Jacques Cousteau Lives

Jacques Cousteau

Today, we went scuba diving for the first time. I may have mentioned this before, but one of my childhood heroes was Jacques Cousteau. I loved watching his documentaries on public television. The underwater ballet of graceful scuba divers, following the trail of whales or sharks or manatees, mesmerized me. Cousteau preached a message of environmental protection about this magical underworld he loved, which in turn made me love it, too.

So you can imagine how frustrated I was when I finally got the gear on and couldn’t master the simple exercises to eject water from my regulator and mask.

“You can do it,” our teacher, Jesus, told me. He’d been diving for 25 years. I hoped he was right.

All of Jesus’ instructions, from “this is your tank gauge” to “people’s lungs explode” swirled in my head. How would I ever keep all the buttons straight? And the tank on my back kept shifting from side to side every time a wave passed by. I stood up, bracing my flippers against the sea floor. We stood facing each other in 4 feet of water.

“Just relax,” Jesus urged.

Right. Cause that’s a strength.

I took a breath and tried again. Jesus pressed the button to let air out of my jacket. I sank 2 feet into the water onto my knees. I took the regulator out of my mouth and blew out small bubbles. Then I put it back in and pressed the front button to expel any extra water. Yes! Now, the snorkel mask. I put two fingers above my eyebrow line and tipped the mask. I blew out with my nose, sending any extra water there packing. Aha! I did it! Jesus signaled ‘up’ with his thumb.

“You did it!” he said. I think he was as relieved as I was.

I should mention Jonathon got these exercises on the first try. Typical.

But Jonathon didn’t like being so far under water he couldn’t surface whenever he wanted. He swam around in the shallow area face down, like me, getting used to the equipment and going a little deeper. That’s all he wanted to do. He didn’t want to go where his feet didn’t touch the sand.

“I think we’re even,” Jonathon said to me with a knowing look. He meant Haleakala, of course. That was our infamous 20th anniversary trip where we biked the volcano on Maui. The bike ride was the one thing Jonathon, bike rider aficionado from way back, lover of the Tour de France, really wanted to do. I agreed because I thought, how hard could it be? I know how to ride a bike. Boy, was I misinformed. Jonathon whipped down the switchbacks in the pouring rain and I…crashed. Crying, humiliated and soaked through, I got picked up by the “sag wagon” once we were down towards the bottom. I put on some waterproof pants and regrouped. Jonathon met up with me in a small town on the flats and we biked the rest together. I gritted my teeth the whole time and prayed a lot. I should mention I haven’t been on a bike since.

I could hardly blame him for not enjoying scuba diving. Jesus and I set out together, him holding my hand in order to keep me from getting too far away. I told him at the beginning that Jesus was a big name to live up to, yet he didn’t disappoint. As we sank into the watery depths, I mused that having Jesus by my side was a huge advantage, both literally and spiritually.

I breathed in short breaths and exhaled longer ones, like I was told. Fish of all kinds swirled around us. Jesus pointed out a king crab hiding in a cave. We got closer and it snapped its claws at us. We were in the aquarium, so to speak, on their turf now. As we passed fish, they turned up on their sides to peek at us. Of course, one has to see somehow, even without a neck.

We surfaced and the boat picked us up. I had one tank left and Jonathon would stay in the boat with Louis while Jesus and I headed out to a 40-foot area. The boat chugged out through cerulean seas. We moved further from the shore, out where even the tallest person couldn’t touch bottom.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” Jesus asked Jonathon.

Jonathon shook his head.

“No, this isn’t my thing,” he said, shaking his head. He sat contentedly in the boat.

“Okay, we’re gonna drift,” Jesus told me. I nodded, but had no idea what that meant.

“We’re gonna start over there.” He pointed out to an open spot. I could sense nothing to distinguish it from any other spot, but I had to trust Jesus. Again.

We loaded up again and fell off the side of the boat. Down, down, full fathoms five we went. He admonished me to swim lengthwise, not all bunched up. I stretched out, the tank bobbing against my back. I kicked my flippers and breathed. We soared over coral of purple, brown, orange and green. Some of it grew like tree branches. Some looked like large urns.

Jesus tugged my hand. He pointed to the right of us. He made a snapping jaw motion with his fingers. Barracudas, a school of 5 silver torpedos, watched us as they glided past. Eek. Just keep swimming…

Jesus lowered us to the sandy floor. He started playing in the sand. I did, too. The pinkish colored stuff was rough with shells and small stones. He motioned for me to stop. Communication underwater leaves something to be desired. He pointed out a line in the sand. He started digging. He dug up an enormous sand dollar. I’d never seen one before, not alive anyway.

We came upon some creatures that looked like large insects. Three lobsters lurked in a cave. They kept many a close eye on us. We passed parrot fish and fish of every color in the rainbow. I saw one very tiny fish bury itself in the sand, only its eyes visible, a miniature master of disguise. A sting ray soared to our right.

black durgon

Black durgon

I could have stayed down there forever, but I started to get cold. I held on a bit longer. I hoped I would warm up with some more motion. Nothing doing. I gave Jesus the ‘up’ sign. He made sure I wanted to do that. We had to pressurize ourselves, stopping at 15 feet for 3 minutes before we could get all the way to sunlight again.

We popped into the waves and light. I pushed my mask up.

“Why did you want to come up? Did you get cold?” He looked at me with concern. I could tell from his voice that he didn’t want to come up either. The peace and quiet had a hold on him, too.

“Yes,” I said. Plus I was getting tired. I had used ¾ of my tank’s air anyway.

We got back into the boat. Louis sped back to shore. I consider myself blessed to have had the one-on-one attention I got, and from Jesus, no less. I guess I did 2 dives, almost halfway to diver certification, if I choose to pursue it. Even now, I feel the pull of the sea. I just might do it.

barracuda

Barracuda