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Caymans, December 23, 2002

The Beauty of a Night Dive

the sunset is just the start to a night dive

nice, eh?
and so the day ends
good with coctail sause
turning on the red light
so soft yet so hard
her purple majesty
As the sun slowly set, I started to don all the equipment I would need to enter a space I've only know in daylight: the deep blue of the ocean. I put on my wetsuit, my weight belt, my tanks and BC, my mask, my fins, and finally, my dive light.

While I checked and double-checked my gear, I mentally prepared myself for what I though was going to be a tense personal situation. Usually, unless the water is very clear, I don't like diving in the daytime, for reduced visibility, like less than 50ft, makes me uncomfortable.

For a guy who used to surf shark-infested beaches without a care in the world, I'm a chickenshit when it comes to diving. Take me a dozen feet underwater in a murky ocean and I freak out, and I was expecting this dive to be no different, as our visibility would be restricted to whatever light our lamps could generate.

So as I entered the water, I could feel my heart speed up and my brow start to sweat (yes, you can sweat underwater too) that was until I started to sink down into the crystal clear water.

I became so relaxed, so calm, and so amazed at what my light revealed. There, swimming through its strong beam was a school of tarpon, one of the more primitive-looking fish, feeding on a school of smaller fish. Occasionally, I would catch a tarpon eye with my light, and a red laser beam would reflect off the fish's retina, giving the tarpon an even more sinister aurora.

Soon, we started moving along the wall of coral and rock, our lights like fingers of sight, probing the face of the reef for interesting views. From afar, the other divers took on an outer space feel, like we were inspecting the surface of some strange planet.

And at night, that is exactly what the reef looked like. Unlike during the day, when the sunlight looses its reds, oranges, and yellows in the shallow water, leaving the deep reefs to a boring blue-green motif, at night the white dive lights bring out vivid colors.

Angel, parrot, and trigger fish all regained their vibrant hues. Sponges, pale green in the daytime, turned bright red at night. And in the deep recesses of the reef, the red eyes of coral shrimp glowed like sentinels guarding the deeper mysteries of the ocean.

At one point, while I was focusing on coral polyps, which are open and feeding only at night, my light started to dim. Looking down to see if it were dying, I realized that a school of minnows were darting in and out of the beam, fascinated by such a bright light source at 60ft underwater.

They seemed to be one of the few fish out to play, for most were relaxing, if not outright sleeping among the rocks and coral. Only morey eels and lobsters were brave enough to wander along the bottom, searching for tasty bits in the dark night.

Personally, I was quite happy there that night. I wanted cry when the dive master signaled that we should start heading back to the shore. To leave that beauty, that serenity, was one of the few times in my life that I wanted to flout the rules of decompression and stay until the last breath came from my dive tank.

That is what diving should be about, the colors and the creatures seen in their true light, vibrant and full spectrum. I'll never look at a daylight dive the same again. Nor will I forget the beauty that is the ocean at night.

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