Monday, August 22, 2005

Deep Dark

Many people that don’t scuba dive wonder what it is like. My standard answer is that it’s a blast, and I love it.

This is true if you stick to the diving that normal people do. Find a nice exotic location with warm clear water, jump in and enjoy the wonders of the ocean with all that it has to offer visually. It’s awesome to see colorful fish, large expanse of coral reefs, and other sea-life just waiting to be explored.

Then there is the type of diving I did the other night.

It wasn’t supposed to be a night dive, it was going to be merely a deep dive, but by the time we got out to the lake and found a deep hole to dive in, the sun had gone down.

This dive was a training exercise to fill a square for a deep dive. There were to be no pretty fish, no warm water, and not even girls laying around in bikini’s sunning themselves.

When you talk about going deep in many lakes, a few things always come to mind. It’s going to be cold, and it’s going to be dark. On this particular dive we were not disappointed.

All dives have a purpose, but most of the time the purpose is not as shallow as this deep dives purpose was. We were to basically just go deep so we could claim we had performed a deep training dive.

To be considered a “deep” dive, the goal is to go to a depth of at least 60 feet.

It took us a while to find a deep spot in this particular lake. In fact, in order to perform a deep dive in the county you need to work at finding a lake that has a deep enough hole to qualify. The line was let out to about 70 feet and it had a slate tied to the end so we could write our names on it to prove we were there.

My buddy and I checked over our gear then jumped into the quickly darkening surface of the lake to prepare for our decent. Bobbing on the surface I cleared my mask, and adjusted my hood back over my ears. I decided on using my thin hood since the thick hoods are so constricting, and it’s hard to hear through them at times.

Eventually we were both ready, so we began our decent into the blackness below.

The drop was uneventful as our lights were shinning on the yellow and orange rope, which was our path into the depths of this lake. As we continued down, the water temperature, as predicted, began to drop as well.

By the time we hit the bottom of the line at around 70 feet, the cold was intense. Let me try to describe what the temperature is like at that depth so you can fully appreciate how we felt at that moment.

If you have ever reached into an ice chest to get a drink, and had to root around in it for a while looking for your favorite beverage, you’ll start to get the idea what I mean by cold. Now picture this type of cold surrounding your head. Our bodies were pretty well protected, but it was evident immediately that I should have grabbed my thicker hood.

Once we hit the bottom of the line about the only thing I was thinking about is signing that dang slate so we could head back up to warmer water. I leveled my buoyancy off so I was no longer dropping, and grabbed the pencil to write my name. The exercise reminded me of the old game show where the mystery guest would sign in.

Looking around there was nothing. We were hanging in complete darkness, with only the comfort of our lights.

I’m glad I brought my light, and equally glad the batteries lasted for the entire dive. I had not been on a night dive for about a year and a half, and I wasn’t sure how long I had used the light when I had. My backup light, although it was checked and functional before we went down, was equally an unknown for the condition of its battery. Luck kept my main light burning throughout the dive,

Dropping below the point of the rope would have allowed us to go to about the 100 foot mark, according to the map we had, but that would have been an additional plunge into the darkness about 30 feet, for no reason.

When most people think of darkness, or nighttime, they think of being outside, or perhaps in their homes with the lights out. In those two situations, there is normally some form of light from small lights and other electrical equipment, to the brightness of the moon.

To get the same feeling we have on a night dive, especially at 70 feet, you need to close yourself into a dark room with absolutely zero light present. It’s the sort of darkness where no matter how close you hold your hand to your face, or how hard you strain to see it, you would see nothing.

By now I’m sure you understand the extreme cold and darkness we were feeling. These types of dives are not for the claustrophobic or folks who frighten easily. Yet do not think this is a typical dive. Scuba diving is still an awesome sport, and when performed in a normal environment, there is nothing like it in the world.

After signing the slate, I shone my light on it for my buddy to do his scribbling then signaled for us to begin the slower ascent back up the line. He agreed since I’m certain he was feeling just a cool as I was, and there was really nothing else to do at this depth with no visibility.

With our lights on our computers, and watching the rope out of the corner of our vision, we started the process of heading toward the surface.

The ascent seemed like it took forever as we inched our way along the rope. The water almost immediately warmed and we could feel the freezing tentacles of the depths losing its grip on us as if it did not have the strength to hold us down in its dark layer.

Once we hit the 25-foot mark we stopped for about 5 minutes as a safety stop. This precautionary measure allows the gases that have entered our bloodstream to slowly merge back into our tissues once again, and theoretically helps prevent the bends. I say theoretical because many factors such as health, weight, temperature, etc… can change how that entire process works. Even in cases where everything should have been perfect, divers have still got “bent”.

We continued followig the line toward the surface, because when it’s dark it’s easy to come up under the boat. A few feet from the surface I could see the bottom of the boat and ventured out away from it just a bit. The surface of the water broke above my head and I signaled to the boat crew that I was OK.

Although not one of the best dives I have done, it’s another one to add to my experience. One thing I have learned, and will hopefully remember, is that the next deep lake dive I do I will make sure I have on my thicker hood.

It’s time to clean the equipment, refill my air cylinder, and buy some fresh batteries for my lights. A backup break-and-shake light-stick will be added to my dive bag as well. All things considered, I’d rather do deep dives in Cancun, but unfortunately as a rescue diver, we have to be ready for any situation.

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