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Thursday, June 23, 2011

And now for something completely different…THE BIG DIVE

I return from my Weathercoast adventure completely exhausted. I’ve been away three weeks out of four and I’m tired. Beyond tired. The boat travel, sun burns, insect bites in places that one should not have insect bites, lack of food and water, heat, sleeping on the floor etc…has left me a bit depleted. I feel like I am at the trough of the wave that is the Solomon Islands experience. I know things will get better because a)things always get better and b) things will get better because I am no longer on the Weathercoast.

To make matters worse, I come home full of bad stories and I meet up with my friend Mark. Mark kindly pronounces that he got carjacked in PNG the week before and got chased down by men with shotguns. Mark always outstories me. I have come to hate Mark. Here is his story.

So, I’m taking a bit of a break (plus I am off to Makira tomorrow and I am going to ROCK Makira). My good friend Horatio, my former dive instructor, has kindly agreed to give me a bit of a break and blog on my behalf about his amazing dive of the U.S.S. Atlanta.

Thanks Horatio. I’m going to go take a nap now. Oh and the girls, Priscella and Henrietta are getting along fine; I ate some poached eggs this morning. Delicious!

The Big Dive

“Why don’t you write about your dive on my blog,” asks Sara at breakfast. Me, a guest blogger, I don’t even have Facebook (Editor’s Note: Good, don’t do it. I believe that Facebook is evil...) Nevertheless, I am up for anything and enjoy sharing my love of diving so why not. Maybe Sara will let me pick my own pen name, Horatio has a nice maritime sound to it.

(Editor’s Note: I’ve decided to let Horatio’s pen name stand. I think it sounds nice, hornblowing and all…)

The Ship

It’s huge, really, it’s enormous. The USS Atlanta saw very heavy action during the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War 2 (Editor’s Note: See the Wikipedia article on it here) and after suffering heavy damage was sunk by the Americans between Lunga and Point Cruz when it was unable to go any further. The loss of the Atlanta also represented the loss of 157 men. The Atlanta now lies on its port (left) side in 130 meters of water (Editor’s note: HOLY CRAP! YOU CRAZY B*STARDS ARE GOING TO DIVE THAT????) and presents a very demanding and technical dive.

The Divers (Editor’s comment: aka the Crazy B*stards)

It is a very small and prestigious club of divers that have visited the Atlanta. Current numbers stand at a total of around 20 divers (Editor’s note: More people have climbed Mt. Everest and K2. Just sayin’) that have made the descent down to her watery grave. On this dive, we have myself (now know as Horatio), Gabe (see previous blog) and Bob. We also have 4 dive buddies that are providing safety and backup both in the water and on the boat.

The Dive

Preparations for the dive start four days before when we start to get our gear and the gas we will be breathing ready or blended. On the bottom we will be breathing a mixture of only 8% oxygen, 80% Helium and 12% Nitrogen (Editor’s note: Am tempted to make gas jokes but will restrain myself). There are also other gas mixes that have to be made to complete the whole dive and we need to make sure that our gear is working and in perfect order.

We arrive at the Point Cruz Yacht Club at 8 am on the 13th June and meet our very excited backup team. We all load the boat with all our equipment as we joke with each other and then sit back while Bob briefs everyone on how things are going to happen. As the clock ticks by, the excitement is building very quickly to the point I can’t even sit still anymore and have to stand and pace about.

We board the dive boat and start the 10 minute trip out into Iron Bottom Sound to what is about to be the craziest dive I have ever done. Once over the wreck, we set up the deco station where we will be spending the best part of 2½ hours decompressing on our way back to the surface (EDITOR’S NOTE: HOLY CRAP!!! YOU ARE ALL INSANE!!!!). Each of us starts gearing up while dealing with our apprehension in our own way. Bob has done this dive several time before and seems very calm but for me and Gabe, this is the first time.

We roll off the boat into the water and the lads hand down all our extra dive tanks. We carry 5 in total with 3 more backups. Once the 3 of us are ready, we start what will be my longest descent yet. A little over 2 minutes later I can make out what I think is the bottom. I glance at my dive computer and it is telling me I am at 109 meters. OK I think to myself, I can see the bottom but cannot see the wreck and as I am the first one down, I will have to find it. I see a beam and start to follow it to what I believe will be the Atlanta.

As I swim along I look to my left and notice a ship’s funnel. Now that’s strange I think to myself. It is then that I realise that the “sea floor” that I am following is actually the ship’s hull (EDITOR’S NOTE: WHOA).

I drop over the side of the wreck to see what can only be described as the carnage of battle. This ship is a mess. I swim along the wreckage of the Atlanta and get to a depth of about 115 meters when my regulators start to fail due to the depth. I find I have to fight for each breath I take and the vibrations it is causing is shaking my whole body and the sound is deafening (Editor’s Note: I vaguely remember this from the movie the Abyss, when the Navy Seal guy went totally nutso. That movie, by the way, makes up the sum total of my deep water diving knowledge and about sea aliens thingys). This cannot be good at this depth.

Breathing is becoming more difficult and I have to continue to fight for each breath I take but this dive is just so awesome. I don’t want to leave, it’s only been 13 minutes and I want to stay longer. Everything about this ship is big and I am enjoying the dive and experiencing this very special place. At 103 meters, I make the decision that yes, things can get much worse than what they are and it is time for me to end this dive and start to make the long trip to the surface. I signal Bob and Gabe and move to the line and start moving up it.

The ascent does not bring any relief to my failing gear and I continue to get shaken violently and deafened by the noise it is creating. However, salvation is at hand. After drawing a final laboured breath from my gear, I am now at a depth where I can swap to a different gas, which also means correctly working gear (EDITOR’S NOTE: Phew! I was worried I might have to find someone else to have breakfast with from now on...)

The rest of dive was quite uneventful. The next two hours where spent at progressively shallower depths breathing different gases to try and rid our bodies of the excess nitrogen and helium that we breathed during the dive. Our final stop was at three meters where we spend just shy of 40 minutes. Different divers deal with decompression stops in their own ways, Bob for example went to sleep (EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob is such a bad ass), I removed my mask and let the warm tropical water wash over my face while I zoned out. Gabe sat there watch the world go by (EDITOR’S NOTE: Gabe often does this whether or not he is diving.)

In Summary

The USS Atlanta will go down as one of those special places in my heart, next to such places as Kranji and Everest (Editor’s Note: Horatio went to base camp…which is harder than anyone who hasn’t done can imagine. Horatio is a freakin’ rockstar). Training and experience helped keep fear turning to panic and I thank Bob for providing me with the training that prepared me for my Atlanta dive (Editor’s Note: I sense that Horatio practices this speech in front of the mirror when preparing to collect the diving Oscar award). Even now, writing this four days later, I am still on a high (Editor’s Note: this could be due to all the drugs that Horatio takes, but whatever, it’s cool).

Was it worth it? Every bone shaking moment. (Editor’s Note: I will NOT be doing it…breathe, Mom and Dad, breathe…)
Would I do it again? Already planning it (Editor’s note: this makes you an even crazier b*stard than I thought…I wonder if there is anyone else in Honiara I can have breakfast with…)

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