There’s no denying I’ve had my fair share of scary diving experiences. Between being in the water and covered in fish blood while tiger sharks & hammerheads are aggressively chasing you, having students go into a full-blown panic during a night dive, getting lost inside the pitch black boiler room of a shipwreck, or getting wrapped up in fishing line under a wharf – there’s been a few times when the fear starts to creep up your chest and you start to switch into survival mode. In almost every case you know how you got yourself into the situation, what tools you have to get yourself out of it, and with the rare exception of a panicking student you simply need to stop, breathe, think, then act to get out of whatever predicament you’ve found yourself in (and yes, that goes for sharks too) and within a few minutes you’re in the clear.
After more than 20 years in the water though, it wasn’t until I dived at Little Blue sinkhole with Kurt just after our cave diving course that I experienced sustained fear during a dive. Kurt and I were trying to log as many sinkhole dives as we could while we were both in Mount Gambier, but were having a few issues getting permits together in time. After a lot of hassle we’d managed to lock in a slot at Little Blue – a site we’d both explored during our course – but weren’t sure if we had time to do one dive or two. We figured we’d go for an initial dive to check out a part of the site we hadn’t visited during our course, and depending on how much air we had and how cold we were we’d make a call on the second dive from there. But the moment we surfaced after the first dive we knew there was no way we were going back in – we’d both just had the scariest dive of our lives so far!
Rather than heading anti-clockwise around the sinkhole as we had in previous dives, we dropped down and headed clockwise instead, taking us both under the nearby road and straight into the thickest and blackest silt I’ve ever seen. Within a minute we’d completely lost the side of the sinkhole, and slowly continued into the absolute blackness expecting it to loom out of the darkness directly in front of me. Any time I reached in front of me and tried to touch the bottom my hand just plunged into it, and there were numerous times when I simply crashed into the blacked out bottom – held up gently on a black cloud of silt.
After swimming through a hydrogen sulphide layer common sense started to get the better of Kurt – I spotted a light dimly flashing back and forward behind me, and he signalled he wanted out. We weren’t at our 1/3’s turn pressure and there was still plenty of line on the reel, but neither of us were having a fun time down there. I’d been pressing on into the darkness knowing that I had plenty of air, a reel, and a light to provide a modicum of security against the things that lurked in the black silt at the bottom of a sinkhole… but it was time to go.
Kurt moved back along the line, and after a few minutes we started to re-emerge into the relative light – leaving behind the all-encompassing darkness of Little Blue’s southern edge and returning to the still gloomy but relatively bright area under the dock before heading back to the safety of the surface… and my heart started to slow back down with it 😉