Ryan and I performed our safety checks, going through the other’s equipment to ensure nothing was forgotten. One small mistake could quickly cascade of into a series of errors, a rapid downward spiral of miscalculations resulting in death. When you dive, you are at the mercy of the ocean. At best, she is indifferent. At worst, hostile.
The plan was to dive to fifty-two metres, find the tunnel, swim through it to the mouth of the ocean and return to the Blue Hole.
As I sank under the cool waters, a Picasso triggerfish glared at me with its orange eyes and pursed its yellow lips at me before it turned its tail as if to shun the presence of an inappropriate interloper. A puffer fish camouflaged itself among the rocky stones, sharp spines flat against its grey body as it retreated into obscurity. Reef fish scattered at my approach, underwater sunlight shimmering against their scaly bodies.
I struggled to keep up with Ryan who was only a few metres ahead. This was the most dangerous dive I would ever undertake, and losing sight of my diving partner might mean losing my life.
As the dive deepened, the clear blue water turned murky. Silt and sand churned from the rocky bottom. Ryan disappeared, consumed by a submerged sandstorm. I couldn’t read the depth on my diver’s watch. I switched on my diver’s light. Only more swirling sand. I swam deeper. I couldn’t find the entrance into the tunnel. Time passed.
When the silt settled, I finally could read the meter gauge. Ninety metres. I tapped the gauge, doubting its accuracy. I tapped it again. It registered a new number: ninety-two metres. This was trouble; I had never dove so far, dangerously over my head. I wrestled with my belt weights, trying to release them so I could ascend. But my fingers failed me. Numb. Limp. Vestigial appendages.
My head spun. Darkness engulfed me and I couldn’t judge which way was to the surface. Narcosis was setting in. I tried to slow my breathing—hyperventilation would only draw more of the toxic nitrogen into my body and accelerate the process. Then momentary clarity, when I thought to use my tank to inflate my buoyancy control device to help me to the surface. Failure. I was over-weighted.