Mar 15

What a day! A dodgy dive and a space launch

Category: Florida,scuba,Travel

I’m doing something I’ve never really done before, which is take off on a vacation with almost no plans.  I bought plane tickets to Florida, packed my dive gear, and went.  Until 24 hours before I left, I wasn’t even sure where I was going exactly!

I ended up near Jupiter, which is north of Ft. Lauderdale.  There is some good drift diving here, and lots of dive operators that go out frequently enough to make unplanned diving possible.  I called the night before I left and got myself a seat on a boat, a rental car, and a cheap hotel.

I got up at 5AM, flew to Ft. Lauderdale, drove an hour north to West Palm Beach, and jumped on a dive boat.  We got in a two-tank dive and I drove back to the hotel, exhausted.  The TV in the lobby announced that the space shuttle was launching at 7:43.  Looking at my watch, I saw that is was… 7:38!  Holy crap!

I ran out in the parking lot with a compass, oriented myself, and waited.  Sure enough, there it was.  I could actually hear it above the traffic, even though it’s a two-hour drive north of where I am.  And of course this was the one trip when I didn’t bring a good camera!

From a new york times article published tonight:

“I’ve seen a lot of launches,” said Michael D. Leinbach, the shuttle launching director. “This was the most visibly beautiful launch I’ve ever seen.”

This mission will deliver solar arrays and a toilet to the space station.

OK, now for the dive pictures.

This was cool – at atlantic guitarfish, which is uncommon.  It’s about 3 feet long, so it’s about as large as they get, according to the definitive ID Guide.  However, the Denver aquarium has one tha looks like it’s about 7 feet long; maybe it’s another species.

Next comes this disturbingly phallic sponge:

An obligatory green moray eel picture:

Some christmas tree worms on a brain coral:

And finally this object, which I had to stare at for a few seconds before I realized what it was:

Just a clue: it was 6 feet from nose to tail, and here’s its face, buried in the sand:

Eventually my presence disturbed this southern stingray, and it rose from the sand like a UFO and rippled away.

A few comments on the dive.  This was a little challenging because of an “instabuddy” and a sloppy dive operator.  The dive operation has a very good reputation, and I’m sure everyone has bad days – and it wasn’t all their fault, because if I’d had a regular diving buddy, the dive would have been different also.

My dive buddy, X, hadn’t been diving for a few years and was rusty.  There were about 12 of us waiting for the boat, and the weather was ominous.  The wind had picked up to an alarming level and even in the protected sound of west palm beach there were whitecaps. I checked to make sure I was carrying a barf bag.  Everyone else was thinking the same thing; an unenthusiastic, grim set of divers greeted the boat as it pulled up to the dock; it was fighting the wind with great difficulty.  It looked like we were going to search for a body instead of to have some fun!  As it turned out, nobody got really ill, although it was kind of rough.  The reefs here are very close to the shore and it’s a mercifully short ride, maybe 25 minutes.

So X and I entered the water.  Right away I could see X struggling to sink; X was under weighted.  Then X tried to empty X’s BCD but didn’t know how to operate it.  I aborted the dive and we got back on the boat after being in the water for 2 minutes; the 4-foot waves and chop were no place to figure things out.  We got it straightened out with the help of a very patient dive master, and tried again.  This time, we made it to the bottom, but since we were by ourselves, we had to make sure to keep a good compass heading to not get too far away from the boat’s path.  X kept swimming in the wrong direction, or maybe it was just my paranoia that X didn’t seem focused on keeping a heading.  I couldn’t really enjoy my dive as I had to keep following X and pointing out the right direction.  10 minutes into the dive, my dive computer flooded.  I decided to keep going, as I also had a watch on and it my first dive of the day; I’d just use dive tables instead.  Prior to entering the water, I had checked tables so that I knew how much bottom time I could get, in case this happened.  No problem.

X had a high air consumption rate and we had to surface while I had 1600 pounds left (that’s at least 10 minutes of dive time out of what could have been a 40 minute dive).  Then, as I shot my surface marker from the bottom, X swam over it, momentarily became entangled, and then rushed to the surface where X used my surface marker like a life raft while I did my safety stop.  X also got a nice mask hickey by not equalizing properly.

Yet X was too nice and apologetic to allow me to be annoyed for long.  I also have done boneheaded things while diving.  I’ve been lucky, sometimes, to have more experienced people help me learn without making me feel stupid.  I thought about how this had made the world a better and safer place and tried to emulate those people, explaining what could be done next time, without shame or iritation.  I think it worked.  After our surface interval, we were ready to go in again, all psyched to do things properly.

But now, the boat crew messed up.  They told her to jump, and then while she was in the water, the boat sped away from her while I watched helplessly.  To compound matters, they shouted for her to submerge, instead of waiting on the surface for me.  By the time they let me jump in, I was too far away to find her.  Perhaps I should have refused; it occurred to me.  I tried to find with the dive master, but he disappeared in the heavy current and low visibility (or I totally misunderstood the simple dive plan).

Annoyed, I realized that this had become a solo dive.  I was more worried about X than myself.  I hung around watching the giant stingray for a little while, and then shot my surface marker.  It was on the surface during the 10 minutes of my ascent and safety stop, yet when I surfaced, I could see the boat a half mile away.  There it remained for 15 minutes, occasionally visible as the 4-foot chop carried me to a crest.  Later, I learned that it was because some divers wound up near the shipping channel and had to be rescued.

Now I don’t really blame X.  This was a dive operater of the type that caters to “diving for fun” and I think they were careless with an obviously inexperienced diver.  They didn’t try to evaluate her beforehand and decide how much watching she needed, and didn’t respond to clues that she needed such watching.  Because of this, I felt that my safety was a little compromised.  I was prepared to take care of myself, and I did, but it made me think.

It made me think about how even before I got to the shop, there were some disconnects – they had no sign, and were hard to find, and didn’t seem to be able to give me directions.  Other divers were also uninformed about the sign-in proceedure.  The dive operator didn’t see fit to mention that the shop shares space with an almost unrelated business, so that even when I found it and walked in, I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place.  It made me think about how they delivered my EAN 36 without offering to analyze it, and I had to ask where the analyzer was.  I almost didn’t get on the boat then, and that was before all this stuff with X happened.  Which makes me wonder if I should be more picky, and draw the line faster and more judgementally than I did.  I can usually trust myself, but if the boat is sloppy, my buddy is inexperienced, and then I make a mistake, bad things could happen to somebody.  Accidents often happen when many things go wrong; why take so many chances?  I won’t be using them again soon, although they were friendly and earnest enough.


2 Comments so far

  1. me March 16th, 2009 12:04 AM

    I wonder if you shouldn’t include the name of the operation to help others in the future? If not, I understand your hesitation; you don’t want to put out a bad word against a company if their carelessness is an anomaly, but I would want to know if I were researching dive companies online.

  2. Pam Kelly March 17th, 2009 9:48 PM

    Next time why don’t you give Narcosis Dive Charters a try. Located in Riviera Beach, the boat most days heads north to Juno or Jupiter reefs. They evaluate divers the best they can (sometimes diver’s are less than truthful about experience and last time in the water- who knew!) and won’t stick you with an incompatible buddy. One like yours they would try to keep with the diveguide. The boat is easy to find, fast, won’t beat you up in rough weather and has hot soups, tea, and cocoa on board during the cold water diving months. And hot showers.

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