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How Ronald got to the Kut

You may recall the story about John and Ronald the Mcdonald’s clown. Well, another intern, Jono, decided to do some crazy plan in honor of his 100th dive. The plan was for Johno to dress up like Ronald Mcdonald and act like a statue. John would push him off the boat and carry him down to the bottom of the HTMS Kood (also spelled Kut). However, there were a few small problems with this plan.

First, it’s rather difficult to locate a decent Ronald costume so Jono had to make his own. It wasn’t all that bad a costume though.

The bigger problem though was a ripping current during the dive. I think it was a 0.6. Technically speaking, this means that the tide would be changing (going out or coming in) at the rate of 0.6 meters over the course of the hour we’d be diving in. Real world meaning: It is not possible to swim against this current for any distance.

I jumped in with my massive camera and swam down current to the descent line that was tied to the shipwreck some 30 meters below. Now here was another problem. Some Thais stole the buoys at the end of the descent line. The line was still floating, but not very well. Ali and I were the first down the line. I figured we drop to 5 meters and adjust the camera, then go down with the clown pair. It soon became clear that this would not work as I needed 2 hands to adjust the camera, and that was one more hand than I had to spare. So we kept going all the way down the line to the wreck. I sat there waiting for Ronald (Jono) and John to come down.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. . . I think there were now 9 or 12 divers coming down the line. I’m not sure. Visibility was crap as usual for the wreck and I wasn’t really counting. But the current was pulling on the divers and the end of the line was no longer floating on the surface. So another bunch of divers reached the area where everyone had gone down, but with no line they were swept away.

The dive boat was tied off to a second line which ran to the bow of the wreck. As the dive boat weather vanes into the current, it was not possible to jump off the front of the dive boat and swim to the tie off line. But with divers unable to swim in the current, it dropped the line to go pick up the divers. As you might guess, this would cause some problems on the way up.

30 meters below, I had a handful of camera to deal with, and a huge current. A word about my camera. A few weeks ago, there was this crazy Thai water festival. A week long water fight if you will. During this time, I took my camera out and it got hit with a bucket of water. The camera was still working, but not so well. The auto-exposure meter had failed, grossly over exposing everything. As the external strobes are tied to the cameras on board meter, I had to switch the entire exposure system to manual. Not a huge deal, but. . . The auto-focus system also had gone AWOL. In the beginning, all cameras were manually focused. And some designer spread his hand over the blur and added focusing aids to cameras. Split prisms, range finders, and special focusing viewfinders that made it blatantly obvious when your camera was in focus or not. And it was good. But then along came the AF camera. Over time, the AF performance became faster and more accurate than any human; the focusing aids were no longer required and since they cluttered up the viewfinder, they were omitted. Coupled with the fact that it is nearly impossible to tell if the shot was in focus or not looking through my underwater housing, I was up a creek. The final problem with my camera is that it is permanently locked in some sort of weird shutter release mode. When the mirror is flipped out of the way of the camera sensor (or film in the past) some vibration is introduced. With slow shutter speeds some blur can occur from this. If your camera is on a tripod, you can set the camera to flip the mirror up, then trigger the shutter after a few seconds. This is precisely the sort of thing that make hand held shooting quite difficult, as the view finder is blacked out when the mirror is flipped up. So I would hit the shutter release a once and then have to trigger it again to take the shot. And I wouldn’t actually be able to see through the view finder with this.

With the strong current I was getting blown across the deck but managed to get a few half focused shots. Inside it was like a cave. Took me a long time to get the exposure set right.

Oh yeah, during this stage, Jono was using John’s air via an alternate regulator attached to the tank. So John didn’t have much air time for photos. Soon we were all heading up. I think Jono nearly got blown down the deck but he just managed to get a hold of his own tank and put it back on. His red wig got lost at this point though.

I signal to my buddy Ali that it was time to ascend. I hoped to beat everyone else up to the safety stop. When I saw that everyone was following us, I decided to wait a bit, then follow everyone else up. We needed to do a 3 minute “safety stop” to allow excess nitrogen build up in our bodies to exit our tissues but I didn’t want to be stuck in a huge crowd. The only catch was that I was now into my reserve air. I knew that Ali had almost twice the air I had at this point so I wasn’t too concerned. Up we went.

