Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Rolls Royce Silver Cloud

West Palm Beach, Florida

The "Owens" is a sunken freighter off West Palm Beach at about 110 feet. Someone has dumped a 1965 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud next to it to enhance the dive. The gulf stream is very strong here, maybe three knots.

In other dives, in the Bahamas, the divemasters sometimes joke that there is a Maserati, Hummer or perhaps an Aston-Martin DB5 on the ocean floor and everyone always laughs at these tired jokes.

I'm doing the dive on the Owens as part of my "Rescue Diver" certification with a "buddy", Alan. As rescue divers we are required to check the gear of other Divers. Alan "checks" my air valve and turns it off completely. There are strong Gulf stream currents in Palm Beach so to hit the dive target (Owens) we need to be overweighted and go down really fast. I'm down about 15 feet and dropping like a stone when my air cuts off completely after an exhale. I kick hard to the top, feeling betrayed. From here on when someone attempts to touch my air valve I ask them if they really want to keep that hand and reach for my dive knife. Also, I always take three breaths before jumping in while watching the air gauge to see if the valve is really on or if maybe I'm just breathing the systems pressurized air from the last time the valve was on.

I don't look for Alan as I go back down to the wreck. The wreck has huge schools of swarming fish and predators like Jacks trying to pick off strays. Stonefish on the bottom are poisonous and virtually invisible. The Gulf Steam current is ripping though the wreck. The Rolls Royce has definitely seen better days.

It's twightlight and approaching night. At 100 feet down it's getting dark. In our dive briefing they say emphatically "do not penetrate the wreck." Therefore, I hide a flashlight in my dive gear and quickly swim into the hold and then into another three by two foot opening in the freighter hold when I see no one is looking.

When I come out of the long small shaft I had used to enter the Owens I find myself in a small room leading to other rooms with steel bunk beds, lockers and many protubances that are snagging my airhoses and making me feel a little claustrophobic. It's really dark inside the wreck. I can only see with my underwater flashlight. I think of EverReady battery commercials. When I touch things, clouds of particles swirl up to obscure my vision within the ship's compartments. Sometimes I'm in complete blackout conditions.

I'm down to my last ten minutes of air at 110 feet and alone inside the Owens, I decide it's time to leave. When I return to the entrance area in the room that I had entered, I see that there are four identical 3x2 shaft openings leading to unknown places. One of them would have taken me back the way I came in. It's hard to know where the other three 3x2 shafts would go.

I am very amused by this situation for a moment, get an adrenelin rush and then begin to imagine old 1960's Lloyd Bridges TV "Seahunt" sound tracks where the music gets very loud once the diver runs into bad trouble. I begin to laugh and bubble which hard to do with a regulator in the mouth.

I take a another minute to look around and up and down and notice a shimmering square from the last of the daylight two stories above me where someone had cut a nice 3x3 hole in the side of the Owens to keep stupid people from getting stuck and lost. "How Thoughtful!", I think and then begin slowly rising to the surface, carefully avoiding the "bends" or a nasty air embolism.

The sensation of running completely out of air after completing an exhalation while dropping like a stone is not one I'm ever going to willingly repeat. Alan did ask me, back on the boat, where I went. I told him about running out of air and explained the correct air valve loosening procedure..."righty-tighty, lefty-loosey". I didn't tell him about penetrating the wreck. He could easily have killed me, but he was always well intentioned. What I learned from Alan was to take two breaths from the regulator, before jumping in, while watching the air pressure gauge...if the air valve is actually off the needle drops about 1,000 PSI per breath.

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