Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Diving at last

After several false starts, today I finally got to go scuba diving. It was not without a few nerves. It had been a couple of years since I'd dived and then only a one off since the previous dives some years earlier. I'm glad they made me do a refresher course. At least I was once again familiar with all the gear and procedures. But sitting in a couple of metres of pool water is somewhat different to the open ocean. I was happy to hear that the two dives today were relatively shallow dives, being only around 14 metres. Apart from no risk of compression sickness at shallower depths, visibility is typically better and the air in the tank lasts longer. I was paired up with a German girl named Maike as my buddy. After a briefing from Danny the divemaster, we were into the water and making our way down the guide rope to the bottom. I'd brought along a glorified sealed plastic bag, optimistically called an underwater camera case to see if I could capture a few photos on my little Canon Ixus. Maike had a camera enclosed in a proper waterproof housing. My nerves had calmed on getting into the water. I felt like I knew what I was doing and after a week of nursing a cold, my respiratory system finally felt like it was back to reasonable operation also. Unfortunately, the conditions weren't ideal. The water had quite a strong swirly current that was even sending the fish flying from side to side and the water was quite murky, reducing visibility to only 2 to 3 metres. With a few dives in front of me, I was happy for this to be a refamiliarization and so wasn't too fussed about what we saw or didn't on this dive. All was going well really until I started to get low on air in my tank. I was trying to inform Danny, as per standard instructions, but I couldn't find him. Maike was off taking pictures and wasn't particularly interested in the whole buddy system of diving. So where was Danny? Visibility seemed more difficult and my head began to swirl slightly. Was that Danny over there with the yellow flippers? I realised I should have paid more attention to what kit he had on as everything and everybody looks different covered in all that gear down under the sea. I had no idea where we were in connection to the boat, though realistically, you never really dive too far away from it. But it's a very different alien world under there and quite easy to become disoriented, especially in unfavourable conditions. I wouldn't say that I was in a panic, but I was certainly on the anxious side of calm. Eventually I found Danny and he motioned for us to head back. Maike was still off with her camera and I couldn't get her attention. So in following Danny back up, I broke the primary dive rule of staying with your buddy at all times. But what can you do when your buddy seems uninterested and you are running out of air? We all did a safety stop at 3 metres on the guide rope with the current throwing us randomly up and down in its swell. It was starting to give me a weird vertigo feeling. I still didn't know where Maike was but assumed she was ok. I ended up back on the boat feeling quite dizzy from the ocean's buffeting, without Maike but relieved to be back on board. It wasn't an especially pleasurable experience and I wondered whether diving really was still for me.

The buddy system in diving is a critical component of diver safety. Always know where your buddy is. Make sure they are always ok. Be there to assist them if they need any help. I went diving some years back with the wife (now ex-wife) of a friend. As we progressed through the dive, it became clear to me that she had no awareness or interest in where I was at any particular time. In the 45 or so minutes of the dive, I don't think that she even looked at me once. I knew that if a giant shark came along and had me for lunch or if I was trapped with my foot in a giant clam, she would have had no idea at all. Nor particularly cared. She probably would have been out of the water having her lunch in the comfort of the Portsea pub and only realised I wasn't there when somebody else mentioned it to her. It struck me that her lack of care for me when we were diving was pretty indicative of her approach to life in general. It was her world and other people only figured in it as bit players who were all essentially expendable characters. It came as no surprise to me to hear her confess some years later that when she had been in a car accident where the car had rolled, she had scrambled frantically, pushing over the top of her friend to escape the car that was now sitting on its side. Not then the ideal diving buddy.

Back on board the boat, I sheepishly made my way over to Maike. She was a bit sheepish herself, both of us realising that we hadn't really got it together as we should have. My head was still feeling a bit awash from the bobbing up and down in the choppy current, but we had an hour or so before the next dive so there was time to mentally and physically regroup. Someone else had come out of the water seasick and had decided to bail out of the second dive. So it wasn't just me with this strange feeling in my head. The second dive turned out to be a completely different experience. The water was calmer, the visibility was significantly better, perhaps 8 metres or so, and Maike and I both had the buddy system much more under control. My camera's plastic bag had survived the first dive but sort of packed it in on the second. With the reduction in pressure, the bag was sucked tight around the camera like a vacuum sealed bag, which in essence it was. It was so tight that it wasn't possible to even operate the switch for the zoom. And it seemed to possibly be leaking. Having only been tested to 3 metres, 14 metres probably was never going to cut it, but I'd been prepared to sacrifice my old camera in a bid to try and get some decent photos. I didn't really get any good photos. But I did sacrifice my camera. The fish life on the second dive was superior to the first. A school of thousands of tiny silver fish swam around us in a shape changing cloud. Large stripey fish wandered on by. A wobbegong shark slept on the bottom totally unfazed by the divers gathering around to check him out. It seemed like a magical world and I remembered why I'd loved diving so much in the past. I felt relaxed, my breathing and my state of mind so much more at ease. I can't wait now until the next dive. Though I do need to sort out the camera situation.

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