On day one, dive one, Jim back-rolled in, deflated his BC, exhaled and found himself stranded on the surface. Everyone else was gone, dropping to the seabed.
Dammit! His fear that he would not be able to do this thing after all collapsed on him like an avalanche.
He was not completely alone, however. The crewman on the tender-boat was holding two dive-weights out and handed them to him: “One in each pocket. You’ll be OK.”
Jim did as instructed, and then made another attempt to descend. Fins pointing down, left arm in the air, thumb on the deflator button. He took a deep breath from his regulator, then exhaled fully. And down he went. Success!
A little too much success, in fact. He was dropping like a brick. He felt pressure in his ears, and the old instincts just kicked in. He equalised and added a little air to his BC to reduce his descent speed.
Then he looked down, found his group just below him, exchanged an OK signal with the guide and just followed along.
After the dive, there was the usual banter: “Good dive?” “Great dive!” “So many fish!” Nobody mentioned Jim’s false start. Indeed, he got the impression that the guide was the only one who had noticed. The others had just been focused on themselves. All Jim could think was: “What was I worried about?” and: “Why did I wait so long?”
He had run low on air before the planned hour was up, but so had another of the divers, so they had ascended together. Even with an almost empty cylinder, he still had plenty of air in his BC on the safety stop, which he knew was another sign that he was overweighted.
By the end of the day, however, on dive four, he had taken one of his additional weights off again and was descending without difficulty.
Jim was still using air faster than the others, but tried to compensate for this and extend his dive-time by staying a little shallower when they were on a reef-wall.
The next day he was flicking through a magazine on the boat and found an article called The Art of Conservation.
He read it and followed the advice. Very soon, his air-consumption issues were a thing of the past and he was coming up at the end of a dive together with the other divers in his group, and still with plenty of air in his cylinder.
As those of you familiar with Murphy’s Law might expect, just as Jim began to feel comfortable, disaster struck.
He surfaced at the end of a night dive, pressed his inflator button and all he heard was air escaping past his ear. He couldn’t make himself positively buoyant, and had to kick hard to keep his head above water.
Fortunately the tender-boat was next to him, the crewman saw him in difficulty and told him to pass up his weightbelt. Once rid of that, he could float easily.
Back on the liveaboard, he found that the shoulder-valve on his BC had cracked, preventing the cell from holding air.
At first he thought that it was the hard plastic fitting that had broken but, as he picked away at the hole that had formed, the “plastic” started flaking away into his hand. What he had taken for plastic was in fact a fat layer of glue that had held the fitting in place and was disintegrating.
The passage of time had taken its toll on Jim’s old BC and it was now unusable and irreparable, at least in the short term, so he borrowed one of the boat’s rental BCs.
This, of course, meant that he had to start from scratch again in terms of getting his weighting right. But it didn’t take him long to get it sorted out.
After every dive, he would return to the boat, smiling from ear to ear. His old friend came up to him after one particularly outstanding dive.
“So, how’s it going, then?”
“Just like riding a bike,” said Jim.