Sorry Charlie (2 of 2) – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

It was amazing. I looked straight down past my fins and saw nothing. I deliberately pointed my light down past my fins to see anything there, and there was just black. It was as if I was being swallowed up by a black hole. I looked up above me and saw the others floating down, my expelled air bubbles bumping into the other divers, working their way to the surface. If it wasn’t for the fact that there were another 12 divers with me, it would’ve really been hard to concentrate on not freaking out! You know the saying: safety in numbers?

As we descended I felt as if I was in my mother’s womb again. It was so eerie. The sounds of the sea were amplified a hundred times as everyone’s light beams flickered in different directions. Clicks, beeps, and scrapes enveloped us. You knew that though the water was black, there was a lot of activity going on. The sealife were feeding, and probably in great numbers. This definitely wasn’t like diving during the day. Not at all. During the day you heard the sealife, and could see a great deal in front of you. But this was different. Here you really couldn’t see anything, especially if you switched your light off. I shut my eyes for a second to feel the vibe of the ocean – and quickly opened them! This was starting to remind me of that B-movie, Altered States. I wonder if I was going to metamorphose like the lead character that William Hurt portrayed…

After a while I pointed my light at my depth gauge, and it said 18 meters. But I looked for the sea bottom and still didn’t see it. Whoa, I wondered how deep this area was? With my dive buddy to the right of me, we found the red chemical light of Claire off in the distance and headed off.

Though we were some 18 meters down, the roughness of the water above was transferring itself at our depth. I was being bounced around like a rag doll. It was hard trying to maintain my buoyancy, and even just trying to remain level just wasn’t happening. I remembered during the briefing on-board that we had to keep the reef to our right side at all times. Though I’d been to this same reef during the daytime only several hours earlier, at night it seemed totally alien. I didn’t want to get cut up on the coral either, for I knew that a coral cut would take quite a while to heal – especially in the heat and humidity of North Queensland. And God only knows if my blood would attract hungry sharks. So crashing into the coral wasn’t an option. So I was nervous… maybe a little too nervous. Should I have ever even considered going on this dive? I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down, my air gauge needle dropping towards zero like a rock.

My dive buddy noticed me having a hard time. Perhaps he saw my eyes bugging out? He gave me the “okay” signal, and I returned it. He motioned to follow him to some coral and I did. He hovered by the coral, which was bright red when illuminated. I played with my BCD, trying to get my buoyancy correct. Looking off in the distance I saw Claire and the rest of the group, their flashlights lighting up the sides of the coral wall, really hoping we didn’t lose them.

With the combined light of everyone, only a small section of the coral reef we were on was lit. It reminded me of something out of that movie The Abyss. About 12 divers, all seemingly in suspended animation, hovered around a large piece of coral reef. The illumination of the reef was cast blue/brown by the lights; the bubbles of exhaled air reflecting light as they worked their way up to the surface. I motioned to Charlie that perhaps we should join them. They were moving away from us; he motioned that he wanted to stay and examine a nearby sea anemone. Great.

Suddenly, there was an explosion of light from up above, so bright it blinded me for a second. As the light faded, I could make out everything around me, almost as if we were in a nightclub and a strobe had gone off, catching everyone in their dance moves. I could tell that the area we were in was huge. It looked familiar in that split second, for I knew I was in this area earlier in the day. There were fish surrounding us too, going about their business, keeping clear of us. The deep blue color of everything around me made me feel as if I was in thick Jell-O. After the flash of lightning, there was a crash of thunder – KABOOOM! The sound reverberated through the water, first sounding like a large door slamming, then fading away as the sound waves made their way from us. It left a dull rumble in its wake. Whoa. This was mindblowing. My head was whirling around like a top just then, trying to catch all the details. Glancing at my air gauge again, I saw that it was nearing almost 120 bar. I was almost at the end of my dive, and hadn’t been down for more than 15 minutes!

Soon Charlie became disinterested in the anomie and moved forward to catch up with the others. As we swam I looked to my left in the ink and saw glowing creatures. What the hell were they? Stopping, I studied one that drifted close to me: it was a shrimp. It looked as if it had thin fiberoptics strung across its body, and was letting the currents carry it. As it drifted by I looked at another glowing object, a small stringy glob the size of my fist; it looked like it was a jellyfish of some type. Not wanting to get stung, I swam upwards to let it go by me. I strained to see the bottom of the reef and made out lots of other glowing objects too. I wondered what exactly we would be able to see if we all shut off our lights and let our eyes adjust.

Turning my light back into the darkness, I could make out two glowing green pinpoints that seemed to be moving closer. As I hovered there watching, I could make out that these eyes belonged to a creature that seemed large, like the size of a small dog. They told us in the briefing that sharks should be around, and if they see your lights, they’ll approach. They apparently react like deer when light is shone on them in the darkness. As soon as I remembered that, I made out what it was – a reef shark! It was swimming towards me lazily, curious I’m sure as to what idiot would be screwing up it’s hunting!

I freaked out and immediately turned the light away, banging on Charlie’s head. He thrashed around, letting a gurgled scream out, not knowing what the hell was hitting him on top of his head. I motioned “shark,” and he turned his light into the darkness, looking. But it was gone. He gave me a look that said, “You were hallucinating,” as I shrugged my shoulders at him.

Soon the currents picked up, pulling me away from Charlie. I kicked really hard and was able to come back to my dive buddy, who was observing some more coral, not paying attention to the problems I was having. I pointed my head down, turning legs and torso towards the surface as I kicked as hard as I could back towards him. That expended a lot of energy and air. I looked at my air gauge and it read 100 bar. That was the signal to surface, as per the divemasters. I showed it to Charlie and he gave me an incredulous look that said: “How the hell did you manage to eat up all your air?” Shaking his head, he chased after Claire, giving her the signal that we had to surface. She gave the okay and we went up.

The water was extremely rough this time around when we hit the surface. It wasn’t raining though, the main activity of the storm not moving in. We bobbed up and down as the currents pulled us away from he mothership, giving me the feeling that we would be swept far away from it. Waiting for the crest of a wave, we both kicked as hard as we could to get our torsos up above the water, so the watchmen on the sundeck could see our signal from the flashlights. They did. We both signaled the all-okay, which they returned. I sure as hell wasn’t going to swim against the currents back to the ship though.

“Yo, do you mind if we get picked up?” I said, spitting out a mouthful of sea water that slammed into it.

“No, not at all. I’m not going to swim back; the currents are too strong. Hey listen Mo,” Charlie said, concerned, “were you okay? You were really having a hard time there.”

“Well… I was. I must apologize for that. I couldn’t maintain my buoyancy. The currents were really bouncing me around. I didn’t want to crash into the reef either, cutting myself. I got cut on a dive last week and don’t need that again. And I kept getting pulled away from the group as well. That dive just wasn’t working for me.”

“Dude, perhaps you shouldn’t go on the next night dive tomorrow then?” I could tell by the way he was looking at me that he hoped I wouldn’t be paired up with him.

“No, I have to man. I gotta beat this. If I had problems on this dive, I need to do it again. Besides, if I let the fear get me, I’ll never do it. The only way you could beat it is if you immediately go back out there.” I could tell by Charlie’s attitude that he wasn’t really happy with my performance as a dive buddy. It was our first night dive together, while all the other day dives were fine. But I warned him before, even though I’d done over 14 dives at that point, I may eat up my air first, causing his dive to end. I had never experienced diving in anything like this, and more than likely would run out of air first.

So I had to endure his dirty looks for the rest of the evening.

Sorry Charlie.

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