Note: This is a revised draft of yesterday’s post, which I felt was somewhat incoherent and too repetitious at certain points. I’m more satisfied with this version.
My wife and I first met on a New England Aquarium Dive Club scuba dive on August 2nd 1987. We were paired together as dive buddies for a shore dive at a site called Cathedral Rocks in the ocean waters off of Rockport, a small town on Cape Ann, on the north shore of Massachusetts.
When I arrived that morning at North Shore Scuba, a dive shop in Danvers, MA, the club was arranging for car pooling to the site of the shore dive in Rockport. We tried to car pool as much as possible, because the town made the areas around our favorite dive sites No Parking Zones, and would ticket any car they found there. I’d already had my share of parking tickets that summer, so when a woman offered to drive another diver to the site, I was quick to accept.
As I thanked her and began loading my gear in the back of her car, I noticed and briefly admired her long and shapely legs. She was tall and slender, standing about 5′ 8″. Her straight dark brown hair was parted in the middle with bangs, and the length cut just above her shoulders. She wore large lens glasses that emphasized a very serious expression on her face, and she looked somewhat nervous. At first glance, she seemed relatively unremarkable to me. I was just grateful for the ride, and looking forward to going diving.
After arriving at our dive site and parking, we carried down our heavily laden dive gear, hearing the occasional sharp and clear clanging sound of a scuba tank banging on a rock. Cathedral Rocks was well named, but looked more like the ruins of a cathedral. A place with great granite ledges down below a high field of tumbled down, big round and broken angular quarried granite boulders – a pile of large chunks of rock from a former stone quarry all heading down into the sea in a frozen avalanche that continued falling underwater.
Just lugging all our dive gear down the steep pile of rocks to get to where we would begin our dive was hard work, so once we were there we took a break and rested.
My dive buddy and I discussed our dive plan, and reviewed our mutual understanding of hand signals and the basic safety procedures we would follow during our dive. She was more relaxed now, and she seemed happy, bright, and even a little charming. I noticed that she had a very subtle but sharp sense of humor, and just in normal conversation she’d make these little jokes that you’d miss altogether, if you weren’t paying close attention. I found myself pleasantly amused by her little quips and word play, and also noticed that with her glasses off, she had very pretty hazel green eyes, that danced and sparkled as she spoke. I was beginning to think of her as more than just a free ride to a dive site.
Geared up and ready now, we were heavily burdened by the crush of the weight of dry land gravity, as we struggled with nearly 80 pounds of scuba tanks, lead weights and everything else required to survive diving the cold ocean waters of New England. No wonder that we hoped for relief soon in the weightlessness of water.
We approached the point of our departure, one first to be followed by the other in turn, standing and then starting with one neoprene covered leg raised up and forward, pointing to the sea with a long widened outward dive fin, then giant striding down into the ocean water from off a flat rock ledge, partially sheltered from incoming waves by massive brown granite boulders looming above and to the right side.
Both of us in our own turn plunging five feet down underwater, with a whooshing water sound in our ears, then rising buoyantly back upward while enveloped in an effervescently singing multitude of silver bubbles and bobbing up to break the surface, as the multitude of bubbles surfaces with us, creating a fizzing sound as thousands of tiny and small bubbles rush up from the water into the air around us, and then begin to ebb and go calm.
The green sea around us is now sun sparkled with bright white highlights, the surface so fluidly smooth in motion, rippling, and waving, with a subtle slight rise and fall like a living thing, with floating and changeable island shapes of the hissing froth of white sea foam, that floats in swirls and spinning circles as it dissipates.
We kicked on the surface to about thirty feet away from the ledge, to get out of the surf zone. I stopped and floated motionless on the surface to see which direction the current would cause me to drift, while watching my compass. The current was headed Northwest, so I set a compass heading for Southeast. Our dive plan was a simple “out and back”. We would swim out against the current, until one of us was down to half a tank of air supply, and then we would turn around and swim back with the current, which would help us along and make our swim less tiring as we made the trip back to our starting point.
