GONE IN 60 SECONDS
Posted 17 November 2002 - 09:19 AM
By Bob Whorton
To some extent complacency crosses our paths on a daily basis – usually something trivial that has no real nock-on effect. Calling it just bad luck is an admission of a conspiracy in ones own mind as the resulting circumstance is often arrived at through personal incompetence.
Of course we could never admit that ones own complacency could lead to anything major, something that could affect the well-being of oneself or cause discomfort to others… We all know better don’t we – or do we?
Here is the true story of a situation in October last year - a bad situation that got progressively worse.
A group of friends had joined me in Seychelles for my son ‘Reef’s’ christening the day before and this was supposed to be the other highlight of their trip.
After an exciting first dive of the day observing sharks off Marianne Island near Praslin, we were in high spirits. Our surface interval was spent changing film and eating packed brunches. The wind was brisk, enlivening the wave-tops slightly whilst the sun was high - radiating much heat and its brightness reflecting intensely off the eastern flanks of a half-meter swell.
Two ladies in the group elected to swap the second dive for a sunbathing session on the western beach, and prior to the dive we dropped them off.
Compared to the first dive this proved less eventful as the sharks had thinned out somewhat at the point - heading off north east with the strong tidal change. I decided to look for the large stonefish we had encountered on the first dive as everyone else headed off with the guide*.
Several sharks had reappeared from the eastern side of the site swimming around the point before they too headed off. I considered it pointless swimming against a current to pursue them and stayed put in the lea of the large fingers of rock that are unique to this site.
A couple of the lads drifted back with the growing current; I signaled by yawning that I was bored. I looked around before I ascended from this 9m level to see the boat clearly above me, arriving at the surface I had drifted down current by about 30m. Habitually, I checked my reserves - still over 120 bars, all was calm.
The Problem began
No boatman? He was not as I expected standing up looking around so I shouted, pressed my ‘hammerhead’ continuously – Nothing…
I began to drift a little further away from the site as one of my friends ‘mother buoy’ hit the surface hissing off its excess air. I saw the boatman ‘jump’ up and thought “Oh, he will see me now…” My friend ‘David’ ascended and got onboard and I thought they would be over in a few moments… “No!”
Slowly the rest of the group ascended and I was pushed further and further off-site by the current. The wind was against me also, which meant all the shouting and ‘honking’ I was doing was not reaching the boat; by now several hundred meters away… I began to get concerned. More so, as I heard the boats engines start up and go around the point – out of sight.
It seemed a very long time had passed since the boat had left and all manner of things had started going through my mind, it had been 45 minutes since my arrival at the surface. Meanwhile the current was pushing me further away from Marianne Island out into the open water, towards La Digue in the distance.
Things started getting serious in my head as the current pushed me further out towards La Digue and then I remembered the girls left on the beach… I looked over and could clearly see the girls standing on the beach looking in the direction of the dive site (undoubtedly wondering what was happening regarding the delay in retrieving them). I screamed my tonsils out and honked my horn; alas it failed to attract their attention (the wind was blowing between us). I began to really get worked up; maybe just frustration, but short of panic I calmed myself down – “Get a grip sunshine, you’re stronger than this”
The current at that point was too strong to swim against so I all I could do was drift, I looked down but the seabed had long vanished over 40m below. My heart lifted seeing the boat heading back towards me… I waved my fins screamed and honked. Alas, there was almost a mile between me and the shore; the boat passing close to the island directly to the girls on the beach. I remembered at this point a documentary about women being more observant than men regarding detail etc. I hoped this was the case, and bet myself money it would be one of the girls who spotted me in the end.
The girls were extracted but the boat headed off again back towards the point and off around the corner, deflating my moral again.
“Oh my God!”
I was deeply concerned about my welfare and the situation I was in. Paramount were visions of my young son Reef (8 – weeks old that day) being without a father. This single thought pushed me and helped me grasp a moment by moment plan to get myself safe if the boat failed to extract me.
