When You Least Expect It

Bob HalsteadWhen I look back over my 42 year diving career and more than 10,000 dives, I realise how few dive-related injuries I have sustained. A few infections from coral scratches, a nasty sting from a bunch of Corallimorpharians, nothing really and a little care has cured me from repeating these injuries.

I have had a few aches, pulled muscles and minor pain but I always say “a little pain won’t hurt you”, and these niggles rapidly disappear.

Perhaps I have some deterioration in my hearing – but that is a function of old age, as is “selective” hearing where we males recognise words such as “sex” and “dinner” but not “garbage” or “washing up”.

Certainly minor compared to injuries inflicted on my friends, particularly those who partake in the supposedly healthy life-style choice of bicycling. They always crash and end up in hospital with broken bones, missing teeth and skin-free areas of flesh leaving life-long scars.

Titan Triggerfish -- Beware
Titan Triggerfish -- Beware

So it was a bit of a shock when, out of the blue as it were, a fish bit me and I started bleeding. Strangely, exactly the same thing had happened to my dive mate Rodney Pearce when we were diving a Zero wreck in Rabaul Harbour just a month previously.

Was this a coincidence? Or was it Divine Intervention or, as the Gullible Greenies would inevitably claim, another manifestation of Climate Change? Fortunately I am rational, and well versed in science, Occam’s Razor and cause and effect, and I can tell you that Rodney’s bite was the result of a Coral Cod mistaking his fingers for food in the billowing silt stirred up investigating Japanese markings on the aircraft, and mine the noble efforts of a large Titan triggerfish protecting freshly deposited eggs in its nearby nest.

Kirtley Leigh and the Turtle, seconds before the attack
Kirtley Leigh and the Turtle, seconds before the attack

But there is a bit more to the story. You see I had, just a few minutes previously, pointed out a nesting triggerfish to my dive model Kirtley Leigh. They are known to nest around Christmas time and become aggressive. I gave a danger signal to her and gesticulated to make it clear we were going to swim away. I felt quite pleased with myself in a superior, pedagogical, kind of way, and we moved along soon to be captivated by a beautiful Hawkesbill Turtle that pleaded with me to have its photograph taken.

As the turtle assumed several dramatic poses for my camera, and Kirtley Leigh and I swirled with balletic elegance and harmony to capture the essence of its “turtle-ness”, another triggerfish took advantage of my distraction, hurtled into me from below and chomped my wrist.

The triggerfish wound was so trivial I had to affect a limp
The triggerfish wound was so trivial I had to affect a limp

I was surprised rather than hurt, but since there was blood, I quickly handed the camera to Leigh to make sure the event was recorded.

This all happened just as we started a wonderful nine days diving in our own back yard, escaping the hell of Christmas hype and pandemonium. It is easy to do and we chose the Cairns Deep Sea Divers Den’s Ocean Quest to do it on.

You meet up at the shop; take the DSDD bus to the marina, and then their fast ferry/day boat Reef Quest out to Norman or Saxon Reef on the outer Great Barrier Reef. You can then transfer to Ocean Quest for as many nights as you choose. It is a very efficient way to dive the GBR.

Every day, five dives are offered, with the boat moving to two different dive sites. They have 13 moored sites on Norman Reef, 7 on Saxon and plenty of photogenic marine life including Barramundi cod, cuttlefish, Giant clams, “Nemos” and a zillion others.

After displaying my bleeding wound to all and applying First Aid, I decided that it was really rather trivial so affected a limp to make it seem worse. I love sympathy.

But there was more, and potentially not trivial.

I noticed that I was getting a bit of “heartburn” during the dives. There was no problem before the dive, and I had a rapid recovery after, but nevertheless I felt soreness in my upper lungs. This got worse as the dive progressed. I was getting quite uncomfortable.

My first thought (and shame on me) was that I had bad air. But this is virtually impossible on any GBR dive operation. The air has to be tested regularly and operators are all meticulous in their attention to clean air, besides, bad air smells, and this was sweet, no smell.

But I was on the right track. You might care to do a diagnosis now before I reveal all?

It got even worse and I realised that not only was my chest sore but I was also producing a large amount of mucus. Got it yet?

I should have realised right away when this happened, but it was not until I was half asleep that night that the Eureka moment occurred. These are symptoms of saltwater aspiration.

My Scubapro G250 is a notoriously dry regulator – but it could have a pinhole in the diaphragm that would produce a fine spray of salt water for me to breathe. First thing in the morning I was on deck using my emergency tool kit to pull the second stage apart and check it out. The diaphragm was fine and properly seated. Next stop the exhaust valve – and there it was, a tiny corner of the valve had “tucked” under the seat and would leak when I inhaled. A quick flick and problem solved.

