It was a calm, clear day as the spike of Fernando De Noronha broke the monotonous blue horizon of the past 14 days and marked the end of our first Atlantic crossing. We sailed into the main harbour of Fernando on December 13th, anchoring a few hundred feet from the Fryderyk Chopin, a tall ship that was once used by Class Afloat, and now hosts a polish Sail Training program similar to our own. To the left of the ship, several smaller islands extended in a chain off the end of Fernando’s main island.
On the sail from Dakar, Matt organized a dive during our time on the island. On the first night in Fernando, Noronha Divers, a local dive shop, sent a few of their staff out in a wooden skiff to the Gulden Leeuw. After we finished up the academic day, all the members of dive club, and a few of the maritime crew who were diving as well met in the fore classroom to register. After filling out the form and paying, we were separated into two groups, one for the certified divers and one for a baptism dive.
The morning of the day we were diving was bright but cool, some of the dark clouds from our first day of shore leave, which was grey and windy, with heavy showers soaking the island for much of it, still filled the sky. I got up early because Cody had set up a swim call in the morning before breakfast. It was a nice way to start the day. We had pancakes with raspberry syrup for breakfast, with half an apple to go with it. After morning cleaning stations, we lined up along the breezeway to wait for “Black Betty”, the ship’s tender, to take us to shore.
During the few hours of shore leave before the dive, a group of us took a taxi to a tourist center in the island’s main town to buy a park pass for the island’s nature reserve. Because the dive location that we were going to for the baptism was inside the nature reserve, we needed the pass to get on the boat. Around one in the afternoon, after grabbing a young coconut to drink at a little shop in the port, we met the dive instructors at the end of the pier beside a small wooden building. By this time, the sky had cleared, and the tropic sun beat down on us from above, making the ice-cold coconut water taste even better. After taking a quick roll call, we loaded into a Mercedes sprinter van for the short drive out to the end of the pier. We waited there for a few minutes as the dive team loaded our gear onto the dive boat, tossing the heavy oxygen tanks from the pier down to the boat, which was at least 10 feet above the water, with ease.
We boarded the white catamaran, set up with cafeteria style tables and benches along the outside, and the oxygen tanks stored in a line down the center, at about 2 in the afternoon. After a brief welcome by one of the crew, we motored out of the harbour and off to the left of the Gulden Leeuw towards the small chain of islands. It was a short trip, no more than half an hour. The boat passed through small, rocky islets stained white by sea birds and topped with a carpet of green vegetation as we made our way to the outer most island. We stopped about 30 feet offshore in a small bay, and one of the crew tied us to a line anchored to a submerged rock. Apart from the Class Afloat students, there were a few students from the Frederyk Chopin, and several other divers with us. We were all given wetsuits, and the head instructor told us how the dive would work; because we were not certified, one of the dive instructors would be tethered to us in the water at all times, regulating our depth and gear.
Because there were more divers than instructors, we were taken under water in 4 groups. A few of us had brought snorkels, and while we were waiting for our turn, we swam around the boat, jumping off of the deck and looking for fish by the small reef it was anchored to. After the first group finished their dive, one of the instructors set me up with a dive belt, flippers and mask. I sat on the back of the boat with my feet in the turquoise water as he strapped on my tank, then I pushed myself off and dropped below the ocean’s surface. After dropping to the seafloor, we swam across the sandy bottom to a bank of basketball sized rocks green with seaweed. The ocean around us was alive with fish of all sorts. Turtles drifted beside us, cutting through the water with their flippers, while colourful lobsters sheltered in the rocks below.
After a short while, we dropped down from above the rocks and swam through a rocky arch in the small reef to our right. As we passed through, a school of small, bright yellow fish darted away from us in such perfect unison that it appeared more as a single entity then a group of individual fish. Around halfway through the dive, as my instructor guided me along the edge of the reef, we came to a large shelf of rock hanging several feet over the sand. We dropped down under it and a small nurse shark, maybe 5 feet long, was lying on the bottom. Its milky white, cat like eyes stared back expressionlessly at us as we came within inches of its head.
As we ended our dive, slowly ascending back to the surface, an olive-green moray eel caught my eye as it snaked its way across the rocks below. We arrived back on the main island just before curfew and took the tender back to the Gulden Leeuw. Overall, diving in Fernando was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and something I’ll never forget.
Written by Class Afloat student, Jordan McKinney