Monday, November 05, 2007

50 minutes underwater

My brother often makes jokes about having an incomprehensible job – I have a job that everyone has heard of! You’ve all, no doubt, watched Nat Geo documentaries with divers, but do you actually know what I do on an ordinary day? Yesterday I was guiding, and it was a good day! This blog is about one dive.

I suppose I should start with all the paperwork, getting all the gear ready, the careful chat with my customer to establish how confident/competent/experienced he is as a diver and most important, how likely he is to panic! Then there’s the dive briefing, loading up the boat, setting up the gear… and finally, getting in the water!

We back-rolled off the boat and I swam round to Dave, my customer. Quick ‘ok’ and then I gave the signal to drop. As we sunk into 5 metres of water, I watched his body language, descent speed and positioning – from this, I could see that he was going to be an easy customer – great!

I looked around to get my bearings – nearby was Kate, another Instructor, with two customers - an older couple. Staying out of their way, I signalled to Dave and we headed out to the wall.

When I have a new customer, I particularly like this Dive Site, for two reasons: firstly, in the first few minutes I can take a route that is over sand, so if my customer is a bit ‘wobbly’ they won’t hit (and damage) the coral. Also, I can swim backwards without worrying about hitting anything. I like to swim backwards at the beginning to keep an eye on my customer – you can’t speak when diving, so you learn to read a lot by the way people move and react. In diving it’s important to spot problems before they occur. Secondly, on the slope down to the wall is an Eel Garden – lots of big Garden Eels. They look like grass from a distance but when you get close you can see they’re alive! It’s always good to show a customer something cool at the beginning of a dive – it distracts them from any nerves they might have.

At the bottom of the slope we turned left and started cruising along the wall, dropping slowly to about 20m depth. I got lucky! Looking down, I saw the shape of a fish tail in the rock! A Scorpion Fish! They are very well camouflaged and usually, I find them hard to spot – this one was big too. I signalled Dave to come and look – I watched him blinking uncertainly at the rock – he couldn’t see it. Carefully, I pointed out its’ shape again – they’re poisonous. I saw his eyes go wide when he spotted it. He grinned through his reg and I moved on.

There was lot to see – a small school above us was being hunted by some snappers, which were darting back and forward and the corals are exceptional at this site – so I was able to point out lots to Dave and he was happy! As we reached the ‘corner’ I started to feel the current (pushing us round and out to sea), indicating it was about time to turn around, but first there was a nice big overhang to investigate – and what do I see there but a free-swimming moray!

Excellent! I pointed but I didn’t turn round – I didn’t want to take my eyes off it in case I lost it! Usually morays hide away in the rocks and all we see is a nose peeping out – so to see one free-swimming is always good.

I turned to see Kate and her divers behind me. I pointed out the moray to them and one of her divers planted herself right in front of me – which was a little rude – but then she’s paying I guess! Kate signalled to me that she needed to go up and asked me if I could take care of her two customers. I agreed and she signalled to them what she was doing. I looked back at the moray, it was now moving along the wall, in and out of the rocks. It disappeared into a hole and moments later a banded shrimp came charging out brandishing it’s tiny claws, looking very fierce! The moray had obviously frightened it!

I signalled my (now) three divers that we were turning around and coming up the wall. I had already briefed Dave on our Dive Plan and I know that Kate takes the same route as me, so I assumed the other two would also know where we were going. We turned and started to make our way up the wall. Dave followed me, but the couple followed for a few minutes and then dropped down again. I wasn’t impressed: regardless of what I had just signalled, once you start ascending you shouldn’t go back down – this is a basic rule that all divers should know. I signalled to them to come back and level-off at my depth, they saw my signal but ignored me. I continued watching them but did nothing: they are certified divers, they know the rules – so it’s their decision. After a few minutes they decided to come up and join me. When you start ascending you need to release air from your BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) in order to stay neutrally buoyant (i.e. neither floating nor sinking), again, this is basic stuff. Dave had already done this without being prompted. These two idiots had not. I signalled to them to release some air. The woman did, the man ignored me. I signalled to him again: pointing out that he was rising and needed to release some air now. The man gave me the signal for ‘relax’ or ‘chill out’. I was not impressed and he was still rising. I started to swim towards him – if he didn’t release some air he would start rising too fast and I would need to catch him and hold him down (this is exactly how I hurt my ears a few months ago). At the last possible moment he released.

