Adventures In Boracay: Part V

The first fun and easy dive. Photo credit: Jenn MacLean

Boracay has been anything but boring. Between the Muerte Gang, lacerated toes, sunstroke, and an ant invasion, we’ve somehow managed to stay alive and enjoy this tropical paradise. So far, so good and later I would be going on two scuba diving trips. Both would be boat dives; one would be an easy reef dive in 50' of water, the other would be an advanced dive to hang out with White Tip and Gray Reef Sharks.

The water felt great on my sunburn, but the regulator in my mouth didn’t feel so great on my sunburned and chapped lips. C’est la vie, as the French would say. It was a beautiful day for a dive, and I was excited to see what Boracay had going on under the waves.

The first dive was great. Nice and easy. I had some challenges getting my buoyancy right but was quickly able to sort it out and enjoy the dive. I dove past puffer fish, snappers, parrotfish, and angelfish galore and even stumbled across a little octopus hanging out in his reef house. Visibility was terrific, no significant currents, and the water temperature was like a cool bath.

Later that day, we were off to a place called Yapak to do an advanced boat dive in search of sharks. I can’t remember if it was Yapak 1 or Yapak 2, but it will go down as one of the scariest, most dangerous dives I’ve ever done. It has given me a whole new appreciation for how quickly things can go wrong underwater.

I’ll back up a bit. After that first dive, I talked with the Dive Master, Luis and said I would love to go diving with sharks if that was possible. Luis said, “We could do Yapak, but it’s an advanced dive.” To which I said, “Hey, I’m an advanced diver,” and pulled out all my PADI Certification cards to show him I wasn’t making this up. To which he said, “It’s a 100' dive.” To which I said, “Check it out,” pulling out my PADI Deep Diver Certification card. We booked it and planned to meet later that day.

I did not bring my own gear to Boracay, so I had to rent it all.

The quality of the gear I rented was designed for beginner divers doing their very first dive off the shore in front of the dive shop in 15' of water. It was not intended for an advanced dive to 100' by any stretch of the imagination. The fins were floppy noodle noodle-feet, the BCD had seen better days, and the regulator was ‘okay’ but old. In addition, the diaphragm (regardless of how you adjusted it) made breathing difficult — not impossible, just difficult.

I knew all of this from the first dive, but it was manageable and didn’t impact my enjoyment doing an easy dive between 30' and 50'.

On the way out to Yapak, several people were on the boat — a small group going to the easy Punta Binga site (I think that’s where they were headed) and three of us going on to Yapak to do the Advanced Awesome Shark Dive. The plan was to drop this group off at Punta Binga, where they would do a 45-minute dive, then up to Yapak, where we would do a 30-minute dive. After dropping us off, they would head back to Punta Binga to pick up the first group, then head back up to Yapak to pick us up. This should have set off warning bells.

The first group was dropped off, and Luis started briefing us on how our dive would go. The other guy with me was a Dolph Lundgren look-alike. Six foot six inches tall, probably 250 lbs of shredded muscle, his dive gear looked like he just got off a Navy Seal training exercise, and he spoke with a thick German accent. His jaw looked like he bit through battleships for fun. In contrast, I am a soft 5 foot nine inches and 185 lbs in rental gear that made me look like a little kid playing dress-up in his dad’s business suit.

“Here’s how the dive will go,” said Luis. “When we get out there, we’ll be 50' from the shore of Puka Beach. 30' off the shore and 100' down, there is a wall.” He paused. “We need to get to the wall.

So far, so good, I thought. I’ve been diving past 100'. Seems easy enough.

“The current out there is strong,” he continued, “Like, really strong, so it’s important that as soon as you hit the water, you swim straight down to 100' without stopping. After that, you have to get to the wall so you don’t get swept out to sea.

What the fuck.

Laughing, he said, “If you don’t make it to the wall, we might not see you until Vietnam.

Luis and Dolf laughed. Dolf probably picked his teeth with a Howitzer. I felt the cold-prickles of panic but pushed them down. Luis continued to explain, “as soon as I am in the water, you need to follow. I won’t be waiting for you, so keep up.

