Diving With Kids

I belong to a dive club but, unfortunately, the few active divers are the newer ones. The more experienced divers don't go into the water much anymore. They are bored with cold, freshwater dives in the lakes of the southern interior of B.C. There is not much marine life to see and the known wrecks become less than interesting after you've seen them for years. On this day an experienced diver of 30 years was there. He was diving with his teen-aged daughter and a friend's 14 year old son. There were seven divers altogether including a freshly certified 16 year old who was making his first non-instruction dive. I have 62 dives logged in just over a year. I was buddied up with the 16 year old. The other two guys had about 20 dives each and the two youths had less than 10.

Our first dive went fine. We dove to a wreck site that was new for me. After a long surface interval of 2 1/2 hours, we were going to make our second dive to another wreck site. The plan was to go to the first wreck site, then change course to the second wreck. We were to follow the most experienced diver and his young buddies to the second wreck then we (the remaining four club members) were going to be on our own. I was going to be buddied up again with the newly certified 16 year old and the other two guys were to be with each other.

Everything was fine as we descended to the first wreck. Vis was about 20 feet or so, which is not bad for us. We started to dive the plan and everything was fine until the teen-aged girl had her tank slip. To keep the mouthpiece from being pulled out of her mouth, she ended up biting so hard she took a big chunk out. I had seen her father give his octopus to her, and after making sure she was alright, he signaled that he was taking her to the surface. At this point, I didn't know what had happened. Whatever it was, it didn't appear to be too serious. We were only at about 40 feet and I took it for granted that he was going to be coming back to us because his friend's son - who he was responsible for - was with us. We didn't want to move and have him come back and find us gone. After a wait of about 5 minutes or so, one of the other divers indicated he'd go and see what was taking so long for the return. When the diver who went to look came back, he wrote on my slate that the father and daughter were gone. He then indicated we go back the way we came, so we followed him. After about 10 minutes, he stopped and shrugged his shoulders. I saw that we were at about 60 feet. Since the dive had fallen apart, I decided we better abort it. I signaled to everyone to surface.

This is where the real fun begins. The newly certified 16 year old was still with me, but now I ended up with the 14 year old too. I had two very inexperienced young divers to deal with. I knew that they would have trouble doing a controlled ascent in open water so I indicated that all three of us would ascend together. Each of us held on to the other's arm. Good plan if they had understood what I was doing. Unfortunately, they left me doing all the work. To keep us ascending at a slow pace, I had to keep myself negative. As we started making our way up, their BCD's made them too positive and they started to really take off. I grabbed someone's leg (turns out it was the 14 year old) to stop them from rocketing upwards. The 16 year old still had a hold of the 14 year old. This is when they both finally dumped some air. They overcompensated, making all of us really negative. We sank back to the bottom. I didn't realize we were dropping until I touched bottom. We couldn't have been too far up cause my ears didn't have an equalizing problem during the drop.

I was a bit over-exerted by now, but still doing fine until I started having trouble sucking air. I didn't know why I was having a hard time. I even thought I might have been low on air. But I didn't think you could tell when your air was low. At the time I thought, "You either have air or you don't." The gauge showed lots of air, and I tried to take another breath and that's when I felt something "give". I was able to breathe but then started sucking up water. It was like sucking bubbles up through a straw when your drink is finished. Even though I was breathing quite wet, it wasn't that bad. But it was enough to startle and spook me. On top of this, my inflator wasn't working. I couldn't get air into my BCD. The week before, I had a problem with the inflate valve sticking and having the hose disconnected by my buddy.

As luck would have it, my mind decided to have fun with me. This is when my head decided to remember about the diver drowning at Whytecliffe Park a week earlier. My first thought was, "This is how he must have drowned - it could happen to me!" Great! Now I was creating problems for myself. I went through a few seconds of panic, mostly from not knowing what was going on. I realized my eyes were bugged out. I could feel they were popped wide open. I just wanted to hit the surface as fast as I could. I fought that impulse, and got under fairly good control. Still alarmed, I put my hand on my weight belt and opened the buckle. Before I actually pulled it apart to let go, I thought to myself "do I really want to do this?" I couldn't think of doing anything else. "Yes, I do" I answered and left the belt on the bottom.

