Most people who spend large amounts of time in the water have certain comfort levels. I have always been proud to be one of those people who have a very high level of comfort in the ocean. I can count only a handful of times where I was uncomfortable in the water. This past week I added one more count.
Most of the diving I have done in California has been exactly what I could ever expect; dark, cold and visibility being maybe 10 to 15 feet. I have always heard the stories of diving Monterey or Point Lobos in Carmel where conditions are pristine. No waves, no current, and 100 foot visibility of the most gorgeous kelp forests you could imagine. Let’s just say that my first dive ever on the Monterey side of the bay was as different as it could be from the romantic stories you here of playful otters in tall kelp structures with large rock fish and deep corals. As of this past week, I was able to add the term “turd diving” to my ocean vocabulary.
My friend Henry was kind enough to take me in the past week and take me diving in Santa Cruz and Monterey. Our diving in Santa Cruz was similar to other dives I had had there. The vis was ok and the most entertaining part was being harassed by sea lions. We practiced some coring similar to what we will be doing in Antarctica. Overall the dive was good.
The next day it was up before the sun and over to Point Lobos on the far side of Carmel just past Monterey. We met up with an old friend of Henry’s who had a boat and was willing to take us out. His name was Phil and he is a very experienced commercial diver and dive boat captain in Monterey. The conditions this day were not very good. Waves were crashing into the bay, which I’m told doesn’t happen often, and the entire bay looked like a chocolate milk shake with greenish foam on top. Not very appetizing. We decided to head to the other side of the bay in hopes of finding deep water that would be clearer. Our first dive was at the pinnacles in about 100ft of water. We got suited up and jumped in. First thing that I saw in my anticipated beautiful Monterey dive was baby shit brown. And guess what our entire dive looked like…baby shit brown.
We all met up at the bow of the boat and followed the anchor line to the bottom. By 50 ft, it was getting dark. By 60 ft, I could barely make out the other two divers. By 90 ft, it was pitch black. Fortunately Phil never dives without his LED light attached to him. We made it to the bottom at our max of 104ft and were still being tossed by the waves from above. I was the last in the line and scrambling to stay where I could see the light. It kept moving farther away and I would do everything to stay close to it. As I was trying to stay close, I was being tossed around in a washing machine. Forward, grab some kelp to hold on, sideways, bang into a rock, backwards, kelp is ripped from hand, forward to the left, bang another rock. Trying to swim a strait path was imposable. It was here that I lost my comfort. For what felt like a half an hour, I scrambled trying to grab on to anything to stay put while still trying to stay where I could see the light. I felt at one point that I was in a dream, weightless, trying to chase something that if I lost it something bad was going to happen.
Suddenly I remembered that I was at 100ft and I needed to control my breathing to make sure I had enough. I was then able to clear my head and concentrate. After, what seemed like a much longer time, we started our assent. We had to decompress (breath off the nitrogen that builds in your system under water) at specific depths. First 50, hold, then 40, hold, 30, hold, 20, hold and surface. We got back to the boat and both Phil and Henry only had complements to say. I was surprised. I thought I had done horribly. The worst ever, but they were both impressed and that really helped me become more confident in my dry suit and diving. To have complements from two people who have been diving since the Stone Age really made me feel more prepared for my trip.
Our next dive, I was more confident and felt more prepared for what was to come. Henry had unfortunately broken a seal in his dry suit and couldn’t make the second dive, so Phil and I went. It was a shallower dive at 84 ft. We were going to run some drills with the dry suit. Again with the one dive light, we descended. As we reached the bottom, we realized that the visibility was, if possible, worse. The visibility had dropped from 1-2 ft to about 4 inches. I was crouched on the bottom with my hands and knees touching, but I couldn’t see them. Phil had all but disappeared accept where the light barely outlined his mask not more than 6 inches from my face. We started our drills and I could hear him laughing through his reg and how horrible our conditions were, yet we were still out there doing what needed to be done. We surfaced and started laughing at our horrible condition and how we couldn’t imagine that they would be worse from the first dive.
The day was a success for diving, as in we still went. Although we felt like a frog in a blender of baby poop, we finished the day with a good laugh. And I will still look forward to the day that I can dive in California and have 100ft visibility. I have no doubt that that day will be incredible.