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Pauline de Blocq van Scheltinga – On holiday with Frans Kok

“Pure magic unfolds around me: the ‘ffffttttt…’ of my inhale followed by a pause when taking a picture, and the blissful sound of bubbles past my ears as I exhale. Then that silence, fffftttt…. blrblrblrblrbbb… silence, ffffttt… blrblrblrblrbbb… That’s all.” Dive reporter Pauline fully enjoys a day in Zeeland.

Second dive

Panting and puffing, I descend. The stairs at Dreischor Frans Kokrif are an impregnable fortress, especially for today’s second dive at this site. I watch carefully where I put my feet. After the stairs there are those uneven stones transverse to the walking direction that always seem to grab me. So I look closely at my feet. And see I’m missing ankle weights. Too bad! I’m going without trying. Then I remember that I forgot to put four pounds of lead in the pockets of my BCD. Four kilos there plus two kilos around my feet… turn around or snorkel. I put my fins and camera down, look again where I put my feet, climb the stairs or no, hoist myself up, panting and puffing. What moth, moth.

 

At the car I have the laughter on my hand as I explain that I am coming back to top up half my lead. “Is this a sign? Better not go diving on your own, huh?” says someone standing at the filling machine. I pretend I’m crazy, grab the lead I need and start again on the grueling obstacle course: the endless high staircase in the blood-scorching April heat of this Easter weekend. At the top of the stairs I remember I left my gloves in the trunk when I took the lead. Awkward. Without gloves in ten degrees of water is not an option. I return again. The cows standing on the dike look at me pityingly, one sticks out her tongue, up her nose. “Boehhhh!” says a pasturewoman. She is right.

But nothing can spoil the fun: I grab my gloves, climb the stairs for the third time, grab my camera and get ready to go into the clump for my second dive on this reef. The snail feast that takes place below the surface of the water here is worth every effort.

This morning I drove my own car to Zeeland for the first time in a long time to dive with Marleen. After the stories and photos of the snails at Dreischor Frans Kokrif, we plan to meet there at ten o’clock. Easter weekend, ten o’clock in the morning… I have a hard head and can already see us parked on the roadside and diving into dust clouds…

From the Zorge’sweg I already look to the right. There are hardly any cars at the pumping station, so I think we can move there if necessary. A hare rushes across the meadow, what a beautiful animal that is. “Happy Easter, I hope you survive Christmas!” I call after him. To the right from the Zorge’sweg, dive site Frans Kokrif is practically around the corner. Diving in Croatia is the best. No parking on the verge, because there are hardly any cars here either! I was there first and had a nice spot right next to the filling station. The Dixie is in his Easter best. It has just been cleaned and provided with toilet paper. Thanks to those who take care of this.

Look, there comes Marleen too. The parking lot is not yet half filled and the owners of the cars are all in the water. By the time we’ve built our sets, we’re picking up stories of a snail feast, six species, called five meters of visibility, ten meters even! As we always do, we go into the water together to get rid of each other as quickly as possible and to go our own way with our cameras.

 

It won’t…

After a while I feel something pulling on my fin. It won’t be…?!? A seal, I really shouldn’t think about that. My breathing quickens. I don’t dare to look. That fin again: I really didn’t imagine it. I look around and am startled. Out of the corner of my eye I see a large gray figure diagonally above me. I take a good look. It’s Marlene. Shock and relief alternate, oh dive buddies, shine your lamp if you want my attention, but never ever pull my fin, please. Marleen has no lamp and of course no harm in the sense. We exchange some bubbles of laughter. I gesture that I want to get out, she points to the depths where she is going to enjoy herself for a while with the broad anvil snails and flake snails that I have seen, and perhaps also the four other species that I have not noticed.

I shoot for the first time with the dome diffusers that Onderwaterhuis sent me, for which many thanks. Little did I know that those things are meant for wide angle, not macro? Well, I’ll just deal with it. They are stuck screwed and I’ll leave it like that. Today it’s macro photography, with dome diffusers, that’s it.

 

The hunt is on

I too am on the hunt for the broad ringed snails and other species. But in the here and now I come across the three-sided tube worms that I saw in the aquarium of the Biological Working Group on the DuikVaker two weeks ago. Frankly, I had never seen them, and now I see many. How nice is that! I decide to take up the challenge with the fast-closing animals. It’s a fun game.

A little more in depth I encounter the flake snails. One is on its way to food, I think, because the anemones are on the menu. However? I’ve learned it all, but much of my biological knowledge has sunk into the depths of my brain. I have signed up for the biology weekend at the Biological Working Group in June and I hope to be part of it. High time for further training!

The broad ringed snails just don’t show themselves. I’ve been diving for about half an hour now and it’s already getting quite cold. I know I have to go deeper and although the visibility is really good, my mantra “seal…seal!” is playing in my head in the background. I think back to my dive in South Africa where we were surrounded by six Cape fur seals and how cool that was. I relax. It can also be fun, such an animal visiting! But… even if I dive alone?

 

graceful!

A little more at depth, around ten to eleven metres, I find them in abundance: the graceful broad snails. It is really fantastic to photograph them, I admire them from all sides and I capture them. I change the position of my strobes slightly. Marleen’s tip ‘behind your underwater housing, not in front of it’ has stuck in my ears. It seems to look okay here. And even if it’s dredge? This is enjoying, it’s all so beautiful here.

 

I get out after 74 minutes. The snails and everything else has distracted me from the cold I felt earlier. The parking lot is practically empty. Luckily there is another diver who can open my back zipper. Knowing Marleen, it could be another half hour before she shows up again. Great, both go your own way. I finish, fill my diving cylinder and around that time Marleen comes back too. We are both completely full of this place. Why should we move to another dive site? We decide to stay here and also make the second dive at Frans Kokrif.

 

The parking lot is completely empty except for our cars. Uncanny. After the recent car break-in at the Bergse Diepsluis while divers were in the water, we decide to take turns diving. First me, then I take a nap while Marleen dives, and then we have a bite to eat at Hotel Bru in Bruinisse. I expect to dive shorter now, maybe forty-five minutes and just go straight to the broad anvil snails. Things are different.

 

Pure magic

There are a lot of comb jellyfish hanging in the water column. It is around two o’clock in the afternoon and the sun breaks through the surface of the water at ten meters. Pure magic unfolds around me: the ‘ffffttttt…’ of my inhale followed by a pause when taking a picture, and the blissful sound of bubbles past my ears as I exhale. Then that silence, fffftttt…. blrblrblrblrbbb… silence, ffffttt… blrblrblrblrbbb… That’s all.

That, and two ring-snails challenging each other, courting, entertaining me. A ringed snail that starts sparring with a fish. Another clambers over a sea squirt – I’m short of eyes and I’m glad my camera battery and flashes still have enough power. A little fish hangs just above the Japanese oysters. It’s great to photograph, so funny! Normally I only have the tail, or only the spot where the fish just was. Satisfied, I head towards the jetty where I unfortunately have to fight the gravity again.

After diving for a little over an hour, I switch Marleen. I take a nap in the car and then we go to Bruinisse where we were able to book the last table at hotel Bru. Overjoyed, I return home where I am treated to a parking space right in front of my door. It feels like I’m returning from a blissful holiday, I’ve felt so far away from the wild west of everyday life.