Saturday (03-24-2007) was my 53rd birthday and some special things happened on that day that I want to chronicle and remember. The Diver¡¦s Motto is ¡§Always Learning¡¨. Every experience should be a learning experience and I want to learn from this one. This is the purpose to this exercise.
I had been planning a birthday trip to Pompano Beach for several months. The purpose of the trip was to do a diving day with Parrot Island Scuba Adventures -- http://www.parrotislandscuba.com/index.html . The trip was organized by Diver Down Scuba out of Lakeland, Florida ¡V http://www.diverdownscubashop.com . The plan of this trip was to execute 3 separate dives in this order:
1. A deep dive -- http://www.parrotislandscuba.com/tenneco.html
2. A wreck dive -- http://www.parrotislandscuba.com/vitalle.html
3. A night dive -- http://www.parrotislandscuba.com/night.html
On this trip was: myself and my wife (Tracey), her sister (Tara) and her husband (Shane), and long time friends of Shane (Jimmy and his wife ¡V Jackie). Shane and Jimmy have approximately 6 months more SCUBA experience than I possess. I was Open Water Certified (NAUI) in July 2006 and had completed my Advanced SCUBA (NAUI) training within the previous two weeks of this date though I have not received my advanced card yet. Both Shane and Jimmy have completed their Advanced/NITROX training through SSI. We have one dive together as a group at Blue Grotto Spring in preparation for the Pompano Beach dive trip. Shane and I had dived a few more times together both at Blue Grotto Springs and in the Bahamas.
There were approximately 23 divers on this trip so both boats of the Parrot Island Scuba Adventures were used --http://www.parrotislandscuba.com/Boats.html . I was in the group assigned to the Fishfood boat along with 7 other divers (including my dive partners ¡V Shane (my brother-in-law) and Jimmy (his friend from High School). This made a group of 8 divers with diverse experience. The other divers were assigned to the Fathoms o¡¦ Fun boat -- http://www.parrotislandscuba.com/Boats.html .
The Fishfood was piloted by Captain Mike Koenig and a first mate -- http://www.parrotislandscuba.com/staff.html . The trip got underway around 1:00 pm (approximately) and was on site after 3:00 pm according to my dive computer. The weather was pretty rough by my ¡§land-lubber¡¨ experience (about 4 ¡V 6 foot waves). My dive buddy (Shane) and I went through our usual seasickness routine in spite of anti-sea sickness pills. We both felt we were up to the dive after we were through being sick. Jimmy was never sick.
This is the point where the trip started to deviate from the ¡§game plan¡¨ I had envisioned for these dives. In the past, whether it was a certification training dive or a dive in the Bahamas, the Dive Master had always briefed us as to what to expect. This would include a general dive plan and where the Dive Master would be on this dive. This was not done. The Diver Down staff was not on the Fishfood boat (they were all on the other boat) and the Parrot Island Scuba Adventures staff just asked if we had ever dived on the Tenneco site before. When I said I hadn¡¦t, I was told just hang on the marking buoy and follow the rope down. Also, I was told the currents were fairly strong today so be careful out there.
We had to wait for the Dive Master from the other boat to attach the marking buoy to the Tenneco rig. This task required two dives to accomplish. The dive master on our boat said they were not going to attach to the buoy but rather would maneuver the boat close and the divers could jump in and make their way to the buoy and descend via the rope attached to the Tenneco rig.
I was the 3rd diver in the water and reach the buoy without incident. Upon decent, my problems began. The current was so strong that my attached underwater light and camera became tangled with the buoy line about 10 feet below the surface. In this position, I felt the boat coming over my position and looked up to see the propeller pass within a few feet of my head. This was a scary moment.
Shane joined me on the rope and, when I had my equipment detached from the marker rope, I descend toward the Tenneco rig. At this point I had my camera attached to my hand but I realized I would have to attach it to my BC. This was because I needed both hands to muscle my way down the rope resisting the current. My equipment tangled two more times with the buoy rope, but I was down about 60 feet and at the end of the marker buoy rope by that time.
Other divers were arriving at this point so I let go of the buoy rope to get out of their way and kept descending. Away from the buoy rope I didn¡¦t realize that the strong current was sweeping me further from the dive site. I achieved the seabed at 104 ft and knew I was out of contact with the other divers, the buoy rope and the Tenneco towers. The visibility was just a few feet. I took two pictures at the point to document I was there and within 5 minutes began my ascent. My air was about 1600 lb but I wanted to make sure I had air to deal with whatever I found on the surface as to reaching the dive boats.
At about 15 feet while I was performing my last decom stop, I would feel the power of the current intensely and knew I was in trouble. I surfaced in worse seas than I started in with approximately 500 lb in my tank. The waves were probably 6 feet high but looked like mountains from my position. I fully inflated my BC and took stock of my situation.
I was totally alone. The dive boats were nowhere in sight. I finally spotted them far in the distance, but they looked like toys from my position. The tide was running toward shore and I could make out the South Miami Beach in the distance.
I was in good shape physically. By that I mean I had no injuries, I was on the surface with a full BC to keep me there, it was daylight and, while I knew I could never swim ¡§up current¡¨ to the dive boats, I would keep calm and deal with the situation.
By this time, the dive boats were totally out of sight. Even on the largest wave I could not spot them. The waves were getting rougher and I knew I would have to inflate my distress Signal Sausage if I was ever going to be spotted. I wanted to inflate this by mouth to conserve my tank air for coping with the rough seas. This was quite a task in the waves, but I did it eventually. I then rolled on my BC for comfort and held the Neon green sausage upright.
I do not know how long I remained like this but I was positioned to search the ocean every time I was at a waves¡¦ crest. I did not see them but about 30 minutes into this I spotted a small shark (perhaps 6 feet long), but he did not bother me.
I was still drifting toward the distant South Miami Beach and had reconciled that that may be my only alternative if I were not found by the Dive Boat. I was fully confident I could make shore if necessary. I wasn¡¦t panicked and actually my chief concern was whether by two dive buddies had made it back to the boat and were safe. Or were they adrift like me?
I noticed a Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish had drifted fairly close to me. From then on, it was an effort to avoid his drift, so I stopped looking for the dive boat so often. I still held the signaling sausage upright as I drifted toward South Miami Beach.
I don`t know how long I drifted, but eventually I realized he dive boat was back in sight and coming my way. After one final concern when I thought the boat was going to run me over, I was hauled aboard. I don¡¦t know the distance, but my dive buddy, Jimmy, estimated 3 miles from the dive site to where I was picked up. Jimmy said that if not for the signaling sausage I would never have been spotted.
No one on the boat wanted to do complete the remaining two dives.