The staff of Oceans Unlimited provided training, and I was surprised that the skills were not as complex or threatening as I had thought. I went along with tradition and dropped off the boat into the deep blue sea, finally diving for the first time in my life. I felt no sense of hesitation as I plunged backward off the boat and into the sea with the weight of the oxygen tank on my back.
We swam toward the orange line anchored by weights to the sea bottom. I did hesitate a moment when we first submerged along the rope line, suddenly feeling that in spite of my expert training, I hadn't a clue what to do or how to breathe. I popped back to the surface for a last gulp of fresh air, and spoke briefly with Evans, who reassured me that if I was uncomfortable going down, then we'd come back up. I realized that I really had no reason to panic and that I could rely on my knowledge, so back under we went, easing our way downward, clearing our sinuses every few feet.
The sea was blue but murky, filled with bits of debris that washed past us as we dropped down to about 40 feet. I noticed that Evans continuously checked what looked like a large watch on her wrist. I questioned her, and she showed me the device, which read 37, then 38. I thought that meant that we'd already been down for 38 minutes, and that our trip, a 45-minute dive, would soon be over. I felt a little relieved because I was a bit uneasy and unsure of my ability to continue breathing with ease. However, thinking time was short, I paid more attention to the fish and crusty corals, assuming my chance to see them would soon end.
It turned out she was consulting a depth meter, not a clock.
We saw colorful parrot fish, damselfishes, triggerfish, several different kinds of starfish, waving purple and pink fan corals, and multicolored coral rocks covered with crusty red, blue, green, and brown growths. We spotted a few bleached corals, too, signs of problems in the sea. Spiky black sea urchins hid in crevices; puffers of all sizes passed us by; and a lobster's long antennae stretched out of a hole. Angelfish with long crowns swam by. The currents of the sea were like the wind, blowing the fish, the corals, and us to and fro.
I suddenly understood the pilot's lure to dive.
Maintaining my buoyancy was a challenge, and Evans came by to add weight and adjust my air when I rose above the floor or sank too close to the bottom. She checked with me frequently to make sure I was doing okay, giving me the thumbs-up sign. I was doing fine and found the sea interesting, though I was debating staying aboard the boat for the second dive to come. I reasoned with myself that it would be foolish to decline this rare opportunity. Eventually, Evans indicated that it was time to go back up, and we found the rope and rose slowly to the surface, exhaling and pressurizing our ears as we went.
The boat crew was skilled at helping everyone shed their gear in the water and climb back aboard. A plate of pineapple and cold cups of water were passed to ease the saltiness in our mouths. A few people sprayed themselves with a freshwater hose, but I chose to let the benefit of the salty water sink into my skin. I'd rubbed Purple Prairie's natural zinc and titanium dioxide sunscreen into my skin to protect against sunburn.
Trish Riley is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Greening Your Business (Alpha Books, 2009, with Heather Gadonniex) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living (Alpha Books 2007), as well as many travel books and articles about environmental issues.