In 9th grade, i won the “Klutz of the Year” award at the High School Band Awards dinner.  i tripped over a music stand on my way to receive the trophy.

i have never been graceful.

In 2006 i got my SCUBA certification.  The same year i got divorced, became an empty-nester, and got cancer.  It wasn’t until 2009, when Studley became a certified diver, that i had a chance to put more than my toe in the water.

And it was life-changing…  We had quite an adventure in Cozumel!  Weighing myself down with far too much lead, unable to find neutral buoyancy, and being terrified during a night dive with a five mile per hour current did not dampen my enthusiasm for diving.

i wanted needed more. i’ve gotten it.

Not a cheap hobby by any stretch, so dive trips to sunny, warm-water locales with pretty colored fish have been a bit of a luxury.  Even so, we’ve managed some extraordinary excursions over the past five years.

The most recent adventure last week to The Cayman Islands is now tucked under my weight belt.  On this trip?  i hit the milestone “100th Dive”.  Celebrated with the dive boat crew, and my fellow divers.  It was a good thing that i was still dripping with sea water, or they might have noticed that i was crying…

How did i get here?


It wasn’t just the milestone dive that triggered tears.  That was just a number.  It was more than that…

No longer struggling to manage my air, i was returning to the boat with almost a third of my tank untouched after an hour underwater.  Buoyancy isn’t such an issue.  i can get in a very Zen-like trance floating alongside a coral wall at 100’… a wall that has no bottom for another 6,000 feet.  The gear doesn’t confuse me – i can easily rig my own stuff, and get in and out of the water without assistance — even perfecting the James Bond Backroll from the side of the boat!

It’s not really all of that.

Moving effortlessly underwater with a school of fish.  Face to face with a friendly grouper.  While most divers use a standard kick, or frog kick, to move along, i’ve adopted the double fin kick…

In the water, i move like a motherfucking mermaid.  For the first time in my life?  i am graceful. It feels good.


That’s me, doing the inverted photo-bomb as Studley and i explore a wrecked Russian frigate.  For once in my life, i am not clumsy.

It feels wonderful…

Sea Leveled

Dive Leader Caroline swam up to us in the dark. She did a roll call to make sure all five missing divers were within range.  We’d gotten caught in a current during the safety stop on a night dive, and were surprised to find ourselves at least a quarter of a mile from the boat when we surfaced.

Once she was assured that we were all there, she said: “Everyone ok?  Do you need assistance?  That’s what I’m here for, so let me know if you need anything!”

A few feet away in the dark, there was a laugh, followed by “How about a couple of legs?”

His were blown off in December, 2011.  An Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) specialist for the Marines, Dusty ran to assist a fellow soldier who had just stepped on an improvised explosive device, and tripped a secondary device – bombs designed to kill those aiding victims of the primary bomb.

About the last thing i expected on my trip last week was a double amputee diver in our group.  When you have a dozen divers living in very close quarters for a week on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, connections happen with lightning speed.  i quickly learned that there was more to him than his disability. 

The sun came up Saturday morning, and we put our dive gear out for collection by the crew by 0730.  Dusty brought out his “sea legs” – designed for use in salt water – and put them with the flippers and vests alongside the hotel.


Saba is a tiny island – only five square miles of volcanic rock.  The airport hosts the world’s shortest commercial runway.  The harbor isn’t much bigger.  Getting on the damn boat, as it rocked and rolled against the dock, presented a challenge.  i was a bit tentative as i grabbed the boat rail, timed my step to match the pitch of the boat and held onto a member of the crew for stability.  Dusty passed his gear to the crew, and stepped on board.  Crew and divers looked on quietly.  No one complained about the difficult entry.

Getting on the boat

He was nervous about the diving because it had been about two years since his last dive – not because of the prosthetics.  One leg was a bit heavy, so he rigged a ‘water wing’ to see if it would help with buoyancy.  It was worth a try, but didn’t really help.

water wings

The final day of the trip was spent farting around on the island.  We hosted a ‘happy hour’ by the hotel pool, and invited our dive boat crew to join us.  Reuben, one of our crew, told me how amazed he was by Dusty.  “We noticed that NO ONE on the boat, crew or divers, complained about anything all week long!  And it was because of THAT guy!”

