Drinking, Diving and Devil’s Throat
Believe it or not, there are scuba divers who think it’s amusing to be completely hung over, gear up for an advanced dive and live to tell about it! Such individuals comprise the daft minority of incredibly foolish divers like two such imbeciles we had to dive with on a dive trip in Cozumel, Mexico.
It was spring in Cozumel, which means the conditions can vary greatly from one day to the next, even from morning to afternoon. Most dive operators take their groups out in small, fast dive boats, preferring to transport their customers to the dive sites earlier in the day when winds and surf are usually more mild. If winds and conditions are severe, the Cozumel Harbor Master will close the harbor and forbid all small water craft (less than 40 feet) from being on the water.
On this particular trip, conditions in Cozumel had indeed been less than ideal for a couple of days, which meant the Harbor Master had closed the harbor for most of two days. Finally, on the third morning of our trip, winds had died down and our dive operator put us in a small boat with 10 divers total, including me and my trusted dive buddy. Most divers on this particular boat were experienced, or so they claimed.
Our dive site destination was Punta Sur Deep, more commonly called Devil’s Throat, which is actually a beautiful dive site consisting of a vast, steep wall on the southern end of Cozumel Island. This is a deep dive with a typical strong current. At about 60 feet the sand begins to slope into an enormous coral mound consisting of a large cave through which divers can enter a tunnel at about 90 feet. The tunnel opening is known as the Devil’s Throat; this tunnel is dark and narrow and slopes downward with an opening into the blue abyss at about 130 feet.
There were two loud divers on our boat who were bragging about how much Tequila they had consumed the night before, showing each other their new dive computers and talking crap the whole boat ride out. It was obvious they were hung over, and my dive buddy and I checked our gear and tried to tune them out the best we could.
Our divemaster fired rapid instructions to the boat captain: hurry to the dive site before two other dive boats we could see on approach in the distance. We were instructed to gear up and get ready to jump in.
Our dive brief was quick, and the Loud Mouths bragged about other dives they had done while putting on their gear. Winds had picked up a little, and white caps were about one to two feet high. My buddy and I checked each other one final time before we jumped into the water and began our descent. We were the last ones off the boat.
Our small group was swimming hard in the current trying to keep up with our divemaster who was racing towards Devil’s Throat; it was then obvious he was trying to get our group to the tunnel entrance before the other two dive boats who had since deposited all of their divers into the water. My buddy and I descended slower than our group as my ears needed extra time to equalize and my buddy was taking pictures. We were well aware of the time constraints, however, and the strong current on this deeper dive.
As we approached the entrance to Devil’s Throat, we let Loud Mouths go ahead of us as they crammed into the tunnel, stirring up sand and minimizing visibility. Divers were packed one right after the other into Devil’s Throat, as the divers from the other two dive boats were also trying to enter the tunnel right ahead of and behind our small group. It was a diver traffic jam at 90 feet!
My dive buddy checked his camera, and just as I was about to enter Devil’s Throat, I felt a hard push on my fins. I turned around and a diver behind me was trying to push me inside the tunnel, motioning rapidly for me to move forward! I decided right then and there that I was not going to be shoved into this tunnel with Loud Mouths in front of me and the rude diver behind me, so I moved out of the way and motioned to my buddy that I wanted to ascend.
My buddy grabbed my hand, and I signaled that I was okay, and we moved away from the entrance and began a slow ascent. We leveled off at about 75 feet, just above the huge coral mound of Punta Sur.
The dive was beautiful. We saw two large black tip reef sharks, a couple of turtles, and several schools of jacks and mackerel. We let the drift take us gracefully along the top of the reef, staying mostly about 65 to 75 feet, keeping an eye on the bubbles deep below us that we could see trickling out of Punta Sur. As we completed our dive, we made our safety stop, coming up with plenty of air.
On the surface we inflated our surface marker and our boat came right to us. We were the first divers on the boat. The captain looked perplexed but pulled us in the boat.
In about a half hour, the rest of our group started to board the boat, with the Loud Mouths looking disheveled, fatigued and breathless. Once everyone was aboard, the Loud Mouths lit up their cigarettes and asked why their dive computers were still “making so much noise!” Both Loud Mouths were nauseated and looked terrible on the ride back to shore. They complained of not feeling well and were the first to be dropped off at their pier. The other divers were also laughing about how their computers “went off!”
We found out later that the Loud Mouths had ascended too rapidly after exiting Devil’s Throat at about 140 feet – which is beyond recreational dive limits to start with – thereby setting off the decompression alarm on their dive computers. They had not even conducted any decompression stops and were led back to the boat with the divemaster’s assistance, with their computers yelping the entire time!
Some day we’d love to go back and dive Devil’s Throat, but we will do so when conditions are good, we aren’t diving with inebriated idiots, and we won’t get shoved into the tunnel by other divers. We’ll also plan to make it a decompression dive, just to be on the safe side.