8:15 AM - boarded a tender (this is what they call the lifeboats they use to ferry passengers to and from shore when they can't tie up an a pier and just use a gangplank) to go to shore for my first shore excursion. In this case "shore excursion" is a misnomer because after we checked in at the dive shop we were on or in the water for the next several hours.
As evidenced by this email I didn't drown! That is the good news. The bad news is that I did run out of air underwater. Not as bad as it sounds but a source of some small embarassment for me. Before the dive I made sure all knew I was just barely certified at the lowest level and that this was my first salt-water dive and my first dive to more than 20 feet of depth. Good for me. The dive master was briefing us and mentioned we would soon learn who the air hog in the group was and it was me. I was not too embarassed and everyone was very kind even though I had to share another diver's air in order to take the proper amount of time surfacing. This was a deep dive and thanks to my buddy - a very experienced diver - it was deeper than planned.
I found it was no problem going deeper than I had been. When we neared the bottom (close to 80 feet) is when the excitement began (excitement translates into more rapid breathing which uses up the air faster for you non-divers who might not know). I looked where everyone was going and it was into a shallow canyon between coral formations. I noted with mild apprehension that it had several stretches of 15-20 feet where you couldn't just go up if you wanted to. The overhanging coral would prevent that. I wasn't sure how I felt about it but managed to "give it a go" and found I am not as cowardly as I had feared. It went fine but I'm sure there was heavy breathing I was unaware of.
As we reached the end of the "canyon" my buddy was ahead of me but I quickly realized the other divers had moved out of sight. We had been given a description of the dive and this is the point where the reef dropped off into something like a 6000 (yes that is six thousand) foot trench! I looked left, right and upward (not straight up unfortunately) and could not see any other divers. The visibility was excellent so we should have seen them. My buddy started going deeper and I followed. We were down 100 feet before he stopped. Finally we looked up again to find the other divers (4 of them including the dive master) above us. Later they told us that the dive master had been banging his tank frantically to get our attention. We never heard it. Sound travels differently underwater so I'm not sure if we couldn't hear it or were just distracted by the 6000 ft dropoff. Personally I think it was the former because I never really looked down to admire the view. I was more concerned with linking up with the others and wondering if my buddy was headed in the right direction. In any case, more heavy breating here I'm sure.
After we rejoined the others I took out my underwater camera (newly purchased so unfamiliar and another source of distraction...not a good thing while diving right Bunk?). I took some pics (the camera is film based, not digital or I'd try to put up pics for you all to see). Eventually I looked at my air supply. I had just over 500 psi left (the tank started with 3100 psi). This was not good. We were about 65 feet down and not too close to the boat. The dive master rebuddied me with Jane. Bless her heart. She had about 1500 psi left and could have stayed down quite a bit longer but the buddy system requires two buddies and she was elected by the dive master. We ascended slowly and stopped about 15 feet from the surface for a 3 minute Safety Stop (to allow disolved blood gases to be processed by the body before exiting the water). It was here that I essentially ran out of air. With two minutes remaining I read my gage and knew I was almost out. I shared air with Jane and we got to the surface fine. I even had enough air left to inflate my BCD (bouyancy control device - an inflatable vest worn to help keep you about the same overall density as water so you don't sink or pop to the surface too rapidly). So, all was well except my entire dive lasted only 19 minutes and Jane's too sadly for her.
Everyone else surfaced about 10 minutes later. I had already apologized to Jane numerous times but she was very kind. She said she has dived a lot and it was no problem. Fortunately we had another dive after a surface interval and short boat ride. The second dive went much better for me. It was somewhat shallower and I was not nearly as excited. We cruised around another reef area very close to where the Ms Amsterdam (my ship) was located. We were down 48 minutes (well I was...I was still the first to run out of air. This time the mooring/ascencion line was nearby and I actually surfaced by myself without problems. I find it helps to keep checking your air. Imagine that!
Despite my air hog designation I loved it!!! Lovely, I have something else to spend money on now. This isn't a cheap sport. It is C O O L ! ! !
Two other noteworthy items - not my proudest moments.... I left my swim fins on the dive boat. May have to replace them. The ship's staff is trying to get them back to me. I've had them for almost 20 years so it may be a good thing if I must buy new ones. Hmmm. Do you think I may have left them on purpose (subconsciously of course)?
The other thing was slightly upsetting for just a moment. I was going back to shore on a tender and forgot about how strong the wind often blows when you step outside the ship onto the walkway down to the tender. Most of you know the wide brimmed Tilley hat I have. Well, it has now been christened in the Caribbean! (Thankfully, the crew retrieved it almost immediately with a long pole and hook - smart guy that Tilley. He made the hat so it would float.)
I experienced a lot of firsts this day. First port on this trip, first port excursion on this trip, first dive in salt water, first dive deeper than 20 feet, first time I ran out of air underwater, first time to lose my hat in the Caribean (duh, it does have a chin strap to prevent such adventures). All in all a very fun and interesting day.
Well, I have to go. I'm meeting with the other divers from yesterday. The guy who was my buddy briefly yesterday, his name is Scott - hope I'll be able to remember that - has set up at least three other dive excursions for later in the trip and we're all meeting to decide how many of them we want to go on with him. I figured I'd be able to schedule more dives once I got on board. It looks like the Great Barrier Reef of Australia may have to wait for another trip. At least according to him.
So far today (Jan 7th) I have been to my first Tai Chi lesson, another meeting of our Vantage group and a lecture on upcoming ports (Puerto Limon, Costa Rica and Panama City, Panama). We port at Puerto Limon tomorrow.
Realy gotta go! Hugs and kisses to all as appropriate. Hope this has been worth reading. More soon.