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November 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 31, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Assigned a Bad Buddy?

it happens to all of us some time

from the November, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It's not uncommon for complete strangers to be paired up as impromptu buddies on dive boats. Some of those strangers are incompetent, as Undercurrent's senior editor, John Bantin, notes about a diver in a group he was once leading: he twice had to bring back up from below 165 feet (50m) while breathing Nitrox 32. Most of us have been reluctantly paired with someone we wish we hadn't been paired with. We asked subscribers for their stories, and we got an earful. The consensus: do not accept just any old buddy, no matter what the dive operator says or insists on.

New Zealander Mike Davis, editor of the stellar Diving & Hyperbaric Medicine Journal, had a long list of stories after a 54-year diving career. He told Undercurrent of a diver who brought a spear gun on a night dive and speared fish caught in other divers' light beams! Then there was the diver 15 years his junior who was too faint-hearted to swim to the shot-line for the famous Queensland wreck of the Yongala. He towed him over on the second attempt but the guy refused to leave the bottom of the shotline, surfacing after 5 minutes, so neither got to see the wreck. He also remembers following a buddy down to 120 feet (36m), bringing her back up and removing 13 pounds (6kg) of lead from her weight belt before the next dive - and even then she was over-weighted!

Buddies going deeper than might be wise is a common complaint among those paired with strangers. Charles Burkhart (Titusville, FL) told how he was paired with a buddy of similar age to him when diving in the Red Sea in 1999, only to find the guy went so deep that Charles passed 200 feet (61m) merely trying to get his attention. We don't think Charles or anyone else would do that in 2016.

Panic is not something you can usually anticipate in someone you don't know.

Canadian Raymond Haddad (Candiac, QC) was paired with a French diver in the Bahamas who only wanted to breathe air and dive beyond 130 feet (40m) because he thought that's where the sharks would be. The Frenchman wasn't even able to go as deep as the reef top on the following dive, such were his residual decompression limits.

There are buddies who may agree to pair with you but have very different intentions. Mark Etter (Lancaster, PA) was once forced against his better judgment to take a buddy whom he found took 10 minutes to clear her ears. Then she ignored him, joining instead the dive guide with two others who similarly had abandoned their assigned buddies.

The Problem With Personalities

Buddies who ignore you and go off to do their own thing will leave you with a dilemma, whether to spend the dive chasing after them or not. Seventyfive- year-old Didier Figueroa (Sandia Park, NM) reckons he's still very fit but went out with a dive boat from Ventura, CA and found himself paired with a muscle-bound young man who announced he would be searching for lobsters. That should have been a warning to the PADI Self Reliant Diver. He was immediately abandoned underwater by his erstwhile buddy, who took off at speed. In an attempt to keep up, Didier ended up exhausted at the surface, far from the boat and in need of a rescue. He went solo for his next dive and had a much better time.

For a drift dive in Cozumel, Rich Erickson and his daughter (Marietta, GA) were put together with a third diver who insisted on swimming hard in the same direction as the current. He soon left them in his wake, and when they surfaced, was seen to be a huge distance from the boat.

You can check a person's logbook and discuss the diving they might have done in the past but panic is not something you can usually anticipate in someone you don't know. Bob Cottle (Berwyn,IL) relates how, diving in the Spanish Mediterranean with an assigned buddy, they entered a sea cavern and surfaced in the airspace within it, at which point his buddy froze in panic and refused to re-submerge in order to go back out. Stuck with this impasse, Bob searched around and luckily found another exit close to the surface. He managed to persuade the man to follow him out.

Panic is one thing; someone who is oblivious to what's going on around him is just as bad. Bill Domb (Riviera Beach, FL) remembers having a buddy with clearly impaired cognition allocated to him and later seeing him being dragged up from the depths by an alert divemaster after the man simply kept going when they reached their maximum assigned depth. Domb says, "In retrospect, he should not have been foisted off on a guest [like me], but should have been accompanied by a divemaster if allowed to go down at all."

Kelly J. Ramsay (Montreal, QC) had a buddy who appeared to suffer from perceptual narrowing during a search and recovery scenario, so concentrating on their compass they forgot the purpose of the exercise, swimming faster and faster in entirely the wrong direction, out into a shipping channel. Worse, another buddy tried to inflate his BCD in a misguided effort to aid an ascent from depth, resulting in panic as things got out of control.

Jeff Janak (Dallas, TX) thinks a solo diver certification absolves him of the need to be paired with a stranger and take on the liability, although this didn't help solo-certified David Bader (Norwood, NC). Because he is a technical diving instructor, he often finds himself getting paired purposely with divers with weaker skills. On one trip, he told Undercurrent, his problematic companion needed help with two emergency ascents and locked his computer out twice.

