I am positioned on the starboard gunwale near the stern of the AQUANAUT: an historical vessel that has been running dive trips in Destin for many years, and is the ideal dive platform. It is hot and humid, but cruising at roughly ten knots with the gulf breeze lightly blowing from the North; and less than one foot seas is rather comfortable. After departing the docks, maneuvering through the harbor, making the turn around Norriego Point, and traveling through the Pass, we are now on the open water in the Gulf of Mexico. A few dolphins are breeching and soaring over the wake behind the boat. I look over my left shoulder down into the water, and there is a dolphin right below me; somehow keeping the same exact pace as the boat. It rolls on its side, and I can clearly see that it is staring into my eyes. It seems as though it is trying to tell me something. This is a very surreal moment—I am mesmerized. And just like that, the dolphins are gone. As I stare out over the horizon, I am briefly detached and not completely aware of my surroundings. I reflect on my life, and how grateful I am to even be here in this moment. Then, the mate yells to let me know that we are less than a half mile from the dive site, and I snap back to reality.
Now I need to focus. I’m all rigged up as I run through final pre-dive checks with my dive buddy. My gas is on, my computer is set, my mask is hanging around my neck; and I’m staring between my fins thinking about how amazing I will feel as soon as my head submerges. I hear those two big caterpillars slow to an idle, and feel my body shift forward, as the bow drops a few feet. Other divers begin to stir, and the mate hits the deck to assist divers with their rigs. Yet my dive buddy and I are already staged for when the time comes to bail. I don my mask, secure my regulator, and get a final OK from my dive buddy, as I look up to the bridge; anxiously awaiting the green light from the captain. I watch as he circles the dive site looking for the perfect spot. His precision and skill are intriguing and impressive. The mate is not throwing the hook. We are buoy diving due to the distance we anticipate covering. Thus we will be conducting a free descent with only a visual reference; no anchor line to grasp for control. Between the captain and mate, they have the keenest eyes on the water, and are never complacent. They are prepared to react to anything. This dive will essentially be a reconnaissance, for this is a rather large site and we have never dived it before. This only adds to the mystique and aura. I see a lot of action on the bottom machine, and there is no verbal communication necessary—just a couple of flicks of the wrist with a pointed finger from the Captain, and I give my dive buddy a tap, “it’s time to roll!!!”
As I lean back and begin to fall into the water, I feel a very calming and soothing feeling throughout my body. I hit the water, get into a head down position, and exhale all of the air from my lungs as I begin my descent. I approach twenty feet, and begin to essentially free-fall through the second atmosphere. I feel almost as though I am flying, in a way. I look to my left, and there is my dive buddy gliding next to me. A slight nod of the head simultaneously from each is enough to say, “I got your six, and I’m good to go.” …Forty, fifty, sixty feet…now I am starting to get a visual of the bottom topography at just over one hundred feet. It is a natural limestone reef—my favorite kind of dive site, and this is one I have never explored. A large school of Jacks come barreling, through apparently unperturbed by our presence. …Seventy, eighty, ninety feet…I begin to slowly draw on my regulator in good control of my breathing; and gradually cant my body belly down into a horizontal position. As the air fills my lungs, I become perfectly neutral, and plane out. I have arrived. Any negative thoughts have left me at the surface, and I have not a worry in the world. I feel completely free in this underwater world—there is no place I’d rather be. I am weightless, all I can hear is my breath, and I am fully in-tune with my surroundings. Life is good. Without getting into every detail along the way, (it would take several pages, but I will leave it at this), we have an extraordinary dive navigating this reef with so many amazing sightings.
I give my dive buddy a “thumbs up,” and we begin our ascent only when our nitrogen load has neared its limit. We ascend together to fifteen feet, and I flash the “OK” signal to my dive buddy, who reciprocates. As we hover there motionless, I quiet my mind and try to relive what I’ve seen on this dive. For in three minutes, my head will crack the surface, and this dive will be logged. These pleasant memories I will replay over and over in my mind until I have the opportunity to immerse myself again. No matter how many dives I make, I always see or experience something incredible. At the end of the day, with a few dives in the book, my head is filled with positive thoughts. I just had the opportunity to share some amazing experiences with others, and will do my best to keep that in the forefront of my mind until the next opportunity for some bottom time. There is a bond shared amongst divers sub-surface that translates to a strong sense of camaraderie on the dive boat. Everybody is telling tales of their own personal account of the dive, and the imagination is running wild. I could write forever about my diving experiences and the positive impact they have had on my life. However, it should be physically experienced to fully feel the effect.
Anna and Tom, and the crew of Emerald Coast Scuba are like family to me. If it weren’t for these amazing people, I would not be here today. They are all positive, upbeat and friendly, and they truly helped save my life. I am forever grateful that they have not only afforded me the opportunity to do what I love; but even more importantly, we get to share the positive impact and experiences with others. There are no words powerful enough to express my sincere gratitude to you all. Thank you for everything you have done Emerald Coast Scuba!!! Rick Hayes, founder of Task Force Poseidon, has created something incredible. The time and tireless effort he has put into making this all a reality is highly admirable and motivating. His foundation has teamed up with Emerald Coast Scuba, and some amazing things are happening. We have had the privilege and honor to dive with several veterans with varying types of injuries—single, double, and triple amputees; paraplegics, and also those who struggle with invisible wounds. It is so inspiring to see someone with these serious injuries moving so freely and independently in the water, and the subsequent positive impact that it very clearly has is highly rewarding. Many have spoken of the positive impact diving has had on their lives, and there is absolutely no greater feeling or reward than to help facilitate and witness another to share in these experiences. No matter the setback, we will find a way. Rick, it is truly amazing what you have done, and I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to take part. Your drive and desire to help others will change lives for the better without a doubt. You are truly an inspiration!