Thursday, January 28, 2010

Night diving at the RMS Rhone

Scuba diving opens a totally new perspective on how we view ourselves in relation to our surroundings, so it would seem to be a natural direction to explore the water as the sun says its goodbye and as the moon really starts to glow. Actually, I would prefer to go on a night dive rather than a day dive. Why? Because at night, the sea is totally transformed and there are things underwater that you can only see at night. It's like seeing Times Square on New Year's Eve in NYC for the first time at night after walking around it during the daytime in the summer.
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A few days ago we had the chance to dive the world famous RMS Rhone, a mail-carrying steamer that sunk in 1867. This wreck is consistently ranked among the top wrecks to dive in the world and easily in the top 3 of the Caribbean. Colin and I made the dive on a clear Friday night with a great group of divers from Mississippi, whom we'd dove with several times over the years. Colin gave a great briefing as the sun set behind Salt Island, including the history and events leading up to the ship's eventual fate under the ocean, and we finally entered the water around 8pm.

The dive was absolutely fantastic. As we explored the outline of the wreck, we ran into several huge pufferfish, saw a lot of reef fish and their behaviors at night, and countless other really cool animals. The behavior of the fish on the wreck changes as the sun goes down, too! For example, a s toplight parrot fish will actually secrete a slime-like substance from it's mouth and coat itself in a thick layer of it, then lay on its side sleeping during the night. Also, the lobster and various crabs that are usually in hiding during the day can be seen curiously combing the top of the wreck for food using the cover of darkness to protect them. I actually had a huge hawksbill turtle completely sneak up on me while I was looking over the bright red and purple corals coating the Rhone's structure. I briefly looked down and his watermelon sized head was a few feet below my weightbelt buckle! A really fun thing to do, if the moon and tides are right for it, is to completely turn out everyone's lights for a minute or two. Let your eyes dilate and adjust to the darkness, and then flail your arms and legs wildly and watch them illuminate with the biofluorescent creatures surrounding you in the water. Everybody appears to have a surreal blue glow surrounding their bodies! You will also see all kinds of blinking and shining creatures floating around in the ocean around you, and it almost looks like stars in the night if you look out away from the group.

If you get the opportunity to make a night dive anywhere, but especially the Rhone with Captain Colin, seize it. A fe w things to remember: 1. Orient yourself with the dive site and pay attention to your briefing; 2. Pay particular attention to your dive buddy at night; 3. Carry a good dive light, then carry one more for backup. After that, enjoy your experience and keep your head on a swivel because you never know what you will see!

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