Dr. George Irwin (Bloomington, IL) has buddied with his wife for more than 3000 dives and has views on other divers' qualities by nationality. He thinks that European divers are very skilled and safe, while Asians and Americans are less so. Maybe that reflects perfunctory training?

It's not all bad. Meeting divers from many different parts of the world is one of the pleasures Emmette Murkett (New Bingham, AL) enjoys while routinely traveling solo. He's dived with Russians, a Slovenian, Dutch, Danes, Brits, Irish, Indonesians, and Australians. He told Undercurrent that he once dived with an octogenarian from Alabama with early onset of Alzheimer's. The lady had been diving for more than 40 years, could dive on autopilot, used precious little air, and communications underwater were better than above.

We don't know what Emmette would have done if asked to sign a buddy agreement that took onboard responsibility for another diver as Mary Sirena (South Padre Island, TX) was once asked to do. She was on a liveaboard, part of an Austrian fleet, in the Red Sea. She refused to comply but was still allowed to dive.

He needed help with two emergency ascents and locked his computer out twice.

Do Women Attract the Dodgy Deal?

Women divers seem to get stuck with dodgy assigned buddies more than men -- or is it that most dodgy buddies are men? Karen Gordon (Fairbanks, AK) tells how she found herself with a buddy who thought he was Superman and put his arms straight out in front while he bicycle-paddled off through the water. The man was chronically oblivious of where he was in the water column or where anyone else around him was as well, because he constantly crashed into other divers or soared upwards. She says he had no buoyancy control skills and "was an accident waiting to happen." What was supposed to be a fun day turned into a stressful job for her. She says she learned her lesson that day. The last thing she wants to do on vacation is babysit an unknown diver.

Mary Wicksten (Bryan, TX), a professor of biology at Texas A&M, has also endured the company of buddies who had no idea of buoyancy control, who yo-yo'd through the water column, and especially one who complained the water was 'too bumpy.' Mary tells Undercurrent that she's had buddies who have charged off, leaving her alone, and those who think their own computers are too conservative before descending to more than 200 feet (61m) breathing air. She reflects that she has had to violate her own decompression plan to bring up a girl who went down to 120 feet (37m) on a second dive, and who also ran out of air - resorting to the emergency air tank hung under the boat. That girl then had the temerity to explain later to the dive guide that because she had no computer, she merely followed Mary, doing what she did!

Australian Gail McIntyre (Mountain Creek, Queensland) also told Undercurrent of the buddy who had no computer and promised she would keep close but didn't and ended up in a hyperbaric chamber as of a consequence.

Anne Kazel-Wilcox (NYC) reckoned she might have suffered elements of decompression sickness after wasting precious air searching for her buddy who had separated from her during a dive, resulting in a hurried ascent from the wreck of the Yongala in Australia's Queensland, cutting short her decompression requirement.

The young German man Valerie Pinder (Stratford, Ontario) found herself paired with during a trip to the Red Sea "strutted his stuff like Mick Jagger" on the aft deck of the boat and looked to be very confident in comparison to her mere 30-dive experience. In fact it was bluff. Only after he unknowingly went down to well beyond 90 feet (28m) and she was forced to follow him to bring him back, followed by him "blowing off the 15-feet (5m) safety stop" did she realize the awful truth. He had no idea how deep he'd been nor had he ever done much diving.

"I surely resent my dives being stolen by a bad buddy experience," says ZaZa (Toulouse, France). She tells how she once got paired once with a macho divemaster who claimed he was a former professional diver who once installed equipment underwater. Now he worked as an instructor and guide with the club she was diving with.

"We watched a lobster lose a claw as he wrenched it out from between the rocks to show it to me (the poor thing escaped) and witnessed his attempt to wrangle an eel from its crevice (the poor thing luckily had enough space to retreat from his sausage-like fingers). Not only was every dive wrapped up in 35 minutes at 85 feet (26m) with a 90 cu. ft. (12-litre) tank because he swam so fast, I spent most of these dives silently apologizing to all of the creatures we were barreling through!"

So be circumspect about whom you buddy up with. Don't be shy about refusing to be paired with someone you don't really know or trust. Discuss their diving experience, where they've recently dived, and try to get a look at their logbook -- and don't be shy about letting them see yours. Buddy pairing cuts both ways! Maybe it's worth writing on that liability disclaimer that you do not take responsibility for the well being of any other diver in the water.

- Ben Davison

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