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Amanda's Story

Amanda Nelmes is a PADI instructor working for the Ocean College centre out in Sharm el Sheikh. I had a chat with her over one of our mate Eloiseís fantastic curries about how she started diving, and what life can be like for a diving instructor.

When did you start diving?

Well an opportunity to learn was thwarted when I was 15 due to a fear of looking fat in a wetsuit. By the time I reached 31, I had ceased to care! I had also had a pool session before with a local BSAC club and loved it. They had offered to teach me over three months during spring, but must admit that the idea of doing the compass work in a gravel pit, really wasnít appealing. So it wasnít until I saw an ad on the tube saying "Learn to dive in the Red Sea for £400!" that I thought "hmmm Red Sea versus the Gravel PitÖ that sounds more like it!"

Why did you start?

I had always wanted to dive, however the boyfriend I had at the time was scared of flying, which kind of wasnít conducive to a happy diving holiday. When we split up, I had a renewed sense of freedom and thought I would treat myself as a 31st birthday present. So after seeing the tube ad, I booked up.
It was quite a brave moment and right up to the last day, I was still a bit scared of travelling alone. To the extent that I even phoned a friend and said "No one will know if I donít actually get on the plane will they? I could just lie low for the week!"
As it happened I did make it onto the plane and had a great holiday. I was one of only two girls with 14 guys and loved it! Jill the instructor of our group of 8 was fantastic which made all the difference.
Unlike some, I did not get hooked straight away and in fact found that being left handed really didnít help. All the problems I encountered seemed to be because the kit is designed for people who are right handed, and I instinctively wanted to do stuff the other way around. I also seemed to loose my brain underwater and became known as "the blonde" in fact I reckong I was a bit like this for the first 50 dives. Jill in her wisdom would put me at the end of the group for performing any skill, just to make sure that I had seen the skill 7 times before it would be my turn to have a go.
Whilst I had had a great holiday, even at the end of the course, I still hadnít really got it, and didnít even send off my PIC for ages to get my PADI Open Water Diver card. My new mates had even been on another trip after me and reached Rescue Diver status before a couple of the blokes managed to bully me back into the water.
As they were now streets ahead, the competitor in me started to take over so I felt I really wanted to catch up.
My defining SCUBA moment had to be during a dayís diving on the Thistlegorm, (one of the most famous Red Sea Wrecks), at that point I really, finally "got it!" and to cap it off on our return to the jetty we were surrounded by what must have been some freak mega pod of dolphins. There were litterally hundreds of them surrounding the boat and filling the water as far as we could see. I have never seen the same since. It has to be the most amazing day of my life and I sat on the back of the boat and cried.
By the end of that week, I had decided to do my Divemaster course. On my return to England, I just cleared a month in my diary and by the very next week, was back in Egypt on my way to becoming a DM.

What about any problems you have encountered?

Well on the Divemaster course there were a few moments of feeling like I didnít know what I was doing, together with moments of feeling like a tit. The skill circuits were horrible, and the kit exchange was not fun. I discovered I really didnít like buddy breathing whilst being the recipient. However I mastered all that and qualified as a Divemaster in the summer of 2003.

The IDC was fun, especially the waterwork. It was worth doing the course just to see Tim skipping into his weight belt! It really has to be seenÖ it was very funny. As my UK career involved teaching and helping people deal with issues of conflict, I found that this had already given me a pretty good foundation for the presentation and teaching side of the course. And I found that as a result of my initial difficulties as an Open Water student, I can now deal with any problem that is encountered and can help students overcome pretty much anything. I have found a way to explain and demonstrate things that really does leave no room for error! Even if you are left handed. Everything that I describe that can go wrong, I have learned through my own bitter experience!
I also found it surprising during the IE that the examiners didnít actually dive down with you, they snorkelled for the duration.

As far as problems with being a girl in an Arab country Sharm is pretty relaxed on that front and in general things are fine. If I am the only guide on a boat, then everything is great, the skipper will discuss the possibilities with me on an even level. But I do find it a little frustrating when there is a male guide on board, as the crew and skipper will always ask him where the boat should go. At first it is not a big deal, but being a western woman it can occasionally be difficult balancing your need to feel empowered with your sensitivity to the local culture. I have found that the best approach is softly softly, being firm but gentle in my approach. I am not going to get lairy and yell out at the skipper to stop just to demonstrate my power when I know that he too knows the best spots to drop off a team of divers.

What is your Favourite Dive Site?

It has to be Middle and Fiddle Gardens in Sharm. Partly because they get slagged off so much! There is a drift dive from Middle to near drift that is blinding if done well on a good day. For a start there is always the chance of seeing big stuff there such as manta rays and the like. You have the proprietors maze too which is beautiful where you will see the trevalies hunting and herding all the fuzileers. If you enter near the Hyatt jetty you find a sandy patch where you can sometimes see a massive manta and moray eels followed by the hundreds of herding trevallies. The whole dive doesnít really go much below 10M but it is totally blinding.
My other favourite has to be the Dunraven wreck. The one word that describes that one is "ambience" especially under the hull near the engine just before you exit the hull.

Where else would you love to dive?

The place where they have totally banned all fishing due to the nuclear tests! Truk Lagoon and Belize.

Any Final Comments?

I canít make out that it is an easy life, but it is rewarding. Once you make the choice to go down that route, everything becomes so simple, but it is not a good idea to go ahead with it on a half arsed whim. It is nice to know that now the world is my oyster. I can go wherever I want and if I want the work badly enough, it is there for me. It will always be thereÖ but only if you really want it.

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