Rocket Man!

British UGM-27 Polaris missile on display at I...Image via WikipediaOkay - here's an upfront spoiler ... nothing bad happens in this story. It's just an incredible tale that I find to be extremely funny! Think of it as a sorbet between more serious fit2dive meals. I hope you guys enjoy it.

A few years ago, I was invited to go on a "bug hunt" off North Carolina. For the uninitiated, this refers to a lobster hunt but, in North Carolina, the lobsters are unlike any I have come across. For starters, they are HUGE!!! Recently we served 6 of them to 22 fellow divers and friends and everyone was stuffed to the, uhm, "gills"! It is not uncommon to get 6 to 7 pounds of tail meat off one of these monsters. The other wild thing is that these babies run across the ground in the open like a pack of dogs. If you want to experience it for yourself, call Bobby Cox at the Diver Down in Morehead and tell him you want to go to the "Live Bottom" site. Bring a BIG goodie bag and LOTS of air! Anyway, back to the story....

This was new to me so I asked around about technique. Some said, catch them in the open and jump on their backs(??) (actually that turns out to be the right answer for reasons that will become obvious). Others advised the use of a wire loop to catch them by the tail and haul them out. This was my naive preference and I headed overboard with a dayglo green loop stick that, in retrospect, doubles as a newbie identification device!

As I headed down the line I ran into the guy, whom I will forever remember as Rocket Man, at about 20 feet. He was straining to get down and obviously seriously buoyant. In his exertion, he was blowing huge clouds of bubbles that completely obscured the view below. I flashed the OK sign and got one in return. Shrugging internally I headed down for my quarry.

The bottom was about 136 feet down (kind of deep for a lobster hunt but that's where you need to go to get big ones) on a sandy plane dotted with coral upgrowths and overhangs. To my immediate right was the biggest lobster I had ever seen. He was probably 8 to 10 pounds but, to me, he looked more like 20 to 30! Wasting no time I followed my instructions:

  1. Gently position the wire loop behing your lobster. - Check!
  2. Waggle your hand in front of him so he backs up into the loop - Check! (I was SOOOO good at this!!!)
  3. Pull the loop tight to capture your lobster!
OK - here's the issue with number 3. When you pull the loop tight you effectively change the species of your prey. Before pulling it tight, you (most likely a homo sapiens) and panullirus argus are locked in battle of wits in which you should have at least a slight advantage. After the pull, you basically have a "cannis familiaris in a verda", loosely "dog on a stick!" The lobster, quite understandably went completely nuts thrashing me all over the place. Before I knew it, he was gone, I was exhausted and my bottom time was up.

Reaching the boat, I found Rocket Man on board, dry and decidedly pissed off. After shedding my gear and grabbing a sandwich I went over to chat. I learned that RM was a spear-fisherman from Florida visiting North Carolina with his family. He told me his first dive had been aborted coz he couldn't get down. I sympathized and asked about his gear. It turned out that he was wearing a 7mm 2 piece wetsuit (tunic over a farmer john). "Wow", I said, "That's a lot for out here inthe Gulf Stream, I'm diving a 3 mm. How much weight did you use?" Expecting an answer of 22 to 28 lbs given his height and presumed weight, I was blown away when he answered "A lot! 14 pounds!"

I think I just stared dumbly at him for a second or two because he asked, "Why? Isn't that enough?" We chatted for a few minutes and agreed that if he planned on doing anything other than snorkeling on the surface, he was going to need some added poundage. He set off to pass the hat for extra weights and, by the time we were ready to splash for dive two, he had everything that wasn't nailed down attached to him. As soon as the pool was open, he was off! I remember thinking, "Dirt dart away!"

About 5 minutes later I entered the water to continue my display of lobstering incompetence. I wasted another dive messing around with the lobster scaring device and headed up the line, a minute or so into deco, empty handed once more. At about 50 feet I saw something rising out of the depths below me passing the other divers on the line. It was Rocket Man! He was just off the line and in an uncontrolled buoyant ascent so fast that he was passing his own bubbles leaving a trail like a Polaris rocket coming out of a sub! He flew past me at about 40 feet making no obvious attempt to vent his obviously overinflated BC. At 20 feet he grabbed one end of the hang line and promptly pulled all of the other divers (who were neutral) up with him. At the very last minute, he tried to flare and contacted the hull of the dive boat face up right on the center line, spread eagled - like a bug hitting a windscreen - before spidering his way to one side, popping to the surface and getting out!

When I finally surfaced almost 10 minutes later, I expected him to be dead.
  • He'd gone in 5 minutes before me.
  • He'd began his ascent at least 5 minutes after me.
  • He was breathing air and I was breathing EAN 30.
  • His ascent was far too fast and there was no attempt at a safety stop.
But, as with my choice of lobster harvesting techniques, I could not have been more wrong. He was fine. Breathing, alert, refusing O2 and bitching mightily about the crappy dive, crappy fishing and crappy ascent. I have no idea why he wasn't comatose or at least blowing pink froth. Lucky doesn't begin to cover it. Maybe he got into trouble later but he was fine when he pulled out of the dive boat parking lot 20 minutes after we docked.

So, that's the story of Rocket Man! I wish I had a picture of him on the bottom of the boat - it was priceless! This will have to suffice ....

Next Time: Unconscious and Lost - A Very Bad Combination.

Dive Safely,

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments: