This is Part 2 in a Series. Read Part 1 HERE.
Did I mention how terrified I am to scuba dive? No? Well, rest assured that I told my instructor. And Zach. And Kate, the other student diving with us. Here I am, yesterday morning, having problem after problem with pool gear. Mask too tight, respirator too difficult to breathe through, can’t get properly weighted. Bleh. Still. Not giving up yet.
Then we spent time calculating nitrogen concentration in one’s body, safe dive times, etc. I liked this because it was math-y, and also showed that dive sickness is avoidable, and not just a matter of chance circumstance. We got onto the boat for a 40 minute ride out to Sand Key, part of the coral barrier reef 7 miles from Key West. I cannot imagine a prettier day on the water. Calm and glassy and teal.
The crew had the tanks all lined up.
We squeezed into wetsuits and hoods. This is Zach making his “THIS IS AWESOME” face.
This was the view off the side of the boat. Those greeny patches? They’re corals 20 feet below.
My nerves kicked in while strapping up. I actually had to put on a ton of gear and then just JUMP off the side of the boat. It took a full 2 minutes of hyperventilation on the “gangplank”, and ultimately I asked Rick, the first mate, to push me off. Once in, I had a bit of a panic, until Zach saw a loggerhead sea turtle 20 feet away on the surface, and I realized that I needed to get under that water. Here’s a bit of bubbly surface panic, but check out those fish! They kept coming close, giving me curious side-eyed looks:
I clutched the rope, all the way down to 5 feet, adjusting and readjusting my mask, my respirator, and finding all my gauges. I hovered there with Duane, the instructor, while Zach sort of paddled around nearby, getting his bearings. I realized I needed to cry, and then prompltly discovered that there is no crying in scuba diving. I surfaced, jittery, breathed a bit (but didn’t cry!), then went back down. Slowly, slowly descending to 16 ft, whimpering and grasping at my teacher’s jacket, bug-eyed with terror.
Duane had a tablet for communicating, so he wrote encouraging things like “slow down, you’re doing fine” and “no drills yet, this is the fun part”:
It took me ages to relax and let go of that rope, and then I was only willing to swim in circles around it. Finally, I calmed down and we set off to see all sorts of fishies and corals.
Zach gave me the camera, which was soothing, and took my mind off basic breathing. Time was almost up, so we went to the back of the boat and rested with our knees on the sandy bottom. Zach did his drills, taking out his respirator, getting it back in, and clearing the water from his mask:
We surfaced and I said something I never thought I’d say “I didn’t want to come back up.” We climbed aboard the Sea Eagle and the crew switched up our gear for fresh tanks.
Then we cruised to our next spot. I noticed that my hands were really itchy and tingly. Duane said this was from hydra stings and fire corals that grow on the ropes. A good lesson…I won’t be clutching the rope next time. The second plunge was much easier, though I still asked Rick for a tiny push; it’s psychologically pretty difficult to jump in with that much gear on. It just seems impossible that you’re going to float.
On this dive I got comfortable faster, and did my own drills of taking out my respirator, tossing it behind me, relocating it, and putting it back it. Then we just cruised and swam and took pictures of pretty things. Our coral reef is gorgeous.
I didn’t think I could do it, truly. Zach says he knew I was capable, despite all my worries, because he’s seen me work through all kinds of fears.
A brave new adventure! Two more dives next week, then I’ll be a card-carrying, PADI-certified open water diver. This time, I can’t wait to go back under. Zach was glad to send his 20s off with a bang. Happy 30th birthday today, mister!