Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Bahamas Trip - Day 1 - July 24, 2011: I Chum The Waters

Early Sunday morning, the Aqua Cat departed from Paradise Island to make for the Northern Exumas.  My kids had awoken early, as I did, to the sound of the engines, and we watched out of our cabin window as the Aqua Cat made its way out of the harbor.  Once it had gotten clear, the ship kicked it into high gear and after an hour or so, Paradise Island began to dwindle in the horizon.  In the picture I took above, you can just make out the tall buildings of the Atlantis resort.  The small boat trailing behind the Aqua Cat is the Magick, which the ship's First Mate John used to bring the passengers on land based excursions.  It would also prove very valuable to me on two of my dives.

While the previous day had been dominated by my intense migraine, the first casualty of this day turned out to be my daughter, who began to suffer the effects of motion sickness.   After first feeling it, she fell asleep in the cabin and awoke a little later on feeling much better.  But not long after waking up again, she began to feel the effects even worse than before.  One of the crew members ended up taking her to the bridge to have a better view of the horizon, which was supposed to help her relax and not feel nauseous.

I decided to skip the first dive of the day, a site called Barracuda Shoals near Allens Cay, because I had not set up my gear the evening before owing to my headache.  So, after watching my friends enter the water, I set about getting my gear ready so that I could participate in the next dive.  I was looking forward to trying out my new Hot Shot travel fins by Aqua Lung.  Since my last dive trip to Belize two years earlier, I scaled down my gear so that I could fit it all into my carry-on luggage.  Besides the travel fins, I ditched my wet suit and replaced it with a lycra full body skin.  I also brought a rash guard shirt and shorts.  To top it off, I switched to a foldable snorkel which I was able to fit into the pocket of my BCD.  I also had a new mask, as the one I had worn in Belize, while good, had developed cracks and needed to be replaced.

The next dive site was called Closemon Reef.  I was going to join Tara, Jeff and some of the other divers and just follow them wherever I went.  I was happy with the fins.  They were easy to put on and did not require dive boots.  I donned my new mask, lightly inflated my bcd, and made my giant stride into the warm waters.   After giving the ok sign to the crewman on the dive deck, I started to descend and followed the rest of the divers in our group.  The first thing I noticed is that we were swimming against a rather strong current, stronger than any I ever encountered before.  Still, with effort, I kept up with the group as we made our way towards the mooring line at the bow of the boat.  Then, I noticed my vision was getting cloudy, and suddenly it struck me.  In my excitement, I had forgotten to defog my mask!  I swam alongside Tara and motioned to her that I was returning to the boat and she acknowledged the signal.

I made my way back to the dive deck on the port side and told the crewmember Andy what had happened.  I handed him my mask and he kindly put in some defog for me.  I swirled it around and rinse it out and then donned the mask again and began my second descent.  Barely a few seconds had passed when I hit that current again.  I came to the realization that it would be foolhardy of me to try to struggle against the current alone in order to catch up with the rest of the group and decided to abort the dive but remain in the water.  I made my way to the yellow rope that tied the Magick to the Aqua Cat and held on to it, while remaining at roughly a depth of ten or fifteen feet.

And then I made my big mistake.  The site was shallow, only about twenty to thirty feet, so I decided to descend to the bottom because I was getting bored holding on to the rope.  But even with my knees planted on the sand, I was still getting pushed back by the relentless current, so I felt it prudent to surface before I was pushed too far away from the Aqua Cat.  But even as I ascended, I had an incredibly difficult time trying to reach the Magick.  I kicked furiously and groaned with each kick as I reached out for the hull of the Magick for support.  Of course, being constantly submerged in the water, the surface of the hull was incredibly slipper and I could not keep a grip on it.  I surfaced and called out for help, thinking, "Oh great, just like my first dive in Belize, when I had to be rescued!"  However, rather than waiting around to be rescued, I decided to take my fate into my own hands again and resumed swimming with all my might back to the Magick.  Again, my hands made contact with the slipper surface of the hull, but I managed to push myself slowly forward until I was able to grab the yellow rope.  I then pulled myself relentlessly toward the Aqua Cat, hand over hand, until I made it to the ladder a couple of minutes later.

Andy asked me what had happened and I answered him wearily as I handed him my fins and struggled up the ladder to the deck.  I was absolutely wiped out.  When Tara returned, I explained to her what happened.  Like Belize, my first dive was a clusterfuck.  It could only get better from here on.

