I am going to go for a solo dive today.
Solo diving is not my preference. To the point that it is remarkably rare that I will do so. For nearly all dives having a spare set of eyes, hands, and a brain (not to mention gas supply) is the ultimate in potentially life-saving redundancy. Which is why I deeply believe in, and therefore teach, the value and utility of team awareness and teamwork in cave diving. Not that I am ideologically against the practice of solo diving. There are, in fact, some rare occasions when it’s arguably safer to be solo in the cave; for example, exploration in small, crumbly/silty passage. In such an environment I would rather not have someone plugging up a zero viz exit through god-knows-what behind me. However, this is a remarkably rare circumstance for the vast majority of divers.
This is not what I’m in the mood to do today, though. I’m just in the mood to float. To zen out, clear my mind, look at cool rocks, and be one with water. I've got the day off, so no one to look after.
No need to maintain absolute concentration on everything everyone in front of me is doing so that I can ensure their safety as well as catalog their every movement so I can deliver a constructive debrief later.
Most of the time when I dive with friends (on the rare occasions our free time corresponds) we wind up doing something extremely advanced; very deep, very distant, lots of deco involved, or a literal 1/4 ton of gear strapped to each of us so we can scooter to the centre of the Earth. These sorts of dives require a different sort of focus than teaching dives - but focus they do require. I don’t want to focus. I want to do the opposite. I want to unfocus. And, ever having been a loner, the best way to do that is probably on my own. “BUT YOU’LL FUCKING DIE INSTANTLY IF YOU SOLO DIVE!!!!!!” comes up the cry. Yeah. I don’t really know about that. Thing is, I see people safely returning from solo dives all the time. Even the people with a hard line against it, including those for whom solo diving is a cardinal sin. I made this same argument once or twice many years ago in the recreational community. I think PADI has finally caved and has a solo diver course? (Frankly, I don’t care enough to even bother to fact-check that myself.) But once upon a time that was an absolute no-no and Course Directors would utterly lose their shit into a spit-flecked, screaming tirade against it. But I found that this argument could be pretty quickly disarmed with, “When an OWSI is teaching, say, open water dive #2 with two students and no assistants… are they really team diving? Or are they actually solo diving with two additional, dangerous liabilities who may, at any moment, pose increased risks to their own life?” This was generally met with a pointed finger of counter-argument… and a mouth open about to say something… but no words coming out… as you could watch the wheels of worried comprehension turning behind their eyes. Most every cave student team I see, whether they’re flashing their lights around like a disco during their first time in the cave, or competently sharing air blind through restrictions towards the end of Full Cave has their instructor floating somewhere near on their heels. Or over their heads. The instructor usually has their primary light turned off, flying “ghost mode” to observe their students without too much direct interference. Not an active part of the team… more like a super-judgey observer. Their instructor and I may wave a greeting, some information, or simply acknowledgement as our student teams pass one another. And in that moment, with that wave, is the only moment we actually have anything resembling a team member in the cave with us. Someone who would be able to render aid to us, someone who would be able to delineate an actual problem from “oh, the instructor must be fucking with us somehow.” Someone who could save our lives instead of hopelessly staring on from a position of innocent ignorance. Someone who knows exactly where we are in the cave DESPITE our primary lights not even being on as a beacon. But then we follow our student teams, typically off in different directions. And, again, we are alone. Solo diving. Yes, we are in the cave with other people. Yes, we are training those people to be safe and competent team members. But no, they aren’t there yet. Because if they were, class would already be over. Righteous indignation is fun and all. But it’s worth admitting: one can be very alone in a crowd. I solo dive a lot. Every time I am about to submerge with a student team I am cognisant that I am not only all alone, I am diving with additional risk. By which I don’t mean, “I’ve got people who are going to try to kill me.” I’m not quite that cynical. What I mean is that I bear all the risk of each student as well. I think to myself, “I am not allowed to have a heart attack and die while I’m in ghost mode, letting them swim on without noticing what happened. Because that would be abandoning my students.” Today I have no students. Our next guests aren’t here until the day after tomorrow. It’s late enough that throwing together a plan to make some sort of ultra-aggressive dive would be sort of irresponsible. Today is for simply floating. So I’ma finish loading the truck and I’m going to go somewhere I know like the back of my hand (haven’t made up my mind where yet). Someplace where there is plenty of topside activity and people will have seen me enter and exit.
Someplace where I go past a bunch of lines and always think, “I wonder where the hell that one connects back up?” but always have people with me and, therefore, don’t really have the opportunity to go find the answer. And I’m going to poke my nose into those little holes. Dial back from thirds by a couple hundred psi and otherwise just float. No more or less solo than I usually am. Mind even emptier than normal - which is saying something. All that said: I’m gonna feel damned foolish if this winds up being my last post.