Easy Save

A good many of us have seen difficult saves. We've fought the adrenaline screaming in our heads while working to act quickly. How many of us remember our easy saves?

Easy saves are the last-minute words, a double check of equipment or an OK sign from your buddy. As we log our dives, we look out for each other. As we build our diving friendships, we build our safety nets, and little by little our words and our hand signals make the difference between great days of diving and tragedies.

Easy saves often go unnoticed, so I would like to share one here. It was just a few spoken words, but those words were enough to make a difference, and they may well have allowed someone to live to dive another day.

Santa Rosa, N.M., in late July is insufferably hot. Getting there is five hours of driving through flat, endless desert from my Colorado home. Why go? Because if you plan your dive well, you can be one of the first to pierce the early morning surface there. Before the silt has been kicked up, and with no current to break the stillness, huge shafts of sunlight penetrate into 80 feet of liquid crystal cavern. Blue Hole Cenote is, in a word, magical.

One particular July day, our group was packing up after some dives. Twenty divers scurried around a parking lot shaking out wetsuits, stuffing masks and fins into bags and throwing weights into the backs of cars. "Burgers and beer at Joseph's in about an hour," I heard. I was hungry, I was wet, and I was happy. Over the sounds of slapping high-fives and tank valves being released, an interested voice in the parking lot said, "Hey, that guy over there has a rebreather."

I had read about rebreathers, but I had never actually seen one. Curiosity made me drop my gear to go check it out. Sitting on the tailgate of a white pickup truck in the sweltering heat was a fully suited-up young man with a boxy-looking contraption strapped to his back.

"Cool!" I blurted out. "Is it tough to learn? Does it change your buoyancy? What's the longest you have ever stayed down?" I felt like a kid standing in front of the Batmobile.
The diver admitted that he had not actually used his rebreather in five years. Today he was refamiliarizing himself with his gear. Beads of sweat popped off his brows and dripped into his eyes. I could see he was getting overheated, but I rambled on.
"So, no bubbles, huh? I hear you can take great pictures with those things. What's inside that upside-down white bottle?"

Now we all have our reasons for love of this sport. One of my dive buddies, John, is a gearhead. If it's the latest or the coolest, John has already preordered it. It was John who extended the life of my regulator hoses by putting rubber protector sleeves over the joints. Others scuba dive because they rise to the thrill of pushing limits. My buddy Terry is a firefighter. Hands down, Terry embodies the most outstanding combination of underwater adventure and situational awareness of any dive buddy ever. Diving with Terry is a joy. Then there is Jerry, my buddy the engineer. Fascinating physics is what draws Jerry to the sport. I cannot get Jerry to assume the added risk and enjoy a night dive, yet he designed and built his own hyperbaric chamber.

At that moment, standing for the first time in front of a rebreather, I was in invested in scuba diving for one simple reason: I wanted to be a mermaid.

Kicking up gravel, I tried not to look too eager. "Looks fun. Who is your dive buddy?" I asked, secretly wishing it were me.

The young man told me he was waiting for our group to clear out because he was going to dive alone.

Huh? My throat clenched.



"Um ... dude. You are wearing unfamiliar equipment. You're kind of overheated. You are about to jump into 62-degree water. It's murky from divers kicking up silt all day. It's 80 feet deep, the sun is going down, and you are going to dive it ... alone?"

"Sure," he said. "I'll be fine."

As with so many moments in my life that I later regret, my mouth started speaking before my brain could catch up.

"Fine? Do you want to be another statistic in a DAN report? Dude, you do that, and we will be reading about you in an Alert Diver article called ‘Ten Steps to How I Died Diving.'"

The young man was justifiably cold. He turned away, and I walked back to my car. "I am an idiot!" I thought to myself. "No, I'm not. That guy is an idiot!" I wrestled with it. "He probably would be fine. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything." After 39 years of scuba diving, gut instincts to protect my fellow diver firmly overrode any need to be pretty or polite.

One week later, I received this email from a dive buddy who turned out to be a mutual friend:

I just wanted to tell you thanks very much for encouraging my friend to scrub the dive at Blue Hole. He fixed three minor problems with his rebreather last week, and today we tested it in a pool. While setting up and doing the predive prebreathe (which conditions the scrubber medium) he experienced a serious computer glitch, and it took a while to figure it out. Not a big deal in the pool, but it would have been very serious at Blue Hole in combination with any one of the minor problems. He says to tell you that you are very wise and your advice prevented a serious problem, since he had more or less decided to dive before you talked to him and discouraged him. So you did a good deed.

© Alert Diver — Winter 2014