you might be cool but are you a cool diver?
by Janice Nigro
Scuba diving is a sport that has inherent risks. Volunteering information concerning personal experience and these risks is something I should probably avoid-the travel alone worries my family members. My father only ever wanted to know that I arrived safely without hearing any of the details.
Many things can go wrong. You are not only immersing yourself into a wilderness filled with wild animals, but one where your air supply is strapped to your back and the bottom might not be visible. I have never intentionally tried to scare myself while diving. No cage dives to see great whites. No cave dives. No dive into the middle of a bait ball in the open sea.
No creature has ever really frightened me though. I have to take that back-I am not especially fond of sea snakes. A spectacular dive around the volcano Gunung Api in the Spice Islands is some kind of haven for sea snakes. They are flying in the water towards the volcano like metal objects to a magnet. They will approach you, looking you directly in the eye until you move. They win at this game of chicken because it’s hard at that moment to forget that their venom is 20 times more potent than anything on land.
What could be scarier than that? Maybe crocodiles (which I am not hoping to see underwater) and the thing you do before getting into the water, finding the right size wetsuit.
People tell me all of the time they cannot dive because it would make them feel claustrophobic. It’s hard for me to imagine that looking out into the big blue. It’s infinity with so many distractions that you barely have time to think about the possibility of running out of air.
But I have had scary dives. The first time I had a truly scary dive was one where I was still using rental equipment. I had a mask that was continuously flooding, and we were in a serious current where it was difficult to stop and adjust. The dive guide did the only reasonable thing possible; he latched onto me-arms and legs wrapped entirely around my body-so that he could tighten the strap. I have to admit I quickly forgot about the mask. When we surfaced, he told me to get a different mask (obvious), but he also said that I managed fairly well despite my difficulties. i.e. I did not panic.
I was nervous for a couple of reasons at the start on a dive in the Mediterranean off the coast in Tuscany. Cold water and the fact that vocabulary for diving was not a chapter in my Italian class. I was moving too slowly so the boat tender started to rush me-in Italian with words that I did understand. I went down the anchor line and then decided I could not manage my breathing so I aborted. Yes, it was rental equipment again and cold water.
The kind of dives that scare me most are when I cannot see anything at all. Night dives might come to mind first, but they never bother me. It is the day dives when you can only see a couple of meters in front of you that scare me. Raja Ampat Indonesia is a spectacular dive destination, but dives can be treacherous because of the shifting currents around the islands due to the tides. The nutrient rich waters are also well-known for less than crystal clear visibility.
Mike’s Point I was told was a dive that could be excellent if you hit it right. We jumped in and missed spectacularly. I saw nothing but green darkness enveloping me on my entry in the middle of the day. I was determined to stay with my guide who seemed somehow propelled forward even though we were swimming against a strong current. It doesn’t work. I was kicking, kicking, kicking, but was not advancing and soon found myself in a green void alone. I could see no one in front of me and no one behind me (not even a fish). I took a look at my computer to localize myself. I was shocked as it already registered a depth of 30 meters. That’s the limit as an open water diver. I thought I better get out of here before my brain goes wonky. I calmly and slowly ascended to 5 meters and did my safety stop alone.
Even after about 500 dives, I managed to find myself on an uncomfortable dive not so long ago. I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. The dive was a fooler because we spent a lot of easy dive time looking around at small stuff (me taking photos) using up air, and then suddenly, I was in the surge over the reef in the Fishbowl on my own. It was a particularly bad time to start to breathe fast as it was the second half of the dive. I could see where I was supposed to go, and I saw the guide and the other guests where I was supposed to be, but I could not get there on my own power. The guide kept waving me over as if I could not see where to go. I really wanted to laugh at his hand signals because they couldn’t help me, but it was his way of telling me that he was watching me.
I had moments of irrational thinking like should I drop my camera? But then I thought it might be helping me to maintain my depth at about 10 meters. I realized that I could not fight the current. No matter what I did, it was going to take me where it was going to take me until I was out of it. I decided to focus on maintaining my depth, breathe, and keep my eye on my target.
Eventually I arrived. It was one of my most impressive feats because apparently, I also looked cool. No one could see the terror I felt, and we just went back to diving.
I am not sure why I can generally keep my cool diving because it isn’t always easy on the surface. It’s perhaps a lot about using your instincts (and having your own equipment) which is maybe something to remember in my life on land.
©2016 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com