I am neutrally buoyant, a trail of bubbles behind and above me, as I scuba slowly through the water. I cannot see the bottom of the ocean. Expelling a little air from my BCD, I sink a little, confirming the top from the bottom in this void of blue. A large eerie dark shape is looming in the distance. Dancing through the deep dark water towards me are translucent shafts of sunlight. The only sound, my deep slow breaths through the regulator. A feeling of vulnerability in a thin lycra suit instead of a wet suit, the ocean is warm even at the depth of 18m. I will stick close to my scuba dive buddy.
The silhouette of the massive wreck of the Hirokawu Miru emerges from the gloom as I swim closer. Hard coral encrusts the murky shape that was once a Japanese transport ship that has disintegrated with time. In 1942, the ship was beached here after being attacked by American Dive Bombers at Bonegi 1 in the Guadalcanal.
It seems surreal that almost 38000 lives were lost here. It is only a couple of days ago that I landed in Honiara and stepped off the plane to have the heat slap me in the face. The people and their way of life, so different to what I have seen before. War relics everywhere. Shy, young children trying to sell them. Could some of those bullets still be live as they held them in their little hands?
Now, I can hear my heart thumping.
My thoughts are becoming loud in my head, consuming.
Don’t think about that now, just enjoy the dive…concentrate on breathing, look, focus.
The light is flickering, illuminating the channels, creating caves from the holds of the ship.Through the flickering light there is glimpses of undefined movement, creatures lurking. Sea life now teeming where once life was extinguished. My breathing is becoming erratic. Bubbles everywhere. Suddenly, an irresistible urge to ascend as fast as I can.
No. Can’t. Need to ascend slowly if I have to. I want to stay. Where is this coming from? Go up! No. .
Mind racing. Desperate. Attempt to take long slow breaths. Not working. Take control! My mouth, already dry from breathing through the regulator, is worse. My tongue feels stuck to the roof of my mouth. I can’t swallow.
I can’t shoot up to the surface! I want to stay.
Now, I can’t breathe.
Stupid, there is air.
My body does not feel like my own anymore. Numb.
Don’t hold my breath.
Feeling very dizzy. My heart pounding so hard it is making my chest hurt.
Think! I want to experience this dive. I want to beat this.
My vision is as blurry. I cannot focus. My body feeling on fire, flushing hot. Serious. Risk. Need to shoot to the surface…
A masked face in front of me. A gloved hand in mine. Ascend a couple of meters.
A small flat section of the wreck. Thousands of fish. Oh my God. So many. Colour everywhere. Iridescent. A kaleidoscope rainbow, moving, rearranging, swirling, darting. Overwhelming wonder, an underwater garden of vibrant intensity.
I take a long deep breath, a bright blue tiny fish playing in my bubbles.
I can see an azure star fish near the coral that looks like buttery cauliflower. Shaped like a soft shell with vertical black stripes, a nudibranch is conspicuous beside bright purple coral that is ringed with yellow. There is a faint sound of parrot fish nibbling at the coral. A startling ragged fin firefish, an explosion of stripes, spikes and webbed fins intrigues me. The coral that looks like a brain is hiding an array of tiny black tailed damselfishes darting around each other, frolicking. A cute bright orange Anemone fish with black stripes is peeking out from between the gently waving soft coral, looking directly at me. “Hi Nemo”