However, I remember thinking to myself – “These guy’s would never leave me out here...” This thought and the previous kept me calm, but admittedly it was very difficult.
I thought about people caught in the same scenario that had perished, and to a certain extent I could now appreciate their personal despair. I could also appreciate, in these situations that if your grasp on life slips – you’re gone.
It was getting late in the afternoon but the sun was still baking hot, my exposed head and hands were beginning to suffer - I had been on the surface for over 100 minutes by now. I constantly wet my head to cool it down and to keep my mask clear at the same time. I asked again to God to keep me calm and strong – not that he owed me any favours inflicting worry on others – but the thought of my friends explaining my loss to Pamela & Reef would have been much worse. “Dieing is not an option!” I screamed!
I was more than thankful that I was wearing my Scubapro ‘Rectec’ BCD, as when fully inflated it’s like a yacht tender, dumping lead made it more-so and super efficient ‘Volo’ fins which are second to none at the surface. I still had my camera attached, creating drag/management problems, but I wasn’t ready to loose it quite yet!
I surmised that the current would shortly wane and I would be able to swim the 2 miles back to Marianne’s shore, at least spending the night on the safety of land (Big Sharks here-abouts). Then I thought - “I hope I can find water there... and even better a pack of cigarettes!”
As anticipated the current dropped and began changing direction – “Great!” I thought I can do with all the help I can get. I lay back, legs went into cruise control and off I went. Every ten minutes I would stop verbally reassuring myself, turn over and note if the patch of rocks between two areas of beach I was aiming for was getting closer – thankfully it was. At this point I couldn’t see the boat; I guessed they were checking out the other side of Marianne. I kept on swimming... After 45 minutes the light was dropping but my goal was very close now.
The boat appeared again on the horizon, and I was torn between swimming and waving my fins to attract their attention. I decided to keep swimming but turned on my strobe; pointed it towards the boat and periodically I fired it off. With the light dropping I hoped the strobe would prove a valuable asset.
It seemed doubtful they had seen me and I kept on swimming. Eventually, I looked down and saw the seabed and large outcrops of granite just 20m below.
I estimated I was 10 minutes from the beach when I noticed the boat was on a direct line with me, less than half a mile away. This time I took off both of my fins and waved them like a mad man... I saw a hand point in my direction and the boat sped towards me. Within a few minutes it was beside me.
“I’ll bet you’re fed up of hanging around on the surface eh?” Asked Ron. Everyone looked noticeably relieved, most of all - the guide!
I didn’t know what kind of reception I would be met with but the first thing out of my mouth was “Thanks for hanging around, and not giving up...”
Their reply was simple – “we weren’t leaving without your body...”
This was followed by questions to the dive-guide regarding his knowledge of currents in the area (or lack of).
I explained how the problem had occurred, and how it had got progressively worse. It turned out my signal to ascend had gone unnoticed to a friend occupied with the site.
When my apparent failure to appear got critical they were unsure to whether or not I had ascended. This led them to carry out a 25 minute UW search and why it took so long to find me at the surface (It should be pointed out we have jointly spent over 2000 dives together). However, I could not accept responsibility for not being seen by the absent boatman.
Hind sight: Things would always be done differently and my 150 minutes of anguish would not have occurred. I do appreciate one fact though: Had it been a bunch of strangers on the boat I would have had to have spent at least one night on an exclusive beach front location.
In the unlikely event anyone is placed in similar jeopardy it is most important that you stay in control and not lose your grasp on the situation – be strong. If you are unsure of extraction by your dive boat make a plan and go for it. I survived it through strength of character and a strong reason to survive. Not to mention the embarrassment it would cause my remembrance having dived for a living.
Normally one might expect someone in my position to keep things like this quiet?
Well, no, if I had I wouldn’t be doing my job, and I do not feel any humiliation in addressing it either... People who live in glass houses and all that!
