Labor Day Key Largo Dive

Looking forward to next weekends annual keys labor days diving trip. Always a good time. Started in 2007 which hooked me on diving. Three great days of diving I’ll never forget. In 2008 we were blown out by hurricane Gustav. Last year was another great time. I just hope Earl leaves us alone.

Here is where the story changes.  Just like the sea’s unpredictable behavior, our fantasy weekend turned into a nightmare.  Carl saw the first shark.  It was scuttling by the back side of the reef at just about 275 feet.  I thought I caught a glimpse of something but wasn’t sure.  Then I saw the whale shark.  It came at us fast, wagging its tail like a dog when it recognizes its master after a long absence.  Sheila saw it at the last second.  She tried to swim away but it was too late.  The whale shark’s massive 21 inch teeth ripped her to shreds instantly.  Blood stained the water, along with her right arm and mask.

My breathing was out of control.  I knew at this pace I would quickly run out of the remaining air in my triple steel 150’s.  I focused on my breathing.  Just then, almost on cue, the mimic sharks appeared.

Mimic sharks are only about 10 inches long but, to make up for their lack of size, they school in the shape of a large fish and attack ferociously.  This time they appeared as a big Goliath grouper.  That was good news.  Goliaths don’t aggressively attack – only when bothered.  I grabbed Carl and gave him the thumbs up – we had to get out of here.

I looked at my watch and it dawned on me.  Our eight hour dive had bled over into 10 hours.  It was dark at the surface now.  I reached into my pocket at about 175 feet and found a URF (underwater rocket flare).  The lettering on the packaging stating “Caution: Use only in real emergencies” began to have deep significance now.  Was this an emergency I thought?  Hell with it!

I ripped the packaging off and placed it in my BCD pocket.  Plastic is a severe enviromental threat these days.   I pointed it skyward and pulled the lanyard.  Nothing.  Then something.  Then flaring and bubbles.  This was the first time I had sent one of these off.  They were quite expensive and I only had two.  This one would be to save us.  Carl continued to swim up as I tried to launch the URF.  It fuzzed, bubbled, and then it shot out of my hand and torpedoed skyward from 150 feet.  As I watched it I saw it fade out of view.  Where it had been grew a dark shadow – It Was the Whale Shark!

Aiming straight down on top of us it passed to my left right where Carl had been.  Now there was nothing.  I was at 125 feet and I was all alone.  I grabbed my ERFD (emergency rocket flotation device) and decided to pull the release.  Just then the wording “Caution: Never use this unless you are about to die” began to have special significance.

I pulled it hard.  All of a sudden my emergency air cannister released 300 cubic feet of air out through two hoses that ran down my legs and emptied out at my heel.  I straightened up and aimed myself skyward.  The last 100 feet passed by within a second.  The pressure launched me out of the water nearly 50 feet in the air.  While in the air I strategically used my flashlight to tap out an S.O.S. in each of the cardinal directions.

I hit the water with a splash sinking back 10 feet underneath the surface.  I removed my tanks that I had saved up for last year.  I had only used them twice.  As I let them sink I reflexively reached to my watch and pressed the lower button to record the GPS coordinates.  I would be back for my gear.  (to be continued)

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