“If You Are Lucky, You Will Die.”
I was fortunate enough to be selected to dive in a location near the Red Sea. FAA Rules and Regulations state that compressed air is not legal to fly with. Luckily, there are dive shops of all different levels of sketch all over the world. This one wasn’t too bad, and we travel with a device that measures air and O2 quality, which we use once we leave the dive shop.
After our job was done, we had a couple of days to do some fun diving and enjoy our location. We decided to go on an hour-long scuba dive to explore an abandoned cargo ship and an old WW2 Era tank that ended up there somehow. Once we arrived at the dive center, we were greeted by a demure German lady in her 50’s. She was very sweet, but extremely difficult to understand. Since my hearing already sucks, I politely tuned her out but kept smiling and checking my gear to prepare for the dive until I heard her say, “If you’re lucky, you will die”. Suddenly, I was extremely interested in every word she said.
As she was putting on her wetsuit, she used a plastic bag over her hand to slide her arm into the sleeve of her wetsuit. She had a small, shiny metal wand which she took with her to guide us away from danger or towards points of interest during the dive. She had about ten different hand signals for us to learn in about 30 minutes. With the exception of the classic divers “OK” sign, I had never seen any of the hand signals before. The only hand signal I was genuinely concerned about was the one for stonefish, which is what she was referring to when she explained, “If you’re lucky, you will die.” Obviously one of the guys asked, “What if we’re not lucky?” She responded, “Zeen your arm or leg vil become svollen and purple and have to be rrrremoved”. Google stonefish after reading this. I’m glad I didn’t google them until after the dive. These are some of the most dangerous fish in the world and they’re almost invisible. They burrow themselves in the sand or sediment and have an excellent camouflage. They don’t attack humans, but if stepped on, they have an extremely sharp spine which emits a poison that can cause paralysis in minutes. That could ruin your day even if you weren’t 40 feet below surface.
Leaving the dive center, we were escorted into an old, rickety van, which almost had to be pushed and manually shifted into first gear to get going, but we made it to the dive location and left surface.
Like a graceful underwater orchestra conductor, our little guide shepherded us through the water like her little guppies. I couldn’t stop reminding myself of the hand signal for stonefish. It was a clenched fist like a stone. My worry melted as we swam to our first location, a giant cargo ship, which had sunk and rolled starboard from its keel. We finned across the deck and then through the skin of the cargo bay, there was a tight opening we had to cross. What I failed to remember is that this cargo ship was also a breeding ground for lionfish. I was completely immersed in them. I was freaking out but knew at that moment that my buoyancy control was vital. I was terrified but made it through the entire vessel unscathed. It’s not that I had never seen a cargo ship like this before, but diving all around one was breathtaking. It was like one of those big MAERSK ships you see, and the vis was a good 100 ft (30m). It was nice to just be in the moment without having a job to do.
After we had satisfied our curiosity of the grand cargo ship, we were directed to the surface to make our way to the next spot, the tank! We were all super excited; however, this is where the stone fish hung out, so I was extra cautious. As we approached the sunken tank, our little guide made a clenched fist and moved to the bottom with her diving wand outstretched. She dug her wand into the sand and up popped a little monster the size of a cantaloupe. There was the infamous stonefish. She made a hand signal telling us not to put our feet on the bottom. The beauty of diving is nonverbal communication becomes so effective. We snapped a couple pictures and got back to the van. We went back to the dive shop, had some coffee with the owner, and had a chance to thank him and our guide for the wonderful experience. It was a great day, and luckily, no one died.