Wet Drysuit and a Quest for Dog Sharks = $200 Lost - But No Lives! -

By Marty Snyderman

My dive buddies and I live in Portland, Oregon, where we dive regularly in cold water. We have made between 170 and 250 dives, usually in Puget Sound, Washington, which is about three hours from Portland by car. Thus, our dive days are long.

My parents live in West Vancouver, British Columbia. The diving there is great and close; my parent's house is only 20 minutes from some excellent shore sites. So, whenever I am in Vancouver I feel compelled to go diving.

Last October, during a business trip to Vancouver, I decided to stay the weekend and dive. I invited one of my dive buddies to come up. We planned to do three dives on Saturday, including a night dive, two dives on Sunday and then drive back to Portland on Sunday night. My buddy (let's call him John) was supposed to drive up on Friday night but was too tired to make the trip. He got up early and drove up Saturday morning instead. Not long after he arrived, we were on our way to the first site.

We made our first dive (50 minutes) at Kelvin Grove, an excellent wall dive. Afterward we headed to Whytecliff Park, where we did the Whytecliff Express, which starts at one end of the underwater park at Look Out Point and exits on the other side at a site called The Cut. We had a good dive but had to keep kicking for a solid 60 minutes to cover the entire area.

By the end of our second dive we were tired, but we wanted more. We returned to Whytecliff for a night dive at 8:30. I had seen a Dog Shark during our dive at Kelvin Grove and was hoping to see more on our night dive. Dog Sharks are common around Whytecliff at night in October.

John and I suited up and made our way to the water. This was our first mistake. We had had two great dives and were tired, especially John, who had not had much sleep. It was dumb to push it, but we were both eager to see Dog Sharks. After entering the water, John complained that his foot was wet. We both use drysuits, mine is a shell; his was neoprene.

"I guess that kills the dive," I said.

"No, let's go anyway." John replied. "In the worse case, I'll get wet; it won't be that much different than diving in a wetsuit." We continued our dive, which was a big mistake! Diving with defective equipment is dumb.

We headed to the cut and descended. There were no Dog Sharks anywhere. About 15 minutes into the dive, John signaled he wanted to turn around. I knew he was having a problem, because he never cuts a dive short. This is a guy who always exits with less than 500 psi in his tank. I assumed his leak was worse than he thought and he was now very wet. We turned around. John was ahead of me and swimming so fast I was having a problem keeping up. This was the third mistake. If you are having a problem, stick with your buddy. That is the very point of diving in pairs. This mistake caused the next one.

I know Whytecliff quite well; I have dived it dozens of times. John had not. Heading back in you want the wall to your left. As you approach the exit channel, there are boulders near the wall; you need to cut through the boulders. John missed the exit and kept following the wrong wall, heading out to deeper water away from shore. When I came to the exit channel he was nowhere to be seen. I assumed he was ahead of me and continued toward shore. When I got close I surfaced but still didn't see him. I continued, thinking he must be waiting on the beach. At one point I noticed a light flicker behind me but didn't think it could be my buddy because he was ahead of me.

After getting to the shore, I saw the light making its way in. It was then I realized John must have missed the cut. I found out later that he surfaced near the day marker, which is about 100 yards past the exit channel. By then his suit was filled with water and his BC was completely inflated with air, yet he was still having trouble keeping his head above water. He could not maintain his buoyancy because he was overweighted. Fortunately, John was not in love with his weights. He dropped both his weightbelt and his integrated weights and eventually made it to shore.

The lessons learned that night cost John $200 (the cost of all the weights); they could have cost him his life.

The moral of this story is that buddies are responsible for each other. If you don't think your buddy is ready or able to make a dive, call it off. My mistake was in evaluating only my situation and letting my buddy evaluate his. If he wasn't smart enough to call off the dive, I should have.

I LEARNED:
  • Never dive with faulty or malfunctioning equipment.
  • Don't dive when you are tired.
  • Always stick with your buddy.
  • The buddy most knowledgeableabout the dive site should lead the way.
  • Don't be afraid to call off the dive. The sea will wait.