In late Septmeber of 1999 I received this story of misfortune (to say it nicely) and near catastrophe from a local diver, Arnie:
It's been a pleasure, and I keep referring people to www.kayakdiving.com and
recommending your book.
Just in case you're interested, here is another story that I posted on the
RSD board (and you will be kind of relieved that it doesn't contain a
referral ;-)). I think I briefly met you on that dive, you were just
finished, and I was at my yak in the water, mumbling something about a lost
lamp. OK, here goes...
"It was supposed to be my first lobster dive in history. And my first kayak
night dive in history. It turned out to be quite a historical day, but for
other reasons, unfortunately. Murphy had a field day!
We were four: Sean, Paul, me (three regulars) and Bryan. We got into the
kayaks by 11:50PM and out to the breakwater in 20 minutes or so. Since the
forecast said there wouldn't be much wave action, we decided to go around
the breakwater and dive it from outside. There were about six other kayaks
anchored there already, their cyalume lights jumping with the yaks on a 3
to 4 foot swell! We decided to follow their example and Paul and I threw the
hook nearby. Paul's hook didn't hold, so he and Sean hooked up to Bryan who
was tied off to me.
OK. The waves were giving us all quite a bumpy platform, and when I tried to
pull the tank/BC out of its well, I lost balance and fell out of the kayak,
with the weight belt already on. I am close to neutral in this combination,
but had no fins on yet, so it was kind of hard to manage getting the tank
secured and get back into the kayak without risking of turning it upside
down. Bryan came to my help and I got back in OK. Next I wanted to do was
put the fins on so I'd be self sufficient. I had the fins, the mask and my
dive lamp tied off to a tether, and as I pull the tether out of the water to
get to my fins, the end opens up and all on it comes loose. The fins float,
so I can grab them, before the slight current takes them away, but the lamp
(2 pounds negative) must have dropped right below me. The mask probably
followed the current for a bit before it hit the bottom. Well. Murphy I.
Bryan didn't want to dive down alone to look for the lamp that I didn't want
to give up, so we had to wait for Paul and Sean to show up. They did and
Sean helped me out with a spare mask that he had brought. Atta boy! We all
went down, looking for my lamp. I used my backup. The bottom was at 40 ft,
flat sand. Perfect to find something in good visibility, but also the worst
bottom for surgy water. I looked hard and systematically, went back up once
to verify my position, went back down.
A short digression to get to Murhpy II: Sitting on a kayak at night with no
visual reference to the ocean, but with 3 to 4 foot swells, makes even a
good sailor seasick. I am a good sailor (and so was Paul). During my second
ascend, being at the bottom, I felt it coming slowly. I quickly decided what
would be better--vomiting into the reg (which I had never done before) or
ascending fairly quickly. Since I was solo and didn't want to risk any
complications, I decided for an ascend. I managed to keep it slow enough to
feel safe and fed the fish from topside. It really makes you feel better
once it is out. So I descended again, to continue my search. After all, it
was a $550 lamp. At the bottom, I saw lights in the murkyness (about 6 to 10
ft visibility)--my buddies were still down there looking. I got close to one
of them with an exceptionally bright light and as I get even closer, I see
it is mine. I didn't recognise who it was but indicated to him that he had
my light. Murphy III: that was exactly the moment when my backup light went
yellow and dim. I should find out later that it had gotten flooded slightly
but enough to mess up the batteries. I would have still had a second backup
to read the gauges for a safe ascent, but getting back my primary dive light
was just in time.
