Diving in the waters of the Marianas Islands is a true gift. The water is warm, clear, and full of life. Guam is an island located in the Marianas and it represents the top of the tallest mountain in the world from top to bottom. Of course most of it is below sea level. To the divers and boaters of Guam the quick drop offs meant added safety precautions. As a diver it was very easy to drop down too deep.
I had been diving on Guam for 12 years or so when a young surfer friend, we’ll call Bob, asked if I’d take him out diving. I knew he’d never dove but he was a water rat. Very good surfer and skin diver. I agreed to take him.
The day of his first dive was beautiful. The site we wanted to go can be rough with current during the winter but this day it was flat and still and super clear. A great diving day. Our site is a severe drop off that starts at 80ft and goes down so far you cannot see the bottom. I have fished that edge using a fathometer and know it drops down over 600 ft.
We were a group of four. We anchored in around 40 ft on the reef flat so we knew we would be swimming down to the edge. Bob had his gear on before we’d finished anchoring so he asked if he could float around the boat while the rest of us prepare. I told him to hold on to the anchor line until we’ve entered the water. As I and my friends we’re putting our gear on one of my friends notices that Bod deflated his BC and went down the anchor line. Of course we are all angry all ready wondering why he’d do this.
In just a couple more minutes we all entered the water and went down to the anchor and did not see Bob. We communicated to spread out and head toward the drop off looking for Bob. From 40ft. to the drop off we didn’t see him. As we got to the edge we see Bob swimming very fast out over the edge and starting to swimming down. I started down after him and prayed he’d look up. My gauge read 175ft and I could not get myself to keep going down. Apparently Bob spotted what he thought was black coral so once he reached his spot he turned and looked up the mountain. He was still much deeper than I. My estimate is 250ft. I waved at him frantically and motioned for him to come to me. He casually swims up to me and I could see in his eyes he did not realize the danger. I grabbed his arm in a death grip and followed the mountain up to the edge, swam to the anchor, and went up to 20 ft. and stopped. All the time I’m looking at him and wondering when he may react. We eventually sucked both tanks completely dry at 10ft and got into the boat. I didn’t say anything for a minute or so just thinking he was going to go into pain or black out or something. He said he felt fine. I started screaming at him and called him every form of stupid I could think of. Why did you go under without us? Why did you swim off alone? Why did you go down so deep? His answers to these questions were just as stupid as his actions. He was only going to go down to the anchor and meet us. Once he was there it looked like a big swimming pool so he decides to meet us at the edge. He said when he looked up at me from over 200ft. he thought he was only at 100ft.
Bob lived alone in a small boonie house in the village. We didn’t see Bob around for over a week when he finally showed up at barbeque or something. He told us he had a large bubble in his neck from his shoulder to his jaw. He admitted being afraid but didn’t think to ask for help or go to the decompression chamber at the Naval Base. Eventually he healed on his own but I don’t know if he ever pursued diving.
Of course Bob wasn’t the only idiot here. I was very experienced and knew how to take care of myself in these awesome conditions but wasn’t even close to prepared to take care of an over confident newby whose actions were totally unpredictable. It is the unpredictable nature of people that makes diving instruction very challenging.
I went on in my diving career to be trained up to Dive Master. I learned more and more what we got away with that day and how close we were to tragedy. Though I am sure many very good, safe divers have successfully taught others and did a good job about it, I would warn all against it. The gains are not worth the loss should something go wrong. Trained instructors bring a lot to the table that recreational divers do not.
I share this mistake with others hoping someone can learn from it. Bob and I showed a lack of respect for the situation and almost paid the highest price. You’d be helping your friend or loved one more by finding them the best instructors to teach them than by doing it yourself.