I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out. I just have not had a problem like that for a very long time, and it happened, just like the triggerfish attack, when I least expected it. By the way, Oxygen after the dive will rapidly treat the symptoms of saltwater aspiration. It is a personal thing, but I feel Margaritas and Bubbly also help.

I would like to report that these were the only incidents to confess but, alas, I made another mistake that I have only ever made once before, and that also nearly led to tragedy.

We were offered a special dinghy “drop off” at one of Ocean Quest’s finest sites – “Troppos”. A few weeks earlier a Great Hammerhead (and later a Whale Shark) had been seen at the site and since the Great Hammerhead is rare, very big, and my all-time favourite shark, I was anxious to try to get a photo or two. It was Christmas morning – a perfect day and gin clear water. Very exciting! What a present the Hammerhead would be!

Leigh and I went over the side and down the wall where I discovered that I still had the lens cap on my camera inside the housing. Now I was terrified that a Great Hammerhead would appear!

So, feeling very foolish, I set off back to the Ocean Quest. Two minutes later the O ring blew on Leigh’s tank ……..

That dive was not meant to be. If O rings blow they should have the good sense to do it before the dive starts, not after.

Luckily the Hammerhead did not show and tragedy was averted.

I must say the crew were extraordinary and looked after us splendidly. And they have a tough job. Mostly they are looking after students or inexperienced divers, so see some crazy things that they have to prevent from becoming dangerous.

They managed to stop the diver who had his regulator firmly fastened UNDER his weight belt from jumping in, and several with their air still turned off. I spotted a diver with the worse case of bicycling leg kick I have ever seen being nursed, and weights on the bottom testified to dive guides adjusting overweighted divers. But Dive Supervisors Ed and Katie and their team of instructors handled all this quietly with good humour and enthusiasm. There were a lot of very happy customers.

One time saturation diver, the gnarled Captain Bob who exudes authority from many years of experience, had fun too changing anchorage at night, as the fickle monsoon season wind decided to reverse its direction. We did not expect it – but he did.

At the “Playground” the crew are licensed to feed a small quantity of official fish pellets to trevally and snappers that hang off the stern attracted to the lights at night. This also brings in a shiver of well-behaved Grey Reef Sharks who do not get fed, but enjoy the general mayhem.

Night divers descend through the sharky waters to the reef where Giant Trevally hunt in the beams from divers’ lights. Snorkellers lay down on the dive platform that is then lowered slightly underwater so they can see the action from the safety of the platform.

After the other divers had gone to the reef, Leigh and I went in and hung around the stern, able to shoot photos of the sharks, trevally and snappers, the faces of the snorkellers and the lights of the boat. It is sensational diving. One Japanese guest thought we were all going to be eaten as we jumped in to the middle of the assembled sharks, and pleaded with Leigh not to do her giant stride to certain death.

But we were not concerned. The sharks were just calmly cruising, and we were relaxed, but not complacent. We were on the lookout for anything that might happen just when we least expected it.


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4 thoughts on “When You Least Expect It”

  1. I used to wear shorties in warm waters – until I got hit by what was probably a well-developed Cassiopeia (upside down jelly) in the canal joining Nichupté lagoon to the sea in Cancún whilst swimming (the vis was to poor to see what was happening, I was moving, current was running and there were plenty of Cassiopeia in the lagoon). No immediate stinging or pain, but in the end a lost a baseball-sized chunk of dermis from my thigh and it took a long time to heal.

    Lest you pay too much attention to Brett, some of this comes with getting old – even if you aren’t so good, so why bother, right? – and if you think that getting older sucks, lemme tell you the alternative sucketh much further. 😉

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  2. I’m sitting in the Maldives with exactly the symptoms that Bob describes. I’ve got another week to go. Should I confine myself to my cabin and content myself with listening to Van Halen? I’ve already got the pics!

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  3. Bob,

    I predict that these problems are only the beginning of many annoyances as The Almighty now exacts revenge on you for a lifetime of raucous behavior, decadent cavorting, mindless consumption of alcoholic beverages and, worst of all, a habit of continuing to espouse common sense advice to divers through your published works, blogs, and ongoing dive programs. Such behavior is not tolerated by the arch-conservative entities that have tried to rule diving from a platform of ignorance and resistance to all changes, no matter how much they improved safety and comfort.

    So now you will be afflicted for your sins, past and present. Expect a bout of hair loss… no, I guess that has already started. Next you will start to have trouble remembering things… where was I? Oh yeah, then you’ll be cursed with irritable bowel syndrome and painful rectal itch. I suspect that next round of trials includes the frogs and locusts… along with being joined at the hip to a government bureaucrat who makes diving rule. Persevere, good man. Look past all this and to the true path.

    Just don’t let Dinah turn into a pillar of salt…

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  4. A lesson we all should remember. Be prepared for whatever because it’s coming.

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