Boat Dive Becomes a Drift Dive

By Todd Gregory

I had been a diver for three years before this dive, my 54th. Jim, my long-time dive buddy, had a friend, Keith, who owned a 27 foot SeaRay. Jim knew Keith through the open water course they had taken five years before. Jim invited me to join him, Keith and Keith's friend Monica for a Sunday dive.

Since 95 percent of my diving is done from shore, I leapt at the opportunity to dive off a boat along the beautiful Santa Barbara, California, coast. We met at the harbor and departed for Naples Reef, a place none of us had ever been. Mistake number 1.

Using global positioning satellite (GPS) technology, we found the reef without delay. The site was described as 30 to 60 feet deep and seemed about one-half mile offshore.

Monica was the novice of the group. She donned her gear as we watched, with our helping her as best we could. She said she hadn't dived for a year, or so.Mistake number 2.

After she geared up, Keith helped her over the transom and into the water. He then began to put on his gear. While he was suiting up, we noticed Monica had drifted a good distance from the boat. Mistake number 3. Keith yelled to her to swim back to the boat and hold onto the swim step. She rolled over and started kicking, but the two knot current impeded her progress. Keith threw a tank on his back and was in the water in no time. Mistake number 4. He swam with the current and caught up to her about 150 feet from the boat.

After Jim and I saw he had caught up to her, we went over our dive plan. We were now aware, through Monica's drift dive, that we had a current. We agreed to enter the water and descend along the anchorline, at which point we would continue against the current. We put on our gear, checked each other out and went over the side. Mistake number 5.

After some struggle, we met at the anchorline and confirmed our plan. Jim dumped his air first, rolled over and began to descend. I followed with a slack hold on the anchorline, noticing the reverberation of the line in the strong current. As I cleared my ears, I saw Jim let go of the anchorline and drift away. Mistake number 6.

I had a decision to make: Either be a good buddy and stick with Jim or follow my dive plan alone. I went the buddy route and drifted with Jim to the bottom. After a once over we both signaled OK. I communicated we had to swim against the current during our dive. Throughout the dive Jim swam along with the current hunting for game.

When I had 500 psi remaining in my tank, I signaled that we surface and get back to the boat. When we surfaced, the boat looked like a toy hundreds of yards up current. Keith and Monica were nowhere to be seen!

We laughed nervously at the state we were in and started to kick toward the boat. Kick as we may, we just didn't seem to make headway. We kicked steadily for some time, to the point where I was hot, fatigued and out of breath. I looked at Jim several times, hoping to see the same difficulties reflected on his face.

I stopped for a moment and looked toward the boat. We had made some progress, as now a garbage can on the stern was discernible. I was about to make a suggestion to Jim when we both looked away from the boat to see our rescuers. A family had gone out fishing for the afternoon and caught Keith and Monica, twice the distance away from the boat as we were.

Whew! Jim and I were relieved.

We stopped swimming and began to discuss the viability of our option of passing gear to either one, then swimming for the boat. Brazenly, we claimed we could have done it "if we had to."

Back aboard his boat, Keith started the engine and motored over to pick us up. We were all very lucky! The ride back was a quiet one to be sure.

Our mistakes were as follows:
1. We dived a site none of us had ever been to.
2. After a year without a dive, a refresher course should have been in order for Monica.
3. We did not survey the conditions before entry.
4. Keith left the boat without telling anyone how to operate it.
5. Jim and I abandoned ship but, considering mistake number 4, we probably would have been useless on the boat anyway.
6. We failed to "Plan your dive and dive your plan." Later, I asked Jim why he let go of the anchorline and he said he had no reason, he just did it. So much for best laid plans.

I LEARNED:
  • Mistake #1: We dived a place none of us had ever been before.
  • Mistake #2: Monica had notbeen diving for a year or so.
  • Mistake #3: We did not survey the conditions before entering the water.
  • Mistake #4: Everyone got in the water at the same time, leaving no one on the boat.
  • Mistake #5: The boat's owner entered the water without telling anyone else how to operate it.
  • Mistake #6: We failed to plan our dive and dive our plan.