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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Just a little Saturday diving

Last week I had a dream about diving. I slowly waded into the bay until I could no longer see the ocean floor beneath me. The sun was hot and at my back, imploring me to descend beneath the surface. I leaned forward and looked beneath the surface of the water: there was life. Dozens of yards beneath me I could see entire ecosystems at play: Kelp forests, rocks encrusted with barnacles and sea stars, fish swimming in schools and small sharks moving quietly above them. I raised my head with a gasp, waking myself up in the process. What would I do if I saw any sharks? Would I freak out or just be silently impressed? Since watching Jaws as a kid, I'd always been afraid of the ocean; diving, and enjoying diving, was a small step towards releasing those fears.

Today, the Dive Club of Silicon Valley had a few planned dives at Breakwater Cove in Monterey; early in the morning, followed by/accompanied by a rescue dive training session, and then another dive in the afternoon. I opted to drive down solely for the afternoon dive knowing full well that my time in the car would probably be equal to my time in the water. By the time I got there folks were just beginning to come up from the beach after a dive, threw some burgers on the grill, and waited for their next safe dive. For about an hour I stood in the sun, toting my gear to the distant side of the lawn from the parking lot and talking to my dive buddies-to-be.

When burgers had been eaten and nitrogen levels had dropped, we suited up and made our way down to the beach. We waded through the waves then swam out for a good five minutes. At long last, we had reached our point of descent. Orienting ourselves to the beach, we signaled each other to descend and released the air from our vests. Down we went, slowly but surely...or at least, for about two feet.

I could not descend. My buddies checked for operator error: was I holding the release valve at the highest point? Yep. Was my vest totally empty? Yep. Perhaps my breathing wasn't quite right; maybe I was too excited and couldn't release enough air. We tried that as well. At one point we opted to "jump start" my descent using the assistance of kelp to pull myself down into the next level of buoyancy. At about five feet, I knew I was being propelled back to the surface. I just didn't have enough weight on me.

We swam back to the beach. I loaded up more weight (I'd made a miscalculation when I initially loaded my weights and double-counted six very important pounds). We swam out again, a bit less air in our tanks. This time, we dropped a bit closer to shore and followed a small pipe along the ocean floor until we found another, larger pipe to follow. The surge was fairly strong and the visibility low; my sight was directly limited by what looked like tiny pieces of fish flesh, or perhaps fish poop. Whatever it was, it was everywhere, filling every view with visual static noise. The ocean floor was crowded but not very busy; what wasn't covered with bits of kelp and sea stars was littered with various sea anemones and holes in the sand promising unknown (to me) treasures.

We swam slowly along the pipes, past occasional fish (lingcod and some other, unknown-to-me smaller fish) and a plethora of giant sea stars. One in particular was about two feet wide from point to point and whitish grey, though there were innumerable of smaller size, usually bright orange or deep purple. On my way out, I came across a tiny jellyfish that could have certainly fit in the palm of my hand. On the way back to shore, one of my buddies had a light and illuminated a tiny jellyfish (possibly the same one, but probably different) illuminating it in vibrant purple hues. I'm not sure I've ever seen something as delicate as a jellyfish amid its underwater flight.

Apparently when we turned around to return to shore, I just missed seeing a small sea lion and a rather large jellyfish. Oh well. I saw a large jellyfish on my first dive to Breakwater Cove and was so surprised by its sight that I fell to the floor like a rock, not an ounce of breath left in my chest.

All in all, it wasn't a very long dive; 31 minutes underwater, the deepest point at 42 feet. It was tiring, having to swim out twice just to submerge, and in that brief hour in the sun my skin browned like a chicken under the broiler (but I needed a little more color, so it's okay).

The drive back to the bay felt quick, though the sunburn and swim exhaustion was already beginning to take its toll. I threw my gear in the bathtub to rinse the sand off but ended up taking a nap on the floor (so as not to get my bed dirty since I was still a bit salty).

It was a good day, and I'm especially glad to have joined the Dive Club of Silicon Valley. I feel like I'm more prepared for my upcoming dives in Curacao next month. More than that, I'm so glad that I started this new hobby.

I'm not sure why I didn't start it sooner.

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