Monday, July 18, 2011

Deep Blue Sea

One of my favorite memories happened in ‘91 while I was on a photographic tour of the Orient with a group of Canadians.  I think it was before the letter-bomb exploded in our Holiday-Inn in Hong Kong, and before two of our group had all their camera gear and their passports stolen in Bangkok. (Such a well named city!) But I think it was after we were fed whole fried shrimp while riding in a fishing boat down the Li River in China.  Tasty.  
Others on the tour questioned why I brought my travel BC and regulator.  Two of them actually laughed at me for wasting the space in my luggage.  They obviously didn't see the world like I did.  I just smiled.  I really didn't NEED the BC, but I had built the regulator myself, I wasn't about to trust a RENTED a foreign country.  
We got to Bali, Indonesia, and in the lobby of the hotel, I saw out of the corner of my eye, a flyer for a PADI scuba guide.  I called when I got to my room and booked it.  A couple of days later, my dad and I took a cab down to the dive shop, skipped the morning photo expedition, and met my dive guide.  He showed me his PADI C-card, he was a certified Dive Master.
So we got our tanks, and boarded a blue boat that with the four of us, the boat guy, the dive master, my dad, and I, and our tanks, was just a couple of inches out of the water.
The boat guy went to work. He must have been 600 years old, but he rowed us away with a single oar.  About twenty minutes later, he said something in Chinese to the dive master, and stopped rowing.
We dove in.  My dad photographed it.  The blue of the sea 45 ft. below the surface of the Bali Sea is a blue that I still remember.  It was an amazing color.  It was 85° at the bottom.  There was about a 5 mph current, so we just equalized our buoyancy, and rode it literally for a couple of miles.  40 minutes later, we came to the surface.  The 600 year old boat guy was there, waiting.  He had taken my father back to shore and he caught another cab to the end of the morning photo safari.
Doffing our gear, we climbed aboard.  We went back to the dive shop, and took a bit of a time out, while the nitrogen drained from our systems.  I spent my off-gas time relaxing in a chair, smiling on the beach.  I had seen all the Jacques Cousteau specials on TV in the ‘70s, but I had never seen water so blue.  The tanks were exchanged and we went back out.  
We dove in the water, and watched the boat guy row away.  The dive master looked at his pressure gauge and asked how much pressure I had.  I checked, I had 3500 psi...He said he had a little less than 500 psi.  They had given him an empty tank.  
So...We dove and he breathed his tank dry, and gave me the scariest hand signal there ever was, the cut-throat out of air sign.   I knew what to do.  I had gone over, and over this, fear didn’t even enter the picture.  I gave him my octopus, or spare mouthpiece, and we buddy-breathed.  We held on to each other’s BCs, and still had a 35 minute dive off of my tank alone.  I could actually feel him breath.  Now, I think dive training should include, not just a sample in the pool where you take a minute and breath off of your buddy’s octopus, but you and your buddy should take an open water dive off of one tank.  It was a bizarre experience.
I saw more florescent colored fish over those two dives, than I did people on my whole five days on that little overpopulated island.  There was at least 75 foot visibility.  It was wonderful.  AND, although I was forty to fifty feet down, I received a sunburn.
After we got back, we had a party in Saskatoon where we discussed the trip and what we saw.  We talked about what options we had each taken.  While in China, either you went and photographed a little village or you went to a golden royal temple; while in Bali, you could either go on morning photo expeditions, or you could sit by the pool; in Hong Kong there was nothing to do but shop.  All together there were hundreds of options.  I just sat there and smiled.  I was the only one who dove.  I was the only one who saw the other side of the sea...the UNDERSIDE.  Sure, it was beautiful on the surface, but it was so gorgeous underneath the waterline, the only moisture in my mask was tears.


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