Craig Wisner

Zero Visibility, Alone.

I park and hike out to the cliffs to check the conditions.  A strong onshore wind has picked up since surfing in the morning, a storm front looming dark on the ocean’s horizon.  I can’t tell what the water’s visibility is, too much texture on the surface.  I’m assuming it’s not good.  But I swear I can make out kelp forests beneath the surface, so I figure it’s worth a try.  I drove this far.

The water looks black.  Seals are appearing and disappearing around the rocks, in the kelp.  It doesn’t look too hospitable for humans out there.

I go back to the car and suit up.  I’m a little nervous.  I’m not sure if I should be going out alone.  There are a few people poking around the tide pools and rocks, but not a single person in the water, kayaking, boating, or otherwise.  Probably for reason.

Don’t think.  I double check my gear, and begin the swim, ducking a small set of waves before I’m in the clear.  There’s a little more surge in the water than I thought, sweeping a few meters to my left, then back to the right, especially near the rocks.  Visibility is poor.  I can barely see the tip of my own spear.  I hope the deeper kelp beds will be better, so I keep swimming, staring into a dark and soupy grey-green, no bottom in sight, only the sound of breath in my snorkel.

I make the outskirts of the kelp beds.  A man-sized shadow passed underneath me.  Only a seal.  But enough to feel a little shot of energy down my spine, a slight quickening of my breath.  If I were a shark, these are the exact conditions I would hunt in.

Relax.  You’re OK.

I clip my dive buoy off to the kelp, breathe, and take my first dive, hugging the edges of the forest.  I’ve over-weighted and reach the ocean floor at roughly 20 to 30′ with a little less effort than I’d like. Visibility is still poor.  The surge pushes me into the kelp.  I see fish, but I come up on them so quickly in the murky water there’s no time for a shot.  I surface to find three seals looking at me.  I’ve apparently headed right into their midst; they regard me with skepticism, curious annoyance, and go back to seal business.

I circle a kelp bed a few times, taking a few short dives, towing my buoy further offshore, deeper, hoping to find some clearer water.  It doesn’t take long to admit that it’s not going to happen.  I also admit to myself that diving in these conditions, alone, is a bad idea.  I head in, fighting a bit of cross current to stay on course.

Sometimes we back down from things that make us nervous.  Sometimes we have to fight our better judgement and do some things anyway.  This is how we grow; this is how we can get in trouble.  A fine line.

The ocean makes me feel small.  Very, very, small.  The poor visibility was isolating.  The sound of breathing and nothing but green-grey static beyond my mask, the surging tide, and weightlessness in the water are certainly enough to invoke mild panic if I start thinking too much.  Occasionally a shape, a shadow passes within my view.  I feel like a speck of consciousness in an infinite space, out of control.  It is our very own planet, the very ocean that spawned us, but it might as well be another world entirely.

Making shallow water, I take off my fins with a sense of relief, a sense of pride that I went out anyway.  I did not shoot any fish, but I overcame something today, I got a little stronger, a little more comfortable.

The ocean is truly wild, seemingly more so than any land environments I know.  The life- the sheer abundance of life is staggering.  It is a highly dynamic world and when bearing the cold and the tides and holding one’s breath, it is easy to feel that one is part of it, not merely a visitor passing through.   Just another swimming creature amongst many, many, others.

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2 responses

  1. Low/no vis is the scariest sort of diving. The fear is very primal.

    February 13, 2014 at 7:45 am

    • Most definitely. Nearly ran face first into a rock at one point. Quite a disorienting experience.

      February 17, 2014 at 7:53 pm

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