One of the first things our diving instructor said to us when I took my Open Water dive course in Koh Tao, Thailand was “make sure you know the local hazards, and watch out for them.” It seemed a simple enough statement. There wasn’t too much to watch out for.
“Sharks are scared of divers, so it’s unlikely you’ll come across one,” he said, “but you should watch out for trigger fish, they will definitely attack you if you get in their way. It’s important to remember this because once I took a group of Russians out and one of them stumbled upon a trigger fish nest. Instead of swimming back out of it like I had told him to, when a trigger fish started to attack him, he turned round and punched it in the face!”
This didn’t worry me. I wasn’t going to go around punching trigger fish, and I knew the dangers of touching things in the sea, so as we headed out for our last dive, I assumed I would have no problems. I was wrong.
Our forth and final dive of the course was to be at Chumpon Pinnacle, one of Thailand’s most famous diving spots. Like the name suggests, Chumpon Pinnacle is a rock pinnacle where the sea goes right down to 30m. As open water divers, we were only allowed to go down to 19m, and so we would be floating around the top of the pinnacle. The floating part was what I found rather daunting. Out of our diving group I was undoubtedly the worst at mastering the art of floating. For those of you who haven’t dived, you can adjust your body weight underwater using buoyancy control. If you get this buoyancy control right, you should be able to float exactly where you want, without sinking down or floating towards the surface. Despite having already done six dives, I still hadn’t mastered this supposedly simple skill, something I began to worry about as I jumped off the boat and into the water.
As I followed the anchor line down into the deep expanse of ocean I was amazed to see how many fish there were. Colourful swarms of them moved in every direction, and the visibility was excellent, I could see the outline of the pinnacle almost as soon as I got underwater. Eventually we got down to 19m, and we swam around the top of the pinnacle I saw thousands and thousands of sea anemones in vibrant shades of pink, covering the rock like a thick carpet. I vaguely remembered the diving instructor warning us that sea anemones can be poisonous, so I tried to adjust my buoyancy a little so that I could get further away from them. At that exact moment I felt a sharp pain in my ears and realised that something was wrong. I tried to equalize but couldn’t, and started panicking. In my panic I failed to notice that I was sinking steadily closer to the anemones, and when I finally managed to equalize my ears, I was almost touching them. I went to adjust my buoyancy again, hoping to float up and away from them, but pressed the wrong button, letting out the air from my BCD, causing me to sink right into the anemones.
The shock of the pain hit me instantly. The anemone stings caused a burning sensation on my skin. My knees were completely engulfed by anemones and they hurt. A lot. I swam upwards and away from the rock, clutching at my legs which were becoming increasingly itchy and painful. White lumps raised up on my knees and it felt like someone was sticking needles into them. When the dive finished and we got back on to the boat I was still in a lot of pain. My legs had swollen up and I was worried. I told my diving instructor what had happened and he pulled a face. That was when he said the last thing I wanted to hear. “I’m afraid that someone will have to pee on you.”
“What?!” I cried. “Pee on me? Are you joking? I thought that was just jellyfish stings!”
“It’s anemone stings too. It neutralizes it and stops the pain. Normally we would use vinegar but we’ve run out.
“Oh god! Pee? On my legs? Can I just wash it off right after?”
“No, it needs to stay on.”
I was aghast. We were at least an hour from the shore and I was sopping wet and on a small boat packed full of divers. I did not want to be siting around covered in pee for the next hour. I would be known as ‘the pee girl’ for the rest of the trip! I turned to my friend KK for help.
“What should I do?” I asked him.
“Well…” he said, pulling a compassionate face. “If you really want, because I’m your friend, I will pee on you!”
I looked at KK waiting for him to laugh, but he was serious.’Oh god,’ I thought ‘this is actually
happening’. But at that moment one of the other diving instructors managed to save me from what would otherwise have been a horrible fate.
“I’ve found some vinegar!” Called out a voice, and low and behold, there it was. Vinegar! My lifesaver! The diving instructor gave me a knowing wink as he poured it on to my knees. “Better than pee, eh?” he said.
The pain subsided about 15 minutes after the vinegar was put on my knees. But It took longer than 15 minutes for me to look my friend KK in the eye after his offer to pee on me! And I shall certainly be practicing my buoyancy technique some more before I do a dive like that again!
Have you ever had a diving mishap? Comment and tell me about it!