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A dive to remember!

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The story is true and it all happened on the 27th of December 2005 in the India Ocean. But first a few words to set the mood right… My wife and I were on a honeymoon in the paradise islands of Praslin in the Seychelles.

I’m a Padi Divemaster and at the time I had over 350 dives, my wife L. an open water diver with a lot fewer dives than myself with significantly  less experience in “open water” dives but still very capable. I had brought with me on our trip a mask, my Suunto D9, and an inflatable “banana” buoy to have incase we went for a dive. Basic gear for snorkelling plus my underwater camera.

The day was slow, as it is on an island like this, but cloudy which made it a perfect day to go for spontaneous fun dive. We found a dive shop and arranged a fun dive with them on the afternoon, but a few minutes later we canceled and chose another dive centre  which was Padi certified.

All looked good, gear, briefing, boat and crew. The dive was to take place on a reef 20 minutes offshore by some other tiny island. The boat was new and would easily fit 13 divers and 2 crew. A few minutes later we were at the reef ready to dive, but it did not look good.

And it did not look good for a few reasons. The sea was very rough, hardly able to stand up in the boat, cloudy, raining and it was getting late. We were split into two groups of 7 and 6 divers. Both groups with local guides. At that point I said to the captain that it was not safe to dive under these conditions but they reassured everyone that it was ok. I was not convinced but by the time I could say something more the first group was already in the water. My group was almost in the water so we decided to go ahead with the dive and be done with it, better sooner than later. And in most cases the sea is calmer near the bottom than on the surface.

The 4 divers of my group went quickly underwater since the sea was really wavy and it was difficult to stay on the surface. L and I stayed with the guide since he was the only one who knew the area and we would be safer with him.

We went underwater but Ls ears would not equalise quickly so we lost visibility of the other 4 divers who were in the water before us. The guide wanted to leave us and go and find the others. My aim of the dive was to stick to the guide and not get split up which was not easy. My training as divemaster really came handy when I had to look after group of divers floating all over the place. In this case I had to look after L and make sure her ears equalised and not lose the idiot guide who was swimming away in the murky depths. I guess my sign language was vivid and persuading enough to change his mind and stay with us. A few minutes later we reached the sandy bottom at around 27m which was completely different from the advertised lively reef around 20m. After that we decided to surface since visibility was next to zero and we had no clue on where we were.

On our ascend we made a safety stop at 5m which was the point on which I started to get really worried. The guide released his banana marker buoy to the surface so the boat could locate us. Usually at that point you can either see or hear the boat above. But in our case there was absolutely nothing. A few minutes later we surfaced to a storm, with huge waves, strong currents and rain. At first sight we did not see a boat but we immediately lost the horizon and had to wait for us to reach the top of the next wave in order to look around. A few waves later we realised we fucking lost! My basic french were rusty but the guides swearing, cursing and splashing water reassured me that he had no clue on where we were, contrary to what he claimed.

So we are stuck in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a storm with an idiot guide to keep us safe. Just fucking great! The sun setting in a few hours and we had no clue on where the boat was, what has happened to the others, if people were looking for us and more or less if we would make it to tell the story. Ironically everybody back home made fun of us and reminded us of the couple in open water and their tragedy but little they knew we were floating helpless that Christmas afternoon somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

The clown we had for a guide removed his inflated BCDand tried to stand up on it to see for the boat. Something impossible even at calm waters which only tired him down. At that point I realised that he was useless so I tied the string of the buoy on my bcd so in case he decided to leave, drown or fly away we would at least have the banana with us to signal any rescue boat that might be looking for us.

At that point reality hit L and she started to panic but quickly realised that panic would not help and went into survival mode.

In the distance we could see the silhouette of an island so we decide to try and swim towards that direction, something impossible but it was our only hope. I’m not sure if we actually swam or just drifted and our effort was mainly not to drown and keep afloat. Time didn’t seem to pass nor things to get any better but after about an hour we somehow rejoined the other 4 divers of our group and held each other from the BCDs to form a human chain. The weather was so bad that we struggled not to topple on each other and very often we used our regulators to breath.

Joining the group was somewhat uplifting for everyones spirit with spontaneous small talk on when everybody arrived on the island, where they were from and talk around our sticky situation. Even though everybody seemed pretty calm (if I remember correctly the other divers had over 600 dives) you could clearly see through their masks the wide pupils on everybodies eyes.

Behind the small talk I’m sure that everybody was thinking on what had just happened, on what could happen, on death and survival, on the soon to come night, sharks and cold. On years that passed, friendships and family and what the future held.  And we had plenty of time to think.

I was not afraid of sharks or the night. My main concern was getting cold and tired. The dark could be something used to our advantage and aid our rescue since we had a few flashlights with us and spotting us from a distance would be much easier, if there was someone looking for us.

Over three hours had passed, the storm started to calm, although still in a huge swell, and the sky begun to clear to a colourful sunset. At the distance a rainbow formed and saw a large fish jump out the water, probably a dolphin. A fairy tale scene lacking the mermaids but to our luck a saw a boat in the distance.

We went mad! the boat turned to our direction and picked us up. On the boat were the other 6 unlucky, lucky divers who the current had all put into a line. The boat was the second of the dive club that was out looking for us.

Everybody was so happy and relived I can not put into words. One would think that someone would beat the hell out of the people on the dive club or press charges but as far as I know no one bothered and just wanted to get over with this. Of course the dive club people were very apologetic and as happy.

After we were back we realised what had went wrong. The briefing was that the dive would be 40+ minutes long so after we all went into the water the boat left for the island since there was water coming in due to the bad weather. 20 minutes to go back, change to another boat and 20 mins to come back to the reef to pick us up. For someone irresponsible it seemed like a feasible plan but our  and everybody else’s dive was short and surfaced to a strong current. Our dive was 9 minutes long as you can see in the profile.

This “fun” dive was life changing for me as it was for everybody else. You surely put things into perspective and set your priorities straight. You have no idea on how strong you are and how much your body take when in survival mode. Having things turned the way they did I’m kind of glad this has happened.

After this, when for a dive I always have with me a telescopic safety flag and not the floating banana type which is useless on bad conditions since it wont stay up. A reel with a long string to be used as an anchor with my weight belt,a whistle and a flash light for signalling.

After this I always feel uneasy on a boat and especially when on a boat dive.

On the top photo you can see the island in the distance on which the reef was. I took this photo in case they found us drowned so they could see where we were.

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  1. Pingback: Nautilus Lifeline GPS VHF Safety Radio | Burning Calories

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