The first time I saw hammerhead sharks, the first time I dived into the blue. The first times that you never forget. The first times you always remember.
Maldives, February 5, 1998
I thought it was very early when I heard a knock on my cabin door. A soft light filtered through the porthole, the sun had yet to rise. I was awake, I slept little; a restless sleep accompanied me all night. The adrenaline pulsated in my body, that day was the day of the hammerhead sharks.
I was in the Maldives, on a comfortable cruise boat. The itinerary included a diving tour between the atolls of North Male, South Male and Ari. I am a diver with quite limited experience, I have recently obtained the CMAS two-star certification and I have no more than thirty dives behind me. I left for this diving holiday with a friend, much more experienced than me. It was the first time that I have dived outside the Mediterranean Sea.
The previous evening, our dive guide informed us that the boat would be passing through an area where hammerhead sharks can be encountered. She asked us if we would like to try. She didn’t promise anything, the success rates weren’t high. We would have had to immerse ourselves in the blue, descend around 40 meters deep and remain in balance letting ourselves be carried away by the current, waiting for the eventual encounter. Also, you had to get up very early to be ready to go into the water as soon as it was dawn.
Emotions and anxieties of the first time
The sun was rising when I was ready, with the tank on my shoulders, on the support dhoni. The temperature was still cool, a light breeze was caressing my face. I felt some thrills, I was tense and excited. I thought of the depths of this stretch of sea and I imagined myself over there trying to stay in trim. Doubts and perplexities assailed me. Around me I felt excitement. Animals that were smelling the prey. I confess, I was afraid. Not of sharks, which I didn’t even know if we would have seen. I was afraid of the abyss, of a possible current that could make me lose contact with my teammates, of not being able to keep up and sinking down.
But we are on the point, exactly in Madivaru Kandu, there was no more time to think; it was time to get in the water and immediately deflate the BC. The descent was fast, I compensated and I tried not to lose sight of my dive buddies. We arrived at a depth of 30 meters, the current was very scarce. I made contact with the environment. The dim light of dawn gave the water a leaden, decidedly not tropical appearance.
I squinted my eyes to sharpen my view, below me an infinite column of water that did not allow us to imagine where the bottom might be. We were floating in the blue for several minutes. I looked at my dive computer, the no-decompression time was almost over. We didn’t have much time left.
But suddenly a signal. Our dive guide spotted something. He beckoned us to go down a few meters and, as I run, I began to see some gray shapes below me. In an instant, a school of about twenty hammerhead sharks delicately and sinuously slipped by before our eyes. The heart starts pumping, I went down a few more meters and they were there, really close, not far from me. It was an emotion that lasted a moment, the guide’s acoustic signal reminded us. I looked at the computer, I was 48 meters deep. I checked the decompression time and immediately the pressure gauged. I consumed very little, as if the time I spent underwater was in another dimension. Time to go back up.
A spring evening, at home. Year 2021
23 years have passed since that dive. I wrote this post with the help of the report of the logbook I was using at the time. But almost everything was stuck in the memories of my mind, indelibly. The first time I saw hammerhead sharks, the first time I dived into the blue. The first times you never forget. The first times you always remember. Whenever you meet your friend, with whom you have shared this unforgettable experience.
Dedicated to my friend Paolo Martini.