Tuesday, May 7, 2013


So this blog is called By Land and in the Sea...I've done a lot of by land, so I needed to throw a little 'In the Sea' in to balance it out.

Mazeophobia - the fear of being lost.

I would never say I have a phobia.  There is nothing that I'm so afraid of that it alters my day to day life.  I would, however, say I have a higher alarm response to being lost than most people.  If I'm hiking and I feel like I haven't seen a blaze in a while, I get that overwhelming feeling of dread, even if the next one is actually 7 ft away hidden by a bush.  There is no time, however, where I feel more uncomfortable with the concept of being lost than when I dive.  The prospect of being underwater unable to figure out where I am, and even worse, unable to talk to the person I'm with about it, freaks me out immensely.

Now in reality, this is a stupid fear.  Even if you come up far away from the boat, you just wave your arms around until they see you and they'll come pick you up.  Every boat captain ever tells you this.  You learn it in your dive classes.  But apparently primal-instinct-Irene still has not gotten that message.

Our most recent dive trip was to Key West and we had an amazing time.  We dove several deep wrecks and a bunch of shallow reefs.  In a wreck dive, navigation is easy - stay at the wreck, come back up the anchor line you went down on.  Done.  Reef diving is easier because it's so shallow that you can occasionally just pop your head up to check out where your boat is, align your compass and then continue on your merry way.

This dive was neither.  It was a wreck that had broken into pieces and was loosely grouped in a pretty big area.  It was also a deeper dive (60 or so feet) which meant no popping up to check on the boat. (Once you go that deep you have to do a 'safety stop' which means spending 5 or so mins at 15 to 20 feet to avoid decompression sickness)  As the dive master on the boat was giving the directions - which direction to swim and how long, etc  - Mike and I are both listening (so I thought) and getting our equipment ready.  Giant stride in and we descend the anchor line to the bow.  So far so good.

Here's the piece we descended down to - last piece of the boat we saw.

Mike swims away in a confident manor, so I follow and off we go.  For a while, we still see other divers from our boat, but gradually they fade away and finally I start to get the feeling.  The 'I don't know where the hell I am or where the boat is' feeling.  I look at the compass and we're swimming west.  We were supposed to go south.  We've been swimming for 8367 minutes in the wrong direction (actually like 7 but who's counting).  My stomach is in my throat and I'm starting to weigh the pros and cons of vomiting into my regulator.  

Finally, I grab Mike's fin to get his attention and we have the most frantic game of charades ever played.  We start swimming in another (still wrong) direction, hoping to locate some other people from the boat, or at least some piece of the wreck.  When you're not near a reef, the bottom of the ocean just looks like an endless sea of sand with the occasional debris pile.  It's like somehow being lost in the desert and at risk of drowning at the same time.  

The only exciting sea life we saw on the rest of the dive.

By this time, we'd tried at least 6 directions and hadn't seen anyone.  We'd had 3 charades rematches and I'd screamed into my regulator twice.  We were low on air and had no other option other than to just come up where we were.  So now, not only am I having the 'I'm lost' freakout, I'm also having the 'I'm going to look like a dumb tourist' freakout.  I hate looking like I don't really know how to dive competently, mostly because it's partially true.  We only go once a year, so I'm in a constant state of trying to remember how to not die while doing it.  So now I'm dumb blond diver.  Great. 

We're floating in open water during our safety stop and suddenly I see movement.  Glory hallelujah it's another diver! I grab mike and start swimming towards them.  I  see the bow line from the boat and the rope going to ladder.  I remember thinking that the weight that holds it in place looked a little different but in my elation at not looking like a lost moron I didn't even think about it.  I reached the ladder and luckily Mike was behind me since I bolted away and left him at the safety stop (Rule No. 1 - Dont leave your buddy (oops)).  I grab the arm reaching out to help me onto the boat and look up at - a complete stranger.  No wonder the weight looked different - I am on the wrong fucking boat.   

Luckily this apparently happens more than you'd think.  There are multiple tie out point at one dive site and people come up the wrong line.  We actually had to do some sort of hostage exchange because 4 of their divers came up to our boat.  And in the end, the dive crew didn't even make me feel like an idiot which was a bonus.  I also learned that Mike has no fear of being lost and his listening skills need work.  

I couldn't post this without a shout out to Lost Reef Adventures in Key West.  We dove with them all week and they didn't once make me feel dumb even though I repeatedly did really dumb things - including wrapping a tattoo in saran wrap for every dive and once forgetting to attach my BCD to my air tank and almost drowning (not really).  But those stories of stupidity are for another day.

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