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Encounter With a Sea Monster

Another time brother Rob and I went on a dive out of Dana Point. Standing atop the cliffs at the point, one sees a long and massive seawall separating the harbor from the open ocean protecting moored boats from the pounding waves.

The harbor is to the left of the seawall, and the sea is on the right. We walked down the cliffside pathways toward the ocean wearing our wetsuits and buoyancy compensators and weights, carrying the tanks on our backs, masks, and fins in our hands, entering past the tide pools just where the jetty began. It was an easy swim; soon we were out in the swells about a quarter mile from shore. Bobbing amongst the floating seaweed on the surface we readied our scuba gear, submerging into the depths between thirty and fifty feet. The water was turbid and frothy with crashing waves; a lot of water movement came from the waves when they hit the seawall, then redirected towards the beach.

We buddied up as is customary for safety purposes during a scuba dive, which meant no person dives alone, and the two buddies are in constant sight of one another. Rob and I started to explore the sea life, swimming amongst the rocks at the bottom, staying near one another during most of the dive. However, the turbulence pulled us apart towards the end, separating us. I know some feel that using the pull of the waves as a reason to wander from each other is wimpy, that only amateurs could lose sight of the other, that person doesn't understand a thing about underwater currents. Think of the strongest gust of wind you've encountered. Well, an ocean current is easily three times that strength, and if the duo divers are swimming together, all is fine. But if one drops down for a look see, or stays in a cranny for a second, the other person is gone in a flash and needs to negotiate that strong current to know where the other went.

Because of the turbidity, we could not find each other visually. And, the air in my tank was getting low; every time I sucked on the regulator expecting a full breath, the flow became progressively harder and harder to pull from the reservoir; the air pressure in the tank was dropping, an indication there would be no air in a minute.

It was time to surface, so I kicked to the top with my fins while inflating my buoyancy compensator, an inflatable life jacket allowing the diver to float with no effort. I looked around the choppy seas for Rob’s bubbles. They were breaking the surface about twenty feet from me. Following them briefly, I lost their location after a few big waves. I had to wait for him to surface. It wasn’t the best of outcomes, but I trusted Rob to find his way topside. We were only down thirty, forty feet; many people can free dive that deep. I floated while waiting for Rob to run out of the air.

Suddenly a giant sea creature pushed on me. A massive dark shape was in the water on my left side, five feet tall and 16 feet long. It didn't bite me, I wasn't torn up into pieces, so it wasn't a shark, I reasoned. It must be a dolphin. Porpoises are smaller than this. I was alone on the surface of a choppy, cold gray ocean bobbing up and down with the waves, and now I had a dolphin circling me. It circled three times then left.

Rob’s mask broke the surface. We rested a few minutes and then lay on our backs to start paddling back to shore. After ten minutes we flipped over to see how much further we had to go but were surprised to see we were not any closer. We resumed the approach lying on our backs but kicking harder this time. After ten minutes we checked, and we were again no closer to shore. My panic level began to rise. I suggested we stay on our bellies and use our hands and kick hard at the same time. After fruitless minutes of this, my mind began racing for options in between the panic moments occurring ever more frequently. Suddenly I remembered having the same helpless feeling of getting nowhere in the water a few years earlier.


Last Blog Fireflies of the Sea

Next Blog Ocean Currents


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