About a week and a half ago, I went SCUBA diving with an acquaintance. Let's call her Stef. Stef and I went on a few dates several months ago, and we decided it wasn't going to work. A couple months ago she texted me out of the blue asking if I wanted to go diving with her. It's been a while since I went diving, so I said yes, and off we went. She'd dived more recently than I had, so between that and my own knowledge I was prepared for a pretty good trip.
The dive site is in Tobermory, which is about 4 hours away. To make things easier on us, we're staying at my friend's chalet in the Blue Mountains, about halfway from here to there. We drive to his place on Friday, sleep the night, then after breakfast we hop in my car and make the two hour drive to Tobermory. Things are going well.
We get to the dive centre, and it turns out the boat is delayed in getting back from the previous dive trip. The winds are strong and the water's choppy, so this isn't a surprise. When we do finally get on the boat, Stef pops a couple Gravol, because she gets motion sickness. This was a surprise, but she knows her body better than I do, so I wasn't concerned. The water was choppy and the wind was strong, and she was able to stand for most of the ride out there, so again - not concerned.
About half an hour later we get to the first dive site: the sunken Caroline Rose. You know how there's a boat on the Canadian dime? That's the Bluenose. The Caroline Rose is a sister ship of the Bluenose. It's pretty neat. We're instructed to finish suiting up, but then it takes the boat crew about 10 minutes to hook onto the buoy that will help us navigate the dive. It was all downhill from there.
As we continue to wait, I remove the top half of my suit, because I don't want to overheat. Stef stays in hers, and the combination of sitting in a black dive suit on a sunny day, plus her own penchant for seasickness, makes her start feeling unwell. She's the first in the water, and I get in right after her and ask how she's doing, and she says she isn't feeling well. Then she feeds the fish. A couple times.
I define SCUBA diving as the art of not dying underwater. There are two really important rules for diving: 1) always ascend and descend slowly. This allows your body to experience pressure changes gradually, and it significantly reduces the chance of injuring yourself. 2) always keep eyes on your dive buddy. You're in this together, and if something goes wrong with one of you, the other is responsible for getting you back to the surface safely.
Rule number 1 of those two was reinforced to us by the divemasters before we got in the water. We were told to descend slowly, and to follow the rope down to the bottom because it would take us where we need to go. Stef was clearly distracted by her seasickness, and forgot all of that. When we receive the order to descend, she goes straight down, as quickly as possible. The recommended speed for ascending or descending is about 1ft/sec. She goes down at a rate closer to 4 or 5 feet/second. And because she's my dive buddy, that means I also have to go straight down at 4-5ft/sec.
I realize what's happening pretty quickly, and about halfway down I make a point of looking up to see where everyone else is. I spot a fin (those things on our feet are fins, not flippers) and note the direction it's in, and then go back to watching Stef. We get to the bottom, and I make sure we're both okay, and then I signal that we were going to swim in the direction I saw the fin. About 10-15 seconds later I feel a tug on my fin, and turn around to see one of the divemasters indicating that he and I are going to swim in another direction, and I follow him back to the group. Clearly he'd spotted Stef first and then come for me, and now we are all together again, and everything is fine.
We spend the next half hour or so at a depth of about 50ft, swimming around and through a shipwreck. I do a good job of keeping eyes on Stef. Stef does a good job of following sometimes me, sometimes random people. And also continuing to feed fishes. She does that through her regulator (breathing mouthpiece), which is actually the correct way to do it, because it makes everything so much easier and safer than removing it. She does this at times when I'm not looking at her, so I only find out about it later. I also spot and point out a crayfish to her that nobody else gets to see, so that's pretty neat.
Then it's time to return to the surface. The divemaster has a dive computer that tells him at what depths we should wait on the way up, and for how long, in order to prevent injury. These are called decompression stops, for the obvious reason. There's also a usually-mandatory stop at 15 feet for 3 minutes, called a safety stop. The dive plan is created to include these, because as I said before, SCUBA diving is the art of not dying underwater.
