San Luis Obispo divers recall trips on the 'Conception'

Sep 5, 2019

The tragedy of Monday morning’s fire on a Santa Barbara diving boat near the Channel Islands is being felt throughout the Central Coast scuba diving community. The cause is still unknown of the fire that engulfed the boat, the 'Conception,' and killed 34 people onboard. Two divers from San Luis Obispo had been on the boat many times before and had planned to go out on it again.

Randy and Tina Scott have about half a century of scuba diving experience between them. Tina said she stopped counting her dives at 300.

“I’ve done reef diving, [recreational] diving, shark diving, deep water,” Tina Scott said. "Never have I experienced anything to this degree. [The Conception fire] is devastating to this diving community.”

“We’re both critical care nurses we’re used to loss,” Randy Scott said. “This definitely touched a little closer to home and definitely was a different sense of loss.”

The Scotts say many Central Coast divers have been on the 'Conception.'

“I’ve [taken] my son on the boat,” Randy Scott said. “I was just on it in March. I was scheduled to go on it in three weeks. The dive shop in town, SLO Ocean Currents, had the whole boat chartered for three days on October second through the fifth. That could have been [34] people from SLO.”

When the news broke Monday morning, the Scotts said local divers began checking in with each other.

“The ripple effect was pretty palpable,” Randy Scott said.

He said he was receiving messages into the night.

“I found one from someone that knows me and Tina, who isn't in my contact list, it’s just a number,”  Randy Scott said. "[It read] I just wanted to check that you are ok. Just send back a response."

The divers who died Monday were from across California.

“You go out there for a couple days with 30 other people, you may not know all of them,” Randy Scott said. “But you are berthed in the same area, you eat in the same place, you’re sitting next to them as you put your dive gear on. You ask this person for help, they ask you for help, you all talk about your dives. You develop a sense of camaraderie and closeness when you share a boat.”

Usually on these trips, divers board at night and then go to sleep below deck.

"When you wake up and you’re anchored off the islands and there’s nothing else out there, there’s something that’s tranquil [about it],” Randy Scott said. “There is something that is just unique and spiritual about it.”

Randy said the waters around the Channel Islands are cold and can be murky, but beautiful. Often on the trips, people like to catch lobsters and spearfish.

Tina says many dives share the same themes.

“It is another world,” Tina Scott said. “It is something you don't experience here on the surface. You can hear your own breathing, listen to your own bubbles and even hear your own heartbeat sometimes when it’s that quiet and that calm.”

Since the fire that engulfed the 'Conception,' there have been questions about safety on the boat and maintenance by its company, Truth Aquatics.

“I’ve been diving through Truth Aquatics many, many times, and I have never experienced a situation that felt unsafe,” Tina Scott said.

She said she’s always trusted the crew, and the boat.

“We’re all here to have a good time and we’re all here to have fun, but it truly is a matter of safety first,” Tina Scott said.

The 'Conception' had a safety hatch, the Scotts said, but at three in the morning, it may have been hard to find in a fire.

“Boats are filled with a lot of chemicals, fiberglass and everything else,” Randy Scott said. “I’m sure the smoke was probably pretty bad.”

Randy Scott said the tragic boat fire won’t keep him from going out on his planned dive trip in a few weeks—a trip that was supposed to be on the 'Conception.' He and his friends talked about going on one of the company’s other boats, but Truth Aquatics has suspended all trips, so they may charter another.

“We’re still going,” Scott said. “I realize it’s best to not let fear dictate your life. I don’t think any of [the 'Conception' passengers] would have wanted that to happen. If something happened to me, I wouldn't want someone else to not do what they love. It’s like, continue on.”

Tina Scott said she doesn’t go on many trips to the Channel Islands because the water is colder than she prefers—she enjoys warmer water dives. But Randy said he can’t wait to get out and see the sunlight streaming through the kelp. He might even catch a few lobsters.