A Lesson Learnt

Diving in the Garvellachs Islands of West Scotland can be recommended and be really enjoyed. However, with strong rapidly-changing currents in a mountainous sea bed terrain, one must not take anything for granted and should always be on guard for the unknown. One can teach from experience but experience can't be bought - only experienced. I'd like to share the experience that my wife, Gill, and I have had in the hope that it may prove beneficial to other divers that may wish to learn from it.

A Wall Drift

After a couple of good days diving we all agreed to do a 'Wall Drift Dive'. The skipper of our charter boat told us that this would be the most challenging dive we had done so far. We were to be dropped off on a wall where the currents can change instantly. We were told to stay close to the wall and only go along with the current, not leaving it too far as the bottom would fall away from a small ledge at about 12m deep and 1m wide to very deep depths of 100s of meters, so needless to say buoyancy control was critical.

Equipment Issues

After a hurried buddy check, with a little apprehension and on queue, we made a stride entry into the swell of a not too calm a sea as near to the wall as the boat could get, 10-15m away. Giving the OK to each other we swam as close to the wall as we could. I brought my new underwater camera to take some really good pictures. For safety, I had a short buddy line attached to Gill which gave her a degree of confidence. Just before descending I took my demand valve out of my mouth and asked Gill if she could see my camera (as I thought I may have lost it since I could not see it). Gill took her mouthpiece out to tell me the camera was next to my head (where I expected it to be) but being a bit low in the water Gill had a wave hit her in the face, knocking the demand out and caused her to swallow some water. She began to sink, panic was not far off her. I located her mouthpiece and put it into her mouth - good training helped her deal with fitting the demand valve back into her mouth underwater and resuming breathing correctly. Inflating her BC brought her head up out of the water. After settling down the OK was given to descend.

Communication

During the descent Gill found that she could not get neutral buoyancy but only descended quite rapidly. On the ledge at 12m, she grabbed out and pulled herself into the kelp. However, knowing of the fast changing current, a very deep bottom awaiting her if she left the ledge, unable to get positive buoyancy, Gill entered into an understandable panic. She grabbed the base stalks of the kelp and began pulling her way up the wall. I mistakenly thought she was at last enjoying being in the heart of the Kelp and began to photograph her as her panic was in full sway! I soon realised her distress and signalled to surface which she quickly acknowledged. In holding her I brought us both to the surface on my BC as Gill's seemed not to function. We were both picked up and pleased to get back in the boat where we later had a de-brief and discussed what we did, what went wrong and what we had learnt.

What Can be Learned From This Experience?

For the benefit of those reading this, the following is what Gill and I learnt:

  • During buddy checks don't just go through the motion of 'Air In' & 'Air Out' on the BC jacket. Fully inflate the jacket and see if it holds the inflation. Our problem was that Gill's shoulder valve on the BC jacket had come undone and air was freely released preventing her getting positive buoyancy underwater and maintaining it.
  • On any dive that is challenging for one or the other, don't take a camera. A camera is like another buddy that you have to give time, effort and attention to, rather than giving your total attention to your buddy.
  • Know that when panic strikes, what seems logical thought, can and does go out of the window. Ensure you check your own equipment thoroughly and know it well.

We have both learnt from this experience and in my opinion, that will make us both better divers for it.

(Brian Hallet is an Advanced Diver and Open Water Instructor).

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