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Learn Dive in Tobago

In at the deep end
I was in Tobago for a four-day PADI dive course staying at the luxury Magdalena Grand Beach Resort in Little Rocky Bay. On our first morning, we wandered down to the hotel’s World of Watersports dive centre to meet boss Sean Robinson, our dive teacher.

Resplendent in a lime green t-shirt, he was full of diving anecdotes, as well as graphic descriptions of a serious diving hazard known as the bends or decompression sickness. This occurs when a divers ascends too rapidly to the surface and can be fatal. After a couple of hours spent listening to Sean, I felt even more terrified.

Before panic could set in, I was diverted by a hugely unflattering wetsuit being proffered in my direction. Togged up in an ugly expanse of neoprene, a hefty weight belt and an inflatable jacket, I staggered over to the training pool to meet our second instructor; Mutley (real name, Leslie James) had the size and demeanour of a nightclub bouncer, complete with a gold tooth that flashed every time he smiled. He didn’t do it often.

Out on the reef
After two days of pool training, we were ready for our first open water dive. One of the most beautiful spots on Tobago is Pigeon Point in the south of the island boasting white sands, palm trees and azure waters. Just offshore lie the enormous Buccoo Reef and the smaller Kariwak Reef, both of which lurk 5m (15ft) below the water. This is where we headed.

After Mutley prised my fingers from the side of the boat, I followed my two fellow students into the water and down towards the seabed. As I hauled myself down the anchor chain, hazy shapes swam into view before a multicoloured parrot fish burst out of the gloom towards me. Mutley was waiting on the seabed, arms folded, doo-rag hat and gold tooth intact.

Shark! Shark!
Although no two reefs are ever the same, some things are universal. During my dives, what really struck me was just how much life there was below the waves. Trailing fronds of seaweed hid tiny black and white striped fish, while concealed in the sand at the base of the reef lay speckled sting rays and moray eels. A tiny pink and purple prawn made its jerky way past, only to be swept up by Mutley for a closer look.

At Japanese Gardens, a green turtle made a lazy loop around us and hidden under a rock, we found a nurse shark taking a nap. All I could see was a triangular fin poking out of the sea cave, looking for all the world like another ray. Then I realised what it really was: a 1.5m long (5ft) grey killing machine. ‘Shark! Shark!’ I tried to scream, thrashing frantically as I tried to swim away. Mutley shook his head wryly. The shark slept on. I lived to dive another day.