We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
I’m sure some of my dreams were sea-born as I rested sea-borne in my cabin, floating on that sea bourn. I woke slowly and languorously to another idyllic Caribbean morning. No AM diveboat today, an indulgent morning followed by an afternoon dive to the enticingly-named Wreck Alley. As we woke and became part of the day, Ben and Jon thought they might enjoy a snorkel in the area of Cistern Point, just South of our location. I was, again, more in the mood to rest my still-sore butt so I’d have sufficient energy for our afternoon dive and our two-dive adventure the next day; therefore I chose to stay on board and have a lazy morning.
The fellas geared up and hopped in the dink for a run over to Cistern Point. I told ‘em to look for the blue dinghy tie-up ball and waved them off on their adventure. Being a little bit in mother-hen mode, I watched them as they sped away, hoping to see them successfully tie up the dink and drop in for their snorkelling adventure. I saw them speed over the shallows between Cooper Island and Cistern Point. Too far, guys, the dink ball is on this side of Cistern Rock. But here they come, back toward where the dink ball lives. Then, they’re stopping. Ok. Guess they’ve found a spot they like and are happy to drop in there. Then they’re paddling. And paddling back toward Kokomo. Oh oh.
When I’m certain they are indeed distinctly paddling back toward Kokomo rather than some nearby spot to leave the dink while they snorkel, I power up Kokomo’s mighty, twin, three-cylinder diesels and head toward them. When we meet, they explain that the dink prop hit a rock and they now have no propulsion from the dink motor. Oops.
A brief examination confirms that the prop is only a bit deformed but it spins freely on the driveshaft. Clearly some sacrificial shear-pin or its equivalent has broken internally to save the transmission from damage in such an event and we are reduced to rowing or paddling the dink. An indulgent brunch would be a nice substitute for a snorkel, right? We move Kokomo to the mooring ball closest to the dive shop dock to reduce our rowing efforts for the coming afternoon and settle into a comfortable midday. Wreck Alley will be our deepest dive so far, being down at a consistent 85-90 feet as opposed to the maximum Rhone depth of 80ish, shallowing from there to 60 and less.
Lemme tell ya about Martini’s Law. Unlike Boyle’s Law, Charles’ Law, Gay-Lussac’s Law, and Avogadro’s Law, which are actual, scientific laws regarding gasses and pressure, Martini’s Law is more of a homiletic concerning the effects of Henry’s Law, describing the effect of partial pressure of gasses. Without going into the boring details about why, Martini’s Law warns the diver that every atmosphere of increased pressure, approximately every 33 feet, is like drinking a(nother) martini. So, at 33 feet, you’ve had the equivalent of 1 martini, 66 feet equals 2 martinis, etc. The actual effect is from nitrogen, in the form of nitrogen narcosis, aka "rapture of the deep." At the 90+-foot level, you’ve had the equivalent of 3 martinis. Just like alcohol, the effect is subjective. Some people seem to exhibit no impairment. Others seem clearly impaired. A person who experienced negligible effects one day might show significant effects another day. This information will be useful later in this narrative. (wink)
Ok, I’m back. I took a midday break to go to REI with Ronnie. She wound up with a pair of blue Vibram Komodos. (She’s partial to the periwinkle!) They’ve very cool; I think I want some. Anyway, back to the Caribbean.
So in the middle of the afternoon, the SCD boat pulls up to their dock and we row the dink over to meet them. Wonderfully, it will be a dive with just the three of us. A couple of other people tentatively signed up but then dropped out. How sweet is that? Our private guided dive of Wreck Alley. We had read up on this site in the dive guide I purchased at the shop. Our divemaster for this dive, Ria O’Hagen, was the illustrator of the guide and the cover is a depiction of the Beata, which was added to the site in 2000. Cool.
