Mishap Equals Testing Opportunity & Adventure, Part 1

While putting away the plastic folding chairs borrowed for yesterday’s Open Boat (see “Excited? Not Yet” post), one of the chairs fell into the water.  My father-in-law, Ron, retrieving it, dropped his expensive pair of newly purchased prescription sunglasses over the dockside, adjacent to Kandu.  Bryce assured his grandfather that he would immediately retrieve them and donned his wetsuit.  After all, it was only a month ago that he performed the very same exercise to retrieve Trent’s skateboard that Bryce had dropped in the drink.  It was low tide, about 15 feet deep where we stood.  After half a dozen free dives, following the anchor and chain we had deployed to orient his decent, Bryce was successful and the board salvaged.  A couple of new bearings, and it’s as good as new.  Papa was really upset about losing his glasses, so before plunging into what Bryce sensed to be certain success, Bryce thought he might extract a little extra incentive from Papa, “Whatcha ya gonna give me if I get them?”

“He’s your grandfather.  He doesn’t owe you a thing.  Just do it for him,” I barked.  And down he went, several times, without success.  If you’ve never free dived to 15 feet (not deep by free-dive standards, but significant for newbies) in a wetsuit (which floats you) without weights or fins, in murky water with a sun low to the horizon without a flashlight, with a silty bottom, then you may not be able to appreciate the difficulty of the task Bryce was trying to achieve.  To get him down, we’d pull the anchor up, Bryce would hold it, take a deep breath, and then we’d drop the anchor with him holding it to the bottom.  So I offered to drive to our storage unit to get weights and an underwater flashlight.  I went there and picked up my own snorkeling gear while I was at it.  After several more unsuccessful attempts, Bryce gave up, washed off, and went to play Kendama with his marina friends.

I wanted to see what Bryce was up against, so I donned my gear and took the plunge (after several dockside burpee’s to warm my body temperature).  My novice ears hurt around 12 feet and I couldn’t see a thing, nada, and I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to do a thing.  Bryce’s feat impressed me all the more (I need to tell him that).  If I was going to find Papa’s sunglasses, I would need compressed air.  He own options: 1) a Spare Air device, a mini-SCUBA tank with a regulator built-in the stem.  It holds about 4-5 minutes of air.  We have it Velcro’d under our top companion way (the opening from our cabin to our cockpit, our ‘front door’ if you will) ladder step, ready to be deployed, except we haven’t had time to fill it with compressed air.  2) a hookah system, an electric (AC) air compressor that sends air down a hose to a regulator from which you can breath up to 60′ deep.  We purchased the two-diver set up, but it’s still in the box, unopened.

I thought about which live-aboard (a person who lives on the boat full-time) on our dock is a dive enthusiast.  There’s often one close by.   I recalled that Jim, a retired police officer, an experienced cruiser of many years, and a very helpful guy; was a diver and walked over to his boat with my Spare Air.  With the sun setting, he immediately offered to fill my little tank, and without either of us having read the instructions (not the best practice), after some trial and error, filled the yellow cylinder successfully.  Off I skipped to the scene of the crime.  Papa said to forget it.  It was getting dark, I was diving without a wetsuit, and dinner was being prepared, but I was attracted to the challenge.  I wanted to see if what the Spare Air could do, how it worked, and how I’d work with it.  I wanted to see what the bottom was like, the bottom that other boat owners warned me of.  So down I went, pulling the anchor chain (I need to buy a weight belt!) with my right hand, the same hand that held my light, while I held my Spare Air unit in my mouth, it being neutrally buoyant.

After about 9 feet into the decent, it was dark.  I could barely see a thing.  The flashlight’s beam would come and go, in and out of visibility.  It took longer to clear my ears (equalize pressure by gently blowing while squeezing my nose shut) than when I use to dive, probably due to a combination of cold, nervousness, and a lack of practice.  The silt was silky soft.  Holding the aluminum anchor’s shank, I gently touched the bottom, trying to feel around for anything as I dangled upside down like a party balloon.  If I let go the anchor, disoriented as I soon became, I could very easily rise too quickly to the surface and risk developing an air embolism in a lung, or worse, my brain (stuff you learn in SCUBA class).  I thought to myself, if were I to lose control, I would exhale most all the air from my lungs to prevent an embolism, as well as lessen the rate of my ascent.  So close to the surface, I wasn’t worried about reaching the surface with no air in my lungs.  As I felt around never letting loose my grip from the anchor, I recovered the hair cutting scissors I’d dropped months ago giving Trent a haircut.  I found the piece of grounding wire I’d dropped the day before, and I found the rug mat Trent dropped.  I collected the scissors and wire, but left the rug as I did not want to disturb the silt any more than necessary.  When my Spare Air ran out, I calmly rose to the surface blowing bubbles (just as I was taught in class).  Lacking experience, I didn’t count on the dock that was now over my head, preventing me from the much desired surface.  Not panicking, knowing the dock was only 5 feet wide and that I could hold my breath for another 30 seconds, I traced with my hands the barnacled edge of the dock, and rose to the top, only to hit my head against Kandu’s hull before surfacing.  Ouch, but I was on the surface now, able to easily breath again, with all my equipment and goodies in tack.  From the bottom, although I had entered the water from our neighbor’s slip, where the anchor chain hung off our dock, I had no idea that I was actually working directly under the dock that separates Kandu from our neighbor’s powerboat.  The anchor, when we dropped it, must have glided under the slip between our two boats.  Next time, I’ll slowly lower the anchor instead of dropping it.

As I pulled myself onto the dock, Jim walked up with his ‘pony’ tank, a small tank of air with its own regulator and hose designed to help a SCUBA diver surface safely in the event his primary system fails.  It was five times bigger than my Spare Air.  As night fell, I descended once again, this time with Jim’s pony tank wrapped over my right shoulder like a purse, not the normal practice.  As I slowly descended, attempting to not disturb the bottom, giving me time to clear my ears, my light caught the bottom; a mini moonscape.  I tried to methodically and gently press down the fingers of my left hand, like a piano player lightly touching five keys.  Suddenly, from the sea floor a form quickly approaches my face.  Knowing that panic kills, I suppress my flight instinct and hold my position.  “There’s a perfectly reasonable and benign event occurring,” I reason to myself.  “It’s probably the silt percolating up from something disturbed by my right side,” I surmise, and continue my search until again my air runs out and I’m forced to surface.  Again I’m under the dock, and again I rise under Kandu, but this time, I’m not surprised.

After a hot shower and I rinse all the gear off with fresh water, Jim tells me of his underwater, search and rescue exercises, learned as part of his certification.  Tie a lanyard (small rope) to the anchor and gently swim around the perimeter that the lanyard allows as you circle the anchor (approximately 8′ radius), looking only (he lent me his big underwater spotlight), no touching.  If I’m not successful just looking, then I gently touch the surface, again using the lanyard as search perimeter tool.  So today I pulled our hookah system and Honda generator out of storage, and plan to put them into service for the first time, checking them out, and finding those glasses.  The adventure continues . . . .

Trent Demonstrates Spare Air
Before School, Trent Demonstrates Spare Air Placement