A few weeks ago, I went out with Eric for my first scuba dive since completing my training. A lot of scheduling issues and a cancelled boat kept us away for almost five months, and by the time we finally planned this trip I was more than ready for another dive.
Realizing we had the next few weekends free, we called up Greg at our favorite dive shop, Aqua Adventures Unlimited. He informed us that they had a group going out with the Truth Dive Boat that Sunday, and that two people had just cancelled, which meant there were a pair of spots open just for us. We quickly signed up and reserved our gear.
The boat was set to leave from Santa Barbara for Santa Cruz Island at 6am Sunday, so we headed up to Santa Barbara on Saturday evening to spend the night on the dive boat. We arrived around 9pm, grabbed some tasty fried seafood at a nearby restaurant called Brophy Bros., then loaded up our gear and turned in for the night.
We were awoken quite suddenly as the boat took off the next morning. The first thing I had noticed about the Truth was that it was much smaller than The Great Escape, the dive boat that took us on my training dives in Catalina. The smaller boat, combined with the extremely choppy water that morning, meant I started to feel seasick almost immediately. Eric and I fumbled to get dressed as the boat tossed us around, then headed up to the deck to try to get some fresh air and a good view of the horizon.
We entered the galley, but the smell of sizzling bacon quickly worsened my nausea. Instead, we headed out to the deck to breathe in the sea air. It was a rough two-hour journey out to Santa Cruz Island. I’d never been seasick in my life, so I was completely unprepared for the experience. I also neglected to take any photographs of the island as we approached: a pity because of the beautiful cliffs, rolling fog, and glistening sunlight.
When we finally arrived at the island and the surf finally began to calm, our captain sailed us right into a cave along the cliff face. It was beautiful, and I was only briefly shocked that we had just sailed our boat into a cave. Our captain spent much of the day sailing right up to cliff faces and, thankfully, keeping us very close to land on our dives, to protect us from the active waters.
Once everyone had resurfaced from the dive, I found myself feeling better, and was ready to join in on dive number two. The boat moved on, attempting to keep ahead of the oncoming winds, and stopped at a small cove.
I was excited to finally try out my new full-body Lavacore jumpsuit, which I purchased through AAU to give me extra insulation under my wetsuit. The water temperatures in Southern California average in the low sixties during the early summer months, which is cold for diving. During my training dives, which were unseasonably warm at 62 degrees F, I found myself shivering in my 7mm wetsuit. I knew extra insulation would be an absolute must for any more So Cal diving. I pulled it on, then suited up for my first dive of the day.
Feeling moderately anxious — this would be my first dive in five months — I jumped in, Eric not far behind me. As we began to descend, it was immediately clear that I was not properly weighted for my dive. The addition of my new Lavacore had added significantly to my buoyancy, making me float. I tried for several minutes to descend, but kept floating back up to the surface. Finally, I used the ship’s anchor line to pull myself down. Even so, I felt like I had little control.
As soon as I began to descend, I noticed the low visibility. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. Big chunks of silt and debris floated past my mask. I descended, clinging to the line as I followed Eric towards the bottom. As he began swimming away from the line, my buoyancy got away from me again, and I had difficulty catching up to him. With extremely limited visibility, I lost track of him almost immediately. And, before I knew it, I broke the surface; I had floated back up to the surface once again.
Limited visibility underwater makes it extremely difficult to tell where you are. I already find scuba diving to be quite claustrophobic, but with zero visibility it was almost unbearable. Feeling the onset of a panic attack, I decided to end the dive and return to the boat.
I want to take a moment here to commend the crew of the Truth Dive Boat for their outstanding support throughout our dive. Despite all my issues — from seasickness to claustrophobia — they were extremely helpful in aiding me and everyone aboard by keeping us happy and as comfortable as we could be. When I skipped the first dive, complaining of seasickness, they offered a variety of suggestions for remedies that would help me to feel better. When I returned, somewhat panicked, from dive number two, they helped me unload my gear, got me safely back on the boat, and calmed my nerves. Every single member of the crew was wonderful and helpful, and made what could have otherwise been a terrible dive day much more enjoyable.
Our captain decided to take us to the other side of the island for our third and final dive, attempting once again to get ahead of the poor conditions. As we travelled, we leisurely lunched on pasta and salad. My nerves had calmed as we pulled into another small cove, and I decided to go back in for the last dive.
After borrowing a few extra pounds of weight from a fellow diver, I geared up and jumped back in. The anxiety began creeping up once more, but began to dissipate as I noticed a feeling of control in my descent. The anchor had been dropped close to shore, so we descended about twenty feet before reaching the bottom. The visibility was clearly improved, probably due to the added protection of the high cliffs surrounding the cove in which we had anchored.
Despite the improved conditions and my improved descent, I couldn’t shake the anxiety, and signaled to Eric to resurface. I was freaking out, but I wasn’t sure why. As soon as we surfaced again, however, I knew I wanted to go back under. I was determined to complete a dive that day. We agreed that I would lead and Eric would follow, and again we descended the twenty feet to the bottom. This time, as I reached the bottom and began swimming along the cove wall, my anxiety evaporated. The sights of various sea urchin, starfish, and small fish put me at ease and I felt an instant sense of relief and wonder. My buoyancy was well-adjusted, and I concentrated on the undersea world around me, captivated by all the amazing things I could see.
As I stared at the horizon on the boat ride home — desperately trying to keep my rapidly returning seasickness at bay — I thought about how grateful I am that I’ve learned to scuba dive and opened myself up to a whole new world of experiences. And about how I need to get some Dramamine before my next dive.