Lessons in Luck
By Richard Taylor
(Note: some Imperial and metric conversions are approximate to reflect different regional norms)
Let’s be honest, diving gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes. We can’t really complain, after all, any reported incident is quickly shared on social media and probably doesn’t give Joe Public or the Government the warm and fuzzies. If anything, to those who have not yet found our love for being underwater, the sport of diving is probably considered dangerous and divers are insanely brave, simply carefree, overtly overconfident, or just dicing with death!! Of course, after any incident the “why’s” and “what if’s” are best left to the coroners and local Police or Public Safety Dive Squads, who do a great job in terrible circumstances. (surprisingly, contrary to popular belief, social media is NOT a good source of incident analysis!!)
But as divers we do have some responsibility to take what they say on board, and try to ensure that our names, and those of our diving buddies, are not added to this list.
Most of us would have heard the saying, “There are old divers and there are bold divers, but there are not a lot of old, bold divers”. Gathered around the post-dive BBQ or keg is often the best place to hear the stories from the old and the bold, generally with a bit of lip and humour thrown in. The “big one” that got away and the dreaded “air hog buddy” are classics. But later on, the stories often shift to the scary ones, the cautionary tales that we laugh at because the lucky rabbit foot in the BC pocket worked. These are the ones we don’t really want to think about because we quietly worry that if it happened to us there’s a good chance the ending wouldn’t be funny
Is there Such Thing as Luck ?
Regardless of what the stories tell us, luck and diving don’t really go together. Luck is not something we should ever count on, nor is it something that we should consider a badge of honour, or worse, the sign of a macho diver. Luck is simply the result of events we chose not to control, and whether we think it’s because of that rabbit foot or a silent “Hail Mary”, the only reason the story can be told is because the coin toss went our way. The one thing we should do is learn from them and try and make sure we don’t put ourselves in the same position.
So, I have a (cough, clears throat) “friend” who has a few of those “luck” stories. Most have worked out for him; well, you could say that all have, though the results may not all have been without “consequences”. There are though, two that stand out as lessons, given some recent spate of fatalities.
The first was not that long ago. My friend was out hunting for lobster. The dive was planned as a 30 minute drift dive with a maximum of 90-100ft/25-30m along a rocky reef that comes up to 60-70ft/18-21m, and a marker to signal the boat when back on the surface by 500psi/50bar. As usual, the divers were all experienced, and with more than a few hundred dives under his belt he was used to the “same reef, same dive” buddy system. So, off they go, get to the bottom and start looking for a feed.
Now, my friend is not the best underwater hunter on the planet, so he’s head down into any nook or crevice that looks inviting. After a few minutes the buddies are within sight, but not close. A few minutes later he looks up and his buddy can’t be seen, thinks “Probably just behind that rock” and heads over that way head down looking for something for his catch bag. A few more minutes and no buddy anywhere. “Oh well, that’s normal”, and back to hunting. 30 minutes and with nothing bagged it’s time to ascend. Air good, 1400psi/100 bar. But wait – what’s that outcrop over there? Oh YES! Bugs!! Ledge goes down, and there’s more. A few minutes, no worries. A few lobsters, nice size, and all’s good. Time to go up. Got to just over 99ft/30m, 40 minutes in and now on 900psi/60 bar with his dive computer signalling a 15 minute ascent. Begin ascent, send up SMB and drift along. 600psi/40 bar left in tank and getting to 20ft/6m and computer says 10 minute stop. But my “friend” is not stressed at all. He turns on his Pony bottle and swaps regs; options for a Solo Dive just as planned!! Does his stop and finishes as boat pulls up. All good!
Don’t Gamble Underwater
So, was this luck? No, my “friend” had planned and was prepared for a Solo Dive; he was trained, had the suitable equipment and knew how to use it. He knew what could happen, had planned for the options and had discussed these with his buddy and boat skipper. Without this training and preparation, this could have been one of those “got back with 100psi/10 bar” stories, or even worse, ran out on the ascent. But the reason he was prepared goes back quite a few years.
So, here’s my “friend” again. This time he’s 25+ years younger, diving every weekend, pushing the limits as all good “20–somethings” do. This time it’s a 20 minute 180ft/54m wreck, diving twin tanks of course. He’s done his tech courses; he knows it all now! Awesome dive – crystal clear, can see the whole wreck from 60ft/20m, no current, warm water, just bliss. 20 minutes in looks at computer, just ticked into deco, 2500psi/170 bar left, easy, 5 more minutes. Five minutes later, 25 mins in, deco only 30 mins, 2200psi/150 bar… “sweet”, stay another 5. Thirty minutes now; back to anchor, 1800psi/120 bar and time to ascend. Deco now 40 minutes, only 10 minutes over planned dive time, no hassle. Nice slow ascent, start stops deeper for safety but something happens – deco adds up, and moving to the 10ft/3m deco stop my friend looks at his computer – 60 minutes in, 60 minutes of deco, 900psi/60 bar left. Ooops! My friend finally surfaces, one hour late, and with about 30psi/2 bar in each tank. Great dive though!!
The difference between these two dives?
On the first, my friend was prepared! Options were considered and preparations made. On the second, my friend was lucky. If he’d had any problem at all, he would not have had enough gas to get to the surface safely. He pushed the limits – and got away with it. My friend was given a lesson that day. His rabbit foot may have worked, but for everything going his way, the story could have turned out very different. In fact, it took another lesson in luck to really learn his lesson, and that one hurt a lot more. But that’s another story for another day!
So the lesson is this – in diving we need to be prepared, to plan properly, and to be ready when luck isn’t on our side. After all, if that rabbit’s foot is so lucky what the heck happened to the rabbit?
(This article first appeared, slightly edited, in Dive New Zealand Issue #155 Aug/Sep ’16 www.divenewzeland.co.nz)