Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hole in the Wall and Tangled

When Pedro told us our next dive would be to “the hole in the wall” I was excited enough to set aside my obsession over my continuing difficulties with buoyancy. And by difficulties of course I’m referring to having too much of it, buoyancy that is; especially at the end of each dive when my tank pressure gets down close to 750 lbs.

Pedro and I had been skirting the subject. I dealt with it on my own by continuing to blow air out of my lungs when my butt started to float upwards. And when THAT wasn’t enough, I’d blow out air AND point my head towards the seafloor and kick down to it.

Additionally, on my own, I continued trying new ways to remove the last of any air hiding in my buoyancy compensator. After all, Pedro insisted that the problem wasn’t weight, but residual air causing the extreme positive buoyancy.

I’m sure Pedro saw me struggling through all this—the constant swimming down, the continuous pulling on the air release handles, and pushing the deflator button. And what REALLY frustrated me is that I was the only one struggling with that particular problem.

The good thing is that I WAS ABLE to stay down there, even at ten pounds lighter than what I had grown used to. I thought back to the time last year, when I first started diving, when uncontrollably, I had popped to the surface from 20 feet down while dragging my dive partner up as well. With my new skills and knowlege, THAT could never happen to me again. I’m sure of that.

The boat ride out to the hole-in-the-wall dive site was as far away as any of the training took us. Once again we headed east up the coast until we ran out of coastline as it bent around to the north. The boat stopped and we all dropped in.

As far as what we’d be seeing I had no idea what to expect. I figured it would be a cave or large fissure in the side of a cliff face somewhere down there, but it was WAY cooler than that. I followed Jamie as he went right around a bulge in the rock face and suddenly there in front of us was a hole that went right through a wall of stone.

Jamie turned around to make sure I was behind him. He pointed into the opening, beckoned me to follow, and then swam in. That’s when I could see that it is really more of a tunnel than a hole. At the entrance I waited a moment to study it. I could see that Jamie’s tank was only a few inches from the ceiling and he still had a couple feet of clearance below him. Not wanting to scrape my tank on the ceiling I hugged the tunnel floor as I passed through.

I’m trying to recall how long the tunnel is—probably less than 12 feet. It seems as I went in Jamie was already at the other end. I DO remember though that visually it is a really cool feature, stunning actually. It was one of many times that I wished I could have carried my camera with me during some of those training dives. I’ll have to take a look for it on YouTube—I’m sure several folks have posted a clip of it there. (See the one I found above).

Soon, all of us were through the tunnel. I looked around for Pedro when I heard the “look over here” metal-on-metal sound emanating from somewhere. Sound is not directional in the water; it seems to come from everywhere. I knew Jamie hadn’t made it because I was looking right at him. Yup, it was Pedro. I found him about a dozen feet away to my right. When I caught his eye he pointed up.

‘Okay,’ I thought, “I guess we are going up now.’ I nodded, but that was not the response he wanted. This time he pointed at both his eyes with two fingers and pointed up again, jabbing extra hard for emphasis. 'Look THERE!'

Oh! He wants me to LOOK up.’ So I did, and immediately I was stunned at what I saw. ‘Whoa! Look at all the humongous FISH!’ I practically screamed in my head.

Above us, maybe 15 feet up, was the biggest school of BIG fish I have ever seen. It WAS impressive. Through the greenish murk I could see that they were silver monsters packed tight together as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t all that far on that particular day.

PADI teaches that objects underwater appear about a third larger than actual; even so, these shiny finned behemoths looked to be over three feet long, so they were likely at least two feet. They seemed content to swim lazily along, a huge mass above us, sometimes not moving at all, almost hovering. The camera wouldn’t have done much good that time though, the water clarity and gloominess would not have made for very good shots; but I definitely would have tried. It was surreal, like so many other sights I’ve witnessed during my short scuba career.

For the next 15 or so minutes we explored the area. When it was time to go up for our three minute safety stop at 15 feet, Pedro gave the signal to Jamie to deploy the diver down buoy. It had been a longer than usual dive or we had gone deeper than usual because my pressure was already well into the red. That meant I was light as hell, forcing me to swim down hard to stay down, all while alternately pulling my air release lanyards and pressing the deflator; and AS usual, ALL to no avail.

For once Pedro decided to take an active part in my buoyancy struggle. He approached and began tugging on my air releases as well. But then he swam over the top of my head and disappeared behind me. I felt him pulling and pushing on me but I had no clue what he was doing. I decided to stay still and let him do his thing. I thought perhaps he was trying to find the wayward air in my BCD by squeezing the bladder.

As Pedro swam over me I glanced at my console because I could see that we were both drifting upwards. I knew this was bound to happen since I could no longer actively work against it. About then I think Pedro also realized this and began to swim away from me, or at least he TRIED to.

YANK! Somehow we had become tangled up. Snap, jerk, yank! I have no idea how he managed to do it but we were now tied together back to back. I couldn’t see a thing behind me. I had no idea what was knotting us up like that. TUG! Yank, jerk. He continued to try to pull away. I couldn't see it, but I sure could FEEL it.

I didn’t know what to do. He was behind me, the snag was behind me; all I knew is that Pedro began to sharply tug and wrench so hard that it felt to me as if he was angry. At that point I was concerned that all that heaving on my regulator hoses was causing damage to them, and that made ME angry.

By this time we had busted our safety stop and we were close to the surface. I could see Jamie and I beckoned for him to come on over thinking he could help sort us out. I could still breathe normally from my regulator and as long as I was breathing I knew I was fine. What WAS causing consternation for me though was Pedro’s continuous yanking. What he was doing FELT destructive but I was completely powerless to do anything other than to clutch my console with BOTH hands. (Make a note of BOTH hands).

With Jamie deciding not to come over just yet and with Pedro continuing to jerk me around like a ragdoll I finally decided to just come out of my BCD and go on snorkel. I reckoned I’d then be able to find the problem and release it. I had my top clasp unfastened when Pedro made one last mighty tug and we were free. I was relieved but I was sure there MUST be some damage to my equipment with all the abuse, at least it sure felt like it to me. I couldn’t see a thing, so it was fingers crossed for me.

Back in the boat, Pedro didn’t say a thing. Not so for me.

“What happened back there” I asked, perched on my piece of the gunwale ledge.

Matter of factly he explained, “I was TRYING to adjust your position in the water to get that air out of your BCD, but when you didn’t cooperate I said screw it. But then, as I swam away from you we got tangled up. And when you began grabbing at me, I tugged away from you as hard as I could.”

Hearing HIS explanation shocked me for a moment, but a flash of anger closely followed. Feeling my stomach go into knots I quietly exploded: “WHAT! Are you KIDDING me? How could I have grabbed at you when I was facing AWAY from you…!”

At that I stopped. I could see Jamie across from me on the other side of the boat. He didn’t say anything, but he subtly pursed his lips and slightly jerked his head in a sideways “No.” By that time I’d really grown to respect that guy. From one retired air force sergeant to another I read him loud and clear. I grit my teeth and kept my grumbles to myself. No more was ever said about it by anyone, which was fine by me.

So, try as I might, my underweighted buoyancy woes continued, and so did my certification training… It was ALL part of the fun.


Ed said...

I can feel your pain man. Just reading Pedro's response rubbed me the wrong way too.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Happily, this incident was almost the end of our bit of interpersonal tension. One more story about it coming...