They Can't All Be Gems

We’ve talked before about perfect conditions and how you never know when things will be “just right” unless you show up to dive and get wet. As with all things in this world, there is a flip side and that’s what we’re talking about today. They can’t all be gems.


I think you know what I mean. You wait all week or month or year for the dive trip. Maybe it’s a one day excursion or a full blown vacation. You pack your gear. Travel via whatever means. Once you get there, you travel to the site. You get your rig set. You fight with your wetsuit. You sweat and cuss and finally get your regulator in your mouth - air hisses from around the o-ring so you disassemble and replace it. Reassemble. More sweating and more cussing. Then you hit the water and get to depth - and you can’t see anything. Or you follow the anchor line down, only to find you are not, in fact, right on the wreck!


Maybe you got some bad intel or maybe you didn’t prepare well enough. Maybe you did everything right. The point is that it’s just going to happen every once in awhile. Since it’s gong to happen, just be ready to learn what you can from it.

As followers of the blog already know, we slid down to Vortex Springs in January to show people how easy it can be to dive on a budget. We wanted to dive Morrison Springs nearby but it was flooded and closed. We thought we’d do a dive double header which just turned out to be a blog post double header as you’ll see in a moment.

So here’s how it went. The shop divemaster at Vortex tells us Morrison is closed and there ain’t no getting around it. Well, curses. So I quickly formulate a plan. Sound logic here. We’re already in Florida and about an hour from Pensacola. Let’s call around and see what shops are open. They can give us the inside track on some of the best shore diving and we can score our first ocean dive!

So Ben calls up a spot and they tell us to come on down. Since we were diving Indiana in 36 degree water, then 68 degree ocean won’t be a problem. RIght? The viz would be less than ideal but nothing serious enough to keep us out of the water.

An hour later we arrive with all gear in tow and find our way to the shop. It was a nice place and the divers on staff were super helpful. There were two possible dive sites. One was nearby where some rocks projected out into the bay. We could slide in and descend, following the rocks around and staying close to avoid the light current. This dive would require walking with all dive gear about a half mile to the entry point. Option two was a bit of a drive away from here and we were anxious to get in the water so we eliminated that choice fairly quickly.

With a decision made, the gal at the counter sketched out a map and said the viz should be about 15 feet. The bay floods with water from the ocean and this in and out water motion messes with how far you can see. But hey, we dive the midwest so no big deal. We got this. We bought a flag and float, then hit the road.

Gearing up was quick - we wanted to get in a dive or two so we could hit Vortex again before bed. So we put on our suits and BC’s, slipped weight pouches in, grabbed our masks and fins, then headed for the beach.

About 20 yards in, the whole walking in sand thing is already taking its toll. Fifty yards and I’m taking gear to help lighten the load. Halfway to our entry point we decide to sit in the sand and take a break. Almost a quarter of the way there, then another break. Some folks had anchored their boats on the beach by setting the hook in the sand and letting out maybe 20 feet of anchor line. Obviously we had to leave the hard packed sand by the water and slog our way around the lines.

At long last, we reached the entry point and took another break in the sand. We are all hot and sweating profusely. So, so ready to get in the water. We turn our air on and do our checks. Ben’s regulator starts to free flow. He sort of has to crawl over on his knees to get to me so I can reach out and turn it off. As you can imagine, the mood is pretty sour at this point. We cuss the regulator as I take it apart to blow out the sand which had accumulated during our rest stops on the beach. We get everything working properly, I turn the air on and he’s good.

We finally slip into the water. The waves are gentle and we start walking backwards into the surf. Kalie falls in two feet of water and gets stuck on her back when the wave rushes out. I press on into the waves while Ben grabs her BC and unceremoniously drags her into the ocean. As soon as she is freed up, my regulator starts hissing and pitching a fit. Yup. Sand in that one too.

After all this, you’d think we’d just call it, right? Well just like they say on late night TV - But wait! There’s more! When we get out to more than waist deep water we stick our faces in. The water is exactly the color of tea. A thick, brown, can’t see the bottom of the cup, want to throw out after your first sip, drinking out of an ugly mug tea.

Then we fight the ocean. Swells deposited Kalie up on the rocks and left her stranded like a turtle on its back. I swim to pull her off, then it’s my turn to do the turtle thing. Joy. Ben is trying to swim towards shore now because the current is stronger than expected. Ben gives me that look and it was over. Finally, my stubborn self makes the realization that this dive just isn’t going to happen. Looking back, I should have called it off much sooner for safety, let alone all the other things that went wrong.

One the way back to the truck, we stayed in the water to make the walk easier. It was a long walk. Long enough to reflect on some things. First, trying to dive the ocean having never done it - we should have had some help. No sense in adding additional risk to an already difficult and unfamiliar dive. Second, a little recon goes a long way. The folks at the shop were awesome. But this is Florida after all and 68 degree water to Floridians may as well be 36 degrees. They weren’t diving much. Third, it pays to be in decent shape as a diver. It really helps out when things don’t go to plan and you’re hauling gear all over hell’s half acre. Lastly, and you guessed it, they can’t all be gems.

We did another dive at Vortex that evening and washed all the salt out of our gear. The trip overall was a success. The failed dive was miserable but it was also successful. We learned some things that made us better and that’s the key: learn a little from each dive and stay humble.

They won’t all be perfect. Sometimes the awesome shot didn’t get captured because the camera wasn’t on. Maybe the viz was terrible and you couldn’t see much. If you’re having a bad day, just call it and dive again another time. They just won’t all be “perfect.”

For the full story of gemology and how I came up with this brilliant insight, you may be interested to read about the guy who introduced me to the concept. You can check out discus coach and Highland games athlete Dan John, right here: