Monday, January 11, 2010

Needle in a Hay Stack

Last Sunday, I experienced one of the most rewarding diving experiences of my life, and it didn't come on one of the many spectacular reefs or shipwrecks around the BVI either. It happened on an 11 minute dive in 25 feet of water on a sandy, uninteresting bottom just outside of Trellis Bay. I recovered a diamond wedding ring that was lost off the back of a chartered catamaran the night before!

A couple contacted BVI Scuba Co. about the lost ring and asked us to try to recover it. Although we have plenty of experience on search and recovery jobs (and I personally love doing them myself), we explained that the typical lost object is a pair of nice sunglasses or a larger boat part and that the chances of finding a small, quickly sinking object such as a ring are remote at best, but we were definitely willing to give it our best effort and search for it until the sun goes down.

The reason the ring is so special is not because of its monetary worth (although it was a very nice ring), but because of the sentimental value attached to it. The stones in the wedding ring originally belonged to Kathy's grandmother, the were reset by Kathy's father into another ring with a clasp so that her grandmother could still remove it and put it on depsite her problems with arthritis. The ring was passed down through the generations and eventually landed on Kathy's finger as her own wedding band.

I arrived at the coffee shop in Trellis Bay to meet Bruce, who then drove me out to the catamaran in the dinghy with all my dive gear and tanks to start the search. I could already tell the loss was a big deal when every boat we passed asked us if they had found the ring yet and wished us all luck. I was definitely feeling the pressure at this point! After the whole party gave their best recollection of exactly where the ring might be, and I judged the wind speed, current, and how the boat's position may have changed since the previous evening, I dove to the bottom and quickly realized the chance of finding the ring is optimistically 1 in 1,000,000! There was a decent current on the bottom, the sandy bottom was very uniform and indistinguishable, and the initial search area was at least going to be about a 50 foot square.

I spent the majority of the dive making the most accurate grid possible with my compass and rubbish I found on the bottom (broom handles, snorkels, beer bottles, etc.), and was prepared to spend an hour or two sifting through the sand and employing making my best effort to find the ring. Suprisingly (or luckily you could say), within 2 kicks of from my northwest corner of the grid, I noticed no more than 1/2 inch of the rings clasp barely poking out of the sand. "No way this is it!" I thought. I pulled it out, it matched Kathy's description perfectly, and it sparkled in the sunlight coming down through the water. I was so excited that I literally laughed hysterically underwater. I knew Kathy would be absolutely elated too.

I casually made it to the ladder to the boat and started removing my fins and gear as I told Kathy and Bruce about the bottom appearance and my difficulty navigating with the current. Kathy's hand were around her mouth as Bruce asked me what my plan do next was. I waited til I boarded the boat to reply then said, "Well I'm not sure, it's going to be tough to find anything down there, but I did come up this pretty nice ring..."

The two families were sailing the BVI for a week, all close friends in Ohio and together because the two fathers were college roommates. Most of them were over in the dinghy at a dock near Marina Cay about 100 yards away, and rushed back saying they could hear the screams and laughter all the way over there! So after only 11 minutes in the water, we spent the rest of the afternoon celebrating and taking pictures and leaping off the boat, and I met some great new friends and a great story. It's such an amazing feeling to be able to recover something so valuable and sentimental for someone when the chances of finding it are like finding a needle in a hay stack.

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