to pay full attention to the new universe around me.
After a while I am down around six metres, hands by my sides and using the flippers, sorry, fins, for propulsion, and I have plenty of friends, bright and beautiful fish swimming by, seemingly unfazed by the rubber-class figure in their midst. From time to time Alex points to new watery wonder. Back on the boat there is an identification chart that puts names to most of the denizens of the deep you have seen while underwater.
The Diamond Diving setup in Golfe Juan is in its fifth year, and continuing to expand. The year 2013 has seen a shop open and a compressor installed at the Dive Centre. Getting out on and into the water had been well charted by Alex and his friendly team. For a start, there is no wrestling with wetsuits when out on the sea, changing is done at the Centre. The wetsuit is flattering to the bella figura, but I find that I have to, in the words of a girlfriend, suck my gut in as we pass admiring café breakfasters on our way to the boat.
Alex has made a good choice in craft; the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) makes entry into the water a straightforward business of slipping gently over the side. Also on the boat was Donna-Marie, a chatty blonde Essex girl doing her PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Divemaster course. She is loving her first experience in the South of France, impressed and surprised by the quality of the diving to be found here and the excellent “viz” in the clear, clean water. During her course she has been staying in a Diamond Diving studio apartment handily located near the Dive Centre.
Back on land after my baptême, I ask Alex about the dangers of diving, recalling the headlines in recent times of sub-aqua fatalities along our coast.
“With properly supervised diving when you start out, and sensible application of the safety principles when you are qualified to dive alone, the danger is negligible,” he says.
“Most of the accidents involved men of a certain age who had not dived for some time, ‘testing’ themselves when back in the water, doing far too much too soon and forgetting the principles of safe diving.”
And Alex, I ask, what drew you to diving, what would attract a beginner?
“The physical challenge is one element to enjoy, the other is the feeling of being close to nature. It may be another world down there, but it’s surprising how quickly a novice diver starts to feel at home underwater.
“There is also a social side that’s very important, the bonds that build between divers can be very strong.”
Well, this is one new fish that is well and truly hooked – next step the PADI Open Water Course. But first I need a mask with prescription lenses to enhance the diving experience. Surfacing from my last dive, I asked Alex if he had seen that massive starfish a few minutes earlier.
“Er, that was the boat’s anchor,” he said, almost apologetically.
The first step on the diving ladder, the Try Dive, costs €50 at Diamond Diving. Consult the website www.diamonddiving.fr or call Alex Diamond on 06 15 30 52 23.