Vertical and Vomiting – Boat Diving in Rough Seas
What do you get when you combine rowdy swells and a large group of new Open Water scuba divers out for their first certifying dive in stormy conditions?
It was spring in Cozumel, which means high winds and frequent rain, often enough for the Harbor Master to disallow all small vessels less than 40 feet long from departing shore for the dive sites. This affects most scuba operators in Cozumel, who own and transport their divers only in small, fast boats.
The weather had been less than ideal for three days, which meant that divers were antsy to get wet and local dive operators were eager to make up for lost revenue. The Harbor Master announced yet another morning for small boats to remain docked since there were moderate winds, gray skies and decent waves dancing to the shore.
Our dive operator had connections with one hefty boat on the island, however – a nice 42-feet closed cabin double decker – and it was time to make a decision about whether or not to take out his group of about 15 Japanese divers, all new Open Water divers, eager to make their first certifying ocean dive, along with several of us who had been patiently waiting to dive this week while waiting out the storms. The call was made and every diver was eager to go out on the bigger boat, which could handle larger swells with ease. The sun was also starting to peak out from behind the thick clouds, so everyone was excited and ready to roll.
The short ride out to sea was surely bumpy, and gearing up was tricky, even with almost everything fastened down tight. Our first dive site was Santa Rosa Wall, one of my favorites sites on Cozumel, renowned for its beautiful steep wall, amazing sea life and several swim-throughs.
The 15 new divers were donning their suits and getting their gear set up, all with the assistance of one English-Japanese speaking translator and three Cozumel dive instructors. While waiting to giant stride into the water, several new divers leaned over the side of the boat, heaving up their breakfasts, appearing quite disheveled. Many in the group looked pale, but every single person jumped into the water off the back of our large boat. We were impressed!
My dive buddy and I were the first off the boat, so we could observe all new divers enter the water before we submerged. I saw one new diver begin to vomit just as she entered the water. An instructor assisted her as she washed her face, spoke excitedly to her translator – who stayed on the boat and did not dive – and finally gave the okay to descend. Swells were about two or three feet with moderate winds, so we descended quickly.
New divers are fun to watch underwater as they flail about, fiddle with their gear and look around in utter amazement. What a great reminder that most of us began our dive journeys just like this, never to be the same again.
The sea was calmer underwater, although visibility was only about 40 to 50 feet. Some of the new divers communicated with rapid hand signals to each other and to the instructors while being carried gently by the drift along the spectacular Santa Rosa Wall. We enjoyed swimming with several sea turtles, a school of Snappers, and Angel fish. The current was moderate and the dive ended fairly quickly as many of the new divers became low on air. All in all, the group as a whole did well and did not run into any major trouble.
It was a challenge to board the boat in the choppy water, and back on board, several of the new divers headed directly for the side of the boat to vomit yet again, some still fully geared up.
We finished the afternoon by diving Paradise Reef, closer to shore with less lively waters. The air smelled of the sea – and emesis – but just two of the new divers did not get back into the water with us for the second dive. Again, we were very impressed.
It was just another day of spring diving in paradise, and we admired these new divers from another country, another culture, who were determined to learn to scuba dive, feeding fish along the way.