Suddenly we could feel the line straighten up and we were jerked up a meter or two. Very strange. We continued to ascend. The current was so strong that we were simply pulled up the line by the current. At 12 meters though, we discovered the end of the line. With no boat, and divers on the line, the current pulled everyone down. I’m guessing that when the other divers let go of the line, it floated a bit higher explaining the sudden jerk we felt.

I was not worried, I had this. Enter the DSMB. These are inflatable tubes that can be deployed at about 15 feet/5 meters. Divers can warn other boats they are coming up, or they can alert the dive boat to their location. My intention was to add enough lift to the end of the line to lift the whole line up to the surface. I tied the DSMB to the end of the line and added air slowly from Ali’s alternate regulator since she had a lot more air than I did. I didn’t want us all to go shooting up too quickly. I looked at my computer and could see us slowly ascending through 8 meters. 7 meters, 6 meters. We settled at 5.5 meters which is a decent depth to do a safety stop at. I was dissappointed that the line didn’t reach the surface, but oh well. As I was down to just a few minutes of air remaining, I switched over to my buddy’s tank to complete the stop.

One minute into our three minute safety stop, I could see that we were back at 6.5 meters. Seemed odd. Plan B. The DSMB has a 5 meter length of line attached to it. I figured we could just loop the line through the loop at the end of the ascent rope, then play out enough to get us back to 5 meters. I play out 2.5 meters of line but still we remained at 6.5 meters. Curious.

Plan C: I would simply let the end of the line go and we could just hang off at 5 meters, then come up. It was clear that the boat was somewhere out there, and our DSMB was bright orange and yellow. I was just preparing to let go when suddenly three divers showed up! WHAT THE HECK? Who are you people? This was pretty much blew my plan apart. The first diver, Glenn came up. I pointed to where I wanted him and he just let go. He was nearly swept away but grabbed onto Ali. Her problem was that I was on one of her hoses as well so she was being pulled every which way. I needed to get back down to the ascent line to complete my plan but Ali couldn’t follow. My primary regulator was somewhere but I wasn’t sure where. My alternate was securely attached to my chest so I reached down to grab that. I spied my primary when I looked down so I just put that back in. I got Glenn where he needed to be but I realized that there was no time and if I did cast off the ascent line without letting everyone know what was about to happen, we’d all shoot straight to the surface.

Plan D: I didn’t want to lose my expensive DSMB so I pulled a spool of line out of my pocket and clipped that to the end of my DSMB. I figured this would get us all to the surface. I started to play it out and kicking to the surface. I was nearly out of air now. I reached the surface but Ali wasn’t able to grab hold of me in time. I could see her getting swept away towards the boat which was well down current. I decided to just hold onto my spool of line. The entire 25 meters or so had spun out. I knew that the other group would be sitting at the end of my SMB that I had so nicely set up for them for about 3 minutes and then they’d surface. It felt like I was being dragged along behind a boat. My face was being pulled under so I tried to breathe from my tank only to find out that it was empty. I then tried to roll over on my back. It worked a bit but felt like I was lifting iron.

I watched Ali get picked up and the boat started to head back to my location. I was in no danger at this point, just some minor discomfort. I could let go and have the boat pick me up, but I didn’t want to leave $200 of equipment behind. Besides, the boat would appreciate having all the remaining divers in one spot. Finally I felt the tension on the line give. A moment later my DSMB popped up about 25 meters away, then the other three divers. Turns out they were the last ones down so they were finishing up their dive when I thought we were the last ones up. All 4 of us were adrift and rushing towards the boat. I grabbed the ladder and handed my spool up. At least everyone was attached to the boat now.

Once aboard my arms felt like dead weight from the work out on the way up. I just threw everything into my dive bag. Normally I like to wind up the line so that you’d never know it was used but after that adventure, whew!

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