Traveling Tale of Woe

February 20, 2020 8:27 AM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

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Thank you Ken Kurtis


I got this note from a diver I've known for a long time. Although I think there are good lessons to be learned here and suggested he post this, he's a bit embarrassed about what happened given his lengthy diving experience but said if I could sanitize it and make it anonymous, I could share the story. (And it truly isn't me in this tale.) But the point is that even experienced divers can easily make mistakes or take things for granted. The dive that starts off with you checking out mentally could spiral out of control. Fortunately, his only ends up as a story:

The wife and I did a cruise a few months ago. The cruise did not offer any scuba packages, so we contacted local dive shops on some of the islands. We picked based on reviews on TripAdvisor and reading their websites. In the end we decided we would be too busy to dive and left our gear at home (we only took our masks and snorkels), Well as it turns out, while on the cruise we decided to dive on Barbados and Antigua and recontacted the dive operators on those islands. And it did not go very well for me.

First was Barbados. My wife and I were sent down the anchor line first, then a family of resort divers was going to enter with their DM, then our DM was going to come down and guide she and I around. Well I was a little bored and the vis was terrible - maybe 20'. There was a patch of fans and coral a few feet away, so I decided to look at it. I moved in a straight line to it, looked back and made sure I could see her and the concrete anchor, then turned back to the coral. Suddenly a surge came by and vis dropped to about 5 feet. I knew I had screwed up royally, flipped my rental console over to use the compass and swim straight back while I was still oriented to the fans. But there was no compass (I hadn't checked prior to descending), and the surge was moving me around a lot. So I crept back and couldn't find the anchor. So I spent a few minutes swimming a circle pattern, then with great expectations of embarrassment, started my slow ascent of shame. About 20', the sea cleared and I saw the line. I went back down and nobody was there. I stayed a few minutes, then ascended up the line to the boat. When I was about 10', the line went slack as the boat unhooked to go after the family who had been trying to drift dive when the vis went bad and were now at the surface ready for recovery. I popped up (no audio signaling device or sausage) in 3-4' swells and saw the boat leaving. I did get their attention and signaled I was OK and then hung on the mooring buoy for about 20 minutes until after all others were recovered. I was so embarrassed at how I had managed to screw up royally in such a short time in the water. The folks on the boat felt terrible that they took us to a place that had the vis drop out leaving me lost 15 feet from my wife - they thought it was their error, but the wife and I knew it was mine. Second dive 2 miles away was wonderful.

Then Antigua. Here the dive gear was poorly fitting. It was way too small and useless for a fat guy like me. But I did not really mind the tank flopping around as the cummerbund kept coming undone. At about 45' on our way to 65' my reg started breathing very hard.

Inhaling was pulling my mask against my face. So I went to the octo and it was the same. The high pressure gauge was reading a full tank and did not dip as I breathed, so I knew the valve was on. I hesitated before calling the dive, but if it was already having trouble at 45', I did not want to have to be concerned about something failing the rest of the way while on a dive, so I found the DM, explained the situation and was escorted back the boat where I sat out that dive. Second dive with different reg was great.

Next time I take my own gear. Or if I rent, I will make sure there is a compass - even in the Caribbean. I should have had a signaling device like a sausage as well. If I had taken my BC, it would have been attached and ready. I also would have been familiar with the gear and it would have fit properly.

The Antigua dive frustration was not my fault, it was just one of those things that was inconvenient, and not a significant risk. If the reg had failed while in a group, there was plenty of air to borrow for a safe return to the boat.

The Barbados dive was a risk of my own creation. I was THAT DIVER. I was headstrong and over confident. As such I inconvenienced others and thereby increased risks by requiring attention that was not then available for the others if they had a problem. As we know most serious dive problems are a series of small risk-increasing events that together become a crisis. I knew better, and yet there I was in the middle of a mess of my own creation.

I thought you might find this a fascinating study in vacation diving on a non-diving vacation. I have been a diver since 1974, you would think I would have known better.


Ken Kurtis
NAUI Instr. #5936
Owner, Reef Seekers Dive Co.

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