Just when I thought it was safe to get back into the water (kinda long)

Great Dive Trips at Bargain Prices with the Sea Divers

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Posted by msblucow on August 25, 2001 at 23:45:29:

Well, I did my first dive to Farnsworth today. Let me put it this way. I blew chunks (and not just over the rail, either). In 10 minutes I managed to forget everything I knew about diving and ended up sitting out the next dive to the front side of Catalina because I had run myself ragged.

Between the swells (why do they call them 'swells'? - that seems like such a cheery, happy name, how about something more descriptive, like 'awfuls' or 'oh-my-god-when-will-this-nightmare-end'?), the ripping current, lack of sleep, a camera with a new strobe arm that didn't work the way it was supposed to, and a 'I-came-all-this-way-gotta-go' attitude, I ended up putting myself in a situation where I was a danger to myself and those around me. Thankfully, nothing truly bad or dangerous DID happen, but I should have known better. It was a real lesson about personal responsibility, knowing one's limitations, and having the courage to call a dive because you don't feel a %100 about what you're doing.

With all that in minde, I saw this post on Rodale's and thought it might be good food for thought here. The author was writing in reponse to the death of a diver at the Flower Gardens in the Gulf of Mexico. The diver, who died of heart attack after surfacing from the 4th dive of the day, was 55, obese, and was reported to have had only 2 open water dives since being certified in 1999.

"These are observations from an old, but inexperienced diver. As is usually the case, my lack of experience will cause most to bypass
this posting; however, I felt the need to write it. It is somewhat lengthy, sorry.

First, my heart goes out to you, Frank, to all who experienced the accident, and to the family of the diver who died. It's clear that many emotions are going through your very being at this moment, not the least of which is guilt. When we experience tragedy, we always want an explanation; if we can find one, it somehow makes us feel better.......for a time.

At my stage in life, I have now experienced many deaths. I have held the hands of many dying friends and ministered to them and their families at their time of greatest need. I have visited friends in nursing homes who have lived a fate worse than death. Do I have the answers to make us feel better? No. I do have a few observations though.

We have become a society of instant gratification. This has affected the diving industry, the skiing industry, and essentially every aspect of our lives. Even my son, before the age of 30, felt he had to "own" a Lexus, a BMW, top-of-the-line home entertainment systems, and take tropical tours every time the urge hit him. Perhaps part of that is my fault. He didn't seem to see that we could afford most things only because of years of work and patience to get there.

This is all compounded by the fact that we have also become a very litigious society. Someone, other than nature or ourselves, must always be at fault. This is an overpowering parameter every time we encounter accidents. This is the reason I stopped doing medical physics in radiation therapy. Not because I was less than competent or felt it was not something contributory to society. I simply did not like the legal exposure.

As a relatively new diver, I can only speak for myself and how the diving industry has appeared to me. I come from a generation where I feel I am responsible for myself. That being said, I must admit that I do have a disagreement with the current approach to diving certification.

At least from my own personal experiences, I was not ready for the open ocean after only five certification dives. Even after an additional five practice dives, I still was not ready; however, we had reservations in Cozumel. After arriving, we did another practice shore dive behind the Barracuda Hotel, compliments of Dive Paradise. All seemed fine. The next day, we headed out for our first real open ocean dives and descended over the wall at Palancar Caves. Although I kept telling the DM I did not want to go below 60 feet, he kept insisting that it would be OK. At first, it seemed all right. However, it
quickly became apparent that my buoyancy control and air consumption were terrible. I missed almost every safety stop! While my tank was not empty at the end of the dives, I was not prepared for the extra buoyancy with less than 500 psi. Perhaps this was discussed in my BOW course, I do not recall. The first introduction to SCUBA can be real information overload, and I am no dummy (I scored 100% on all written exams). However, knowing the theory is not the same as having the skills.

