All for the Sake of a Chase

It was the summer of '66 and I had been a diver for two years. My bud, Bob and I were members of the Royal Regiment of Canada and we had learned this relatively new sport there. We had dove frequently in Lake Ontario and were seeking a little more adventure. We talked Bob's dad into giving us a car for the weekend and we headed north to find a lake to dive in. We ended up at a place named Green Lake. Shore access to the lake was gained via a private airstrip. The owner was a former WW II pilot. Because we were members of a military group he was glad to give us access. He warned us he had placed dead trees and debris in the waters at the end of his runway. This was to keep boaters well away.

Except for the tank, regulator, mask and fins, all the rest of our equipment was homemade. I had a new Aqualung single hose regulator that I had saved up for all of '65. I had used it only a few times. (We were trained on two stage twin hose regulators). Bob was using a twin hose that he rented for the trip. We carried no gauges, compass, knife, light or alternate. The tanks were equipped with a j valve to let us know that it was time to end the dive. Pulling down on the valve supplied the final 500 psi available in the tank. The tank was attached to a stiff piece of plastic that had two large padded hooks that went over my shoulders. A belt went though my legs and was thread through another belt. Over this went the weight belt. The BCD had not been invented yet and the "May West" was just becoming a standard piece of equipment. Needless to say, we did not have them as we had a tight budget for this trip and could not afford to rent them.

We enter the water well away from the debris and sank into the soft ooze of the lake. After struggling to get our fins on, off we went. I was enjoying a very cold dive. There were a lot of dark gray shapes and occasional movement on the edge of my zone of visibility. All of a sudden, this large snapping turtle appeared and swam right past us. In my excitement I took off after it, Bob right along with me. We chased it for a short distance and it entered a dark opening. In my enthusiasm I followed it in and bulled my way into the opening. I was breaking branches and ended up getting myself jammed. It was then that I realized where I was. I had forgotten the warning about the debris from the chap who owned the airstrip. "No problem", I would just back out.

As I tried to extract myself I felt a pulling on my regulator. (Back then the regulator was strapped to your head because it was so heavy you could not hold it in place with your teeth.) I could not make any headway in reverse. I was becoming scared. Breathing was getting hard. At first I thought it was my imagination, then I realized I was running out of air. I tried to reach back to pull the j valve but my arm was blocked by debris. Now I was working faster. I undid my weight belt, undid my tank straps and as the panic set in, I headed up - towards the light - only to find things in my way. I bulled and fought. Climbing an underwater tree, I made my way to the surface.

I was exhausted. I had inhaled and swallowed water. I was bleeding quite hard from some deep cuts. My suit was in tatters. I had no mask and only one fin. Bob had followed me to the surface and helped me back to land. Later, as we talked about what happened, he mentioned that I was "lucky" as I had only been diving near the edge of the mess. It had been mostly small branches I had fought with. Luck was on my side that day as there was no skilled used.

After this happened, I stopped diving for a few years - because of the scare and because I could not afford to replace the gear I had abandoned! Over the years I had some other close calls. But this was the closest I ever got to feeling: "This is The Day" - until I hit rock bottom (literally) under a set of river rapids four years ago and thirty-two years later. This ended my diving days. But that, as they say, is another story....

Bill P.

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