Many years ago, I took up a hobby that was rather out of character for me.
It was important to do something dramatic in my life. The most dramatic action I could think of would be either skydiving, or scuba diving. Considering both airplanes and the ocean terrify me, I managed to make the decision between the two without much difficulty. I assumed that an equipment failure would make it a lot less painful to ‘fall up’ from the bottom of the ocean, than to ‘fall down’ from the height of an airplane.
That done, my ex-husband (not an ex at that time) and I signed up for S.C.U.B.A. classes. Scuba stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. We passed the necessary tests in a swimming pool, as well as the class work and proceeded to go to Ventura, Calif. with the other 3 couples in the class for our first qualifying dive.
We spent the night on a ‘dive boat’, which was a pretty big boat. We had a great dinner, no drinks, at a seafood restaurant and headed for our bunks. I already knew I would be up pacing the deck all night because:
1. The ex snored like a chainsaw
2. I had some reservations about going to sea.
Therefore, when the boat left the dock at 2 a.m. I was topside, watching the shore disappear, trying to evaluate how far and how long I would have to swim after the boat sank. We finally arrived at our dive destination several hours later, off the Channel Islands.
We were instructed to ‘suit up’. Scuba diving in California means wearing a very thick, heavy, and extremely tight wetsuit, complete with hood and gloves, due to the very cold California current. It’s actually warmer in winter. A facemask and snorkel complete the look, while a heavy weight belt, floppy and impossible-to-walk-in, heavy flippers, a sharp knife sheathed on the calf of my leg, a BC, (buoyancy control vest) and tank complete with breathing regulator and depth gauge complete the utilitarian part of the ensemble.
I failed to mention, I had talked a friend and her new husband into taking these classes with us. She was an adventurous, outgoing woman who was sure to enjoy this unique and incredible experience.
She was instructed to enter the water before me and she shot me a look that sent chills down my spine. It said wordlessly
“I am going to KILL YOU for getting me into this!!”
I remember she looked a little like Garfield, the way her eyes got big and buggy and seemed to fill her facemask.
We were next told to stand at the edge of the boat, which was about 15’ above the water, and take a giant step. As I looked down, the black water revealed absolutely nothing about what was down there. I had visions of an enormous mouth with rows of teeth open and eagerly waiting to receive me.
I grabbed hold of my mask, took the giant step before I chickened out, and with last thoughts of my beloved children, splashed into the bone chillingly cold California current. I sank like a rock and happily hit bottom, a mere 30 ft and one atmosphere of pressure below, where for reasons unknown, I felt safer. The people who had stepped in before me were already waiting there in a circle.
I tried hard to determine which one was my friend and parked myself as far away from her as possible.
We all went through our exercises, such as removing and replacing our facemasks, regulators, and other survival skills. These are handy things to become accustomed to, because the worst killer underwater is panic. You do NOT want to panic, not only will you put yourself and your dive buddy in jeopardy, but you will SUCK ALL THE AIR OUT OF YOUR TANKS!! I calmly completed all the tasks and then as a group, we took a little trip through the kelp forests. Because there was a bunch of us, there were very few fish to be seen, but I was awestruck by the seaweed kelp plant, which normally looks like so much trash floating on the ocean surface. The stalks reach all the way down to where they are rooted on the ocean floor and they were dancing and weaving with the current, the light playing through the giant leaves making an ethereal glow through which we silently swam. It was a fabulous experience to which I was quickly addicted.
After the required number of qualifying dives we graduated and were able to dive without the instructor and other students. BTW, diving must always be done with a ‘buddy’. To dive alone would be foolish and suicidal.
Our first unsupervised dive was off Anacapa Island. Because there was no crowd of people, the underwater wildlife was not alarmed or alerted and did not hide, like our previous experiences. We sank together, towards the bottom, which was only about 50’ or so. On the way down, a sudden dark shadow flashed between us. With a limited field of vision caused by our facemasks, which only allow you to look forward, I wasn’t sure if I had really seen it or not, but it quickly returned. A seal had decided to join us, and was terrorizing my husband/dive buddy by kamikaze diving toward his face then turning at the last second, swimming away to repeat his performance. I'm pretty sure the water around us suddenly got a little warmer. It is difficult to laugh underwater with a regulator in your mouth, but it can be done. Ask me how I know.
Once we reached bottom the seal went off to other pursuits and we slowly kicked our way into the current, observing the beauty and strangeness of this other world. I looked toward my partner and was amazed by what I saw. An enormous bat ray, with a span the width of our car was gliding toward us, with amazing gracefulness and beauty. I was so excited, I tried to point at it and get his (ex’s) attention. What I actually managed to do was to knock his regulator out and knock his facemask off, so he didn’t see much, but after getting his mask back on, he did catch a glimpse as it swam away and I think I saw him shudder at the size of it. It had skimmed over his head so close I don’t think I could have slid a credit card between them.
We finished our OpenWater credits and in short time earned our Advanced Diver and finally applied for our Rescue Diver Certification.
Each dive was as rewarding and satisfying as the last and each ‘big step’ into the water was as terrifying to me as the first. There were just a couple of snags in the Rescue Diver training.
1. We had to do a night dive
2. It’s very, very DARK in the ocean at night.
One is required to wear a ‘chemlight’ on your tank when night diving. This is one of those dealies that you snap and it’s a fluorescent glow-in-the-dark tube. I REALLY didn’t want to dive in the dark, as it pretty much eliminated any reason I had for diving, mainly to sightsee. It just made me feel like bait.
I clumsily dropped my chemlight overboard and was told I would not be allowed to make the dive. I shrugged and tried to act disappointed, when another student who clearly suffered from an identity crisis thinking he was a Labrador Retriever, threw himself overboard, and returned with my chemlight in his mouth. All I could say was “Uh…Thanks…”
I don’t think I actually said …‘you big jerk.” out loud, but I might have.
The night dive was every bit as awful as I had imagined it to be….
To be cont…