Aeolus wreck, Atlantic Ocean | June 22, 2016 | 10:30am
When you get an open water diver certification, you have to read and discuss all the things that can go wrong. Decompression sickness. Nitrogen narcosis. Oxygen toxicity. Pulmonary embolism. Barotrauma. Panic.
While knowing about these risks (and how to prevent, mitigate, and treat them) is vitally important, all that information can make your first few dives a bit nerve-wracking. Humans really aren’t supposed to be able to breathe (or function at all) at the bottom of the ocean. So scuba diving is not the most natural thing in the world—it takes some getting used to.
On a perfect summer Saturday in late June, I lean against the rails on the top deck of the Outrageous V, and watch the bow of the boat cut through the ocean chop.
"Man, we are out here," says my dear friend Annette. She's standing next to me, taking in the vast blue in every direction. "I don't think I've ever been this far from land." We lost sight of the shore twenty minutes ago, and we have another half hour to go.
A minute later, our friend Will bounds up the stairs to join us on the deck. "I just talked to the captain," he says. "The wreck we're going to is a 100 foot dive."
Will looks at me, and I feel my stomach muscles clench. I had told him the day before that I had never done a 100 foot dive before. In the past year, since I got my certification, I have done a grand total of 10 dives - none of them more than 65 feet deep. I'm nervous about breaking one of the golden rules of diving: don't dive outside your limits.
Will is a dive master and Annette has an advanced certification. The three of us methodically talk through every aspect of our upcoming dive. Hand signals, air consumption, and backup plans. I'm afraid I'll run out of air before Will and Annette. We talk about what we will do if that happens. Talking through it helps. The muscles in my stomach relax some.
Forty minutes later, we suit up and splash into the water. As we float on the surface adjusting our regulators, I enter my forced calm mode. Don't be nervous. You know what you're doing. Will, Annette and I all look at each other, and deflate our BCDs. I keep my eyes trained on Will as we descend, breathing slowly as I pinch my nose to equalize the pressure in my ears.
Less than a minute later, the wreck appears out of the dark blue water. We're already down? That didn't take long. The visibility is incredible - I can almost see the bottom of the boat, 80 feet above us. I can see the anchor line, the wreck, and the divers.
We swim through and around the wreck, enjoying the company of sand tiger sharks, enormous schools of fish, and a large stingray.
I lightly touch down on the sandy bottom. Annette and Will swim a few feet above me. I'm standing on the bottom of the ocean, 115 feet deep to be exact, and I feel wonderful. I stare up at the wreck, at the fish, and the divers. I check my pressure gauge and see that I have plenty of air. I take some photos, and think this is exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. This is divine.