Plunging into the Great Blue Hole, September 2016

“Two-hour ride to the Great Blue Hole”, said the skipper once I boarded the Amigos Del Mar vessel. Breakfast was served without utensils. “We haven’t provided forks or knives for the last 10 years,” said one of the crew. Best line of my week-long stay in Belize.

There were about 20 of us. Three dive masters, a couple of crew members, a few snorkelers, and 10 divers. The ride began and I felt dreamy and lost in thought: I was about to explore the 354-feet (108-meter) deep Blue Hole with only 9 dives of experience. The first casualty brought me back to the present. There was a spot reserved for the seasick: at the back of the vessel, away from the rest of the passengers, and they would make you stick your head inside a bucket. Two women were headless.

You’re not qualified to exceed 60 feet.

The pros at Ventura Dive and Sport told me. More training and experience is required to exceed 60 feet.

Attention divers! We are going down 140 feet. Remember: remain calm!

Okay. After 6 hours on a plane, 2 hours on a cramped boat to Ambergris Caye and another 2 on a vessel, was I supposed to raise my hand and say “sorry sir, can we go no deeper than 60 feet?”

My mind pictured the PADI study book. Is 140 really that different from 60?  I think the book said a few things:

  • 130 feet is the limit for recreational diving. Do not exceed.
  • Maybe the tank capacity will be affected. Indeed: only 12 minutes of air down there. Twelve. Easy to panic if running low on air.
  • Ascending in panic could equal death as the liquid nitrogen gasifies in my veins.
  • Buoyancy decreases the farther we descend. This increases the risk of entering into gas narcosis territory.
  • Gas narcosis. It hits anywhere below 100 feet. It stones you and makes you feel like Superman. Then you descend more. Then adios muchachos.

I jumped in the water. Air gauge signaled: full tank. We glided just over the ocean bed at around 40 feet until we reached the rim of the Hole. We were at the edge of nothingness. The dive master plunged head first. I followed closely. I imagined this is how it felt to go into outer space. Infinite blue darkness. Depth gauge moving fast 50… 60… 100… 140 feet. Air gauge: full tank. Can’t be right. I shook it. Hit it against my weights. Full tank.

Defective.

Okay, no clue how much air I have left. Stay calm. Go slow. Breathe. Do not breathe too much. Stay close to your buddy.

One of the divers is messing with my buddy’s regulator’s yoke. He is trying to unscrew the breathing hose from the air tank. He is Superman.

Breathe. Do not breathe too much. Stay close to your buddy.