Large droplets fell as cold rain sprayed onto the boat, but we needed to complete two more dives in order to make our certification for the shark dive the following day. Michelle and Shay wanted that dive too so we all doned our wetsuits again — Andrew, this time getting into his with ease. For this trip, several certified divers we had not met yet joined us.
Anja quickly gathered the four of us in a huddle and explained what final techniques we needed to prove underwater. Andrew and I had a total of four techniques left, which seemed simple enough . . . except for the fact that nothing was simple in the cold . . . in the rain . . . while nauseous.
“Andy, L — You will get in and put on our BCD and weights in the water.” That was Anja who told us the welcomed news of essentially getting into the water as quickly as possible. This decreased the hazard of slipping on the boat in the rain, and it also meant the water was much warmer so I was all for getting in faster. “Once that is on, you’ll practice compass navigation first on top of the water. Then you will do the drill again under the water. Now is the time to focus,” she ended, warning that floating at the surface was dangerous and where we needed to be was underwater as soon as possible for protection.
“Right,” we said in unison before stepping into the water — no hesitation — with our compasses.
“L, I want you to go ten kicks to 120 degrees. Andy, you will go ten kicks to 240 degrees.” Off we went. Anja had showed us how to use the compasses on land earlier so I felt confident in my skills. Putting our snorkels in our mouths then placing our heads and compasses underwater, we began.
Okay, okay, I silently told myself. You can do this. Take it slow. What I had learned earlier was to not rush compass navigation — one slight inaccurate degree could morph into a problem, mainly when diving for an extended time in unknown territory. Keeping the compass as level as possible, I moved the lubber line, found North, set my compass, and began counting my kicks. One, two, three until finally I reached ten. Keeping my head underwater, I fixed my attention on my compass before rotating and kicking again, counting as I went. . . . eight, nine, ten. There, I should be at the boat! I told myself, proud I had seamlessly completed my first solo compass navigation . . . except when I looked up, the boat was a good twenty kicks away and I was at a strange diagonal off the bow. Basically, I was not where I started and not where I should have been. Great, just great, I told myself, angry that I failed and failed so visibly. Meanwhile, Andrew was waiting at the boat ladder.
“How do you think you did?” Anja yelled against the rain and distance.
How was I supposed to answer that? Clearly I messed up. “Well.” I hesitated unsure of how to answer. “I mean, I’m not remotely where I should be.”
“Come back,” she shouted. “Try again.”
Damn, damn, damn, I said to myself with each kick of my fin until I reached Anja.
“Now try twelve kicks to 220 degrees” and I was off a second time, hearing the divers hollering at me to hurry as they were about to freeze to death. But I made it — not perfectly back to the same spot but within a kick or two.
“Once everyone gets into their gear, gives the all-clear, and I am in the water, we will go under. Do not wait on the surface for an extended time. We are above a clearing where it is just sand below so if you reach the bottom before me, stay there and do not move.” Anja’s voice was stern so we were quick to follow her directions.
Settling on the sand, I looked around. We were about forty feet under and, while our visibility wasn’t as clear as our other dives (it was about fifty-five percent due to the storm churning the water), all was still stunning. Looking up, the rain splattered on the surface of the water creating this sound of little pings. One aspect I love about diving is how quiet life is — All you hear is your breathing, deep and calm, but what I found I loved more was hearing the rain underwater. I could have stayed in that one spot for hours.
Me: “Hey, Andrew. Was your buoy fully inflated when you reached the surface?”
Him: “Nope. It was limp — flaccid. I had a poorly erected buoy.” What he means is that while his buoy shot out of the water, once it reached the surface, its air disappeared and it lay flat, floating on the water.
Me: “Andrew, did you remember to manually inflate your BCD when you got to the top?”
Him: “You know I didn’t — You fucking know I didn’t.” Clearly, he’s still a little upset with himself and his errors. Yet, he survived — Anja pulled a release valve (again), letting out his BCD’s air (again), leaving him to manually blow it up (again).
Then it was my turn . . .
Then I screwed up the number one drill I was so happy at acing earlier — I forgot my no-air situation and inflated my BCD using the air from my tank.
“Nope,” Anja said, immediately releasing the air, causing me to sink again before realizing I needed to manually inflate it. “Good,” she told me before setting back under the water for Shay and Michelle.
Once we woke, we discussed the anticipated shark dive, scheduled for the next day, and — in an anti-climactic decision realized we were exhausted from diving almost every day of our vacation . . so we changed our minds. Just like that — No sharks, no reason to get certified, no reason to have worked tirelessly our entire trip.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” Andrew kept asking me, concern evident on his face. I think he was worried I would regret our decision.
In the end though, it felt right. True, I would have loved for us to have dived with sharks; that was the plan after all. However, I feel we did something larger — We went on our first trip together somewhere new. We not only learned how to scuba dive but also became certified divers. That’s why — to us — missing this shark dive meant one thing: an opportunity for us to dive with sharks in a new location in the future.
“Every trip we go on, let’s do something big,” I told him. “Something challenging and new that is unique to the area. Let’s do it together, each time, something new.”