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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Float like a Cork: SInk like an Anchor

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 12, 2003

Goose & Fin Internet Shop
Well I’m back at the Goose and Fin Internet shop, trying to concentrate while a bill collector is attempting to get his rent money from the owner – evidently the bottom has dropped out of the goose egg market here. 

DIVING ON A SUNKEN JAPANESE ZERO

On Friday I went to Manahagaha Island.  It’s pronounced Manya–ga-ha.  Unfortunately I sometimes put too many ha’s on, and get strange looks.   The island is a short ferry ride from Saipan (it’s only 2 miles off shore) and the second I stepped ashore I realized I had made a mistake.  The Island is populated entirely by young Japanese
Manahagaha Island
couples and their preschoolers.   Since I am neither Japanese nor have small children, you’d think I’d stick out.  However it appeared I was totally invisible!  Nobody noticed or acknowledged me.  I seriously considered taking my bathing suit off and wearing it on my head to see if anyone would notice!


After an hour I decided to head back to Saipan.  I was the only person on the little ferry, and the crew asked me if I wanted to see a crashed Japanese Zero.  It only took me a second to say yes, although for a brief moment I worried they might leave me as soon as I jumped in the water.  They stopped the boat and let me
Snorkelling over a Japanese Zero
snorkel above the wrecked plane!  It was really incredible gazing down on it. The water was so clear it was like hovering in the air over the plane.

THE RUSSIAN DIVING MAFIA

On Saturday I went for my first dive here on Saipan.  This would be my first dive since I was “certified” a few weeks ago in Vancouver.  The dive shop is run by Russians who own a chain of dive shops in the Marianas and Russia.   The immigration laws in the Marianas are more forgiving when it comes to Russians than in the U.S.   Russians can travel freely anywhere in Micronesia, but they can’t travel to Guam about 30 miles away as it’s an American possession.  Luckily those rules don’t apply to Canadians.


I presented them with my new diving card and log book. I dutifully brought my dive certification and log book.  They seemed totally uninterested in them - all they seemed interested in was the slip of paper that said I’d prepaid.  My first dive was supposed to be a simple “beach dive” to get re-acquainted – but since I was the only novice diver they decided it would be more economical if I went on a boat dive with the other experienced divers.  I asked how deep we would be going and they replied  only about 90 feet.  I replied that as an “open water diver” (the lowest position on the diving totem pole)  I was only qualified to go down to 60 feet. 
 “Don’t worry about it.  It’s only another 20 feet?”  the guy in
the store pointed out. “It’s no big deal.” 
It is if you’re out of air.”  I replied.

When we arrived at  the dive site I started to go over the check-out  of my equipment as I’d been taught.
“What are you doing?” the dive master asked.
“Going through my pre-dive check out.” I stated.
“Just get in the f*cking water!” he commanded in a thick Russian
Jeff being dragged down
accent.


HUFFING & PUFFING - MY AIR

Once in the water I joined my assigned dive buddy and we started our descent.  Unfortunately I kept bobbing back to the surface.  Finally in desperation my dive buddy attempted to DRAG me down!  That’s when we realized I had left my weight belt on the boat!   They scavenged a few weights from the other divers and stuffed them into my BCD and I was able to submerge – albeit slowly.  The good news is I was the first one to finish up his air!  Something of a record, I was told - unfortunately there was no prize for puffing through 1 hour of air in just 17 minutes.  

On the way to the second dive site a monsoon hit.  Imagine being hit in the face by a fire hose of water, coming at you so hard, you have to put your hand over your mouth to breathe!  I suggested that we just get dragged to the site underwater where it would be dryer.  

In the sunken Japanese freighter
The next dive on a torpedoed freighter was shallower - only about 25 feet. The dive master, pissed off with my buoyancy problem, decided to triple the weights I had from the first dive.  Evidently this worked well with Russian mobsters who never seemed to have buoyancy problems once they were dumped overboard and  it worked well on me as well - I sank like an anchor as soon as I jumped in the water.   I did much better this on this dive only going through all my air in 19 minutes!  

While waiting an hour for the others to return, I had a chance to talk to the crew about my encounter with the Japanese tour group at the Banzai cliffs.  They explained that this generation of Japanese knows hardly anything about WWII.    It’s basically we bombed Pearl Harbour; the Americans dropped atomic bombs on us - the end. The whole war takes up about three pages in their history books. About this time the rest of the divers began to return.

“You left early,” one of them told me excitedly. “You missed an 8 foot white tip shark.”
I replied I figured I left about the right time otherwise I would have used up my air even quicker!
In a couple of hours I'll pack my bags, put them into my Japanese tank and push-pull-drag it back to the car rental place and head to the airport for the half hour flight to the little Island of Rota (the smaller of the blood stains on the sheet if your keeping track). My diving experience here on Saipan was like going skydiving and then getting your training the next day. I sort of wish it had been reversed. 

On to Rota!


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