Sunday, 29 August 2010

We knew we were in trouble when my photographer's dive computer started speaking in French

St Moritz Watch Company in British Columbia made a fatal mistake - they asked for a quick note from any watch owner who might have had their lives saved by a St Moritz watch.
(asking a writer for a "brief note" especially when there is a prize on the line is like asking a politician on the stumps to say a "brief word or two")

Companies that have products to sell that might not normally gain media traction often resort to holding writing or photo contests to get attention. With the advent of Facebook and other Social Media sites, companies can now contact hundreds of thousands of people who have an interest in your product.
Even when a company is giving away a significant prize, in 2010 they don'need any mainstream media coverage to justify the monies spent on getting their product in the public eye. St Moritz makes a great watch and as an owner I recieved an emailed invitation to send in a story about how their watch might have saved my life (or at least did something unique).
Well turns out, my analog watch did help me once when a computer technology let me down.This story won't mean much to people who don't dive. And it is long winded. But as a freelance writer who gets paid by the word .... and besides, there is a $5,000 watch prize at stake. Will let you know how it goes.
(I posted this here rather than my "stories published blog" because while being a true story, this is all about getting that extra 20 minutes of fame for a product most people in the world will never have heard of ... till now.)


My wife bought my first dive watch from St Moritz at Underwater Canada 29 years ago. St Moritz had sent only one person out to the now defunct national dive show and convention. My wife looked after the St Moritz booth every now and then during the 2-day show to allow for bathroom breaks. In return she got a great price on my first dive watch.
Two years later I traded it in, again at Underwater Canada. I got a Chronosport UDT. I still have it today, thanks in part to always making sure that St Moritz handled the servicing for my timepiece. Although to be honest, like the family's 100 year-old axe (when the handle broke in 1920 it was replaced, then the axe head was replaced in 1950 and the handle was again replaced in 1980) there isn't much, besides the bezel and the watchface that dates back to that 1988 dive show.
It was the all-original watch that saved my ass in the late 1990s.
As I remember it, this is how it happened. I was on assignment in Miami for Diver Magazine and was also helping out with a TV science show. We were looking at the city's artifical reef project. Miami was building reefs to help protect the fish stock and to give divers cool things to dive on. There were ships sunk, old army tanks were stacked onto the sand and even an oil rig was dropped on the bottom just off Miami Beach.
My photographer had his own TV show and as a result received a lot of new equipment that was, at the time, cutting edge and meant to replace all the old fashion dive gear things like pressure gauges, depth gauges and watches. Not all the prototype gear he received, made it into the marketplace.
The two of us - and 2 network cameramen - decided to use a new integrated kit that fed all the critical information one needs - depth, bottom time, decompression information and air consumption - into a single source. As an added feature of this (back then) experimental equipment, you could hear the basic dive information through a speaker that was attached to one's mask strap.
We went out to sea on a dive boat filled with students who were in training to become professional dive guides. The students didn't care about the terrible viz, the current or the wildlife - they had to get their underwater hours in as quickly as possible.
Our first dive of the day was an old oil rig. Our plan was to descend to 100 feet and film a pair of resident Mako sharks who fed on the reef eco-system that had grown up on this deep water artifical reef.
The current was ripping. We had to haul ourselves hand-over-fist down the line to get to the oil rig's platform. It was hard pulling ourselves down since we were all carrying a lot of lighting gear, video and still cameras. My three companions, anxious to shed as much gear as possible, went without a backup computer,depth gauge or watch. I refused to part with my St Moritz Chronosport and a waterproof NAUI dive table card.
All the way down to 100 ft my computer kept talking to me. Every 5ft it shouted out the depth. When I got to a cross-section on the submerged platform, I immediately, as is my practice, checked my watch. I noted the time and listened to the depth.
To get out of the way and to escape the current I waited on the leeside of the huge, coral covered leg that the anchor line was tied to. I watched the cameramen, fighting the current, as they pulled themselves down to my level. Behind them, coming through the gloom was a pack of dive students, pushing and crowding each other as they raced to get to where I hovered.
When my crew reached this spot of calm, I gave them the OK sign. I got two OK's back. The third cameraman wasn't happy. He was slapping the side of his head, he wasn't having ear problems he was having hearing problems, for some reason he had accidently set his computer to verbally give all readouts in metric and in FRENCH!
When it comes to shooting for TV, cameramen are expected to suck it up - sharks,ripping current and malfuctioning computers be damned. They decided, through a lot of gesturing that they would share time/depth information with each other. They began filming, while I did what I do best ... staying off camera and taking life easy. I watched the dive students getting blown off the artifical reef and then having to swim their hardest to get back to the shelter of the platform. I watched a pair of Blue Makos effortly swim against the rage and luckily into the frame of our videocameras.
About 15-minutes into my dive I realized my computer had gone silent. I had no idea of my bottom time, or how much air I had. I turned to my cameramen to tell them I was heading up. They weren't there.
I spotted them on ascending up the line a long swim away. Two of the cameramen were breathing off the same tank. The third was carrying most of the gear. One signalled that they were leaving me to make it up on my one.
They were swimming in a controlled,albeit rushed, fashion. Like me, their units had stopped talking - in any language - and their gauge was flashing zeros. One of the cameramen had drained his tank fighting the current, unaware that he was low until it became hard to breathe.
They were on the line, not sure of their bottom time, maximum depth or amount of air remaining. To make matters worse, a horde of dive students were coming up the line like a just launched space shuttle. Politness was not part of their playbook and they pushed and shoved my buddies out of the way as they too tried to decompress on the line, at exactly the same spot.
Meanwhile down below, with my watch and with my dive tables I planned my exit strategy. I swam three times my body length up the leg of the platform, giving myself more bottom time. I waited until the would-be-dive masters had cleared the bottom section of the line.
I made it to the rope and began pulling myself up towards the surface. I watched the second hand on the St Moritz to monitor my ascent rate. I kept my eyes on the divers overtop of me, and watched as they finished their enmasse stop at 15 ft. When they moved to the stern of the boat, I climbed up to where they had hung. I took a 5-minute stop, entertaining myself by watching the divers attempt a group exit onto the dive platform all at the same time. Just before I climbed onto the ladder my computer started talking to me again and in English!
Back in the boat my three buddies were reviewing what had happened. I was able to tell them that none of them had swam below me at the 100 ft mark. And I was able to tell them that their bottom time was less than 20-minutes. My St. Moritz hadn't saved their lives but it sure saved all of us from a lot of needless worries. It also stopped my buddies from looking for symptons of the bends in each other.
Our old analog kits were reclaimed from the dive bags. Everyone strapped on their wrist watches. We made a second and third dive that day using tables. It wasn't the last time in my dive career that I had a computer crap out on me - my St Moritz watch has never let me down and I continue to dive with it to this day (which reminds me I have to get the battery changed before I head out again)!
CUTLINE: My Watch. My Room. My Mess. 27-year old Chronsport UDT

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