Dolf shrugged. He has seen some shit. I was starting to think that this was a bad idea, but I was here, and it probably wasn’t going to be as hard as he was making it out to be. Dolf and I were all geared up and were both cleaning our masks when we heard a splash!

Luis had literally just gone overboard without warning — apparently, “so keep up” was his way of saying it was happening. Stunned, Dolph and I looked at each other, said: “Holy shit, let’s go!” Strapping on my mask, I dove into the Sulu Sea and started swimming straight down. I could see Luis’ about 10–15' below me, his bubbles streaming up; I went to take a breath and swallowed seawater. In my haste to follow, I totally forgot to put my regulator in my mouth. Coughing and sputtering, I found my regulator and smashed it into my mouth.

Smashing it into my sunburned lips.

I tasted blood as the regulator split open my sunburned lips. “Great,” I said to myself, “Let’s go do a shark dive with my lips bleeding like dying mackerels. Shit.” I kicked harder; Luis was getting further away.

Here’s a thing to know about diving: when you dive, you need to equalize your ears and sinuses regularly, or the pressure will explode your head. Under normal circumstances, I’ll take my time to do this. I wiggle my ears, yawn a bit, hear a little ‘pop’ followed by a relief of pressure and then I’m good to go to the next depth. Then you repeat this process. I did not have time to do this; Luis was getting further and further away. As I was kicking and diving straight down as hard as I could, I’d grab my nose and force the pressure change until I heard a hiss, pop, a sting, and the taste of more blood.

At about 20', Dolph went speeding past me in a trail of bubbles, nearly knocking the regulator out of my mouth. I pushed harder. Equalize. Pop. Swim harder. Pop. Dolph had caught up with Luis, and they were both disappearing into the darkness below. I swam harder. And harder. All I could see now was a thin trail of silver bubbles. Follow the bubbles. I just had to follow the bubbles. Kick, kick, kick. Pop. Ouch. Kick. Pop.

The bubbles were getting fewer and far between.

Below me was infinite darkness. Surely I must be close to the wall? Still kicking and popping, I risked looking at my depth gauge. 45'. Fuck. 55' to go. There is no way I’m going to make it. It had taken every ounce of strength, focus and determination to get this far. I adjusted my attitude from pointing straight down to straight up. I looked down into the abyss then looked up. A single bubble danced past my mask. Far away, the waves sparkled and danced above. Rays of sunlight sliced through depths. About 30' behind me was Puka Beach, and that distance was growing as the current pushed me west. Somewhere in front of me was the South China Sea and Vietnam.

I started making my way slowly up to the surface. Total elapsed time since we hit the water? Maybe five minutes. Probably less, even though it felt like a lifetime.

Once I hit the surface, I inflated my BCD so I could just relax a moment and get my bearings. The sparkling and dancing waves were actually three-foot swells; so for a moment, at the top of the swell, I could see a long way away, but at the bottom of the swell, there was nothing but ocean. Finally, at the top of the next swell, I could just make out our dive boat heading back to Punta Binga to get the other divers. I didn’t have a whistle, horn, or flag. I was a tiny black spec bobbing up and down in the Sulu Sea, getting pulled further and further into the open ocean.

A giant green turtle popped up, gave me a wink, and swam towards the boat. I followed. Every time I hit the top of the swell, I’d whistle using my fingers jammed into my bleeding mouth, yell, and wave my arms. The boat kept getting smaller. This went on seemingly forever, but probably only two minutes. A very long two minutes. If you were counting in swells it would have been about 100 swells of screaming. I went down into another swell. Nothing but ocean.

On my next trip up the swell, I saw that the boat had changed course and was coming towards me. One of the deckhands was waving. Holy shit. There is an excellent chance that I wouldn’t die today.

The turtle also changed course and started heading south towards Punta Binga, probably to save another hapless diver in over their head.

Throwing my gear up to the deckhand, I clung to the side of the boat, looked back towards the island of Boracay, then over to my turtle friend paddling south and smiled. And resplit my lip. Shit, that hurts.



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Michael Dean Dargie

Michael Dean Dargie

I do cool and weird shit with cool and weird people. Dad, biker, writer, speaker, artist, adventurer, doer of things, teacher of stuff.