Twenty years ago I got PADI* certified to SCUBA** at the Do Dive In, which was a nice mom-and-pop dive shop in Peoria, Illinois. I was fifty and I knew that if I wanted the experience of diving underwater, it was now or never. I had already trained for parachute jumping, now I went for underwater diving. I got all the usual certifications (see one of my ID cards below), then I realized that while I had no plans to deep dive down to 100 feet, I should know how to handle myself and my SCUBA gear if unexpected currents swept me down deep underwater.
I met my SCUBA instructor at an abandoned stone quarry filled to the brim with a couple of decades of rain and runoff. The Do Dive In shop had arranged for access to the quarry for instruction purposes only. I was warned that independent diving at the quarry was forbidden, which was fine with me. There were no fish to speak of in that deep pit, no special underwater views, just the jagged slabs of quarried rock going straight down into the dark, and scraggly aquatic weeds growing in the remnants of crushed stone, sand, and gravel at the bottom.
As soon as we were one hundred feet down into the dark waters of the quarry, I knew that I would be doing my absolute best to get through the tests as quickly as possible because the squeeze of the water pressure at that depth was very uncomfortable. My head was squeezed, my chest was squeezed, even my arms and legs felt squeezed. I seemed to have a slight mental diminishment on that deep dive to 100 feet, and I had to fight off a persistent fear of the deepening water column as we descended. The self-preservation part of my brain kept complaining that if I lost my respirator or air tank at 100 feet underwater then swimming to the surface would be impossible. I ignored all that so that I could do the tests my instructor gave me. We were working on the quarry bottom next to a small ship that had been submerged there for instruction purposes. My instructor gestured that I could swim around in the cabin if I wanted to, but I declined as I had already swum through both a much larger submerged ship and a bus on a previous SCUBA dive. I thought the sharp edges and broken bits of the submerged wrecks, which could tear or pull off air hoses, were too risky. My instructor had me read my gauges and communicate those readings to him by hand signals. He stalled around a little, so I pestered him to give me the rest of the test. He gave me a tape measure, held one end, and gestured that I should swim out and measure the length of the ship. As I spooled it out, he dropped the tape and he would not pick it up. I thought maybe this was part of the test, so I secured the tape to one end of the ship with a rock, and swam to the other end of the ship to get its length. The tape measure was not long enough, so I just added two measurements together. My instructor was still standing where I had left him and I could not get him to respond to me when I tried to tell him how long the ship was. He was totally blanked out, just standing there in the dark water column, slowing breathing in and out with a blank stare. I pulled on his arm but he was heavily rooted in place and oblivious to me. I immediately wanted us up and out of that deep quarry full of squeezing water. I even thought momentarily of leaving him there so that I could get help, but there was no one else at the quarry, and once I was at the surface I would have no way of finding him again. So with deep regret at the risk to me, because he was much, much larger than I and if he came to in a panic he could easily overwhelm me, I held my air hoses aside, put my shoulder under his armpit, and shoved up with all my strength. He did not budge, and he did not come around to consciousness. I kept planting my feet in the shifting, sandy gravel and shoving my shoulder up into his armpit, again and again, then suddenly he startled and came to. He looked around but he did not seem to comprehend where we were or what we were doing. I got my facemask directly in front of his facemask and firmly gestured “Up, up, up.” with my thumb. He thought about it, then casually gestured “Okay.” and we began our slow assent. He was frighteningly unconcerned.
I wanted to drive directly home to Bloomington as I was tired, but he asked me to stop for dinner with him in Peoria. He still did not seem quite right, so I agreed. Over dinner he told me that he had no memory of our deep dive to 100 feet. When I told him what had happened, he commented that that had happened to him once before. I firmly told him he should never risk going back down to 100 feet, as a third time might be the end of him. I do not know if he took my advise because his responses were muted, but he certified me to 100 feet.
Sometime after that I moved to the west coast and scubaed in the ocean a few times. I stopped scubaing after I realized what was in the water with me, sharks, moray eels, and other assorted fanged denizens of the deep. I did not have a lot of confidence in my diving buddies either. I valued the experiences but enough was enough.
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* PADI. Professional Association of Diving Instructors
* SCUBA. Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
Caption: Deep Dive To 100 Feet
digital/photograph composite by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018