Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tales of Old Samoa - The Diver and the Shark

    My only venture into free-diving 60 feet deep was when we were living on the island of Aunu'u, in American Samoa One weekend the Pago Pago Dive Club chartered a small boat to bring them out to "my" island. They tied up to the Aunu'u mooring buoy just offshore.
     I brought my mask, fins, and snorkel down to the beach to join them. Most of the club members had SCUBA gear, and soon they were splashing by ones and twos over the side of the motor launch "FiaFia". Within minutes several divers surfaced with remarks that they'd spotted black coral about 60 feet down off the edge of the reef.
     From the surface I could spot far below the black smudge that they were talking about. I was determined to get some for myself.  I floated quietly, face down, breathing through my snorkel and hyperventilating for almost a minute. Putting my head down, I kicked for the bottom. I could feel the pressure compressing my chest and lungs. The negative buoyancy slightly accelerated my descent as I glided down.
     I planted my feet on the sandy bottom, 60 feet from the surface, grasped the black coral firmly, and pulled hard. It wiggled a bit.
     I twisted it, hoping to separate it from its base. It yielded only slightly.
     I was beginning to feel the carbon dioxide building in my bloodstream, urging me to breath.  Releasing my grip, I headed leisurely toward the surface.
     Floating face down on the gentle waves, breathing again through my snorkel, I could heard admiring remarks from those with SCUBA gear, pointing out to others, "Hey! Did you see Hastings diving? He went all the way to the bottom out here!"
    After a few minutes of recovery, I drew extra deep breaths again, getting ready to head down. I was determined to surface with that piece of black coral. Kicking hard, I raced straight down. I leveled out two feet from the bottom, and found myself staring head on at the face of a large shark not more than three feet away!

    All thoughts of black coral vanished as I planted a foot on the bottom, pushed hard, and took off toward the distant surface as fast as my fins could propel me. I shot halfway out of the water like a Polaris missile, spitting out my mouthpiece and yelling "SHARK"!!!!!!
     To my amazement and consternation, as I took a deep breath I realized that my friends, my fellow divers, were all laughing! I was miffed!
     "There's a large shark down there!" I repeated, thinking that perhaps they hadn't heard my warning.
     "We watched the whole thing!", someone replied.
     "We saw the shark at just about the same moment that you headed for the bottom. There was no way we could warn you! You were heading straight down, and the shark was swimming along the bottom. It looked like you were going to collide with each other.
      You leveled out and stopped suddenly. The shark saw you and stopped just as abruptly. You both froze, staring at each other for about two seconds, and then you both flipped around and shot off in opposite directions!
     If we could have heard shark-frequencies and understood shark-talk, that big fellow was probably screaming "PALAGI!!! I'm being chased by a palagi!!!"

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