there was at least a dozen of us on our knees in about 20 feet of water. we formed a circle all facing each other waiting our turn. when it was our turn, the dive master would face us & point at us to start the exercise. each of us had to ditch our mask & hand it to the buddy next to us. then, after taking a full deep breath, we completely striped out of our BC & tank, let it fall to the sand behind us, then remove the regulator. fish out of water.
more about practicing calm in awkward situations, the exercise had to all go as i had practiced in class most of that week. and all within that one last breath. this all had to happen smoothly and calmly:
get handed back the mask. put it on. replace the water within it using precious air out your nose. remain calm. turn around. pray tank hadnt drifted too far. scramble to grab tank straps. thread arms into the BC. remain calm. complete the fastening of the buckles. do wide slow flails of your right arm for the regulator. reg back into mouth as you sign OK to the dive master.
except on this run, the one counting towards my Advanced Open Water, as i was fastening my BC & reaching for my reg, i gave the OK sign a bit too early. the dive master moved clear to the other side of the group circle as i realised the reg wasnt there. remain calm. reach behind and locate the hose from the tank. its caught. cant see it. pull. no joy. pull harder. no joy. remain calm my ass. the high pressure seal of panic begins its bleed.
the rational thought patterns that exist were i to reamin calm are swiftly dissipating. had i exercised then what i know now sitting here 20 years later, it all would have been ok. i would have scrambled to the center of the circle instead of remaining far outside it where my tank & BC drifted to. i would have reached for the octopus. i would have tapped my buddy for his octopus. i would have done some fucking thing other than continue to tug a high pressure hose wrapped around my belt.
as i wonder why i didnt do more to help myself, the same steam fuels questions as to why the dive master didnt personally confirm i had completed the exercise completely. why he acknowledged a 15 years old kids OK-sign over the visual confirmation that the child was safe. but fuck that. it was my excercise. it was my life. i was my own ward.
either way, either over the course of the exercise without air or during the struggle that consumed the end of it, my lungs were empty & all i could do was scream, exhausting anything i had left. the last remaining impulses i recall were simply to pull harder & harder on the regulator. time began to move extremely rapidly as panic increased and unconsciousness approached.
and then the searing pain in my mouth as a regulator is rammed in full-force. egypt. his familiar face is right there. 6-inches in front of mine. eyes as wide as saucers. he’s more or less screaming both with as well as at me in a storm of bubbles. i am a ragdoll. we rise. his face never leaves my personal space. as we reach the surface, the child in me washes over and begins to sob, competeing with the young man who doesnt want the mistake to flunk my certification.
people surfaced for all sorts of reasons during any of the dives. for whatever reason, this severe incident didnt seem to garner any appropriate reaction from the dive master or camp officials. it simply happened. it was in the past and a camp-wide non-issue before i had time to think critically about what occurred. it was as if it took place only between the two of us.
this distant recollection, for reasons i cannot describe, are all of a sudden fresh in my mind. so much so, it has prompted the creation of this single-page internet dragnet for the man i honestly believe saved my life that afternoon in 20 feet of california coastal waters.
these were the early teens, when i attended a scuba camp on catalina island called CIMI (catalina island marine institute). this dive camp was located a short boat ride north of avalon, in a little bay called toyon bay. the camp wasnt too big, prolly about 100 to 150 kids whose age ranged from about 12 to 16. 16 was the oldest age for campers, with counsellors were only slightly older than that.
here at CIMI & around toyon bay, they would teach all sorts of activities relating to the sea. icthiology class with subjects & specimens pulled straight from the waters 40 feet from the classroom. basic and advanced seamanship classes, complete with state of california certifications. underwater photography. sailing. marine biology. almost everything under the summer camp sun.
but the main draw of this camp for me & most of the others was the scuba diving. CIMI would take you as young as could be certified, and train them in the ways of scuba diving. the training was so extensive, that one could only hope for one level of certification per summer. you began with your basic open water. and next summer, you got your advance open water. all the way up to divemaster and all the specific training sessions inbetween (uw navigation, uw photography, rescue, night diving, etc).
so, i went to this camp for at least 3 summers, starting when i was 12 in 1983. i may have gone 4 summers, but am not sure. this feels like it occurred on the last year I attended.
anyway, on that last year, there as a counsellor named EGYPT. he was about 6-foot with dark hair and a dark mustache. i always thought he looked like a young Bruce McGill, the actor who played D-DAY from the movie Animal House. as i was only 15 or so, egypt seemed much older than i was. which meant he was prolly only around his early to mid 20s.
i remember desperately wanting to bond with this guy after the incident. he was so cool all by himself. so to have him save my life in so clear yet so subtle a way was mind blowing. i cannot recall if we ever spoke about it afterwards. time has a funny way of obscurring the details of even the most traumatic events. the prelude and follow-thru to those events become even more foggy.
but here i am, a good 7-days deep into an almost obsessive bout of recollection about the event. much of what i remember i trust to be true. however, 20 years on, i am compelled to get in touch with egypt and plumb the uncharted course of reconnecting with such a person. was egypt his real name? would he recall the event with the same gravity as i remember it?
i have exhausted all the forward-thinking googling techniques i have in my arsenal in trying to find him. hopefully, the keywords indexed above will provide a conduit for a long overdue handshake and heartfelt thanks.
I remember Egypt. His real name was Robert Scully or Sculley. I was a camper there 84-88 or so … We probably knew each other but my memory isn’t so great.
When I was looking for colleges to go to, I stayed at Egypt’s frat house for 2 nights in Long Beach – he was a student there at the time, this was 1988 some time. He was a really nice guy and while he never saved my life he certainly gave me a lot of good advice at an age that can be difficult for many of us.
If you get ahold of him let me know. I wouldn’t mind writing to him either.