Dusty diving

We did the night dive on Tuesday.  As the sun set, ten of us dropped into the water.  i’m not overly fond of night dives – one friend describes them as “underwater drug raids” as you see floodlights carried by your dive mates sweep wildly through the dark waters. i decided to go along since the reefs of Saba are loaded with amazing coral and a metric shit-ton of fish.

The dive went as briefed – down to about 40-50’, standard night signals at ‘half tank’, watch for the strobes on the boat, keep dive time to about 45 minutes.  We chased one octopus around for five minutes, found a gargantuan lobster and then went off to look for other critters.

When it was time to ascend, Studley and i caught up with three others – Dusty, his father-in-law Ron, and Rick (our dive instructor).  Even at the relatively shallow depth for the dive, a three minute ‘safety stop’ at 15-18 feet is required.  The current had picked up a bit, so we stayed in a close group as we hovered in the dark water.

Studley and i had lost the boat while concentrating on our depth gauges, but figured one of the others knew the location.  When we bobbed to the surface, we realized that none of us had any damn idea where the boat was. We saw some lights a good distance away.  If not our boat, a boat.  Good enough.

Low on air, we filled our buoyancy control devices (BCDs) and prepared for a long surface swim – roll on your back and start kicking.  Maintain verbal contact with your buddies.  Periodic roll call and heading check.  After about five minutes, i turned to look for the boat.  Didn’t seem to have made much progress, but we could now see two sets of lights – our boat and another.

Good enough.  Roll and kick.  Repeat every few minutes.

Eventually, we heard Caroline’s voice from the dark.  Relieved that we’d been located, we continued to kick toward the boat.  Another heading check?  The current was too strong, even when we tried cutting directly toward shore.

Caroline suggested we circle up, and wait for the boat to come to us.  Within a few minutes, we could see the boat turn and move toward us.  Snagging the current line behind as it came alongside, we all waited to climb up the ladder.

Relaxing a bit, i felt my thighs screaming from 30 minutes of surface swim against an unyielding current.  i watched Dusty leave the water first – climbing the dive ladder, his prosthetic sea legs outlined sharply by the floodlights on the boat.

Once we’d shed our gear, and the boat was headed back to the dock, we did post-dive forensics to sort out what went wrong – and how the situation could have been avoided.  No finger-pointing, just an ‘after-action report’. The subject soon changed to the barbecue and chilled keg of beer awaiting us at the hotel.

No one complained.  Everything we did?  Dusty had done without his fucking legs.

nice kicks

This young man – without saying a single word – collected my license to bitch.  i may let him keep it…

Zen and the Art of Simulated Victimhood

As part of the rescue diver certification process, each student must pass “scenario” tests as a rescue leader, and as a member of a response/recovery team.  To do this, we also had to take turns as “simulated victims”.

When it was my turn to be the “vic”, the dive instructor pulled me and my buddy aside to give us instructions.  We were to go to a particular spot in the cavern, and i was to hide and play dead under a rock.  Dive buddy then went to the surface, alerted the rescue troops, and then returned to keep an eye on me…

While hanging upside down, underwater, clinging to a rock, i reached a very interesting mental state.  Calm.  Tranquil.  Fairly relaxed, despite the fact that i was pretending to be dead.  After a few minutes, the hordes of minnows present in the fresh water decided i might be tasty. 

They started pinging at my face and hands – the only exposed flesh.  As if they were checking to see if i had started to decompose.  “Is she rotten yet?  No?  OK.  Now? ”  Ping, ping, ping…  Given that i was supposed to be seriously dead, i took my simulated victimhood seriously and didn’t swish them away…

When my rescuers fnally located me (after only about 15 minutes), they had to drag me to the surface.  Given the 7 mil wetsuit, and the fact that i was only packing 14 pounds in my belt, i was more than a little bit of a floater.

The first time i broke character was when my feet launched above my head, and my rescuers realized that they pretty much had to sit on me to keep me from dragging them to the surface too soon…  way too many bubbles came out of my supposedly dead face as they rode me like a bloated bronco.