We are now floating as we face each other, and then our eyes inside glass and silicone face masks meet, holding each others gaze intently; our eyes silently asking ‘Are you OK?’ and watching for any subtle hint one way or the other. Then we exchange the confirming OK hand signals, followed by both of us with a thumb up and then inverted down, and we make our descent without interruption or difficulty, as gentle air pressure presses and pushes upward from closed nostrils into ears now gently cleared by air matching ambient water pressure.
I listened to my regulator make a low rushing sound as I inhaled the life sustaining air, and as I exhaled, I heard the muffled rumbling of my bubbles as they raced out the sides of the exhaust ports. I watched them as they formed large and small silver orbs that flew upwards… They were not round, but long flattened oval shapes, pushed in by the weight of the water pressure around them.
At 25 feet down we found the bottom, with scattered boulders that looked like they were wearing long braids of brown and olive Rock weed, which undulated back and forth from the rolling push of the waves passing overhead. The visibility was good… about 25 feet, which in New England waters is better than average, and much better than the poor visibility that is all too frequently a problem for divers in New England.
A large Striped Bass swam quickly by us as we hovered just above the bottom. Shafts of bright sunlight illuminated the sea floor, giving everything a magical sunlit glow. Crabs scuttled across the rocks and stones, dodging the pin cushion spines of green sea urchins, and then quickly hiding in the abundant sea weed.
Following the direction of our compass heading, we headed farther out while gradually getting deeper, until we were at our planned maximum depth of 60 feet. Our dive was going very well, both of us enjoying our submerged exploration of the Atlantic Ocean’s deep green cold water realm; green with a wealth of plankton and rich with nutrients that lessened our visibility, but also supported great schools of fish, and the fisheries that have been supporting and feeding the human population here since early colonial times, and feeding Native Americans for thousands of years earlier.
Wide lengths of flat and smooth surfaced tough and rubbery kelp with rippled edges, colored a rich deep brown with a hint of copper red, are curled up in jumbled piles on the bottom, or stretched out long and flowing in the cold water current; undulating in underwater waves of motion.
Curious schools of speckled brown, dark brown, and almost black Cunner fish gathered around us, and approached closely, seeming unafraid as their many pairs of curious fish eyes stared into our own, as if they were thinking that these two weird looking, awkwardly swimming, and very noisy big bubble making things, are the main attraction to see here today.
Oval round flat fish with twin top sided eyes materialize in the blink of an eye, from out of the much larger and matching patterned flatness beneath, and then fly away fast above the bottom.
Undersized lobsters march around the bottom like armored tanks with claws extended defiantly forward, and then militantly raised up and ready to fight the alien diving creature, in spite of it being a thousand times bigger. But larger lobsters are never seen so foolishly brazen and combative out in the open places during the day. They’d rather look out from outwardly inaccessible tight and confined spaces, only leaving their protective places to march around at night; which is how these larger lobsters got larger…
The dimpled and multi-pinpointed long arms of salad plate sized starfish in colors of orange, purple and red, slowly flow forward on thousands of tiny tube like feet, all marching like a tiny sized but vastly large numbered army, as they march over sprawling populations of black shelled mussel beds, with individuals clustered and packed tightly together, by using secret mussel superglue to anchor their beds, and bonding with the strength of rock fused together with the surface of the rocks they make their permanent home.
But now starfish arms are hugging mussel shells in a lethal embrace, and the multitude of small feet under the arms all use their little suction cupped foot soles to stick with a ruthless perma-bond to the shells of mussels, and then slowly, relentlessly, and inevitably pry open the formerly locked tight mussel shells, and then push their starfish stomachs inside out into the opened breach, and the inner mussel is digested and consumed, leaving behind only empty shells with shiny iridescent pearl inner silver linings; an inner beauty only revealed after the death and disappearance of the creator.
Big bright orange and also white Sea Anemones also claim their places on the rocks, shaped like large stalks of broccoli, except the large spreading heads are full of delicate frilly feathers that wave gently back and forth, straining plankton from the water for food.
