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  1. #1

    Default On the value of just stopping, or how I almost didn't swim out today.

    Not really sure how to share this but today turned into a really bad day of diving.

    The day started out pretty well. I was scheduled to meet Silverhippy (Dominick) at 9:30 AM at Dive Outpost. It was to be out first dive since we finished our full cave class a few weeks prior. By the time I had arrived the day was looking up, I was going diving, the weather was decent, and the morning's news didn't tick me off. Great start I thought.

    Our plan was pretty simple we were going to swim up the Peanut line then jump onto the main line and swim back towards Olsen sink. We didn't plan to travel far past the jump, only a couple of hundred feet tops; I was looking for a cookie that I place on the main line some time ago swimming up the Olsen line. If we hit my cookie, I'd pick it up and turn the dive or hit 1/3rds; which ever came first.

    Gearing up I decided to use a different BC than my usual Nomad XT. It was a bastardized rig that consisted of an XDeep bladder and a DECCO harness. Looking back this was a little bit of a mistake, not a colossal mistake, but a little mistake never the less.

    The Xdeep stealth bladder doesn't actually attach itself to the harness, instead you bungee it over your harness and around yourself. In my case though I bungeed it to my harness and preferred the way that it rode. However, up until this point I had predominately used this setup diving in the Caribbean using AL80's and off my kayak using LP50's. My experience using it with LP85's in this configuration was limited.

    As we swam up the Peanut line I would notice that in the silhouette of my shadow my bladder was lifting up pretty high. It definitely wasn't Ragnorak, The End of Days, or an Armageddon level event. My trim, buoyancy, and propulsion felt pretty good, it was just annoying because I violated rule number 6; the looking good rule. It had never been a problem but now my tanks were a little heavier requiring a little more lift which in turn resulted in physics having a greater say in the matter and the bladder wanting to float upward. Damn you physics.

    This lifting bladder resulted in a distraction that I would naturally have to screw around with and try to adjust. Had I used some forethought I would have come to the conclusion that you really cannot seriously adjust something behind you...that's trying to float away from you...while you're underwater...in a cave. I came to that conclusion after I tried to adjust something...that was behind me...that was trying to float away...while I was underwater...in a cave. Now you'll understand why I had 3 sophomore years in college.

    Problem number 2 was my short hose regulator was breathing a little wet for some reason. I didn't consider it a serious hindrance at the time because I would just purge the thing every few minutes by sharply exhaling or hitting the purge button.

    As we hit the Peanut restriction I was getting a little annoyed at my regulator. Looking at my pressure gauge it was getting pretty close to switching back to my long hose regulator so I decided that I would drop a cookie, tie in our jump reel, switch regulators, then run the jump.

    As I did the reg switch I remember saying to myself "take this short hose regulator," then I put the long hose reg in my mouth ,sharply exhaled, hit the purge button and went to breath. What happened next did rise to the levels of Biblical Floods. As I breathed in I took in a mouthful of water, which cause me to cough slightly. I was able to control this while I hit the purge button to clear my regulator of water.

    As I took my next breath what ever it was that hit me, hit me hard. I could not get my breathing under control. I was now completely hyperventilating and over breathing my regulator. The more I tried to get control of my breathing the more I ended up loosing control of my breathing and trying to draw more and more air.

    I was hyperventilating and over breathing my regulator.

    Now I could feel panic wanting to set in. I literally wanted to be anywhere but 2000 feet back in a cave system underwater. So I did the only thing that I could do in that situation which was to stop and do absolutely nothing.

    I didn't mentally articulate that I had to break the cycle of panic but instinctually that's what I knew I had to do. Nothing was going to happen successfully until I calmed down and the only way to do that was to simply stop.

    So I grabbed the closest part of the cave wall, wedged my head up against it and pushed into the floor of the cave with my feet. I was literally standing there just trying to breathe.

    For the first minute or so my mind was 100% completely occupied with the situation. I was over breathing my regulator...2000 feet back in a cave...I absolutely wanted to be somewhere else...and I still can't breathe. So I decided to do what I do best which is to think of stupid stuff. Some of the things that I was forcing myself to think about:

    "How cool would it be if my dog could learn how to drive a car?Man, we could go on a road trip and she could drive and when we'd get to our destination I'd be well rested and refreshed. Vegas, we should totally go to Vegas."

    "What aren?t all our fingers the same length? It really seems to me that they should all be the same length."

    "What the hell is nougat?"

    Yes, these were some of the things I was forcing myself to think about. And they seem silly and dumb and completely antithetical to the situation that I found myself in, but the reality is that they needed to be. I didn't need any thoughts, or feelings that were related to what was going on, they had to be completely removed from the event at hand.