Because of weather related concerns, Captain Mark decided to leave the Exumas and make for Eleuthera.  The next dive was going to be at a site called Cobia Cage.  On this dive, I was going to accompany one of the passengers, a man from Texas named Craig.  His wife Sherri was with him on the trip but decided to take a pass on this dive after participating in the two previous dives that morning.  Mikey, the crew member who would be the dive master for the dive, described the cage to us, but when we entered the water, what he told us did not begin to prepare me for the enormity of the structure.

A Cobia cage basically looks like some extraterrestrial space craft submerged in the water.  I didn't take my underwater camera on this dive, so I did not get to take a picture of it, but the photo I found above shows you how massive and strange looking the structure is.  Craig and I passed over it and then headed towards some nearby coral formations.  I had a tank banger and would look around us or peer into the nooks and crannies of the corals and let out a bang when I saw something that Craig could photograph with his camera. 

It felt good being on a dive where I didn't have to fight a current.  But as the dive continued, I started to feel queasy, though it was still tolerable.  As we headed back towards the Cobia cage, I motioned to Craig that I was returning to the boat, which was visible from the cage.  Besides, there were a number of other divers circling around, so Craig wouldn't be alone.  I gradually made my way to the hang bar and grabbed on to it and prepared to begin my safety stop.  The nausea got noticeably worse, and then without warning, I puked into my regulator.  I had done it once before when I was doing one of my open water dives in Fort Lauderdale in 2008.  I remained calm, trusting that my regulator could handle it.  And then I heaved again.  And again.  And again.  I think I overloaded my regulator, as I sucked in some vomit when I started to inhale.  I decided I had had enough and shot up to the surface, letting out one last upchuck in view of the crew member manning the dive deck (can't remember which one). 

Undeterred, I participated in the next dive, at Knuckleheads Reef.  While I still felt vaguely queasy, I did not get sick and I had my first good dive of the trip, though to my chagrin my mask was prone to flooding and I had to constantly clear it.  I was also pleased to see that my daugher was no longer suffering from motion sickness and was her old self again.  I dove with Craig again and managed the itinerary, finding him marine life to photograph.  This dive site was tricky, because there were lots of cuts and and turns and it is easy to get lost if one goes too far.  When my air supply got down to about 1700 PSI, I motioned to Craig that we would be making our way back.  After retracing our path, I felt a sense of relief when I could make out the bubbles of a number of other divers up ahead.   We made contact with the other divers and continued to explore the coral formations near the mooring line.  At one point, just as I was ready to begin my ascent, I spotted a Southern Stingray up ahead, but it was headed in a direction away from us and soon passed out of view.

The night dive was being held at the same site.  None of the group I went down with nor Craig and his wife were participating in this dive, so I just stuck with Ian the divemaster and three or four of the other passengers. 

When I did the night dives in Belize, the bottom of the Sun Dancer II was lit up like a stadium, making visibility near the boat very good, as well as providing a sense of comfort because it was easy to spot even if one went some distance away.  But with the Aqua Cat, there would be no such light, owing to the presence of sea wasps, which are attracted to the light and at night rise to about 10 feet below the surface.  I wore my full body skin again, having eschewed it for my previous two dives, as I found that the water was plenty warm enough to dive wearing only a t-shirt and shorts.

The dive itself was largely uneventful and I couldn't wait for it to end.  That urge became even stronger, as I found myself becoming increasingly nauseous again.  I signaled to Ian and when he looked at me, I made the hand sign for "not well" and pointed at my abdomen.  He must not have understood me, or if he did, he may have thought it was not terribly important, as he continued to go about poking about the coral and shining his light on it.  I tried to suck it up and tag along hoping the dive would soon end.  Then I felt myself nearing the point of no return.  I signaled to Ian again and this time, to make it unambiguous, I gave the thumbs up sign, which means "surface."  This time he understood, and as we made our ascent, I vomited several times again. 

I was so glad when I finally made it back to the Aqua Cat.  The dive deck was dark as I ascended the ladder, owing to the aforementioned sea wasps.  It ended up being a good thing, because as I found myself looking skyward, I stopped and looked in utter amazement at the night sky.  Never in my life had I seen so many stars.  There were so many that I barely recognized familiar constellations.  The real treat though was that for the first time in my life that I can recall, I saw the band of the Milky Way.

Later on, after the dive was over, I went up to the sun deck and they turned off the lights so that we could all admire the majesty of the night sky.  I spotted a couple of meteor streaks, and in the distance, the lightning from a far off thunder storm flashed in a fantastic display.

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