Hose Blowout Knocks Sense Into Vacationing Diver

By Bob Sterner

My trip to Fiji from New York had taken months of planning and 18 hours in a plane. All gear; regulators, BC, camera, lights and their backups; had been serviced ahead of schedule to make certain they would not let me down. The planning did pay off. I didn't even need a backup snorkel keeper on my two week trip.

All the backups doubled the weight of my luggage, which I hand carried onto jets, prop-driven island hoppers and dive boats, but it just added to my sense of security. I turned down offers to help tote the heavy gearbag from local operators, who are accustomed to doing everything for their guests. Like most divers who regularly visit the cold, dark waters of the East Coast, I prefer to handle and set up my own gear. Operators were generally tolerant of this personal foible until the last day.

'Guests don't handle anything here, it's against the rules,' a mate cooed. Not wishing to press the point, I gave in to a little luxury. Why not enjoy the service the touring masses have come to expect. After all, isn't this a holiday? Relax. Enjoy.

The next time I saw my gear, it was on the bottom of a cart of dive bags stacked four deep and topped with a few rebreathers. It was all set up for me on board the boat, however, and worked fine on the first dive, much to my relief. I relaxed in the glow of a glorious dive as we headed back to shore just ahead of an approaching stormfront.

A sprinkle turned into a steady drizzle during lunch and some guests canceled their afternoon dive. This late summer shower didn't dampen the enthusiasm of everyone, though. There were enough divers to persuade the captain to take the boat out. Why should we be afraid of a little rain? Besides I'd been searching for a Crown of Thorns starfish all week. I'd seen the effects of the coral eating creature but had yet to record one on film. This outing was my last chance before leaving for home.

Gold Nuggets Reef has a rocky base of corals that looks a little battered. I was curious to know if this was owing to abuse by waves and visiting divers or a Crown of Thorns incursion, so I set out to find answer, searching the reef's crevices with my flashlight. This investigative work takes time, so I trailed the pack of divers by about 40 feet. I was thinking about this departure from the customary buddy system, (unfortunately, my dive buddy couldn't make the trip), and about the 'same ocean, same day' attitude of some New York divers, when POW! A powerful blast rocked my head to my chest, forcing me to spit out my regulator and half my air. My ears were ringing just slightly less than the roar of air gushing out behind me.

'I don't know what it is, but it's happening to me,' I thought, stunned and sweeping my arm behind me in search of my regulator. Once I had found it, a glug of bubbling water told me it wasn't working, nor was the octopus. Cursing my lack of a redundant air supply, which I usually carry on dives back home, I weighed the options that remained. It was 40 feet to the surface or the nearest diver. A controlled ascent would be no problem, unless, of course, a boat passed overhead.

Swimming nearby was a grandfatherly gent whom I'd seen at lunch talking as much with his hands as his words. Hand signs? No problem. I got his attention and he understood me at once; the air from his regulator was filling my lungs in no time. Before I could take more than a couple of breaths, the divemaster stuffed his octopus in my mouth and escorted me to the dive boat.

The source of the blast was quickly diagnosed as a blown high pressure hose. Whether it was caused by mishandling or being crammed into tight baggage bins in airplanes and boats is at question.

'It could have just been age,' my local dive shop owner observed. The hose had seen more than 100 dives in six years. I realized it would be prudent to replace these hoses every five years. The experience also drove home the need to maintain remora-like closeness to a buddy. If that blast had been just a bit stronger, I might have been too stunned to seek help.

Over pints of Fiji bitters back at the hotel, I struck up a conversation with my newfound buddy, Silvio DiLoreto; a relationship that spanned a generation and many miles. It turned out he had served in World War II on Guadalcanal in the same Army Air Corps unit as my late father. Whether they actually knew each other was uncertain. Decades clouded too many memories. But just imagining the two of them chatting over pints of bitters at Henderson Field is as refreshing as a breath of fresh air.