Well: Happy Monday everyone!
I’m delighted to inform you all that you’re currently being addressed by a qualified Advanced Open Water diver: no big deal [DISCLAIMER: by this, I actually mean that it is a very big deal and I’m very, very cool]. James and I have just spent the weekend in Santa Rosa, New Mexico doing a series of dives with the excellent instructor crew from Bluewater Divers in OKC in order to qualify for our Advanced dive ticket. New Mexico isn’t really the first place most people think of when brainstorming locations to go scuba diving, but it happens to boast a pretty impressive natural well called Blue Hole—and when we heard that Bluewater was doing a trip down there in December and we’d have the chance to do some more diving and pick up some more quals, we were in!
Friday morning saw us rudely awakened—on one of the few work days of the year when James’s alarm doesn’t beepbeepbeep in the dark at 0530 or earlier—by a bunch of assholes doing PT and yelling at the top of their lungs right outside our house. I’m actually not 100% sure I really understand the US military’s obsession with cadence when running/marching/anything else, and I’m positive that I don’t understand why they always manage to do it out the front of our house and invariably on the days we don’t actually have to get up early. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. We fit in a training session before hitting the road on Friday, and snuck in the chance for some training shenanigans with our new sled (if you want to check out James and I taking turns pulling each other around like pack mules, my Instagram is azpascoe). After a quick feed and a duck into work on James’s behalf, we packed up the car and hit the road for New Mexico.
Lawton to Santa Rosa is about six hours worth of driving and I was ridiculously spoilt on Friday, because James is a legend, and he did the whole slog. Luckily we’d both forgotten about the change in time zone, so got a free ‘extra hour’ upon arrival at the Econolodge and took advantage of it to chill out for a bit and scope out Blue Hole quickly. We took ourselves to dinner at Annie’s Restaurant, before returning to our room and shimmying into our wetsuits to head off for our first ever night dive! We were due there at 6 and having done a few rough calculations, estimated that we’d be done by about 8 o’clock. Holy jeewilikers, were we wrong. We were divvied up into rough groups (with Mark, who initially taught us on our Open Water course, as our instructor) and having geared up, James and I got ourselves into the water, ready to go… only to wait, and wait, and wait, as numerous people tried to figure out how best to weight themselves for the dive (the water temperature meant that everyone present was wearing more neoprene than they might have dived with in the past, which meant weights had to be adjusted accordingly), and the search for the necessary weights was conducted; some other people struggled to figure out how their dive computers worked, and one of the people we’d put into a group with just flat out disappeared. We were standing in the dark, in the cold water, ready to dive, and he was nowhere to be found: his wife wasn’t sure where he was, we were calling out trying to find him, and eventually ascertained that he’d gotten out of the water and pissed off somewhere. Why? Who knows.
Like I said to James, I don’t particularly care when people aren’t good at a new skill that they’re learning: that’s normal and to be expected. What I do find frustrating is when people haven’t squared themselves away with all of the simple stuff that you can do before starting: like thinking about how you’re weighted for the dive, and ensuring you have a good working knowledge of your dive computer. There’s no reason to show up with those things either 100% ready or at least close enough that you only need a bit of adjustment. Anyway, we finally got into the chilly water and got the first night dive underway.
This was the first time we’d dived at night (actually it was only the 6th dive we’d ever done, which is kind of mind-blowing) and it was an interesting lesson in staying with your buddy and keeping good awareness of what’s going on around you so that you avoid any issues. More than that though, it was fun to dive in a new place and discover the various features of Blue Hole. Blue Hole has a diameter of about 60 feet at the surface, but gets wider at various deeper points with different ledges, crevices, nooks and crannies throughout. Air pockets get trapped under overhanging ledges along the walls, gleaming puddles of quicksilver beneath the torchlight that you can add to by exhaling underneath them, or flick at them with your fingers and watch them dance in response. Yabbies (or, as Americans call them, ‘crawdads’—what is that? I have no clue) creep in and out of cracks, and parade slowly along open stretches of rock: and there were some damn big ones in there! There are a total of about eight fish in Blue Hole, and James managed to spot a catfish on our first dive and another fish on our second.
