3 April 2016
Dive Log 11:
In the open ocean about 4 miles out from Riviera Beach Marina
Off Palm Beach County, FL
The boat was rocking hard enough. I could barely hold on with one hand let alone pull my fins on with the other. Spray hit me in the face. Sitting at water level at the back of the boat I finally got them secured and let the boat toss me into the white froth.
The water churned me outward several feet
I shoved my face below the surface to look.
There it was. At last. The Deep. There, sprawling below me. No end in sight.
This is what it looks like in person.
The very depth strumming a royal blue… traces of violet. The magnifying clarity of the water like sharp vision, like a world questioning what is reality. It’s all what you’re in at the moment.
My body was in The Deep.
What is going on under all that water?
And yet, this was only 423 feet. My mind worked to visualize the bottom. There was still a bottom down there. Somewhere.
I began swimming toward the others. They were holding onto the floating dive rig, which looked like a jointed spaceship with three red and white ring buoys connected in the water by PVC pipes. Instructors Matt and Rodman had gone in first to assemble it.
Freediving Level I course, 2nd Day. Test day. Open ocean. Certifying our aptitude to allow breath-hold diving down to 66 feet below.
First day, yesterday, we had been in the classroom, and then the pool, learning the physiology and basics of freediving, which is very different from scuba diving.
Freediving is athletic. No tank, no equipment: Just you, your body, the ocean, #onebreath, and God.
Yesterday In the pool we dove into the 12 feet to start stimulating our mammalian diving reflex, then practiced the safety techniques, and how to rescue somebody who has loss of motor control or a blackout.
Then we practiced static apnea, which progressively trains you to hold your breath under water while staying still. (Vs. dynamic apnea, which is holding your breath while moving.)
First one minute, then two minutes, then try for three.
To prepare for a breath-hold dive you do several forced exhalations, then “breathe up” – full diaphragmatic breathing. It’s very meditative.
You have to avoid hyperventilating, which is dangerous because it reduces CO2 in your body and the urge to breathe, causes the body to burn oxygen faster, raises the heart rate, and decreases the flow of blood to the brain, thereby greatly increasing the risk of blackout during the dive.
After your breathe-up, you take one last big breath, and go under.
In the pool test, you submerge your face in the water while your dive partner starts the watch. He taps you at the timing intervals. You signal ‘ok’ with your finger.
My friend Kareem from Antigua took the course with me.
With static apnea tests, you do all three breath-hold tests consecutively, so as to keep you in your “zone”.
I know how to calm my body down, and lower my heart rate at will. At least on land.
In the pool I managed to hold my breath for the full 1, 2, and 3 minute sessions no problem.
They said to expect diaphragm contractions at some point (which is the body’s response to rising internal CO2 levels) and just work through them.
Onset of that condition can be a major inconvenience, from twitching to whole body shakes, but thankfully I did not get them. At least so far!
They were a little surprised I held my breath that easily. So was I.
We’ll see next time.
I said: I’ve experienced enough pain and struggle in life that I’ve learned how to breathe through shit. We’re all stronger than we think we are.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Holding onto one of the dive rig ring buoys the swells pushed us up and down, tried to throw us around.
Up north in New England a storm system was dumping nearly a foot of snow; its outer edges were blowing wind and waves down south.
Rodman, one of the instructors, dove down to about 12 feet and pretended to black out.
I dove after him, grabbed him under his arms, and began swimming upward to get him vertical, at the same time pivoting to his side to hook my left hand under his armpit and push my right hand under his chin and over his mouth and nose to be sure no water got in.
I brought him to the surface, laid him out on his back and supported him from beneath to make sure his airways stayed clear of water, while removing his mask and tapping his cheek or blowing across his face to “wake” him up.
Below us they had dropped 25-pound kettle bell weights tied to 66 feet of rope, which equals 2 atmospheres under water.
I stared down at them. They seemed so far away. Different intervals were marked on the rope by tape.
It was exciting and unnerving.
We practiced free immersion first, breathing up, holding our last breath, then pulling ourselves head first down the rope.
The water pressure. The density of water. That is probably going to be one of my biggest challenges. Water is 800x denser than air.
I had trouble equalizing, and you can’t force that – ever – or risk barotrauma to the middle ear.
Equalizing, through the Valsalva maneuver, involves pinching the nose closed and gently blowing out to release the pressure inside the closed air spaces of your head.
