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DIVE DRY WITH DR. BILL #822: TROUBLE IN TAHITI

Discussion in 'California' started by drbill, Jul 27, 2019.

  1. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA
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    DIVE DRY WITH DR. BILL #822: TROUBLE IN TAHITI

    Back in 2001, about six months after I was unceremoniously fired from my position as Vice President SEER at the Conservancy, I decided to take my accrued vacation pay and plan a major international trip. I had taken very little vacation time while working there, but only had a month of carry over time. Still that was more than enough to fund a serious dive travel adventure.

    Air consolidators were offering incredible deals on long-term airfares. I found one that would take me all around the Pacific for just over $1,600. The route was LA-Hong Kong-Thailand-Malaysia-Australia-New Zealand-Fiji-Cook Islands-Tahiti-LA. What a fantastic opportunity! Since I planned to stay mostly at hostels along the way, the total cost was quite reasonable considering.

    In this column I'm going to write about one dive on that itinerary. I was initially dreading Tahiti due to encounters with a few overbearing French folks in Europe years ago. While waiting at the Cook Islands airport for my flight to Tahiti, I spotted a lovely Polynesian woman waiting to board. The plane was nearly empty so I was surprised when she came and sat down next to me.

    Merita and I struck up a conversation and ended up talking for the entire flight. It turned out she was a Polynesian princess from the island of Raiatea and was heading home after studying English in Raratonga. I told her my concerns about visiting "French Polynesia." She replied that the French in Tahiti were the ones who couldn't tolerate the attitudes in parts of their native country (mostly Paris) and that I'd find them welcoming and would thoroughly enjoy my stay in her country.

    After a few days on the main island of Tahiti, I took a boat over to Moorea and started looking for dive operators to splash with. I decided on Moorea Fun Dive because... well, it sounded like fun! When I got there for my first dive, I discovered we had to walk out into the lagoon to their dive boat with our full kit on! Good thing I was still in reasonable shape back then! At least I didn't step on any sea urchins or get stung by stingrays.

    I told the dive master on board NOT to touch my gear as I would set it up myself. In the past I've had a few dive masters and dive instructors make mistakes while prepping my gear for a dive so I wanted to ensure I had control. As we approached the channel for our first dive, I put my tank back on and slipped on my fins. It would be a fairly simple feet first entry from the small dive boat rather than a backward roll.

    When prompted, I jumped into the water and descended to about 20 feet. I tried to take a breath off my regulator but very little air came out! Apparently the dive master had touched my valve and turned the air off instead of on! I kicked up toward the surface only to have her grab my legs and try to prevent me from ascending.

    When I got to the surface, she berated me for ascending too rapidly. After nearly 40 years on SCUBA at that time, I knew that a rapid ascent from depth after breathing compressed air could cause serious problems. However, I explained to her that I had not breathed air under pressure since the valve was in the off position and told her I knew what I was doing (since I'd been diving longer than she'd been alive).

    After turning the valve on, I once again descended and had a "fintastic" dive. We were in one of the passes or channels between the inner lagoon and the open ocean outside the coral reefs. The current was not strong on the dive and we were surrounded by sharks, mostly black tips and gray reef sharks. Back then I didn't have an underwater camera (too much for a backpacker to carry for 10 weeks!) so I had to rely on my eyes and memory alone.

    I started "inching" toward a shark that I wasn't familiar with since I wanted to get a closer look. The other dive master grabbed my legs again and shook his finger at me. I was beginning to wonder if the dive masters had a foot (or fin) fetish. He was simply (and rightly) cautioning me about approaching that species. It was a sicklefin lemon shark (Negaprion acutidens) which was potentially dangerous according to the dive master, unlike the black tip and gray reef sharks. Actually this species tends to be shy of divers and there are only 10 recorded non-fatal encounters with them in the International Shark Attack File records.

    I also saw a number of triggerfish, relatives of the finescale triggerfish we have here in Catalina waters. It is said that the Polynesians fear the triggerfish more than the sharks. Having been attacked by more triggers (especially the Titan triggerfish) than sharks, I may have to agree with them on that assessment! The only shark to ever "attack" me was an 18" horn shark that got upset when I tried to move it for a better camera angle!

    I was shocked that I couldn't find my topside images from Tahiti on my 25 terrabytes of hard drives. My experiences in Tahiti were just as Merita predicted. I found the people to be wonderful (including the French), the scenery incredible and the diving "fintastic." If it weren't for my cancer, I would love to travel back there for more diving, especially off some of the outer islands. Heck, I'd like to descend in our waters if I could... and if they were a bit warmer this time of year! I guess I've become a real pussy in my old age.

    © 2019 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 lovely Merita on my flight and Moorea as seen by satellite; Tahitian fish art and sicklefin lemon shark (courtesy of Manoel Lemos and Wikipedia)


    DDDB 822 Tahiti trouble sm.jpg
     
    PatW, wnissen, chillyinCanada and 2 others like this.
  2. Altamira

    Altamira ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
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    I don't know if it is the result of the Tahitian influence, but I found the French people in Polynesia to be very friendly, open, kind, and generous. I had the same concerns as you concerning the French reception prior to my first trip to FP, but now look forward to my third visit in the future.
     
  3. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada Solo Diver Staff Member

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    Great report Bill. I'm envious of your memories
     
  4. carltona

    carltona ScubaBoard Business Sponsor ScubaBoard Business Sponsor

    # of Dives:
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    You are a way more experienced diver than me but I still check my SPG while taking a few quick breaths off the primary to see if I get any needle deflection. A closed valve will cause the gauge to drop quickly to indicate an off condition or a quick drop and recover is a partially open valve. If you only have digital SPG, it reacts more slowly which is why I have an actual SPG in addition to air integrated. When the battery fails, I still can see my pressure.
     
  5. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA
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    5,271
    113
    I have to admit that I didn't check my SPG before descending. Bad on me.
     

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