After about 30 minutes of bottom time, I motioned to my buddy to check her tank pressure gauge, and she showed me that she had just about half a tank of air left. I was at about 2/3rds myself, so I signaled for us to turn around and start heading back. But soon I knew that something was wrong… Within minutes, I noticed that it was much harder to swim in the direction of Northwest, which was supposed to be with the current, but now seemed like we were swimming against it. I double checked my compass to be sure we had really reversed direction, and were swimming Northwest. The compass didn’t lie… we were swimming Northwest.
I motioned to my buddy to stop moving and just hang suspended for a minute, while I did the same. The current pushed us Southeast… Somehow it had changed in the opposite direction, since we began the dive. We had been swimming with the current for some time, and God only knew how far we were from our entry point. I took a long deep breath as I thought of having to swim a much greater distance back against the current. This was not good.
On an “out and back” dive plan like ours, divers almost never swim with the current on the way out, since the current might take them a lot farther away from their starting point than they have planned for. The consequence is that when it’s time to turn around after having used up half of their air supply, the divers have to swim a much longer distance against the current to return to their starting point. This can cause problems due to the greater physical effort needed to swim back, causing higher levels of fatigue, which can result in using up the second half of their air supply too quickly, while not covering enough distance to return to the starting point.
So now we were faced with not only a greater distance to swim back, but also swimming that greater distance back against the current, which would be a lot more strenuous and tiring. When the current reversed direction, it created a situation that was the complete opposite of what we had planned for, to keep our dive plan within safe limits for air consumption and our level of physical exertion. Our dive had suddenly become much harder than we had expected.
But I still wasn’t seriously worried about our situation, since the worst thing that I thought would happen, is that we’d probably run low on air farther away from where we had planned we’d be, and then we would have to ascend to the surface, and surface swim while using our snorkels the rest of the longer distance back. It takes more effort to surface swim in full scuba gear breathing with a snorkel than it does to swim underwater while breathing with scuba, so it would be even more of a drain on our energy and cause even greater fatigue. But I thought that we’d still be okay and just be very tired at the end of the dive. I wasn’t happy about this, but I didn’t think it was a real danger.
But while we were underwater, there was a very sudden and unexpected severe change in the weather farther offshore, causing much rougher ocean conditions on the surface. Down at 60 feet of depth underwater, we were unaware of what was happening with the weather and surface conditions. We didn’t know yet, that the rough seas combined with the problems caused by the current changing direction had now created a much more hazardous situation. But we wouldn’t know about the true danger we were in until a lot later, after the second change for the worse during our dive had already started.
Our dive went from going smoothly and safely the way we had planned it, to changing into a much more difficult dive in a way that was completely unexpected. Then our circumstances changed again to create a dangerous situation that rapidly became a very serious diving emergency. Swimming the much longer distance back against the current even while still underwater, my dive buddy became increasingly fatigued and this caused her to breathe hard and rapidly, resulting in a very rapid depletion of her remaining air supply as she was becoming exhausted.
As soon as I noticed the increasingly slow pace of her weakened and awkward swimming, I was very concerned for her. I signaled for her to show me her tank gauge, and I was very alarmed when I realized that she was going to run out of air in less than 10 minutes. I signaled to her that we were going to head for the surface together, and we began a slow and controlled accent of 60 feet as I held onto her arm so she wouldn’t go into an uncontrolled and fast accent which can be very dangerous.
Our heads broke the surface together, only then to discover how bad the surface conditions had become while we had been underwater.
When my buddy saw the wild waves and surging chaos of the raging ocean all around us, her eyes instantly went wide open in an unmistakable sign of panic. She pulled away from me as she spit out her regulator and yanked her face mask up off her face and onto her forehead, her terrified face turned chin upward as she frantically gasped for air. I kicked hard and lunged towards her as she began to sink back underwater; her mind freezing in a full panic and unable to think of inflating her buoyancy vest. She would have quickly disappeared and drowned if I had not been within arms reach to help her.
I pulled her back up and grabbed the power inflator on her vest to fill it with air and keep her from sinking, and I pulled her mask back down on her face, checking the mask strap to be sure it was in place around the back of her head and not up and loose above it. I gave her my alternate regulator so she could breathe from the air in my tank. I still had enough air in my tank for both of us, which was crucial because big white capped waves were rolling over us and we needed to breathe from our regulators instead of our snorkels, to avoid choking on a wind pipe full of sea water.