Thanks go to my friends Ron, Dave, Mark, & Sue, going above and beyond, and Loraine (Radar) for spotting me
Posted 29 November 2002 - 08:59 PM
Thank you for not only sharing with us this frightful experience but also your wisdom and the lessons learned. The thought of being lost at sea is one that I'm sure goes through every divers mind but, as it is very apparent through your writings, it is through knowledge of the ocean, proper training and preparations for such incidents that one can hopefully survive such ordeals.
I am glad you are one of these individuals as your knowledge, thoughts and your photos are a welcome addition to our daily lives. I'm sure Reef is most thankful too.
Soap box: TheLivingSea.com
Posted 01 December 2002 - 12:17 PM
This kind of thing can happen and for someone to address it as a lesson in such a descriptive manner is commendable (in fact so descriptive I was getting anxious at one point too), and credit to your profession.
Posted 01 December 2002 - 08:20 PM
Those few words have made an old man happy!
Posted 08 December 2002 - 01:07 PM
Posted 08 December 2002 - 01:37 PM
This is another irony in this particular circumstance... and I should have written it into the original text.
I spent 2 years developing a 3m DSMB called the 'Mother Buoy' in conjunction with aquatec in UK (www.aquatec.co.uk)[HTML]
I had previously given my buoy to the boss of Borneo Divers at Labuan in Malaysia; I ordered a replacement, but it arrived 3hrs after I left for the airport! Due to severe weight restrictions imposed on divers by Air Seychelles my friends couldn't bring it out either.
This was the first time in those 2 years I didn't have one on my person - The law of sod certainly prevailed that day!
Posted 13 December 2002 - 02:00 PM
one that is beneficial to all of us.
Reading it has resurfaced the idea of carrying a handheld VHF on dives,
enclosed in a waterproof case. Submersible handhelds are readily available
here in San Diego for $100-$300 at bosting stores. Would you consider
this a good option? What specs would be required for functioning around
Posted 13 December 2002 - 02:51 PM
After those two divers got left on the GBR last year, awareness is much higher.
When the EPIRB is activated, it emits a signal on a frequency used only by the coast guard (or equivalent) which can be triangulated so that they can locate you when it starts emitting.
The handheld VHF in a pressure housing is a pretty good idea though.
Dual Ikelite Strobes
Photo site - www.reefpix.org
Posted 13 December 2002 - 10:35 PM
Last 3 trips I was on gave everyone a scuba tube and wouldn't let you go in the water without it. :ph34r:
PS, I'm glad your alive.
Life is a beach and then you dive.
Posted 14 December 2002 - 02:03 PM
i (we) do quit a bit of shore diving here in San Diego. If on found
one's self in a rescue situtaion, then once on the surface, one could
radio in the situation and have an ambulance waiting on the shore.
this would be a trade off of, say, a possible delay of 1 minute in
getting to shore and a possible gain of 5-10 minutes in have paramedics
there would still be an advantage even if, for some reason, one was
unable to radio from the surface. beacuse one would not need to
abandon their buddy to get to a phone/cellphone, and instead,
could remain to administer first aid or cpr or ....
which is not to say that a radio is a replacement for a sausage, mirror,
whistle, airhorn ...
Posted 14 December 2002 - 05:19 PM
Life is a beach and then you dive.
Posted 14 December 2002 - 07:43 PM
Remember when shore diving there is no substitute for a well briefed onshore cover ready to respond physically or electronically. Conditions can change rapidly around that area and an altenative exit plan should be considered too.
Offshore: I always prefer two vigilant people on the boat cover, but this is not always possible.
Self conditioning is very important too: You need something to focus on.
As well as everything else mentioned a pint of fresh water and a hat in a spare pocket can be benificial too. Diving in the Maldives this is a must as in most cases a 20 minute wait is not unusual.
Did you check out the 'Mother Buoy' at