Thursday, July 08, 2004

Under the sea!

I'm a little behind on my posting, but I want to tell you about my 4th of July. I had no houses to look at and nobody to hang with. So, I decided to find something to do. It turns out that July 4th is a really good day to scuba dive. I signed up for a spot on the dive boat and gear on Friday morning. I opted for Los Coronados Islands because they were a scant 20 miles south of the border. There were still twelve slots open as I prepared to embark on my adventure...

The only down side to an Independence Day dive was parking. All the lots were full and the marina exit was backed up for a few miles. It took me 20 minutes to get to the backup and another 40 to go the final 5 miles. I dove with Dive Connections at the West Mission Bay Marina. All told, there were about nine divers, a dive master, and the boat captain. The divers were an interesting assortment. There was the gregarious diving instructor bringing his student for her first certification dive. He was ex-Navy and was in his 50s or 60s. He was in better shape than anyone else on the boat. His student was a 17 year old navy daughter who wants to be in the entertainment industry, parties with Avril Lavigne and Lindsay Lohan in LA, and doesn't like to be cold or wet. There was a tech sales guy from San Fran and a Navy retiree who was a lucky beneficiary of the administration's newly instituted "stop loss" policy. He's been pulled back in and was redeploying to Iraq this week. There was a couple I didn't really get to talk with much and another couple I buddied with. The husband was a strong scuba veteran. The wife was my equal clocking in with six dives. The captain was a straight shooting ex-Navy man in need of a hip replacement. The dive master was the soul of compassion.

I had high hopes for the day. The dive was scheduled for 2 pm. I figured we'd be back in by dinner time. Then I could grab a bite and zip into Sea World to see the fireworks. Then I overheard the captain talking to one of the divers. Said we'd be back by about 9. Huh??? Turns out the boat ride to the dive site is 2 hours. Each way. As some of you may know, I have a proclivity for sea sickness. I even took a dramamine as precaution.

The boat ride started off ok. Well, after we had been given the safety lecture. The safety rules were pretty important. They talked about how to handle a fire on the boat, and what to do if someone went overboard. The thing they stressed the most however was how shaky the plumbing was on the boat. No paper products in the head. Throw them all in the trash. And, most importantly, if you have to hurl, do it over the side and not in the head. If you puke in the head, the aroma will stick around and make everyone sick. Good to know.

The view was great and the weather was perfect. Along the way, we even saw some pacific whiteside dolphins leaping out of the water in group of 3 and 4. The captain decided to zig zag back and forth and in circles so we could get a better look at them. That's when the trouble started. The zig zags started to make me a little green. I decided to try to take a nap for the remainder of the boat ride. The dive master told me that lying down was the worst thing to do. Sent me out on the bow. That worked for a while, but we started hitting waves. I went back in and laid down again. Even though I was told it was the wrong thing to do, it made me feel better. About twenty minutes from the dive site, I was still green around the gills and trying to hang in there. The divemaster told us all to suit up as we would be there soon.

Now, for those who don't know diving, a neoprene wet suit is pretty warm when you are out of the water. And the waters we were in were deemed thick enough for a 7mm wet suit. That's the same thickness I use when I dive Gloucester. So, now I'm nauseous and roasting like a pig at a luau. That'll help. Fortunately, I had the foresight to bypass the dive hood and gloves. Unfortunately, the weights on my belt were not situated properly and it would not close. The captain was nice enough to fix this for me. However, it took a good fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of nauseous, sweaty, black neoprene. By the time I got in the water, I was just barely holding it together. The water helped revive me a bit. I joined my buddies at the rocks and we submerged.

Relief! I even pulled open the suit at my neck and arms briefly to let more cold water in. That's somewhat counter to the way the suit is supposed to work. The idea is that the neoprene traps water near your body. Your body heats the water and then the water and neoprene combine to keep you warm. I was too warm. So, I kept letting the warmed water out and refilling the cold. Everyone thought I was nuts.

It's hard to describe the feeling of breathing underwater. But it is definitely a cool feeling. Everything is more relaxed. You're lighter. You're suspended in "midair" on another planet. In spite of what you read above, at this moment, I felt the day was worth it. We had a good dive. I saw some fish called senoritas, some damsel fish, a good number of garibaldi, and another fish nobody else saw that I have not yet identified. It was deep blue and had timy, iridescent, red diamonds all over it. The rocks and plants were interesting to look at as well. We made it down to about 40 feet. The dive could have gone on longer if not for us novices. We managed to expend 3000 psi of air in the time our more experienced buddy only took in 1200!

It's too bad we couldn't stay down longer. We surfaced and the swell caught hold of me again. I started heating up and bobbing up and down. I decided I had to get out of the suit and fast. I made a beeline for the boat. I managed to get my knees on the ladder going up to the boat and then I had to stop. My breathing had hastened and I was sweating more profusely. The divemaster asked what was wrong.

"I think I'm going to hurl"

"Well, don't do it here." And with that, he took a line and threw it a good thirty feet off the stern. He sent me out there to hang on to the rope until I either puked or felt better. Like I said, he was the sould of compassion.

The nausea subsided and I reeled myself in. I scramble up onto the boat and out of my gear. There was no way I could make the required rest period and go back in. Even though I had another tank coming, I packed it in for the day. Even though puking through a regulator is supposed to be pretty cool, I decided I didn't want THAT particular experience.

Unfortunately, everyone else still had a second dive to make. So, I kept the divemaster and captain company while I waited for the return trip. Then the divemaster got bored and decided to go in. All he had with him was a 3mm shorty. He went anyway. And I thought I was rugged with no hood or gloves. :)

The waiting and the boat ride back were miserable. I forgot to pack a sweatshirt and the bench was a mighty uncomfortable place to lay for two hours. I ended up keeping it together, though things got shaky every time I sat up. I finally got up as we were getting close because the fireworks started. I got to see the La Jolla fireworks and the Mission Bay ones. We docked before the Mission Bay finale and everyone agreed that beating the traffic was more important than the Sea World fireworks or the Mission Bay ones.

All in all, not the day I wanted it to be. But the one dive I had was excellent! I'll likely use this dive company again, though not for Los Coronados. I'll pick a closer site or maybe a shore site. I also picked up one other tip for sea sickness. I was told to take a dramamine the night before the dive, the morning of the dive, and then right before getting on the boat. I'll try that next time. If I rent a camera, I'll post my pics.