Drift Dive Turned Bloody Dive

Drift Dive Turned Bloody Dive

Cozumel, Mexico, is known for drift diving with vibrant reefs, sea life, and a variety of dive sites featuring sheer walls, underwater cliffs, and a labyrinth of coral swim-throughs, with great dives to be enjoyed by all.

This day was no different. We boarded our small boat with eight divers, our divemaster and dive captain. It was a partly cloudy morning with gentle winds, and small swells of about a foot, at most. On our way to the dive site, we obtained a quick dive briefing from our divemaster. The captain slowed the boat down, everyone geared up, and we dropped over the side of the boat to enter the water.

My husband, Ken, and I paired up with his brother, Randy, who was a new diver, on his first ocean dive trip. Tiny camera in hand, Randy was excited and descended quickly. Ken and I kept pace with him, frequently checking depth and time as Randy signaled he was “okay” and took numerous pictures. It’s always fun to watch new divers experience their first ocean diving, but it can be a risk to dive with them as well.

Today’s dive profile was moderately deep, although most of our group hovered around 50-60 feet at this juncture, and a few stayed at 80 feet. Before I knew it, Randy was at about 95 feet, snapping away with this camera, so Ken and I descended towards him and signaled for him to come up slowly, grabbing his arm gently. We started to ascend. 

Our divemaster motioned to the group to come together so we could enter a swim-through in the reef in a single line at about 75 feet deep. Randy and I were at the end of the line, with Ken right ahead of me. Randy started to ascend too quickly, still fidgeting with his camera, so I decided to stay right next to him at about 50 feet and not enter the swim-through. I tried to signal Ken below we were going to level off and watch everyone proceed through the swim-through and come out the other end of the reef a few feet ahead.

I saw Ken just beneath us, looking around for us before entering the swim-through. Ken was not wearing a dive hood to protect his bald-shaved head. As he started to enter the reef opening, I caught his attention as he looked up and saw us, and the sharp coral sliced through his bare head, and he jerked.

At 75 feet underwater, light does not fully penetrate water, so color is absorbed the deeper you descend. Hence, blood is green and not red at this depth, and Ken was utterly engulfed in what looked like green ink. I swam frantically towards Ken, motioning to Randy to level off as I latched onto Ken’s BCD, beginning our ascent. We completed a quick safety stop, and Ken was calm but looked confused, shrugged his shoulders, not sure what the green substance was all around us. 

Blood was gushing from Ken's head wound underwater!

Blood was gushing from Ken's head wound underwater!

Blood appears green underwater when gushing from a head wound!

Blood appears green underwater when gushing from a head wound!

The divemaster was still leading our group through the swim-through below, so as Ken and I swam to the surface after carefully making our safety stops,  I looked around for our dive boat. Several boats were huddled together in the distance, their captains chatting away about 100 yards from us. The Captains were waiting for their divemasters to “shoot a bag” – inflate a surface marker, which signals the captain to pick up drift divers at the end of the dive – and Ken was now covered in bright red blood, so much so that he could not see well. 

I pulled my whistle off of my BCD and blew as hard as I could. All of the dive boats started their engines and headed our way; I’m sure seeing the pool of blood in the water and blood gushing from my beloved’s head was an obvious sign that something was awry.

Ken was pulled onboard our boat by the captain and his head was wrapped in a T-shirt as an attempt to stop the bleeding. Ken instructed me to retrieve his brother, so I descended quickly, located Randy, and we made our safety stop before surfacing.

The divemaster and rest of the group eventually surfaced and boarded the boat, and we made it back to shore safely. 

Ken’s head was disinfected, and the only “bandage” I had on hand that was substantial enough to cover his wound was a sanitary napkin, so we taped that on his head to keep the bleeding in check. We’ve never laughed harder!

We were able to finish our dive trip, and fortunately, Ken did not require stitches for his lacerations. Man, we were blessed! A simple accident could have turned fatal, especially with our new diver in tow.

And I learned that it is very wise to travel with plenty of sanitary pads on a dive trip.

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A Thong and a Speargun: What Could Possible Go Wrong?

A Thong and a Speargun: What Could Possible Go Wrong?

It was lobster season in Catalina Island, and our dive group was excited as we boarded what our dive operator boasted was a large, comfortable dive boat. We immediately noticed there were not enough areas for all divers on board to gear up, and tanks were crammed into a space between the galley and gangway. We later found out this “dive boat” was nothing more than a converted fishing boat. Here’s your sign.

My buddy and I were wedged with four other divers on the bow (forward) part of the boat, with nowhere to gear up. We stood up, leaning against each other on this chilly morning to don our drysuits, careful not to step onto the bags and gear of the other divers crammed on either side of us.  Seriously.

