The wind is a perfect four nautical miles, cool breeze fills the morning as marmalade skies open up.
Three kayaks bobbing on the Bay of Bengal, angle southward down to the Rushikonda coast in Visakhapatnam. The Eastern Ghats roll leisurely at a distance. The splash of paddles mingle with the lap of waves as they near the coast, and a small group of kayakers emerge, after a refreshing hour in the water.
As the city limps back to recovery, after many months of lockdown, kayakers and scuba divers are gathering along the Visakhapatnam coast to soak in the joys of the great outdoors.
“Our morning slots have been running full for sunrise kayaking,” says Balaram Naidu, a kayaker, scuba diving instructor and director of Live-in Adventures, a city-based firm that organises water sports activities in Visakhapatnam. “The cyclonic storm earlier this month briefly halted the activities; but people now are stepping out gradually for recreational water sports. We are getting a lot of requests from the locals as these solo sports are popular in times of social distancing,” he adds. Departing at the first light to enjoy the tranquillity of the coast, sunrise kayakers say it is a “meditative” experience.
“After months of enduring upheaval and anxiety of the pandemic, the morning calm feels like a balm,” says Vijayasri Yerneni, who has been kayaking for four years, and is delighted to be back in action.
Vijayasri recalls experiencing spectacular sights at sunrise — from a white-bellied sea eagle making a dive for a catch to watching rows of languorous fishing boats approach. “Each morning brings up a different canvas of Nature,” she adds. A Fine Arts student from Andhra University, she says some of these morning scenes have made their way onto her canvases.
“One of many advantages to being on the East coast is that we get to witness the sun emerging from the horizon. Weather conditions tend to be calmer in the mornings and we also get to enjoy being out in the water, away from crowds,” says P R Rahul Ravi, a dive master. He adds, “It’s a great physical exercise as well.”
The kayakers head toward Rushikonda coast well before sunrise. After discussing the wind and wave directions, they head into in the Bay of Bengal, guided by Balaram and his team. A guide helps navigate the waves and assist in recovering if the water tips the kayaks. There are at present 12 kayaks — 10 tandem and two single-seater — at Rushikonda coast. “In the past two months, people have started stepping for exploring water sports and we are seeing good demand for kayaking,”says Balaram.
“Our sessions start with wet exits, basic paddling strokes, turning strokes to get a sense of how the kayak responds to your actions and also ways to retrieve a capsized kayak,” he adds.
Buoyed by the response to watersports, Live-in Adventures have explored a new dive site off Rushikonda. The other popular dive sites include one in Rushikonda, another at the coast opposite Rama Naidu Studio and one at Mangamaripeta.
The new dive site has a rare rock formation in the shape of an arch about 30 feet below sea level near Rushikonda that was discovered by divers earlier this year. It is now open for tourists. According to the scuba divers, the underwater natural arch is similar to the famous arch at Mangamaripeta beach, which geologists say dates back to the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago.
According to Balaram, tourists have started coming in from cities like Hyderabad and Bengaluru, especially for certification courses. Live-in Adventures gives certification course for open water to dive master levels. “The basic certification course spans over three days of training, while for divemaster certification it takes 60 open water dives in about four months to complete,”says Balaram. The training is given at Rushikonda.
- Scuba diving costs Rs 3,500 onwards
- An hour of sunrise kayaking costs Rs 500
- Speed boating costs Rs 300
To enhance the scuba diving experience, Live-in Adventures is also working on creating an artificial reef to attract aquatic life. “This is being made with a fabricated iron structure and anchored to the ocean floor. It has been about eight months since we set it up and the progress has been very encouraging,” says Balaram. Winter is said to be the best time for the good visibility of this particular arch. “The coming months will be a perfect time to explore,” he adds. Here, underwater life consists of barracuda, stone fish, goliath groupers, sweetlips fish, puffer fish, parrot fish, moray eels, electric rays, Napoleon fish, star fish, lion fish and feather stars among other species.
“Getting back to the waters after a prolonged period of being disconnected from the world seems therapeutic. I have been scuba diving for a while, but this time I wanted to complete my dream of getting the advanced open water certification course,” says Rajeev Mohapatra, who competed the certification course this month.