Next: lobsters! I didn't have my game bag on me yet but decided I'd give it
a shot without and headed toward the breakwater to get to some rocks where
I'd hope to find them. Coming closer to the actual breakwater, I saw some
stray rocks, covered with beautiful gorgonia in white, brown and orange
colors. But no lobsters yet. Visibility not increasing 10 ft but surge
increasing significantly. I didn't check depth but figured it would get even
more vigorous if I got closer to the rock wall. So I decided, after all my
luck so far, I'd better call it a dive and swim back which I did. I found
back to the kayak and saw this short end of a blue line floating in the
water. That looked strange to me, because it was my paddle leash and was
supposed to hold my paddle. Murphy IV! The turbulent sea must have twisted
the paddle leash around some protruding parts on the kayak, gaining too much
leverage on the loose end, forcing the double secured knot to open and wave
my paddle goodbye. Now, that one was not funny anymore, but I had nobody to
scream my anger (or worries?) to--the other three were still in the water.
Not long after my discovery, I heard them behind me but I heard something
that I didn't like: Bryan, using a long row of F-words, describing that his
kayak was sinking.
Murphy V. The kayak WAS sinking! I couldn't help him, I was happy to have saved myself
into the kayak, still feeling sick, having thrown up again, feeling a
handicapping back pain--I just couldn't help. Paul was very quiet too, being
seasick. Sean, the savior, came to Bryans assistance, only to help Bryan
retrieve his BC to don it and get some buoyancy. The bow of the yak was
merely 6 inches out of water, the rest pointing down like the Titanic. His
yak was tied off between mine and Paul's, so it couldn't really get lost,
but we couldn't get it up and dry either. Sean, after giving me his spare
paddle (did I say Sean was a savior?), agreed to paddle back and get help.
Lot's of loud F*** behind me still, but I couldn't care less, preparing for
a third vomit attempt with nothing left inside. Gets painful. Then, maybe 30
minutes later, out of nowhere comes a boat to help Bryan.
(Note from Mark Theobald - It turns out the rescuer was a good friend of mine - Bob Stock!)
Phew! Pulling up
my anchor from sandy bottom was a cinch (was Murphy getting seasick too? He
missed his # VI), and once back behind the breakwater, we could relax a
little and enjoy calmer seas again for a change. My stomach settled
immediately, once in flat water, only the spare paddle was too short and not
cupped which made it quite difficult to use. But better than cupped hands
for sure. Anyway, Paul and I made it back without further problems. The
green and red lanterns to the harbor entry were still on, so we found our
way back in this very dark night (less than 1/4 moon out).
Back at the beach, we slowly start carrying gear back to the cars, when
(drumroll...) my remote car lock won't work to open my car. Nada. So I had
to use the key and set off the alarm at about 2 or 3 AM. The neighbors must
have loved it, and so did Murphy. Sean, the savior, unplugged the horn, so
we only had to listen to three cycles of 30 seconds of it. Further attempts
to overcome the disabled starter didn't work, the car would not start. AAA
promised to come within 45 minutes (called with Sean's cell phone), and they
even made it in 20. It was a tow truck, with the driver motivated to rather
tow me and cash in after the first seven free miles than to get my car going
again. But my re-awakended senses were working well enough to motivate him
to try some more of his tricks, and he finally succeeded. Hallelujah! I gave
him a ten and finally left the place of Murphy's triumph at 5AM. Had to stop
for a nap in between home to not give him another one and fall asleep behind
the wheel. Got home at 7.
Now I have to call off the lobster dinner. Won't be too hard, after all, I
have a story to tell. I wish it was the other way round.
Pertinent question: which lessons to be learned? For me, it is
1. don't do a night dive on a kayak in more that 1 foot waves or take
dramamine well before.
2. Don't believe the sea weather report.
3. Bring spares.
4. Make better tethers that won't undo by themselves.
5. Don't invite to a lobster dinner before the fact.
I'm sure you will have more. Go ahead.
I'm just happy to be back. It is now Saturday 1PM. I've slept through all
morning and am now strong enough to take your advice ;-)
After my back feels better, I'll be back in the kayak. For a nice, calm day
dive. How do you spell lobster?"
Today, 15 days later, I just returned from a two day lobster trip. It was
sad. The record harvest was two (2) bugs on one dive! I think the entire
boat with 32 dives only caught seven or eight bugs. In two days. Maybe, if
we had made it out to Begg Rock and St. Nic, it would have been better, but
the weather didn't allow it. Well, at least I caught one and know now how it
feels. It was a short one, though.
