Princess diving on Protea Banks

Simone “Monie” Mercer is an underwater thrill seeking boss and a proud member of the ‘The Brat Pack’ at Aqua Planet Dive Centre and Charter. Simone has been a dear friend to Aqua Planet Dive Centre and Charter from the moment she walked in, with her uplifting and fun personality. We are so lucky and honoured to have her dive with us so regularly.

An interview with a Princess … enjoy the read, we know you will as much as we did.

How many countries have you visited, including traveling for work?

I have visited 80 countries including travel for work and I have another 27 lined up over the next couple of years. I work as a Finance Director for a UK based digital signage company and work fully remotely so travel is easy for me.

How many of the countries your visited, did you dive?

I haven’t dived as many as I would like … so only 12 to date … but I have my eye on at least another 10 in the not too distant future.

How many dives do you have?

I have close on 300 dives. I have averaged over 1 dive per week since I started.

What got you started in diving?

A drunken heated discussion, Xmas 2013, with my brother in law who is a PADI instructor. I was defending my lack of time spent in the ocean as I am petrified of water and he was trying to get me to try diving. “ARE YOU MAD!!!” I yelled at him. “No really, Marcus have you completely lost it???? Which part of I am petrified of water and sharks and eels and anything else that may be lurking in there are you really not understanding??? Why on earth would I want to dive??????'”, this continued for a couple more glasses of wine and although neither of us can remember the exact words which prompted me to suddenly say, “FINE, book me on a course!! Go on … I shall start after Xmas”. Well apparently Marcus immediately emailed Kym at Aqua Planet and 2 days later I turned up to start my PADI Open Water Course …

Kym was simply brilliant with me, even though I was a gibbering wreck!! (and that was just the theory). At the point I had to get into the tank and actually put on a mask and pop in the reg … I simply panicked and burst into tears, OK choking, hiccuping sobs if I am being totally honest!! (lost count of how many nervous students and clients I have repeated this story to). I was hanging on the edge of the tank gasping for breath claiming I could not get enough air from the reg and was too scared to put my masked face into the water. Kym was ace, she patiently fetched her own regs and told me they would be easier for me and off I went.

My first dive was on Aliwal Shoal, it was a rough day and the whole way out on the boat I was praying we would have to turn around … as the Skipper called 3 .. 2 .. 1 .. GO, I rolled back with my Instructor Brooke and expected to be eaten by Jaws and never seen again …

Then it happened … I fell in love!! A total unconditional love of diving was born, I saw Moray, Dolphins with babies, Hammerhead shark, Blacktip shark, Turtle, Rays, reef fish, a Raggie shark and I never wanted to surface again. When I did surface I spat out the reg and said “OMG are all dives like that?” Everyone laughed and said some are but not usually that good, but I didn’t care. Little did I know it, but this is the day I became destined to be a founder member of The Brat Pack!

I soon went off traveling and dived in Cambodia, Thailand, Spain & Bali and then I discovered Egypt and fell in love with a different kind of diving and a different way of life. I spent 2 years on and off in Egypt and gained first my PADI Advanced and then Rescue Diver and Divemaster qualifications, in some of the most stunning reefs in the world, but my heart was here in South Africa.

In early 2017, I was fortunate enough to be able to start spending huge chunks of time here in South Africa and through my great friendship with Kym I have now had more dives on Protea Banks than anywhere else in the world. I am super fortunate that Kym is not only one of my best friends here in South Africa, but she also owns the best Dive Charter in Africa and I get to call Protea Banks my home reef.

When did you start diving?

2nd January 2014, I passed my PADI Open Water Course.

Could you please give us a few destinations which you are looking at diving in the future?

Komodo, Oman, Mayotte, Madagascar, Maldives, Philippines, Turkey and Guadalupe … AND there are many more, but not quite yet …

What is diving about for you? Is it for the photo’s, the experience or the logistics behind it?

It is the world at 30 metres, it is a feeling I cannot describe of utter peace and wonderment, the most incredible world under the water.

What is special about Protea Banks for you?

Protea is my home reef and many of the sharks are known to us here and are very dear to us. We have regulars with their own character and we have seasonal migrating sharks and whales too, but no 2 dives are the same. I also love the family we are at Aqua Planet dive Centre and Charter … AND the amazing friends who come back here, year after year just to dive.

If I had to explain Protea Banks in one word, what would it be?

As Mary Poppins once said – Supercalafragalisticexpialadocious! The word for when no other word will do.

As you dive Protea Banks quite often, what is the best advise you would give a first time diver on Protea Banks?

Protea Banks is like no other dive site in the world, it can on any one day have strong currents/no current, (can be different on the surface to the current on the reef) can have poor viz or 30+ metres, lots of different shark varieties, swells to 4 metres /flat sea, rough launches/gentle launches. The reef dive, is a drift dive where you must not only be a minimum of advanced but comfortable in all the above conditions and most importantly STILL PREPARED TO LISTEN TO THE DIVEMATER’S BRIEFING.

And if you had to choose one dive out of all you have done on Protea Banks, which would it be and why?

The first time I not only saw, but ended up on the middle of shoaling Hammerheads, thousands of them!!! My favourite shark in the world, I had only seen single Greater Hammerheads before, once on Aliwal on my first dive and then on a few occasions in Egypt and now I was suddenly surrounded by them and I was in heaven, truly the most surreal experience of my life. (Of course I have now seen many shoals here on Protea Banks since then,  but it never gets any less amazing).

Finally … I must just add much to everyone’s amusement, I am still petrified of water and never ever swim or snorkel in the ocean. My friends really cannot get their head around this as I dive with Tiger, Hammerhead, Bull, Raggie, Guitar, Blacktip and many other species of sharks on a regular basis and am more comfortable with them in their own environment that I am with a stray cat or dog. However it is a fact and I often try but this overwhelming panic gets me on the surface and I swiftly exit the water. There is no logic …

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