Posted by: asolare | 25/06/2008

Avoiding near death experience is all a matter of judgement!

It is raining again! This time we have the full works; thunder, lightening and torrential rain. As the front goes through the wind has risen briefly to 35 knots, just long enough to consider starting the engine to ease pressure on our mooring. However, we are in a perfect place, we have taken one of Fred Fisher’s moorings for the night in Viani Bay, and with our lightening conductors out we should be safe enough.

The compressor is on again, but somehow the noise seems less, maybe I am getting used to it’s diligent hammering or maybe the results of its work make the whole process more agreeable. Thinking about it, the “schwsssss” of the last air-tank being disconnected is identical to the sound of our first gin and tonic opening. No wonder it is a mighty fine sound!

Back to today’s adventure …

With our local knowledge Fred Fisher on board we set out to dive this morning about 1030. With the top of the tide at about 1200 the conditions should be perfect for an hour or two. Anchoring Asolare in a safe spot 30m outside the reef, we transferred to dinghy for the final half-mile. After a few minutes Fred stopped the engine and announced, “we are here”. Looking down all became apparent; we could see a white buoy attached to two small tractor tyres submerged about 3m below us marking the start point of our dive.

Tim, first into the water, checked the strength of current against the white buoy, there was none. Peter and Clare joined him and together we made our descent to the tyres and coral shelf at 8m below. From there we could clearly see the dark entrance to a tunnel. 2m in diameter and just over 25m long we swam down and through it. In the low light it was difficult to see much, a few quite large fish hiding in the corners, grey-white coral fans and more fish silhouetted against the exit.

We emerged at a depth of 25m onto the flat face of a large underwater cliff known as The Great White Wall and turned right. Extending either side as far as we could see, the vertical face dropped into the dark beneath us and up to the sea-surface above, with no horizontal reference points this felt very weird and strangely exposed. While physically spectacular the cliff surface was quite plain supporting little marine life. We moved easily up and down exploring the wall and around the corner before turning back on ourselves. Passing our tunnel exit we moved to the aptly named Purple Wall to admire the rich Papal purple soft coral, simply beautiful. Then we started to notice a current.

Gentle at first, we saw a small shoal of silver damsel fish holding station but swimming up against the current; we added air to our BCD’s to compensate for this downward current. The stream started to carry us along the wall.

In a planned drift dive this would not have been a problem, in fact it is an amazing feeling to fly along with the sea. But changing our plan underwater without being able to communicate to our support in the dinghy above, in unknown waters, the drift may have taken us over a mile from our original location. On the surface three little heads just 100m away would be very, if not impossible to spot from the dinghy, at best we would be in for a long wait.

After just a few minutes we re-grouped on the wall holding onto pieces of coral with our fingertips, very aware that we shouldn’t be touching it at all. In the strengthening current it was important to stay together, we made our way back to a gully not far from our original tunnel. Out of the main stream we decided to return to the start point of the dive.

Typically divers do not choose to swim against a current. Just 3 knots of current is almost impossible to swim against, vulnerability is obvious and air is consumed at an alarming rate when swimming hard. We moved from rock to rock balancing exertion with air-conservation, faced with a common threat we shared the space closest to the coral with fish also doing their best to keep out of the stream. We have been so careful allowing them their space, watching from a distance without scaring. Now eyeball-to-eyeball they don’t seem worried by us at all!

After a few minutes we are just 10m from the tractor tyres, and with one swim across open sand we re-group on the line. It is just 35 minutes since we were here before. Then we experienced no current at all, now there is probably 1.5 to 2 knots of current. Amazing how things can change in such a short time. With Peter and Tim’s skill and experience I am reminded of my more familiar winter mountaineering environment. There, our experience and respect is rewarded a thousand times over with amazing moments. In the under-water world I feel it will be the same, the more we get out into it, the better it will be!

We made our ascent remembering to do a 3-minute safety stop on the way. The deepest point of our dive was 35m on the Great White Wall and while our ascent via the gulley had been slow, despite the current, stopping was still a sensible precaution. We could see the dinghy above us, Fred had in fact followed us all the way, and having 11 years of diving experience here himself he knew what was happening below.

Safely back on Asolare with just a little coral-rash to the fingers and a mental note to wear gloves next time, we regaled Suzi with our adventure. When asked if we would go again … “Of course” was the unanimous reply!

Clare

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