Unless you are a dive professional or a diver with 3000+ dives under his/her belt (or both), you might have experienced that anxious feeling before a dive, especially after a long dry period. Do I still remember what I’m supposed to do? What if my equipment doesn’t work as expected? What if I panic underwater?
When your surface interval is more than a few months, the first time that you get back underwater might give you the jitters. Does that mean that you don’t like diving anymore? Oh no! 🙂 You know you love it! But if you’re a conscientious diver you also paid attention to those Open Water theory classes that you had to sit, the knowledge reviews and all the exercises that you had to master first in the pool and then in the open water with your instructor. Which means that you know how many things you need to pay attention to before and during your dive: equipment assembly and check, listen to the briefing, buddy check, weight check, equalise your ears while you descend, know how to use your computer, buddy system underwater and communication, regularly check your SPG, maintain a correct buoyancy, don’t touch anything, clear your mask…etc. It might be a bit overwhelming, right? As they say, “it’s like riding a bike: once you learn you never forget”. Well, this saying doesn’t really apply to me since I never learnt how to properly ride a bike and after a couple of small accidents and minor scratches I’m a bit weary of the 2 wheels, in whichever form they come. But this is another story 😀
Anyway, we could probably change the saying into “once you learn to dive you never forget” and that sounds definitely right to me 🙂
How could you forget the feeling of peace and wonder that you have underwater? The weightlessness, the calm, the silence (with the exception of your bubbles!). Aaaah, that’s heaven!
But before you get to your personal zen, you need to make sure that your checklist is ticked and that you feel comfortable with it.
Yesterday we went to Sail Rock, a beautiful dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, about an hour boat ride north of Koh Phangan. We were told that whale sharks could be spotted every day for more than 20 days in a row and we didn’t want to miss the chance to swim with these beautiful gentle giants.
We had a long dry period before yesterday (our last dive was in August 2016, so around 9 months ago) and we were a bit nervous. On top of that, boats are not exactly my best friends: if I don’t keep an eye on the horizon I might get sea sick and if I can definitely manage a 15-30 minute ride, one hour or more can get tiring.
We assembled and checked our equipment before the boat left the pier and then we enjoyed the sun, the wind and the beautiful scenery from the lower deck, or at least I tried 😉
Once we got to Sail Rock we did our buddy check and we jumped in the water. We had to swim a little bit on the surface because our boat was not the first in line and we already realised how not fit we are since we were panting like we had to run a marathon 🙁 Luckily we had a couple of minutes to get ourselves together before going down. As soon as we started descending I knew that something was wrong: I couldn’t really go down! When I prepared my equipment on the boat I made sure to take enough weight with me (I had checked my logbook yesterday morning to see how many Kg I had last year in the same dive site and I decided to take one spare block of lead just to be on the safe side). Well, that was not enough or so I thought. I managed to go down a few meters and my left ear started to complain. So up again one meter, equalise and go down again. Repeat the above at least 5-6 times and I still had issues. Jörg was with me the whole time, asking if I was ok and helping me. At one point we signaled the dive leader (who was with two other customers) that I had issues equalising and we were going to abort the dive. He knows us as we did our Divemaster course last year when he was working at the same dive center, so he knew that we could handle ourselves during the ascent and the swim back to the boat. We gave him the abort and up sign and he gave us an ok before he swam back to the two guys diving with him. At that point I tried again equalising and this time I felt a nice pop in my left ear so with wide eyes I gave an ok sign to Jörg and we slowly went to the group. We got the attention of the dive leader to show him that everything was back to normal and he replied with an ok sign.
I was hoping that my troubles were finally over and I started to relax and slow down my breathing but then I realised the cause of my issues: my right weight pocket was missing with 3 blocks of lead in it! That’s why I couldn’t go down! And that’s why my jacket was leaning on the left! Oh well, no wonder! Gravity is not a joke!
I showed Jörg that the weight pocket was missing from my jacket and he immediately offered to give me at least one block of lead but I refused, thinking that one of us with issues was better than both. I “told” him that I was ok and that he should wait before removing weight from his jacket (I’ll write another post about how Jörg and I can really understand each other underwater -we even had an argument once! 😀 ). I was down already, my computer told me that I was stable at my depth, plus my ears were fine and I had more than enough air in my tank, so I kept going.
I couldn’t really enjoy the dive because I kept thinking of the safety stop: how was I going to stand still at 5 meters for 3 minutes with a lighter tank and not enough weight on me? I was already thinking of damage control and these were the options that I came up with in my mind:
- keep swimming in circle around the group at 5 meters – I find it easier to maintain a certain depth if I’m moving, rather than just hovering
- ask Jörg to give me a spare weight – but first I needed to see if he was heavy enough to stay down or we would have both had the same issue
- worst case scenario: control my ascent and skip the safety stop.
Well, none of them happened because we actually did our safety stop swimming at 5 meters while we reached the boat: hooray! 🙂 Needless to say that I was exhausted by the time I sat down on the boat!
Jörg said sorry a hundred times and he felt that it was his fault. He kept saying that he should have checked my weight pockets more carefully during the buddy check. Well, yes, that’s right but I had personally checked them and they were both ok and not coming out after a gentle pull, so how could he possibly have known that one of them was going to come out probably when I jumped in the water? No, it was definitely not his fault. I’ll find out if other divers with the same jacket had similar issues and if so I’ll ask the manufacturer to at least send me another pocket free of charge.
I’m just sorry that now that pocket is somewhere 50 meters deep near Sail Rock. I hope that it landed on a sandy bottom and didn’t harm any critter down there…
Jörg gave me one of his pockets as he could put his weights in the two back pockets, we relaxed for one hour, changed our tanks, re-checked the equipment, did the buddy check and jumped in again. This time it was much more relaxing, my ears were fine, I had enough weight to keep me down and we could both enjoy the abundance of life at Sail Rock: hundreds of barracudas swimming in circle, giant groupers (I think 2 of them were actually mating, oops!), schools of trevally and thousands of colorful anthias near the corals. The visibility was not great due to the plankton in the water but good enough to watch all that beauty in front of our eyes. It’s all in the video below here if you want to check it out. Whale sharks didn’t show up despite all the plankton that they could have had -bad boys!- hopefully we’ll get another chance in the next few days.