"Where Is The Boat?"

by

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

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A number of years ago, I took an advanced class up to northern Michigan for a day of charter diving. On one location, I suggested that the students run a box pattern as a good way to explore an unknown site. I had been on this shallow site (historically, a large dock, now submerged) many times and figured its relatively flat bottom would be perfect for this exercise. The idea was that each of the four students would swim for 50 yards using their choice of kick cycles or time as the distance-determining factor on a known compass heading, then the next student would turn exactly 90 degrees clock-wise and swim another 50 yard leg. So, each student swam one side of a square. In theory, we would return to the point of origin, the boat.  (As a diver, I prefer surfacing near the entry point to avoid long surface swims, particularly on hot, humid days.)

So, we went into the water with two side-by-side buddy pairs of two students each and I was in my preferred position just slightly above and behind the students. Everything appeared to run as I had planned. The students (all veterans of my navigation specialty class) appeared to flawlessly run the exercise. When we surfaced, we were about 75 yards from the boat. I was shocked and my students just looked at each other in dismay 'cause they all knew they had done their part. It was clear the failure to surface near the boat was disturbing to everyone.

Trying not to miss a teaching opportunity and attempting to minimize an apparent in-water failure, I asked one of the students to take a sighting on the boat and to lead us home. He took a bearing, we submerged and then swam back to the boat.

As we got on to the boat, the hazing began. "Harris, are all your students this inept?" How come they can't  use a compass? Were did you learn to dive? Are all agency X instructors this terrible?" etc. etc. etc. etc. My ego as a diving instructor was being severely stomped. As I tuned out the ribbing, I imagined over and over again the events of the dive as I remembered them. I had no clue as to the nature of the error we had apparently made. Not knowing the error was far more frustrating than the events associated with surfacing away from the boat. I admitted to the Captain that I had no explanation for our failure.

After about 10 minutes of some of the worst ribbing I have ever known, the Captain just grinned at me, winked and said, "Where's the boat?"  He and his divemaster then started to laugh as I looked to shore and realized the boat had been moved. (About 10 minutes into the dive, they had lifted the anchor and allowed the boat to drift until we had surfaced.)  

It had never occurred to me, that "my friends" might have moved the boat. I had been so mentally focused on silently seeking an underwater error to correct, that I had missed the obvious surface situation.

Then, saving our collective egos, he told us we had, indeed,  surfaced at the original position of the boat.

The points of this story are:

1. Sometimes surface conditions change while divers are submerged.. 

2. These changes may not have been anticipated.

3. When things in class do not go as planned, make the best of the situation.

4. Rather than make excuses for failure (and thus lose student respect and credibility), turn the incident into a positive teaching exercise.

5. Focusing on small details of a post-dive analysis might miss the big picture and an obvious solution to a problem.

and finally,

6. Choose your friends, dive buddies  and boat Captains wisely (g).

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About The Author: 

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 100 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America.

Addendum

This story is not intended to demean in any way the Captain of our charter vessel. He is a long-time friend and a much respected by me (and my students) as an instructor, boat captain and dive shop owner. I had been using his charter several times before this incident occurred so he knew both me and the general caliber of my students. I do not believe his prank endangered either me or my students, nor do I believe he would have moved the boat if he had felt it was a risk-increasing action. It was simply a good day of diving with a little fun at our expense. I have returned to his vessel many times after this incident.

Captain Jack has passed away. Jack, Rest In Peace and Thanks For The Memories.

  Copyright 2001-2022 by Larry "Harris" Taylor

All rights reserved.

Use of these articles for personal or organizational profit is specifically denied.

These articles may be used for not-for-profit diving education