As is always the case with a vacation, I can’t even believe we’ve reached the end of our time here on Cayman Brac. Has it really been over a week already?!? We have our 2 morning boat dives tomorrow and then it’ll be time for us to dry out so we’re ready for our flight to Cancun on Thursday. Drying out is both literal (our gear) and figural (our bodies need time to off gas excess nitrogen before we hop onto a plane because flying after diving can cause whatever nitrogen is left to leave solution and wreak havoc on our tissues). I took a break and skipped the afternoon dive today. I’m already regretting it as I write this but I do believe I needed a little break. The problem with skipping a dive is you never know if that will be the one where something unbelievably awesome happens like a dolphin encounter or more sharks! Is it terrible of me to hope that Warren had a great dive but not TOO great of a dive??
We had 3 more lovely dives yesterday. Our first dive was at West Chute – a deep wall tour started it out and then we hopped over to the 60ft depth area where we had an incredible encounter with a Hawksbill turtle. It was just Warren and I around and he must not have found us too intimidating because he cruised around us doing laps for at least 3 or 4 minutes. Warren swears he was posing for the camera and generally being a huge flirt. Turtles are usually on the shy side, and it stresses them out to chase them or try to force an encounter. We just hung neutral in the water, made no effort to get closer to him at all, and he kept right on showing us his best sides. It was a very special moment and it warms my heart just to think of it again. Shortly after the turtle we saw an enormous (about 6ft long) green moral eel out cruising on the bottom looking for a new hole to call home. It’s very easy to forget just how huge those creatures are when you’re only seeing their heads peeking out from a crevasse. If you’re having trouble picturing it just think of The Little Mermaid. The two eel sidekicks of the octopus villain (her name escapes me at the moment) are morays. Of course, they aren’t naturally evil and sneaky looking!
We spent a long time down at West Chute, our max depth was 92ft and we stayed for 48 mins – we were both within 2 or 3 minutes of our no decompression (no deco) limit. The no deco limit is the number a dive computer displays that tells you the maximum amount of minutes you are physiologically allowed to stay at a certain depth before your body will have accumulated too much nitrogen to be able to ascend directly to the surface. We only do recreational diving which means that we try to never exceed the ‘no deco’ limits – we may safely ascend directly to the surface at any point in our dive. I’ve mentioned the safety stop before (stopping an ascent between 20 and 15ft to hover for 3 minutes to off gas) in a previous post; it’s just general procedure for being extra conservative when it comes to avoiding being ‘bent’, or getting decompression sickness. Theoretically speaking, in recreational diving, you could safely skip the safety stop at any time. Basically, we completely maximized the time we could spend at depth on that dive. Then, we had a relatively short surface interval on the boat between dives. A surface interval is the time you spend out of the water between dives. The longer it is, the longer you can then be at depth for on the next dive. This is due to your residual nitrogen load – after a dive there is residual nitrogen in your system that didn’t leave during the ascent and safety stop and the only way to get rid of it is to wait. If you go back in before it’s all gone (which is always the case if you’re doing multiple dives in a day) then your next dives will all have to be shallower or shorter (usually, they’re both).
We were only out of the water for an hour and 3 minutes after West Chute and then we went back in for a dive on Tarpon Reef. There were about a dozen tarpon around this site and this was the first time I’ve ever seen one. They resemble a great barracuda but are quite a bit bigger.
One of the newer dive staff gave us the site briefing and unfortunately it left something to be desired. It really didn’t provide us much of an overview of the site, how to navigate it, or what depths to expect. I checked my computer to see how much time I’d have at 40 to 50 ft because that was what all of our previous afternoon dives had been and saw that I had about half an hour of no deco time. The best parts of the site turned out to be at 60ft though. Into the water we went. It was an awesome dive, even with a strong current to fight! Menne sent me into a small hole in the reef and then surprised all the tarpon hiding inside from the surge and they all came out around me. Then I drifted into their midst by being very still in the water and just letting the surge gradually push me closer. I got right into the thick of it for a nice close look at them! VERY cool! But I was so totally absorbed in the encounter that I neglected to keep a close enough eye on my remaining no deco time…I heard a beep and looked down at my wrist just in time to see the no deco number hit 0. Shit. Uh oh. Does that mean what I think it means?? I quickly looked up at Warren, who was being a better diver than I and staying shallower, swam over and showed him my computer. He laughed, which made his mask flood, and then shook his finger at me. I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself. I’d broken an important rule in recreational scuba diving. My computer then told me to start ascending and that I would be obligated to wait an additional minute at my safety stop. Basically, I could no longer go straight to the surface safely as my chances of getting bent were too high. I was lucky that all I had accumulated was 1 minute of decompression time, and I was also lucky that while I hadn’t been watching my depth and no deco time close enough, at least I had been watching my air and I knew I had more than enough to burn the deco time underwater as required.
While I should never have let this happen in the first place, I won’t beat myself up too badly over it. I made a mistake, I’ve recognized the factors that led to it, and I’ve taken some time to reflect on how I can make sure it doesn’t happen again. You can be sure I kept a ridiculously close watch on my computer on all my dives today! There were at least 2 or 3 other people who went into deco on that dive yesterday too, but that doesn’t excuse me in the slightest. The moral of this story is not to assume that just because its shallow that you don’t have to watch your no deco time! Scuba diving is the most fun, exciting, challenging, and rewarding thing I’ve ever done but it won’t be any of those things for very long if I don’t do it safely.
Its 5pm now which means its pre-dinner pina colada time…later gators.
PS – Warren’s photo blog is now up and running and he’s got some truly spectacular underwater pictures that you simply MUST go check out. Go, look around, and marvel at the weird, beautiful and downright cool critters we’ve been hanging out with beneath the waves all week. You can find him at warrenmckay.wordpress.com