Grand Cayman is a world-class diving destination, and I had really enjoyed the 2 dives I made on my cruise ship stop here. This trip would afford me the opportunity for 6 days of diving. Originally, I had signed up for a special tour called the "Best of Cayman" that involved three difference dive operators. I was going to dive 2 days with each, try a rebreather dive, use scooters, and get to see a lot of different territory. In the end, I spent all my time with a single operator: Fisheye. Even if you aren't a scuba diver, if you get to Grand Cayman, be sure to visit Stingray City for a uniquely wonderful snorkeling adventure.
Before the trip even got started, I got a call from Fisheye, who was handling the whole package, to say that one operator had dropped out of the package, but that they'd be happy to take up the slack. Once there, I had a problem with the other operator, Divetek. They were supposed to pick me up at my hotel at 1pm. I got tired of waiting at 1:30, and finally got a call from them at 1:45. It seems they had forgotten about me, but now they remembered, and would I like to reschedule? Needless to say, this is not a good way to impress a customer. Seems we're back to hating Caymanian "service" again. Since I had other bookings for all the days and I had missed their boat for that day, I couldn't choose another day. After reflecting on it for a day, I called Fisheye and asked them to take over the final Divetek dive. I didn't want to take a chance these guys would screw up again. In addition, Steve had called them asking directions and was told they didn't have Nitrox. I had a hard time signing up to go do a rebreather dive with an outfit that didn't carry Nitrox. Maybe they're a great operation, but they sure hadn't shown me a good time.
Lost on a Night Dive
I managed to get lost on the night dive. Shame on me! I had been the first one in/last one out every dive due to my lower air consumption, so I was used to being off by myself at the end of the dive. There's a reef adjacent to the Polson that I decided to explore. My plan was to follow the outer edge of the reef around to the backside away from the Polson and circle all the way back to where I started from, ending up on the inside (nearest to the Polson) edge.
I could see other diver's lights around the reef and periodically would encounter some divers. It was just beautiful, and very peaceful. Periodically, I turned off my light to watch the bioluminescence and see where the other diver's lights were. I got further around the reef than others and decided it was time to cut across the reef and swim back up to where the Polson should be, rather than follow it all the way around. Unfortunately, the reduced visibility started making navigation extremely difficult. When I started, I could see across the 50 feet of sand that separated the Polson from the reef. By the end of the dive, I could only see 15 to 20 feet.
My navigation plan was now in jeopardy, since I would not be able to reliably see the Polson from the reef. No matter, I thought I had a good idea of where it was at the tip of the reef. I would just swim to the tip and then head across the sand the appropriate distance. If I missed it, I'd just surface and should be close to the boat. It turns out there was a little cul-de-sac in the reef on the inside edge that I mistook for the end of the reef, at least that's my theory. I definitely came to what looked like the end, saw sand all around, and decided to swim towards where the Polson ought to have been. After covering a good distance, I took a look at my air--1000 lbs--and concluded it was time to surface. I was sure by now I had been the last in the water for a little while, and the captain had said if you don't know where the boat is by 1000 lbs of air its time to surface and track it down.
So I ascended
slowly, did a 3 minute safety stop in 15 feet of water, and then completed
my ascent. When I got up, I saw two bright lights that had to be the boat,
but they looked awfully far away, and somehow, I had gotten out to sea
so that the lights were between me and shore. Oh well, no biggie, I must
have swum right under it while thinking I was headed towards the Polson.
So, I held my light up pointed at my head, which was the signal we'd agreed
would tell the boat I was okay, and then I started swimming towards it
on the surface. I kicked and kicked and kicked for a good ten minutes
and the damn lights didn't seem to be any closer! This was really the
first point at which I felt a little tickle of alarm, so I stopped, calmed
down, and tried to think about what was going on.
I pulled my mask up to try to see the boat more clearly. No help there, its a prescription mask and I couldn't see well at all without it. Then I did what I should have done way back when I first surfaced. I decided to scan the sea for a full circle. Guess what I saw directly behind? Two bright lights that looked exactly like our boat, and this time I'm between those lights and the shore. Damn! Which one is it? Could there be another boat? I saw the lights out to see were definitely a boat and they were shining dive lights into the water as though looking for someone. This had to be my group. I finally decided the lights I had been swimming towards were a mile or so way on shore.
So, I shined my light on my head again so the boat folks wouldn't panic, and started kicking towards this new target. Before too long I had made it back to what was clearly our boat. I was pleased, the Captain and Divemaster were pleased, and life was good once again. In fact Bart, the divemaster, had quite a laugh when I pointed out the lights I had been swimming towards.
Morals of the story:
- Visibility can disappear far faster than you'd ever expect.
- Its very hard to perceive distance when you are swimming in the water with a prescription mask. The two lights actually looked identical to our boat, but they were on a house and a good deal further away. They were the same color, brightness, and separation, in fact.
- Get all the information you can before making a decision. I should never have headed for the first thing I saw without looking further to make sure.
- Its very easy to make a mistake when trying to visualize where you are underwater, especially with limited visibility.
In the end, it was an interesting experience that didn't really raise the adrenaline too much. That's a good thing for learning experiences!
All material © 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.