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Saturday 16 Nov 2013
Cozumel, Mexico

Lessons learned

Christina and I both wanted to do a night dive, so we saved our dives today for after lunch.  Eric, our usual DM, had gone out in the morning, so we were diving with a new DM, whose name we barely caught.  Jorge, the young trainee, was there again.  It didn’t start well, as the DM forgot to bring the torches for the night dive, so we had to go back for them. 

When we got out on the boat, we then discovered some of the gear had been swapped around and Christina’s fins had been replaced with a smaller size.  Lesson learned: always double check your own gear rather than taking someone else’s word for it. 

As Jorge set the tanks up, we noticed that one regulator was hissing, implying it was not right, even though all the pieces were connected properly.  When he saw the look on our faces, he said not to worry, as he’d be using that one himself.  We geared up and did our buddy checks, only to discover Christina’s gauge wasn’t working properly either.  When you take a breath, the needle should not flicker.  If it does, there is a problem with it and you won’t be able to rely on an accurate reading.  Christina’s needle shot all the way across and back up with each breath.  Jorge tried to reassure her, saying he’d dived with it that morning and it had been fine, but we both refuse to use it.  It seemed Jorge was supposed to have swapped it over at lunchtime, but had forgotten.  As they had also forgotten to bring any spare gear on the boat, we had little other choice but for Christina to use the hissing gauge and Jorge to continue with the faulty one.  Not a great situation, and in hindsight we should have just refused, but we were over an hour away from getting any replacements and we would lose the light if we went back to port.  So, we decided to dive with what we had.  Lesson learned: check all gear before going out and don't rely on others to do it for you.

We were there to see a wreck of a large fishing boat, which had been scuttled sitting upright on the seabed.  The hull was open in several places and it was possible to swim through the wreck and see the rooms inside if we wanted.  As before, neither Christina nor I was comfortable going into enclosed spaces while diving, so the DM pretty much washed his hands of us and concentrated on Robin instead, who was up for almost anything.  Jorge stayed with us on the outside of the ship, exploring the decks, the wheel house, and taking photos of us pulling Titanic poses on the tip of the bow (well, it would have been rude not to!). 

All was fine for about 40 minutes, until Christina swam towards me indicating she was low on air.  I was surprised she’d got through her tank so quickly, as I still had over a third left.  I offered her my octopus (second-stage regulator, which allows a second person to share my tank), but she declined, and we headed for the static line at the back of the boat ready to ascend.  Two minutes later, she grabbed my fin and indicated she was out of air completely, so I quickly gave her my second and made sure she was calm and breathing normally again.  We swam to the line together and ascended slowly to 5m.  The DM recognised we were breathing off the same tank, but made no move to approach or check we were ok, just indicated we should do our safety stop and let Jorge take care of it.  Jorge was trying to help, but at this point we were under control and far more trusting of each other than him.   During our safety stop, I did swap Christina onto Jorge’s second as he still had more air left than me.  When we reached the surface, Christina explained that she’d been breathing normally, but when she checked her gauge, she saw it flicker and suddenly drop from over 1000 psi to under 300 psi in an instant.  She thought she still had some air, which was why she declined my second initially, but then felt the air run out completely.  Thankfully, we had been close enough to each other that she could get my attention straight away.

It was quite a scary situation, but we were both pleased that we’d kept our heads and followed the procedure calmly, carrying out a straightforward buddy rescue without any problem.  Jorge had done his best, but with only 12 dives, he had far less experience than either of us and should never have been put in that situation himself.  The DM was useless, didn’t seem particularly interested that their faulty equipment and the lack of spares on board had caused the situation in the first place.

Understandably, Christina did not want to do the night dive after that.  Despite staying calm under the water, she was still quite shaken up.  There was certainly no way she would dive with the same equipment again and I wasn’t prepared to leave her alone for an hour in the dark while we dived again.  I had no faith in the DM either, especially on a night dive, after his lack of participation in the situation.  We talked over several options, and eventually settled for them dropping us off at one of the bars on the beach while they took Robin for the night dive.  Christina and I were forced to take advantage of Happy Hour beers and nachos with an enormous plate of guacamole while the sun set… aw, shucks!

Back at Eco-divers, we met up with the owner.  He’d obviously been briefed about what had happened, but to our surprise, he met us straight on the defensive.  He was only prepared to offer us a 30% refund on the grounds that we’d ‘chosen’ not to do the second dive despite being offered the DM’s regulator instead.  I stepped in and told him calmly and clearly that the DM had done no such thing, he’d unfairly left it all to Jorge to handle.  I pointed out the lack of organisation on their part that had led us to cut the first dive short and miss out on the second.  I was the only one who had ‘chosen’ not to do the second dive, but only to make sure Christina wasn’t left alone and out of distrust for the DM, Christina certainly hadn’t had any choice. 

Eventually, Kristin moved her husband to one side and spoke to us more rationally.  As always, it is not so much about something going wrong, but how it is handled if it does.  Up until this point, we’d had a great time diving with them and had already arranged to dive the next day.  Kristin agreed a 50% refund for Christina and gave us both a discount on the following day’s diving along with free photos.  We decided to give them one last chance as long as we could dive with Eric again, instead of this new guy, which was agreed.  I'm not sure if it was the best decision, but we felt ok about it when we left the shop.  Nobody had been hurt and we'd both learned a few lessons about responsible diving from today.

 

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #2 Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica

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I met Christina in April. We travelled a bit of Australia together and both learned to dive. Now we're off to Mexico and Belize to see what the Caribbean and the Great Mesoamerican Reef have to offer, before I head down to Costa Rica for 10 days.

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