An ordeal followed by wonder
BY LINDA FREEMAN
CORRESPONDENT | March 31,2013
DONNY OSMAN PHOTO
Janna Osman explores the undersea world off the coast of Indonesia.
In February, Janna Osman, Program Director for Professional Learning at the Stern Center for Language and Learning, along with her husband, Donny, elected to leave their home in Plainfield on a diving expedition in the waters of Indonesia. After a 30-hour flight, Osman, part of a group of 14 divers, four master divers and crew, boarded the dive boat, Komodo Dragon, to begin an unforgettable adventure.
On Feb. 25 in Indonesia, at the end of their rainy season, temperatures in the mid 80s, a balmy breeze set the stage for the first day: participants meeting, leaving the harbor of Denpasar in Bali, and beginning the 24-hour crossing to Komodo National park to enjoy dives with manta rays, to, as Osman said, “dive with the big guys.”
At 10 a.m. they boarded and by noon the others had arrived: Russians, Germans, Americans with an international crew led by a Brit. Under motor, they gathered for lunch at 1 p.m. that foretold the excellent quality of the Indonesian cuisine they would be enjoying. About 6 p.m. they met again on deck for their briefing that was ultimately abandoned due to the alarming increase in wind and weather conditions. All they could do was to hold on and hang out, tolerating a noxious diesel smell and seasickness. At 7 p.m. they were told that the seas were too rough to serve dinner and the best they could do was to hold on.
At 9 p.m. a bell rang to alert the need to put on their life preservers and meet on deck. “It appears the boat has lost its propellers,” they were told. Hollywood could not have scripted this any better. Here was the Komodo Dragon bobbing about uselessly in high seas complete with pelting rain while a call for help was delayed by Indonesian bureaucracy. An Indonesian search and rescue boat found them about 11 p.m. but “there was no comparison of this effort with that of the U.S. Coast Guard,” Osman said. What followed would be a comedy of errors, but it was not comedic.
“We were lying on deck with our life vests on,” Osman said, “in what must have been trauma bonding, a slumber party with people we had only known for five hours.”
The rescue boat was incapable of towing the disabled dive boat so a less-than-reassuring transfer of individuals began. Osman and her husband went first. In 9-foot swells, they unloaded two by two in a motorized rubber dingy, half-filled with water. “There was absolutely nothing safe about this rescue. I didn’t know if we would make it. It was terrifying.” When the dingy reached the rescue ship they had to wait for the sea to swell adequately to raise them up enough to pull them off. Though substantial, the search and rescue ship was an unappealing place to be as their crew, young kids seemingly 16 or 17 years old, suffered from seasickness.
From 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. the rescue continued, becoming more difficult as the seas separated the boats even more. The evacuation was neither seamless nor safe. Divers were injured and bleeding but there was no first aid available on the rescue ship. From 3 to 6 a.m. they traveled to port in Lombok.
Disembarking was problematic: no pier and a waiting press.
Next came travel by military transport truck to the first hotel they saw hours away. “Keep in mind,” Osman said, “that we hadn’t slept: 30-hour flight and then another day. We were completely depleted.”
It took two days for the Komodo Dragon to be tugged to port. Finally the trip was salvaged by rearranging the itinerary and beginning at the end, three days of diving in Tulamben, a photographer’s haven, macro diving using a lens on small things. The group split up with Osman continuing the trip including five days in Wakatobi, a famous dive resort in the Indonesian islands. Here they were diving on black sand, volcanic residue. “It wasn’t the diving we had anticipated,” Osman said, “but it was fabulous. Here the reefs are healthy and teeming with life.”
Ignoring the horror of their experience, one still questions – Why? Why travel to Indonesia, for one thing?
“The diving is unique,” Osman said. I’ve flown 24 hours to the middle of the Pacific to observe Hammerheads (sharks) being cleaned (cleansed of harmful organisms attached to them). It’s not just about diving, but watching behavior of indigenous fish and their habitat.”
“Diving is incredibly popular,” she said. Lake Champlain offers much to see underwater including relics of the Revolutionary War. “There’s too much training involved just for the feeling of neutral buoyancy,” Osman said. You dive because you are curious, you want to explore and observe. Underwater behaviors, habitats, critters and creatures fascinate you.
Online, the Divers Alert Network provides information on “safety, training, medical notes, publications and a plethora of diving to engage you in the sport,” Osman said. “The Waterfront Diving Center in Burlington offers excellent training. I trained to be a rescue diver so that I could problem solve under water.” You can dive anywhere on the planet, but in Vermont the opportunities are seasonal.
Osman has been diving for 11 years and 400 logged dives. “I’m only sorry for all the years of diving I missed,” she said.
Neutral buoyancy invites anyone to dive. Training and equipment must be correct. Osman dives with her BCD (buoyancy compensator devise) and a regulator that controls air pressure. The regulator is attached to the tank of compressed air as well as the back of her BC so that she can dive with the tank on her back enabling her to control or neutralize the pressure of air coming in no matter what depth. There is a mouthpiece and a mask that covers her nose.
“I think of diving as underwater yoga,” Osman said. “The more fit you are, the more control you have of your air.”
Osman wears a full-body wet suit. “You lose body heat over time, your core temperature goes down. I like to be warm. After three days of diving I add a vest with a hood.”
She uses fins (“don’t call them flippers”) and carries a small knife attached to the hose. “This is for entanglement situations, not protection,” Osman said. She also carries a safety sausage to inflate for visibility. “The diver bears responsibility for our own safety devices beyond what a dive master might have,” she said.
When you think of risks, you probably think “bends.” “Making sure you come up slowly to prevent decompression sickness is important,” Osman said. You don’t want to touch certain fish that are toxic. There is little concern for fish attacks. It is ill-advised to provoke fish or to appear to endanger fish protecting eggs. “You need to be respectful and pay attention to your environment. Then you are safe.”
If anxiety surfaces, “remember to breathe, stop and think,” Osman said. Dive with a buddy. A succinct rule is “Plan your dive and dive your plan.”
Returning to the original question Osman said: “It’s a privilege to be diving to explore the seas, rich resources to behold and honor. It’s a fabulous sport. What could feel better than being in a state of neutral buoyancy? That’s why you travel 30 hours.”