The three of us head over to the site of Wreck Alley in the SCD diveboat with the lovely Ria and her trusty assistant whose name I forget so he’ll be Igor for the purposes of this narrative. [N.B. I have been reliably informed by Ria on 1/24/14 that "Igor" was really Kit Arton. Sorry, Kit. You were cool and it was a great day with you.] We arrive and tie to the dive mooring. As Kit gets us geared up (careful individual attention – nice), Ria gives us the dive briefing. She’ll be monitoring our air carefully because this is a consistently deep dive on multiple wrecks. Rate of air consumption is the key this afternoon. We all notice the excellent level of professionalism during this period. I don’t wanna denigrate BWD but their level of professionalism was a lot more casual than what Ria and Kit are showing us. For instance, Kit drops a long hooka airhose over the side; this is a very nice safety backup if someone runs short of air but still needs to do a longish decompression stop before final ascent to the surface.
I’m liking Ria and SCD very much. And the trusty Kit, too, of course.
Now comes the piece de resistance, the icing on the cake, the sine qua non, as Ria dons her Riasaur dive cap. OMFG! I needs me one of those!
Then we’re off to the bottom of the sea to explore four separate wrecks, from the 90-foot Marie L. to the much larger, multiply-named Island Seal/Joey D. The dive mooring is on a reef which sits at about 50’. We descend to the reef then drop over the edge of its wall down to the bare sand bottom at 90ish’, where we encounter the Pat and the Marie L. lying together. After some exploration of these two and the life they support, we swim North parallel to the wall, across an eel garden, to come to the tug Beata.
As we’re exploring the Beata, Ria asks us for our air status. We started with 3000psi. Ben signals that he’s at about 2200psi by flashing 2 fingers, then 2 again. I flash 2 then 1 for 2100psi, Jon signals 1 and 1.
Wow! Really? Jon has been good on air all week; I’ve usually been the low air guy, fighting against the debilitation of my twisted left knee and my damaged right buttock, but now Jon is signaling only 1100psi while Ben and I are still above 2K. Ria takes careful note and, as she confided to us on our return to the diveboat, she picks up the pace a bit to be sure we get done and back to the ascent line in a safe timeframe.
Done with our exploration of the Beata, we swim toward the Island Seal/Joey D. As we survey the length of this sunken barge we notice that she sank upside down and there’s a gap of maybe three feet between the deck, which is the downside of the wreck, and the smooth sand bottom. A bit past midway along the length of this wreck, Ria heads under it crosswise, a distance of about 60’. Oh my! Ben was first in line behind her and later confessed that he hesitated a moment (or two), imagining the possibility of a strong current or undersea quake shifting the wreck and eliminating that 3-foot gap while he was under the boat.
But, ultimately, how could he hesitate when a mere slip of a girl led the way under without hesitation? (grin) Ben took a deep breath and kicked his way into the narrow gap, following the rare Riasaur into the dark, constrained unknown.
Safely and successfully surviving our under-wreck passage, Ria queries our air status. Ben signals 1 and 5, 1500psi. Ok. I signal 1 and 3, 1300psi. Fine. Jon signals 1 and 2, 1200psi. Huh? Ria swims over to personally look at his SPG (submersible pressure gauge). How could Jon have gained air when the rest of us were sucking down an additional 700-800 from over 2K to mid-to-low 1K values? Jon’s gauge does indeed register 1200psi and Ria leads us back up onto the reef for some lifeform siteseeing after all our wreck experiences.
Finally, we make our way back to the ascent line, do a safety decompression stop, then clamber back aboard the diveboat, assisted by the enthusiastic Kit. As we chat about all aspects of the dive, Jon’s air reporting is the significant one. Remember Martini’s Law? Jon informs us that the first time Ria asked for air levels, Jon actually had 1900psi but was too narced to think of how to convey 1 and 9 and he just wound up raising his fingers in the 1 and 1 that he reported, rather than the 1 and 9 he intended to report. That was clearly the laugh of the day.
Unlike the cheap beer offered us post-dive by BWD, our hostess and host today offer us slices of homemade cake as we strip off dive gear and ready ourselves for the ride home. How very civilized. Back to the SDC dock and the friendly and customer-oriented staff agree to drop the 6 tanks right at Kokomo, rather than making us try to fit all that in the dink and then row it all back to Kokomo. With 6 tanks and assorted other gear aboard, we are ready for the next day and we wave goodbye to the SDC crewboat as they head back to Tortola for the night.
Thanks, y’all. It was a lovely and exciting dive. Tomorrow, we’re on our own.