First Night Dive

By Frank Cecil

Two years ago, I vacationed in South Florida, making my first dives in a saltwater environment. My buddies were my two younger brothers. Tracy worked for a highly successful dive shop in the area and Tony was visiting my parents, who had just moved to the area.

Our beach dive earlier in the day had proven awesome. The diversity of the reef creatures and even the personalities of the fish made a big impression on me. I was living a lifelong dream.

That night we decided to make another dive. We piled into Tracys truck and headed for the beach. It would be my first night dive and I was quite excited.

While we assembled our gear at the back of the truck, Scott, who was also an instructor and a friend of Tracys, pointed out the seas were running high and it would be a rough entry. This should have been a warning to me, but hey, I figured, what can happen? I was diving with three experienced divers, two of whom were instructors.

Going on a dive for which I was ill prepared was my first mistake; relying on someone elses experience to ensure my safety was my second.

My third mistake was diving with equipment I had never used before: steel 120s and an U/W communication device from Tracys shop. Also, I was wearing the same amount of weight I had used earlier with an aluminum 80; mistake number four.

I asked Tracy and, although he said 17 pounds sounded like too much, I assured him I would be okay. That was mistake number five.

We were finally ready. Tony and Scott attempted their entry. Scott stiffened his body to absorb the impact of the waves. Tony was right behind him.

Tracy and I began our entry. I opted to hold my fins until I was about chest deep to be able to maneuver between waves.

Timing is the key to rough surf entries. I strode in right behind the first wave only to be clobbered by the next one. I flopped around in the surf trying to don my fins. l saw Tracy watching me; he seemed to be trying to disguise an amused look.

Once I got my fins on we began kicking out on our backs to the reef. I added a little air to my BC and wondered why the waves were breaking over my head when I should be floating. I decided I really needed to time the waves better, breathing between them.

You okay over there? Tracy called. He was quite a distance away. I didnt seem to be making much progress. I gave my BC another shot of air and felt it tightening around my body. When I looked up the stars disappeared as the water washed over me.

Tracy asked me again if I was okay. I answered Yeah, but I was getting a little concerned. I still wasnt floating correctly. Another shot of air should do it.

I depressed the inflator one more time and the overpressure relief valve promptly opened. The water hissed and bubbled around me as the BC deflated slightly. Now I was concerned. Perhaps I had a little too much weight on. Why hadnt I listened to Tracy back on the beach?

I stopped swimming and just tried to stay calm and time the waves. Although I hated using my air supply so soon I didnt want to drown with 3,000 psi in my tank.

Tracy swam over to me. Need some help? he asked.

I was starting to feel like the Titanic but I didnt want to look foolish in front of my brothers, nor did I want to ditch my weightbelt and end everyones dive prematurely. Peer pressure is amazing.

Removing my regulator I sheepishly told him that I had too much weight.

Oh yeah? Take some out and give it here, he ordered.

I removed about ten pounds and gave it to him, which made him too heavy but he never complained. When we caught up with the others nobody said much although I noticed a concerned look or two.

We were now over the reef so we submerged. I flicked on my light, watching the beam reach out into the dark water as I sank toward the bottom. The only indication of my companions locations was their lights.

I had a somewhat enjoyable dive despite the rough start. However, a continuous reminder of my limited experience was swimming with my head at an uncomfortable angle; necessary to keep it from banging on the first stage. I was using borrowed gear and hadnt adjusted it properly.

When I look back on the dive, I realize I was fortunate not to have had a serious accident. I made several mistakes, any one of which could have developed into a dangerous situation.

I now pay much more attention to the small points of diving. I frequently check my gear, practice basic skills and pay attention to tips that can be learned from more experienced divers. I always keep in mind that the details, no matter how insignificant they may seem, can be lifesavers.