How I Lost Four Divers UnderwaterKate Byars | August 28, 2016
This story is a continuation of the three part series: “Why I Traded My Lipstick and Pinstripe Suit to Live on an Island”.
As I gained confidence driving the dive boat, I also gained confidence as a dive master. Too much confidence. Which is exactly what led me to lose a group of divers underwater.
Diving in the BVIs is fairly easy and safe. Most of the dive sites lie between the various islands, which is far safer than diving in the middle of a vast, blue ocean.
We routinely took our dive guests to the more popular dive sites. The Wreck of the Rhone. Alice’s Wonderland. Ginger’s Backside.
After awhile, these dives became somewhat monotonous. One day, one of my more experienced dive colleagues introduced me to a rarely dived site. It was a pinnacle a few hundred yards away from Ginger’s Backside, located on the south side of Ginger Island. The pinnacle arose out of the water at the southernmost edge of the BVI island chain. Past the pinnacle there was nothing but deep blue sea.
This is precisely what made the pinnacle so exciting! Sea creatures rarely seen in the shallower waters surrounding the islands, swam freely around the pinnacle which was closer to the deep ocean. Hammerhead sharks, Goliath grouper, massive hog fish, and huge schools of fish were common sightings. After diving the pinnacle a few times with my colleague, I convinced my husband, Scott, and two newbie divers to dive the site.
I was so eager to regain the feeling of confidence I had built in my former corporate life that I risked the safety of our dive group in my attempt to overcompensate.
Pinnacles are round where they jut out of the water. They are not necessarily round below the water. This particular pinnacle was a tear-drop shape beneath the sea. I didn’t realize this, nor did I think to bring an underwater compass. Excited to share this magnificent dive with Scott and our guests, I simply jumped in the water and began the dive.
On previous trips to the pinnacle, we typically led divers from our boat, which was tethered to a mooring ball to the west, around the south side of the pinnacle into a “fishbowl” area teaming with critters. At that point, most divers would run low on air and we would begin making a slow ascent back to the boat.
This dive was different. Despite this being their very first ocean dive EVER, our dive guests had amazingly good air consumption. We explored the fishbowl where we crossed paths with a beautiful, green sea turtle. We swam through a huge school of silver sides and watched Tarpon lazily pass us by. And we stared in awe as three black tip sharks zipped in and out nearby. After exploring the fishbowl, I signaled to Scott asking if he wanted to keep going and explore further. Scott shrugged. This was my dive, not his. He had no idea what to expect.
Without a compass, and without a clue, I merrily led these trusting souls around the outermost curve of the pinnacle and then began traversing us due north in a straight line up the side of the teardrop. I had no clue idea we weren’t headed in a circle back around to the boat. Finally, one of the newbie divers ran out of air and we surfaced to find the dive boat a mere speck on the horizon. I kid you not. We were at least 4,000-feet (1200m) away from the boat.
In the business world, I would have never jumped into a situation ill-prepared. Yet in the islands, where errors cost more than losing a promotion, I was all too happy to throw caution to the wind.
Guess which direction the surface current was headed? The exact opposite direction we needed to swim, of course. Scott shot me a look and sank back below the surface. He had just enough air to get him back to the boat. Meanwhile, I was left on the surface to “entertain” our dive guests. I chatted incessantly about how normal it was to surface away from the boat. I told our guests not to worry, Scott would return in just a few moments. I also encouraged them to ignore the burning fire of pain searing their quadriceps as we struggled to swim against the surface chop and head back to the boat. When I get nervous I talk a lot. You could say I was nervous.
Approximately thirty minutes later (!!!) Scott returned with the boat. My legs hurt so badly I could barely heft myself up the dive ladder. Always an optimist, and heavily shaken from the ordeal, I passed out dive snacks in an attempt to overcome my serious faux pas. “Ginger snap, anyone?” I chirped.
The pinnacle was our first dive of the morning. Our dive guests had paid for one more. Prior to the pinnacle dive, I had suggested to the group that we try another rarely dived site for our second dive. Fortunately, our guests didn’t know what that dive site might be. As Scott began driving away from one of the most memorable dives we ever had together, he stammered, “Alice’s Wonderland?” “Alice’s Wonderland,” I confirmed.
We headed north to one of the most innocuous, and frequently dived, dive sites in the BVIs. Safe, shallow, simple. No compass required.
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