And there she tumbled into the deep…

Sometimes you have those moments when very unexpectedly the sea does not give but wants to take. The water is huge, deep and strong and has a power that we should not underestimate. But even when she is very calm and shows the beautiful life she houses, there is always something dark, deep and mysterious in her that you should never forget. Good buddy contact, keeping a visual reference and looking around can literally save someone’s life. And luckily we also experience that, also with Maaike who was on board with us with her fiancé.

The first day during the check dive, Maaike and her fiancé Mark were in my group and after we entered the water and started descending they had a moment together. Mark is very experienced and Dive Master and Maaike are quite new to the sport. Mike was clearstretchedand Mark tried to tell her what to do. Sometimes it’s nice to have your partner as a buddy, but sometimes it’s not. And that was certainly the case here, as Maaike reacted very sensitively to Mark and went from tense to a clearly stressed state. I looked at the situation and decided to lend them a hand. I went to Maaike and instead of explaining it to her, I took her hand and signaled Mark to follow us. Maaike relaxed under the hand contact and after a few minutes wasrelaxed and started to enjoy the dive. I kept them close to me throughout the dive, but I noticed that Maaike seemed to understand hand signals, but then didn’t do what had been discussed. Hmm maybe because she is new to the sport or maybe impressed with the dive itself or just really enjoying it, it could be anything. Nevertheless, I made a note in my mind to discuss this with Maaike later.

Boe 😉

After the dive it turned out that Maaike had misunderstood the communication and that explained a lot. Although Mark noted that she often suffered from this. And so I wanted Maaike and Mark to go diving directly with me or the other guide during the next few days, just to keep an eye on things. This week we would be diving a lot along deeply falling walls with a chance of a good current, the somewhat larger life and things like that. And when I discussed it with the couple-to-be, they wholeheartedly agreed. No sooner said than done and so I dived with these nice people for the rest of the trip. The next day, when the boat was parked on Rocky Island (Red Sea, Egypt), the first sharks were already swimming around us, which was promising. My group was the first to enter the water, so we jumped right in between the sharks. The species we found is the Oceanic White Tip (Longimanus) and it is generally very curious and gets very close and I wanted to avoid the sharks being right under the boat as we jump to avoid unpleasant contact with the shark . And so I jumped first to keep the animals at a distance, until everyone was in the water. I agreed with Maaike and Mark that Mark would go first and Maaike after, with Mark taking Maaike to the Drop tank that was hanging 5 meters next to the boat.

Longimanus or oceanic white tip

Once in the water I was quite busy with the sharks as we had 5 curious animals. They are known for swimming directly at you, but I know that if I raise myself up with a strong energy and go at them like a macho, they will bend. And I used that technique (don’t try this at home) to keep the animals at a distance. At one point I saw Mark in the water and not long afterwards also Maaike at the drop tank, I thought great. When I saw by counting heads that everyone was in the water, I stopped keeping the sharks at bay and looked for ‘my’ buddy pair. Mark lay completely mesmerized watching the circling sharks, but where was Maaike? Oh my god, where is Maaike? And I frantically looked around a few times but just didn’t see her. When I glanced under me I saw her at depth and I made a huge noise with my rattle. I saw her looking from left to right, but not up and she was there alone at that depth. In doing so, she tumbled in a spiraling motion deeper and deeper and that is a scary thought, since there is more than 100 meters below the boat. And so like a madman I dumped air out of my wing and went down like a stone. When I picked up Maaike by her crane we were about 40 meters deep and I turned her towards me. She did look, but had a kind of cataract that suspected that she was not there for a moment. Ooooh… I grabbed her in a rescue grip and raised her calmly and in a controlled manner. Somewhere around 15 meters her light went on and she started to smile at me, special I thought, but you understand that I didn’t let go of her. Going directly to the surface with these sharks around us is dangerous, so I kept her at 10 meters. The rest of the group had come to us unaware of the danger past, expecting that I would navigate the planned dive for them.

The curious longimanus

Well what should I do now? Explaining what is going on is difficult, especially if you cannot explain it on the surface. And when I go up they all follow me and so I decided with Maaike in my hand and the other divers in my wake to make the dive with them. I didn’t go any deeper than 10 meters and held on to Maaike continuously. After a visit to the main reef we went back to the boat to enjoy the sharks once more. And when the second group with guide was also there, I decided to leave the water with Maaike. Once on deck we set the tank down and Maaike was full from her first shark dive. I asked her how deep she had been for our log and she said of course ‘as deep as you’, well. When she looked at her computer and saw the more than 40 meters on the counter, she reacted with disbelief. I showed her my computer to indicate that we had indeed been at 40. She had no idea what had happened and you understand we talked about it at length. It is clear that she was probably in a deep daze, the only question is why and whether that happens more often. When later her fiancé joined our conversation, it became clear that this could happen more often. In addition, I knew from her that she had had a long battle with cancer, which she has luckily won so far. She was medically inspected and allowed to dive by all specialists. But yes, a considerable depth of intoxication as an inexperienced diver in water that is very deep can be very dangerous. If I hadn’t seen her and picked her up, she would only have sunk further, with irreversible consequences. And so we decided together that it was not wise to dive in such deep waters and so we only dived in the shallower spots. A pity, of course, because you hope to be able to do everything on board during such a week, but ‘better safe than sorry’. This just points out the importance of a buddy, to look around you and to keep in touch.

Love life… Blow bubbles

Anke Westerlaken