Till next time,
I replied to Arnie to ask him the details of the kayak sinking and if he'd mind if I reprinted his story here on this web page. He responded:
Please feel free to post my report on your site. I'm happy I can contribute
some to the kayak diving community of which I am a proud member.
I actually did my first kayak dive back in February and have completet 15
dives as of today. I did some "dry training" to get used to it all before I
acutally did my first dive from the yak and except for that dreadful night,
I never had any problem or lost one single item. Oops, I just remember I
lost a hatch once and couldn't find it again.
OK, you wanted more information on the sinking kayak. It was either a
Scrambler or a Scrambler XT. The problem, I was told, was that the diver is
a tall, heavy guy who already came close to the weight capacity (not really,
but there wasn't enough left). The major problem then was the rough sea and
water coming into his boat when he rigged up for the dive and more later,
when he tried to store his gear under the hatch. He obviously couldn't get
the hatch closed fast enough before a big wave gave his boat a good swig and
the boat started to change trim to an upright Titanic position. That's when
he gave up and it started sinking more and more. Another problem was that it
was totally dark, and the only other two nearby (Paul and I) were so
seasick, and I felt so weak, that we couldn't care less at that point.
Somebody said we could have purged air into the turned yak to clear it, but
not in that rough sea and at night.
The fourth of our group, Sean, paddled back by himself to get help, and a
motorboat finally came to tow the sunken yak into the harbor. That's all I
I seem to have repressed this whole incident and it didn't even occur to me
to find out how we could have avoided or saved the situation. I will now go
and re-visit your book to find the answers.
The following is a story that I wrote of an incident that occurred on a dive trip I made to La Bufadora, on the Baja peninsula. The names have been changed to protect the innocent:
RECIPE FOR DISASTER
The morning started out so calm and warm on the bay at La Bufadora, Mexico. That was the main reason Mac and Sal thought they could get away with leaving the neoprene seals, designed to keep water out of the larger rear hatches of their Necky Dolphins, behind as they loaded them up for a four hour, 2 tank dive excursion. They had placed a second tank in the rear hatch area and it didn't fit all the way into the hold. Mac, an experienced kayak diver and kayaking instructor, probably should have known better. And I suppose I could have been a little more convincing as I casually reminded them of the purpose and necessity of the hatch seals. I didn't realize that they were not taking along any means of removing water from the hulls of their kayaks. Anyway, off they went, onto the flat calm morning waters, for a two mile paddle to surely some of the best diving the west coast of North America has to offer.
Later that day, after several dives from a Panga boat myself, I decided to hike along the edge of the cove, out to the point on the south-east side of the bay. It took me about an hour of some fairly rugged hiking to get out to the point. Very soon after my arrival I caught sight of Mac and Sal returning from their outing. The waters had become quite rough in the afternoon winds and I noticed that they were not making very fast headway. It was obvious, even at a distance, that their kayaks had a good amount of water in them already.
Sal, a very experienced diver, but less experienced kayaker than Mac, looked exhausted and was no doubt glad to be only a half mile from camp. As they rounded the corner about 300 feet off the ragged volcanic rocks of the shoreline, the angle of the chop and swell changed and the intensity increased due to reflections from the shore. Within minutes, Sal had overturned her kayak (kayaks get very unstable as they get heavier with gear and water). She struggled to right the craft several times only to have it roll over again as she attempted to board it. Without the rear neoprene hatch seal in place, the kayak was soon completely swamped and it became frighteningly obvious that they were not going to be able to recover it without help.
Then their situation took a turn for the worse. Mac, whose kayak was also partially flooded, came alongside Sal's kayak to try to help her and in their efforts capsized his own craft right along side Sal's. His kayak swamped immediately and now both were floating, bottom up, just 200 feet from shore and drifting in that direction. Had there been a calm beach to drift in to there would have been little to worry about. But instead, there were 3 to 4 foot waves crashing onto an extremely foreboding, unapproachable rocky coast that would probably have destroyed the kayaks.