By the time we finished our second dive, got out, showered in water that I turned as hot as I could stand, and dressed, it was about 10pm: yeouch. We pulled into the servo for some late night snacks on the way back to the hotel, then collapsed into bed.
It was a casual 1000 start on Saturday morning, so we had a bit of sleep-in (and some strange dreams!) before rolling out the door to have breakfast at the beautiful and quaint nearby Silver Moon cafe. Our breakkies were absolutely delicious and huge (when I say huge, I mean I couldn’t finish mine, and that is a big deal), and a quick peruse of the attached gift store yielded a Blue Hole diver’s mug for James and a very cool little bag for me.
The air was much warmer, and the sun rather fierce, as we prepped for our two Saturday day dives. James and I did both of our dives as ‘altitude’ dives in order to get that proficiency, but took the time to explore Blue Hole a little more thoroughly in the daylight, finding the strange array of objects strewn throughout and hitting a new depth of 65ft. Despite the increased heat of the day, the water remained a constant chill, and by the time we’d done both day dives, I was pretty cold and not looking forward at crawling back into a damp wetsuit for our last night dive.
We grabbed some snacks from Cinnabon and watched TV until about 4:30, then headed back down to Blue Hole for an earlier start of 5pm. This dive was a lot of fun because we were given a lot more autonomy to go off on our own with our buddy and meet up at a designated spot to do a specific ‘night dive’ task after doing a loop of the dive site. Interestingly, James and I reached the rendezvous point and located the instructors, only to discover that of the other two-person buddy team, only one person showed up! We were all left shaking our heads a bit at the inanity of this turn of events: if you’ve never dived before, the reason we were bemused is because the rule is that if you get separated from your buddy and can’t find them underwater, you ascend and meet up on the surface before, if you choose, descending again and completing the dive.
We were glad, however, to finish considerably earlier than the previous night and headed back to the motel room. There was some brief discussion about our dinner plans, which I solved fairly quickly: James turned around after getting out of the shower and, discovering that I was already in my pyjamas, said wryly, “well I guess that answers the question of whether we’re going out for dinner or not.” Instead, we settled down to eat in the room with some episodes of SVU and some reading before crashing out pretty hard.
Yesterday saw us with a bit of an earlier start for our final day of diving; no one complained (it was still a respectable 9am kick off!) as we knew we had a long drive to get home after we finished up for the day. We started off with a navigation dive which consisted of James and I going off on our own to work on navigating underwater, just another skill that I really need to spend some time working on before I feel confident in my own competence. I’m sure no-one will be surprised, however, to hear that James kicked it right out of the park (as much as one can when there’s no ball and no park from which to kick it)—but all experience is good experience and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop those techniques. Afterwards, Brad (who took us for our Open Water certification dives in Tenkiller in September) took us down to the bottom of Blue Hole for our deep dive as part of our Advanced Open Water certification: definitely another qualification that I’d be keen to get in the long run.
James and I decided not to do the third dive for the day as I was shivering and we were pretty keen to get on the road for home. It was beyond amazing to soak in the scalding hot shower water for a bit and bundle up into warm, dry clothes again afterwards before starting the trek home.
I definitely learned this weekend that I need to stay warmer when I’m diving. It wasn’t horrific, but being cold definitely decreased my enjoyment on the dives, and a couple of times I found myself looking at my computer, counting down the minutes until we were done. I also ended up shivering pretty compulsively more than once, and I think in the future, I’d look at adding another layer and maybe actually wearing the hood that we brought with us and neither of us wore (oops). Despite the chill, learning more, getting more familiar in the water, and diving at night got us excited about the prospect of night diving with manta rays in Hawaii next January!
We met and dived in a group with a great couple called Terry and Susan who are heading to Australia just before Christmas, and proffered countless suggestions for their journeys (mostly fuelled by our intense envy of anyone spending time in Oz!).
As always, we owe a great big ‘thank you’ to the crew of Bluewater Divers instructors: they’re an awesome group of humans who are not only fun to dive with and learn from, but really great to shoot the breeze with as well.
Have a great week everyone!