Today was Labor Day which marked the “Team Fun Dive Day” with Eco Dive Center. I’d been looking forward to the day of diving with only the folks who work at and for the shop. We all met up on the Sand Dollar dive boat for a later than usual (9am vs 7am) departure to Catalina for two dives and some skills assessment. Since Shane and I have been finishing up our IDC program before the big IE (Instructor Exam) next weekend we had several things to take care of including our open water presentations (basically teaching two skills as you would in the ocean for new scuba divers), a deep skills assessment practice, an Adventures in Diving program skill demonstration and a rescue briefing and skill demo.
The day was chilly and grey as we pulled out of the harbor, and into the rough ocean swells. Thankfully Bryan had given me a triptone before we left, as I was out of my nausea medicine; that surely made my day better! During the ride out we briefed our first presentation, went over the Discover Scuba Diving workshop and briefing and we completed our Rescue workshop briefing. With everything going on the ride over went quickly and soon we were pulling up to the Island and donning gear. Prior to jumping into our first dive the whole group did a snorkel/swim for Ron and Beth (the owners) as a way to document swim skills. After that it was onto dive #1.
And boy was that water COLD today. I should give you a quick history before I go into this next part… the day before, Sunday, I participated in a ‘little’ race around disneyland – the Disney Half Marathon. A simple 13.1 mile run that left me with sore and achy muscles. Overall I was not as sore as I had expected which was great. However I had a quick realization that cold water diving and sore muscles are not a good combination. As soon as we got to depth, the cold caused my already sore muscles to stiffen and ache. My computer says the temperature was only 55 degrees, but it felt much colder that that.
Shane, William and I completed our deep assessment, the tour portion for the DSD workshop then explored the wall on the dive site for awhile. There were nudibranchs everywhere (I think I saw at least 7 Hermissenda!). Once we had reached the level of remaining air we had decided upon we found a clear sandy patch to finish the dive with our Open Water Diver skills presentations. Both skills went smoothly; I had partial mask flood and clear followed by alternate air source use and ascent. I caught the problems William threw in, resolved them and we successfully checked that off our list. If that could have been the final dive, it would have been a great day.
We were the last ones out of the water, and quickly got into the boat and had some delicious homemade chili (I swear that stuff warms your soul after diving!) while heading over towards the USC Wrigley/Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber where Ron had managed to get us a sneak peak. This was pretty awesome. The chamber is much larger than I anticipated, and I really enjoyed listening to the brief introduction to how the hyperbaric chamber functions. Tomorrow night is the monthly dive club and the gentleman from the chamber is actually coming to talk to us, so I will have to take notes and write up a recap of the meeting!
Despite being warm from the chili, and having enjoyed the quick trip to the chamber, I was feeling tired and for one of those rare times in my life, I just wanted to crawl into a bunk on the boat and skip the next dive. However, I knew we had skills to complete that were required to finish our IDC (Instructor Development Course), but deep inside I was not feeling the second dive into the cold water, and was not looking forward to my crash course with a DPV (diver propulsion vehicle). You see, the skill that William had selected for our Adventures in Diving workshop was the DPV. I’ve never really had an interest in them, I like to dive slowly and look for small creatures and cruising along with a DPV you speed right past everything, plus theres no way to take a camera with you, so I had never used one before. I took a deep breath, told myself it would be fine and I’d learn a new skill, who knows maybe I’d discover I really liked DPV diving. So I donned my gear and leapt off the boat. I tried to figure out the DPV while William got in the water but couldn’t get it to turn on. William quickly pointed out the switch you pull back to activate it, and gave a quick briefing on how the triggers worked to make it go. After a final warning to watch out for anything hanging off your BCD (guages, octo, compass, slates, etc) we began our descent. Again the water was cold, but whatever I’m used to that these days.
Once we were down it was off we go with the DPV. Shane and William started to glide away and I hesitantly pushed down on my trigger. I swear the thing leapt in my arms; there was much more power than I expected. The back end bounced up into my chest area and I tried to correct it as I started moving down, then up, then down…I could not get the thing to glide straight. My arms were bent a little and as I tried to keep it level it bounced up into my chest again and then there was a thudding sound. Alarmed I let go of the trigger and looked down to find my nice new ($100) compass stuck inside the propeller cage with its retractor cord wrapped around the propeller. Fan-fucking-tastic. I do apologize for the profanity, but that is literally what went through my mind. I looked down at the compass and the now useless DPV and basically lost it. William looked back to see why I was not up with him and Shane (who were both gliding along effortlessly…) and I signaled harshly that I was not okay, then pointing at the DPV to tell him I broke it. He swam over as I was trying to unwind my compass and failing miserably. Seeing it stuck in there, and the trouble I had in trying to get the damn thing to just go straight threw me over the edge and I started to cry. I felt that William was probably a little annoyed (though he would never let that show, I know I would be in if I were his situation) and I had just cost us lots of time. He couldn’t get it unstuck from the propeller so he took the broken DPV as I silently tried to compose myself.
