I floundered badly. David and I were scuba diving for the first time in two years and in brand new gear. Before diving 80 feet to the Hermes wreck in Bermuda, we decided to test run in the cove. I felt like I was suffocating, all I wanted was to take big gulps of air. I desperately tried to calm myself and feign comfort. But I couldn’t. I tried to sit on the sand, but was so buoyant my feet kicked at the surface as I tried to sink. I couldn’t get enough air. Doing basic motions of clearing my mask and my regulator were an immense struggle. As a further irritation, David seemed to be doing just fine. I tried clearing my ears, nothing. The buoyancy really created an issue, despite the 16 pounds of extra weight I was carrying. I felt embarrassed as the rest of the team waited on board the boat, watching my pathetic attempts. Finally, I admitted to David that I was uncomfortable diving to 80 feet without getting used to my equipment and refamiliarizing myself with diving. I felt horrible, because I didn’t want to hold David back. And because we had just purchased all new diving gear; and booked a trip to Bonaire; and here I couldn’t even clear my mask. He went on board to inform the dive masters that I would be sitting it out.
Kevin, the soon-to-be canonized divemaster, jumped in with 8 pounds of extra weight which he clipped to the D-rings of my buoyancy control device (BCD). He quickly adjusted the alignment of my BCD to allow me to breathe more easily. I have the Zeagle Zena BCD for women, which puts more weight on the narrowest part of the waist. However, between the weight distribution of BCD and the thickness of the 7mm suit, I felt very restricted in my chest, making it difficult to breathe. Turns out, my regulator also wasn’t adjusted appropriately, as Kevin quickly noted. The air pressure was entirely too high. He then informed me that I needed to wash out the silicon layer inside my brand new mask- which was causing it to fog. What a novice! Finally, my BCD was adjusted, I had enough weight to allow me to sink, my regulator was giving me a good air flow, and I could see out my mask. WHEW!
Kevin then dove with me in the cove and we spent 5-10 minutes making sure everything was working properly, including calming my nerves! He was so patient. We swam slowly along the floor, picking up handfuls of pink sand and looking at shells. Every 30 seconds or so he would sign ‘OK’ to make sure I was doing alright. I finally felt at ease! The relief was tremendous.
We boarded the boat and drove out to the wreck site. Some of the crew was feeling seasick, but I felt fine, much to my relief. Kevin decided that David and I should stay near the surface to gain additional comfort with our entirely new ‘kit’ (setup) of ‘toys’ (scuba gear), while the rest of the team dove to the Hermes. I couldn’t have agreed more. Surprisingly, we still had a fantastic view of the wreck, which was completely intact. Amidst the barracuda, we noted anemones living on the ship’s mast. We intermittently were enveloped in swarms of mini transparent jellyfish and the bubbles emitted from our team swimming below. Forty-five minutes passed effortlessly, and I finally felt comfortable with my gear and the standard scuba tasks.
Back on the boat we headed inland to dive Virginia’s merchant. Kevin again perceived before I could what would make me feel most comfortable. He took David and me in before the rest of the team to ‘play around’ for 10 minutes. I now had close to 20 pounds of weight added to let me sink in the extremely salty water. We quickly descended the 30 feet to the reef and hung out in the sand on the ocean floor, making fine adjustments to gear and running through several drills to achieve neutral buoyancy. Feeling assured that we were alright (we were), he gathered the rest of the team and we began the dive. I followed directly behind Kevin as we swam through the coral caverns. We maneuvered through darkened caves and crevices, over brain and fan coral, and through schools of fish. It was incredible! During previous dives in Belize, very mild panic waves would wash over me and meditative strategies were needed to calm myself and my breathing. This dive, I was completely collected. Breathing came easily. It felt natural to be underwater for over an hour and I wish we could’ve stayed longer. It was quite the transformation in only one morning! Back on the boat, the boat captain Heinz delivered a stern but compassionate warning to not let so much time pass until my next dive. It won’t be. In one month David and I will be in Bonaire, the diver’s paradise, and I’m ready.