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The helicopter’s speaker barked. Well I wasn’t afraid to die, but I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I kept my arms down. My buddy, however, had no such qualms and waved his arms frantically.
I was very familiar with Point Dume, having been diving at this place many times. As usual we drove down the Westward Beach road as far as you can go toward the point. Then we suited up- full wetsuits, masks, weight belts, fins, tanks. Rick and I trudged across the sand and clambered over the rocks to the tiny beach called Dume Cove. We timed our launch through the surf between the waves and began the 200-or-so-yard swim out to the breaking rocks where we would linger and enjoy the wildlife, the beauty and the serenity.
  We swam on the surface breathing through our snorkels to conserve the air in our tanks for precious bottom time. We flipped over, swimming on our backs part of the way, for the rest it gives some muscles. My buddy, Rick Covell and I were both members of The Whalers, a local dive club, as well as co-workers at a graphic design studio. Sometimes we would shoot underwater photography, or spear fish. This time we were just out sightseeing.
  Our destination was a craggy group of rocks that rises a few feet out of the ocean at low tide. Awash with mussels, starfish, anemones, crabs and other wildlife, it’s a very cool place to experience the ocean. We were very near the rugged rocks when I noticed a strange thing. The rock seemed to be sliding quickly away to our right. We kicked it in gear and swam: hard, fast, steady. We were right next to the rocks, almost close enough to reach out and grab hold, which was our notion, but not close enough. They just slid right by us about as fast as a dog can trot. The current had picked us up, embraced us and was taking us for a little ride. Already we were a city block away from the rocks. We were headed out to sea so we pulled out our snorkels so we could talk and cracked open our hoods so we hear each other, and conferenced. I told Rick, “Let’s see if we can get under this.” He knew what I meant. The current was a river of water moving rapidly through the ocean, faster than we could swim. Often a current is only on the surface and can be escaped by getting under it. So we headed straight to the bottom where I hoped there was no current, planning to follow my compass back to the breaking rocks. In other words, we’d simply swim under the current. This has worked several times in the past.    
When we hit bottom at 35 feet deep, it was beautiful. The sunlight sparkled off the golden sand that was flying along several feet off the bottom in the violent current. We instantly realized this would not work. We were being pushed and pulled at the same time; skidding along the sandy bottom at a very rapid rate. It felt like a roller coaster, or a slip-n-slide. It was great fun, but not helpful.
By the time we surfaced and came back together again, we were much farther out to sea than we would prefer to be. We were not alarmed or in danger, but the situation was beginning to become inconvenient. We picked a heading and began the long laborious kick to shore, only we were getting farther away, not closer. A mile and a half out? Two miles? Easily.
A helicopter approached, hovered above us and blared, “Raise your arms if you need help!”
“Not me. I know I can make it.” I said.
You should have seen the look on Rick’s face! He waved his arms like crazy. The helicopter left without another announcement. We continued our watery crawl, swimming ever toward shore. We knew from experience that eventually we would escape the current and swim in to shore.
Out of the distance in the east came the white and aqua colored L.A. County Lifeguard boat. I guess the helicopter radioed them about us. Soon the boat pulled up next to us and the men very cordially invited us aboard, “Need a ride? Come aboard!”
But by this time we had exited the current and were only yards from the breakers at Paradise Cove Pier, ready to make our hard-won landfall. I didn’t want to be robbed of this, after all that effort. So I said, “No thanks, we can make it from here!”  Sensibly, the boatman quipped, “Yeah, but where’s your car?”
Good point. My truck was miles away. Besides, it was beginning to get dark. We had been out for hours. And the roads, including PCH from Paradise Cove back to Westward Beach were we had parked were not short or straight.
You know, that boat had a very nice swim-step. Very convenient. I treasured the moment before climbing inboard. I immediately apologized to the skipper and deck hand for putting them to this trouble. They were very gracious and put me at ease right away. “Don’t give it a thought,” he smiled. “It happens all the time. Because of the geology of this place, when that current picks up, it just snorts right through here!”
I answered, “You’re telling me! By the way,” I asked, “How did you know we were even out here?”
“Oh,’ he said, “some people up on the cliff spotted you.”
We could just see them, ant size, from the boat. Or could we?
Secretly I was glad that Rick had raised his arms. It would have been a very long walk back in the dark. Then we would have still needed to double back and pick up our gear from Paradise and we were already hungry. We were grateful for the ride back to Westward, and when we got there, we simply jumped overboard and swam in to the beach.
I still dive Dume. I just do it without tanks. Without the extra weight and drag, I can muscle through even a very strong current. The place is better for free-diving anyway. There is plenty to see above thirty feet deep. Not long after that while diving the same rocks with only mask and snorkel, I had much better luck. But that’s another story.

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