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Dive Report 10/28/06 - The Agony & the Ecstasy!


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


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Posted by Patrick on October 30, 2006 at 18:06:56:

(Sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme)

So sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip.
Three divers left from del Rey port for a three dive diving trip
A three dive diving trip…

The weather it was great that day,
The boat was running swell
None of the crew imagined then that one of them
Would soon experience Hell; would soon experience Hell…

Okay. Enough of that (besides, they just took my rhyming dictionary).

Last Saturday was an awesome dive day. The sunrise was spectacular and provided a warm golden glow that was as unexpected in late October as it was welcome.

The good ship Kate with its crew of three (Captain Andy, Captain {emeritus} Paul, and Captain Pat) was headed out to hit the Marina del Rey artificial reef on the way to P.V. Sea conditions were nearly glass flat with just the slightest wind ripples – Perfect!

As we came up to the site, as usual, we had the fathometer going, looking for “stuff” as we came up on our GPS numbers for the reef. Typically we read flat sand bottom, but if you don’t look, you don’t really know what you might be missing. Apparently in the past we had been missing something. This time as we approached the site the fathometer showed a very strong return from the bottom as well as a sizable plume of fish hovering over some object. Andy made several runs over the “thing” and determined it was something new and only a couple of hundred feet or so from the reef. We dropped a marker buoy on it and it was decided that I’d be the “go-for” and check it out, then make the swim over to the reef and join Paul.

In short order I was geared up and rolling over the side of the Kate. Midwater visibility was probably 40+ feet with a beautiful blue color and hardly any particulate. Visibility on the bottom was slightly less (30-feet) but very acceptable. As I descended and the light dimmed, I could make out a dark object on the bottom, right on the edge of visibility and in the correct direction of our mystery “thing”. As I swam closer, I could see that the dark area was actually two truck tires sitting on the bottom, and protruding from the center of each tire was an antenna array that would have made the NSA jealous.

I approached slowly so as not to spook any of the locals, and tried to get the lay of the land. Most of the antenna seemed to be attached to maybe-keepers, but there were several nice 4-5 pounders in with the young’uns. I made my attack and missed as all hell broke loose in the first tire. Bugs were whizzing around the inside of the tire in their effort to escape, but something hit me in the chest, worked its way up my chest, and was against the side of my face when I slammed my right hand against it, pinning it against the right side of my face and neck. I felt a jab in my palm and wrist as I grabbed the wily crustacean, and immediately thought “Wow, this one is really soft – must’ve just molted…” As I pulled the critter away from my neck, down to where I could get a look as him, I got a bit of a shock; it wasn’t a lobster I held but a Sculpin.

Oh Crap!

I turned the indignant fish loose and began a body systems-check: a bit of soreness from the fin stick, no real pain. “Humm, Seems okay” I thought as I flexed my hand, then pounced, pinning a nice 3-pound bug and quickly bagging him up. Yep, everything seemed okay, and after getting a few more bugs (a lot more cautiously) from the second tire, I began swimming over to the artificial reef.

Previous to this, I had been envenomized by Sculpin three or four times before. The first time when I was 13 or 14, was bad. Not terrible, but enough to put me off my fishing for a few hours. The next couple of Sculpin punctures elicited pain no worse than getting jabbed by a pin or a tack with no residual effect. Though these had occurred quite a few years ago, it was one reason that I was not too concerned about these punctures in the palm and wrist of my right hand.

By the time I found the reef after a few minutes of swimming, I had added a couple more very nice bugs to the bag. I don’t know if they were refugees from the first tire or just arrogant, but I invited them home to dinner. After a few more minutes, I detected some pain in my wrist (not bad). But also a very noticeable weakness in my right hand. “Humm, Not good,” I thought. I decided to abort the dive, and began my ascent. As I rose through the water column, there were some very notable changes taking place with my right hand and arm. I began to feel pain, real pain in my wrist and hand, and I could feel it working up my forearm, then to my elbow, then bicep, and finally shoulder. I suspect that as I rose and the pressure dropped, the neoprene of my suit expanded and loosened enough to allow the Sculpin venom to be carried from the wounds up my arm. The three minute safety stop was the longest I’d ever done. When I hit the surface, the Kate was right there, and I yelled to Captain Andy I had a problem – I couldn’t move my right arm. I made it to the ladder and into the boat; I’m not really sure how this was accomplished.

Since Sculpin venom is a heat-labile toxin (which means it breaks down quickly when subjected to high temperatures) the standard treatment is to immerse the effected area in water as hot as the victim can stand. This typically brings prompt relief – at least from the pain. Swelling, inflammation and secondary infections are still conditions of concern.

I was out of it with the pain, groaning on the deck as Captain Andy collected Captain (emeritus) Paul from his dive. Andy had been running around yelling something that sounded like “truck” because we had neglected to bring the standard thermos of water that is precisely for situations like this. As a work around I tried placing my hand on the exhaust riser on the engine, and though it was pretty warm it wasn’t enough to breakdown the toxin in my hand or alleviate the pain.

At this point I was really feeling bad. I was salivating heavily and beginning to feel nauseous. I lay back on the deck and bit my left hand to keep from screaming or moaning. This was almost as painful as a broken heart from losing your best girl – and it wasn’t getting any better. The run in was short and fast, and Captain Andy got me to the Harbor Patrol/Life Guard dock in record time. He had radioed ahead, and they were waiting for us as we came in. A Life Guard (Drew Graham) helped me into the locker room area where one of the sinks was filled with nearly scalding water, and I began soaking as much of my right hand and arm as I could fit in the sink. Relief came within a few minutes – A Miracle! Within 30 minutes of constant soaking and 600 milligrams of ibuprofen (just to be safe), the pain was gone.

I felt fine even though my hand and arm were noticeably swollen and discolored as far up as my elbow; there was no pain and little discomfort.

I felt like ---- diving!

So I did.

This has been a long story, relating the agony, but there really is an ecstasy too.

Since conditions were so benign, for the last dive of the day we elected to dive the Marina del Rey breakwater. I like breakwaters. They usually provide interesting diving and interesting ecosystems. On Saturday, the MdR breakwater went far beyond “interesting,” it went far beyond “spectacular.” It was ECSTASY!

Swiming in to the breakwater, you saw dense schools of barracuda, mackerel, and anchovy. Arriving at the rocky base, you were greeted by clouds of perch of all varieties – rubberlip, butter mouth, pile, opaleye, 7-11s were amazingly dense. Sand bass, Calico bass and Sargo were everywhere, but the most spectacular sight of all was the Garabaldi. I have many dives under my weightbelt and have never seen the density of these fish greater that on the MdR breakwater. Actual schools of these normally territorial fish can literally take your breath away. The other aspect was there were all sizes from the smallest blue and gold speckled juveniles, to immature adults to the full grown golden herds riding back and forth in the surge. The MdR breakwater is a truly magnificent site, and if the conditions allow, literally right on your doorstep.

As for moi, the repercussions from my Sculpin encounter are not yet known. Two days after the event there is still considerable swelling, but the color is slightly better.
The down side is it looks like I’ll have to give up playing the concert accordion.
The up side is I can apparently catch fish with my hands…

Stay wet



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