Give us a kiss! Craig Melvin and buddy bumped into a conger eel in a cavern in Spain. The eel did its best to evade the torch beam, but, luckily, a few shots in the dark produced some interesting results.
It matters little how much you plan your dive. There will sometimes be a set of circumstances that takes you by surprise.
I was diving with Club Nautique's Alex Duff, along the Andalusian coast near Almunecar in Spain. It was early in the season and I wanted to try out a new diving light. Alex suggested we entered a large cavern open to the sea with a mouth 'as big as the Sydney Opera House'. The cavern funnelled down to a gloomy interior with a floor at 16m and seemed ideal for the purpose.
Alex, suitably armed with the light, led the way in, and I followed with my camera and flash, but no torch. Alex posed in the darkest corner and I was shooting off a few frames when we noticed a huge conger eel looking at us with the short-sighted expression that congers are endowed with.
We followed the conger into the cramped entrance of a cave that led deeper into the rock face at the back of the cavern.
We had explored this cave before, suitably equipped with winder reels and lines, adequate air supplies and back-up, and both sensibly equipped with lights. The cave formed a long tunnel which drilled its way into the side of the Andalusian cliff that towered above us. It terminated 100m inland in an inner chamber filled with fresh water and a considerable air space.
This time we had only one light, but knew it was almost impossible to get lost. This is how we came to find ourselves cramped in the narrow confines of a tunnel with an enormous and highly energetic conger unphased by the darkness
Alex endeavoured to shine the lamp at the big eel, which swam around us doing more than a fair impression of an exotic dancer's python. No matter how he twisted and turned, he was always out-manoeuvred.
Without a torch of my own, I could see nothing except the odd glimpse as the light caught parts of the animal's silver body. I knew the conger was there though. From time to time, I could feel it nuzzling my face inquisitively, and the thickness of its powerful muscular body was sliding past my groin. All things considered, I kept remarkably still.
I fired off the remaining frames of film in a hit and mainly miss manner. Using a single-lens-reflex camera in a housing, I didn't even get a glimpse of the action through the viewfinder by the light of the flash.
Diving always offers the unexpected. I had to wait to get the film processed to see what I'd actually recorded on film.
Appeared in DIVER - March 1996