Happy to get KATYA HOLLOWAY (aka agent 007) out of the office, we sent her to get her diving qualifications. She came back waffling on about James Bond. Strange girl.

I don’t know whether I’m James Bond or Darf Vader. But it feels good. There’s something very Bond-esque about getting rubbered up in scuba gear.
I’m loaded down with high-tech computers, gauges and gadgets and breathing like Lord Vader through a respirator. I feel like I’m on a top-secret mission to save the world.
I am heading into the unknown: dropping down to the sea’s murky depths to conquer a lasergun-bearing fiend hiding out in a secret lair. Or perhaps embarking on a conquest to explore the sunken treasures of the Titanic, where a fist-sized gem once worn by Cleopatra was laying in wait.

But first, I had to get this open water training out of the way. Tsk.
It was day one of my diving lessons and I was keen to get into the water. I’d diligently read chapters one to three of our instruction manual – some of which hopefully had sunk in – and it was one of those sweatily hot days that makes the water look even more inviting.
We were at Nelly Bay on http://www.tntdownunder.com/chapter/2441552522.html[Magnetic Island], just off the coast of http://www.tntdownunder.com/article/2441552398.html[Townsville], in Queensland, where the sun is always shining.

The great thing about learning to dive in this laidback corner of the world is the reef lies just off-shore, meaning all you have to do is waddle down to the water and lower yourself in.
Plus, for those who’ve already got their diving certificates, the Yongala shipwreck – said to be one of the top dive spots in the world – is just a short boat ride away.

It works in theory

Unfortunately for us, day one was theory day. We sat around a picnic bench next to the pool as our instructor went through the first few chapters of the book, quizzing us along the way to make sure we were paying attention. He needn’t have worried, really – we’d already read the horror stories about decompression sickness in our guides.
And a first-class ticket to the decompression chamber sounded as about appealing as a wet snog from Elton John lying in a bed of maggots. So yeah, you could say we were paying pretty close attention.
The highlight of the day, however, was when our instructor (Mark) gave us our first lesson on how to put together the diving equipment. I wondered if James Bond went through such a thorough training process.
We got fitted up in a stunning black wetsuit, lurid pink flippers, buoyancy vests, scuba tanks and all the best Bond-esque gadgets.
Feeling weighed down and uncinematically sexy, we slowly shifted our way over to the pool with a Fat Bastard-like sway.

Time to go down

Taking those first breaths underwater is unnerving at first. The body’s natural impulse is to hold your breath once your face is submerged, and then rise to the surface for air.
I forced myself to breathe deeply – in, out… in, out – until I gathered my nerves. Sitting there on the bottom of the pool, I looked at the comic-looking, bug-eyed divers circled ’round.
It was almost like being in a muted alien world, with only the rhythmic suck of air breathing in and out as we conducted our secret business below water.
Add to that the feeling of weightlessness as you learn to find your natural buoyancy (not floating too high to the surface, not too far down along the sand). And it really is like floating through outer space.
But there was work to be done – masks to be flooded and cleared, alternate air sources to be breathed from…
We learnt the basics, we learnt what to do if something went wrong, and we learnt that James Bond had a sweet-arsed job.
I was pumped. Bring on the open water…

Panic Stations

If day one was good, day two would be orgasmic. I could sense the buzz in the air amongst the fellow dive students as we walked down the path towards the pool. It was an early start, but we were ready for it. I know what you’re thinking: fast-forward to the good part, right? Okay.
So there we were, wading into the ocean under the afternoon sun, buoyancy vests inflated and smiling triumphantly towards the sunbakers watching us jealously on the beach.
And down we went. Seven metres down, in fact. Visibility wasn’t particularly good on this day, but we could still see loads of colourful corals and small schools of tropical fish.
After about 40 minutes, we returned to the shore to take a break. “Did you see that yellow fish?,” one person cooed. “What about that school of long grey fish?” another exclaimed. We were hooked.
On my third open water dive, my mask nearly got kicked clear off by a passing dive student.
I panicked.
I was seven metres underwater, the mask up by my forehead and couldn’t see a thing.
My eyes stung with salty water. I gasped for breath, and my immediate response was to bound to the surface for air. But thinking about everything I’d learned in the previous dives, I stayed calm and breathed deeply.
Clasping my left hand over my regulator to make sure it was still there, I reached out with my right hand over my head to try and locate my mask.
It was there! So I re-attached it around my face, placed my hand on the top of the mask and blew air out of my nose until I could see again. It felt like hours til it was clear, although it was probably just seconds. Phew – calm, calm…

Dive Hard

By dive four, I was feeling confident. Maybe even cocky.
We were breezing through the skills, ducking in and out of corals and breathing calmly. The visibility was heaps better and we could see much more fish and the vibrant colours of the corals.
After four dives it was back to the pool for the written test. Thankfully, we all coasted through the exam. We were wet, tired and encrusted with salt, but it was smiles all round.
Mission completed. Just like James Bond.

The damage: Open Water dive courses cost from $347
The details: For more info, visit http://www.prodive.com.au or http://www.padi.com