Your Strangest Dives
by Bill Weddle
ANGELITA, SHE’S VERY SPECIAL. I’m not talking about some game bird but a cenote in the middle of the jungle in Mexico.
The Cenote Angelita was created long ago when the jungle floor collapsed into a subterranean cavern. The vegetation fell down along with the jungle floor and ended up at a depth of more than 30m where, over time, a cloud rich in hydrogen sulphate has formed at the halocline that marks the boundary between the fresh water above and the salt water below.
Apart from our dive leader, it was just myself and my youngest son Will set to dive, and our Angelita adventure started with us getting kitted up in the local jungle car park. We were using hired equipment that had obviously seen much better days. The wetsuits were so worn that, to me, it looked as if Will had just survived being savaged by a dog.
Anyway, once fully kitted up (apart from mask and fins, obviously, because that would be silly in a car park) we were led through the jungle to the access point for the cenote.
Getting in was easy, just a giant-stride jump. Getting out after the dive wasn’t to be as straightforward, and involved dragging ourselves up a rope while still fully kitted up! But we didn’t know about that yet.
The visibility in the cenote was amazing, the cloud of hydrogen sulphate 30m below us clearly visible. Our guide was eager to push on with the dive, in order to get to depth before any other divers arrived on site, so down we went.
We paused just above the cloud, which was punctuated by trunks and branches from long-dead trees that had fallen from above. We did a check of our kit, lit our torches and descended into the cloud.
The visibility went from more than 30m to almost zero! The light coming from above slowly reduced to a glimmer, and then to almost to nothing.
After about 3m of descent, we emerged from the bottom of the cloud into crystal-clear water, our torch-beams cutting through the darkness like light sabres.
Once again we exchanged OK signals and then continued to descend, the wall of the cenote on one side and the slope of the fallen jungle floor on the other.
We passed 40m and were closing in on 50m when our guide stopped and started to play with some of the vegetation resting on the sloping bottom. We asked if he was OK, by describing a circle with the torch-beams. This seemed to bring him back to himself, because he promptly checked his computer and indicated that we should start to go back up.
The ascent was just as impressive as the descent. Passing through the cloud and emerging into the brightness above was a magical experience. Even from this depth we could see another group of divers leaving the surface and starting their descent towards us.
We stayed awhile at the 30m level and performed a few “dives” into and out of the cloud before ascending to perform a safety stop. We all arrived back at the surface after a very memorable experience and hauled ourselves out of the water.
Our dive-guide freely admitted that he had been “well and truly narked” when we were watching him playing with the flora at the bottom.
MAINTAINING HER IDENTITY
by Ian Callum
OUR WINDOW-FITTER looked stressed and exhausted. Concerned enquiries brought forth a sad tale of his stepson, who had been accused of killing his young Polish wife.
The police suspected a calculated action because her documents, mobile phone etc were missing, possibly thrown into the sea.
They were never found, and the stepson was jailed for manslaughter, leaving two small children parentless.
Fast forward six weeks and I get a phone-call from regular dive partner Ian Goodban.
A Deal man born and bred, Ian wanted to film below our local pier. Would I accompany him?
This is a site that neither of us had previously visited because of concerns about poor visibility and underwater obstructions, but mid-July promised some very neapy tides and favourable winds.
We were under water by 6am, Ian using his GoPro to film the scour around the pier-legs while I kept one eye on him as I investigated the shallow amphitheatres that this created.
Suddenly, a flash of white penetrated the greenish 3m visibility. I picked up a laminated ID card and shone my torch onto the photograph of a pretty, smiling blonde girl.
She had waited all winter to be found, and that flimsy card had stayed there through the winter gales of the Kent coast.
Slipping the evidence into my cuff for safe-keeping, we returned ashore.
A telephone call elicited a swift police response, and the card was taken away to be copied and collated.
It was subsequently returned to the family, and is now in the two little girls’ memory-box for their mother.
by Vanessa Charles & Martin Hynd
IT WAS OVER A DECADE AGO that my partner and I learned to dive in Malaysia, during a mid-life gap year of travelling. We quickly followed our scuba training with a liveaboard trip on the Great Barrier Reef, and were feeling pretty keen and confident as we moved around the globe to New Zealand.
Even so, nothing had quite prepared us for our first fully independent dive trip.
We rented gear from a South Island dive-shop and headed down to the charmingly named Pupu Springs, an inland dive-site with an amazing reputation for some of the clearest water on the planet.
We had never tried freshwater diving before, and were still adapting to less-than-tropical temperatures, but we couldn’t resist the chance to dive where there is visibility of more than 60m (only the Weddell Sea in Antarctica is clearer).
As we arrived at the spring after a somewhat self-conscious plod along a boardwalk nature trail in our dive gear, we discovered a catch. The pond we were about to enter was only about 20m wide and 6m deep.
The second catch was that we would be restricted to two 15-minute dives. The springs are sacred to the Maori people, so that was fair enough.
However, the final peculiarity of this site was that the pond had a large observation periscope so that visitors could peek down and view what was happening beneath the surface.