    After a few minutes of this things began to subside and I found my mellow. I gave the signal to Dominick that something was wrong, and thumbed the dive. It was pretty much at this point that both he and I realized that 2000 feet is a long freaking swim.

    By the time we had swam 300 feet back towards the exit everything was 100 percent completely and totally normal. My breathing was perfectly fine, I was totally calm, and one with the universe which was a good thing because there was 1700 more feet to go.

    In retrospect there are a few things that stand out. I was distracted by my BC woes that I didn't realize that the Venturi switch on both my regulators were in the close position. I think this was why I was getting a little water in them.

    Secondly, I don't think this was a panic attack. Having been a professional Mountain Biker in my Mid 20's thru early 30's I?m pretty attuned to what my body is doing. That attenuation became hyper focused about 5 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer. Focusing on my thoughts, stress levels, and physical well-being has pretty much become second nature.

    Additionally, reviewing the criteria for a panic attack I exhibited none of the symptoms prior to this. There were no feelings of foreboding doom and gloom, no sudden feeling of terror, no feeling like a loss of control, trembling, numbness, chest pains and the like?. Suddenly I just started to hyperventilate and felt my fear level spike as a result but that was pretty much it. I had none of the other symptoms that are associated with panic attacks.

    Personally, what I think happened and I'm sure a lot of you will disagree with me was that I wasn't producing enough carbon dioxide or off gassing enough and went into Hypocapnia with the regulator issues triggering the event when it did.

    Many thanks to Dominick who stood by dutifully while I went thru this.

  2. #2


    Glad your ok dude!

  3. #3


    Hey man,

    You looked fantastic through the whole process. Seriously, from the outside no one would have known (including myself and I was there) that you were freaking out inside. I did the math and we were covering about 62.5' per minute which is way too fast. Combined with what you just said about the venturis, I am fairly certain you just experienced Hypocapnia which can be absolutely terrifying ( I had my terror ride back in the 90s: overexerting, breathing wet, and stupid deep air). I just stayed on the end of the Peanut line with my light on you watching. I could tell you were breathing and didn't want to aggravate the situation. After a minute or so, I decided to give it 30 more seconds before I swam over to intrude and check on the situation closely. Right as I counted down to 30 is when you started moving around again and gave me the something wrong signal. Really glad you did the right thing and just came to a complete stop and managed to let the scary stuff go away. You did a great job handling a really screwed up situation 2000' back in a cave full of water. Next dive, I'm setting the pace

    Dominick Gheesling

    Hike your own hike.

  4. #4


    My plan, when and if I find myself in a similar situation is to start humming the theme to Star Wars in my head.

    Dominick Gheesling

    Hike your own hike.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    St Petersburg, FL


    I cant imagine a closed venturi led to wet breathing. Though I could be wrong. I have dove my regs with the venturi closed (or predive in scubapro terms) for 15 years.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  6. #6


    Thank you for your story and honesty. It can happen to any of us.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


  7. #7


    Quote Originally Posted by rddvet View Post
    I cant imagine a closed venturi led to wet breathing. Though I could be wrong. I have dove my regs with the venturi closed (or predive in scubapro terms) for 15 years.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Exactly what I wanted to say. All my venturi are closed, as I don't like the feel of gushing air with each breath, and have no problems with regs breathing wet. Maybe your exhaust valve or diaphragm are not sealing well. One thing you may need to do (if not doing already) is to switch regs after an inhalation, that way you clear the new reg with the air in your lungs as you exhale, not by purging.
    And while you are probably correct about hypocapnia, I'm sure you were producing enough carbon dioxide, you were likely just breathing fast, and that causes hypocapnia.

    Glad you're safe!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    East of the Mill Pond


    Had a similar experience a few years ago when making a reg switch after dropping stages and scooter.
    In retrospect the reason was a temporary feet up position and like you the only way to get a reg to breathe without water was to change my body position back to a neutral trim.
    I had four regs to switch to and all of them were suddenly breathing wet before I corrected my body position.

    Sent from my SM-G955F using Tapatalk

  9. #9


    Thanks for sharing your experience and well done when dealing with the incident. I have had some CO2 build ups when bombing down on deep wrecks and forgetting to breathe properly - not pleasant and very stressful. Deep inside a cave must be ten times worse.

    I remember reading in "Basic cave diving" that Sheck wrote about trying to think happy, humourus thougts when dealing with panic build up so obviously you have learned from the best. Maybe someone can share the phrase from the book?

  10. #10


    Jerry, good job on remaining calm. One thought that goes through my mind is the potential for a laryngospasm from the wet regulator. I've had one experience with it when an exhaust T mushroom valve cut loose and I inhaled a bunch of water, and it was uncomfortable at best.


    Regardless of the original cause, great job on remaining calm and sharing this story with others.

    (ps - I didn't know you had been a professional mountain biker, still ride?)

    Ken Sallot


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