The Casual Blog

Tag: Down Under Surf & Scuba

Getting better (scuba rescues)

If I like doing something, I like getting better at it. In fact, I probably won’t like it for long if I can’t get better at it. They would mean doing the same thing over and over, and why would anyone want to do that?

I’ve recently been improving at several things I like, including playing the piano, golf, and scuba diving. This weekend, I took a big step forward in scuba when I took the PADI rescue diver course.

As I’ve noted in a prior post, I really like the idea of having enough first aid skills to help save a life, and so this project was particularly meaningful to me. The reading and classroom sessions gave me a greater knowledge base on the various things that could go wrong for careless or unlucky divers — equipment problems, encounters with venomous plants and animals, or underlying medical conditions. In each of these situations, there are ways to help, even if there are not complete solutions.

In the two-day skills class at Fantasy Lake Scuba Park (a former quarry), I was fortunate to have an experienced teacher (Nikki) with three able assistants, and a class (counting me) of four. There was a lot of individual attention. My fellow students were experienced divers who were focused and good humored. Charlie, a UPS driver, was particularly impressive in his emergency problem solving skills.

We were tasked with various stressful problems. A tired diver. A panicked diver. A missing diver. And many others. The required skills were many. We dealt constantly with situations that were novel and unsettling. This was, of course, tiring, but also stimulating.

There were physical challenges. I cut a finger, got stung by a yellow jacket on another finger, and got a bruise on an arm. Propelling a victim in while giving rescue breaths and removing equipment was complicated and exhausting.

There were also psychological challenges. I particularly dreaded trying to find a missing diver underwater; the combined problems of navigation in low visibility and a potential fatality were anxiety producing. I also dreaded the issues of rescue breathing for an unconscious diver in the water. The physical intimacy of face to face contact (even, as we did it, with simulated mouth-to-mouth breaths) with a relative stranger, even in the practice situation, was something I would rather have avoided. But in the end, it was manageable, thanks to my teacher and the assistants. With the benefit of the practice, I have a high degree of confidence I could actually take a run at helping someone in dire distress.

The exercise inspired thoughts of mortality, and life. I felt happy to be as healthy as I am. My regular morning exercise routine paid major dividends in the physically demanding parts of the course. My careful eating with an emphasis on things that are good for my body gave me good energy and balance. It worked out well. I would be very happy never to have to use these new skills, but I feel like I can do it, if necessary.

Caribbean diving in Honduras

Yesterday Sally and I returned to Raleigh after a week of scuba diving in Roatan, Honduras. We explored the second longest barrier reef in the world and were overcome by the incredible beauty under the water. It was intoxicating: thousands of luminous fish, enormous sea turtles, exquisite sea horses, exotic invertebrates, and vast coral structures in rainbow colors, I highly recommend it, though I hope not too many people go, particularly if they’re careless divers. The reef is ancient but fragile, still teeming with life, but threatened by human activity.

We stayed at CoCo View Resort, an establishment designed for divers. There’s no casino, no television, and little in the way of shopping or other entertainment. The focus is scuba. The hotel is on a small island that’s a short swim from the edge of the reef, and a number if prime locations are within a ten-minute boat ride. They have convenient, well-organized lockers a few steps from the boat docks, and the boats are well set up for diving. Our captain, known as Gringo, and divemaster, Mark, were friendly, knowledgeable, and hard-working. They took us on four boat dives a day, and most nights we went on an additional dive off the shore. My total of dives for the week was 24, while Sally did 21. This meant that most of our time was either preparing to dive, diving, and preparing to dive again, with short intervals for eating and sleeping. I did manage to sneak in a bit of reading and a couple of naps in the hammock on our balcony that overlooked the bright green water of the bay.

Personal highlights included ten sea turtles in one day, including one that I spotted while swimming in for a close look at a pair of queen angelfish. We saw almost as many sea horses in one day, several scorpion fish, and four species of eels. On one night dive we saw three octopuses, including one that we watched for several minutes as it changed colors and shapes in a brilliant attempt to camouflage itself against various backgrounds. On our last day we saw our first ever squids, a pair that hovered near us for a couple of minutes, than swam almost close enough to touch.

There were also, unfortunately, lionfish in greater abundance than we’ve previously seen. This fast-multiplying invasive species is disrupting reef ecosystems across the Caribbean. Mark had a license to kill these destructive predators, and at one point executed six in two minutes. Another time, after an execution, he offered the remains to a spotted eel, which emerged from its hole for the snack. Mark confirmed that the lionfish seemed to have cut into the populations of other creatures. I wondered if the lack of sharks and rays (we saw only one southern sting ray) was a consequence.

We went with a group of about a dozen other divers organized by Dan P. and Down Under Surf and Scuba. Most of the other divers were very experienced. We learned more about diving and new species from them, and enjoyed their company. The vibe was friendly and relaxed.

It was fantastic to swim with large schools of small, brightly colored fish, and also to hunt for hidden treasures — well camouflaged and bizarre creatures. As the week went on, I found it more and more satisfying to focus directly on the coral. The variety of structures was remarkable. There were species that resembled various plants and ones that looked like rocky organisms. Late in the trip, I used my flashlight to inspect the coral at 70 feet, and discovered that species I’d first taken to be dull gray or brown were quite colorful — burgundy, lime, mauve.

And as I spent more hours underwater, I felt more peaceful, less distracted, more focussed. There were only a couple of painful moments. I got stung by fire coral on my hand, which felt like a burn, and stung by an unseen creature on my lip, which felt like a wasp. But mostly I felt deeply happy. I wondered, as we prepared to leave, whether, with more time, I’d keep getting better at looking at tiny things, and enjoy them even more.