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A Tale of Two Skillsets

For yesterday’s experiment with reef diving we went out on a day-boat with a local dive mill, simply got a couple of seats on the late morning dive. Though I’ve never worked for a shop that operates with the kind of volume that some of the places here do, with a dozen different DSDs and classes and tours coming and going all at once, it felt familiar watching the bustle of activity in the morning.

I did my best to simply stay out of the way. This was not my circus; I was simply along for the ride.

Among our group was a friendly young woman from California who was recently certified and diving on her own. The plan was that she and some other divers would stick close to the DM while the three in our team (the DM identified us as more experienced) would stick nearby-ish, but otherwise just do our own thing.

“Everyone sit on the gunwhale and inflate your BCs!” The DM instructed as the motor cut.

“I think there’s something wrong with this,” the young lady said, alternately pressing the two buttons on her power inflator while nothing happened.

“OK, everybody ready?” The DM was behind the little boats helm and didn’t have a clear eyeshot to her.

“No,” a few of us said loudly enough for the DM to hear. Attention was drawn to the busted BC button.

“It’s OK,” She said, “I can just orally inflate.”

Which was impressive. Maybe I’m overly cynical, but in my experience, even that is a “skill” beyond many fresh divers. And, in my opinion, a perfectly safe solution to such a problem.

So everyone returns to positions, she goes to orally inflate...

... and the whole power inflator comes off the corrugated hose in her hand.

“He’ll fix it in the water,” mumbles the crew as he stuffs the inflator back into the hose.

“OK, everyone backroll!” Shouts the DM.

“Not my circus,” I say to myself as I backroll.

Though I admit, as soon as I hit the water my eyes went to her, ready to charge downward after her if she started plummeting.

Which she didn’t. She was holding the power inflator together and waiting calmly on the surface. The DM came over and I pointed out that there was no zip tie holding the assembly together.

“That’s OK,” He said, “It’ll be fine. Let’s all descend.”

Not my circus.

After a few minutes of watching the girl holding the whole thing together and capably orally inflating I relaxed that this probably wasn’t going to be a calamitous day.

And that’s about when one of my team, Full Cave and Deco trained, pointed to the SPG on the shop’s rental reg and signalled, “This is broken.”

The needle hadn’t moved in too long, then tapping on the gauge made the needle jump to random, nonsensical positions.

Well shit. This IS my circus now.

He communicated the broken gauge to the DM; who responded, “OK. Look at the stingray!”

We had verified the tank started at full. I ran through the mental math on what I know my buddy’s breathing intervals are for this depth and trusted he was doing the same. 35 minutes. We call the dive at 35 minutes and would be on the surface with way too much gas left over.

The three of us stuck close together and dove along for another few minutes until my buddy reached the breaking point of his trust in the interval math. He gave the DM a thumb.

DM shrugged and swam off, gal with the broken BC still in tow.

We blew our own bag. Unremarkable ascent, complete with safety stop. He later gauged the tank and verified that there had, indeed, still been plenty of gas.

The DM et al showed up a few minutes later, with an equally unremarkable climb into the boat for the three minute motor back to shore.

Two different divers - two different experience levels - two different gear failures, either one of which could have led to a very, very different outcome to the day. But both of them managed capably, if not with aplomb.

And my biggest take-away:

“I am soooooooooo glad I don’t work for a dive shop or on dayboats anymore.”

These are the sorts of things that happen every goddamn day. The sorts of little failures that DMs all over the world wave off as “It’ll probably be fine,” charter after charter, day after day, week after week, year after year.

Now if something had gone wrong yesterday...

Here are two different hypotheticals that are in no way far-fetched:

Diver with a broken BC is overweighted and their tank isn’t on properly backrolls and sinks straight to the bottom with nothing to breath and no way to inflate.

Diver with a broken SPG continues the dive thinking they still have 2500psi right down to their last breath.

As it stands, everyone was home for tacos and afternoon beers... just like usually happens. BUT. If either diver hadn’t come back, as does sometimes happen, it would have been very easy to blame the DM. Which would be a total cop-out.

I honestly can’t say what I would have done differently if I was the DM yesterday. Either one of those failures, in a perfect world, would be enough to call the dive for the whole group.

But we live in an imperfect world. Where DMs are subject to enormous pressures by the shops who are under enormous pressures by their clients. Even delaying a charter by so much as a few minutes has a ripple effect through a dive factory like that which will negatively affect every other diver and boat for the rest of the day. To say nothing of the sorts of complaints the management would receive from another diver if you told them, “Sorry your dive was only 5 minutes long, but our rental gear on another diver was broken.”

Those sorts of pressures are as if someone got a 20 foot tall neon sign, that blinks in different colors, and placed it right outside your bedroom window reading, “NORMALIZATION OF DEVIANCE!!!” But they are, lamentably, unavoidable for the sorts of diving that is most common.

So I am damn glad it’s not my circus.

And I’m glad the gal with the broken BC had a wonderful dive and saw a turtle. And I’m glad my buddy saw the real-world value in some of the seemingly-tedious math that’s taught. It was good to see good training, at even those two very different levels of experience, trumped equipment failures.

And I’m glad that it was a really lovely reef dive with some really lovely conditions.

“Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

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