Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Cod Hole

A cheerful voice announces that it is 6:30 A.M. and I am quickly upstairs for the first breakfast. I down a cup of coffee and eat some yogurt and fruit. We will be served a hot breakfast later, after our first morning dive. At 7:00 A.M. we are all on the dive deck and Mossy explain the logistics of our Cod Hole dive. I have seen the photos of the giant Potato Cod online and I am looking forward to meeting them eye to eye. My advanced dive classes will start this afternoon and until then I am Mossy's dive buddy. I swim behind him around large coral stacks, richly encrusted with thousands of species of pristine coral and teeming with life. I feel extremely privileged to be having this fish eye view of this underwater wonderland but it is a visual overload and I can't absorb or comprehend all that I am seeing. We reach an open sandy bottom area where several large Potato Cod are "hanging" out. They are not as enormous as I expected; but they are wonderful, weighing several hundred pounds each, spotted and with grumpy personable faces.

After a full hot breakfast we are ready for our second dive of the day. This dive is also at the Cod Hole, but this time Mossy will feed the cod and we are instructed to swim in conga line fashion, one diver after the other, until we reach the site. When we reach the site we will sit in a large circle on the sandy bottom and wait for Mossy. So as not to excite the cod prematurely, he will come a few minutes later with the large metal box containing the fish food. Mossy will not be my dive buddy on this dive; and in retrospect, regrettably, I really didn't have a dive buddy since we were all to swim in a continuous line, following one another and to stay together in the circle. On this dive, I again have difficulty submerging and by the time I manage to get below the surface most of the divers are well ahead of me. I struggle to catch up but continue to have difficulty adjusting my buoyancy and fall further behind. I feel panicky and my accelerated breathing makes me especially buoyant and I continue to rise towards the surface. Just when I am certain that I will have to abort the dive, a diver swims up behind me, grabs my hand and pulls me back down. I am relieved and grateful to see that it is John and he guides me into the circle of divers waiting on the sandy bottom. John holds my hand tightly and the woman on my other side grasps my other hand. It is challenging to stay kneeling in one position, made all the more difficult since both of my hands are constrained and I feel like an unbalanced buoyant top. We have been cautioned not to wave our fingers around, lest the cod or the snapper take a bite of our extremities.

When Mossy swims into the center of the circle, the Potato Cod gather excitedly. They know that food is inside the box. Mossy reaches in, pulls out a tidbit of food and releases a morsel in front of each one of us. The enormous cod come within inches of each of our masks to swallow the food, so we have a remarkable, fish eye view of these amazing fish. I wonder how old these huge fish are; how many years it has taken them to grow to these proportions? I will think twice before ordering fish and chips, and only when I am certain that the fishing is sustainable.

We have another elaborate buffet lunch and afterwards, Lozza pulls me aside to discuss the dives that I must complete for my advanced certification. As amazing as the Cod feed was, I remember the panicky feelings I had, left behind on our conga line swim. I am almost in tears and want to forego my advanced dive certification but she is patient and encouraging and ultimately, I am too embarrassed to call it off. I visualize three days from now, still being alive and having completed the certification and I imagine that John will be proud of me. Before I know it, we are suiting up again and I take the dreaded giant step off the back of the boat and submerge, to learn buoyancy control. Lozza teaches me how to regulate my buoyancy simply by inhaling and exhaling. 60 feet below surface, she has me swimming through hula hoops with breath control. When sign language fails, we communicate via a small white board and I soon grasp the techniques necessary to keep myself at at consistent depth.

The 4th dive of the day is to learn navigation via the compass. I am not confident that I can preform these skills on dry ground, in bright light and with reading glasses; but I somehow manage to swim 10 meters in one direction, set my compass and return to the same spot. Again, using the compass she has me swim 10 meters, adjust 90 degrees, and repeat this until I have navigated a square and have returned to my starting point. I suspect that she cut me a little slack, but I pass and she cheers me on!

Diving is exhausting. Simply suiting up with all the cumbersome equipment is exercise enough and I have literally been swimming through hoops today. We must complete one more dive today, a night dive, and I am not looking forward to it. Lozza informs me that I must stay below for 20 minutes and preform some simple tasks. I agree, but request that we surface after the 20 minutes. I expect the dive to be frightening but flood lights from the boat illuminate a vast area over the rear of the boat. We descend via the mooring line with our torches aglow. Since my buoyancy dive class, I feel that I have turned a corner and I have much more confidence and a better sense of my equipment. I am surprised at all that I can see and quickly adjust to the magic of the night. There are animals out tonight that are not out during the day. Lozza shines her light into crevices; illuminating unusual creatures at every turn. Earlier today, I was overwhelmed by the visual intensity of the reef; but at night, one can focus on each crevice individually. We see eels, scorpion fish, giant clams and sleeping white tipped reef sharks. After 20 minutes, Lozza leads me back to the mooring line and we ascend. In retrospect, it was the most magical of dives and I wish that I had stayed below until my air was depleted. John ascends 20 minutes later with tales of mystery, imagination and carnage. The night dive was also his favorite and he tells me that wherever he directed his torch, an otherwise camouflaged fish would become a target of prey.

I have completed 5 dives today and I feel empowered and exhausted. Except for the family with the two daughters, most everyone is at dinner tonight and over their sea sickness. One of the daughters was so ill and dehydrated that the family was motored to Lizard Island in the afternoon and flown back to Cairns. Dinner is incredible; and I don't think that my perception is only due to my exertion. We dine on Alaskan salmon, curried rice noodles and bock choy. I am grateful that the fish on tonights menu is not cod.

1 comment:

mamaslittlebabies said...

I love reading about your adventures!! You write so beautifully about your experiences, and I feel as if I've been there myself. I am so impressed and proud of your diving adventures. xoxo Cheri