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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fred divers

'Originally wrote this as a comment 4 days ago, but decided to expand it into a post instead (Thanks, dear).

An article in The New York Times, "On the Red Sea, as Hotels Go Up, Divers Head Down," is breathtaking (literally) with the author's nonchalance and recalcitrance over his diving ineptitude.

I took my scuba certification course in 2002 and hadn’t done a dive since, but I wasn’t worried. I did a refresher after arriving in Marsa Alam, and between the otherworldly trips to the reef, I spent most of the day calculating numbers off nitrogen tables and discussing air pressure’s logarithmic properties. This wasn’t a sport for daredevils. This was playtime for an accountant.

Diving is also about task-loading and muscle memory. The author, Ethan Todras-Whitehill, clearly missed this.

We came across a huge green turtle[. . .] The other divers circled the turtle, examining him from all angles.

That's how events led to the late Steve Irwin being speared in the heart by a large stingray. Irwin was shadowing the ray by swimming above it; the camera man got in front of the stingray. Feeling trapped, the ray became defensive and, predictably, deployed its defensive measures. It's not a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Harassing wildlife is wrong. Harassing wildlife that possess defensive weapons is candidacy for the Darwin Awards. The fact that the late Irwin already procreated is the only reason why he wasn't awarded with one.

Steve Irwin On South Park

Irwin's fans were very upset over this spoof by South Park, but I think it drives the point home: if you keep antagonizing animals, sooner or later, you are going to get shafted. Bonus points awarded if the animal is dangerous. Hey, if you insist on playing leapfrog with a unicorn...

[W]e were shallower than the previous day, and I couldn’t control my buoyancy. I kept putting too much air into my jacket or too little, bouncing between ocean floor and ceiling in slow motion. Finally, when I had used up all my air with this basketball impersonation, the guide for that morning’s dive offered me his extra breathing source. Mortified, I shared his air, clinging to his tank like a remora.

Keep this in mind.

For the afternoon dive, Hamada led us out to a reef facing the open ocean, the sandy floor slipping away like an hourglass. Soon, we were 60 feet down, sea floor invisible in the indigo darkness, ceiling above a faint glow. The other divers peered into nooks of the monumental reef wall, showing one another sea slugs and eels. I, on the other hand, was deeply engrossed in figuring out which way was up. Panicking, I hyperventilated, quickly using up my air, and Hamada had to take me back to the boat early, leaving the others without a guide.

60 feet (18 m) is the depth limit for an Open Water Diver (OWD). With the first dive being such a disaster (i.e. no buoyancy control and running out of air), proper dive management dictates that Todras-Whitehill should be forced to sit out this dive.

In this second dive, Todras-Whitehill now experiences vertigo, leading to panic, leading to hyperventilation, leading to an out-of-air situation at a greater depth. In accident analysis, this is chain-of-(escalating)-events situation is all too common. This diver could have easily retained excessive CO2 while hyperventilating and passed out.

The last day held a nasty surprise: a cave dive, normally the exclusive province of experts. The guides assured me that these caves were shallow, with occasional openings overhead. If I needed to go back early, one of them would take me, which was exactly what I wanted to avoid. Waiting at the mouth of the cave for the other divers to squeeze through the doghouse-size entrance, I felt a new fear bubble up. Doing my basketball act in there would mean pressing against the cave ceilings, maybe cutting myself on the coral or tangling my air hose. This sport was more daredevil than accountant after all.

My goodness, they take this overgrown snorkeler (I won't call Todras-Whitehill a diver — and I am not being elitist*) into a cave? WTH?

Let's refresh:

Dive 1 (shallow): no buoyancy control, out-of-air.

Dive 2 (60 ft): no buoyancy control, vertigo, panic, hyperventilation, out-of-air.

Dive 3 (cave): !!!

Anyone seem an escalating problem here?
Note that the definition of recreational diving mandates a clear line of sight and access to the surface at all times. This means no overhead environments. Hello, what is a cave?
This is suicide.

Emperor Divers is a PADI operation. Why am I not surprised? I try hard not to get caught in inter-agency mudslinging, but as the years pass, I become more and more convinced that PADI is an acronym for Pay And Die Instantly. I have infinitely more respect for an organization like the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) than a clearly for-profit company like PADI. It is inarguable that BSAC's standards are much higher than PADI's. Technical divers would recall PADI's misinformation / smear campaign against Nitrox / EAN mixes (basically, the sentiment was, if you breathe it, you die) when PADI wasn't offering it. However, an immediate volte-face occurred when PADI rolled out its Enriched Air Diver Course. And then when they realized that technical diving is a lucrative niche, they dove headfirst with their DSAT TecRec Courses. Damn, sounds like the government of a certain tropical-island-paradise: as long as there's money to be made.

By the way, have you heard of PADI's new Speciality Course?

         It's the PADI Skydiving Course.
         Enjoy the flash demo.

Rumor has it that a Tsunami Diving Speciality Course is in the works.

Ethan Todras-Whitehill would be better served by getting his certification from PADI's sister organization, PASD. Ethan's dive history may also fulfill the ASDR requirements.

And some people ask me why I risk diving solo. *roll eyes*

* = Elitist would be what Jim Baden said, "Technical diving is to recreational diving, what recreational diving is to snorkeling. The similarity ends there."


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