|[click pics to embiggen]|
Just off Ni'ihau is a tiny comma of land jutting up out of the Pacific. Lehua is an uninhabited crescent rim of an extinct volcano. It is noted for its diving. And it was for that purpose 11 of us, not including dive leaders, set out on Friday morning, May 24.
There is nothing between Lehua and the Aleutian Islands, and it was the morning after the full moon.
|Lehua and Ni'ihau|
I was aware that this dive at Keyhole, a magnificent spot on the eastern, smaller prong of Lehua, was going to be a challenge. There would be some current, so we would do a drift dive along the edge of the volcano rim at about 85'. We would have the opportunity to see up to five kinds of sharks, manta and eagle rays, tons of large (ubiquitous) sea turtles and friendly, tropical reef fish, and possibly endangered Monk Seals, plus magical underwater topography.
I had no trouble equalizing the pressure in my ears and descending, and before I knew it I was down about 65' and in contact with my group alongside the wall. The current pressed us on. But, and this is the point about the full moon, a down-swelling current pushed me down to over 100' before I knew what was happening. I was below the group and had to work to elevate. The next thing I knew, however, I was above them. I checked my depth gauge and found I was at 40'. Now I was behind my group. I had never had such trouble with my buoyancy. I tried to swim swim back down to the group, even kicking my fins, but couldn't make any progress against the upswell. And all of a sudden I found myself surfacing.
Never, NEVER, had I had such a lack of control. I'm a strong swimmer and experienced diver, but a hinky, upswelling, full moon, Pacific current probably sweeping down unimpeded from Alaska and bouncing around within the concave walls of Lehua that morning, pushed me up to the surface against my will in what felt like an instant.
I have to say, I was intimidated. The Pacific is a big, strong ocean. But it was my first dive of the day, and I hadn't been down long enough to have to worry about the bends.
I clambered back into the boat—swells were growing and were 5'+ at this point—and waited for my group to ascend. Wisdoc and Wisdaughter were concerned because they thought they'd lost me somewhere down there. Wisdomie and our Dive Master had seen my ascent and knew I was okay.
But my bailing on the dive due to some freaky current was not the reason we made the newspapers that day. Nor the reason the Coast Guard had to scramble helicopters from all the way out of Oahu. As I said, 11 of us went down that morning. Only 10 came up.
[to be continued]