Then we saw him: a whiny, wiry guy parading about the boat in just his thong swimsuit, with his “banana hammock” on full display. Really? He was walking and talking loudly, showing off his speargun, of all things, to anyone who would pay attention. The trouble was that the gun was fully loaded, and he stumbled by us complaining that he needed to find his drysuit. Oh man.

As fate would have it, Thong Man started to put his drysuit on just two divers away from us. He propped his loaded speargun – spear aiming straight up – unsecured on the rail of the deck. We watched the gun sway back and forth slightly with the boat’s motion. Thong Man struggled with his dry suit, which was way too big for him, and next, he tied off a considerable lobster net to his weight belt, finally grabbing his speargun once he was ready to jump in the water.

By this time there was a line of scuba divers waiting for their turn to giant stride off the back of the boat. Our dive briefing was not much more than a mention of where we were – yes, we knew we were diving Catalina Island – and that we should surface when we “run out of air.” Yep, that’s correct. 

My buddy and I decided to let Thong Man and his speargun enter the water far ahead of us. Once underwater, we experienced an enjoyable kelp dive and managed to stay clear of all human hazards below the surface. This boat dive was the first and last time we would dive with this particular dive operator on Catalina Island, lobster season or not.

Only two divers in our group caught live lobsters. The only thing Thong Man caught was a cold.

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It Is Absolutely Possible to Scream in Your Regulator!

It Is Absolutely Possible to Scream in Your Regulator!

It was just before dark as we geared up for a night dive. Bari Reef in Bonaire is known for over 300 species of fish and marine life, and we always love diving here, day or night.

All gear is functioning and secured. Check.
Dive lights are powered up. Check.
Air is on. Check.

My husband, Ken, grabbed his underwater camera in its housing and we both took our fins with us as we climbed down the small ladder from shore into the water. With fins snug, dive lights on, and the last buddy check, we submerged on this quiet evening. The water was as still as glass and visibility below was about 60 to 75 feet. These were perfect conditions for a night dive.

The change from dusk to dark is still my favorite time to dive: critters that are typically tucked away during the day begin to stir and come out of hiding in search of food. Tube-Dwelling anemones sprout up from the sea floor, and Feather Duster worms spring forth from their coral houses. Octopuses, lobsters and moray eels begin to traverse the reef, while smaller grunts, wrasse, blenny, and damselfish take refuge in their coral dens and other crevices tucked away from hungry predators.

At about 45 feet, tiny ribbon worms and baby shrimps began to swarm around the huge radius of light emitted from my underwater canister light, and in turn, a few smaller jacks and damselfishes became interested in the effortless buffet. Before long, a big barracuda darted into the fray, followed by a couple of tarpon about 2 to 3 feet long; they sure didn’t want to miss the action.

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Then I saw it: a flash of large silver scales just out of reach of my light. I mean LARGE scales, each bigger than a small drink coaster. We heard that a huge tarpon liked to feed here at night, so that’s probably all it was. I’ve been in the water with big tarpon before. No worries.

I was enjoying this dive immensely, and Ken was snapping photos like crazy, with his flash beams also attracting more and more tiny fish in the process. I turned my canister light off to catch a glimpse of the full moon light as it filters from the surface into the darkness. It’s truly beautiful, peaceful, and quite romantic to dive at night. I looked ahead of me to find my beloved. Ken’s dive light flashed a few seconds ago as he was photographing an octopus, but I didn’t see his light now.

I turned my dive light back on. Here came the teeny shrimps and worms. I could feel them brush against my hands as I started to swim forward, holding my light in front of me. I felt a presence beside me, to my immediate left, just next to my head. Thinking it’s Ken, I turned my face to see him, but instead, I met the stare of an eyeball as large as a round salad plate, blacker than black, glaring right at me! I let out a scream!

I shined my light on the enormous creature to my left after I composed myself. This brute was not a sea monster, just a giant tarpon! He was easily 8 or 9 feet in length. He was HUGE! He was incredible! He swam off after he allowed me to catch a glimpse of his size and girth. Sure enough, he was here to dine! But not on me.

Ken turned his light back on and tilted his camera towards the big guy, swimming fast to try to get the shot. He was only able to capture a couple of photos as the tarpon swam past us again another couple of times. Tiny cleaner fish clung onto the side of this majestic giant, and our dive lights reflected off of his shiny scales when he made a few more passes our way.

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My dive light started to dim, letting me know that the battery was about drained for this dive, so it was time to complete our dive and ascend. No tarpon was in sight. We completed our safety stop and exited easily.

No matter how many dives we make, I always learn something new, see something different. On this dive, I learned that it is absolutely possible to scream in your regulator!

Sunset Cruise Gone Awry: Was That a Dead Body in the Harbor?

It was the final evening after our latest scuba dive trip to Bonaire, and all ten guests and staff members of our bed and breakfast met in the parking lot, ready to load into our vehicles and take the short drive to the harbor. Our destination was Slip #1, where the ample dive boat was transformed into a lovely vessel suited perfectly with snacks and beverages for a leisurely sunset cruise. 

This dinner cruise was our third such sunset cruise with this particular bed and breakfast, and we always enjoyed the cruise on past trips, an excellent precursor to a delightful home-made dinner at the end of the busy week, prepared and served by the co-owner of the bed and breakfast. The dinner was usually en enjoyable commencement to a full week of scuba diving in Bonaire.

Except for this particular night, the events took a rather unusual turn.

After everyone was aboard the boat, drinks started flowing, and light snacks were served. The boat coasted easily out of the harbor, with just a slight breeze north/northwest, and the water was glimmering in the sunset. 

Conversations were upbeat, and guests shared photos and stories of their dive excursions. Almost everyone took selfies with their cell phones or cameras, and the bed and breakfast hosts (also the Dive Masters and guides for most of the week’s boat diving) told stories, posed for photos, and laughed heartily at tales that occurred through the full week of scuba diving. 

The boat cruised steadily along the leeward side of the island. Seagulls chased the boat in search of food scraps; you can bet these birds knew the route well along this particular stretch of water from cruisers past. 

On one such trip, we were treated to two dolphins following our boat, dancing vigorously along the top of the water, then jumping high and performing back flips. Again, these critters surely knew that an occasional appetizer might depart from the cruise boat, spinning their way.

The boat circled to return to the harbor, just as the sun bid good night on the shimmering horizon. We could witness the dive lights of several shore divers in the distance, gearing up for a night dive, just in time for nocturnal creatures to stir in the depths below. It was a romantic evening.

As we entered the harbor, everyone on board was relaxed and happy. Appetites were wet for the upcoming dinner to be served back at the bed and breakfast, and a few guests had become slightly inebriated after enjoying a few too many tropical rum punch drinks. Cameras continued to flash, and chuckling filled the air. 

The water was dark and as smooth as glass in the harbor, glistening slightly in the lights of the dock. All of a sudden, our boat jolted slightly. The captain was expertly maneuvering the boat through the narrow channel, but again, another bump! We were nowhere near the slip entry.

A passenger soon let out a gasp. More guests leaned to the starboard side of the boat, where the last bump had originated. As I peered overboard to see what the commotion was all about, I observed a floating object. At first, I thought it might be a lady’s jacket or piece of clothing, along with a hat, which appeared to be bobbing around as well. 

Soon the Dive Masters and bed and breakfast staff members were speaking in rapid Dutch and German. Someone shouted for a flashlight. It was soon discovered that our boat had struck not a bundle of clothing or a sunhat, but a body. A woman’s body.

After careful navigation, the captain steered our boat into the slip, and a Dive Master jumped out on the ramp quickly, with his cell phone to his ear as he called the authorities. The body floated just beyond the reach of the walk way, but it was clearly visible as everyone exited the boat onto the dock.

The mood turned somber, and several individuals in our party stood at the edge of the dock closer to the body to garner the last look. The woman was face down in the water, arms outstretched, hat drifting away from her as the water rippled her body from our boat’s activity.

We were instructed to exit the area and walk to our vehicles and meet back at the bed and breakfast for dinner. Everyone did so, still in shock about what was just witnessed in the harbor. 

Our hosts and Dive Masters met us back at the bed and breakfast over an hour later. We enjoyed the delicious meal much later in the evening, but the dialogue was guarded. Most guests pitched in for clean up, along one last drink before turning in for the night and packing for the trip home the following morning.

We found out after our trip that the dead woman was a single, retired European local who lived on a boat docked in the harbor. She had apparently just returned from the market while our group was enjoying the sunset cruise as two fresh bags of groceries and produce were found on the floor of her boat. Her two dogs were also discovered inside her boat; the dogs lived and traveled with her, according to neighbors who knew the woman. Foul play had been ruled out as it appeared the woman had only slipped and fallen, probably hitting her head on a hard surface as she tumbled and then drowned in the water.

So, a scuba diver never knows when the unusual will occur on a dive trip, be it below the surface or during a surface interval. Dead sea life, turbulent waters, and scuba diving accidents can be an unfortunate, unexpected occurrence. Dead bodies, not so much.