Wait for it...
|Rocky Horror Entrance|
Day two and we're in the water early. This dive I've got two cameras, Jeff is taking the extra strobes and we're off. We ride the DPVs right up to the entrance of the Rocky Horror and set them down, clipped off to the line so they won't drift out in the slight current. Through the tunnels, pick up the bottles and off to a great photo mission. We get a lot of good images, white shrimp, chambered nautilus fossils, as good a photo mission as you could have. We hit thirds on the air, and out we go. Back through the maze of twisting passages and we pick up our DPVs.
Funny how much drama can be hidden by a simple phrase like, "picked up our DPVs" - when we sat them down at the beginning of the dive, unbeknownst to us we had placed them in a bed of silt. As soon as we picked them up, instant silt out. Zero visibility. Zero like no other zero you've ever seen. The silt was so thick an air gauge pressed to the lens of a mask wasn't readable, the little bit of trapped water had so much silt that 1/8th of an inch of it is totally opaque.
Handling situations like this is what Cave Diving training covers - so we're still good. Jeff is leading out and I can feel him collecting gear - I'm tail end charlie so I'm keeping touch contact, or at least I'm supposed to. So, I loose contact, but I know he's ahead of me on the line - being a wise doobee, I had placed markers pointing in the direction of out on the line while coming in, specifically for just such conditions - thanks JJ for the training! I finish securing my gear and start out.
One hard and fast rule of cave diving is to always have a line all the way back to the surface so that, in case of a silt out or light failure, you can get "Out Of The Cave™" - I'm on the way out and my primary light fails. So now instead of white out, I'm in the darkest dark you can imagine. I no longer see the glow from Jeff's light, and my primary light is dead.
I was taught the true definition of Black that day in the cave when my light went out. 100 fool column of water over your head inside a cave 1000+ feet from the nearest air, in a thick silt out, there is NO light. Black. Well, that's why we carry backup lights. Two actually - which is a good thing, because sometime during my traversal of the Rocky Horror, I managed to bust one of my backup lights. I've gone from three lights to one, I'm carrying 2 cameras and three stage bottles and a DPV - can't ride the DPV in a silt out. It's fun (NOT) to swim a thousand feet in a cave with no visibility, too much crap and a missing buddy. At least I can follow the line out.
Or thought I could. With a hand on the line, kicking slowly, controlling my breathing, I come to the end of the line. That Was Not Supposed To Happen. Whatinthehell happened to the line? Did I come off the line somehow and get on a different one? I retrace the line back to my last marker, I can confirm by touch that it's my marker. So, I'm still on the correct line. That's good. Turn again and head back out. Follow it towards out and the line STILL ends. Again, whatinthehell happened to the line? Did Jeff get tangled in it and break it in the silt out? Hmmm, so this is what it feels like to DIE IN A SILT OUT SHEEEIT!!!...
You ever get a chance to look at the little dude in your head? The guy sitting in your skull pulling levers and hitting switches to get you going? Ever see him freak out? It's called panic and it's what kills cave divers. The little dude has done a back-flip out of his chair and is commencing to cha-cha all over the inside of my skull when, for the first (and I pray) the only time on earth, I hear God speak directly to me in a Loud, Clear, Drill Sargent Voice. "KNOCK it OFF!" he says, "SHUT UP and Do what you're TRAINED to do!" At which point the little dude ceases his dance, runs back into his char, and commences consult the Manual of Cave Diving Emergencies. This calms him enough that he begins to hit switches and pull levers in a orderly, proficient, trained, cave diving manner.
So I shut up and reverted to training. First, the gear was messing me up - I didn't put it on right in the silt out. I'll take some time and get situated and use the easy gear exercises to calm down and regain control of my breathing. After the gear gets situated I realize that I have options, line search, various things I can do to find the other end of the line. Time to get started with the drills.
Meanwhile, Jeff has been moving on. His lights are working and he's following the line out. He clears the silt! Ya HOOO! clear water! Now, all he has to do is wait for me to clear the silt and we can finish. So he waits. Some more. Even more. He thinks, "Man, I do NOT want to explain to Penny that I left him behind." Wait some more and he decides - I gotta go get him. He clips off his extra gear, empty stages, strobes, and DPV to the line and does something he really does not want to do - he goes back into the silt to look for me.
Before commencing the different line search drills, I'm going to check one more time - and I find the exit line! The line had been tied off to a rock at a very acute angle. While moving hand over hand I was grasping both the incoming and outgoing line at the same time! I'm back on the line out! That was hairy...
I see the silt turn white as Jeff's light gets closer and we make touch contact. I can tell he's upset from his abrupt hand signals we're exchanging by touch in the zero viz. You Ok? I'm Ok. This Way Out. Ok. You Go First. Ok. and we swap positions on the line. I feel his hand on the back of my knee - touch contact! All is good with the world. I'm pretty anxious to get out when suddenly I realize - I've lost touch contact! Follow Procedure - I'll continue out of the silt and he will follow. Soon enough I'm in CLEAR WATER! Now, all I have to do is wait for him to clear the silt and we can finish. So I wait. Some more. Even more. I think, "Man I do NOT want to explain to Andrea that I left him behind." Wait some more and I decide - I gotta go get him. I clip off my extra gear, empty stages, cameras and DPV to the line and I do something I really do not want to do - I go back into the silt to look for him.
Turns out Jeff lost contact when he was putting all the gear he clipped off to the line. We meet up in the silt, again. The entire touch contact hand signal conversation is repeated in reverse this time and he's lead again, I've got his knee, and we BOTH clear the silt! The cloud of silt we kicked up retrieving the DPVs has been slowly moving out of the cave overtaking our gear stashes and complicating the situation. The moving cloud of zero viz is a bit slower than we so we hit my gear stash in front of the cloud this time. I collect the gear and we're outta here.
We've busted our planned time, so we recompute the decompression stops and finish up on the platform at 10' breathing pure oxygen. We've got nearly an hour here like this and we're looking at each other through the crystal clear water. And Jeff gives me one more hand signal - he draws his finger across his forehead and mimes flicking a bead of sweat off of his brow. I nod yes. We had Steak and Bourbon for dinner that night and went home a day early to hug family members.
Three days later, we're sitting in the meeting. We've been given a penalty flag for 'insufficient concern' and asked why. Into the silence that followed the question, Jeff says, "Because I have enough air to solve this problem."
Well said, my friend. Well said.