That Time I Ran Out of Air in an Underwater Cave

I was in a cave, about 80 feet (25 meters) under the water when I realized I only had minutes of oxygen remaining.

My brain immediately went into overdrive, calculating how quickly I could ascend versus how far into the red my oxygen meter was already reading. To be clear, there was no panic (confabulation?), that would have only made things worse. There was the other realization that I was completely alone.

Let’s back up.

Being in a dark, underwater cave; alone and quickly running out of oxygen is not an ideal spot to be in. I’m an experienced diver. I know better than this.

The dive had gotten off to an inauspicious start when I had trouble equalizing my ear pressure while getting down to depth. All that time, I drifted in the fierce current sweeping around the windward side of Grand Cayman Island. By the time I got down to the sea floor, my group was gone. Gauging the general direction of the drift, I set out at a hard swim to catch up.

SCUBA diving is not swimming.

The exertion caused me to burn through a huge amount of oxygen finding my group. But find them I did, and the rest of the dive was amazing as we explored caves and rock formations. I was sitting there in a cave with 4 giant tarpon when it occurred to me I hadn’t checked my oxygen meter in a bit.

I was already red-lined.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

It wasn’t until I swam out the cave and looked around when I realized I was alone. The rest of the group had moved on and I couldn’t tell which way they’d gone. Taking another nervous glance at my oxygen count, it occurred to me it wouldn’t matter much telling someone I was running out of air if I, you know, actually did run out of air at that depth.

The seconds ticked by like years as I slowly ascended towards salvation.

As I broke the surface of the water, my respirator gurgled, unable to produce even a full breath anymore.

I smiled one of those “no-way-that-just-happened” smiles, spotted the boat a short distance away and started swimming for it.

Just another day in paradise.

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