We are officially scuba diving certified! I had been dreading this past weekend for the entire week building up to it. I was scared. I was nervous. And I didn’t want to jump into open water and swim 40 feet under. I don’t think there was really any bit of excitement in me. But we had to do it. I’m not a quitter. So I showed up with Tony at the dive shop on Saturday morning to pack up our gear for the day – masks, snorkels, BCDs, wet suits, booties, fins, and tanks of air. We had a quick lunch and then headed to the lake.
We would be doing one skin dive and four scuba dives over the next two days. And all of them would be in Lake Lanier, GA. Now I don’t know a lot about Lake Lanier, but I can tell you this – there are no fish because they can’t survive. The water is a disgusting shade of green and brown, and so thick that you can’t see more than two or three feet in front of you. And it’s cold. The lake itself is man made, in the 1950s. It flooded over old houses and churches and streets. While the structures themselves aren’t standing, the foundations are mostly in tact and remnants of people living there are often found at the bottom – bottles, shaving cream containers, mason jars, horseshoes, and so one.
Our first dive was a quick skin dive, meaning we went in with just our wet suits and snorkels, no scuba gear. We had a few rescue skills we had to finish learning and we needed to make sure we had the correct weights for our scuba dives. It’s important to have just the right amount of weight on – too much and you sink straight to the bottom, too little and you won’t ever get below the surface.
Our next dive was in an area called Aqualand. Tony and I worked with Devin, one of our instructors, individually. We got to the bottom, about 20 feet, and were told to level out, meaning we didn’t want to actually touch the bottom or all of the silt would create a cloud that we couldn’t see through, but we wanted to stay right above the floor. This is a hard skill to master, and I especially had difficulty doing it. I would inflate my BCD (the backpack with air), and I would shoot straight to the surface. But if I took air out, I was stuck on the bottom. Devin and I worked closely together before we finally figured out that I had too much weight on. We took half of it off and I was able to keep my buoyancy under control a little better. After about 30 minutes, the amount of time an average dive takes, we were back on the boat and heading to a new location to dive.
We arrived at an old boat dock, essentially a cement hill that went about 25 feet into the water. Here we were able to work on my buoyancy some more. It took a while, but towards the end, I felt like I had it mastered. Tony and I also practiced staying together. Having a ‘buddy’ is important, and we wanted to make sure we learned how to dive together safely.
The day ended and I was feeling much better about my skills and my confidence in (and under) the water. I was exhausted but I knew I could do this. We got home and collapsed in bed, sleeping for 10 hours, knowing we had another full day of diving.
On Sunday, I woke up not wanting to dive again. For some reason I had lost my confidence through the night. And I was not looking forward to jumping in water, attempting to see things, but only getting frustrated with the murkiness that surrounded me. We started at a place called “The Church,” where there was, obviously, and old church foundation. We made it to around 38 feet below the surface on this dive and I was feeling really good. I felt like I had my buoyancy under control and was able to swim at just the right speed, following the neon yellow of Mason’s fins in front of me. On our way up, we had to stop at the 15 feet mark for three minutes. This is required to let the air in our lungs decompress. Not doing it can result in bursting lungs. We practiced the stop on this dive, and of course, struggled a little since it was our first time, but managed to stop and hang out in the water for the required safety stop.
After we were all on the boat, we moved to a new location where old houses had been. We had some snacks on the boat, switched out our air tanks for full ones, and relaxed, as it is suggested that divers take an hour break between dives for safety reasons. After our break, we suited up in our wet suits and prepared for our last dive. Mason, Tony, and I were the last to jump in, and as we started descending down the rope tied to the anchor, the same rope the four divers in front of us had climbed down, we started to become surrounded with bubbles, and I eventually stepped on the person below me. Mason looked at me and indicated that I should stay where I was, as we had once again lost Tony. He was back in a matter of minutes and gave me the ascend symbol. I rose to the surface with him and he looked around quickly, trying to find Tony. I asked if everything was okay and he said, “Yes, it’s just too cold at the bottom. Everyone is coming up and we’re going to a different site.” We all got back in the boat as he swam away, searching for Tony. I watched the bubbles on the surface, hoping Tony was okay, and wondering if it was even possible to find a diver in such murky waters. But lo and behold, a few minutes later they both popped up and we were all back on the boat.
At this point, we were all very, very cold. We had gotten to waters that were probably 50 degrees. Our boat captain took us back to “The Church,” where we finished our last dive of the day. This was an uneventful dive, other than we needed to keep close eyes on our air levels, since we had used a fair amount on the last (unsuccessful) dive. We did so successfully, found our way to the top, and just like that, we were scuba diving certified!
It’s an odd thing how I found myself doing this. I had been talking with a friend a few months back about bucket lists. It got me thinking that I haven’t done anything on my list in a while, and so I picked something. Scuba it was. And so yesterday, I got to cross that off my bucket list. But I assure you…this is not my last scuba diving story! 🙂