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The Cayman Wall

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The Cayman Wall
-The author revisits the place where he overcame fear years ago and challenges himself to do it again.
[1,448 words]
Danny I. Spitler
-I am a successful business executive who is finally returning to writing after giving it up in College to pursue a business career. I travel extensively, hike, golf, and scuba dive. I live with Pam, my loving companion and fellow traveler.
[December 2000]
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The Cayman Wall
Danny I. Spitler

         It was late afternoon on Wednesday when the first pangs of apprehension hit me. An eighty-foot dive against the famous Cayman Wall. Suddenly the thought of being eighty feet under the ocean was frightening. The fear surprised me at first. I wondered where it came from.
 I had done it once before. Grand Cayman….when was it? Oh yes, 1983. A strange time in my life……sort of like now. I tried to remember what I had felt back then. I had spoken about it occasionally during the last 15 years. I had considered it the most thrilling dive I had ever made. Despite receiving my scuba certification over thirty years ago, at the age of eighteen, I have made very few dives…..probably less than a dozen since my college days. But I always remembered the "Cayman Wall."
 It was a beautiful coral encrusted shelf that lived in brilliant blue Caribbean waters 80 feet below the surface. However, it was also a ledge. A sheer ledge that dropped off into an abyss that was 5000 feet deep.
 Now it was fifteen years later. I was sitting on the deck of the cruise ship. We had been at sea for three days, and we were pulling away from Ocho Rios, Jamaica headed for Grand Cayman. Where was the fear coming from? Why was it here? I leaned back in the deck chair, closed my eyes and replayed that April day in 1983.
 I was thirty-four years old. Not a kid anymore, yet still very confident in my physical abilities. Still I remembered there was apprehension then too. I remembered the boat trip out to the dive spot, the jump into the ocean, and the first breath of compressed air from the heavy tank on my back. I remembered the slow descent down the eighty-foot rope attached to a sunken piece of concrete near the edge of the shelf. More than anything I remembered the tingle in my legs as I hovered at the top of the wall. It was as if I was standing on the edge of a tall building, looking down at 5000 feet of nothingness. Fifteen years later, I tried to relive that moment when I conquered the fear……when I pushed myself to float over the edge. I remembered my brain assuring me that I could step off the ledge, hover above the abyss, and come back to the ledge. It told me to follow the dive master over the edge and look at the wonders there were to see on the sides of the wall. Yet my legs tingled and my heart pounded. My instincts screamed to stay on the ledge.
 Then came the realization. The one that happens to men at various times in our lives. The realization that we really have no choice. We have come too far, and the voice deep inside speaks strongly and clearly….."DO IT." "DO IT NOW, or you will regret it for the rest of your life."
 I felt my legs start the kick. The fins pushed against the water and propelled me over the edge, and I looked into the dark green depths below. I waited to be sucked down by some unknown force. I waited. I pulled my eyes away from the abyss below me and looked at the sheer wall now beside me. I exhaled. I was OK. I was hanging, suspended, staring at the wall in all its coral beauty. Teeming with vibrant colors and fascinating sea life. Slowly, my heart rate returned to normal, the adrenaline subsided, and I filed the moment away in a corner of my being.
 Fifteen years later, nearing the same spot in the ocean, the fear began its work. It whispered little warnings. Little logical arguments. The fear said:
   "You haven't done a dive for over two years."
  "You haven't done a deep dive for almost fifteen years."
  "You are pushing fifty. Why do you want to do this?"
  "You aren't even familiar with the equipment any more."
 It worked. I was ready to bail out. I wandered down to the ship's Shore Excursion Desk to cancel the dive and to sign up for something more sedate. I was hoping that the desk would be manned by one of the perky young girls. One who would not question why I was walking away from such a great opportunity. No such luck. Behind the desk was Eric, the guy in charge of the dive and snorkel programs. First I ask if there was still some space available on one of the snorkel tours. Then I told Eric that I thought I might cancel on the wall dive, because I was concerned about the decompression aspects of the dive. He quickly informed me that they were timing the dive so that no decompression would be necessary, only a three-minute safety stop at around 20 feet prior to surfacing.
 I had not thought of a back up excuse, and I still possess enough testosterone that I was totally unwilling to admit to a case of simple fear. So, in typical macho fashion, I flashed my most confident smile and said, "Well then, in that case, no problem. I will see you at 8:00 AM."
 Fourteen hours later I was experiencing de ja vu as I found myself aboard the dive boat skimming across the glass-like surface off the coast of Grand Caymen's famous 7-Mile Beach. I began the self-talk. "OK kid, you are not 34 years old this time, but you are in pretty good shape. You just need to listen, remember, think ahead, get prepared. You can do this."
 We had three dive masters on the boat and eighteen divers so, for the wall dive, we divided into groups of six divers with each dive master. My group was with Tom, and I listened intently to his instructions, wishing that I had taken a refresher course several weeks earlier back in Phoenix. Tom and I, and my five fellow adventures, were the second group in the water. As we all prepared for entry, I raced through my mental checklist.
 Weight belt secure.
 Mask in place.
 Fins on.
 Air pressure at 3000 psi.
 BC vest partially inflated.
 Primary regulator in mouth.
 Secondary regulator clipped to my side if needed.
 I stepped to the edge of the boat, leaning forward to accommodate the 40 pounds of compressed air strapped to my back. I placed my left hand on the regulator in my mouth and bit down on the mouthpiece. My right hand covered my mask so that it would not be ripped off by my impact in the water. It was time. I stepped to the edge. I jumped.
 The cool 82-degree water hit my skin. I held the mask in place and the partially inflated vest bobbed me back to the surface. I sucked my first breath of compressed air through the regulator. I was OK. So far, so good. Tom and I and the rest of the group gathered at the buoy. We were all OK. Tom took the regulator from his mouth just long enough to say, "Lets Dive." I lifted the hose above my head that would expel the air from my vest and pressed the appropriate button. As the air rushed out of my vest the four 3-pound weights around my waist began to tug me downward.
 The first test arrived at 15 feet below the surface when I felt the first pangs of air pressure compressing my eardrums and sinuses. I pinched my nose, blew gently, and felt the relief of the needed air filling those cavities. My confidence leaped. My ears were going to be OK. I looked down. Lord, it was so clear. Over a hundred feet of visibility. The shelf was eighty feet down, but it seemed so close. I continued the descent. As I reached the bottom I checked my heart rate. Normal. I looked for the fear. There was none. The water was perfect. The equipment felt fine. Everything was working. There was beauty everywhere. My confidence suddenly soared. When Tom moved, I moved. We reached the edge of the wall. The abyss was bluer than I remembered it, but still there was no fear.
 There was no hesitation whatsoever, as I followed Tom over the edge. There was a smile surrounding the regulator sticking out of my mouth. My eyes strained trying to take in all the beauty that leaped from every square inch of the coral wall. Again I checked, and found no fear. There was just one scary thought. That was the memory of the day before, and the knowledge that I had almost canceled. What a horrible mistake that would have been.


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© 1998 Danny I. Spitler
December 2000

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