I had to fly out to Houston, Texas for a work dinner. It felt like a waste to fly all those miles for just a dinner... so I looked into dive sites! :) The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is meant to be the best dive spot in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, it’s a three day trip and I didn't have that long so instead I found a daytrip which took me on a decommissioned oilrig about 20 miles offshore.
I rented a car and off I went from Houston to Galveston. The drive was quite interesting; I obviously got lost and ended up in a village with signs that warned me not to take hitchhikers as they were likely escapees from the nearby prison. After a while I see a police car drive up behind me and put the sirens on. I switched lanes so that the police car can swish by to catch the next bad guy (or gal). But to my surprise it changed lanes too and was still behind me so I sped up and the car sped up I slowed down and then it hit me it wanted me to pull over! So I did. A big policewoman came out and told me to keep my hands on the wheel where she could see them. She told me off for speeding but let me go with a warning, it was clear I was clueless!
I finally arrived at the marina and was met by the skipper who went by the name of Capt. Al. He has a small fishing boat in which he takes diver to the rigs.
My dive buddies were a bunch of 4 Texan white males, who didn't know each other. Most with very little diving experience. The drive out to the oil rig was interesting as they were doing small talk. It was interesting as their small talk was exchanging hunting stories, gun stories and how the guy off the highway is great at skinning your game and making sausages for you. They also went into a lengthy discussion on shooting alligators and which brands of rifles are better... Needless to say I didn't contribute much to the conversation.
We got to the dive site and Capt. Al realized he didn't have a big enough BCD for one of his customers so he produced an ancient horse collar BCD! This poor guy on his first dive after his PADI Open water qualification was given this relic. It was a bit choppy and very hot so everyone was keen to get in the water. The skipper said we could just jump whenever we were ready. There was a strong surface current and Capt. Al had positioned himself downstream of the oil rig. So once we jumped in we had to swim like crazy against the current. As I was the most experienced diver I was buddied with the novice... Great! But I had just spent $250 on a dive - yup diving in the US is CRAZY expensive. The least I wanted was a break from diver-sitting. I did enough of that back home! Oh well. He seemed like a nice guy... so down we went. After about 15minutes, I checked my buddy’s pressure gauge and he had some amount in Psi, I had no idea how much that was in Bars but it looked like about a third of the tank. I signaled that perhaps we should go up as he was running low on air. He said no he had plenty. So I was like OK... maybe he has more than what I think, but I still decided to go shallower at about 6 meters and kept my eyes glued to his pressure gauge. I still had 170 bar so I wasn't too worried. When his gauge got to the red shaded area I signaled let's go up he complained a bit but eventually gave in and up we went.
Dive two Capt. Al learned from his mistake and positioned himself upstream of the oil rig! YEAY! Except that by then it was slack water! The dive itself is an artificial reef with big pilars sticking out. The visibility wasn't great it was rather milky and about 5-7m. The temperature was a toasty 30 degrees! But the reef was completely covered in batfish! They were everywhere and coming really close. Often they would bump into you. As it was so warm I didn't have a hood and my hair was floating all over the place like a medusa that just got electrocuted. If I stopped and stayed still, I could feel something that kept on tugging and pulling my hair, but I wasn't getting it trapped anywhere (Yes, my hair would be considered as a hazardous snag point!). Only after a while did I realize that it was the batfish that were nibbling and tasting my hair.
It was a very interesting experience: both culturally (yes, I know stereotyping isn't good especially after having been on one trip and having met a whole four people!) as American divers have different conversations than British divers (weather, visibility, dive sites and once they know you a bit better then peeing stories) and the dive itself was unique - nothing like I had ever done before.