May 11, 2011
I spent much of last weekend on a dive boat — and under a dive boat — in the reefs off Key Largo, Florida.
It’s now chilly and rainy in Colorado, which is a bit sad, even though we really need the water. The sun and humidity felt so good, and I have the sunburn to prove it.
I had a really good time. I didn’t get sick on the boat, which I did my first two dive trips, so I’m happy I seem to have that issue under control. For the most part, the diving was shallow, 15-30 feet, and full of things to look at. Hundreds of fish, soft corals of every size and shape — fans as big as me, sponges, trumpet fish, giant sting rays, hawksbill turtles, tang and parrot fish and grouper and hogfish and snapper and grunts and damsels and on and on and on.
But the highlight of the trip was the USS Spiegel Grove. This is a Navy ship that was purposefully sunk to form an artificial reef and dive attraction. I heard so much about it before getting there, that I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Well, it exceeded my expectations.
People talk about scuba diving being as close as most of us will ever come to the weightlessness of space. You arrange your own weight to make yourself neutrally buoyant, allowing you to float effortlessly through the water. But I’ve never mistaken being neutrally buoyant underwater for being weightless in space (well, except for that one time with the manta rays when I felt like I’d landed in an Iain M. Banks novel). I mean, there’s ground under you, there’s all these fish around — you’re underwater, right here on Earth.
But on the wreck of the Spiegel Grove, the context completely changed. We followed the descent line to one of the crane towers, then floated away to follow the deck forward, drifting under a giant crane scaffold mounted horizontally. Something that does not belong under water, that I should not be floating past as if weightless. I kept thinking, “I’m on a freaking space station.” I had music from The Black Hole running through my mind. After we crossed the deck, we ended up on the starboard side hull, which stretched before and behind us as far as we could see — not very far, the visibility wasn’t that great. But that only made it more mysterious. And once again, my perceptions went wobbly. There were fish here — treating the vertical hull as the bottom. So their perspective was shifted 90 degrees off from my perspective. I looked through a doorway to see the frames of a bunk bed still in place, or a table. With them came the very clear sense that this ship had been abandoned, that people had lived and worked here, but they were all gone. If I’d come upon this at random, without knowing the history, it would be a ghost ship. Something out of Aliens.
I realize that only a sci fi geek would probably think about these things. But I also think that’s one of the cool things about being a sci fi geek. I didn’t just dive a wreck, I told myself a story about it.
I also reached a depth of 118 ft, which is the deepest I’ve ever gone. I looked up and couldn’t see the surface, which has never happened to me before. What an adventure.