I must admit, about now I was feeling pretty helpless myself. With 61 degree water, I could do little to help them directly from the shore dressed only in shorts and a T-shirt. I quickly decided that just sitting there watching this fiasco wasn't helping either so I decided I would hike about 200 feet up the hill to the road above, jog down to the camp, and try to make it back in time on my own kayak in time to provide assistance. The only problem with my plan was that I was certain that they would be on the rocks before I even made it back to camp, let alone having time to paddle out the half mile to the point.
Suddenly, their luck changed for the better. As I started making my way up the hillside, I saw that eight or nine Mexican nationals were boarding their 16' inflatable raft for a dive out in the bay. Their raft had a 25 HP motor on it and they soon reached their intended dive site in the middle of the bay. Meanwhile, I had hiked back down near the water and was frantically attempting to signal the boat divers by waving my T-shirt, yelling, and pointing in the direction of the sunken kayaks. Because of their distance, none of the divers saw me at first and they actually were starting to don their dive gear and enter the water when one of them caught sight of me. I guess panic looks about the same in any language because they quickly abandoned their dive and started motoring out toward me to see what was the matter.
They couldn't see Mac and Sal or their kayaks at first because of the choppy conditions near the outside edge of the bay, but within a few minutes of motoring toward me they were able to see what I was pointing at. To make a long story short.... Without a word of English spoken between them, the Mexican divers effected a perfect rescue of the stranded kayakers just as they were getting uncomfortably close to the rocks. First they tied the kayaks together and drug them away from the rough shoreline. Then with nearly all eight of the boat divers in the water to help, they off-loaded the kayaks and somehow managed to drain one of them enough to bring it up onto the raft. With everyone aboard now, they towed the other sunken kayak and brought two weary, but very relieved, kayak divers back into the calm beach at the base of the camp.
If there is a moral to this story, I suppose it is that you must always be prepared for the conditions that you will encounter and that you should never try to second guess mother nature. A big part of being prepared is having the necessary equipment to ensure the seaworthiness of your craft. Don't overload your kayak and always take along some means of removing water from the hull of your kayak (unless it is sealed as well as Ocean Kayak's hatchless Frenzy). Devon wrote to tell me of a boater towing away his lone kayak as he left it anchored during his dive, and to ask of local kayak diving classes being offered. This is what I had to say to Devon:
You are not the first person to ask me about this. I have heard of only one incident in which a boater took away a diver's kayak, presumably because he assumed it was abandoned, even though it was anchored. I also recall someone having a spear-gun removed from his kayak while he was down without it. I'm happy to be able to say that the majority of people who enjoy the outdoors and ocean to the extent that they take a boat (of any kind) out on it, are honest! Probably why I have never received a check for my book that bounced...
The best thing you can do is to always fly a dive flag when you are down, and to indelibly mark your kayak with your Name and phone number. A soldering iron will do the trick for marking your kayak. A few swaths of bright spray-paint would make your kayak kind'a unique and obvious from far away also.
In 7 or 8 years of frequent kayak diving on the coast, noone in our group has even had a boat come close enough to be suspicious. Occasionally we do dive in areas frequented by powerboat fisherman, but our biggest concern has been in having an anchor dropped on us or coming up into the hull or prop of one of the boats.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my book, there are more rules governing your use of a dive flag than there are governing other boaters activities in the vicinity of your dive flag. So, you really have to look after yourself where power boaters are present. But, I wouldn't normally be concerned with theft. Don't leave an expensive GPS, depth-finder, spear-gun, or regulator sitting visible on the deck and you should be OK.
Bill Kendig, of the Oxnard Sport Chalet, is now conducting Kayak Diving Specialty classes at his store. He has gotten his outline (that I provided, via Ocean State Scuba in Rhode Island) approved by PADI and is using my book as the mandatory manual for the class. David Swain's (Ocean State Scuba) outline follows my book almost exactly, and is very comprehensive!
