Take Me Down, Blue Water Divers, Take Me Down
Happy Father’s Day to us! What better way to celebrate this day than on a (Virgin)SSUDs(2011) adventure? Ok, maybe with our families but we do that every year. This was the perfect nonfamily, unusual way to do Father’s Day, with my wonderful SSUDs fellows! I started the day by opening a card Chloe had included in my luggage, a lovely, hand-made one.
The morning tingled with excited tension for more than just Father’s Day. Today we’d do our first SCUBA dives of the trip. Jon and Ben had both just been certified and their only dives had been their checkout dives for their certification classes. This morning’s dives would be their first real-world dives. After another wonderful breakfast prepared by Jon, we powered up the VHF to listen for BWD’s call and began gathering our gear.
I fought my way into the lower half of my skinsuit and left the arms tied around my waist, throwing my long-sleeved white wicking shirt over my upper body, SCUBA booties on my feet, and my bejeweled CAPTAIN’s hat on my head. Mask, fins, snorkel, regulator, gloves, shortie wetsuit, and plastic laminate dive tables and fish id charts in my net bag. Towel and dry shorts ready to hand and valuables in the drybag. Ok, ready for that radio callup.
A short eternity later, we heard the radio call “Kokomo, Kokomo, Kokomo…” Once they knew to look for the catamaran with aqua sailcovers and a LARGE pirate flag flying from the spreaders, they pulled alongside and we boarded the diveboat.
We were greeted there by a disparate group of divers, hip 20-somethings, fat middle-aged guys, a skinny older guy who turned out to be from Ashland, Oregon where Chloe will soon do her Shakespeare Festival internship, and we three oddballs. The captain/divemaster hmmmed at Ben’s and Jon’s newly-minted C-cards then hmmmed again at my ragged Divemaster C-card which was (probably) older than he was. A quick ride had us tied to the diveboat mooring in the area between The Indians and Pelican Island. A short briefing in Dutch-accented English from our Divemaster, Boed (casually pronounced as “Boots”), and we started gearing up to spend an hour or so under the ocean’s deceptive surface. The silent world. The secret world. The crepuscular revealed. Yeah, baby!
Gearing up on a crowded, pitching diveboat is, let’s admit it, a pain in the ass. Eventually, you’re encumbered in what seems like a ton of gear, with awkward, long flipper-feet, and your vision obscured by the mask on your face. Then, ya gotta lean over backwards from your seat on the gunwale and trust that you’ll fall into the water uninjured, with your regulator supplying fresh air to you and your BC inflated to keep you at the surface instead of empty which would allow you to continue to plunge, backwards and upside down, to the seafloor.
You did remember to turn on your tank to allow your gear to work, especially your regulator!, and you did fill your BC before you backrolled, right?
In the same way that we laugh at penguins on land but admire their agility in the water, once you’re in the proper environment, you are, like the noble penguin, no longer awkward and limited. You are weightless, and sleek, and free in three dimensions.
Once everyone is in the water, Divemaster Boed gives us the go-ahead to descend. Everyone raises his/her left hand into the air, grasping the BC control tube, and dumps positive buoyancy. We descend into Mother Ocean, the Panthalassa of Classical Greece. All saltwater in the world is connected; once you enter saltwater you are simultaneously in your particular place but also connected to the entire world. Both comforting and a tad scary.
Floating down into the comfortable, blue world, the awkwardness of the surface disappears; you’re now a creature of the ocean, a three-dimensional being, moving freely and smoothly in a lovely, supporting medium. Fellow swimmers come to greet you, yellowtails, tangs, sergeant-majors, grunts, parrotfish, and on and on. Fans and other soft denizens sway in the gentle current. We explore this new universe, supported and embraced by our original home, Panthalassa.
A timeless time and a distanceless distance later, we’re back at the mooring line, ready to return to the world of gravity. Hand over hand, up the mooring line, following our bubbles to the silver surface. Fins off, and it’s grunt up the boarding ladder with the now-heavy gear pulling you endlessly toward the center of the earth. Resistance is temporarily successful and with gear shed and stripped back to just me in my skinsuit, I sit and breathe ambient air for the first time in an hour. And blow lots of salty snot from my nose. A quick drink of fresh water to clear the palate and I’m ready to head to our second dive.
Once everyone is back aboard, we zoom over to our second dive of the morning. We chat and Divemaster Boet gives a dive briefing while we count down our required surface interval between dives. This one is called Angelfish Reef. Boet jokes that, just as we saw no pelicans at Pelican Island, we’re not likely to see angelfish at Angelfish Reef. We do, however, expect to see a spotted drum, which is kinda rare, and, even cooler, a coupla spotted drum babies. Excellent.
Surface interval done, we once again do the gearing-up process and drop in to the welcoming blue. It feels like going home. Once again we see a wide variety of vibrant reef life and we do find the baby drums. Very cool. And then again we are suddenly out of bottom time and Boet signals us to surface. Sigh.
This time, back aboard the diveboat I strip out of my skinsuit completely and put on my dry shorts and long-sleeve wicking shirt for the ride back to Kokomo. Some fresh water to cleanse my salty palate and I can see Jon and Ben vibrating with excitement and delight. They don’t need to speak to tell me that they now know intuitively that SCUBA is truly a heart’s desire for them. Their faces say it all.
Back at Kokomo, we had some lunch and revisited/re-lived our experiences of the morning. After rinsing all our gear with the fresh-water shower on the port transom top step, we rested a bit then freed ourselves from our mooring to sail to a new overnight spot, anchored in Little Harbour (British spelling, of course) at Peter Island. A pleasant sail took us to Little Harbour which used to be watched over by Percy Chubb III from his house on the hill. He was infamous for shooting his high-powered rifle through the mainsail of people who irritated him by doing unseamanlike things, like dumping their garbage in the bay. Nowadays, his house, which formerly would have been marked on sailing charts as “conspic. white house”, is just a ruin. Tempus fugit. My crew and I completed a smooth and successful deployment of our anchor and we were settled in for the evening, ready for BWD to visit us again the next morning.
And the morning and the evening were the third day. Or fourth, depending on how you count.