Always Bring the Snorkel!
I'm sure Venezuela is a very nice country, but I wouldn't want to swim there. Not even from Aruba, which is only about 15 miles away. Luckily, the current wasn't too strong, so even though our dive boat was beached on a reef 200 - 300 yards away when we came up from our second dive of the morning; we were able to get back to it. (Besides, I'm somewhat sure the current generally would have taken us back to the Island, not out to sea; I just couldn't resist the "wouldn't want to swim there" line.) Unluckily, high tide wasn't for a bunch more hours, so a careful swim over some shallow coral to a waiting police boat was the next item on the activity list. This swim was just with dive skins/fins/snorkel/mask, and everything else had to stay on the boat to be retrieved the next day. I suppose seeing the dive boat and police Zodiac on the front page of the Aruba newspaper on 6/6/06 will just be a clipping I'll have to add to the scrapbook for the trip. (A scan of the pic is actually on the bottom of this page.)
The whole situation was not all that dramatic really. The boat's throttle cable had broken. Though why the Captain didn't throw the anchor before ending up on the reef in 1.5 feet of water I don't know. The seas on the south side of the island are not as docile as those up by the resort areas, but still only maybe 2' - 3'. True, swimming near the sharp, shallow coral is potentially dangerous. But basically, our situation, (with 5 advanced divers plus the divemaster), was mostly a non-event. Though it did have the potential to be serious if the current were more extreme. Fortunately, having run out of reef we all come up with plenty of air. So after a quick compass bearing on the boat, we submerged to do the swim underwater. It was just choppy enough that it'd have been a fair amount of effort if we'd had to surface swim it. (At least without dumping weights, etc.)
Given the quick response of the Aruba police Zodiac and another rescue boat, the availability of helicopters and the clear weather day, I'm confident we'd have been sought and found fairly quickly even if we had been swept a ways out to sea. Everybody involved in our little incident was very quick and professional about it and I feel perfectly comfortable diving there again and with the same operator. So though the whole thing made the paper and yes, there was potential for further trouble, the whole thing was really just not a big deal at all. (I know, I could probably bump up the whole story pretty good; maybe start out with "The sea was angry that day my friends," but that would just be ridiculous.) Still, the event gave me pause and cause to think about some what ifs... and what I should consider for the future.
- Always bring the snorkel - I've mostly found I don't use it. And since it's annoying and gets in the way I've been leaving it behind. I've been meaning to get a little collapsible one to keep in a BC pocket, but haven't gotten to it. Unfortunately though; when you pop up from a dive and your dive boat isn't nearby - for whatever reason - not having a snorkel can be a problem. From now on, a snorkel comes along.
- Bring water or juice or salt water dealinization kit - My left side BC pocket is for emergencies only. It doesn't get opened during a dive. It's got...
- inflatable bright red safety tube.
- light stick
- mini-blinking strobe
- Wear the Wetsuit Even if it's warm - For a tropical dive, I sure didn't need to bring my 7/5 northeast wetsuit with me. And I didn't. But I did have my 3mm shorty with me. On the boat anyway. So why did I dive only in my dive skin? Because it was soooo nice out. And the water was perfectly comfortable. The shorty wouldn't have made me too hot though. And if I'd needed a more extended stay in the water, it would have provided a little bit more buoyancy and certainly more warmth. There's those that argue that even on tropical dives, it's good to wear your wetsuit anyway as if you're doing multiple dives you could be inviting a higher liklihood of hypothermia. If a wetsuit was good enough for the divemaster, it sure would have been good enough for me.
So as is often the case, "Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want." In this case, what I wanted was to simply climb aboard a following dive boat and motor home after a morning of diving. What I got were some lessons in being better prepared. As a rescue certified diver, I have little or no excuse in not making these few simple changes to my dive preparation.
Anyway, here's a link to all the pics from the four dives over two days during this particular trip: Aruba Scuba - Antilla Wreck, some reefs and Renaissance Airplanes
And here's a clip from the front page of an Aruban newspaper the day after our three hour tour... three hour tour. The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship... well, the ship was ok actually.