We tied up to one of the permanent bouys fastened to anchor chains around the back of Cooke Island, the powerful outboard engines were shut down and we started kitting up.
There were 8 divers, so we were divided up into two groups with two dive leaders for each group.
The Dive Plan
The other group’s dive plan was to go half way around the island following the perimeter where the sand meets the rock, and return when they got down to 100 bar. (a scuba tank has around 210 bar when you leave the dive boat)
Our dive plan was to head away from the Island (due east?) and go down around 20 metres, there we would find two gigantic rock formations leaning against each other.
Almost at the bottom of the leaning rock formations, there would be a triangular gap where the two weren’t touching.
This gap or tunnel, which was roughly 20 metres long before coming to open water at the other end, was just big enough for one diver at a time to go through.
one of the dive leaders would go in first, followed by our group of 4 divers and then the other dive leader would go in last to make sure everything went to plan.
(sounds like flamin’ Waggon Train, the last scout bringin’ up the rear… waggons…rrrrooolllll!)
“Ok That’s The Dive Plan, Let’s Get Down There!” yelled Jason, the skipper on the dive boat.
After our group had done their buddy checks, (Julieanne and I usually buddied up) and just before we did our falling into the water backwards thing, I said to her, “bloody tunnels and caves, not really my cup of tea!”.
As usual, as soon as we were in the water we swam over to the anchor chain, went down and waited for the rest of our group to get down.
On the way down, our fish friend, a huge blue groper, came over to say hallo, he swam around us really close to make sure we’d seen him before he started to swim away.
Then he suddenly turned around and swam right up to me, only inches away and looked straight into my mask for about ten seconds, those big yellow eyeballs giving me the third degree.
It reminded me of one of my Mother’s ‘looks’ when I was a kid.
“What Have You Done Young Man?” (as the chocolate was oozing through the fingers of my clenched fist behind my back), “Have You Been In Your Sister’s Room?”
The other ‘look’ I got from Mum on a regular basis was, “Before You Do Whatever Crazy Thing You’re About To Do, Think About It, BEFORE You Hurt yorself, Do You Really want to Do It?”
(Ok, I was one of those ten year old crazies that jumped off the roof with a beach towel as a cape and wondered why the hell they couldn’t fly?)
Maybe our Groper friend was tryin’ to tell me something, a message from my Mother?
When we were all accounted for at the bottom of the anchor chain, we headed off, and about ten minutes later got to the the huge rock walls.
We couldn’t see the triangular opening so we must have been too high up, one of the dive leaders gave us the signal to decend.
Slowly our group went down and then, There It Was, a rough, dark, sinister looking hole, the vague shape of a triange.
It reminded me of one of those spooky, condemned mines in the old cowboy movies.
Even John Wayne would have had second thoughts about goin’ into this sucker, “ok pilgrims, let’s just ease back into the saddle and get the hell outa here!”
(Wow! I thought to myself, looking at the ugly jagged hole between the rock formations, IT MUST BE TRUE, the world really does have an anus!)
Just as the dive leader and the first divers started disappearing into the dark tunnel and instantly out of sight, I could think of a hundred things I’d rather be doing at that moment.
Suddenly the guy in front of Julieanne (who was in front of me) was having a problem with his mask so the second dive leader behind me at the end of the line went to the guys aid.
Next thing I know, the problem is fixed but, instead of coming back to his position behind me the dive leader decided to stay with the guy and disapeared into the tunnel after him.
That left Julieanne and me.
Then Julieanne went in, the very last thing I saw before I was totally on my own were the last part of her yellow fins going into the black hole.
I looked around, somehow I’d ended up at the end instead of the dive leader, (don’t ya love it when shit like this happens?) it was starting to give me the creeps.
Now that there was no one going into the tunnel, it took me about ten seconds to find the entrance, then I was in.
Julieanne was roughly a quarter of the way through and I could see some of the others in front of her.
Now I felt good, more relaxed, I wasn’t alone anymore and was slowly catching up to my buddy.
