Sunday, December 27, 2009

Belize Trip Day 3 - August 3, 2009 - Underwater Math and The Deep Blue Sea

I had decided that while I was going to be in an environment where I would be diving up to five times a day, I might as well use the opportunity to get certified as a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, which would allow me to dive recreationally to a depth of 130 feet.

The course consisted of five specialty courses. One of them was the
Deep Diver course. As part of the course, I had to do a math problem on the boat. It was an addition problem involving adding two numbers that were in the hundreds of thousands. Aaron, one of the divemasters and crew members of the boat, timed me while I added the numbers. One of the other members of our group, Jeff, who was the father of Josh, was also taking the Advanced Open Water class and would also be participating in the deep dive. Aaron told us that on our deep dive, we would descend to 100 feet and then he would give us diving slates with a similar addition problem written on them. He would then time us again as we did the math. The point of it all was to test our abilities at deep depth. Aaron informed us that some people took longer to solve the problems underwater while others were able to do it even faster.

As so much time has passed, my memory is hazy as to what dive this was, but I think it might have been the second dive of the day at Half Moon Caye Wall. Aaron, Jeff, and I did our giant strides into the water, swam to the reef wall, and then descended to about 100 feet. Aaron handed Jeff and I the diving slates with the math problems. With the pencils provided to us, Jeff and I each took turns adding the numbers Aaron had written on the slates while Aaron timed us. After we had finished, we made our way back to the Sundancer II. Later on, Aaron came up to me and informed me that I had did my math problem faster at 100 feet than I did on the boat. Given that math was never my strongest subject, I joked that I should spend more time at deep depth.

Later in the day, we had moved to a new dive site called Uno Coco. I had decided to skip the first of the three dives there. For the late afternoon dive, I told one of our group, Tara, that I would accompany her on the dive. Tara was a nice, pretty lady about my age who worked as an elementary school teacher. Though she was a certified diver, it had been some time since she had last dived and she lacked confidence in herself. Her anxiety about diving was further exacerbated by the fact she had problems on previous dives with her mask flooding. I remember on one of the dives, I had swam up alongside her and saw her struggling to clear her mask. I could see that she was starting to panic and I reached out to try to calm her down when suddenly she started to make a rapid ascent to the surface. I know that she had did the same thing on a previous dive, and the rest of us were worried that she would end up spending the rest of the trip on the boat without going in the water again. Larry suggested to her that her problem might be that she had her mask on too tightly. If I recall, she did not have further problems after that.

Anyway, back to the dive in question. I told Tara that I would go in first and meet her at the hang bar. I did my giant stride into the water, gave the "OK" signal by placing my hand on top of my head, gave a wave to Tara, then started my descent. And then, like my first dive on the previous day, I found myself surfacing again. So, I started over, giving a long, steady exhale and began my descent. As I finally started sinking lower, I looked ahead of me so that I could begin swimming towards the hang bar, when to my utter shock and surprise, I saw no sign of the Sundancer II at all. Even worse, I looked down, and instead of seeing coral reefs and sand, I saw nothing but blue. Somehow, I had ended up way past the reef wall.

As I did with my first dive, I decided the best thing to do was to surface and look for the Sundancer II. Breaking the surface, I looked ahead and saw her far off in the distance. I was utterly baffled, as it seemed like only a few seconds had passed between when I had left the boat and when I had started to descend. I found myself all alone above the deep blue sea, and no one had any idea where I was. Now, being as this is an atheist themed blog, I have to find some way of getting an atheist angle into this story.

I felt a wave of fear come over me. But I didn't turn into the cliched atheist in a foxhole begging god to save me. As inexperienced as I was, I had my training. While the Sundancer II was further away from me than it was when I had to be rescued from my first dive, this time it was the beginning of the dive and I still had nearly a full tank of air at my disposal. I took a compass reading, descended to about 15 feet, and then started swimming as rapidly as I could in the direction of the boat. I was worried not only about me, but about Tara as well. She was expecting to find me waiting for her at the hang bar and I did not want her thinking I had ditched her.

After a few minutes had passed by, I started to see white patches below me and felt a tremendous sense of relief as I realized I had passed back over the reef wall again. A few seconds later I could see the bubbles emitted by other divers below me and knew I was back in the right neighborhood. Then I found the Sundancer II and made my way to the hang bar. The bar was empty, and I figured that Tara must have gotten tired of waiting for me and went back on the boat. Nevertheless, I decided to remain on the hang bar in the event that she would show up again. Meanwhile, since I would be participating in the night dive at this same site later on, I started to look around at the coral formations below me for recognizable features to help me on the night dive. I then found myself watching a school of Horse-eye Jacks that had taken shelter underneath the boat. They stayed in formation and matched their movement to the boat as it swung from side to side. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed another diver had joined me on the hang bar. It was Tara.

Since I still had ample air left in my tank, I decided to do a little exploring. I signaled to Tara that I was going down to the coral formation below. There was a cul-de-sac with the entrance marked by a barrel sponge that I had taken notice of while I was waiting on the hang bar. I passed through the entrance and swam to the end. Then I turned around and settled down, resting my knees on the sand, calmly surveying the scene about me. I was going to keep an eye out for this spot on the night dive, because I knew that the Sundancer II would be passing over it.

Having had my fill of freelancing, I returned to the hang bar for my safety stop and then surfaced to board the boat. Once on board, I explained to Tara what had happened to me and apologized for not being where she expected me to be. She was quite understanding.

After dinner, I joined Marnie, Jeff and several other divers for the night dive. In terms of marine life, the dive was not as successful as the previous night's dive. Pretty much all I saw were more sturgeons and tarpons gliding by, completely unfazed by our presence. At one point during the dive, I was about ten feet above the rest of the divers. One of my hands must have came to my chest, because I realized that I had forgotten to fasten the clips on my bcd. Nonchalantly, I went about clipping them. Unfortunately, in doing so, I accidentally lost my grip on the disposable underwater camera I had bought at Seascapes. Helplessly, I watched as it floated rapidly up to the surface. I felt bad, because there are probably fewer people in the world who hate littering as much as I do. But it would be my last mistake of the trip.


Spanish Inquisitor said...

Methinks you've been spammed by Mr. Anonymous.

In any case, I need to read your other post on diving in Belize. My wife and I and some friends dove there a few years ago and loved it. We were at Ambergris Caye.

I take you were on a live-aboard dive boat here? I never did that, though I'm open to anything when it comes to diving. We found Belize to be really turbulent on the surface, but delightful underneath (one of the dive boats swamped and sunk while we were there). Did my only night dive there too. Damn that was fun.

I think we're going to Cozumel for a week at the end of February, as neither of us have been on a dive in about 3 1/2 years. Gotta get back down.

Tommykey said...

Hey SI!

Yes, it was a liveaboard. It's a great way for someone like me with little experience to get literally immersed in diving. One of the best things I ever did.