Given that my instructions were to ‘get dead, stay dead’, their resuscitation attempts after hauling my carcass onto the dock failed.  The second time i broke character?  When my dive buddy started weeping and wailing and saying – “NOOOOOO!  Don’t bring her back!  I’m on the life insurance policy…”.

That got a one-finger salute from a dead woman…

Scuba Nuggets

No, not something accidently left in the wetsuit after a bout of “Mummy Tummy”… some random neural firings from about 4 days of salt water-based recreation…

– Lucked out:  If you’re going to be stuck on a dive boat with 16 people for a week, it’s a little bit of magic if there are no assholes in the group.  And we got the magic…  Odd collection of folks, for sure, but very cool.  And yes…. Much. Debauchery.  Oh, i’ve met my match with some of these folks!

– SCUBA Pranking:  Learned a few tricks from the seasoned divers.  If you want to tweak someone?  Load the pockets of their dive vest with bits of sausage.  After you get submerged, the sausage bits start to release from the mesh pockets, and the largish grouper come to feed… *snort*

– Night Diving:  This is just on the hairy edge of terrifying.  Add a very strong current (5mph) at about 50′?  There were about a dozen of us trying to stay in a group… Holy. Shit.  Not likely to do this again until i’m somewhere with no current… and have several thousand a few more dives under my weight belt.  Did i say “Holy Shit?”

– Surprises:  Not sure what i expected, but was stunned to see several barracuda, a few sea turtles, nurse sharks and a gigantic pregnant green eel…. had to be 6′-8′ long… But the most delightful surprise so far?  The flying fish.  Somehow i always thought they were located in the south pacific.  Schools of ’em… flying alongside the boat!  Astonishing in the sunlight!

Apologies for being absent in your comment boxes… but i’ve only got a few more days left here, and i don’t wanna miss a thing!  Surf’s up!

Night diving = terror.  Didn't even see any octupii - we were moving too fast!

Night diving = terror. Didn't even see any octupii - we were moving too fast!

Fantastic Voyage

It’s not really a ‘bucket list’.  You know, the list of stuff you want to do before you die.  But there’s no shortage of people places and things i’d like to experience before i check into the big dirt hotel.  i got my SCUBA certification on Labor Day weekend, 2006 to celebrate my divorce.  Coincidently the same day that dearly lanced and departed Steve Irwin suffered the indignity of a stinger through the heart….

When people ask “why”, i’ve got a litany of perfectly fine answers.  “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water, and i need to be able to get there”, or “i’ve always dreamed of diving with the Whale Sharks – 45 foot long, plankton-eating mega-sushi!” or “i need a ‘return-to-the-womb’ experience so maybe i can start over and get it right this time…”

Nope.  None of those started it.  It was because of this movie: Fantastic Voyage.  And more specifically, the vision of Raquel Welch in that white, zip-front wetsuit.  Hot science babe, shrunk in a submarine with her science posse, traversing the body of some creepy bald dude.  Got no idea why it marked me, but it did. 

It looked better after the white corpuscles gnawed on it a bit...

It looked better after the white corpuscles gnawed on it a bit...

While rooting through the local dive shop, doing a little shopping, i was discouraged to learn that not only did they have no white wetsuits, but all suits are now designed to zip up the back.  Shit.  A nearly audible pop as the fantasy ruptured.  i found a 3mm shorty that will suffice.  But i’m wondering if the Dive Master will get pissed off if i wear it backwards?

Bring on the dogfish...

Bring on the dogfish...

i’m skipping town in a few days for a dive trip to Mexico.  My first time in salt water, looking at fish that are not a dingy shade of brown… Drift diving, which means you gear up, jump out of a boat, sink to the desired depth, and let the current carry you along.  Theoretically, when you’re done, you ascend and there is a boat waiting to take you back to shore for fruity cocktails and a poolside siesta. 

i can guarantee that in my mind i won’t be poolside.  i will be strapped into my miniature research submarine, anxiously hoping that the creepy bald dude can work up some tears and cry me the fuck out of his head before i return to normal size…