Three surface cover stories

14 Aug

The weather is so awesome this week, hardly any wind, little to no waves, the sun is shining, you would hardly believe it is the dreaded Cape Verde Season… I’m out diving this afternoon, yeah!

I thought that I would write about some strange occurrences that have happened to me while I have been surface cover on the boat. Normally when we are surface cover nothing super exciting happens. It is a great time to chill out, do a bit of boat cleaning, but mostly I like to take time to appreciate what I am doing. You see, when I am on land there is always something to do. There is always an email to write, a phone call to make, a page on the website that needs updating, or the horrible bookkeeping. On the boat there are no computers, there isn’t a phone (just the emergency cell phone) so it is almost a blessing as I am forced to just relax.

However, (I can hear you waiting with bated breath) sometimes bizarre things happen.

Story 1

The first story is when I was surface cover for an advanced open water class that was diving The Fusheng (this is a deep wreck). This must have been back in 2008, perhaps 2009 I can’t remember. The weather was beautiful, with just a whisper of wind disturbing the silence. The sky was Blue. And yes, I meant to write Blue with a capital “B.” Not a cloud in the sky. The divers had been down for about 10 minutes, I had given the boat a once over and I decided to let some of the sad white parts of my body enjoy the glory of the sun. If you get what I mean… πŸ™‚

So there I am, (try not to imagine it too clearly) relaxing on the boat. Then there is this strange sound, like a motor in the distance, but not really. The kind of sound you imagine that a ghost would make if it was haunting you or something. I looked around for a plane coming in, or another boat, but there was nothing. Just clear blue sky over my head. The sounds, however, were getting louder and louder. So bizarre. I’m looking around and in the distance I see not one, not two, but THREE twisters coming directly for the boat! They weren’t huge twisters, maybe 2 meters in diameter and rising up 5 meters from the surface of the water. They were big enough for me, though. At first, I couldn’t stop staring at them. Where on earth did they come from?

Sometimes when I’m on the boat all by myself I try to imagine different scenarios and what I would do in that situation. For example, a giant tsunami is on the horizon. Or a lightening storm suddenly comes over head. Or an alien ship rises from out of the water. What would I do? But I had never mentally prepared for this scenario. I started sort of running in little circles on the boat. Should I start the engine? Will they be powerful enough to suck me up and flip the boat? Should I detach from the mooring and drive away? Well, there is one thing that I did do almost immediately, and this was to put my bikini back on. Just imagine the looks on the faces of my instructor and the divers if they came up on to the boat and I was there with no bathing suit! What would I tell them? “Well… You see… Ummm…My suit got sucked up by these 3 twisters that suddenly appeared and went right over the boat.” No Way were those twisters taking my clothes!

Now that I was fully dressed and feeling better, I looked out again to see the twisters were not changing course. I decided to just throw everything that could be sucked away into the locker and brace myself. Then, just like three ghosts haunting me in my relaxed serenity, they swept right over the boat. I was instantly drenched in horizontal swirls of water. The wind was strong, but not strong enough to lift me up or anything, although it probably could have taken my clothes, so it was good thinking on my part to put them back on! Then, as quickly as they came, they left. Sometimes I ask myself, “Did that really happen?” No one was there to witness it with me. The divers came up from the dive, completely unaware of my surreal experience on the surface.

So… that was the first one. Are you ready for the second strange occurrence? (Enough with the bated breath already, this really isn’t that exciting!)

Story 2

This time I am on the Gregory and we are diving with a bunch of AUC students from the Medical University here. We were the only boat on site and the weather was nice, the waters calm. They had descended and were probably about 5 minutes into their dive when I see these bubbles at the back of the boat. My divers had gone in a different direction, so I figured something was wrong. Maybe someone couldn’t equalize? I go to the back of the boat (Chris would call this “the stern” πŸ™‚ ) and these two people emerge. They weren’t aliens, thankfully. I could see right away that they weren’t from my group of divers. There was a man and a woman on scuba.

Then, like something out of a sick comedy they say to me “Have you seen a grey dinghy?” No real emotion, no shock or panic. Just “Have you seen a grey dinghy?” I shake my head and say “No. I don’t see a grey dinghy.” They are acting strange, this couple. I can’t put my finger on it. I can see that he has run out of air because his BCD is empty and he is kicking like crazy. I wonder if I should tell him to orally inflate his jacket.


So, I jump up on the side of the boat and peer in the distance, the direction the wind would take a boat running adrift. On the horizon, more than a mile away there is a small grey dot. “Could that be your dinghy, there in the distance?” The guy gets on the boat, takes his gear off (and not in a controlled, pretty way) and jumps on the side.

“That’s it. That’s our dinghy! Can we go get it?” He says to me. I can tell they are Dutch locals. They have that Dutch accent but with a local Sint Maarten twist to it.

“Ummmm. No…” What are they thinking, that I am just going to leave my divers?

The girl pipes up. “It isn’t far, we could be back in 5 minutes.”

“I’m really sorry,” I reply, although I’m not actually really sorry. “I have divers down, I can’t leave them. You can wait on the boat with me and then once they come up, we can go and get it.”

“Yeah, yeah.” This is the blond. “I know, I know you can’t, I’m a diving instructor.”


“Well… can you call someone or something? I don’t know the right channel though, I’m not familiar with the American System.” (This is the blond instructor).

I’m thinking “American System.” Huh? We are on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten, why would the radio be American?

