Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving - Saipan Style

Part of the problem of getting up wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy before the crack of dawn to go to work is that even on your days off, you're still awake by 5 am. So here it was Thanksgiving morning when I should have been sleeping in enjoying myself, but no, my internal alarm clock was telling me it was past time to get up at 6 am. So I tossed my dive gear in the truck, grabbed my camera and headed off. I needed to get my tanks filled, since I usually don't remember to get them filled ahead of time, and the dive shop didn't open until 7:30, so I had some time to kill. I went to American Memorial Park and decided to watch the sun come up over the mountain.When I got to the Grotto it was before 8 am and there wasn't another diver in sight. Now you can take that two ways, you can either be a little nervous about why you're the only one diving the Grotto on this particular day and go carefully check the conditions, or you can just say, YEA - I've got the Grotto all to myself and go jump in. I chose the latter. I did have to time my crossing over onto the rock in the Grotto as there were some pretty big swells rolling through, but I could time it and it did slow down enough occasionally for me to cross over so I wasn't too worried. I was kind of surprised at just how strongly the swells were pushing me around inside the Grotto, but I had everything to myself, so my camera and I headed outside in search of turtles. If I'm by myself I can pretty much guarantee I'll see at least one turtle, I know most of the spots to look, and I can cover a lot of territory if I don't have to wait for anyone so I just start looking in all their usual spots. But no sooner did I pop outside of the #1 hole than I saw this guy coming right toward me. He was just gliding along with the swells and looked quite spectacular. I never get tired of seeing green sea turtles, and get just as excited as I did the first time I ever saw one. There is something magical and otherworldly about just swimming alongside one of these magnificent creatures and just gliding through the ocean like they do. I spent about 10 minutes with this guy and then I spotted another another turtle down in about 75 feet of water, so I headed down to visit with him and get a few pictures of him as well. One of the keys to approaching a turtle and being able to get within good picture taking range is to approach them very slowly without any fast or threatening movement. Also you want to try to slow your breathing way down so there aren't quite so many bubbles coming out of your regulator. If the turtles don't view you as a threat and don't feel like they're being chased, they will usually let you get fairly close to them. Sure enough, this guy was just hanging out, and didn't seem to mind letting this other funny looking turtle hang around him for a while. I spent enough time to get a few more good shots, and then let him head to the surface for some air. After spending some time with those 2 turtles, I was having a pretty good dive and didn't really care if I saw anything else or not. I decided to get a natural high and do a narc dive. Nitrogen Narcosis is an effect that divers feel when they go past a certain depth. It has the effect of having a couple martinis, and you get an all natural buzz. It kicks in at different depths for different divers, but is usually a little over 100' for most divers. It usually takes me going considerably deeper to get the feeling, so I carefully watch my dive computer and start heading down. I'm not going to say just how deep I go lest I get the dive weenies trying to lecture me and leave nasty little comments on my blog, but let's just say I was feeling great. My only problem is that I've blown out both of my ear drums and inner ears diving, and now I get vertigo occasionally on ascent. When that happens it seems like you're on a merry-go-round going about 100 mph, and you can't get your bearings or tell which way is up or back, everything is spinning too violently. Yup, this was one of those days and I got hammered good with a bout of it. You can try fighting it and swimming back, but it won't do any good, you'll just wind up swimming in circles and you'll get even more disoriented. Your best bet is to just close your eyes and wait for it to pass. But at the depth I was at, you start racking up decompression time pretty quickly. And that is why I dive with a 130 cu. ft. high pressure tank. I want enough air that I have plenty for whatever might come up. So eventually it did pass and I worked my way back up. I went inside the Grotto and burned off all the decompression time I'd accumulated. After I got it all burned off, I still had over 1500 pounds of air so I decided to go back out and see if I could spot anymore turtles. I was glad I did because this guy was up fairly shallow, about 25' and just playing in the swells and the surge. When I'm taking pictures of a turtle, I become immersed in him, and lose track of where I'm at and what else is around me, I'm just totally focused on the turtle. I'm waiting for just the perfect shot and looking for the best angles to photograph him and for the best lighting conditions. It was paying off with this guy as I was getting some really good shots, and he was shallow enough that the natural lighting was making his shell really stand out.

It's usually ok to just focus on the turtle, but when there are really big waves and swells and you're fairly shallow, it's also important to keep an eye on what big rocks are near you and where the underwater cliff line is. And today was one of those days when I really should have been keeping a much closer eye on that. The next thing I knew a huge swell picked me up and slammed my body into the underwater cliff line, completely knocking the wind out of me. If you've never had the wind knocked out of you, it's like your lungs completely collapsed and you can't get them to work. You can try as hard as you can, but you just can't seem to suck in a breath. Not cool at all when you're underwater, and especially when you're now being tossed around the rocks like a rag doll. I remember thinking, yup I got to see 3 turtles on this dive and got some great shots, but it would really suck if my head got bashed in on these rocks while I can't breathe. But like any good Bumble (watch the movie "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" if you don't understand this reference) I seem to bounce. I didn't break anything or get cut up, just a few bruises. So I had plenty to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving! And all of this before 9 am. Needless to say I was good with one dive on this particular morning and decided not to push my luck.

We had some friends over and had the big traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home, but that's going to have to wait until the next post!