Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
April 26-29, 2002

I get seasick. I didn't used to. As a kid I used to revel in the rough ride on the bow of a boat in high seas. On the other hand, even a sideways glance at a written page in a moving car would give me a splitting headache and nausea. Nowadays it's all reversed. I can read in the car without any difficulty. And I'm a wreck on a boat. On seas barely moving, I can get really green. Eventually, I hang over the edge and bring it all up.

It wouldn't be a big deal, but now I want to spend time on boats. They are my gateway to the wrecks I want to dive. I could give a crap about reading in a car. Whoever authorized this swap, it wasn't me.

So, I don't have to tell you I was a bit trepidatious about going to North Carolina to dive off the Outer Banks. I took heavy-duty precautions. I got a prescription for the Transdermal Scop. I even got the FDA-approved electro-watch. I was cautiously optimistic with this double-barreled approach.

My traveling companions were Don and Jim. Don certified me as a diver almost 5 years ago. He also was one of my instructors for deco last summer. Don is an easy-going human who used to be a fish in a previous life. He exudes the kind of confidence that's almost beyond learning. He's a pleasure to be around and dive with.

Jim is an inventor. You probably use paper towels that incorporate something he worked on. A life-long explorer, he used to be a serious caver. He's always several projects ahead of himself. There's always something he's looking to do in the future, and his research is comprehensive. He sports a large, thick moustache that completely obscures his mouth. We call him the walrus.

I was in Don's back seat for the 8+ hour ride down. I'd awakened at 5am to get down to the shop for my nitrox fills. The trip began after that.

Jim and Don were catching up. Jim would muse about various dives in the mid-Atlantic region. Most were inland in, to put it mildly, unusual places.

Jim: You hike 3-5 miles in to a waterfall, and there's a hole there ...

Don: Why?

Jim was as ill-equiped to explain as Don was to understand. If the appeal wasn't self-evident, it couldn't be explained. This type of good-natured quarreling continued for hours. Then there was the anecdote about the real border of Maryland. Jim's exposition would occasionally become a bit esoteric. I followed, but was called upon to translate for Don a few times. A few other times I was asked to take sides. This I side-stepped.

We stopped once to get gas, and I bought an individually packaged donut. I was hypnotized by it. It actually was pretty good, although I believe I got lucky.

Now on Cape Hatteras, we stopped for dinner at a place called Hodads. Among the surfing-themed decor were a multitude of license plates from all over the world. Including an odd one from land-locked West Virginia: BCH BUM.

Our accomodations were rustic and new at the same time. A newly-constructed cabin that slept 6. No amenities inside. Like camping, only fewer mosquitoes.

Our call the next morning is at a civilized hour. Be at the boat for 7:30, leave at 8. The Bayou Runner is a well-setup boat. Her captain, John Pieno, is "one of the best divers I've ever known" according to Don (who has 20+ yrs experience).

We were at the southern-most tip of Cape Hatteras, but on the mainland side. To reach the ocean, we must cruise through the bay for just a bit. We were escorted by a pod of porpoises.

I half-napped for the 2.5 hour ride out to the Proteus. It lies in 130 of water. Jim and I were planning a moderate deco dive. About 30 min bottom time, about 15 min deco. That is, we would have done that, but the seas were too rough to anchor at the site. We cruised back in and dove the Dixie Arrow, a freighter sunk in about 90 feet. I stirred from my quasi-slumber and emerged to the fresh air to gear up. I felt fine.

And that was the last time. Very quickly I was nauseated. I decided to get it over with sooner. Usually I resist vomiting, but I'd been sick recently, and you could say it was my new hobby. Practice makes perfect. :)

Several people were sick. They weren't diving. The only thing that could keep me out of the water is not being able to gear up by myself. My own rule, but a common one.

I managed to get kitted up, but under the circumstances, Jim and I bagged on the deco profile, opting for a no-decompression, recreational dive. This was mostly b/c handling the stage bottles on the rolling ship would have been an adventure.

Seas were 3-5 feet, with occasionally much bigger rollers. The boat is 42 feet long. We were a big cork in a blender.

As it was, only 10 people of 14 dove. The surge was wicked. It was quite difficult to hold onto the line to the anchor line. Forget about holding onto the anchor line itself. You could really wrench your arm that way. We held it just enough to use it as a guide down to the wreck. Current at the wreck was minimal.

Diving was blessed relief. I almost forgot about the dry heaves.

We saw huge clouds of fish and the occasional shark in the distance. The wreck is mostly collapsed, but its superstructure is readily apparent. The huge boilers and stern are in the best condition. We circled there for the most part, cruised forward for a bit, but not as far as the bow.

Someone brought up a small shell and out of it crawled an octopus. A cute little one. We decided to throw him back in, but someone pointed out that he'd never survive the gradual fall down. So we put him back in the shell and let it go, good deed done.

I was done. As in stick a fork in me. I lay on one side of the dive deck, arms locked in the steel, head and shoulders over the side, letting it all hang out. I was a pitiful sight, but still managed to smile at folks. I suppose that's the only reason I wasn't tossed overboards as dead. I go into a semi-trance in these times. I withdraw to a safe center to preserve myself. I'm still responsive to the world, but I'm still and mostly quiet.

Except when I have to dry-heave for a minute or two. That usually provokes a grim sound.

Only 3 folks went in for the second dive. I saw one on the starboard exit step off and fall into the ocean just before a huge wave struck the side of the boat. That was both scary and funny.

Not long after, I got creamed by a wave after a particularly painful bout. At least it took my mind off my abs for a minute or two. I only had to exist in this intermediate state for a couple hours, but the sea has a way of slowing time down. From my vantage point I charted the perpetual undulations as it tirelessly clawed at us. As if adding our vessel to its collection would ease the loneliness since we left.

A diver returned from his second dive and announced that he'd found a cool shell. Yep, he'd managed to find the very same octopus-filled shell we'd thrown over hours ago. This time I got to hold him in my hand. His suckers, though tiny, were quite powerful. We repeated the earlier maneouver and wondered how many other dive boats would find him.

Keeping us company over the Gulf Stream were a pair of Tropic birds. They are a prized sighting for birders since they live their whole lives at sea. Their tail feathers were an unusual spoon shape. Seeing two together was reputed to be quite rare and auspicious. I watched them wheel and tear around after each other and wondered if they ever got seasick.

A cigar-chomping, balding stoic ex-military man from Virginia Beach announced that his "fun meter was pegged". We returned without incident.

The wind was so strong the next day that Capt John took his boat out of the water for maintenance. We toured around and watched some windsurfers on the bay side. A visit to the famous Cape Hatteras lighthouse included a brief glimpse at the surf. It was booming. Really big waves. A surfer wandered up the sands lazily. He fairly ran back to the car after seeing the magnitude of the water.

The windsurfers were mostly boring to watch, but one was pretty entertaining. He was the first in the water. About 16, he fiddled with his gear while standing in waist-deep water. Other windsurfers arrived and got going. Our man would fiddle, get ready, attempt to get going and fall. Every dozen attempts or so (about 30 minutes), would culminate in a series of hard blows delivered from his fist to the board, face agrimace. But after that, he was all concentration.

I don't know why I subject myself to these seasick fests. All I know is that mere hours passed and I was contemplating my next foray. And unlike other activities that I'm sure about, I'm not at all convinced that this is a good idea. Maybe I'm just a mountain guy, but just because I'm no good on the ocean doesn't mean I'm not drawn to it.