As the first diver exited through the doorway of the wreck, visibility was suddenly reduced to nothing; absolute zero.
A cloud of silt engulfed the torch head, rendering it useless in the dense fog. He finned across to the section where he always waited for his buddy, he knew the wreck well, but the thick layer of silt seemed to follow; stalking him.
The diver was on his own, surrounded by black; haunted by the rapidly increasing bubbles that reminded him he was 20m below the surface.
I remember that dive well.
In hindsight it was probably less dramatic, but at the time my entire world was collapsing around me. I dive in bad visibility on a regular basis, I’m used to it, but on that particular day it was zero viz; and I mean nothing.
Other (less fabulous) divers on the wreck had caused a massive silt out; I have no idea how they made it just so horrendous, but either way I ended up caught in the middle of it. I was ok for a moment, and then I started to lose it.
My breathing escalated, buoyancy control began to deteriorate, and I ended up gripping the wreck as I slashed my light head side to side, in the hope of getting Wifebuddy’s attention.
At the same time, Kerri was exiting the doorway and entered the same nuclear cloud of silt I was enjoying. She too froze, grabbing a piece of the hull to hold her position and began frantically waving her light.
|zero viz cloud|
In clear water this would have looked ridiculous, as we couldn't have been more than 2 metres apart.
After what seemed like an eternity, I swallowed my testicles and attempted to fin back to where, I hoped, my wife was. Within seconds of moving I could see Kerri’s light; what a splendid moment that was.
|Our Halcyon Lights|
Together we moved out of the cloud and were soon in the usual murk, which seemed like the crystal waters of the Red Sea in comparison.
I recall staring into Kerri’s wide eyes, with my equally large peepers, and I knew we were thinking the same thing; “Holy fuck.”
That dive was over a year ago, on my local wreck; The Alastor. I have dived the site so many times it’s embarrassing, yet every dive is different from the last; and not always overly enjoyable.
On Sunday past, Wifebuddy and I had another quality experience on her.
The weather was crap. It’s Northern Ireland; the weather is always crap. We got kitted up in the pouring rain and trundled down the “beach” to the shore line.
|The "Beach" at Ringhaddy|
What lapped against the rocks could only be described as mud.
Undeterred, we attempted to find the line that would lead us to the wreck.
I found the rope first, entirely through good fortune, fired up an smb, and tied it off creating a temporary shot line. I thought that was very clever.
I surfaced and waved over Kerri and our 3rd team member.
We descended down the “shot line” into brown. The rain and wind had churned up the heavy silt seabed, creating a filthy porridge for us to dive in; awesome.
In short, the dive was useless. Visibility was shitty and the current was pushing us sideways along the rope that led to the wreck; which was ‘wrong’ as we had entered at slack water … supposedly.
Once we arrived on the wreck it didn’t really improve much. The current was fighting its way through every hole and crevice in the wreck, creating channels of high flow. At one stage I was almost barrel rolled as we exited a more sheltered section.
The high current was blowing all sorts of marine debris and bits of rusted metal around us, reducing the visibility further.
After 40 mins we binned it.
The 3 of us located the line that would lead us back to shore and we plummeted over the port side at the stern and headed home.
Then the problems started.
As I descended to the sea bed and began to fin to shore, I was met by the most ferocious current I have ever experienced, bar maybe a drift dive!
It was ridiculous.
I started to fin like crazy, ditching my usual frog kick in favour of the stronger flutter kick. It really wasn’t happening. The excessive work on my quads began to make me out of breath and I became rather unhappy about the whole thing.
I know the rules about a current; swim across it, but if I lost the line I was never going to find it again, and, with the strong current, God knows where I would end up.
I considered surfacing, but I knew we would be pushed further away from shore on ascent, and then face a stupidly long surface swim; IF we were able to swim in.
The prospects were grim, and my breathing suggested I wasn’t enjoying myself at all.
I tried again to make headway, dropping into perfect trim to reduce drag, but I failed miserably; it felt like some underwater demon had his hands against my shoulders forcing me back into the Lough.
The Lough monster had me.
I really started to be unhappy. I wasn’t totally freaked out, but I would rather have been elsewhere, and was running out of ideas.
Then Phil Short popped into my head.
TekCamp last year Phil demonstrated some breathing exercises when diving. (see this post). The point of the exercise was;
"A diver should be able to get to the next gas source on a single breath, following a colossal failure."
In the presentation he explained that the primary goal was to get to air – by any means necessary.
To enforce his point, he explained a diver should use every muscle in their body; and demonstrated, how on a dive, he personally clawed his way to survival.
I don’t know what made that enter my tiny brain, but it did. I looked at the rope I was attempting to follow and grabbed at it. Hand over hand I started to reel myself in. I turned to Kerri and she was already on the line doing the same, with our 3rd team member in tow.
On our debrief Kerri told me she had exactly the same thought process; Phil was in her mind as well.
It was a bit weird really.
Within 5 or 10 metres the current stopped dead, and the 3 of us hovered bewildered in still water. It was clear the Lough Monster couldn’t travel far from the wreck.
The visibility was still diabolical, but we made our way along the line and conducted our safety stop in brown porridge 15m from the shore.
We surfaced, I smiled and turned to Kerri; “Well … that was a bit shit.”
Those were 2 very different dives I experienced on a site I know exceptionally well; a fact that had very little impact on my ability to cope with the situation in hand I might add. I didn't enjoy those dives; in fact, they scared the crap out of me. However the lessons I learned were invaluable.
On the first dive, I encountered zero visibility. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all. However, I dealt with it and survived. Since that dive I have been in zero viz conditions on several occasions and didn’t freak out at all; purely because I had done it before.
The second dive, I had the currents of death, and the Lough monster holding me down by the shoulders. I liked that dive even less. It had been quite a while since I’d had a freaky dive and it was quite sobering.
I survived the dive, as this post suggests, and developed another tool to deal with whatever the ocean may throw at me when diving; including how to defeat the Lough Monster.
There are certain things that can only be learned when diving. No amount of training, studying, reading, chatting on the interweb, even listening to me (and i'm awesome) can prepare you for it.
Go dive; go learn.
What did you learn on your last dive?