I grabbed her arm under the shoulder with mine, so I could keep her close to me and use my strength to help her swim through the big rolling waves that raced over and on past us toward the rocky coastline. The grey white crested surf made a loud deep booming and whooshing sound as it pounded large granite ledges with explosions of white water and spray thrown high in the air above, as the big waves crashed against the rocks.
It was very difficult to see above the rolling swells and white caps as I rose up and down in the endless procession of waves and troughs, and very hard to locate a place where we could come back to shore safely, without the raging surf smashing us into the rocks. I was tempted to let my own fear flood over me like the waves, but I willed my mind to be emotionless, slamming the door shut to any feelings of fear.
My dive training had taught me that fear and panic are the leading causes of diving fatalities, and that to give in to fear now would cost me my ability to think clearly and result in death for both of us. I willed my mind into a state of totally concentrated focus, and focused on one thing only. Total focus on information from my eyes, as they searched the shore for a visual image I could identify as a safe place for us to swim in close enough to get out of the water, without us getting killed.
I let go of her for just a few seconds so I could kick my fins hard and propel myself upwards to see above the crests of the waves. After repeating this move several times, I finally saw a small round stone beach in between two large granite ledges, and I knew this was where we had our best chance to get out of the water and back on shore, and escape the deadly disaster of being swept up into the big waves and dashed against the rocks.
I got Jean’s attention and took my regulator out of my mouth just long enough to tell her that I found a safe place to land, and we were headed in. I got us in closer, but waited for the biggest waves to roll past us. Then we grabbed hands and swam like hell for that beach! As soon as my knees landed on the round stones, I grabbed Jean and pulled her along with me until we were well above the high water mark. Out of the reach of the biggest waves and finally out of danger.
Thank God we made it in to that small round stone beach, where we could get back on shore safe and unharmed. We had escaped one of the worst diving emergencies I’ve ever been through. I was less concerned about myself, but I was really worried about Jean while we were still stuck out there, and I knew I needed to get her on shore as soon as I possibly could. She was exhausted and panicked, and I think she was getting borderline hypothermia as well, which could have caused her to black out and go unconscious. However much I was able to close my mind to my fears, I know there was still one big fear that was still in there. I was really scared that I might lose my dive buddy, and I knew that would be a tragedy that I’d carry with me for the rest of my life, if the worst had happened that day.
But it didn’t…
I guess you could say that it was a very dramatic first date, and my effort to save my dive buddy’s life made a big impression on her. She also impressed me as a woman whom I wanted to know better, so I asked her out on a second date that was a lot more fun for her, since it didn’t put her life in danger. The second date went very well, so there were more dates to follow. We fell in love, and within a year we were living together, and a year after that, we were engaged to be married. We got married six months later, and now 21 years later, we’re still married.
Things aren’t perfect, and we have our issues and problems just like all couples do, and we’ve faced some very serious problems in the past, both within our relationship, and external to it. We’ve had our share of fights loud enough to raise the roof and wake up the neighbors at 2 am, but overall, our marriage has been good to us.
So I guess I can say that it’s been my experience, that if a man wants to find a love that will last for over 21 years running, with a woman who will become his one and true soul mate, his best friend, and his passionate lover – for whom the flame still burns just as bright now over 21 years later, as that flame burned bright and hot in the very beginning of the first days and nights when that lovers torch was kindled and set on fire… well, here’s the secret:
Find an attractive woman with that kind of potential, and get her into a terrifying and dangerous situation in which she almost drowns, and then save her life. Now I know it sounds rather bizarre and unorthodox, but I know for a fact that it worked for me. So give it a try and let me know how you make out.
Just don’t forget the importance of the life saving part – cause if you don’t get that part right, it’s guaranteed to not work out.
Yes, I will joke about almost anything, and yes of course, in that last paragraph before the final sentence above – I’m kidding!!! Not about the events in this story, because it is all absolutely true. But putting a woman in a situation in which she almost drowns, as a strategy to get her to marry you and become your life long lover and companion, is just WAY too risky, and I don’t want other guys out there to try it!