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Blue Corner in Palau.....kicked my butt!


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#1 CamDiver

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 11:35 PM

Hi Guys,
Seeing as we're all divers here I thought I should share a recent event which only deepened my respect for the watery medium I choose to call my office. I am new to Palau having moved over just 3 months ago after 3 years on Yap. I had the pleasure of diving with Douglas David Seifert for the past few days including one fateful day on the Blue Corner site.

The day was fantastic. Clear skies and calm seas. We had made one dive previous to our awakening and decided to make a second with the incoming current, good for shark action, schooling jacks and 'cudas. Almost ready to jump in we noticed that the surface had changed in its calmness. Not that it had become inclement in any way its just that the surface seemed to be moving......really fast!!! First warning signal. So we jumped in expecting to meet the hoards of sharks David was there to snap as well as the friendly Napoleon Wrasse by the name of Mellisa. We were met with a massive current so severe that it was scouping up deep water jellyfish and hurtling them at the reef. massive upcurrents were ricocheting off the reefs and as Blue Corner is basically a plateau there was a wicked downcurrent on the outgoing side of the reef.

Normally people hook in to the plateau by way of a reef hook attached to their BCD. Basically a shark fishing hook with no barb and threaded with a suitable amount of line to allow the diver to 'fly' in the current after having hooked onto some rocky recess and inflating their jacket. Well we hooked after battling like crazy, as were the jacks, with the currents swirling around us. They, the jacks, were literally facing at 90 degrees down!!!! into the upcurrent on the walls. Ludicrous. We managed to hook in but after 4 minutes or so found we had to move. I was swallowing water like crazy through my reg and neither I nor Douglas could shoot our video or photo rigs respectively and expect any amount of control. Mine was literally unfurled flag like in the current behind me.

After unhooking, thankful to get away from the freeflowing reg and wobbly mask we were sent somersaulting, literally, across the plateau. Any small rock or outcrop was creating a mass of turbulence in its wake from the currents acting on it. So crazy were the conditions that I even witnessed a Grey Reef Shark get sent a** over tail!! Imagine that. After checking the Grey Reef I turned around to see that I had become seperated from the other divers. Oh S**t. Palau has had a history of claiming people. Especially Blue Corner in conditions milder than those I found myself a week ago. Anyway I wanted to avoid the downcurrents at the end of the plateau so the best idea for me was to crawl on the reef up to 30ft depth where I could then attach my SMB line and inflate both my BCD and Sauasage in the hope of achieving sufficient depth for a safety stop of some kind. So no problems. I was alone but happy to be relatively shallow where if needed I could bolt for the surface. The dive thus far had lasted just 14 minutes!!!!

Once I'd passed a decent safety stop I then had to make a quick descent to 30ft and collect my SMB line that was attached to a rock outcrop. In the confusion of currents and maelstrom of eddies I managed to lose my mask. So I then ascended to the surface thinking the worst was over. Not a chance. Best to kick a man while he's down as the saying goes. It had started raining. This was no ordinary rain shower though it was an opening of the heavens. Such was the force of the rain that I was in "Grey Out' conditions. That meaning I couldn't make out Palau from the reef!! The closest Island was just 200 yards away. I couldn't even see the breakers on the reef, although I could hear them. By this time I was drifting in blue water with no reference of direction, no boat and no idea where I was going. I'd also forgotten to take my passport in a Pelican case!! Just kidding. What I did know is that I was in a 'hoofing' current possibly on my way to Manila. Crap, I'd just also watched Open Water and whilst as part of my job I film sharks all the time the thought of me ending up as supper did cross my mind. We get a LOT of predatory sharks around here and I was waiting for that little rub or inquisitive bump - maybe I should re-christen the site Brown Corner!!!!

The rain subsided after 10 minutes or so and eventually I was located by the boat. I'd been drifting only for around 20 minutes but that seemed an eternity.

Lesson learned. Watch the conditions. I pride myself on what I think to be a pretty good dive ability but the infrequent flexing of Mother Natures muscles should make us all sit up and take notice. None of us are to big to be occaisionally slapped around by the biggest mistress on the planet.

Cheers,
Mark.

#2 cloustalot

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Posted 16 December 2004 - 01:54 PM

WOW - you're guardian angelfish was working overtime on that dive. Glad you came out of it alive!

I had a similar experience in Cozumel this year. We did a completely terrifying night dive on Paradise Reef one night (I chose the site (I’ve done wonderful dives there before – it’s my favorite reef) . We had the most ripping current that I have ever been in – pitch black night, no moon. We traveled about 4 miles in 35 minutes, and almost ran into the cruise ships…. The DM’s were relentless in trying to show us things…when we could not stop to look and certainly could not stop to let the others catch up! Half of us could have been in Cuba before those DM’s noticed that we were gone.

There was tumbling, careening, flipping, crashing and general outrageous discombobulation for all of us – and my group is pretty experienced. I would try to grab an outcropping to slow down and the whole thing would come out of the sand. We'd try to dig our hands into the sand to stop and we'd just leave a long trail. Crazy, scary dive – and useless for photography obviously.

However – the DM’s grabbed whatever marine life they could and made the “picture taking” signal. One poor helpless little puffer was unfortunate enough to be in their path. Poor little guy was fighting the current like crazy – and this DM made him puff and shoved him in front of us. I was shocked and outraged – and this poor puffer was swept away by the current before I could blink.

He probably ended up at the bottom of the same 2000 ft wall that we almost fell over before one astute DM realized that he was about to lose the entire group. He started grabbing divers and shoving us to do a safety stop so we could get the heck out of there.

When everybody got back on the boat alive, we laughed about it - but it could have ended in disaster very easily. The only diver that knew that we were about to get sucked down a wall was the Divemaster. Thank God he has that place memorized! If he had not acted fast then we would all have been lost. Makes you think..... :?

C

#3 CamDiver

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Posted 16 December 2004 - 02:25 PM

Yup, you got that right. Someone was looking after me that day. The outcome of the whole thing is that the experience left me feeling shaken, but not stirred. I also went thru a certain amount of feeling dispondent, frustrated and slightly embarrassed. A rude awakening can do that. After the incident I was speaking with some of the 'long timer' dive guides in Palau. This is a real place with real people, it's also one of the best places in the world to dive but also one of the most dangerous. All of the guides had horror stories, some of which didn't end as 'happily' as mine. Unfortunately people do get lost here. there was the real event where a whole dive group were never seen again after going on a drift dive in Peleliu in the southern tip of Palau. Seven Japanese divers swept out to sea on a dive site that has currents ripping over it almost daily and equivalent to those I experienced at Blue Corner.

If I could put an advertisement in a dive journal I would really try to convey the message that divers embarking on their annual dive vacation should be honest with not just themselves but also the dive guides they entrust their lives with. Everyone wants an adventure, to get a buzz out of their diving experience. By being honest about their level of diver competence that buzz will hopefully not be at the expense of theirs, and others, personal safety.

Lesson learned. I too am glad you shared your experience with 'us' and am happy you lived to re-count the situation.

Best fishes,
Mark.