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Know When to Fold It: An Assist at Little Farnsworth


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Posted by Dr. Bill Bushing on January 30, 2006 at 16:07:27:

As some of you know, I've been SCUBA diving for 45 years now with experience in a wide range of locations around the globe. I feel I am a pretty good diver, although not yet a great technical one (since my focus is on my biological research and film making).

Although not a "proud" person by nature, yesterday I was humbled a bit on my second dive. Our first dive had been at Farnsworth Bank, a blue water dive about 2 miles off the windward side of Catalina Island. Although there was current and a good NW swell, that dive went off without a hitch and I dropped to 146 ft and up to 100 ft to film the purple hydrocoral (which was my goal on that dive) on one of the high points. My buddy, diving Nitrox, remained above me throughout the dive since his MOD was 126 ft.

The captain decided to relocate for the second dive due in part to the current and swell, but mostly due to poor upper water column visibility (it was a max of 50 ft at depth). We motored to the front side to dive Little Farnsworth. Great, I was looking forward to this combination of dives.

Prior to entering the water at L.F., we were told there was a good current running. I've dived strong currents before so this was not a concern. However, after I entered the water off the swim step, I had great difficulty getting to the anchor line at the bow. I should have aborted the dive at that point, but really wanted to dive this site.

I descended with two buddies just below me. The vis was very poor so I kept an eye on their bubbles and the anchor line (which I never reached). Suddenly their bubbles disappeared behind me. I looked ahead and the anchor line had also disappeared from site. I had reached 86 ft without hitting the bottom of the pinnacle, so I decided to surface slowly (not as slow as I desired though).

When I finally reached the surface after 9 min, I was 300 ft from the stern and drifting fast. There was no way I could make progress against the current with my kit (pony affected my streamlining), camcorder housing in hand and my split fins. I ate my pride and yelled for assistance. Dive master/instructor (and occasional buddy) Tim paddled out on a kayak with the current line.

I was pretty tired from fighting the current and even though Tim took my camera, I wasn't making much progress on the line (hands slipping due to current). I finally held on and had the crew pull me in. I was mortified. I've only required assistance twice in my diving career, both times due to strong currents. Once back on the swim step and after catching my breath, my two buddies surfaced 2-3X as far away and had to be assisted. A fourth diver ended up going to the chamber for assessment.

My point? If you feel the dive is questionable (as I did at the surface heading towards the bow and anchor line), give serious thought to calling it before a situation develops. There were at least 5-6 divers on board who decided not to even suit up for this dive. Perhaps they were the smartest ones. Even the two tech divers from the crew had trouble crawling along the bottom to find the anchor.

Although the current and very poor vis were the primary factors involved here, there was another thought going through my mind. About two years ago friends of mine were passing this site and observed a great white hit, and totally disembowel, a large sea lion at the surface. I didn't like being hanging bait!



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