By Bobbi Green
Sitting on the dock in Moorea, French Polynesia, I was nervously awaiting a driver to take me to my pre-booked tour excursion with Cruisingexcrusions.com. Helmet Diving, an ageless adventure, the description said anyone can do this. Walking on the ocean floor without having to get scuba certified sounded good to me.
It was a short drive to the Intercontinental Hotel where the tour operator Aquablue has its boats docked. They gave the four of us a short video about the dive. We boarded the boat lined with huge yellow Helmets and wondered if we could withstand having that weight on our upper bodies. The crew was friendly and told us not to worry.
After a pleasant trip to the designated dive spot, we were then given very specific instructions about helmet diving, hand signals and safety, as well as the fun things we would or could do. I was pleased to learn we did not need to wear a wet suit unless we wanted to. We could wear are glasses, if needed. We would only be in 15 feet of water with less ear pressure adjusting than in an airplane. We would be walking on the ocean floor for 30 minutes. Best news of all for claustrophobic me, was the fact the helmet is not attached to me, with another person needed to remove it. I could lift if off my shoulders myself, hold my breath and swim to the top, if I so desired.
The boat comes equipped with a wench to raise and lower the helmets and a long ladder aside the boat. Also on board, an air pump, with hose’s that attach to the helmets.
The two people that went ahead of me seemed to have no tribulation and were still down there. Now it was my turn. I stepped over the side onto the ladder. I continued down the ladder until the water was shoulder high on me. The crew member, who was in scuba gear assisting us, went over the hand signals and told me to listen to the music. The music is the sounds inside the helmet from the air hose. I call it the music of the deep. The helmet is placed over your head while shoulder deep in the water because the water lessens the weight of the helmet. I continued down the ladder to the ocean floor. How awesome is this! The water level inside the helmet is just above your shoulders.
This method of underwater exploring is very old. In the 17th century bridge builders and explorers used this method. They would lower a huge bell into the water and the workers could put their heads into the bell and gulp the air reserve that was above the water level in the top of the bell without having to surface and continue working. Now days with the tube piping air into the helmet we are good to go and explore.
Now we are all on the floor of the ocean, everyone had smiles on their faces. Miraculously, I could breath, freely move and now had a new ocean perspective. I am on the floor looking up at the bottom of the boat, a snorkeler floating by and looking at me. I am face to face with a crew member who is in scuba gear so he can quickly get to his people, should they need help.
I feel like an astronaut or Matt Damon in The Martian. Taking weightless giant steps. Sometimes it hard to go in the direction I wanted to. The fish are very friendly they came to view us same as we wanted to view them. I have been in the water with stingrays many times before but never looking up at their cute little faces as they swim overhead and around me. It was little scary when they tried to wrap their wings around my helmet in a hug.
We gathered around a huge boulder and the colorful fish swam around us. One of the crew was taking underwater pictures of us as we were enjoying our underwater jaunt. This turned out to be a good thing because my little throw away underwater camera took pictures that were very dark.
All too soon the 30-minutes were up and we had to re-board the boat. I will do this again somewhere. It is offered in quite a few places now. I am told some tour companies take up to 15 people down at one time. I would avoid those. Too many people at one time will diminish your enjoyment. Some may walk you in from the beach, I would question if there is anything to see this close to shore.
It is true anyone can do this as long as you have enough mobility to step over the side of the boat and climb down the ladder. Walking in water when your whole body is immersed is easier than on land. Most seniors will have no problem. Try it, you will love it.
Helmet Diving, with www.Cruisingexcursions.com, was an alternative excursion from the normal cruise ship choices. I have used them many times and found them very reliable and offer small group tours.