Out there are thousands of divers, SCUBA diving is a very popular activity as we all know. I am not a big fan of statistics but I know by experience that a lot of those divers never go any further than owing an Open Water certification, nothing bad with that if you also consider that some of those divers do just a couple of dives per year and rely on a Divemaster or Instructor to keep them safe…but… I believe that in life is always good to keep learning, perhaps a new language, skill or trade or new kind of dive.
There are 2 ways to learn on diving: the hard way is to go and jump into dives that you are not 100% ready to do and go in your own, meaning, without a dive instructor with you, you have a 50% of possibilities of having a great time and a 50% of possibilities that you will not have the best dive of your life (notice that giving you a 50% odd of success vs a 50% odds of failure is only the mathematical fancy way to tell you that I have not idea of what is going to happen for sure), the second way is to venture into a… let say… a night dive, with an instructor and have the confidence that he/she will be there to resolve any problem that may arise and of course give you all the tips and hints you need to enjoy the dive..in other words: getting training.
So, every time a diver comes to me and tells me that he/she wants to pursuit the next level on training it makes me happy, not only this diver enjoy going underwater and dress on rubber (I know some of my divers enjoy the dressing on rubber and don’t really need to go underwater to have a good time…don’t worry… I will not disclose any names) but also shows me that this diver wants to learn…and that is a good thing.
About 10 days ago I took some of my divers to an Adventure Dive on the C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl ship wreck (if after 5 minutes you find yourself still struggling to pronounce Xicotencatl we will just call the ship: the C-53 ), the idea: explore the ship and log the dive in order to complete their Advanced Open water course !
This C-53 was sunk back in the beginning of the century, this century, with the sole purpose to create a new dive site, since then a lot of life has covered the metallic structure and it is in fact a real nice dive where you can enjoy searching for little creatures and check out how the coral and sponges are claiming the ship for their own, the C-53 was prepared and cleaned before it went down, making this site an extremely “divers friendly” ship wreck, gates or windows were cut along the hull of the boat and allow the divers to make an easy and safe tour into the rooms on the main deck of the boat, divers can see the sunlight at all times.
Before the dive I explained the divers how important is to keep a good buoyancy control while inside the ship, keep a decent distance and remain in a single line to avoid going to rooms where we should not be, and of course, keeping a close eye on the air gauges.
We went down using a rope, slow and control descent, minutes after another group of my divers went down with one of my instructors, we wanted to keep plenty of space between the 2 groups to prevent “traffic jams” down there… we made it to the bottom and stared our tour/exploration.
I have to say that the divers I had that day have a very decent buoyancy control and good air consumption, so… I was confident that nothing will go wrong, current that day was almost death, perfect to go all over the ship without having to fight against the current… we went down along the stern and swim toward bow of the ship and into the first room…the engine room, perhaps the darker room that we will visit, all went just fine…moved back towards the stern…looking to get to the room where the rudder is found…I was leading the group of course when all of a sudden I hear a “clank” produced by a tank banging the metallic walls or ceiling of the boat follow by this Big Bang few feet behind me !!! Right away I recognized that sound!!! This was not the first time I heard an air hose bursting underwater… I turned around and I saw my diver (lucky for all of us she was the very first diver behind me), she has stopped and was looking at me while a huge amount of air was flowing trough a broken house just an inch away from her second stage !!! Brain is an amazing thing, it can trigger you into a panic attack or help you to remain calm even under the worse circumstances…
When I saw what was going on, several thoughts were being process on my brain, I want to believe this happened as a result of many years of experience, proper training, and countless hours of watching Mr. Spock facing dangerous situations.
My thoughts at the time were:
How this happened? it’s the very first time in 23 years of diving that I see a hose burst that close to the second stage, normally hoses will break very close to the First stage and will show signs of distress such as little bubbles, dryness or cracks on the rubber, corrosion on the metal base…but very few times they just go bum.
How much longer she will keep her cool before she goes into a panic attack? During a dangerous situation time goes at a different speed, seconds seems to be minutes and the other way around… from the time I heard the Big Bang to the moment where I was handling my octopus may be passed…10 seconds??? 20 ???
Is she still able to breathe even when the second stage is barely attached to the air hose? I want to believe that this was very similar to a Free Flow Regulator situation, when the air flow is so intense that in fact keeps all the water away from entering your mouth and that somehow the air was “jumping” from the broken hose into the other end of the hose that was still attached to the second stage.