I did not like pulling myself down the rope. It felt unnatural. I wanted to just kick down.
Next we practiced the formal freediving, where you don’t touch the rope at all.
You breathe up, either holding onto the buoy, or lying prone on the surface.
Then you pre-equalize, knock your snorkel out of your mouth, and bring one leg to your chest, which causes you to jackknife downward.
Upside down and arms overhead, you do one big breaststroke, then kick downward in wide strokes, equalizing every few feet. All this is designed to conserve maximum energy.
It was hard to relax with the ocean conditions being so rough.
But at last I got to practice apnea in the ocean like Afrodite does in my upcoming novel Her Blue Watered Streets. Now I see how she did it!! 🙂 Though she was better than me. At least for now!
I was still having probs equalizing.
Water is so dense that you feel this ringing pressure squeezing your head’s airspaces.
But if you equalize successfully, you’re clear.
I tried several descents toward the 66 feet depth mark but still couldn’t equalize well enough, and only made it to 34 feet.
I had really really hoped to get to 66 feet on my first real dive. Man I hate to fail at anything.
I also didn’t feel like I could hold my breath that long, knowing that I still needed to come back up to the surface. But yet I had held my breath easily for 3 minutes in the pool!
One time, down below, I wondered what was it like to not be able to hold your breath any longer and the surface is still way up there. I’ve hardly gone deep.
Guess I just wasn’t in my zone.
Couldn’t get that zen. Was just trying to stay alive in the sea conditions lmao.
If I left the buoy and tried to breathe up floating face down, soon the rolling water pushed me too far away.
You could hear the dive rig spaceship creaking underwater as it was pushed and pulled by the swells.
One of the plastic PVC arms suddenly broke from the force of being tossed around. I watched a piece of that plastic pipe drift away.
Inadvertently we had just added to the ocean’s plastic pollution problem.
My gut heaved and I flung my head to the side, throwing up.
Ugh puking is such a sick feeling. Puking in the water while being in the water is odd.
I’m such a protective clean eater and non-drinker that I can’t remember the last time I threw up.
Luckily I hadn’t eaten anything so while Rodman said I was “chumming” for the fish nothing really came out.
The spasms gradually calmed to manageable levels while the others finished up their testing.
Anyhow, we passed Freediving Level 1.
The boat came for us, and one by one we fought our way to get back on board.
The boat had a hard time approaching.
Normally a boat should have its engines turned off before you get near it. But the captain had to maneuver. The first mate tossed me a red ball attached to a rope, and pulled me in.
Although the propellers were under the boat somewhere I was still all afraid I was going to get chopped and screwed, and I don’t mean Houston rap.
Once on the boat dripping like a half-drowned seal with my head over the side I sat on the floor and threw up again several times. Just heaves.
The heavy diesel fumes of the boat did not help.
At one point I felt so sick I had another transferal moment – imagining the world so overcome with pollution and sickness that there is no coming out and it keeps going until painful death consumes you. Where you just get so sick you die.
It’s a pretty miserable forsaken feeling. I guess we could say we’re doing that with climate. (And BP did that to millions of marine lives who were sickened and killed by the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf, with infections, ruined lungs, heart defects and other ailments still occurring today. The spill stretched across 16,000 miles of coast.)
It was such a relief to come out of it. Inhale clean air. Not feel sick.
I thrive to be healthy. I want health for everybody.
Speaking of which, I dream of a world without loud polluting motors… Not only the noxious fumes, but why are they still making motors so loud?
Industrial noise pollution is one of the other things I worry about, and not just because it stresses my sensitized ass the hell out. It affects all kinds of marine life, in addition to people.
Sound travels far underwater. They say that listening equipment can hear engine noise even in the deepest parts of the ocean now.
Make clean and quiet boats already! It’s 2016! Make clean and quiet engines everywhere already dammit!!
I hear the U.S. Navy is investing in ship quieting technology. Check out this important “Towards Quieter Seas” article.
I hope it spreads worldwide quickly.
I reflected on the fact that I had been in 423 feet of water for the first time.
Hadn’t really had time to be scared. There had been so much going on just holding on and doing the tests.
As we got back to shore I realized that all that time out there in the pelagic blue water, the true blue, we had not seen a single fish.
Not a single animal underwater, other than ourselves.