I had told myself that I wasn’t going to do any more deep dives or wreck dives. Mostly because I’m married with a four year-old, but also because the added risk did not equate to added enjoyment from my perspective.
But bowing to peer pressure like High School, when I walked into the dive shop and was given the choice of the “wreck” dive on Saturday or the “beginners reef dive” on Sunday, I opted for the wreck (the Hermes).
I knew it wasn’t going to be that deep at 80 feet and we weren’t really penetrating this ship in the classic dive sense where we’d set up a tether, but 80 feet is just deep enough where an emergency ascent without a safety stop could be a problem. I also know that these types of doubts can lead to anxiety before you even step off the boat, and anxiety is not a friend underwater. Real wreck diving gear would look something like this. Why would an ascent be a problem? Well one issue is that say if you held your breath from just 33 feet to the surface; the air in your lungs would expand to double in volume. If you didn’t breathe, the pressure that has your lungs blowing up like a balloon could rupture a blood vessel and that’s a problem on several levels. The other would be The Bends or other decompression issue. Something to think about in case of emergency; breathe or at least exhale.
At the dive site we buddied up on the boat, and there would be six of us, with me paired to the instructor. I’m always happy to have an experienced buddy. We were to be the first group in the water. And I had three mild issues with my equipment. One, I had not brought my fins, and the shop’s fins slip on/off easier than I’d like; two I had not brought my B/C with its integrated weights and so was wearing a weight belt which I wanted to make certain was secure because you don’t want to lose your weights at 80 feet or you’d be doing an unintended ascent; and three I hadn’t brought my own light — not a big deal as we weren’t really going “into” the ship.
These are the things going through my head before taking the giant step into the water, and I kind of know that I have to get them out of my head quickly as dwelling on them helps nothing. The boat captain added that there was a stiff surface current and the water was a little colder after the previous day’s weather which was not great news with me wearing a 2mm top and bathing trunks as opposed to wetsuit bottom. Okay, so I could manage being chilly, at least we were warned.
In the water we were quickly down to 5 divers when one of our group, apparently, couldn’t equalize (couldn’t clear the pressure from his ears). I had no idea what happened to him. There was some confusion on entry with more than one group getting in the water and everyone looking pretty similar in black neoprene and masks. He was simply MIA in my book when I counted we were five instead of six. I imagined that our instructor somehow knew that Mr. Six was a-okay somewhere, as he signaled that we would continue with the dive.
Also in our group was a couple who I would guess were in their 50’s. On entry the wife had her “alternate” air in her mouth when preparing to step off the boat. We watched and attempted to tell her while bobbing up and down in the current, but she was focused on her next step — off the boat. An instructor on-board caught and corrected her and she changed to the proper mouthpiece. She then stepped off the boat hitting the ladder with a thud.
She was fine. But, once underwater I could that her mask was badly fogged and chose to swim behind her (and her husband), which put me at the opposite end of the group from my dive buddy. Separation from your buddy is not uncommon in resort diving, but it ups the ante on risk significantly (reading the morbidly titled PDF Chapter 34; Why Divers Die which tells us that 86% die alone — though there are differences of opinions on buddies – read On Your Own). I was aware of all that, but didn’t want an excited or distressed diver climbing over my back inside the wreck inadvertently or purposefully. On balance, I preferred to have that risk where I could see it.
We descended without any incident. Yes there was not only a surface current, but underwater as well. It was manageable if energetic. I had brought my mask, and it was crystal clear as the water was not and was greatly appreciative for being able to see as well as possible. Once at the wreck I was reluctant to play follow the leader through the small rooms, but went with the flow as carefully as possible meaning don’t let anyone kick your mask off in the enclosed environment and try not to scrape against the metal hull. Once acclimated to temperature, visibility and depth my breathing slowed to a reasonable level and was able to “enjoy” the dive, though probably more vigilant that most. I’ve taken enough dive training to achieve Rescue Diver certification, and have dove in the cold waters of California’s Kelp Fields, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, Curacao, St Thomas, Turks, Key West, Key Largo, Orlando, Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Dutch Springs in Pennsylvania — a reasonable amount of experience, but diving was actually more fun when I was oblivious to what could go wrong.
I did my Rescue Diver certification with Team Lifeguard. And it was like a Scared Straight episode. We learned from our instructors experience as a forensic diver all the things which could and do go wrong with recreational diving. Diving is statistically safer than parachuting and hang-gliding, though riskier than many other sports. Statistically, you’re more likely to be injured in an automobile accident, but if you look at the hours spent in cars versus diving you can see how statistics can be tricky.
Above are just some of the things that went through my head pre-dive and while diving. Call me paranoid, but you never know with a group strangers on vacation what some new-found buddy is thinking or is prepared to do to save your life if needed and given that fact am re-affirming that you’ll find me at the reef @ 30 feet.
The Hermes is Bermuda’s most popular shipwreck dive because it remains fully intact. Built in Pennsylvania in 1943, operated by the U.S. Navy, the little 165 feet long and 254 ton ship featured a unique configuration.
Her mast was directly in front of the wheelhouse and the cargo hold was in the forward part of the ship. Connected to the mast was a 20 ton cargo boom that allowed the ship to pick up navigation buoys and lower them into her hold.
She was bound for the Cape Verde Islands when she experienced engine trouble near Bermuda. Hermes was eventually abandoned by her crew because repairs were estimated to cost more than the ship was worth. After an anticipated sale of the vessel did not materialize, the Bermuda government awarded the ship to the Bermuda Divers Association for creation of an artificial reef. The vessel was thoroughly cleaned and made dive safe prior to her final voyage on May 15, 1985.