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Discussion in 'Marine Life and Ecosystems' started by drbill, Apr 16, 2018.

  1. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA

    Until my oncologist says I can dive again, I'm enjoying memories from my decades of diving. Most of those memories are truly wonderful. However, a very few are "memorable" learning experiences based on human error (usually mine). Back in 1969 or 1970, I had one such dive that I will share with you. A high school student of mine at the Catalina Island School, Gary Maul, said he had found an unusual critter out in Toyon Bay at a depth of about 90 fsw. He wanted help identifying it and asked me to do a dive with him to see and film it.

    I grabbed the only underwater camera I had, a fairly new (for that era) Nikonos II. This underwater camera was based on an earlier design from 1956 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Belgian engineer Jean de Wouters which was called the Calypso. In 1963 Nikon acquired the rights to their design and released the Nikonos I which became very popular for early underwater imagers.

    I dressed in my two-piece farmer john wetsuit (complete with beaver tail) up at the house, then went down to Toyon's dive locker to meet Gary and pick up our SCUBA tanks and regulators. Back then we had a system at the school that was established to ensure divers received a full tank. Full tanks were on one side of a rack and empties waiting to be filled on the other. None of us had submerged pressure gauges (SPGs) on our regulators, so it was important that divers check the tanks with a topside gauge before using them.

    For some reason the topside gauge was missing and we had no way to check the air pressure in the tanks. We took two of them from the "filled" side of the tank rack and crossed our fingers. This was to be a relatively deep dive, so it was important we had enough air to make it safely. In those days without an SPG we had no way to monitor our air supply during the dive and relied on the old J-valves on our tanks. When it got hard to breathe, we'd pull a rod which "opened" up the valve and let the last reserve of air flow into our regulator.

    Gary and I descended into the somewhat murky water and when we hit bottom (not literally of course) he began looking for the critter. My memory indicates that he found it and I tried taking a few pictures with the Nikonos II. Back in those daze I could hardly afford strobe lights for the camera. I think they cost more than a month's salary at the time. At 90 ft, there was barely enough light to properly image anything without a strobe.

    Soon Gary started making hand signals and looked a bit distressed. I realized that he had given the signal that he was running out of air. I checked the rod that opened up the J-valve and found it was already in the down position. My initial thought was that it had snagged on some kelp on our descent, but now I think it may have been that way when we selected the tanks topside, and we didn't notice.

    We began buddy breathing with Gary and I alternating using my regulator and the air from my tank, and immediately began our ascent. As we did, I noticed it was becoming more difficult to suck air from my tank. I reached back to pull my J-valve rod and found it, too, was in the down position! Fortunately we both made it to the surface safely but huffing and puffing.

    I'm certainly happy we now have more advanced dive gear and an SPG is almost mandatory for divers to monitor their air while down under. Sadly divers still run out of air at depth, and occasionally die... which can be avoided by regularly monitoring your gas supply and considering the depth at which you are diving. One uses more air the deeper one dives. I'm also glad that BCDs (buoyancy compensating devices) are in regular use today. Back in that period almost none of my divers had one. Actually, I didn't dive one until 1979 when it was required as part of a Cousteau dive team.

    As for the pictures I took of the critter, they turned out too dark to view and certainly unworthy of posting on Facebook or my website! Fortunately underwater imaging equipment has advanced leaps and bounds since 1970. I am very happy that I've been able to dive with video cameras, housings and video lights over the last two decades so I could share reasonably decent images with my readers here, on Facebook, on ScubaBoard and elsewhere. I'm sure you're happier about that, too.

    © 2018 Dr. Bill Bushing. For the entire archived set of over 750 "Dive Dry" columns, visit my website Star Thrower Educational Multimedia (S.T.E.M.) Home Page

    Image caption: The pre-Dr. Bill with one of his marine biology classes free-diving in Toyon Bay back about 1969.

    DDDB 759 Maul dive sm.jpg
    shoredivr likes this.

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