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Coming up Aces in Raja Ampat: Luck of the draw on a most unforgettable dive

Feb 10, 2018

Trip report, video and pictures by Tommy Schultz.

What’s the difference between a scuba diver and a Vegas gambler?

Might seem like an odd question, but if you look closely we’re really not so different.

We all take leaps of faith, venturing into the unknown, hoping lady luck is going to smile on us this time.

At least that’s how I felt on the morning of January 11th, just four days into our incredible 12-day cruise of Raja Ampat on the Seven Seas when I had the luckiest dive of my life.

During the first part of our trip, we were diving some of the many seamounts hidden around the marine park. We found huge schools of silverside minnows, which in turn attracted animals all the way up to the top of the food chain.

Everyone was hoping to see something unusual, and the atmosphere at breakfast that morning was electric.

At our briefing, Cruise Director Karl was careful not to mention certain species by name, lest he jinx our dive (truly the sign of a veteran gambler).

Our group was told to drop down to about 25 meters, follow an undersea ridge until we found a cleaning station where some ‘black and white things’ might be hanging out.

See? I can’t even use the name in this trip report – that’s how superstitious I am! 😊

The current was swirling on the surface as we motored toward the dive site in the tender boat, we could see schools of fish off in the distance exploding to the surface in a feeding frenzy.

Quickly suiting up in our scuba gear, we were waiting expectantly for Erwan to count down our plunge from the boat. Once in the water, everyone beelined for the cleaning station below – not wasting a moment at the surface.

Making some final adjustments to the settings of my camera within the dive housing, I lagged about 100 meters behind the group. Focused on the light meter of my camera, I dialed in the exposure settings for the deep water we were descending towards.

The outline of the reef came into view as my dive computer read 10 meters, I could just see the silvery trails of bubbles from my companions rising ahead of me. Leaning into my fins, I tried to catch up with them.

I’d like to say I was prepared for what happened next, but the reality was like something out of a magical dream.

Cuttlefishes, by Rod Salm

Below me, a flash of white just above the reef floor caught my eye. Expecting to see one of the ‘black and white things’ from Karl’s briefing, I’m framing the photo in my mind’s eye – when the shape of a bottlenose dolphin appears, playfully twirling in a kind of undersea dance.

Diving with a dolphin has been my dream ever since I learned to dive, and it took a lot of effort to not just cry or laugh out loud underwater. Managing to keep things *somewhat* under control, I hit the ‘video’ button on the small GoPro camera attached to the top of my camera housing, and framed the first photos with the DSLR inside.

I tried to hold my breath as long as I could (big thanks to the freediving course completed the month before). Not wanting to make any sudden movements that might scare the dolphin, I tried to follow as it gave a sweep of its tail and headed towards an outcrop of reef.

As the two of us crested the ridge of the underwater mountain, two more dolphins appeared. They were also spinning playfully, and as I approached the pair, one of them seemed to make eye contact and swim towards me for a closer look.

Holding my breath, the dolphin came within just a few meters, the curve of its mouth appearing to laugh as it checked out the awkward human so far out of its element.

Pausing, as if to say ‘hello’ (and then ‘goodbye’), the dolphin arched its graceful back and finned effortlessly to the surface where I finally lost sight of it.

Heart racing, hands shaking, I stopped the video on the GoPro – wondering if what I had just experienced had really happened.

Rejoining my dive buddy Sarah, I could see her surprised expression even through the mask – she had seen them too! Daring to break the jinx, I hit the playback button on the DSLR and saw a sequence of photos I never imagined I’d ever see on a camera of mine.

I might not know anything about blackjack in Vegas, but on the Seven Seas in Raja Ampat the diving was all Aces!

Tommy Schultz
February 2018

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