Deeming himself a dive master, John
Davies hung his credentials on the warped door of one of Roatan's
many leaning sheds. An Aussie transplant, Davies had come to
Honduras for a big dose of easy street.
But easy street can hold
the occasional pot-hole. Island living and its excesses had not
been kind to Davies. Wear and tear showed up in his enhanced girth,
deep ruts along his face and the constant hack of tired
Still, Davies was
hanging in there, and he'd achieved some notoriety in local
circles. He was a force on the barstool, and his ability to go deep
and stay down on limited air was widely respected.
But Davies' skills did
not translate well to the surface. Without tanks or fins, he was a
little edgy for my taste, reminding me too much of the lost pilots
of the Telluride Air Force, a group of hang-gliders spaced out
after too much time with too little air.
We crossed paths only
because my new job required a dive certification. Davies was
inexpensive, and apparently a damn good diver. He opened our
sessions with a bizarre warning.
"I've been diving on
everything from pot to heroin. I don't recommend any of it. There's
enough already down there."
My first trip underwater
with Davies lent credence to the warning. There was no need to
alter the mind. The drop beneath the greens of the Caribbean
surface opened the doors on its own.
Wonder filled my eyes,
and the colors, shapes and creatures seemed to laugh at the hard
realities of the surface. After a few moments, the tempered glass
seemed to vanish. Hoses and tanks became barely noticeable. It was
sponges stretched well overhead. Clown fish danced between the
venomous tentacles of anemones. Green morays twisted effortlessly
through the deeps, presenting fearsome appearances but little
A look over my shoulder
revealed the euphoric Davies. He hung there suspended, barely
tapping into his tank, hardly breathing. I assumed he was sharing
these sights, pretending it was also his first time down. Closer
inspection revealed that his eyes were sealed shut, a wide grin
surrounding his regulator.
We spread that euphoria
through the rest of that week, visiting a handful of reefs, diving
on a wreck and reaching a low point of 80 feet below the surface.
We schooled ourselves in the dangers of nitrogen narcosis, the high
(or low) that lingers in our tanks, learned about the horrors
associated with going too deep, drank warm rum and feasted on
During those salad days,
I was specifically warned about the "Call of the Wall," the
mysterious urge to follow a reef's edge to the bottom. The draw was
allegedly irresistible, steadily pulling hapless souls down into
the ocean's emptiness. Strong arguments against the urge included
tales of divers summoned by the call only to run out of air. There
they stayed, weighted down by lead, likely grinning in that watery
grave for all time.
A couple days later, we
closed in on the edge of the wall, a vertical fall that dropped
into the blue-black of obviously extreme depth. Habit had me poking
around near the top, checking out the reef's crannies. But I was
also beginning to burn out on the top. Sponges and eels had become
too common. There was mystery in depths.
Approaching the edge of
the wall, I figured I could safely descend to 80 feet and satisfy
the urge. Blowing out my air kicked off the equivalent of an
underwater free-fall. Allowing my arms and legs to twist and flail
with the descent, I intently watched as that wall passed by. I was
crashing in slow motion, falling to the next level in a steady
descent through dark and colder waters.
Sheltered in a bubble of
safety, I became comfortably obsessed with that trip down.
Constantly watching the wall and the bottom, I neglected my
The bubble burst only
after Davies came into view. Dropping rapidly, his eyes were no
longer closed, the wide grin was gone and his finger was tapping
his depth gauge.
I caught on quickly and
looked at mine 130 feet and still dropping. Wake up! My eyes,
attention and momentum rapidly shifted toward the now distant
Back on the surface,
Davies helped me unshoulder my then-empty tank. Fully expecting
harsh words, I hung my head and began to apologize. There was no
need. Davies was grinning again.
"You got a little taste
of the deep there," he laughed, as he handed me my
As I eyed the card,
Davies added, "Say, why don't we go diving some time?"