In which I utterly fail to cover myself with glory scuba diving

Diving today at Redondo with my new buddy Alex was something of a challenge. In the end, bad things happened — but while I didn’t do a great job, it could have been a lot worse. Bear with me as I run through the scenario, the challenges, what I got right (not a whole lot), and where I can do better next time.

The only way I’m going to get better at this diving thing (besides diving a whole lot more — these were dives 66 and 67, and I’m at somewhere just over 35 hours of bottom time) is for people to point out opportunities where I can do better. (For the record, Alex and I are both PADI Advanced, and I’ve completed my rescue dive course except for the CPR section as I was out-of-town when that happened; I should be finishing it up in November.)

Our first dive started off well. We got down to 85 feet and saw the octopus under the boat. (Well, I did — Alex didn’t really know what he was looking for.) Heading to the boat at 55 feet in a leisurely fashion, I overshot and we ended up at 35 feet. At which point Alex experienced a buoyancy issue and came up to the surface. I saw that he was going up, and followed at a not-triggering-my-dive-computer’s-warnings pace, albeit without a safety stop at 15 feet. We met on the surface (though he was some distance away at that point) and swam back to shore. (Bottom time 19 minutes.)

Our second dive started out a little badly: Alex lost his mask and snorkel while putting his fins on. (I think they’re blue — if anyone finds this at Redondo in the next week or two, please let me know!) He had a backup mask (no snorkel), and when we got in the water everything was lovely. Went down to the boat at 55 feet, saw the octopus there, headed to the boat at 40 feet… There were tons of shrimp out, huge armies of them, and some nice-sized crabs. We were having a lovely time. I had wonderful buoyancy, there were great things to see. I was in a happy place.

Somewhere around the stacked pipes, or the second reflector pile (35-45 feet deep?), I noticed that I had stopped breathing air. In fact, I was sucking in water. I noticed that my reg was out of my mouth, so I put it back in. Then I discovered that it didn’t want to stay in. I saw that the mouthpiece was gone. Whoops.

I located my octo, and struggled to detach it from its holder. (I have the kind that looks like this, where the bite piece slips into a pair of slots, like this.) Turns out that while this octo holder does in fact secure it nicely, I’m not very good at removing it with my gloves on.

I looked at Alex, but I didn’t think I could reasonably swim to him — I was holding my breath, which meant I had started rising. Whoops. Around 25 feet down I decided that I would do a CESA, as I still wasn’t having success getting my octo out. So I let the air out of my BCD, swam up, and breathed out as I ascended. At the surface, I inflated my BCD and managed to detach my octo from it. Alex came up shortly afterwards. From where we were it was a long swim back to shore. (Bottom time 17 minutes — though it felt that long on my CESA alone!)

Things I think I got right: I avoided lung expansion injury, and (so far) have no signs of DCI. I identified the problem rapidly, and located my octo promptly. I didn’t inflate my BCD and hurry to the surface, and I resisted the urge to pull off my mask as panic started to rise near the end of my CESA. I made sure to renew my DAN membership in the spring, with one of the better insurance options.

Things I think I got wrong: I was too darned far away from my buddy, for starters. I wasn’t able to manipulate my octo at depth — something I’ve done in courses but never had to try in a real emergency. I certainly ascended too fast. Also, I was too tired: I slept poorly last night, and maybe I should have called the dive on that basis. I’m sure that my tired mind slowed my reactions and encouraged suboptimal behavior.

Things I probably could have done instead of what I actually did: (1) been close enough to my buddy to get his octo promptly (2) held the mouthpiece-less reg in my mouth with one hand while I detached the octo with my other (3) used the purge button on my reg to stream out air, which I could sip from while I detached the octo.

What I plan to do: well, I already bought a new octo holder, one of the silicone loops that I should just be able to tug when I need (Not exactly this but close.) I plan to stay closer to my buddy — Alex and I agreed that was a misstep. And I plan on continuing to dive, and to build experience. While I didn’t exactly cover myself with glory here, I did manage to avoid full-blown panic and made it to the surface with no apparent injury.