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When I was a teenager my father and I were pretty avid scuba divers. It was a challenging hobby considering we lived in central Illinois, but it was an activity the two of us enjoyed together. We managed to find some good diving in the Midwest, and often frequented a spring-fed quarry in Southern Illinois. We also managed to take a few trips out of the state to more traditional diving locales. On one such trip we were off the coast of Panama City, exploring the remnants of a bridge span that had been sunk as part of an artificial reef program. The current was so strong that if you rose more than a few feet off the ocean floor, you would be sent tossed somersaulting along at a frightening rate of speed. As we approached the bridge framework, I saw an eyehook onto which I could strap myself; I hooked a length of reinforced nylon from my gear to the span via a carabiner, and my father in turn strapped himself to me. In doing this, we enabled ourselves to rise up into the current and experience its strength, without being thrown around. Putting my hand to my facemask to ensure that it wasn’t ripped from my face, I took a deep breath, increasing my bouancy. Our bodies rose a few inches, and then we were slammed by the current rushing around us. It was exciting and terrifying all at once, like being on a rollercoaster but instead of moving along the track, the world moved around us, pushing against us, and we were held in place by only a few inches of nylon and a couple of stainless steel carabiners. There was a white noise effect that I experienced, as the water rushed past my ears. It wasn’t exactly loud, but it blocked out what little noise I had grown accustomed to hearing on the ocean floor. It created a very private world; hearing only the water rushing past, the hiss of my regulator as I breathed in, air bubbling out as I exhaled, and my heartbeat in my ears, it was easy to forget that there was even a surface world.
I glanced back over my left shoulder to look at my father, signalling to ask if he was okay. He signed back that he was, and though you can’t really smile with a regulator in your mouth, you can still see the “smile” in someone’s eyes. That being the case, I saw perhaps one of the biggest smiles ever on my father’s face. Then, I saw his eyes widen as he gestured for me to look to the right. I turned my head, and not five feet from us, just hanging out in the current, was a six foot long barracuda. It barely moved, making only minute adjustments to its fins and body, allowing it to face directly into the current while seemingly unaffected by its power. I was taken aback by its graceful strength; it was a subtle reminder that no matter how comfortable I became in the water, I still wouldn’t come close to equaling the mastery of the water that the ocean’s inhabitants came by naturally. And yet, the ocean also felt like home in that moment. Almost as if taking instinctive cues from the powerful fish beside us, we relaxed our bodies more, allowing our arms and legs to be pushed into more streamlined positions, feeling more competent in the current. Certainly we were nowhere near as hydrodynamic as the predator beside us, but for that magical moment, we simultaneously felt like both man and fish. We all remained suspended there for what seemed like hours; my father and myself fighting the current, the barracuda simply embracing it. Eventually, the barracuda flicked it’s tail, ever so slightly, advancing through the current. With a few more flicks, it was gone from view. The event was over. The magic of the moment broken, we checked our gauges, struggled to free ourselves from the current, and eventually carried on with our dive, invigorated and grateful for the experience.
“Perfect Moments” is a randomly recurring post that details some of the incredible moments I’ve experienced during my adventures, my travels, or even just my everyday life. Hopefully they interest, inspire, or at least entertain for a minute or two.