Kate told me afterwards that, before the dive, he had got cross with her for doing a ‘Buddy Check’ (a last minute check that we all do to make sure our equipment is working and nothing has been forgotten). He told her he didn’t need a check because he was an "expert" diver, he knew "everything" and didn’t make mistakes. In other words he was a fool and he was going to be a headache for me! We continued along the top of the wall – lots of fish, lots to see, but I’m now watching this guy in case he gets himself into trouble!

When we reached the sandy slope back to the mooring line I caught sight of a large cuttlefish! It was the biggest I’ve seen around here so I was very excited! I really like cuttlefish – cephalopods are actually my favourite things to see in the water (Octopus are the best! With Squid and Cuttlefish as a close second. I have yet to see a Nautilus, but they do live around here so hopefully I will soon). One of the things I love about them is that they can change colour – this one was turning white as it swam over the sand and then mottled orange-pink when it moved over coral. Excellent! I turned to check on my divers – when I turned back I couldn’t see it. Arrrggghhh! Their camouflage is too good! This is why you should keep one eye on them all the time! I knew he was around somewhere though, so I decided to stay put.

First I checked everyone’s air: Dave signalled he had half a tank – great. The man signalled that he was ok. I asked again how much air he had and he (crossly) signalled ‘half-tank’, as did his wife. I told them all to stay around here and turned again to try and find the cuttlefish. There it was! I waved at Dave and he swam over, I then turned to signal to the couple – they were swimming back down the slope again. I was getting really fed up of them now! I caught the woman’s attention and told them to come back, pointing in the direction of the boat. I didn’t bother to point out the cuttlefish. Sod them! After a few minutes we started back through the shallows to the boat.

When we reached the mooring line, the woman signalled that she was low-on-air. She had obviously lied to me 10 minutes earlier when she said she had a half-tank. Why do people do that?! I put her on the line and told her and her husband to go up the line to the surface. She signalled ok and started up. Her husband went up to about 1 metre below the surface… and then started coming down again. I signalled to him to stay with his Buddy (for safety, we always dive in pairs, known as ‘buddy teams’. Buddy teams should always stay together) he ignored me. I got right in front of him, behind him I can see his wife also coming back down – obviously she had remembered they are a buddy team, but she is low on air! I told her to stop and signalled again to him to stay with his buddy and surface. Once again he gave me the signal to ‘chill out’ I was definitely not impressed and shoo’ed the pair of them up the line.

After a few more minutes in the shallows Dave and I came up. The couple were back on the boat – she was apologetic, he was pointedly ignoring me. I sat next to him and explained why I had sent him up. “I wasn’t looking at my depth gauge,” he said, as if that explained everything. I resisted the temptation to say “why not, you muppet” and smiled sweetly instead.

Chatted to Dave on the way back. Sold him three more dives and encouraged him to bring his girlfriend along to do a “Discover Scuba” session. Great dive, but fingers crossed I don’t see the other two again!


botogol said...

..and this week I was mostly doing powerpoint :-(

Great story, Jane, but look after yourself! Where did that Kate go, exactly??

outside-jane said...

Ah... I was trying not to embaress my friend - but since you ask!

Kate did something rather foolish. She was so busy 'buddy checking' her customers, she forgot to check her own gear... when she got in, she found she had put her gear on a used tank. Instead of 200 bar (a full tank) she had just 50. Not good. Not wanting to abort the dive, she caught up with me, passed her divers on and surfaced with about 5 bar left!

This sort of thing happens more than you might think. DM's and Instructors often don't buddy check. I myself have gone in without fins, without a mask (but still wearing my sunglasses) and, just last week, with a closed tank. None of which was a problem - just a little embarrassing!

Don't worry! I'm staying safe!

Anonymous said...

Love the pics. I don't get to see many cuttlefish at work. And now I want an Eel Garden.