I was about a metre behind her when I heard a “clunck” (something hard hitting something else hard) and at the same instant I jarred to a sudden stop.
For a few seconds I didn’t relate the the two, but when I moved my fins to go forward nothing happened, I finned a bit harder but still I didn’t move, not an inch.
I grabbed hold of the rock on either side of the tunnel to pull myself forward but I wasn’t going anywhere.
I felt my pulse rate start to crank up, (bloody tunnels and caves!) and when I looked up to where Julieanne was ten seconds before she had vanished, now she was at least five metres in front of me.
“Please look around Julieanne, you’ll see I’m stuck, then you can tell that dickhead of a dive leader (that’s supposed to be behind me!) to come and help me.
And oh yeah! I nearly forgot, he should probably bring me a another tank as I’m down to 110 bar and only have about twenty minutes of air left.“
Julieanne probably didn’t realise I was at the end and so had no reason to worry, the dive leader was looking out for me?
I made a loud noise in my mask to try and get her attention but she was too far away and getting smaller.
I looked at my gauge, I was down to 95 bar, I was chewing up air because I was starting to panic, I couldn’t beleive this was happening.
There were no fish in the tunnel, just slightly murcky water, faint, dappled light at the other end and a group of divers about half way through.
The silence was deafening and I felt the icy abandonment of despair trying to get a grip on me. I knew if I gave in to fear and panic, I wasn’t gonna get out of here alive, I had to calm down, pull myself together, I was down to 90 bar.
Then a sudden rush of fear took control and I made one last frantic effort to pull myself forward.
Now I’d Used up every ounce of strenght I had in reserve but still with no results other than I’d wasted precious air, I was down to 85 bar.
I resigned to the fact that maybe this was it, this is where it all ends.
I was thinking, “I wanted to die on a stage, singing, doing something I love, not in some bloody tunnel where no one can see me, I’m a Leo for christ’s sake, I can’t die in this shit hole, and I want to say goodbye to my family.”
Without realising it, I’d started giving up, I had totally relaxed, the fear and panic was gone.
When my air ran out I would just drift off, not long now, I was down to 80 bar.
The last time I’d looked all the divers were at the other end of the tunnel.
By the time they realised I was missing, got hold of a new tank and got back to me, I would probably be out of air, or maybe they’d get back just in time.
At least in this relaxed state my air would last longer.
I closed my eyes.
I could hear some of the beautiful classical guitar music I used to listen to years ago.
I felt like I was meditating, drifting off, and had this strange sensation of floating… drifting…moving…I felt so free…moving…was I really moving?
“My mind’s playing little tricks on me,” I thought, “alright I’ll play along, I’ll open my eyes and I’ll still be stuck in this shit of a thing!”
I opened my eyes, I didn’t try to move, I looked at the rock walls on either side of me and fixed my gaze on a small black rock in the wall in line with my left shoulder.
Slowly my shoulder went back a few inches from it, then forward a few inches past it, then back about a foot and then past it about the same distance.
I didn’t dare move my arms, shoulders, or make any movements I didn’t need to.
The only things I moved very carefully and ever so slightly, up and down, were my fins.
If I’d felt that same resistance of still being stuck at that moment, I think my heart would have given out, but amazingly I was slowly moving away from my nightmare, unbelievably I was free.
Whatever I was stuck on must have let go when I relaxed?
I made it out of the tunnel still with 40 bar.
When we got back to the dive boat I still had 20 bar
Back in the boat, after we’d stowed our dive gear, the dive leader that had left me at the end, looked at me with a half baked smile that failed to cover his embarrassment and said,
“Everything ok? sorry about movin’ up the line, Alan was havin’ trouble with his mask!”
I should have given this guy hell, I should have reported him for negligence, I could have made life miserable for this guy.
But instead I was just looking around at the beautiful blue sky, breathing in delicious fresh air and just feeling so thankful to still be alive.
I looked back at the dive leader, (part of me still wanted to kick his arse) and said,
“All good mate, we live another day!”