Thanks for writing, and good luck!
Clark wrote in November of 1999 to tell me of a kayak diving adventure he recently had in Hawaii. I am printing it, unedited, in its entirety... It's rather long but interesting, and may have a lesson or two to teach. My suggestion to Clark (not that he didn't already know it) was to try tethered diving next time, and to paddle far enough upcurrent to suit up and don his dive gear before drifting back to his intended dive area. Thanks Clark!!!
I like your Web site. if you're interested, here is a story of a recent
kayak dive I did in Kona, Hawaii. --clark
OTEC is a part of the Hawaii Natural Energy Lab on the Kona (west) coast of
the island of Hawaii. It's situated on Keahole Point, about 3-4 miles (6-8
km) north of Kailua-Kona, about 1/2 mile (1 km) south of the airport. It's
a nice place to dive, but sometimes there are very strong currents off the
point, so caution is advised. I've dove there 10-15 times, sometimes in
currents, sometimes not.
OTEC is a neat place to dive because the lab has some large (8 ft/2.5m)
pipes that are used to bring cold, nutrient-rich water up from down deep.
These pipes head out over a dropoff that is very close to shore and they
attract all kinds of fish, large and small. The visibility is usually
superb (100 ft/30m or better) because of the deep ocean so close to shore.
I hoped to get some wide-angle shots of the pipes and maybe some pelagics
that are seen there sometimes.
I loaded up my kayak with my scuba rig, housed camera and assorted odds and
ends and launched about 1/2 mile (1 km) south of OTEC. It's a beautiful
day, not much swell, sunny, looks like great visibility, typical Kona dive
As I approached the point I could see the current was running pretty
strong. The northbound current was hitting the southbound swell and surface
chop. The water right off the point was pretty confused. In places it was
'dancing' straight up. "Hmm," I thought. "Looks like it's running pretty
good. I better just drift north past the point and shoot pictures there."
It's pretty hard to take pictures in a heavy current because you lose the
use of one hand just trying to hold on.
So, I decide the thing to do is drop anchor before I get swept around the
point. My plan is to drop anchor, drop the camera over the side on a hang
line, gear up, descend, pick up the anchor and go zipping around the point.
Looking back, it would have made more sense just to paddle north, but I
wanted to do a drift dive past the point since it really is a lot of fun to
watch the underwater scenery go by.
I deploy the anchor and drop the camera over the side on a hang line. My
first clue that the conditions might be unmanageable was when I noticed my
4 lb/2 kg camera doesn't sink...it's on the surface streaming in the
current behind the kayak like a flag in a stiff breeze. The anchor line is
under such tension it's actually vibrating like a guitar string.
"Hmm," I say to myself. "It really _is_ running, isn't it? Oh well, no
problem, I'll just get there faster, that's all." I put on my mask, fins
and weightbelt and hopped over the side to go pull my scuba rig into the
water. The current is so strong it's all I can do to hang on to the kayak.
If I let go of the kayak to don my rig, I'll be 100 yards/100m from the
boat before I get to the bottom to go for the anchor. There is no way
anyone could swim against this for 100 yards.
So I hang there for a little while thinking about my options. The sensible
thing to do would be to just cut the anchor loose. Do that and getting back
on the boat and paddling home is no problem. But I really don't want to
lose the anchor, line and reel. It'll cost about $50 for a new assembly.
So, I decide to pull the scuba rig off the boat, head straight to the
bottom, don it on the way down and pull myself along the bottom, pull the
anchor free and continue with the dive as planned. I'm hanging on to the
boat with one hand (barely), and unbuckling the rig from the boat with with
the other, turning the air on, and a funny wave comes from the side and
tilts the kayak enough dump my rig in the water. My rig immediately sinks
like a rock.