What about the other divers? are they going to stay calm or they are going to get crazy on me? remember that this is happening inside the boat…yes.. plenty or room and light coming in but still..no a direct way to the surface.
Is this diver proficient on the Alternate Air procedures? while she had dived with me before, I was not her instructor during her Open Water Course…so.. there was not way for me to be 100% sure that she can handle the use of the octopus Inside the ship and remain calm.
and finally another question keep bugging me: Who let the dogs out ???
That was my brain…I have not an exact idea what was going on her brain but I know that she did the BEST thing a diver can do in a dangerous situation…
…she remained 100% calm.
Didn’t move or “react” as many divers will… she saw me coming… got the octopus that I handled to her and make a smooth switch…after that I turned off her tank, checked how much she had lost, check on the other divers and notice that they were barely aware of the whole scenario but still under control. I signal my diver to swim along and on my back with me and we went trough the first of 4 gates we have to pass before reaching the outside of the boat.
Gate 1 or the Back Pack alternate air source swimming: to pass the first door my diver and I keep our bodies parallel…she was behind and on top of me, sort of speak, while we swam in a horizontal position. She keep her left hand holding on my right shoulder and few inches away from my back.
Gate 2 and 3 or the Salsa Swing alternate air source move: now we have to go trough 2 doors that are very close to each other but a few degrees of…not fully aligned with each other, I have not idea who built or designed this boat and why those 2 doors are no matching each other but its obvious that he was not thinking on 2 divers having to go trough while sharing air!!!! so.. from the Back Pack position I swung to my left side and end up face to face to my diver while maintaining her static and preventing the octopus to came off her mouth, completing a 180 within a 3 by 3 feet space (I know that this sound complicate but its not…specially if you are a Latin), once face to face I swam backwards she keep swimming forwards.
Gate 4 or the You May Slap Me Later alternate air source ascent: The last gate in not to go from one room to another but to get off the ship hull trough a cut on the main deck…or a hole on the ceiling on the last compartment… just as when you need to use the bathroom…perspective and perception of time and space change depending on which side of the bathroom door you are. Now we need to perform and ascent trough a space that is barely enough for a single diver to pass … this required extreme measures and certain level of intimacy, hence the name I gave to this maneuver. An easy move that must be performed without any warning, swift and precise but yet in a gentle fashion…from the Salsa Swing position, I pull my diver closer to me…in fact… as close as I could..face to face in a way that the very same Valentino couldn’t do better and begun a slow but steady ascent…sure…we hit our tanks a couple of times but that is a little detail.
Once outside the ship and in a perfect timing we encounter the first group of divers, I signaled my instructor to please take the diver in distress to the surface, along the ascend/descent line, switch her regulator and bring her back to the ship wreck so she could continue her dive.
All along she stayed calm, the other divers were fully cooperative and join my group while I continue a tour outside the ship waiting for my Instructor and the diver to come back down…It was a beautiful dive! slow current, good visibility and of course good divers.
Once back in the boat we talk about the events, definitely a learning experience for all of us, the unusual burst of the hose in such an odd area, the options a diver has in a similar situation and the pros and cons of keeping your cool vs going nuts. I had on the boat not only divers doing the Advanced Course but also a student doing his Rescue course…he was not om my group during the dive…he was with the other instructor but I am sure he will always remember this day and hopefully this will become helpful to him in case he face a similar situation.
I told all of them what I would do if I will be the diver with the broken hose:
1. Stay calm
2. Switch to my own octopus right away
3. Reach for help…my dive buddy
3.5 Stay calm…
4. If nobody is near by to help me: Reach back or if necessary remove my scuba unit and turn the air not complete off but keep it on with the minimum air flow possible, keep an eye on my air gauge
5. Begin my ascent and stay calm
6: Once at the surface, inflate my BCD and turn off my tank
Failures and accidents happen…its almost impossible to avoid and prevent all of them, as a certified diver you must be ready to face such events, dive CLOSE to your dive buddy, practice your emergency procedures, run distress scenarios on your mind, talk about them with your fellow divers and/or instructors and find out the options for how to deal with them, keep reading my blog (there are always new adventures to come), and continue your training…the best diver is the one that dives often, keep learning and dive with me…
Congratulations on my divers completing their Advanced Course and the Rescue course !!!