As dusk settles, we walk through the chilly air and ease ourselves down into the murky water. Our first mission is to descend down a line to a platform at 25 feet before moving on to our first stop, a school bus submerged at about 35 feet below the surface. As soon as I put my regulator in my mouth and my mask drops below the waterline, I know I am going to be in for a challenging dive. If I hold out my hand all the way in front of my face, I would be hard pressed to see it, that’s how bad the visibility is. As I grab hold of the line that would lead us down the gently sloping bottom of the lake to the platform, I fumble with my dive light and try to avoid banging into the bottom, kicking up even more silt, as if it were possible to make the visibility any worse than it already is. The whole time my eyes are glued to my dive instructor just a couple feet ahead of me, I know if I let him out of my sight I might not find him again. My husband brings up the rear.
As our dive instructor (Brent) and I finally arrive to the platform, it already feels like the longest dive of my life and I’m only 2 minutes in. Just relax, I tell myself, as I kneel at the platform, check my depth, and get my bearings. I give Brent the OK signal and turn around to my husband. Except one thing, he’s not there. He hasn’t come down the line. We both look up the line and shine our lights, but with practically no visibility the lights don’t do much good. They reflect off the silt much like using your high beams in dense fog. I look for some movement in the line… nothing. Brent looks at me and motions to go back up the line to see if we can find him. So I let him take the lead as we work our way back up. We get back to the surface and no sign of him. We try to look for bubbles but it’s hard to see in the waning light of nightfall. Again, I breathe and tell myself to relax. My husband Brad knows what to do, he knows to come to the surface if we get separated. So we wait for what feels like an eternity. I’m just about to start freaking out when his head breaks the surface about 30 feet from us. What a way to start a dive.
After making some brief nervous jokes about finally being able to cash in on my husband’s life insurance policy, we make some quick changes in the dive plan, and descend one more time. This time we go down a vertical line directly to the bus, which ends up being much easier. Brent takes a wreck reel, which is basically a line on a spindle that gets attached to the wreck throughout various points. You follow this line to get through the wreck without getting lost. In most cases it’s just a formality to use this, since you can see the whole way through the wreck. In the case of this particular dive, it was literally a lifesaver. Brent takes off through the bus and we follow, not pleasant, but not terrible. The space is wide open enough inside the gutted out bus to allow for a little wiggle room and some visibility. And it’s pretty much a straight shot to get out through what used to be the emergency exit.
We follow a few more lines and check out one other little boat on our way to our main objective for the dive: A sunken 72 foot wooden sailboat named “The Quest”. I don’t even see the schooner until she almost hits me in the face, but nonetheless, we are going to have to go through her. Brent motions for us to stay put while he runs the wreck reel through. He quickly disappears into a 4×4′ hole in the bow, and we wait for what seems like an eternity. The entire time I am just freaking myself out more and more and have pretty much decided there is no way on God’s green Earth that I am going down into that hole. I try to peer down in side and I can see nothing but cloudy blackness. I’m looking at my husband and shaking my head “no” but he’s ignoring me. Apparently he’s dealing with his own issues. My breathing is becoming heavier and I can feel a slight wave of panic starting to wash it’s way over me. But there is absolutely no way I can let that happen. I tell my brain to shut up. Brent comes back around and gives me the signal to go down into the wreck. Here goes nothing!
I grip the line of the wreck reel, position my fins over the hole, and slowly drop down into the abyss. I see literally nothing but a cloud of silt. I hold my light just inches from the line that runs along the ceiling, and I start swimming forward. Just follow the line. So I follow the line for what feels like an hour, just focusing on that little orange piece of string, holding on to it with my free hand, with a death grip on my light in the opposite hand. Finally I see a lighter area and know I am approaching the exit. I made it! I start to swim up and out. But as I do that I feel a tug on the back of my tank. I’m caught on something. Oh my God the wreck reel line is snagged on the valve of my tank! Are you freaking kidding me?! I think I had a moment there where I was sure this was it, the end – Sayonara. Then I gave myself another mental bitch slap and told myself to pull it together. I give another quick tug and realized that going up and out is not going to happen so I drop back down into the hole in the stern. I think “I’ll just wait here until my husband comes through and he will see that I am caught and help me.” But before that can happen, I see Brent coming to untangle me. I swear in that moment he looked like an angel descending from heaven.
The rest of the dive was pretty much uneventful, my husband made it through unscathed, and we slowly made our way back to the surface and to dry land. I can’t say it was an enjoyable experience, but it was a huge challenge and to be honest, I’m pretty impressed with myself that I maintained the composure to complete it. I wasn’t sure that I had it in me, but now I know that I do. Brent said that if we can dive in those conditions, we can dive anything, and I agree that it has definitely made me a better, more confident diver. What’s more – I think I am even a braver and stronger person than I ever thought I was. I really surprised myself.
So that’s how my husband and I got our Night and Limited Visibility Diving certification on Friday night.
Dive Site: Willow Springs Park
Visibility: 2 feet
Water Temp: 55ºF
Time: 7:30 PM EST
When is the last time you pushed your own limits? Have you ever surprised yourself by exceeding the limits of what you thought you were capable of?