"Darn," I say, and let go of the kayak and crash-dive in an attempt to
rescue my rig. It's only 30 ft/10m deep here, which I can free-dive easily,
but I didn't have time to get a breath, and I can't make it down fast
enough, and I see my rig go valve-first into a hole between the boulders as
I get swept away by the freight train. In my effort to save $50 worth of
equipment, I've now lost 2 regs, BC, pony bottle and high-pressure steel
tank worth about $2000. Plus it looks like I'll lose the anchor and line,
I surface and immediately begin swimming back to the boat. The boat's only
30 ft/10m away. I'm a pretty good swimmer, and I have my mask and fins on,
and all I can do is keep my place; I can't make a bit of headway. I drop my
weightbelt and swim harder, but it's no use. I take a moment to think and
realize that if I keep this up, I'll exhaust myself and get swept around
the point. Gee, the shore is only 30 ft away, why not swim there? Duh! I
turn and swim to the rocks (across the current), haul myself up and catch
Now what to do? I sit on the rocks and go over various scenarios to rescue
my lost gear, and the only viable solution I can come up with is to go back
to town, get a friend with a boat and return to recover the gear. I walk
100 ft/30m along the shore and hop back in the water. The current carries
me to the boat. I cut the anchor line free and paddle south to my vehicle,
muttering uncomplimentary things about whomever had the bright idea to do a
drift dive at OTEC.
A couple of hours later my friends Rick and Dean show up at Honokohau
Harbor with Rick's boat. We head north to OTEC and I show Rick where to
drop me off (I'm wearing a rig I borrowed from Dean). I hop in and start
zipping north. I spot the anchor and line; good! No problem. Now that I
know where the kayak was I should be able to find the missing gear. Sure
enough, there's my weightbelt, and I pick it up. I leave the anchor line
where it is so I'll have a marker to work with if I have to make another
pass. Now all I need to do is find my rig.
It is absolutely insane down there. Even the fish are having a hard time of
it. I have to hang on to with both hands as I inch along through the
boulder field looking in all the holes where my rig might be. I find that
if I get down in between the boulders it's not too bad, but if I lift my
head up the current is strong enough to flood my mask if I look sideways.
Eventually I get to a point far enough north that I knew the rig couldn't
be there, so I let go and surface, signal the boat, and they pick me up and
take me back south for another try. Rick mentions that this is going to be
the last attempt since he has some things he has to take care of on shore.
On the second try I'm very careful to start just north of the end of the
anchor line and do close, east/west sweeps through the boulder field,
creeping left and right, hanging on with both hands. My arms and shoulders
are starting to ache and I know I won't be able to do another pass. I very
carefully check each hole and to my puzzlement, I can't find my rig
anywhere. I cover a wide range of area, and nothing to be found.
Discouraged, I surface and signal for a pick-up.
"Find it?", Dean asked as I climbed aboard. "No," I replied, "and I looked
right where it hit bottom. I guess I'll have to try tomorrow."
Dean grinned at me. "Well, son, we did you a favor. We went free-diving and
got your rig for you. It's up in the cabin. Go look."
I looked at him and Rick, both of them grinning like mad. Rick's starting
to laugh. It was obvious that neither of them had been in the water, and
there's no other dive gear on the boat, anyway.
"Yeah, right! You guys didn't get in the water."
Dean looked serious. "No, really," he said. "Go see. It's up there."
I gave him a look.
"OK," he said. "Would you believe me if I told you we found your rig
floating off the point?"
"No, " I said. "It sank like a rock, into a hole. The BC had no air in it.
It's not going anywhere."
"OK, fine," he said. "Don't believe me." He walked into the cabin and came
out carrying my missing rig. I looked at it in astonishment while he and
Rick broke into peals of laughter. We concluded that the BC inflator must
have gotten pushed when the rig went into the hole and it worked itself
free of the hole. What are the chances of that happening?
We did one more pass to recover the anchor, line and reel, and headed back
to Kona for a well-deserved round or three of Fire Rock Pale Ale.