The Sea Turtle That Saved Her from Drowning

Fear overtook her when a strong current carried her away—until God sent her a sea angel.

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An artist's rendering of a sea turtle gliding along underwater

Two more dives. That’s all my husband, Larry, and I had left in St. Lucia. We’d spent a week here in paradise. It was almost time to go back to Kentucky. Almost, but not quite.

“What a gorgeous day!” I said as we boarded the dive boat. On the agenda was viewing a wrecked ship plus whatever tropical life we’d encounter: fish, coral, maybe even some sea turtles.

“Look who’s here.” Larry pointed to another couple waving to us, the Brits we’d sat with at dinner the night before. They were novice divers who wanted to hear about the hundreds of dives my husband and I had done between us.

“Everyone buddy up,” the dive master announced. “Two by two.”

Our new friends turned to us. “What do you think of the four of us all buddying up together?” the man asked.

“The four of us?” I said. “I’ve never done that.”

The buddy system is an important part of scuba diving. Buddies were aware of each other at all times, sharing responsibility for their safety, keeping track of how long they’d been underwater and periodically signaling to check air pressure.

Our new friends seemed disappointed by my hesitation. The woman, especially, appeared really nervous. “I’d feel a lot better with experienced divers looking out for us,” she confessed.

I felt selfish for not wanting to share my expertise. How could we turn down a chance to help them have the best experience possible?

“I suppose it would be okay,” Larry said.

The boat took us out to a spot above the wreck. “We’re dropping a dive line,” the dive master explained. “It will attach to a dive buoy that’s attached to the wreck itself. There’s usually a bit of a current around this site, so when you drop into the water, follow the line straight down to the end. You’ll spend no more than 15 to 20 minutes around the sunken ship. You should return to the surface with at least 500 psi—meaning 500 pounds per square inch of air pressure— in your oxygen tanks.” She gave us a few more safety instructions, reminding us to pause on our ascent to allow our bodies to expel dissolved gas, then had us gear up and get in line for the dive. The instructions were thorough and clear for beginners like our buddies.

Larry and I went to the back of the boat, entered the water and swam to the buoy line to wait for our turn to descend. Our British friends followed behind us. “See you at the bottom,” Larry said when it was his turn. He sunk below the surface.

I moved up next. “Could you hold on a minute?” the dive master said. “I want to put the newbies between you and Larry.” I wished my new friends luck, and down they went. “You’re up,” the dive master said then. “Just follow the line down. You won’t have any trouble.”

I started my descent. This is the murkiest water I’ve ever been in, I thought. Even the lakes in Kentucky are clearer! But the murkiness wasn’t my biggest problem. The current pushed me, pulled me and spun me until I felt like a load of laundry in a spin cycle. I lost sight of the dive line. I didn’t even know which way was up. Instinctively I looked for Larry. Wherever he was, he was probably focused on our new friends and not me.

I should never have agreed to that buddy system, I thought. But there was nothing to do about it now. I was on my own. Follow your bubbles, I told myself. That would lead me back to the surface. I stopped moving entirely, took a deep breath and exhaled. A stream of bubbles rose before me, and I followed closely behind them for what seemed like an eternity. Finally there it was, like a sheet of aluminum foil: the ocean surface. I paused, letting my body adjust, then added a little air to my buoyancy compensator to help me float in my gear. I surfaced.

In the distance I saw the dive boat and waved. The dive assistant waved back, but signaled he couldn’t pilot the boat over to me right away. The other divers were still in the water with the dive master. The boat couldn’t be moved until they were aboard, so instead the assistant stripped down to his bathing suit and dived in.

What a relief! Somebody was coming to my rescue! All that spinning and disorientation had left me shaken. I wanted to get out of the water as soon as possible. The dive assistant was a big guy—and strong. He’d clearly been swimming these waters all his life. But no matter how powerfully he swam, he wasn’t getting any closer. The same currents that had disoriented me held him back. He gave up and returned to the boat.

Oh, no, I thought as I watched him climb on deck. How long did I have to wait here? How far away could the current carry me in that time? Behind me was the curve of a rocky cove. Beyond that, I knew, was open water and Venezuela in the distance. Was I going to wind up there? I didn’t even have my passport! I tipped my head to the sky. “God, this current is under your control,” I called out. “Help me!”

I lowered my eyes back to the water and gasped. There in front of me was a sea turtle. Where did you come from? I hadn’t even heard it surface. The sea turtle was close— closer than wild sea turtles usually got. Even stranger, it didn’t dive back under again when it saw me. The two of us remained floating there, face to face. Looking into the turtle’s big droopy eyes, I relaxed. My anxiety dissipated. My fear disappeared. And not just my fear of this situation. It was as if every fear I’d ever had was gone. I’d never felt such complete and total peace.

“God, thank you for sending me this friend,” I said. “But I also wouldn’t mind some Jesus with skin.”

The prayer had barely left my lips when I heard the sound of a motor in the distance. The turtle heard it too and he disappeared under the surface. By the time the fishing boat got to me the turtle was long gone. The fishermen brought me back to the dive boat, and the panic I’d felt during my ordeal came rushing back.

“I didn’t know what happened to you!” Larry said when I climbed aboard. “I had my hands full with my two buddies. One of their regulators wasn’t working, and I had to do some buddy breathing. I knew you could take care of yourself, but when I realized how long we’d been separated…”

“You think you were scared,” I said. “I’m never diving again.”

I was serious. Never again. Without that sea turtle beside me, the mere thought of going under the surface scared me. But Larry wouldn’t let me give up. He spent the rest of the morning trying to convince me to give it another try. “You can’t let that one bad experience be your last memory of St. Lucia,” he said as we got to the boat for the afternoon dive. “This is a drift dive. The boat will follow the divers the whole time. There’s no flipping and splashing, just drifting along a coral-covered wall.”

Finally I agreed. “But I want to be the last diver in the water,” I explained, “so I’ll be closest to the boat.” I didn’t want to have to ask God to send another sea angel to my rescue.

I sunk down into the water and descended to the recommended depth. The current was easy, the scenery beautiful. Fish darted around us. I was glad Larry had talked me into coming for one last look at St. Lucia’s underwater world.

A stretch of rainbow-colored coral caught my eye. I watched a shadow move across it. A shadow moving behind me. I turned my head.

It was a sea turtle, in all its glorious, gigantic beauty. I waved excitedly to Larry, who grinned widely. The turtle swam right alongside me for the entire dive. And this time, I hadn’t even asked for an angel.

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