After four open ocean dives in Cozumel, I decided I was endangering my life and I stopped diving in the middle of the week. Even though the DM said I was doing fine, I wasn't doing fine. The lack of control upset me so that I almost gave up diving permanently. After a time of reflection, I enrolled in an AOW course, plus a specialty or two, before going to the ocean again, this time Grand Cayman. Although the diving went significantly better than the first time, I still felt easily pushed into the stress zone. I began to realize that there was no substitute for actual diving experience and skills practice, formal training aside. Like most things, until it is second nature, it is not yours. Diving did not start coming together for me until I had about 30 to 35 dives. Perhaps I am just a slow learner. Even now, if I go awhile without pool time or practice dives, I can see the skills ebbing away. After 68 dives, I still do not feel comfortable enough to embark upon underwater photography, even simple point-n-shoot. Yet, when DMs and instructors observe me, they think I have it all together.

From my perspective, the training (especially BOW) spends much too much time on theory and much too little time on skills development, not to mention retaining the skills necessary to keep you "relatively safe". Their emphasis is always on the next level of training (perhaps a money issue) rather than gaining experience through diligent practice. With my technical background, the theory is trivial, but some of the skills came hard in the beginning. Also, I am not one who is afraid to ask questions. When a skill was not going right, I asked the instructor for more pool time in private or with another class to allow me to work on that skill. I did that several times; it drove my instructors crazy! Luckily, my wife had warned them about my personality and they were happy to oblige.
Most divers I know never practice in the pool, even though they are not diving frequently (as is often the case in Colorado). I have a friend who did the Rescue Diver certification a few years ago. He probably has 1/3 the diving experience I have (and that is not much). He is overweight and has atrial fibrillation, yet he thinks he is a "rescue diver".

In a recent trip report of mine, I wrote about the extensive pool practice I do. I also noted my very conservative approach to diving. Like one of the posters said, I am like one of the "little old ladies" she (he) likes to teach.

Interestingly enough, I never have a problem with overcrowding in the pool. If the shop does not have a class, I can easily get pool time and I usually have it to myself. I only occasionally see another diver there practicing.
Who is to blame? Probably there is enough blame to go around: the divers, the agencies, the resorts, the DMs, etc. I even had an Aldora divemaster threaten me once when I wanted to abort a dive (another long story)! I only know that I now realize I am responsible for myself, independent of the training. Now I take that responsibility. In addition to all my practice, I don't even get on a dive boat unless I have everything understood in writing up front. This includes the type of diving, the profiles, the conditions to expect, the nearness of chambers and other medical facilities, etc. I keep the e-mail correspondence with me, in case the DMs have forgotten or the operation forgot to tell them. If the diving and conditions do not match my comfort zone, then I look elsewhere.

Although the FG experience looks exciting, all reports I read indicate that conditions can be well above my skill level. I cannot imagine an OW1 diver with only two open ocean dives going to the FGs.

As an older diver, might I die in a SCUBA accident? Of course. Should I sit at home and wait for cancer or senility? Absolutely not! I do what I can to minimize the risks. If anyone thinks SCUBA is a risk-free sport, they have not looked at all the possible failure points (physical and biological) that can lead to catastrophe. Why do you think we have to strap on all that paraphernalia just to stay down a few minutes? Yet, it is a "relatively" safe sport, thanks to the diligence of some. What bothers me the most about my diving is that others would feel responsible if I had an accident. That goes against my entire personality, not to mention the time and place from which I come.

Should we stop everyone who is not in perfect athletic condition from diving? I don't know. Perhaps we should stop everyone under 30 from driving. As a group, they contribute to most of the fatal car accidents and they certainly kill many innocent people. Driving tests have become rather lax also. How about skiing? Should we have a maturity test there? Skiing deaths are on the rise. In a free society, it seems we have to take some of the risks to enjoy all of the freedom. Freedom, on the other hand, implies a certain measure of personal responsibility. As for me, I guess I prefer it that way. It seems to be rapidly heading the other way.

I cannot speak for others, but in closing, five certification dives did not qualify me for the open ocean! I took it upon myself to correct that! Again, Frank my sincerest sympathy to you, the others, and the family of the victim.

I see it's time to take my power walk....... while some of my friends (who are divers) take a smoke break.

J. Regnald (Reg) Curry, Ph.D."

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