12 May 09 - Gordon Rocks, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Loss of weight belt. Check.
Not enough weight in weight belt. Check.
Inability to equalise. Check.
Strong undercurrent. Check.
Strong up current. Check.
Strong down current. Check.
Inability to achieve buoyancy. Check.
Being thrown around like a rag doll. Check.
Inability to perform safety stop. Check.
Failure of breathing equipment. Check.
Running out of air. Check.
Going through all of this without even seeing the one thing you went down to see. Check.
Any diver will tell you that the above list is probably the worst case scenario in any dive, and that's putting it lightly. I am amazed that I didn't come out of this more traumatized, but maybe that is the silver lining to this awful day.
Of course, I woke up yesterday morning absolutely dreading this dive (it actually consisted of two) and now I believe it was my instinct telling me it wasn't going to be a good-dive day. The speedboat to Gordon Rocks was stomach-churning in itself and after about 90 minutes of this, we reached our dive site.
Our instructor, bless his heart (or not), decided that the conditions were "fine" and that the current wasn't "too strong", even though after only 1 minute our boat had been dragged 100 metres away from the dive site. Couldn't he see that? So, feeling like every ounce of confidence had oozed out of me, we started get our gear on. I could barely hold on tight enough to get my wetsuit on, and forget about my BCD and tank - there was no way I was going to be able to stand up and not get flung into the crazy waves crashing around and into our boat! It seriously felt like we were stuck out at sea in a storm, only there was no rain, nor clouds, just a beautiful, sunny day.
When it was time to jump in for our first dive, I was absolutely petrified. I even told Tim that I didn't care about the hammerheads anymore, I just wanted to go home. God, I was slowly unraveling and now I feel so unbelievably bad for Tim who had to talk me through it, even though he himself, Im sure, was just as nervous as me about this whole thing, only he didn't show it. Bless!
One, two, three! In we jumped. In conditions like the ones we were faced with, you'd think that the instructor would wait for everybody to get themselves sorted and comfortable before descending, but no. He took off with the other four divers before I had a chance to get myself 'organized'. Tim and I started to descend, but then my weight belt fell off, which basically meant that I'd be left bobbing up and down in the sea with no way to get down to the instructor (the boat had already taken off to the point where we would come up after we completed our dive). I even remember panicking thinking that there were hammerheads swimming beneath me and that Id be bumped any minute! Yikes! Talk about a freak-out. Apparently I grabbed hold of my belt as it fell off, but then let go of it for some stupid reason, but I can't even remember. So, down Tim went chasing my weight belt, then straight back up again to help me put it back on. Once it was on and I had calmed down a bit, we started to descend, only I didn't have enough weight on my belt to get me down. I could only get down a couple of metres or so and that was it. Again, poor Tim is signing to me, "are you ok?" and Im just shaking my head! Eventually, the instructor found us and I told him I didn't have enough weight, so he put an extra couple of kilos in my BCD and down we went, the instructor pulling me down with him. Only now, I couldn't equalise (I.e. 'pop' my ears) and the more he pulled me down, the more my head felt like it was going to explode. I kept signing him that my ears were hurting, but he just kept on pulling me down!! Argh!!!
After what seemed like ages, my ear popped and although it hurt, I was good to go, so we thought. The moment we got down, we all had to attach ourselves to a rock because the current was so strong. Every new wave of motion would send us sprawling to this side, then to that, then back again. It was hell! Tim and I didn't even have gloves on, so the coral and bits of rock were digging into our hands. Still, the fish were amazing to look at (once I lodged my flipper in under a rock so that I could actually take time out to see what was around me) and I would have been happy to stay in the one place, just observing quietly. But our instructor wanted to move on, so we could find these hammerheads. Fair enough though, since it was the reason we had come to dive here in the first place.
So, we set off around the rim of the volcano. Oh, let me explain - Gordon Rocks is simply an old underwater volcano, whose mouth it some 20 metres below the surface. We were going to be swimming around the perimeter of the volcano, some 25 metres below the surface. It's a scary spot, because beyond the 25 metre perimeter, the volcano veers steeply down to some 100 metres and so, looking over the side was eerie. It was pure darkness. The down current just made things worse, because you felt that at any moment, if you weren't holding on to a rock, you'd be sucked down!
So, as I was saying, we set off and put simply, the current was just way to strong for me, let alone for everyone else. Tim had my hand the whole time because I would have been swept away. So, here we were 'jumping' from rock to rock like Spiderman, not even enjoying the beauty around us. This also meant we were chewing all our air up, especially Tim, because he was putting all his effort into helping both of us fight the current. Oh, God, it was terrible. Tim was running out of air, so we decided it was time to go back to the surface. No, no hammerheads. In fact, nothing we hadn't seen before. And the dive was a mere 17 minutes when it should have been at least 40 minutes.
The worst and most dangerous thing was, was that the up current was so strong we couldn't even perform the obligatory safety stop near the surface to make sure we didn't get the bends. We were lucky we hadn't gone down any deeper, because we could have been in big trouble. But we had no control whatsoever. We were simply sucked up to the top.
First dive done and dusted, we felt dejected to say the least. I had a headache, two of the other divers were vomiting over the side of the boat, another looked like she was going to burst into tears and Tim was completely exhausted from all the hauling he'd done. It had been that bad a dive. I felt so bad. I felt that I had ruined Tim's diving experience.
Would we proceed with the next dive? Well, yes. I so badly did not want to go back down there again, but I had to do it for Tim, plus the instructor said that once we got down, we would just stay in one spot so that we could at least have a look around without having to fight the current. Plus, we had paid a lot of money to go diving here and it was something Tim and I had been looking forward to since we left home AND we were yet to see any hammerheads. Just to give you an understanding of how intense this dive was, two of the divers with us had over 100 dives under their belt and they refused to go ahead with the next dive, saying they were the worst diving conditions they had ever experienced. But, down we went. Built Aussie tough, as they say. Plus, I had a superstar lifesaver next to me who I know would look after me if need be. Thank God for Tim!
The execution of the second dive was much smoother as I had calmed down from the trauma of the first one. Again, I lodged a flipper under a rock and we sat there for about 10 minutes just watching all the fish. We were lucky enough to see a sea lion fishing which was fantastic, along with schools of really large fish. One beautiful, blue surgeonfish wouldn't leave me alone and just kept swimming right up to my mask and just staring at me, which was such an awesome experience. I kept looking out into the deep blue hoping that I would see some hammerheads approaching…but none came.
Our instructor decided it was time for us to make a move and find these hammerheads, so off we went again, Spider-manning from rock to rock. This time we had approached the volcano from the other side so the current was manageable, but still hard work. We still managed to chew through our oxygen at a crazy rate, so when Tim barely had any oxygen left, we told the instructor we were going up. For some reason, he said to stay down a little longer, so we did, stupidly. It got to the point that Tim's oxygen bar was in the red and he could hardly breathe, so the instructor pulled out my reserve and gave it to Tim - but my reserve FAILED. Tim had no oxygen. The instructor quickly gave Tim his regulator and then we were off, back to the surface, no safety stop - again. There was just nothing we could do.
And that was that. No hammerheads. Possibly the worst dive in the history of the world, but, I can gladly say that, having been through that experience, in those conditions, I could virtually dive anywhere now, without an issue. That is my silver lining.
Last night I completely crashed. I developed a terrible migraine on the boat ride back. I went to sleep at about 7pm and slept right through until today.
With that, Tim and I have changed our flight back to Quito to this afternoon, so that we can bounce to Miami a day early…to surprise the A-Team! CANT WAIT! (sorry George, but we'll come see you next time).
We're going to Miami…