Things only seemed to get worse. I have this issue that once the waterworks start flowing its REALLY hard to shut them off. Any small thing that may have set them off gets compounded in my head as I start to think of something else and something else and the next thing I know I’m bawling over some completely different and unrelated aspect of life. Being 60 feet underwater didn’t change that one bit. I signaled to William to keep his DPV, that I wanted to swim. I had zero desire to try again, every time I caught sight of my poor compass stuck in the propeller a new wave of tears began. When I thought of trying the DPV again all that went through my mind was, “what else was going to get stuck in the next one? My slates? my BCD buckle strap? Maybe my low pressure inflator or my gauges”. It was unnerving and I didn’t want to deal with it. I clearly remember the moment where I wanted to look William in the eye, point to myself, twist my hand back in forth in the water in the classic ‘not ok’ signal and end the dive. I was done, I wanted to get out of the water, out of my scuba gear, avoid everyone on the boat and hide in my bunk. I had failed the DPV and could not do it. I didn’t want to try again, I was upset and starting to freak out. However, some rational part of my brain tried to calm me down with the reminder that I HAD to finish off the skills. I needed to do this as a part of my class and I would be more upset later if I didn’t. So when William asked if I were OK, I looked right back at him, tears still streaming down my face, and signed OK nice and boldly. Then he handed me his DPV. Ugh. I took it, knowing that if I were going to be okay, I was going to have to do the DPV part of the dive too. A couple more deep breaths (don’t even ask me about my air consumption on this dive… I didn’t even care. Lets just say I surfaced with the same amount of air left in my tank at the end of both dives but the first dive was to 64ft for 50 minutes and the second dive was to 59 ft for 34 minutes. You do the math) then I cautiously depressed the trigger. I won’t lie, I barely had myself under control as I tried to keep the DPV steady and move through the water. I kept going down, then over correcting and going up, etc. A couple times I just stopped using the DPV and started kicking along pretending. Unfortunately I got caught and questions were raised over whether I was having trouble making the DPV start. Unable to voice my complaint, I hastily wrote on my slate that, no, the DPV was functioning fine, I just HATED using it.
Slowly I managed to get the hang of it, and keeping my arms completely straight and more stiff I had better control but I was still on edge. I figured out that I could depress the trigger really lightly and the DPV would barely spin into action meaning I could go super slow and be in control. I demonstrated my turns, banking to the left in a big circle then to the right. Afterwards the desire to be out of the water grew strong again and I wrote on my slate to William asking if we could just do our Open Water skills and I could return to the boat with the broken DPV allowing him and Shane to enjoy and finish the dive. I also noticed at this point that, 18 minutes into the dive, I only had 1000 PSI left in my tank. Oops, whatever. We found a clear spot, I started to keep my breathing under control and we did the skills. Its funny how quickly you can regain composure and go into work mode when you have to. I am comfortable with the Open Water skills, and I knew that I would be upset at myself if this little tizzy I had gotten into caused me to miss the hidden problem, or make a mistake, so I focused as hard as I could. This part of the dive went smoothly and then we surfaced. I was clear headed after being in focus mode for the teaching presentation and thankfully had been able to stop the waterworks prior to that. I made a point to turn as I surfaced, facing away from William and Shane, cracked my mask to rinse my face and eyes in hope that they couldn’t tell I was a bit of a mess. (I’m sure they noticed underwater, my mask is clear so it would have been hard to hide the tears when William was so close helping with the DPV and skills, but he never brought it up – thankfully).
We were far from the boat so we used the DPVs to cruise back more quickly, Shane and William had control and I held onto Shane’s ankle feeling like a useless little child as we cruised along. A few more tears leaked out but I quickly stopped them before they escalated again. I was feeling anxious about getting back on the boat because I knew it would go one of two ways. 1) I would be a mess, someone would mention that I looked like I had been crying, or William would bring up something about the dive which would set me off again and then embarrassment would seal the deal and I would have a hard time regaining composure, let alone finishing off the workshop with our debriefing. Or, 2) I would get myself under control, get my “all is good” mask firmly in place, and plaster a smile on my face when needed. No one would bring up the incident right away and I would be okay. Thankfully it was the latter which occurred. I pulled off my mask as I made the last couple kicks to the boat to rinse my face again, and clean out the snot (my nose also starts running when I cry, and I had a nice little gooey collection in my mask, yum). Before getting back on the boat we did the Rescue workshop which was cake and gave me more time to fully calm down. Once we got back on the boat, I got out of my gear, disassembled and put it away, and was able to shower with minimal small talk. The shower was extremely refreshing and calming. Afterwards I was myself again, and we finished off our debriefing, went over the incident with the DPV, which William handled wonderfully, I never felt a pang of possible waterworks. Afterwards we stayed up on the top deck chatting as the boat slowly made it’s way back to the mainland.
Overall I did have a good day, the weather was warm and sunny at the Island and I did well with my IDC requirements and feel confident about the test next weekend. It was great to be out with just the folks from Eco Dive and as I write this and look back on that second dive and I am somewhat proud that I was able to keep myself under control despite my emotional side running wild. It somewhat makes me smile because I remember thinking that I was at the beginning of a panicked diver situation and I had a strong moment when I wanted to let it happen. I don’t know if it was some strong will or just the thought of how embarrassed I would be if I panicked on the day when everyone on the boat was a dive professional, but I was able to breathe, let the tears just flow into my mask and move on. Today was the first time I had to clear my mask, not because ocean water leaked in. I also learned that in the ocean, tears don’t taste that salty.