Scuba Steve gets sweet deals on barely used dive gear on Craigslist. It sounds kind of sketchy, but a dive shop services the equipment for safety, or so I’m told. Part of the deal for my buoyancy control vest (BCD) included a women’s dive watch. It is baby blue and is so large that it feels like a dinnerplate on my wrist. However, underwater, through a dive mask, and without glasses, it should be just the right size. Mr. Magoo goes scuba diving! I had to watch a YouTube video to understand the settings on this watch. It recognizes when it is just wet from a splash and when it is actually underwater, unlike the screaming toddles at the public pool. You’re fine, you’re fine! Stop crying!
Meanwhile, Ariel got up super early to make us blueberry muffins before we left on another adventure to the Channel Islands. Scuba Steve thought we would leave early, but prudently waited for the delicious muffins pop out of the oven. Ariel is a master chef and one does not simply leave her kitchen without something scrumptious. I had three, ya know, just to be polite.
Upon our arrival to the Explorer Dive Boat, we discovered that all the other spots on the trip had been booked by a large Korean family. Scuba Steve and I were now the minority and amateur divers in the group. This family was ready to scuba, spearfish, urchin hunt, and share some of the most flavorful Korean barbeque I had ever tasted. Even the 70 year old grandmother suited up for diving. They would have been the bee’s knees, except they all smoked; in every location on the boat. We were a floating casino where the slots were cheap. Scuba Steve and I enjoyed views from several parts of the boat while avoiding Joe Camel’s extended family. Can you smoke though a dive respirator?
The day was not ideal, with winds creating a surge and erratic currents behind Santa Cruz island. Our first dive was along a kelp forest and I was eager to get into the water. Like before, we each jumped off the side of the boat and surface swam to the anchor line. Scuba Steve and I were first to the line and I started down. Just a few feet down, I started to feel a little panic. I couldn’t catch my breath and couldn’t understand why my regulator felt slow. I resurfaced and talked to Scuba Steve about what I was feeling. He was a bit out of breath too. Then, we realized that the current was against us from the boat to the line and we were both just winded. You expect it with a flight of stairs, but the waves tend to drown out (no pun intended) the sound of heavy breathing.
Descending into the liquid-green unknown, I followed Scuba Steve into the kelp forest. Partway along our route, I felt a tug on my right fin. Was it a distressed diver or a playful sealion? Nope, just kelp with the strength properties of Kevlar and the lasso abilities of a rodeo queen. I awkwardly released myself from it’s slimy grasp and hurried along the ocean floor. We came upon a strange looking rock and stopped to examine it closer. PADI teaches us not to touch anything to avoid damaging the delicate eco structure of the ocean. So, I poked the rock. It was in fact a Lionfish, an invasive species, and not a fan of being poked. He gave us the fishy equivalent of the finger and swam away. Further along, we swam up over a shelf inhabited by two lobsters. Scuba Steve had enjoyed several dives during lobster season, and I tried to get his attention as he swam away. Yelling underwater, despite how loud it sounds to you, will only make the fish laugh at you. Meanwhile, the lobsters were making shushing noises with their front legs and motioning wildly at me with their antennae. While I was obviously not a threat, they didn’t want him coming back to sweep them off their shelf. Little did they know; I had already poked once that day. Monsters of the depths, beware! *insert evil underwater laugh here*
By our 2nd dive, the surge at 15 feet below the surface was enough to pull us back and forth by at least 5 feet. The coral reefs loomed closer with every swish and we retreated to safer depths. I had also started a personal rule that I wait to pee until I’m below 30 feet. The bathroom on the boat is tiny and I own the wetsuit, so 1+1= relief at depth.
As we ventured into deeper and darker water, I had a tingle of anxiety akin to what I sometimes feel in everyday life. I thought to myself, “If you don’t control your anxiety here, you will die. Breathe and remember what is real.” I was then filled with a feeling of peace and accomplishment. I smiled at the foot-long sea slug we found basking on the reef. If I can control my anxiety while 40 feet underwater, I can do it anywhere. Diving had given me more than I expected. We came upon a Brittle Starfish who was either trying to hide under or eat a dead fish. I admit that I hoped it was an octopus when I first saw its long arms grasping at the fish. Just a few arms short of efficiency, it continued to dance with the dead fish until we swam away.
Our last dive was boarding the edge of safety and probably should have been called off. The winds were whipping the boat and pulling the anchor out of the meager shelter of the island. I was the first one off the side of the boat and surfaced after my jump to find the anchor line 50 feet away. The wind had pulled the boat around and I was now working against a strong current to reach my goal. As I felt my energy draining and the anchor line not getting any closer, I decided to head for the ladder at the back of the boat before I was too far out. Scuba Steve waited for me at the anchor line as assisted everyone from the pull-line they started using after my failed attempt. At last, it was my turn to drag along like a barnacle as a crew member walked the rope up to the bow and anchor line. It is the least graceful way to travel for everyone involved.
While descending along the anchor line, I was reminded of the tug of a water skiing rope each time the wind pushed the boat around on the surface. Holding the line, I would suddenly zing sideways and up, then back down again with startling speed. My handy dive watch showed a difference of 5 feet with each pull. On the bottom, the visibility was poor, and the local wildlife were hiding. After twelve minutes of circling the empty sands, we decided to surface. Everyone else must’ve had the same idea. Getting everyone back onto the boat would have been easier with a tuna net. We were all tired and as easy to herd as wet cats. Luckily, the Explorer employs two Dive Master’s on every trip for just such occasions. Not a soul was lost, but despite their hopes at the beginning of the trip, the Dive Master’s had to fish a couple of people out of the current.
I remember to wear my sunscreen and stay hydrated. Despite the less than ideal conditions, I enjoyed everything we were able to explore and poke. I felt a huge accomplishment with controlling my anxiety. All in all, another good dive trip. Safe travels, my friends! blub blub blub