Anaconda II (Part I)
12, 1994 20:10
4:11 Mount Elliot National Park (Townsville), Queensland
:: 8 SEP 94
is one of those pastimes that can be pure hell in preparation. You're
on the brink of exhaustion from doing 2 to 4 dives a day for the last
5 days and a little head-weary due to the 2 meter swells that rocked even
the 30 meter Anaconda II sailing yacht with its 70 ton keel; you have
to put on that still wet wet-suit in the brisk 20 knot wind that's whipping
up the white caps; breakfast keeps tickling your esophagus. All you really
want to do is go back to your berth and sleep the whole thing off.
Things really get ugly while you cling to the bobbing zodiac's pontoon
trying to manage the unwieldy gear covering your body: 12 pounds of lead
belted to your waist; enough air to fill a walk-in closet compressed into
an aluminum can strapped to your back; the buoyancy control device (BCD),
an inflatable vest, splints your thoracic vertebrae like a backboard;
fins to make Bozo jealous assure that foot purchase is out of the question.
And you grope about your unfamiliar bulbous form trying to keep track
of mask, snorkel, regulators, gauges, underwater camera so that when the
divemaster says, "1-2-3 GO!" you will be ready to plop back
first into the surging ocean. You anticipate the disorientation of bubbles,
limbs and gear as 8 masses of bulging equipment hit the water simultaneously.
You know that shortly the cold salty ocean will rush in to the wet-suit
and even the clammy chill now dominating your senses seems preferable
And then it happens, and you are in. Bobbing at the surface you still
feel like a gangly mass. It doesn't stop there. You experience instant
chill. Salt water is in your mouth. Hastily you signal the divemaster
a bald-faced lie, "I'm OK," and find your buddy because all
you want to do, now that you're in the water, is get below the surface.
20:30 Mount Elliot National Park (Townsville), Qeensland
:: 8 SEP 94
And once you are there, even just a meter down, all the previous ugliness
fades to insignificance. Descent is like crossing a portal between realms
and psyches. You are no doubt still chilled, but who cares? The air you
now breathe is dry, filtered, tasteless and often accompanied by salt
water-so what? Diving is one of few endeavours displaying this trait.
When you dive, nothing else matters.
9:48 Cardwell, Queensland :: 12 SEP 94
I've always loved being in the water. It's the extra degree of freedom
water allows; I fly in three-dimensional space for as long as a held breath
permits. Scuba frees me from the necessity of surfacing, from holding my breath till
my capillaries burst. More significantly, modern scuba gear provides the apparatus to control buoyancy. Divers often refer
to the sensation of "weightlessness" that buoyancy control allows
in water but I find this a misleading representation. Besides, the reality
is better than "weightlessness." To explain this statement requires
some technical information and a little physics.
Association of Diving Instructors) dive manuals express the "weightless"
sensation as "neutral buoyancy," meaning neither sinking to
the bottom (negative buoyancy) nor rising to the surface (positive buoyancy).
An object is neutrally buoyant when its volume displaces an amount of
water equivalent in mass to the object's own mass. A scuba tank filled with a closet-ful of air sinks not just because the tank
is heavy but because the compressed air in it is denser, has more mass,
than the volume of water it displaces. If you attach a large empty bag,
something like an uninflated Buoyancy Control jacket, to the tank valve
both will sink since empty BCDs are also denser than water. However, let
a little of the tank's compressed air expand into the BCD, perhaps just
two lungfuls, and suddenly the whole lot will bolt for the surface. As
the air escapes into the BCD it expands and the volume of water the inflated
BCD now displaces becomes much heavier than the combined mass of BCD,
tank and near closet-ful of compressed air and so we achieve positive
After achieving neutral buoyancy using a Buoyancy Control jacket, divers
fine tune buoyancy using their natural BCDs, their lungs, and this is
where all the fun starts. I don't use the expression "weightlessness"
because buoyancy control provides the real kick in diving. Without a single
fin stroke, you can ascend a meter in a few seconds on a deep breath slowly
exhaled. It's a blast to fin along horizontally to the edge of a coral
bluff, purge your lungs and drop over the edge in a head-first dive. Out
at the reef we drifted at 12 meters while a two or three knot current
swept us past 40 meter columns of coral.
The kicker is, diving can be learned to a reasonable degree of proficiency
in 5 easy lessons by nearly anyone of reasonably sound health and psyche.
There is no faster or easier route to nirvana. It took me a decade of
skiing to achieve powder Zen, where you crank turns in the deep stuff
with rhythmic fluidity, grace and ease, an unvocalized mantra of swoosh
in a space of unconscious physical sense and reaction that becomes an
all-consuming conscious experience. Moving through water gives me much
the same sensation. With the first pool lesson came the realization that
I didn't have to bob back to the surface gasping for air at the end of
Later that day when Robin, the instructor, asked me what I thought of
responded, "Why did I wait this long?!" She knew exactly what
I meant. Robin is a fish out of water. On earth she's an ebulliently frenetic
bundle of energy, tiny and too slim. In the ocean she becomes another
creature altogether-quietly powerful, in control of herself and her environment
and downright sexy. At the end of the course, after getting to know her
earth-bound self a little more, I suggested to her that she seemed more
centred in the water. She looked at me with a big grin, "Yeah, I
love it down there." I knew exactly what she meant.
I seem to have left out the reasons that most people sight for their
love of diving: the underwater world. It's truly an alien and fascinating
realm, one I can explore for hours on end, but it's flying through the
medium itself that really grips me. Perhaps it's not something you can
properly explain to a non-diver, or to a person who doesn't get a head
rush just from looking at 1000 vertical feet of untracked hip-deep powder.
Continued in Part II
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