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Not My Proudest Moment April 10, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log.
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On June 29, 2008 I once again drove out to Big Bay Point looking for a dive. Nobody I knew was there, although I did meet some divers from Aquasub doing some technical training with the owner, Norbert. The owner was a former Polish Navy diver who that day tried a little soft selling of his shop, talking about a recent trip they’d made to Newfoundland to go wreck diving.

Still without a buddy, I set up my doubles and decided to splash in by myself to see what conditions were like. I ended up heading down the line right to 90 feet. I remember feeling so comfortable, holding position with perfect buoyancy and a strong sense of being in control. On my way down I did some temperature measurements, 55F at 70 feet, 47F at 80 feet, and 44F at 90 feet. Even at 44F I was very comfortable in my dry suit. While hovering a few feet above the bottom, I ran through shutdown drills, easily reaching the valves despite the difficulties I had the year before. The dry suit was still a bit constricting, but by pulling up on the bottom of one tank I found I could reach the manifold with the other hand.

In the early season cold water the visibility was quite good – at least 30 feet. I felt confident enough to swim straight out from the end of the line for a couple of minutes and then do a 180 degree turn to go back. I aligned my compass to my course and realized that the card was stuck in place rendering the compass unusable. No problem, I thought, I have plenty of air and all I have to do is turn around a swim a straight line. I did so, but couldn’t find the line again.

At Big Bay Point the slope of the bottom leading down from the dock is a good navigational reference. I was so far out, however, that the bottom was flat and also useless. I swam a square pattern increasing the length of each leg. I still didn’t find the line and now had lost all sense of direction.

My computer was now racking up deco time rapidly, and after it had given me 15 minutes I gave up and started to ascend. I felt no sense of panic. I knew the surface was always available to me and my only concern was with passing boats. I served out my deco time and surfaced to check where I was. The current had pushed my considerably east of the dock, which was now southwest of my position instead of directly south. I swam toward the dock for a while then decided to descend again to swim it underwater.

I descended almost to the bottom again as the visibility straight down wasn’t particularly good, and I needed a reference to swim without a compass. Surprised to find myself at 90 feet again and still on a flat bottom, I got lost almost immediately. My computer was also in deco again almost immediately after the very short surface interval, and after it read 8 minutes I headed again to the surface. While drifting along decompressing I dropped my compass and didn’t bother going after it. I’d had it since 1983 and it was of no further use.

After surfacing, I spent the next 15 minutes swimming back to the shore, keeping a close lookout for boats.

Looking back, while I never felt in danger, with the exception of the first half hour it wasn’t a comfortable dive. My biggest mistake, other than going off on my own, especially past the line, was not paying attention to the direction of the current. I could have easily used it as a reference to find my way back towards the shore but didn’t think of it for some reason. Lesson learned.

I still dive solo now and then, although I’m not likely to venture to those depths or into deco again unless the mission demands it – which I think is unlikely. Many times I need search for something that’s been dropped under water or go and tie off the dive flag buoy and end up going by myself, but only to 30 feet or so.

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