it happened to me
Seasickness made divemaster Giles Tyler miss a buddy check, and allowed a simple mistake to develop into a difficult situation
I went on a week’s holiday to the Algarve in Portugal, and as usual took most of my own dive gear in preparation for a few days’ diving. The water temperature was around 18˚C, so I had come prepared with a 5mm wetsuit, a woolly undershirt and a hood. I’m a PADI divemaster with 14 years’ experience and had brought my own regs, but intended to hire a BC.
The first dive was on the Dorado Reef and although a southwesterly wind meant the sea was no millpond, I had taken Stugeron [travel sickness medication] and wasn’t expecting problems. The first dive went smoothly enough, apart from the fact that my hired BC had a faulty inflator valve and the jacket slowly but surely kept filling with air. The solution was simple: disengage the inflator. The rest of the dive, including the ascent and safety stop, went without a hitch. Back on board, there were no spare BCs, so I offered to use the faulty one again for the second dive.
After a surface interval, with the sea getting rougher, it was agreed by all six divers that we should get back in the water. However, two of my fellow divers had already lost their breakfasts, succumbing to the rocking of the boat. Just as the signal was given to kit up, I also felt an uncontrollable urge to feed the fish. Perhaps that cooked breakfast had not been such a good idea.
As everyone knows, it’s better to be under the waves than on top of them in a pitching boat. So once I’d pulled myself together, I quickly kitted up – too quickly it turned out.
Four divers had by now descended and my buddy was waiting for me in the water. ‘No time for a buddy check then!’ I thought. At the shot-line I began retching again and, because my hood felt tight around my throat, I took the hood off and threw it back onto the dive boat.
Our descent started and my buddy seemed to be dropping considerably faster than I was. My thoughts were on how cold I was already beginning to feel, but at least the nausea was passing. The bottom was just below 20m; my neutral buoyancy seemed fine, even with the BC inflator hose disconnected. Within minutes, though, I was shivering
As I was finning along, a thought suddenly struck me and a pat of my stomach confirmed it – I wasn’t wearing a weight belt. No wonder I’d descended so slowly, I should have been 5kg heavier. I quickly informed my buddy of my predicament.
Finally, I realised that the dive had to be aborted. My dilemma was whether to ascend there and then on a delayed SMB, where a runaway ascent was a serious possibility, or to make the 10–15-minute swim back to the shot-line. It was clear we had to ascend now. So, as my buddy was deploying his delayed SMB, I searched around the bottom for rocks to use as weights.
I felt calm and in complete control. With two large stones clutched to my chest, we made a textbook ascent, obeying our computers and stopping for four minutes at 5m. Just before the surface I let go of the rocks, praying that there was no one below, and orally inflated my BC. Within a minute of getting back on board I was ill again.
The mistakes and errors of judgement made on that day were numerous: large greasy breakfasts and rolling seas don’t mix, and perhaps I should have insisted that one of the dive centre instructors wore the faulty BC. I shouldn’t have allowed my dive buddy to enter the water before I was kitted up, thus missing the buddy check, and I should have been more systematic when kitting up and less rushed. Given the conditions, I should have kept my hood on and I shouldn’t have persevered against the cold.
The problems I encountered were admittedly mostly of my own making. Needless to say, next time I hope I won’t be in such a rush to undertake a dive at all costs. Two days later, with calmer seas, I was back in the water, revelling in the experience, and just that little bit wiser.