My sixth scuba dive at Luganville

My sixth scuba dive at Luganville, Vanuatu, was the most amazing experience ever, and so very nearly my last. I was one of a small group of divers following the rope down to the wreck of the USS President Coolidge. Near the sixty foot depth the water cleared and I could see the whole vessel, lying on its side in a wonderful state of preservation. Reaching the bows, I could slide into the seat of the 4 inch gun and touch the rounds of ammunition still in their racks. Swimming along the gangways I could see rifles, cartridges and even helmets; all left as the soldiers left the stricken ship. And down in the hold were even greater wonders. There were vehicles, including combat tanks; all upside down with the tracks clearly seen through the silt. On the way out I stopped in the open hatch to marvel at the superstructure, now the playground of a myriad of tropical fish, and that is when my air ran out.

Itís rather remarkable what I can remember doing, in what must have been a very short time. I looked at my air-gauge and saw it registered a quarter full. I tried again to suck air out, but there was none. I realized I couldnít reach the surface safely. I had expended the last of the air in my lungs so I couldnít float up breathing out, as suggested in my training. There was no air to blow out. And if I managed to swim up fast enough to breathe again, Iíd surely die of the bends.

I could see the other divers, however. They were quite a distance away Ė Iíd spent a long time playing among the fish. But this is when my luck changed. As I powered toward the others, the divemaster looked around. He saw my signal and met me with his spare mouthpiece ready. I gulped the air in gratefully. I couldnít have lasted many seconds more.

Needless to say, I survived. I was somewhat angry with the dive organizers for giving me a faulty gauge but I was really happy that it had happened. I had survived a situation I had secretly been very worried about. Back on the cruise ship I rushed to my wife and told her excitedly how Iíd just nearly met my end. I think she seriously considered committing me to an institution with padded cells and Iíve never been able to successfully explain why I was so very happy that it had happened. The human mind is a strange thing. Since then Iíve been more appreciative of the gift of life but I still enjoy scuba diving Ė perhaps even more so, now.

R Blackburn

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