Anyway… I’m about to hail the coast guard on the radio when the Coast Guard randomly passes by. The guy waves his arms frantically from my boat and then as the coast guard boat gets closer he suddenly does this olympic dive into the water and starts swimming to the Coast Guard. I’m kind of in shock and I look around for the blond instructor and she’s gone. Gone. As in, not there any more. Now this is getting really weird.

The guy goes off with the coast guard to retrieve his dinghy, the girl has descended and I don’t know where she is exactly, so I wait. What else can I do? Finally the coast guard comes back following the guy and his grey dinghy. The coast guard leaves and then the girl instructor surfaces. Now this is when things become clearer to me. The girl is now on the surface and she hands up a large bag of fish, as well as a spear gun to her mate on the dinghy. Then she hands her equipment up, swims over to my boat to retrieve the guys equipment and she tells me that someone had cut her anchor line. That is why the boat drifted. I don’t know if this is true. I mean, perhaps she doesn’t want me to think that as well as being the “missing link” dive instructor she also can’t tie knots. I just don’t know. I do know that they are not only scuba diving with spear guns (which is illegal) they are doing it on a dive site, which she only knows about because she is a diving instructor.

I just say “You’re lucky I was here. Next time you are going to illegally spear fish on scuba, don’t do it at a dive site!” There may have been some expletives in there as well, but I will spare those from you.

Who knows what happened? I think that another diving center may have seen that they were diving with spear guns at a dive site and cut their line, then called the coast guard to either get them busted, or because they felt bad that they had put people’s lives at risk by setting their boat adrift. I don’t know. I do know that I will never forget that moment when two people popped up, with no other boats in site, and said “Have you seen a grey dinghy?”

OK, OK. Do I still have your attention? Is this an atrociously long blog here? Chris says I’m not blogging enough, but the thing is that I get really into the blog and they end up being 1,610 words. Well that is the word count now, well actually now it is 1622.

So, last one and then I will let you get on with your day.

Story 3

I was up at Tintamarre diving the Tugboat (well, my divers were, I was surface cover once again.) My divers had been down for about 20 minutes when I see this swimmer coming towards the boat. “HEY! HEY!” she is yelling. Now for those of you that can’t picture where the Tugboat is, it is on the northern side of Tintamarre and is pretty far away from the island. It is a sheltered site in a large elbow of the island overlooking large cliff faces with a tiny beach in the crook of the elbow about half a mile away.

Has this woman just swam over from that beach?

I get out the life ring to throw to her, she looks tired and out of breath, but she says no, I’m okay. I put down the ladder and she climbs on board. Then she starts talking a million miles per hour. There’s a group of kids on the beach, young kids, they’re all really scared. They don’t have water. There is a small dog. They have been walking for hours. She got lost. Their parents are all on the main beach. They were going to swim but the kids are too little, they won’t make it. Will I help them?

I try and calm her down, I give her some water. She sucks it down. I refill her cup, she empties it. I can see she is right on the edge. I say “Don’t worry. Of course I am going to help you.” I’m talking slowly so she understands what I am saying. The relief kind of washes over her face and this is when the tears start to threaten to come out. She must be 17, 18 years old. She is fit, she has to be to have swam all that way to the boat. “I feel so responsible.” She says. I don’t start saying what I’m thinking, which is “You are responsible. What were you thinking of? Why would you go hiking on Tintamarre with little kids?” Instead I let her get the story out of her system. She lives on the island, grew up here. She goes to Tintamarre island twice a year. They are with a big group of people out on Tintamarre for the day and she suggested a hike. She has hiked the island loads of times. Three kids said they would go with her, and she also took a little tiny dog. They ran out of water in the first hour, then they got lost. They had been walking for 4 hours through dense brush, getting cut up. She said it felt like being in the TV show Lost. She’s still talking fast, but as the story gets out she is calming down. The kids are on the beach still, but it is too far to yell to them, they are too tiny to almost see.

“Can we go now?”

Again, here I am in the same situation. “I’m really sorry, but I can’t leave my divers. We have to wait for them to get back on the boat.” I am genuinely sorry we can’t go right away.

“They must be really scared. They won’t understand why we are waiting.” She says.

“I’m really sorry, but we can’t leave yet. The divers will be back in 10, maybe 15 minutes. Look, you can see their bubbles. I’ll explain why we couldn’t get them right away.”

Then, I start to distract her. Where does she live? What grade is she in? Does she dive? Any brothers or sisters? Where does she go to school?

Finally the divers surface. They are a little confused as to where this girl came from. I get everyone on board as quick as possible and then we go and pick up the kids and the little tiny dog. Emma, that was her name, Emma swims to the beach to get the kids and the dog. I send her with buoyancy aids, like a swim board and a life ring. I’ve never been over there before, so I am looking for coral heads sticking up, and trying to get the kids on board before the wind blows me onto the rocks. “Hurry up, on the boat. Quick, quick, quick.”

They’re on board, looking really tired. There is 5 year old boy, and then two 10 (maybe 11) year old girls. The dog is tiny, my cat would eat it for dinner. It is covered in leaves and is shaking from the swim. We take them around the island back to the beach and then they jump off the boat to their families. They’re parents must have been really frightened. Once everyone is on the beach and we start to leave, I see Emma in the water. She is facing away from everyone, trying not to show let them see how upset she is. She keeps going under the water, but I can see that she is crying.

She knows how lucky she was that we were there. She now knows how bad can go to worse really quickly.

Well, I believe I must have truly exhausted your attention span with this blog. There is never a dull moment here at Octopus Diving, that is for sure!

(Sally wrote this ridiculously long blog. πŸ™‚ )

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