FOLLOWING IRMA

Updated: Feb 6, 2018

Recalling the first class to complete after the passing of Hurricane Irma.

September 24, 2017


After last weekend being a scramble to locate a classroom with power and a pool that was open, we were now on to the open water diving segments.

The morning sun - came slowly to be.

The murky tide - pushed higher and higher.

I stood along the shores inspecting the day's diving conditions. The water would not be favorable. The conditions would not be kind.

I looked down in disappointment. As I went through a few stretching asanas there next to the water, I prepared my body to embrace the nerves I was already facing.

It was part two of our double weekender open water class. After last weekend being a scramble to locate a classroom with power and a pool that was open, we were now on to the open water diving segments. Having just completed two of the four dives yesterday, we already had a day of challenging conditions under our belt. Could the students accept a harsher, even more difficult second day of diving?

The skill set for today was much simpler, but conditions had risen to near impossible. I decided inside of that 'near impossible’ outlook was a sliver of chance, to which I would try my best to operate within. We could not see the bottom while we were standing. We could not even see our knees. 

The pinnacle of skills for today would be one that utilizes compass navigation. The conditions would present a very tangible reason for why this skill is important. The instructor and guides themselves would need to hone their skills.

Still locked into that sliver of chance, I worked with the divemasters on our game plan.

We kicked our way out past the guarded swim zone to float there at the surface. Still locked into that sliver of chance, I worked with the divemasters on our game plan. It all sounded good, but every time you looked down into that silty, ugly, oppressive, green, mayhem of an ocean shoreline, it filled us with dread. Dread to even begin...

Still too nervous to get going underwater, I worked through what usually is a simple surface exercise of removing and replacing the weight system. However, with one dropped weight pouch, it turned on a dime from simple to extensive and time consuming. As one guide held the position of our divers on the surface, another attempted to feel their way around beneath in the green, stirred up silt to locate the missing pocket. Out of necessity and perhaps attempting to save time, I went ahead with the plan B of swimming the 100m to shore and retrieving some extra weight. 

When I got back, near exhausted, they had found the missing pocket, which was a huge success. It belonged to a more challenging student that I would need equipped with as few added hurdles as possible. Completing that skill, there was but one thing left to do.. Drop down and get this final dive day started!

Coupled with the added swell still coming in from the trio of passing hurricanes and a near new moon high tide, the water was an extra 2-3ft. Making it 15ft in total where we were at. Even in a simple 15ft descent, it took serious work to locate the divers and herd them into a tight cluster that I could circle around like a predator, ensuring they were all accounted for.


I went around and around like playing duck duck goose, tapping their tanks and getting within inches to identify if I had the 10 divers I was looking for.

From here, I began the skills. Removing and replacing the mask. Adding air into their BCD orally to become neutral buoyant and before they could rise to the surface or drift off, quickly deflate back down. Despite it being 10 persons, you could not see across the circle. You could not see the buddy of the person you were working with that was sitting next to them. Stick your hand in front of your face about the length of a normal book and that is what distance you had for visibility.

I had completed the skills for all persons and now all I had to do was wait 5 minutes to count it as a dive (minimum of 20 minutes). I circled around to my guides, now serving as guardians in different underwater posts to tell them what we were doing. Finally, twenty minutes had passed and we came back up to the surface completing the first dive. Whew!

Determining the bottom composition was too silty there, I had the class of 10 swim along the surface to a different area I knew of with a sandier bottom. It was also 5’ deeper and perhaps could improve in clarity just a tint. We were approaching the slack tide time, which meant that only equally green river water would be coming towards us as it exits through to the inlet. It was a bigger area and slightly better bottom composition, which meant easier for the navigation portion.

Sensing the same nerves as before, we huddled up at the surface and all started our descent. There was about a 6-8 inch portion at the bottom where you could actually see the sand, thus giving some fraction of a natural landscape to use for a reference while navigating.

I again, herded the group into a circle that mimicked sheep waiting out a storm. When I had them set and I had confirmed my ten were in place, I started plucking two sheep from the group to come and perform the navigation skill. They were to swim together in a straight heading, stopping after a given distance (measured by kicks) and return on a reciprocal. Each pair navigated out and landed, if not collided back into the sheltered huddle of awaiting divers perfectly.

I lastly, gave them the order to watch their computers and simulate a safety stop by hovering at a given depth for three minutes, to which we all drifted and I made dashing loops to ensure all were off the bottom, all were watching their gauges, none were rising to fast and we all made it to the surface at the same time.


In normal conditions my experience and patience gets tested. Out here today, I needed a reliance on faith to complete the task. The main factor for how I was able to do this, was a solid game plan and the exceptional guardians I took with me to help. They were my beacon of light through those tumultuous waters. They entertained the divers as best they could with high fives and sea shell gifts, while I completed the skills separately.

At the surface, I congratulated all the students on their exceptional work and we took it to shore being the only group out of the four classes that went into the waters to have completed their dives. I was either going to receive a stern lecture or a how did you do it, congrats and praise fest. It's been completely the latter!

This group I began with calling just days after Hurricane Irma passed over Florida. Their enthusiasm and our instructors diligence to combine two defunct classes proved to be a complete miracle. And I, the lone instructor to stake his claim and accept his challenges rose to a new level of experience and training.



#IRMA #scuba // Visual art by Abandoned Travels

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