Tuesday, August 31, 2010
8/30 Diving is not like riding a bike!
Yesterday we went diving for the first time in over six years. I kept telling myself that it would all come back. It did but it is definitely not like riding a bike. On a bike if I loose my balance I can put my foot down and try again. Or if I wipe out on a curb I might scrape some skin off my shins but I am pretty unlikely to drown. The last time we dove was at the Hawaiian end of our trip on Western Grace in 2004. We crewed aboard from Cabo to Honolulu for what was in essence a 23 day ocean crossing question that we had to ask ourselves before we dove in and bought our own boat. There in Hawaii we dove with the huge turtles and it was wonderful. Since then we have been so busy getting ready for our life as cruisers that we let our diving skills languish in a locker somewhere.
Yesterdays dive trip was very different. The trip itself was lovely and the excursion company we chose was first rate. The Conception is a great excursion/dive boat. The lower level is all fitted out into bunks for multi day trips and the upper level has a large aft deck for diving and kayak launching and has a roomy cabin house with big tables and a cook!
We showed up at the dive boat at 6am. Turns out the trip wasn’t scheduled until 8. I tip toed below and found an empty bunk for a short nap then promptly tried to break my left hand when I woke up and stepped out and forgot that I had crawled up when I climbed in.
There where about 30 people aboard; nine divers and the rest aboard for their own kayaking adventure. We all ate breakfast, visited and watched the wildlife during the two hour trip out to Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island. For bonus we were joined by hundreds of the local dolphins. At about our half way point they began to join us. We could see them around us in for as far as the eye could see. They played rolling and jumping in the bow wake and the big rolling stern wake for close to half an hour.
The big boat drove right into the Painted cave so we could all have a look around the outer chamber and breathe in the astringent odor of sea lions, fish and guano. Then it was show time! We all scurried around like ants, dive gear and kayaks everywhere while we all got busy gearing up for our own personal adventures.
So, what was it like diving again? I persevered. That is about the best I can say for my diving talents. The first dive started off with stepping into the sea in full gear. Now I have done shore dives before where I walked gently in and I have dove from smaller boats where I rolled in, and I have even stepped in from a dive platform. Here there was small door in the bow of the big boat which I was supposed to walk off of into the sea with like 8o pounds of stuff strapped to my back. It looked about 30 feet down!!! It was in fact only about 6 feet but it sure looked like a long way down and I felt like a little girl standing on the high dive for the first time. One hand on my regulator, one hand holding my mask in place, one giant step for Kat and one big splash and I was treading water in 70 feet of water.
Now if you have never gone diving before the real trick of the whole shebang is buoyancy. You wear a huge vest, a buoyancy compensator that you fill with air and then release it as you go down or go up in order to keep yourself where you want to be. In theory that’s what gives you control as you move relatively weightlessly through the water. Let out too much air and you drop like a stone. Keep or put too much air in and you rise out of the water like a surfacing submarine.
I managed to not be able to get this chubby body under the surface at all at first. Just floating along like a spastic seal struggling to go deeper. I flailed and grabbed at gear pushing and pressing buttons while struggling to release more air. Then finally I dove down head first as hard as I could but still bobbed to the surface. Eventually I made it down about 25 feet but the exertion and worry had me hyperventilating so badly that I had to surface to catch my breath and calm down. Bill was doing some of his own struggling but was getting along much better than I. He followed me to the surface though and we regrouped and headed to shallower water. My mind told me it would definitely be better to continue my flailing in something less than 70 feet.
After some brief work on our weights things were definitely better. This time though once under and swimming along I turned around and couldn’t find Bill. Rule number one of diving: always dive with a dive buddy. I did a 360, then swam back looking through the kicked up murk. Another 360, getting a teensy bit worried by now but no sign of Bill. Still searching for Bill or at least some bubbles I checked my depth and ascended to the surface. I managed to make the surface relatively under control and gave the boat an OK sign. While scanning the area for Bill I was trying to quickly decide do I holler now and say I cant find my dive buddy? It had really only been a few minutes so it seemed better to give it a minute at least. Sure enough I saw his bubbles and in just another moment Bill joined me on the surface. We quickly checked in and regrouped and again down we went.
The rest of the dive wasn’t much better but we did manage to get safely down and reasonably steady as we checked out the rock ledge nearby. By the end I knew I must be doing a bit better because I had begun to notice how cold it was instead of just focusing on keeping my chubby butt somewhat level and my breathing even and calm. We hauled out after either a very short or a very long 20 minutes of bottom time and took a nice break back on the dive deck.
Our second dive was much better! I actually began looking at the fish and the other marine life. In time I was wishing that we were doing less rolling around constantly checking to be sure we were still together and more time in a forward path of weightless motion enjoying the beauty of the ocean.
Once Mom flies home we are going to Catalina’s’ Marine Conservation Park for more practice. Wish me luck! Kat