Scuba Diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by . on August 14, 2002 at 09:25:32:

In Reply to: Diver in San Diego hit by boat posted by . on August 14, 2002 at 09:24:03:

Sam and List,

This news is not at all surprising given the recent experiences of
the "tribe" down here in San Diego. We've been noticing an increase
in "close calls" and an apparent disregard or (and I hope this is not
true) aggression on the part of the Sport Boat captains, who should
be the most aware and capable of using judgement and safety on the
water. They should be aware that their commercial licenses may be at
stake if this pattern continues. The odd novice boater out there is a
bit more understandable. They make lotsa silly mistakes.

I was awakened by panicked phone calls from two different family
friends who'd heard about the incident: they knew of my own close
calls and wondered if I'd finally got my ticked punched. It wasn't
me, this time. But one of us was just hit by a boat and is still in
critical condition.

If what I've seen directly is any indication, there's another series
of serious accidents just waiting to happen between fishermen and
freedivers in the waters off San Diego. Here are my own first-hand
experiences from just the last 60 days here in San Diego.

We were diving the Coronado Islands just last month and the Mission
Belle sportfisher (with a full load of clients) pulled up and
anchored in front of us. After fishing and watching us dive for about
45 minutes, one deckhand started throwing seal bombs into the water.
My diving partner did a somersault underwater (from pure shock) and I
was similarly shocked (I only complete a 180-degree turn). The noise
was deafening. Our ears were ringing for a long time and I was
seriously concerned about damage. This was so unnecessary. We were
absolutely within their view and had been continuously for nearly an
hour, about 75 yards directly behind them. We both had bright orange
buoys and red and white dive flags. It is hard to imagine this was an
accident caused by unawareness of our presence.

Then, about 4 weeks ago, I was overnighting IN the kelp (about 50
yards inside the thick, matted kelp) off La Jolla with a dive buddy.
My boat lights were on. A sportfisher (with a full load of clients)
passed by so close that their prop picked up a coil of float line
overhanging my boat and ripped the attached gun out of the boat and
into oblivion. I was in heavy kelp, in a no-boat and no-prop zone for
most savvy skippers, and never imagined anyone would motor thru it,
let alone at full cruise speed, and come within 20 feet of my
anchored, lighted vessel. The bow wake barely missed swamping us. We
heard the deckhand yell to the skipper that "some guy is yelling at
us" (me). The point: they saw us at the last minute, knew something
had happened, stopped about 200 yards away to undo the line from
their prop, and then took off again. Adios. No inquiry into how we
were, what our distress was about. Nada. They left and next day I
called the local sportfishing offices to see which twilight boat was
the culprit. They assured me none of their skippers would do such a
thing. "They NEVER go through the kelp." Hmmm. This was a boat
probably out of Mission Bay and it was full of paying customers. I
simply missed the name on this one. We watched its lights fade as it
returned about 10 pm towards the Mission Bay jetties. It was a
"twilight cruise" sportfisher.

Next morning: other dive buddies showed up, all well-seasoned divers
who were either retired or current lifeguards and firemen. They
anchored just near the outside edge of the kelp about 75 yards from
me. We both flew prominent red and white dive flags. They dove for
about 15 minutes as the constant stream of private and sport boats
began to fill in the area. I counted 30 in the immediate vicinity, 50
within 1/3 mile. I was shocked to see The Dolphin sportboat, the same
boat just mentioned for similar incidents by Sam on this List, steam
at a steady cruise right next to a diver doing a emergency dive to
get below that boat. "Did you see that!?" I asked my other friend,
who'd just returned to the relative safety of his boat. "Yeah,
unbelievable. We're outta here." They all came back to the boat and
terminated their dive.

"Me too! I'm done with weekends in San Diego. Much too aggro'." So as
Jerry pulled the hook on his boat I kicked the 25 yards between his
boat (dive flag still prominently displayed) and the edge of the kelp
inside of which my boat was still anchored and flagged. Half-way
there, I feel a huge pull on my (spare) floatline. I look up to see
two hapless fishermen pulling up their engine to see what the matter
was:-). I informed them of my opinion (unprintable), and they
informed me of theirs. I've had better moments.

I kicked under the canopy of kelp like a rabbit scampering to the
undergrowth for cover, and made it to my boat. I hauled in the
shredded float line and pulled the hook, mumbling "old sleepy San
Diego is the thing of the past, I'm afraid."

Since this, I've looked into the regulations governing boater
behavior around orange dive flags here, and there doesn't seem to be
much obligation for skippers to stay clear. Seems like a good time
for a reasonable law. Each of these incidents above involved seasoned
divers who are also from rod-and-reel roots. In each case we were
respectful, well-marked, were first on the spot, and stayed heads-up.
I've thought about an education campaign for fishermen/boaters at the
ramps: handing out flyers or the like. This could be a good event for
one of the dive clubs. If something doesn't happen I can almost
guarantee there will be more of this sort of thing happening soon.

also from freedive list

My condolences to the family of the injured diver. If other
California divers have similar experiences they'd like to share, I
will be happy to compile them in preparation for some legislation or
other action. Maybe we can save a life and put a chill on this thing
before things get too stressed out.

And that would be a good thing :-)

-Jim Agualibre Cahill

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