"I'm going too fast" I thought "but better to be sick up top than not breathing at the bottom". I knew my long surface interval would be a big plus and I had only been in the water about 20 minutes by now. I got to the surface faster than I should have. The two boys were on their own. They popped up about 5 seconds after I did. This means they were also going too fast. I was just relieved they came up and were alright.

I monitored myself for about a week and didn't have any effects other than fright. It turned out that the diver who signaled to head back was trying to go to shore, but forgot to set his compass and lost his bearings. It turns out that if the vis had been about 15 feet better, we'd have seen the first wreck. That's how close we were to it before we started following him.

This dive ending really bothered me and shook me up. No matter how much I thought I was prepared for something to happen, when it did, I didn't act the way I wish I had. In hindsight, why didn't I grab my octopus? The only reason I can come up with is that when I hear stories, everyone emphasizes dropping the belt so you can get to the surface easier and faster. That's all I could think of. Besides, isn't the octopus for another diver to use when they need it??? Yeah, right. If only I had thought of it. Since I wasn't in an out of air situation, I didn't think to grab an octopus from one of the youth divers.

Since this incident, it's amazing how many divers have admitted to doing a little exercise where they grab their spare reg and breath through it during a dive, then put it back and use their main regulator. Nice time to be told that - after the fact! I had never heard of this and might never have thought of it.

I love diving and am not afraid to go back into the water. I still enjoy whatever I can see, but I also have a constant awareness that something can go wrong. I just hope that when it happens again, I will react without afterwards having to feel I did something wrong. It's not having something happen that bothers me, but my reactions to the situation.

I'm not embarrassed or ashamed to admit what happened. But I get the impression from most divers that nothing ever happens to them, that they have done no wrong during their diving careers. All I can say is that they must be keeping their incidents deep secrets. I know this isn't true for everyone: on my first dive after certifying, my buddy had me standing on the bottom of the river while he surfaced to see where we were. And he had been a diver for over 30 years!

It turns out I probably had some garbage that worked it's way into my mouthpiece and that's what made my breathing hard for a few breaths. When it gave, it kept the valve open enough to let water seep in. I had my regs serviced and everything was fine. Nothing appeared wrong with my inflator hose either. Since I had a problem a week earlier, I had it serviced. Other than needing lubrication, it was fine. A diving friend went out with me later that week and we retrieved my weight belt. This is when I discovered how close we were to the first wreck. If I had realized that the other diver was trying to swim towards shore, I would have been able to steer us there. At the time, I thought he was trying to take us to the first wreck. I had let him take charge, just assuming he knew what he was doing.

Although everything worked out fine in the end, this was my first encounter with a serious situation that could have landed me in a lot of trouble. I have talked to other divers about what happened and what I did. Until I opened my mouth, no one was aware of anything. I have gotten lots of opinions. If I had kept my mouth shut, no one would have known what had happened to me. But I don't think staying silent is the right thing to do. I did learn from it and even ended up picking up some pointers from other divers. Hopefully the others also learned something from this experience. In my opinion, diving isn't a sport where I want to look good at any cost. Pride and bragging can be dangerous. It did take some time to get over my guilt at not having done better under the circumstances.

I've been told I shouldn't have worried about the youths since they are certified and should know how to ascend properly. Well, from personal experience, I know that it's not easy to do when you are just learning. I have ballooned to the surface on dives and wished my buddy would have grabbed me when he or she saw I was rising too fast. They just left me on my own to figure it out.

As for the boys, maybe I should have let them go when we started our first ascent, but again, I knew what they would end up ballooning and wanted to help them. At that point, for me they became kids diving rather than divers who were kids. Until I ran into trouble, I was more concerned for them than I was for me. In all honesty, I can't say I wouldn't do the same again. At least I won't be so ignorant or naive next time.

J. J.

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