Use a Packing List and Check it Twice: A Cautionary Tale

Use a Packing List and Check it Twice: A Cautionary Tale

Jun 02
Use a Packing List and Check it Twice: A Cautionary Tale

In November 2017, after leaving my corporate job and relocating to Bali, Indonesia the previous year to work as a scuba diving instructor, I sold my house and decided to treat myself to my dream dive holiday. I booked a spot on a 12-night luxury liveaboard trip in Raja Ampat. At that time, Mount Agung, Bali’s largest volcano, was erupting and I feared this would lead to road closures and congestion around the island so I quickly packed up my dive gear and GoPro, headed to South Bali a few days early, and crossed my fingers that a disgruntled volcano would not disrupt my plans.

The beginning of my trip was lucky, as the airport in Bali closed less than an hour after my delayed flight took off. I landed in Makassar to loads of messages from friends asking if I’d made it out. Indeed, I made it to Sorong with sufficient time to board the luxurious phinisi and explore the Four Kings with a group of enthusiastic divers.

Some of us with jobs and friends in Bali were a bit worried about the volcano erupting and the impact it would have on our return flights and businesses. However, once we were out of cellular range, we had no choice but to forget our worries and enjoy the incredible scenery. The food was amazing, the crew friendly and helpful, and the trip was very well organized.

The morning of our first dive, I readied my gear and put an SD card into my GoPro. As I descended, my mind was blown by the spectacular colors of the coral reef and the abundance of life surrounding it. It looked to me like an underwater orchestra, with an incredible variety of schooling fish moving in every direction.

Raja Ampat coral reef

Not my photo.

I aimed my GoPro to capture the spectacle and immediately saw an error on the screen: the SD card was not working. No problem, I’d swap out the card for the next dive and just enjoy the dive without using the camera. Once on board, I discovered that I’d neglected to pack any extra SD cards in my haste to leave North Bali. Nobody on board had a spare, so I had no choice but to make the most of the trip by enjoying the dives without any images or videos to take home with me.

The diving in Raja Ampat was the best I’ve ever experienced, and we covered the entire region from Misool to Dampier, completing a total of 18 dives. I had to skip the final dive, as I had caught the horrible sinus bug going around the boat, but I still cherish the memories of every dive I was able to join. At least I had my phone to take some great topside photos, as that scenery was almost as magical as underwater.

Raja Ampat from a viewpoint

Photo by Jenny Hanna

I have considered the idea that I may have gotten more enjoyment out of the dives without my GoPro than I would have if it had been working. Rather than focusing on the camera and trying to capture the beauty of this remarkably pristine underwater landscape, I just took it all in. I played with a group of blacktip reef sharks while the rest of the group carried on ahead. On another dive, I lost sight of the entire group when I was in the middle of a huge bait ball of anchovies.

It brings to mind another GoPro mishap I experienced in Curacao in 2013, when I descended on my first dive to discover that the underwater housing for my brand-new GoPro had flooded. A few minutes later I spotted a pod of dolphins and discovered on the boat following the dive that only my buddy and I had seen them. The captain (with over 5,000 dives in the area) had never seen dolphins underwater.

What’s the moral of the story? Use a packing list and check it twice before you leave on your dream holiday. In the years since, I have had luckier experiences taking my GoPros on dive holidays. My GoPro recorded my underwater screams at seeing my first manta rays. I captured footage of a family of dolphins who spent an entire hour with only me and three friends in the Red Sea. I got a nice shot of a huge marble ray deep in the waters off Selayar Island in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. I spent ten weeks in Hawaii without a camera, so my diving on Kauai was relaxed and hassle-free. My new GoPro 10 has served me well while diving again at Menjangan Island, my favorite dive spot in Bali. It always feels like a gamble to me, though, if I will miss something amazing while focused on my camera or if it will capture the moments I dive with sea lions or eventually encounter my first whale shark. At the end of the day, I’d rather have a camera and not use it than want a camera and not have it.