Divers Below

Sea Anenomies

The Navimag Ferry, one of only two options for getting to Puerto Eden, arrives only a day late after grinding its way down for 2 ½ days from Puerto Mont. We have hired a local boat to meet it, as our dinghy will be too small to receive the cargo this time. To be retrieved this time around are the dive team who will be making a series of transect dives in Canal Martinez, some 100 miles north of us. Luckily for us the ferry arrives in daylight, a grand melee of local boats clusters around its massive stern door as it is lowered into the sea. From my dinghy I scan the ramp for new arrivals and there appears Mette and Aris from Huinay Foundation and Rodrigo from Buceando Chile along with the usual mountain of dive gear. It disappears on the cargo boat into the rain in the direction of Saoirse; I follow with the congenial team, chatting enthusiastically over the adventure to come. We will be the support boat for the dive team who will descend with scuba gear into the turbid depths of the fiord at as many and as varied points as we can manage over the next week. They will be toting a one metre square frame with a camera mounted atop it. Starting at 21m depth they will make their way to the surface taking 70 snapshots at prescribed intervals of the benthic fauna which attaches itself to the rocks below the surface. These photos are later sent to the lab for analysis. Sounds simple, eh?

The confluence of Rio Baker with the fiord system of Patagonia is a place of fantastic natural power. I have spent my life in these kinds of places, but the energy at work here surpasses most. Rio Baker surges its way between the heights of the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Caps, returning all the airborne water which has stacked up against the Andean mountain chain from the Pacific Ocean. This water crystallises into glacial ice and is now in the process of grinding the mighty Cretaceous-Miocene granites of the Patagonian Batholith into a fine rock flour which flows out into the abyssal profundities of Canal Baker and Canal Messier, reaching almost a mile deep.
On a human scale though, all this is a mere annoyance. All that glacial silt turns the water into a green milky soup in which the divers have to contend with zero visibility and numbing temperatures just in order to try to penetrate the top few metres and count the number of life forms which cling to the sides of the fiords.

The insane topography of these channels, and the weather conditions engendered by them is of course responsible for the extreme feeling and actuality of isolation encountered here. Truly, the sense of aloneness surpasses even that of Antarctica at times. Scuba diving is a well populated sport, but when the divers leave the surface here, their sphere of consciousness extends only to the distance between themselves, the tape that measures their progress across the sea floor and the searingly bright lights needed to penetrate the blackness of the water. Their life expectancy is limited to the availability of the next few breaths. Their lifeline extends to me on the surface, thence to Saoirse nearby, and ends right there. There is no other backup. This is what makes me focus on the bubbles of spent air which surface on each hour-long dive; so long as they keep coming in their regular pattern I have little to worry about. This lifeline in place, they are then free to focus all their attention on the job at hand, extracting the most productive work out of their next 1000 breaths as possible. Imagine then, if we all used this philosophy, all of our lives, how much good work could be done using each breath to its fullest advantage; to come to know the world.

I have a uniquely privileged place in all this, to be able to hear the first-hand results of the dive. Whoops and high fives indicate an abundance of beautiful things to see, though I myself have seen nothing of what they describe. A marked enthusiasm for getting back in the boat usually means that there was nothing much to see. This is not however a lack of result. In life, as in music, the pauses are every bit as important as the sounds which make up our experience of it.


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