an unexpected diving adventure

Diving is always an adventure, but it is generally an expected adventure. If you live near mountains, you might go hiking on or off trails. But the area is known, the equipment is familiar, and the hiking itself second nature. For me, this is diving. I have been diving for nearly 15 years and before I was able to dive, I was watching our boat as dad dove with his friends. Over time my equipment has faded from its original neon yellows and pinks, but remains well loved.

Dad and I thought we knew what we were getting into last weekend when we went on a French live-aboard dive boat. Three dives a day for three days; two of these days were to be around Mafia, where the diving was fantastic just a few weeks prior. Good food, good diving. What we got instead was an unexpected adventure including a reminder to respect the ocean.

Friday evening we boarded the Kairos when it was already dark. As we motored through the night to Mafia Island sleep was evasive as we often felt as if we were going to be tossed from the our bunks thanks to the fantastic waves. The morning brought a rather rocky breakfast and our first dive. I’ve never been sea-sick before, but attempting to quickly down a glass of water before dive one was a mistake. Thankfully I felt great post losing breakfast and was free of such issues the rest of the trip.

Dives one and two were rather murky, but not bad. Highlights include a huge ray swimming, a large turtle swimming fast, and a moray eel swimming between rocks. Returning from dive two was a wild ride as the waves continued to grow all afternoon. With all divers on board we did not even attempt the third dive and instead motored to the back side of the island to drop anchor for the night. The evening brought NITROX training, an alternative to compressed air that allows you to stay deeper for longer. Sleep came fast and the rocking of the boat this night was pleasant.

Sunday brought three dives. The first we fought the current and upon nearly reaching the wall found it to be a sandstorm. The second brought a beautiful school of large fish at 120 feet, and then sand. Then deep diving training after lunch. The third dive included a 2.5 meter shark (either a bull or tiger), a 2+ meter, 150kg+ grouper, several large schools of large fish, including barracudas, and brought my new max diving depth of 145 feet.

After the third dive one of the 12 divers was not doing well, her symptoms aligning perfectly with decompression illness. As there was a recompression chamber on board, one of the few in east Africa, she got in the chamber and I saw both my first recompression chamber and my first recompression chamber in use. She felt better in the chamber, and so we began to motor to our next diver site, just slightly off course for Dar, as she spent seven hours in the chamber. Unfortunately, a hour after getting out of the chamber, she was feeling horrible again, so our destination was changed at 3am to Dar. We arrived at 12:30 on Monday.

One of the 12 divers on board was a doctor. She had to stitch a crew’s finger up after it port door slammed on it during the high waves on Saturday. In the end, it is likely that other diver did not suffer from decompression illness, but some illness that surfaced with the same symptoms. But it could have been. Diving, particularly diving deep (technically that means past 60 feet), is pushing the balance between safety and potential illnesses including decompression illness, nitrogen narcosis, and oxygen toxicity. At depth these illness are frightening. Nitrogen narcosis—imagine being drunk with over 100 feet of water above you. Oxygen toxicity—think seizures at its worst. Much safer to be drunk or to have seizures on land. On the surface wild waves not only rock a boat but can hide divers from their ride, and currents can pull you towards reefs or out to the open ocean.

Over the weekend I was certified as a deep diver and to use NTIROX. I came to appreciate deep diving for what it is, though my preference remains shallow diving. This weekend was a reminder of the deep respect one must have for the ocean. So this weekend of diving was an unexpected adventure.

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