Since Junior High school I have practiced holding my breath. A couple months ago I held my breath for two minutes. This is nothing to the free divers down here who regularly hold their breath for three minutes or even four minutes. But try it, I bet you can't make 30 seconds. I love snorkeling here are seeing how long I can stay under to swim with the fish. It is a few seconds of intense freedom.
Diving is like holding your breath under water for an hour. It is liberating to someone who loves being underwater. Yet, there is also something kind of disconcerting about it as well. It is not quite natural, and occasionally I get anxious underwater. Some dives are great. But sometimes small things get in the way. Last weekend I had a problem adjusting my left ear past 50 feet. When I tried to force an adjustment I became slightly lightheaded. This made my heart start racing, which caused my breathing to increase, which made it more difficult to get air, which creates anxiety, which makes your heart start racing...
One of the first lessons you learn is to slow your breathing down. You learn to practice and to concentrate on slowing your body down and relaxing. Staying in control is the key. Mitch Rollings, the dive instructor who we learned from, talked a lot about the zen of diving. Yesterday my dive was perfect. I was on the anchor site of the west wall of Grand Turk. We leveled off at about 70 feet and swam 35 minutes down the wall and 35 minutes back to the boat. Though I have questioned my diving abilities in the last few weeks, the other people on the boat could not believe this was only my 11th dive. Diving over an hour on one tank is very unusual for a new diver. This means that the diver was incredibly relaxed and used very little air.
I have found that focusing on work under water makes diving different. Today, I had two dives helping the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources with the Biorock reef project. This project involves moving damaged coral from the cruise center site to an electrified iron structure that allows the coral to grow and heal five times faster than in a natural setting.
The marine archaeologists I was with last week only work underwater. They never do recreational diving. Dr. Donald Kieth once told me that he does not even notice coral or fish anymore. But he loves a good shipwreck.
A 70 minute dive at 70 feet was a good accomplishment. I did nothing the rest of the day. When the crew was excavating the Trouvadore during the last two weeks they worked at a depth of 15 feet in three hour shifts. The archaeologists spent 6 hours a day working under water.
Diving is a new world and one of the perks that I was really interested in when taking this job. But come on, is this crazy cool or is it me?