28 June 2013

Diver Down: The Forbidden Isle, Pt. 4

We scanned the surface looking for Doug's sausage...

Let me back up. This is where it starts to get surreal and profoundly emotional, and perhaps that's why I find it so hard to write about.

As I've mentioned, you want to hike or tour with me. Not the least of the reasons is that I have incredibly sharp, quick vision, even with presbyopic glasses. If there is wildlife to be spotted—be it a monkey or exotic bird in a tree, a Cape buffalo in the forest, a raptor on a wire or in the air, a snake in the weeds, a turtle or a dolphin or a shark on the surface of the ocean, or a cool fish undersea—it's a good bet I'm going to be the first to see it. Trained local guides have all remarked on this gift of mine. It's happened time and time again on hikes, car rides (even if I'm driving), boat rides, bus tours, whatever. I'm a great spotter. You have to take my word for this.

So, when we started circling the dive site, without saying anything to anyone, I went up to the top deck with the captain and one of the other dive masters and stationed myself at one side and began scanning the water. Most of the others, except eldest son, Wisdomie (who was keenly aware of what was happening), were down below. Every time I saw the shadow of a breaking wave or a bird bouncing around on top of the ocean, adrenaline rushed to my brain, and I focused like a laser on the object trying to process the visual clues until, hope against hope, I could rule it out as not Doug.

Now it bears telling, we were all hoping—it was unsaid, but everyone on the crew and Wisdomie and I knew—that we wouldn't find a dark object floating on the swells. Or even a shiny object. Whenever you do a drift dive, or a dive where there's a risk of some current, you take down with you what's called a Scuba safety sausage: a large, long, brightly colored—usually yellow, red, or orange—inflatable bladder that floats up to the surface so that bubble watchers and other boaters will be alerted that there's a diver down, often at a safety stop about 15' below the surface. We were hoping to spot Doug's sausage. That would mean, of course, that he'd deployed it and was floating close by waiting for us to pick him up. Seeing a dark or a shiny floating object would mean a person floating face up or face down (tanks flashing in the sunlight).

After circling the dive site a number of times, the captain and crew analyzed the currents and headed downstream while one of the dive masters went down and searched the area where Doug had last been seen. We rode for 10-15 minutes more, I would guess, then they realized they had to call in the Coast Guard. The nearest CG helicopters had to be deployed all the way from Oahu. As well, there was a tourist catamaran nearby on Lehua, picnicking and snorkeling. The captain hailed them on the radio and alerted them that we had a diver down, eventually enlisting them in co-ordinating the search.

Meanwhile, the only thing I'm doing is scanning the ocean. I borrowed the captain's binoculars and scoured the inner rim of the volcanic rock edge of Lehua hoping Doug had washed up on or against it, though the surf was rough and the rocks really jagged. I was afraid that if he was on the rocks, it was not voluntarily. Because the swells were growing as the sun got hotter, the binoculars proved difficult. Nevertheless, I persisted, running them along the entire length of the comma several times. As time passed, it became ever more apparent, though again unsaid, that this wasn't just a case of a guy who was floating around nearby waiting to be picked up by us. Our search was becoming more desperate by the moment.

I stayed in my place on the upper deck as we rode down and back up the current stream from the dive site scanning the back quadrant of the ocean on the starboard side of the boat. Others had stationed themselves at other quadrants and the captain had the sweep of the bow. It's times like this, when you're searching, hoping to spot one tiny thing, that you realize just how vast the ocean is and how little you in your boat are. As I said before, the Pacific stretched from Lehua all the way to the Aleutians. For our purposes, there was so much water between where I was standing on the boat and the edges of my, albeit sharp, vision. So much information to process. It felt overwhelming and overwhelmingly bleak.

As I mentioned, I have a tendency to get seasick. There was a lot of swell, and the boat was bouncing around quite a bit, but the sickness in the pit of my stomach that morning had nothing to do with the ocean. The longer we searched, the sicker I felt.

Now, for you non-divers, this kind of thing just doesn't happen with professional organizations. One of the crew members told me he'd been leading dives here for over 20 years and never heard of anything like this. The crew were shell-shocked, questioning themselves and their competence, wondering how this could've possibly happened, what, if anything, they'd done wrong, how this guy had simply vanished. Worried sick, like me.

Some of the crew suited up and decided to go down a second time and re-swim the dive course. They wanted to see if the hinky currents had dragged Doug down under a ledge they'd all swam across earlier. They were worried that maybe he'd become negatively buoyant or gotten entangled below.

This was where I became emotional. Wisdomie, who as I've mentioned is a 23-year old Scuba Instructor and certified Rescue Diver living in Honolulu, stepped up and said he wanted to go down with them to help in case they got in trouble. At first they refused because he wasn't an employee of the dive shop and didn't know the waters. But he convinced them of his bona fides, and they recognized the value of his idea to act as a safety back stop. He had no duty to undertake an unplanned, dangerous rescue dive mission at a strange dive site off the Forbidden Isle of Ni'ihau in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, but he did it. He has a giant heart. I was so proud I was moved to tears. In my eyes, at that moment, I knew he'd become a man. I recognized at once his competence and his courage and, despite my paternal feelings and reservations, did not object. I merely said to him as he was about to jump in, "Be careful, Son. I love you."

[to be cont'd]

Not plastic flowers
Wizened face in the cliff side?
Wisdoc, parasol in hand, through the forest 
Fresh Lychees!!! for the hike
Jim H. fiddling with the camera while he walks
The beach from "The Descendants" movie
Jim H's muddy Vibram 5 Fingers after a short hike
Wisdomie and Wesdom rinsing theirs off


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Nice pics!

Do they fit those boots to your toes?

Randal Graves said...

Cliffhangers are for teevee, man.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

1) somebody i met in a yoga and meditation class recently had footwear of a similar design - maybe it's the wave of the future

2) with regards to cliffhangers - most of dickens' books were published as serials, and in our own (i.e. 20th) century a book that i read, serialized in the washington post, which had a great impact on me - even though or maybe especially because i was only ten at the time - was neville shute's "on the beach" - in "the untold history of the united states" by oliver stone and peter kuznick they state that this book had a great impact in showing the public how psychotic the nuclear arms race was