Having motored out from Ports O’ Call late in the night aboard the Sand Dollar, I awoke in my bunk as the calming rhythmic sway of the boat cutting through the waves was replaced by plaining on smooth waters; I knew we were approaching our first mooring point. As the anchor chain grumbled into the ocean and the engines stopped, I was going through my plan to get into the water as soon as possible. Putting on my dive skin and wetsuit would be quick, and I had prepared my gear before going to bed. But I still went over everything in my head. I had a lot on my mind, and couldn't afford to forget something basic like getting myself rigged properly. I had until the sun rose to review everything I had learned over the last few weeks in my Rescue Diver Class, the skills I had learned in the pool, and all the rescue scenario variables that I could remember being taught. I skipped breakfast, there was a nervous knot in my stomach, but I greeted Lindsey who had been up for an hour or so cooking for the thirty people on the boat.
I was in my wetsuit before most people had climbed out of their bunks. And the ever-growing numbers of juvenile seal lions that were swimming out to the boat to meet us was distracting my over-active mind. They were excited we were there and every new diver that came onto deck was greeted byanother round of barks, howls, and amazing acrobatic tricks. Everyone was as giddy as a kid at Christmas; cameras flashed into focus as if summoned by magic. The water around the island was as calm as a lake, and the kelp was standing straight up, which was good for me since that meant no current to fight. "At least, none right now", I remember thinking to myself.
Everyone had to have breakfast before I could start my Rescue scenario, so I stood with Ryan Winthrop and Dan Hienzsch going over the details. These men are amazing instructors, experienced and well trained in what they do, and I am proud to consider them close friends, but I was going to be on my own for this. I had to make all the calls, coordinate the people I needed to assist me, and take action when the time came. They were going to be watching my every move, action, and even facial expressions, and then ultimately letting me know if I passed the test or not.
The wait to start probably wasn't all that long, but it felt like hours. My good friend and frequent dive buddy, Parsa, who had made it to Rescue Diver the week before, volunteered to be the victim. He had a shiny new BCD and was going to go in for a buoyancy check. I didn't suspect how tricky his gear setup would be for me.
Long before I started the search pattern to find Parsa, the sea lions had found him and were swarming all around his motionless body while he acted like the victim on the floor of the ocean. I tugged his fins checking to see if the diver was truly non-responsive, as I was taught. The sea lions thought this was fun, and did the same thing. They tugged his fins, and swooped past his face. They zoomed all around us as we surfaced, often coming within inches, suddenly stopping, watching us, and then doing a roll or flip before swimming away. At the surface they took turns watching, and then descending to swim around us as we proceeded with the scenario.
The scenario went well. I discovered I had to orally inflate the diver’s BCD because he had intentionally disconnected his low pressure inflator hose. Then I realized his weight belt had to be taken off in a new and different way because it was placed under his crotch strap! The variables were starting to mount! I directed someone else take the time to review and figure out how to extricate Parsa from his BCD as I continued focusing on rescue breaths and towing. The current that was absent when we first arrived had was now in full force. I felt like I towed Parsa hundreds of yards because we would drift back away from the boat each time I stopped towing to provide rescue breaths. The entire time, I had to stop myself from laughing as the sea lions watched and almost seemed to encourage us with their barks and playful antics.
After the debrief and congratulations from the instructors and my fellow (now) Dive Master Candidates, Parsa and I hit the water to play with our new furry dive buddies. The video is me swimming along and facing off with a cute little guy who decided to show me how much more agile he is under water than I am.
We dove The Rookery twice, each dive taking an hour. The sea lions loved that we were there, and if you held still too long, they'd mock you and encourage you to play with them by hovering in front of you and performing rolls and flips until you did the same thing. They wanted to swim with us as much as we wanted to swim with them! It was like flying with the Lost Boys in Never Neverland, and I was Peter Pan. They would zoom past you in formation, or, more often, solo trying to snatch your snorkel, fins or anything else hanging from you, but I think they only managed to liberate one snorkel that day. It’s now a plaything for them on their isolated island of childlike wonder and adventure.