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Many of you on here will know “Le Belles” at Dahab in the Gulf of Aquaba, right next to the famous “Blue Hole”. I was diving here recently as part of a large group from the same club. We were being guided by Ocean College, who were grand.
We were on the last day of six days of diving, and were in fact on the last dive of the week, having earlier that day explored the Canyon at Dahab.

Le Bells involves a quick descent down a fantastic chimney to a small arch at about 28 metres, through which you emerge into the blue to continue your dive along the coral wall to the spot a thoughtful Mr Cousteau blasted with dynamite allowing you into the Blue Hole itself.

The party consisted of two groups, each led by one of the guides. It is a walk of about 100m to get from where we kitted up to the entry to Le Bells, which in a wetsuit with scuba gear on is a very long way indeed (or at least it felt like it!). We arrived sweaty and breathing a bit faster than I might’ve preferred, and found a chaotic scene of our first group fighting their way through great schools of bloody snorkellers. Because of the slight chaos, I didn’t complete a full buddy check with my buddy although I had done so myself. Part of my own routine is to orally inflate my BC and to give it a toot of gas from the power inflator, and I had done this as we kitted up I do this for the obvious reason that you need to check its working, but also because a partially inflated BC is considerably easier to get on than a deflated one. Everything at that point seems fine. There are no leaks, and the BC does not notably deflate in the delay between inflating it and putting it on, which was about ten minutes

One of the unique features about this dive, especially for someone (like me) who has only seldom dived in a wetsuit, is the fact that it is considerably easier to descend head first so as to be a bit more in control of the descent. In fact, it is said that it is known as the “Le Bells” due to the clangs and dongs of diver’s scuba tanks battering the sides of the chasm. We entered the water one by one. I was filming the dive, and held back a little to allow my buddy’s bubbles to clear. As he entered the arch I set off after him, and soon found myself finning through the arch to where my buddy was frantically and comically trying to free his camera to get what probably would’ve been a nice shot. We had agreed to come up to about 20 metres, anxious about a long dive a depth with a flight only about 30 hours later, but I soon realised that something wasn’t quite right. I had finned upwards but noticed I wasn’t making any progress. I also “felt” heavy and so added air to my BC. Again, no improvement in my position (I was now upright in the water finning heavily trying to prevent any further descent.) I signalled to my buddy that something was wrong, pointing to my computer and his. I tried again, finning with all my strength but to no avail – my buddy signalling again that we were at 30 metres and that we should ascend. By this time, unknown to me, he had ascertained that a huge stream of bubbles was pouring from my power inflator where it is attached to the BC and air bladder, on the left shoulder. I signalled “something wrong” again to the Guide, who shot over. I signalled that I was struggling to maintain my position in the water. She held on to me, and signalled that I could stop finning as by this time I was feeling a shortness of breath. I stopped and we sank rapidly to 32 metres. Fortunately both the guide and my buddy had realised what was happening but I didn’t realise this, and felt that they had not fully appreciate my situation. I urgently signalled that I wanted to go up. Still finning, I was breathing heavily and had a tight feeling in my chest. I feared at that stage I was not too far away from spitting the reg and all that that would have entailed. Our little group was joined at this point by my club’s instructor, who had used his instructor trouble detector and had detected trouble. I realised at that moment just how good it is to be able to make eye contact with someone – my buddy had a “stealth” mask and the guide was engrossed in managing the incident. But my club instructor (actually a pal whom I’ve dived with on many previous dives) was able to make strong eye contact and at last, I felt that he at least understood. A very well controlled ascent followed, mostly managed by the guide and the instructor, and we were able to hold a stop at 5m. My weights (integrated to the BC) were removed, and after a good stop we completed the ascent, only to find ourselves yet again surrounded by millions of snorkellors who had materialised. Thereafter, a long surface swim took us back through the Blue Hole and to the exit, where I eventually left the water.

There were no problems in the aftermath – I was fine after a short rest and had there been a third dive available that day I probably would have had a shallow dive in the “falling off a bike” principle.


What have I learned?

Loads!

  1. The Buddy system works. By that I mean that (in my experience) diving with someone nearby almost always makes the dive a better one – we’ve all got loads of photos /videos etc of our buddies grinning happily at us. If you see something cool underwater, its magic to point it out to your buddy. Most of the time I dive with built in redundancy, (indie twins, drysuit and jacket buoyancy etc) and as a trainee Rescue Diver with 300+ dives think of myself more in the context of what help I can offer as opposed to what I might need.. But having a buddy close to me on the day made a situation into one which we were able to have a giggle about on the surface as we swam back, rather than one which my family and friends would mourn.
  2. Check you weighting thoroughly – and think about your diving context. I dived the Red Sea that whole week overweighted, because I was so eager to get into the dives that I hurried what is really an essential check on the first day. I also continued to dive like most dry suit divers do – I am purposefully overweight by at least two kilos diving in Scotland because I like the luxury of having plenty of air in my drysuit at stops having frozen my cahoonas off on a long stop after the Magraf one year. I had also forgotten to allow for the added weight of a CD quick release bracket I was using on my BC, and so even though I was diving with 4 kilos less that I would using the BC and drysuit with a single and pony, I was very very heavy.
  3. Check your gear thoroughly – anticipate unlikely failures. The glue that bonded my power inflator to the Jacket and bladder had simply dissolved. I have disposed of the BC (although I was sure it could be repaired) because I no longer trust it. It was a no brand ebay special (“Megalift”) about 6 years old, and I’d owned it from new. I am not 100% sure I would have spotted this problem on the surface – I think the particular nature of this dive (ie a headfirst descent to 30 metres before resuming a more normal profile in the water) caused the air under pressure in my BC to rush towards the weak spot – there is what sounds like an obvious "bang!" on the video soundtrack as I emerge from the arch.)
  4. It was very interesting to note the impact of the “Red Sea diving ethos” – I was desperately anxious not to drop my weights for two main reasons, aside from the risk of an uncontrolled ascent - the weight integrated pouches are very expensive (sorry – it’s a Scottish thing) and I dreaded damaging the reef or divers below me. At no point during the whole incident did I think “Just go and hang on to the reef”
  5. I’ve also learned to keep learning, keep anticipating, keep training, and to keep enjoying my sport.
Thanks for taking the time to read this - hope it's helpful!
Dive3
 

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Thanks for your post, glad you were able to have another dive afterwards. Every day is a school day eh?
 
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