Some people on Facebook (which I have now deleted) know this story but there was a part that I kept to myself because I didn’t want people to get in trouble for a situation that really was just what it was- it just happened. Nobody did anything wrong. Shit happens… shit happens and then you die… but sometimes you don’t. In my case I don’t, and I don’t, and I don’t, even if sometimes I really want to.
I was in Thailand for two months after I lost my last job. I was there to make sure I had my head on right (I did, I do), and to do things that were important to me- like training in Muay Thai, and getting the number of dives up that I needed so that I can go for my Divemaster cert and then my Instructor. I needed 40 to do the DM cert and I was nowhere there when I got to Thailand. So while I was there, I trained Muay Thai and BJJ from Monday through Friday and on the weekends or other times I could slip in, I scuba dived to get my numbers up.
Now this time of year in Thailand is low season/monsoon season. There aren’t nearly as many tourists. The calm Andaman Sea isn’t quite so calm with random storms and high waves. Surfers can actually start surfing the normally flat beaches of Thailand and the winds and storms can be sudden, severe. That being said, the storms in Thailand this monsoon season seem to be especially fierce at least stronger than many of the old-timers and retirees seem to remember. The weather was a factor in the death of 49 Chinese Tourists last month. I think that’s why I was so upset when I heard what was going on in Thailand last month- I have friends who are divemasters out there that I knew might be on boats that day the storms came. I was upset and fearful for the people the boats I had heard that capsized (I knew what was going on before it really hit the news due to my relationships with the dive industry out there). I was hoping everyone I knew had gotten back safely to port. You see, it hit me personally.
The video below is what I posted on Facebook about my experience out there one day- and that was only one of the days. Honestly, of the days I went diving out there, I think only 4 dives out of 30 were done on days that were “safe”. It was always bad out there when I went, especially towards the end. There were two days when the dives were actually canceled because the weather was so bad. The video below some know about. This was after our first dive that day. All the divers had just gotten on board when a squall hit. The rain was coming sideways and we had probably 5-6 meter waves going on. We had at least 3-4 meters when we jumped in (more on that later). Now boats, when they are in the water, want to always be perpendicular to the waves:
The reason why you want this has to do with a bit of physic and how boats behave in waves which is way too complicated for me to explain but if you’re curious, Google “boat stability”. What you never want to happen is have the boat parallel to the waves as this can make the boat more prone to tipping. When the storm came in, we ended up somehow parallel to the waves. To add insult to injury, the boat had a fabric Bimini or sun cover on the top deck. At the same time we went parallel, the wind caught the Bimini like a sail and rolled the boat further to port. The boat listed so hard that the water was against the windows on the port side. Had the windows been open, we would have taken on water. Had the Bimini not torn when it did, the boat would have in fact roll over and gone upside down- which at that point, the boat would have sunk. Luckily, the Bimini DID tear just before the point of no return and we righted ourselves with the captain pushing the boat hard to right in order to get us parallel to the waves. The aftermath (and my excitement) can be seen in the video below:
But that’s only the second part of the story that day. Few know the first part and I am going to share that now.
I got lost that day. I was separated from my dive group and I was in current going out to sea.
If you recall, I mentioned earlier that it was bad when we jumped in, before the boat incident. I have learned to dive with only 1-2 weights on me however this day, it was very choppy that first five meters in the water. The water was rolling and turbulent. Visibility was SHIT- probably about 4 feet, if that (I’ll switch between feet and meters because I see most things in feet, being American, but I’ve only dived metric so some things, such as wave heights, I see in metric and I note my depth on my dive computer in metric because once again, I dive where they use the metric system. I’ll convert to imperial where appropriate). The lighting was bad due to the weather and particulate stirred up in the water. I also was having problems with my ears and equalizing so having to go down slower so I didn’t burst an ear drum. We had 40 divers on that boat and when it was time to dive, 40 people jumping into the water at one time, in moderate to heavy sea and bad visibility. Really not the best of diving conditions. I couldn’t get down, the Divemaster coming up to give me an extra weight to get me to sink which helped some but my companions had sunk like a rock after getting past that surface turmoil. The DM flashed a light at me from below and I tried to get down faster but my ears were not having it. I felt mostly okay because all around me I could see all the bubbles rising of the divers below me…
… until I couldn’t anymore.
At that moment, I knew I was alone. I couldn’t see very far, the light was kind of the same, there were no more bubbles around me so I knew the divers were no longer below or near me. I had the extra weight and I wasn’t sure if I was sinking or rising or static. Thank god I dive with a computer as I had to look at it to figure out what was going on (I was sinking fast- not a problem- I can control myself but I needed to know exactly where I was in the water column). The light was getting a little bit lighter though which made me figure out that I must be getting pushed AWAY from the island since I wasn’t going up which meant more light was coming in because I didn’t have as much island blocking it. I knew that when I got to surface, it would be near impossible to see the DM if she surfaced. Protocol dictates waiting a min to find each other than surfacing. I had gone down too fast for my liking, I knew I was pushed out. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get near. I made a decision at that point that I was going to get myself out of the situation and follow the protocols changing one thing- I was going to do my safety stop. I should have just surfaced but I was worried about my ears and didn’t know how far I had drifted at that point.
