Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#303: Tying the Knot... Down Under

Although my research and educational work takes me underwater frequently, it is usually a lonely activity since I dive solo to focus on my subjects and video taping. However, one of the joys of SCUBA diving for me has been the friendships I've made during my "surface intervals." I've met a lot of divers at the Casino Point Dive Park and in the years I was on board SCUBA Luv's King Neptune. Many of them have valued my role as a marine life ID "ex-spurt" (former little drip), since one of my goals is to further enrich the dive experience for divers, as well as to expose non-divers to the wonders of the sea that surrounds us here on Catalina Island. There are even a few who have appreciated my "unusual" sense of humor.

This past weekend highlighted two of those friendships when divers Mark and Mina came down to the island to "tie the knot" (and I'm not referring to a bowline or a square knot). A few months back, Mina came down to stay with me so she could plan the wedding and we could get a few dives in. She asked if I would video the underwater ceremony and how much it would cost, but I said I'd do it as my wedding gift to them. Early last week I was really anticipating the event with excitement as I knew it would be a lot of fun.

Last Thursday we gathered at the dive park for the underwater ceremony. I filmed the guests topside as they prepared for the dive, and minister/dive instructor Tim Mitchell of SCUBA Luv who gave the dive briefing and would officiate at the ceremony. Three of the guests had recently received their SCUBA certifications so they could participate. Mark wore a white shirt and tie over his wetsuit and Mina donned a long white veil. Several of the male guests descended with ties and one woman had a very colorful skirt over her wetsuit. Since this was a blessed occasion, I wore my "holy" wetsuit since I would be filming... and therefore off-camera.

Once all the divers had descended, Tim got everyone positioned while I filmed the guests. Since vows cannot be spoken underwater without very expensive full face masks and communications equipment, they are usually done by writing on a diver's slate. Conditions were not ideal as bat rays were stirring up the sediments in the park and visibility had dropped. This required me to get in closer to get decent footage.

Fortunately the divers were very good about not imitating the bat rays, so visibility did not decline further. One of the occupational hazards of filming an underwater wedding are the bubbles from the divers' regulators, but I could generally get a clear shot with this group. Another dilemma is the problem of wedding crashers. I'm not talking about the likes of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. However, there were hundreds if not thousands of "uninvited" guests in the form of kelp bass, garibaldi, sheephead, rock wrasse, señorita, halfmoon, and opaleye. They kept swimming in front of the camera, ruining scenes I was filming... but occasionally making them more humorous as well!

Tim held out the slate for Mark and Mina to affix their "I do's" to, and then another slate created by Mina to pronounce them husband and wife and tell them to kiss (as if they needed an excuse). The regulators came out of their mouths and they rubbed masks as their lips met... very romantic! Because rice can expand greatly if ingested by fish underwater, it is not used in such ceremonies. Instead, there were many bags of frozen peas and other vegetables to release. It was at this point that the "uninvited" guests became the focus of the ceremony as they swarmed around the divers gulping down the goodies.

Suddenly the wedding became rather hysterical as Mina's long white veil acted like a fish net, trapping kelp bass inside it. Tim and Mark made sure that the undersized fish were removed and released. Even the legal fish were granted their freedom since Mina had already made the "catch of the day" and the limit on that is just one! I'm not sure she had a fishing license, but know she had a wedding license! When we played the edited video for the non-divers at the topside reception, these scenes elicited roars of laughter from the crowd and many requests for copies of the DVD.

Since we weren't entirely certain an underwater wedding was legal above water, Mina and Mark had a beautiful topside ceremony officiated by Ann Marshall. Many of the guests were dressed to the hilt, but Dr. Bill attended in a "Hawaiian" shirt (with golden Chinese dragons on a blue background in honor of Mina's family). I sat with the lovely Valerie, another diver I met when they all visited a few years back and an occasional dive buddy. Her eyes are mesmerizing and when the four of us were photographed under the wedding arch, I suggested a double wedding. Fortunately, Valerie was too smart for that, and I think her boyfriend would have strongly objected... if he wasn't in France at the time! Both of us teared up a bit when one of Mina's aunts read a poem in the original Mandarin, then as translated into English by Mina's mother.

None of the fish attended the topside wedding ceremony or reception. Hmmm, on second thought, there was a fantastic cioppino with a number of marine species I could identify both by sight... and by taste! I was seated at a truly international table with two guests from Hong Kong, two originally from India, two from mainland China and two from the US. Mina's father, a distinguished doctor from Hong Kong, sat next to me and we engaged in a wonderful and very intellectually satisfying dialogue during dinner. The rest of the table joined in with some of the conversation in Mandarin, Cantonese or Hindi. Topics ranged far and wide, but one important focus was on the upcoming presidential election here. Following the reception, many of us ended up at El Galleon for karaoke.

So a friendship begun during a dive trip a few years ago evolved into a wonderful event to celebrate. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of my friends' special day and there were so many wonderful folks to talk with and share the experience. Although we weren't seated together, I had a number of opportunities to talk to Mark's parents and family during morning coffee at C. C. Gallaghers and an informal dinner at the Descanso Beach Club. All my "best fishes" for the future, Mark and Mina!

© 2008 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

Mark and Mina "tying the knot" under water; kelp bass caught in Mina's veil;
Mark, Mina, Valerie and myself at the topside ceremony
(image courtesy of Tim Mitchell).

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2008 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia