Hilma Hooker…DEEP! (Part 2) 29 June 2008

So! Wednesday morning – I have now done 10 dives, the deepest to 50 feet; while I am ‘certified’ to go to 130 feet, I am only ‘trained’ to go to 60 feet so far – a distinction PADI encourages. Lester and I were having breakfast with Andrea and Caryn and Mel (Ellie’s husband and their instructor). The girls were working toward Advanced Open Water certification, which involves 5 dives. Mel was going over the “Knowledge Review” for their next dive, a deep dive to the wreck of Hilma Hooker – a 235-foot long steel-hulled freighter sunk in 1984. (Here is the very interesting history of this boat.) HHThe Hooker sits on its side in about 100 of water at the bow and 90 feet at the stern. Lester and I had developed a plan for us to dive to 60 feet – where the upper edge of the deck rests, and he shared that plan with Mel just before breakfast.

But while we were sitting there listening to Mel’s questions and the girls’ answers, Mel turned to me and says “Linda, why don’t you do this dive with us? I think you are ready!” My eyes got sort of big and I hesitated, asking if I could think about it. This would be to 90+ feet! So I thought about it and thought about it some more, and walked around the breakfast area. Then Mel said “you won’t notice anything except having to clear your ears a few more times – even less than in the first 30 feet.” Then someone said we’d need big tanks, but (to my relief!) I had only prepped small tanks for the boat dives. So I said “maybe I won’t – I’ve only got small tanks ready.” But Lester piped in and said, “no problem – we can just put one of your small tanks in the gear room for later, and prep a big tank.” So he wasn’t letting me use that excuse! 🙂 So I finally said okay…still nervous.

I mentioned all this to Ellie after breakfast (she and Mel were our condo-mates), still rather uneasy, and she said “Sure! You definitely need to do a deep dive before Indonesia, and I’d sure rather do it HERE than in the quarry!!”

On the dive boat, Mel told us we would do two exercises on the bottom to test and demonstrate the condition of ‘nitrogen narcosis’ – the effect of nitrogen gas on nerve transmissions at higher pressures, causing intoxication-like symptoms: first we would write down on Mel’s slate what our depth gauges read and compare each others’, then we would add up a column of numbers while he timed us, which he would compare to our addition time for a second column of numbers on the surface. (Mel led the dive and the exercises, but Ellie stuck with me.)

So off we went! We [were moored to and] descended down the Hooker’s stern reference line (you can see it in the photo above), going hand over hand (but watching for critters on the rope). This was to mark our descent and stay close to the Hooker, and minimize narcosis. We let go of the line at about 65 feet and drifted down to the sandy bottom next to the deck, looming 30+-feet high next to us. deep class Luckily, and typical for Bonaire, there was little to no current. We kneeled in the sand and did the exercises… My depth gauge read 89 feet. I was 3rd to do the adding, and I noticed two columns under each of our names. Forgetting (?) the on-the-surface instructions, I added them both – noticing but not questioning that the others had only added one column.

Ellie and I then headed off and up shallower to explore the freighter – me swimming almost upside down gaping at the amazing coral growing on the deck and masts and smokestack beside me. Mel and the girls went toward the bow, while we went toward the stern with its rudder and propeller. (She had seen Lester follow us but head up over the edge of the deck, to get the ‘standard’ photo of me through the propeller opening, and moved to accommodate him.) propeller photo It was so cool, and as we floated up over the keel of the Hooker, looking across toward the edge of the deck above, there was a sparkling curtain of divers’ bubbles extending the entire length of the edge as far as I could see, about 150 feet. It was beautiful! Most of the divers with us (about 25), were still down below the edge, examining the coral on the now-vertical deck, or swimming through the large open hold, and their bubbles were escaping up to create this fantastic sight. I didn’t really notice the fish on this dive!

Since a diver’s air/gas is consumed much faster at these depths, we were only around the freighter about 15 minutes, so we returned also using the reference line, going hand over hand about 6 inches per second. One of my greatest concerns is getting ‘bent’ (decompression sickness), so I was very grateful for the line (and Ellie pulling on my fin to remind me to slow me down at one point); we halted at 15 feet for 3 minutes for a safety stop.

Back on the dive boat, Mel had us add up another column of numbers, and pointed out that we were about twice as fast on the surface…even though I added two at the bottom, and only one at the top, so my performance was about the same. But still we wondered if I added *both* columns at the bottom because I was narced! It is a physically harmless condition, and it does happen, so some degree, to every diver – it just varies by depth and effect. The danger is in not acting rationally, just as with alcohol, so it has to be taken very seriously. The effect dissipates at shallower depths.

more HHIt was fascinating visiting the Hooker, and I look forward to going back. The only effect I was aware of was that it felt more difficult to get my lungs full of air – because they were under more pressure, and the air was thicker too. See the rest of the photos like this of the HH in my gallery that I found in Lester’s archives!

One other funny story I have to tell about this dive: When Mel took the girls the other direction, toward the bow, on their route, they passed by a very large smokestack (?), and Mel swam over to it to peek inside. He then motioned to the girls to each come take a look, and Andrea went first. As she swam above to peer into it, an eel *bigger than she is* (over 10 feet long!) slowly rose out of it (not threateningly), and the story goes that she burbled backward suddenly in surprise and shock! Caryn *still* talks about how HUGE it was!!! Unfortunately, no one got a photo, but several saw it! Wish I had…from a distance. 🙂