I have to talk about that moment though because I still think about it, often before I fall asleep or when I’m just dozing off. Let me tell you, even though a squall was coming in above, the light was eerie and I couldn’t really see anything but blue in front of me and all around, having lost sight of the wall and the bubbles of other divers… It was quiet. It was peaceful. My dive computer told me that I was at 15 meters (50 Feet) under water and static. It was so very quiet. I was alone, slowly kicking just to make sure as to not sink more and stay in place. I thought about my situation. I though to myself in those moments “is this how I die?”. It could have been 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, I don’t know but I feel like I was held frozen in a moment to think about everything, where I was, who I was, and what was happening to me and how I put myself there with the choices I make in my life. I then distinctly remember then thinking “okay, you were just certified as a rescue diver, rescue yourself. What is the first thing you do?” Obviously I did the right thing- I’m here to type out the story but what a strange moment, what a strange thing to have happened. How slow everything seemed to get and how I feel like I just did what I always do which is “handle it”.
One of the things that keeps rolling around in my head TO THIS DAY is:
“Why wasn’t I scared?“
I think what I wrestle with is: was I not scared because I never get scared or am I just so jaded about my life I don’t give a fuck what happens to me anymore? I can live, or I can die, it doesn’t make much of a difference to me anymore. That feeling of indifference to the situation still just rolls around in my head. But I did what I had to do to get out of it because it became more of a challenge I think than a fight. Also I think I just knew I was fine. Though it was storming above, I was in a fishing and shipping area. I had a full tank of air on my back. I was wearing a built-in life vest. The water was warm. If I didn’t come back, someone was going to look for me.
Now, I need to admit something here. I had just been certified as a rescue diver a few weeks before. But because I wasn’t a DM yet, though I always dived with my dive computer, I was debating on not putting the DSMB (diver surface marker buoy) on my dive gear that day:
But I did have it and I learned first hand why you must always have one (AND A DIVE COMPUTER), even if you are with someone else who has one- because duh- you might get separated. So I deployed it, did my safety stop, surfaced… and saw I had drifted over a quarter of a mile way from the island or jump point. The waves were worse at this point. I looked toward the wall and the DM popped her head up and yelled at me. I knew she couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Between the waves, I gave the sign for “okay” and she went back under. I turned around and saw the boat pretty far out there. I lifted my DSMB up and waved it around and thank god they were looking (sometimes they get lazy and don’t start looking until 40 mins after the last diver has gone down because we try to stay down for 50 mins or 50 BAR, whichever comes first, unless, of course, there is an emergency). They turned their engines on, came to me, threw me a line and pulled me up on the boat. And all was well until they started pulling stuff from the top deck into the inner fist floor deck and the winds started to pick up and the sky got dark. I sad on the boat for about a half hour before we started to pick people up. And then the story above with the video happen, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now I didn’t share this story because I didn’t want that DM to get in trouble. SHE DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG. When she got on the boat with the rest of her people she hugged me. She was so worried about me. I laughed because I said of all the people she had that day, I was the right one for it to happen to because of my personality and training up to that point. I was safe. I was fine. I knew what to do and I wasn’t angry or upset. It wasn’t her fault. As I said, shit happens. You don’t know what the visibility or conditions are going to be until you hit the water sometimes. You also have to know where you are diving. I was diving with the best shop in Phuket. Everything that went wrong had to do with circumstances of the day. I think that maybe we shouldn’t have gone out that day. I think we should have come back to shore as soon as the boat was damaged. We still did the other two dives that day, though we cancelled the wreck dive.
I will tell you that as the boat went over, my morbid humor came out as usual. People were screaming, people were scared. I yell out “Well we said we wanted to go wreck diving today- we just didn’t know it was going to be our own!” I got a few laughs… not a ton, but some… Hey, Tek is gonna Tek, okay? :p
Thailand is Thailand and you have to accept that Thailand isn’t as safe or as regulated as many places in the Western world. I could get angry, but it serves nothing. I see it as great learning experience because it forced me to see if I really did learn anything in my diving and rescue classes. Clearly, I did. I’m here to tell you about it.
Again, I want to stress that the DM did nothing wrong and that’s why I didn’t share this story. But I keep thinking about my thoughts under the water, alone and I step away from myself and wonder about myself. I’m glad that I showed my skills (as usual), but I wonder what Tek is about when I say I know what she is about.
Why wasn’t I scared? Why was I so indifferent?
I know there are several different websites for me. I’m going to try to keep this one as more my personal thoughts- more of a diary and the diatribe. My other site is more for travel and not quite such salty or “disturbing” content. People don’t really want to know the ugly deep downs…