As still somewhat inexperienced divers, we were initially delayed by a runaway cylinder, having neglected to wet the cam-strap. Our red faces were clearly observable through the periscope.
Undeterred, we descended once again into the crystal waters, only to pop up ignominiously a few minutes later after discovering the strong jets of current that shoot up through the gravel from springs below.
It was then that we fully understood why the site is called Te Waikoropupu, or the Place of the Dancing Sands.
Once we’d got over the initial shock of the water jets, it was actually pretty cool to watch the gravel on the bottom literally jumping about. Even so, it was hard to get over the feeling of swimming around inside a giant fish tank, complete with aerated water, bright green weed, and faces peering at us from above.
After enjoying our allotted time in the springs, we completed our visit with the recommended drift-dive down a nearby river.
Unfortunately, there must have been a recent dry spell, because it was only a few inches deep in places. Consequently, our drift ended up being more of a crawl.
Strange though it seems, I think all of this probably helped us on our way to becoming better divers!
by Cecilia Thwaites
BUOYANCY. AIR. Releases, chest-clip, shoulder-clip. Garter – no. No one is releasing my garter. Put on mask. Attach veil. Pick up plastic bouquet. All present and correct.
But this is to be no ordinary dive. This time next week I will have exchanged my drysuit for a wedding dress and will be wearing a better-quality garter (blue, as a matter of fact) and carrying a real bouquet of flowers.
Today I have gathered my diving girlfriends and done what any self-respecting lady diver should: organise a Mermaids’ Dive.
Down the shot towards the Lyme Regis wreck the Baygitano. A few metres down myself and my (mer)maids of honour, Pat and Pippa, pause. I must pose for the camera, flaunt my bouquet and flash my garter.
We return to the boat to return the camera to our obliging (if bemused) skipper. Oh, no, a sawtooth profile!
This time we drop all the way to the wreck. Fish dart around us. I point at a slate-blue conger eel staring out of its hole, then realise that my bouquet will not shed much light. You’re not stealing my flowers, Mr Conger! But he retires within the wreck, quite uninterested.
Too soon, our mermaid dive is over.
I clamber aboard, still bearing veil, garter and flowers, and settle down to some post-diving refreshment. Chocolates – obligatory phallic-shaped – strawberries and sparkling wine. We don’t usually drink bubbles after diving, but on a Mermaid Dive, it doesn’t count.
by Graham Sands
SO I BIMBLED across the sand, in little more than swimming-pool depth, and saw the usual – flatties the size of a fingernail, snail-shells that sprouted legs and lumbered off at my approach, filigrees of sunlight playing across the ripple pattern.
Gradually the bay deepened, and after 10 minutes it became a riot of colour: greeny-yellows, purple tweeds, yellowy-greens, and the kelp convoluted into ruches and furbelows, as if interior designers had got at it. Just what I was looking for, and expecting to find.
But this is bizarre, it’s happened yet again, when even the once was beyond strange…
Less than an hour ago, I just happened to park on a quiet Scottish lane, with easy shore access, on a calm summer day with the tide coming to the full.
And when I opened the car boot, lo! Yet again, it just happened to contain my full set of dive-gear, suit and weights, cylinder gassed up and ready to go. How weird is that?
ME AND MY DIVEMAN
by Dave Peake
I MAY BE WRONG but I think the device that first appeared in the UK 15-20 years ago was called Diveman. It boasted the ability to allow the user to swim and dive under water to a depth of 6m without a scuba tank and regulator.
It was all plastic and consisted of a shaped container worn on the chest.
From the top came a single hose with a mouthpiece and non-return valves to exhaust CO2 into the water. The bottom of the container reservoir was open, but had connected to it a flexible plastic bag.
Connected to the bag were two straps with loops worn over the feet. Connected to the container was a single 6m plastic hose, which was attached at the surface to a floating buoy. Basically that was it.
I was somehow given the device to try out, and may have been the first to do so in the UK. The secret was in the operating procedure, and the first attempt was in an indoor pool.
Don the equipment and enter the water. Water pressure pushes the plastic bag up into the container. At the same time, bend the knees up towards the container and stretch the legs fairly forcibly outwards. This action pulled air down from the buoy, which filled the container and allowed a welcome breath of air to be taken.
Relax the legs, bend the knees up and the bag is sucked into the container. By adopting a sort of breaststroke arms and legs action, progress could be made without surfacing. So far so good – it was time to try this in the open sea.
A secluded beach in south Cornwall was my testing area. Of course, in the tropics or an indoor pool no wetsuit was required, but here extra lead was, to compensate for the suit and also for the buoyancy of the container on my chest.
I “breaststroked” around the shallows to a depth of about 4m and gazed at the reefs. It became apparent that continual movement was necessary. If I stopped, it was a little more difficult to work the legs to draw down the air from the buoy.
However, it worked. I know this because I am able to relate this story to you. I survived. I have never seen this apparatus since, so it obviously never caught on. This dive was for me the strangest I have ever experienced.