Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ye Olde Oil Rigs

I haven't had much of anything exciting to report lately, in case you hadn't noticed. My days have consisted of waking up, going to work, going to the gym, going home, making and eating dinner, showering, and going to sleep. That's really about it. Important, I guess, but not so very interesting!

I've felt a little guilty about not updating anything here. I had a crazy dream last week that I was still in high school, missed my carpool one morning and was forced to take the elementary school bus. I had to walk a few miles to get to the bus stop, but somehow I made it on time. When I got on the bus, there were animals everywhere. Apparently it was "Bring Your Pet to School" day. There was a very elaborate fish tank sitting on one of the bus seats, and there were cats and dogs and ferrets and gerbils frolicking in the aisle. My lone thought amid all the craziness: Hey! What a crazy day I'm having! Finally I've got something to blog about! See? Worried about updating the blog even in my sleep. I'm a big dork...

However, this weekend I managed to do some stuff worth writing about. Here goes.

I had lunch with Gram Gram on Saturday. We went to the Corner Bakery in Burbank, where we had a nice time getting caught up over some tasty food. Afterward, I went by the dive shop to pick up gear for the oil rigs trip on Sunday. After that, Tom & I went over to Max's where we made an extremely tasty dinner with him & Demetri. On the menu: falafel-fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and roasted baby zuchinis. The chicken was a little tricky to prepare, but once Tom & Max got the deep frying protocol figured out, it was smooth sailing. And oh my word were those some tasty drumsticks. The falafel coating was just crispy enough to offset the tender, juicy meat.

Sunday morning we got up early and made our way to San Pedro, hoping to successfully make it out to dive the oil rigs this time. The boat's air compressor was working just fine, so the trip was a go. Less than an hour later, we were approaching the Eureka* rig. We could hear the sea lions barking and, as we got closer, could see them lounging** on the cross beams. How cool is that?

We had to do what's called a "live drop", since it's too deep for the boat to anchor near the rigs, so we sat waiting with all our gear on while the boat carefully backed up to the Eureka. Then, two-by-two, we jumped off the back and kicked like crazy until we were under the rig, protected from the open ocean currents. Once underneath, we had to shift our attention upwards; apparently, the sea lions think it is super fun to roll off the beams and dive-bomb anyone who might be underneath them. Heh heh...yeah. Fortunately for us, they all seemed more interested in napping than "playing." Soon we were ready to ascend into the deep.

Our plan for the first dive was to hit 120 feet, stay there for 5 minutes, then ascend to 60 feet for 10 minutes and 30 for 15. The bottom of the rigs is something like 600 feet (!), so there was no way we'd be anywhere near the ocean floor, which was a first for us. Usually we spend at least part of every dive at the site's maximum depth. There are a couple of considerations when diving at a place like the rigs. First, you obviously want to make sure you've got your buoyancy under control; you can accidentally exceed your planned depth if you don't start putting air in your BCD early enough. Also, most divers experience some degree of nitrogen narcosis below 100 feet. This is frequently described as being similar to alcohol intoxication, except that it is entirely dependent upon pressure. At depth, it comes on very fast, but it goes away just as quickly upon moderate ascent.

The most dangerous aspect of narcosis is the loss of decision-making ability, loss of focus, and impaired judgment, multi tasking and coordination. At its most benign, nitrogen narcosis results in relief of anxiety and a feeling of tranquility and mastery of the environment. Other effects include vertigo, tingling and numbness of the lips, mouth and fingers, and extreme exhaustion. The syndrome may cause exhilaration, giddiness, extreme anxiety, depression, or paranoia, depending on the individual diver and the diver's medical or personal history.

I have experienced some mild narcosis in the past at depths near 100 feet. It's fairly easy to recognize - feels like you've just had a couple of beers - and as long as you keep your wits about you, it's really not so bad.


My narcosis experience was completely different at 120 feet. This time I fell promptly and firmly on the "anxiety and paranoia" end of the spectrum. It was the first time I have ever felt really and truly afraid while diving. Even though I knew logically that I was just as safe as I'd ever been, I wanted nothing more at that moment than to be back on the surface with my head above water. In hindsight, I'm kind of offended that my body would betray my brain like that (or was it my brain betraying my mind?), but you can't fight physiology, can you?

The good news is that, even in the midst of my little anxiety attack, I have the requisite training to know exactly what was going on and exactly how to make it stop. And I did just that. When I couldn't handle it any longer (about halfway into our planned 5 minutes at maximum depth), I got Tom's attention and let him know we needed to ascend a little. We got up to about 90 feet, and I started to feel better.

Minor freak-out notwithstanding, it was a pretty cool day of diving. The rigs really are neat; there's life covering just about every square inch of the pylons and cross-members. There were some wicked-cool metridiums (metridia?), big-ass scallops, and, well, all kinds of crap. On both dives, there were giant schools of silver fish; I mean giant. So giant in fact, that at times, I could barely see Tom in front of me for all the fish. These are generally referred to as bait balls.

And on the second dive, the sea lions came out to play. They even came right up and barked at us underwater! It was pretty freaking awesome.

All told, it was a good day. I'm bummed about the bad narcosis experience, but I'm glad I got to see what it was like, and while I'm pretty sure I never want to have to deal with that again, at least I know that I could.

Here's hoping something else exciting happens soon so I can write about it too!

*This guy's got an amazing collection of underwater photos. Go check out his website.

**Ditto this gal.


Momentary Academic said...

That's it. I'm moving to California.

susan said...

I'm definitely going to miss all the awesome diving when we move back up north. There's supposed to be some good diving up there too, but the water's SO cold!

Side note: I'm not sure what's going on here, but in IE all of the links to Elaine's photos are redirecting to the Dept. of Homeland Security webpage. Which is weird. Not sure why that's happening. Seems to work fine in Firefox.