We receive the signal to start going up, and this is when I find out that the rapid descent has not only made things very hard on Stef, it has also confused me. Because instead of removing air from my buoyancy control device (BCD), as you're meant to do, I add a bit of air to mine. As you ascend, air expands and becomes more buoyant. So when I get to the depth for the first decompression stop, my BCD has become too buoyant, and I just keep going. I see Stef getting further away below me, and assume that she's descending again, so I start swimming down to get her. But then she keeps getting further away, and quickly, and suddenly my legs are out of the water. I've completely blown past the decompression stop and the safety stop, and am now floating on top of the water watching everyone else do the safety stop I was supposed to be doing.
When you dive, as soon as you break the surface of the water the dive is over. But I know that the safety stop was important, so I want to get back down there. A really strange thing happens though: I am somehow physically incapable of getting back under the water. I empty all the air out of my BCD, I try literally pulling myself down the rope - nothing works. I've never experienced that before. Eventually everyone else finishes the safety stop, and they return to the surface. If anyone saw me there early, they didn't say anything about it.
After everyone else crests the surface, I remove my dive mask and spit out the phlegm, as I always have to do (diving gives you cottonmouth). Turns out there's blood in it. So I say "well, that's just great." What happened was obvious: the rapid decompression from surfacing so quickly burst something in my sinuses. Now I need to deal with it.
We get back on the boat, and I sit down on the bench, and one of the crew members comes over and points to my nose and says "You've got a bit of blood there." In that voice of unfortunate resignation we all have, I say "Yeah, I know." Then I ask him to bring me some toilet paper to stick up my nose so I can clean myself up. I spot Stef at the other side of the boat, move to her and sit down, and ask how she's doing. She sees my nose, points to it, and asks how I'm doing. Neither of us made the second dive.
So we're sitting on the boat as everyone else gets in the water to dive. Two more people return to the boat, claiming seasickness, and we become "Team One Dive Or Less" (one of them was underweighted for the first dive and couldn't get down for that one either). Stef is shivering, so the captain and I make her take off her SCUBA suit (bathing suit stays on) and I give her my towel, so she can dry off and warm up. I change into my civilian clothes, since there's no sense staying in my swimsuit any longer.
We head to the front of the boat, where she lays down and I sit next to her, and we chat for a while. Eventually everyone else returns from the dive, and the boat starts heading back to shore. And it's still windy. And the water is still choppy. And a lot of water starts splashing up on deck. I've put on my civvies already, and decide that staying up there is crazy. She stays there lying on the front of the boat, in her swimsuit and my towel. Being frequently splashed with water. You can see where this is going.
When we finally get back to shore, my towel is drenched. Stef returns it to me and I fold it up into a plastic bag in my gear bag. We go about our business, visiting stores and eating dinner, and then make the two hour drive back to my friend's place. I hang up my towel to dry in their laundry room, and a few hours later go to sleep. When I wake up the next morning, I go to collect my towel, and it's wetter than before. Either something leaked onto it, or it got used for something. I consider leaving it there and collecting it later, but since I don't know when I'll next see my friend I decide I'd rather take everything home at once, so I fold it up into the plastic bag and we pack up and head down to Toronto.
After dropping Stef back at her place, I return home and find that the plastic bag was insufficient to contain the water from the towel. Not only is it still wet, but the change of underclothes I'd tucked in there and not used is also wet. So the first thing I have to do after getting home is hang up my towel, swimsuit, underwear, and two socks, over the shower curtain to drip dry. Three hours later I get an email from my dad inviting me to a barbecue the following weekend (4 days ago) for my mom's birthday, and my friend is going to be there. So I could have left the towel there and had him bring it, and saved myself the drip dry grief. If only I'd known.
So in the end, I drove four hours each way to spend a weekend getting a bloody nose and transporting a soaking wet towel home, while missing out on half the dives I paid for. Stef has decided she's done diving off boats. I think that's a good idea.