Back in 2015, I was scuba diving off the island of Nusa Penida near Bali in Indonesia. Nusa Penida is famous among divers for the massive ocean sunfish, locally known as “mola mola”. The sunfish is the largest bony fish in the world (i.e. aside from sharks and rays, it is the largest fish). The fish shows up in the times of the year when the water is at its coolest and that was what brought me there. I was not lucky to see one on that trip, but there were other experiences to be had.
With me on this particular dive were the boat crew, dive instructor Tom, dive master Barbara “Bara”, open water dive trainee Rifkie, and two experienced Russian divers, Dima and Sergei. We were to dive at a spot named Ped where currents were expected. Bara was to lead the leisure divers’ group while Tom would do some lessons with the trainee. The Russians were each other’s dive buddies and I paired with Bara.
I geared up first and rolled back off the boat. The captain handed me my camera and asked me to hold on to the trailing rope so as to not get dragged away by the current. The rest joined and held on to the rope one-by-one. We descended together when we were all in the water.
Tom and Rifkie stayed relatively shallow to do Rifkie’s lessons. The rest of us continued our descent. We were along a dense slanting wall of coral. The current pushed us along its side. I found photography to be rather difficult; we were moving too fast for me to get anything good. It was a chore to stay level while my attention was on taking pictures. On occasion, Bara would rap her cylinder with a stick and I would notice that I had floated too far away from her or sunk a few metres below. The Russians, far more experienced divers than I, seemed to be having more luck with the photography. Absorbed in their craft, they occasionally needed repeated signals before they would notice that they were being called for.
Tom and Rifkie finished their exercises and rejoined us. We floated along the wall for a while. I then noticed something unexpected: Rifkie was breathing air from Bara’s spare mouthpiece. I approached Rifkie and looked at his pressure gauge: it said “50 bar”. The newbie had used up three quarters of his tank in fifteen minutes. Tom approached the group and handed Rifkie his spare mouthpiece. Rifkie replaced Bara’s mouthpiece with Tom’s. Within that short period when we noticed this emergency, we floated some hundred metres due to the strong current.
Tom and Rifkie started their ascent to the surface. Bara looked for the Russians and rapped her tank. The Russians had disappeared. She held onto my hand to ensure that we too did not get separated and signalled me to ascend. We followed normal procedures. There was a safety stop at 5 metres for three minutes. Bara then inflated the SPG “sausage” float and we surfaced. The boat spotted the bright red SPG and picked us up in minutes. Rifkie and Tom were then picked up.
Where were the Russians? Tensions were high. A man had rapidly run out of air creating a near emergency and then we had gotten separated in an area with very strong currents. Furthermore, we learned that the Russians had no SPG to signal to any boats moving on the surface that divers were below. The sea was choppy and it was hard to see below from the boat.
There were some murmurs of discontent at the Russians for losing contact with the team lead and for generally trailing behind and not listening to instructions. We waited for a few minutes. Then the boat actively went searching. We made a few circles around the area where we guessed the divers were or could have arrived at. I started counting the minutes since we lost contact. My worst case scenario was that the Russians could cross paths with a boat that did not see them.
After about fifteen tense minutes, the crew from another boat pointed us towards two bobbing heads. The ladder was let down and the two climbed in.
“Well, how was it?” I asked as the causes of our worries clambered back on board.
“Eet vas good daive”, said Sergei.