Underwater Nav – neither squid nor screwups nor photographers will get in my way! (Part 3) 28 June 2008

This was my 3rd Advanced Open Water dive (yes, they gently urged me to move right along), and was hilarious. As some of you know, I fancy myself a very good map and road navigator, though I have never worked with a compass. On this dive, Ellie briefed me ahead of time, I would do three things:
• measure my ‘kick-cycle’ (KC) distance – how far I travel with two fin-kicks by counting my KCs while swimming over a fixed 100-foot line,
• navigate a straight course out and back, once using the compass and once using ‘natural nav’ (the surroundings), and
• navigate a 100-foot square using the compass.

buddy dock Lester volunteered to be my dive buddy, so Ellie “didn’t have to do all the swimming with me”. We did this dive just off the Buddy Dock at the edge of Buddy Reef, mostly over sandy bottom in about 10-12 feet of water. ———>

Exercise One – kick-cycle distance: So, into the water we go, and Ellie fixes the line and heads off unreeling it, having asked me to 1) wait until she gets out a ways, and also 2) not to ‘start’ right at the end of the line, but to ‘move back and get up to speed’ and start counting as I swim over the start of the line. So, I did that, and off I went, dutifully counting, and sort of peripherally noticing that Lester seemed to be a ways back, following slowly. When I got back, Ellie asked how many KCs I counted, and then wrote on her slate “not a race!”

Exercise Two – navigate a straight line out and back: So now Ellie wrote on her sketch board (which is very grainy), ‘100 KC, 150 degrees.’ Then she signaled to wait, erased it, and wrote what I thought was ‘150 KCs’. I thought to myself – wow, that is about 400 feet! She is testing me…but okay, no problem – piece of cake! (On the dock, she had reminded me to “ become one with my compass” (hold it firmly directly in front of me keeping the lubber line in line with my body using both hands), and also to look around occasionally while I was doing this, so I could swim it again using ‘natural nav’ – just landmarks, no compass.) So I set my compass, and started off…

After about 10 KCs, I realized this was *not* such a piece of cake. As I was careful to be ‘one with my compass’ and keep the needle squarely pointed North (this is harder than you might think underwater), count my kick-cycles, and look around, I also found myself scraping the sandy bottom. So then I was trying to also reach my inflator button on the left even though it is best to hold the compass with BOTH hands…I found it very tricky and rather incongruous, and started laughing into my regulator. You know…like patting your head while rubbing your stomach – underwater while kicking, counting, watching, etc, etc! (Note to non-divers: at shallow depths, scorpion fishit’s a little difficult to maintain a constant depth, especially if you are new at this, plus when we first descended, I had forgotten to firmly establish my neutral buoyancy by adjusting the air in my vest.) It was tiring, but I got to 150 KCs, and stopped to turn around, and I saw Lester coming slowly after me. Then I happened to look down, and right beneath me not 2 feet away in the sand were two scorpion fish about 7 inches long (left), moving slightly so we could see their colorful side feet-fins.

I also goofed up using the compass on my return, but found Ellie anyway, waving to Caryn snorkeling on the surface on my way back. When I got back, Ellie wrote on her slate “I lost you at about 65 feet! 50 KC?” So I signaled to her ‘oh, well – got my workout!’ (patting my lungs) The natural nav portion was no problem.

Exercise Three – navigate a square: Ellie had told me I would do right turns, and would find myself heading out over the reef into deep water, so to now also watch my depth (now we are into serious multi-tasking), and we had also worked out my headings. So I took off, swam my 100 feet (38 KCs), and then adjusted my bezel to the new heading. However, I forgot to re-orient the needle, and instead just swam along the lubber line. I [sort of] realized I hadn’t made a 90-degree turn, but kept going and did my 100 feet. I turned the bezel to the next new heading…and did the same thing! This time I really noticed that I wasn’t out over deep blue water as expected, but sort of over the edge of the reef, and realized that I had really messed it up, so I just ‘felt’ my way back to Ellie. I approached her from her back left, as she was just hanging nonchalantly in about 8 feet of water, holding her knees and sitting on nothing, waiting for me to come toward her out of the ‘blue’. She didn’t see me, so I tapped her on the arm and shook my head slowly; she shook hers slowly in return! Then she wrote “try again”.

This time I nailed it, BUT, I was so determined, and so ‘one with my compass’ that when I literally bumped into a photographer who was **in MY line of direction**, I just pushed him out of the way!! (Then I gave a sheepish ‘ok’ sign.) Terribly rude, but funny too – Lester saw me do it. When we got out of the water, he tattled on my pushing the poor photographer, so Ellie asked me “what would you do if it was a coral head in the way?!”

Then Caryn and Jeremy came over and said “did you see the squid?” When I said no, they laughed and said “wow – you were going so fast you blew right through a pod of squid, and they didn’t even move – they must have known you weren’t interested in them!” And then Lester said, “Ellie, I’m not racing HER in the water!” So Jim, I guess my cycling legs were just pumping away, ticking that fast cadence!

As I was saying earlier, my hands were sore, and my whole left arm, actually, from becoming one with (gripping) my compass!