I hate summer. I hate the heat, I hate the humidity, I hate feeling like a human pot roast, being popped into an oven set at four hundred degrees. Starting in the fall, continuing through winter, and into the beginning of spring are enjoyable temperatures for me. Especially winter. I love the cold and snow. I love being outside in winter, I love driving in snow, and I love watching it fall. My theory du jour is that my internal temperature is such that winter brings down my temp to a point that I can relax and just enjoy.
But there are certain drawbacks to winter. I miss certain activities that bad weather and extreme cold make a bit more difficult. First on that list is scuba diving.
My wife and I are avid and enthusiastic divers. I have been diving for about four years, and Beth about three. We are solidly in our middle-ages (and yes, I plan for my current age to be the mean average for my life span. I’m fifty-four), and for several years I had been searching for an activity that Beth and I could enjoy together currently, and for decades to come. Try as we might, we couldn’t come to an agreement for what that activity might be. The very thoughts of golf just make me want to run screaming, and one or two that we actually tried didn’t take. Until scuba.
Our younger daughter decided on a destination wedding on Grand Cayman four years ago. Settling on Cayman as the destination seemed to me to be a torturous path, wandering all over the Pacific, into Central America, touching on the Mediterranean, and finally alighting onto Grand Cayman. Beth and I had not travelled by passport prior to this, and we were in turns excited, nervous, anticipatory, and apprehensive about our first trip to the Caribbean. After arriving in Cayman, we got our rental car, and drove to our condo at Turtle Nest Inn, on the south side of the island near Boddentown. What a fantastic place to stay! Spacious and beautiful, we had a fantastic view of the ocean from the deck, as well as the bedroom.
In the end, the wedding was wonderful, our daughter lovely, and the vacation truly amazing. We fell in love with the Caribbean. It was the first vacation that we have been on that I wept as we left. Of course, being a typical guy, I only cry when I’m hungry, and I probably should have had something to eat before our departure. Ahem.
But before the trip, I did some thinking. Ever since I was a kid, scuba diving has held a fascination for me. Ever since I saw re-runs of Sea Hunt as a kid, I thought scuba would be an amazing sport. However as time went on, the idea of diving took a back seat to other things, and eventually kind of receded from my thoughts altogether. Until the wedding. When the destination was announced I was in my late forties, and I realized that if I didn’t go diving now I never would. Beth and I sat down and talked it over, weighed our finances, and decided that, yeah, I should give diving a go. I contacted a local diving shop, got prices for lessons and basic equipment, and signed up. Several months before the wedding, I began lessons at Diver’s World in Erie, PA, completing my basic Scuba Diver certification, and much of my Advanced Scuba Diver certification before the trip (click on Diver’s World above to visit their website).
What a rush! As is my usual tendency, I punished myself studying, figuring I would flunk out, and beating on myself mentally for ever thinking I was cut out for something like this in the first place. But as is also my usual tendency, I passed with flying colors, got my c-card (that’s “certification card” to you land-lubbing non-divers out there), and completed several additional dives needed for Advanced Certification.
When we went to Cayman, I had perhaps a dozen dives total in my logbook, maybe less. I was a newbie, a greenhorn, a rookie, whatever terms one would use to describe someone who is allowed to do an activity, but shouldn’t be trusted alone for more than a nano-second. I contacted a dive shop, Deep Blue Divers Grand Cayman, and arranged for a two tank dive on a given day.
I met Rick on the dock at the appropriate time, intimidated and nervous. Rick was great, taking me out by boat to a location that probably couldn’t possibly be much safer. We geared up, did a buddy check, and got in the water. Once we were ready, we dropped below the surface. And I entered paradise. Being new, I blew through an 80 cu. tank of air in about 22 minutes (for comparison, an 80 cu tank now lasts me about an hour), but those few minutes were more wonder producing than anything I had ever done.
In Erie, the best visibility I experienced was in the pool, and that was maybe thirty feet. Generally speaking, the viz in the quarries and small lakes that I dived to become certified was ten feet on a good day. In fact, in Lake Pleasant (clearly not named with the underwater visibility in mind), the viz was at best three feet. Up to this point in my diving career, this is all I knew. I had no experience in water in which one could actually see anything.
And then I dropped below the surface of the ocean off the south shore of Grand Cayman. Visibility of at least one hundred feet, probably more. The colors, the corals, the fish! Of the multitude of fish I saw, one was particularly delightful! It was small, and colored a deep blue with seemingly neon light blue spots. They weren’t exactly in schools, but there was quite a number of them throughout the dive. Later on I discovered them to be juvenile damselfish, and they remain among my favorites. I am still tickled when I find a few on a dive.
Rick took me on an easy, twenty-minute circle in, around, and between corals. I was mesmerized. Honestly, if Rick had just hovered in one spot right under the boat for the entire twenty minutes, I would have been happy. It was unbelievable, and the time was up way too quickly. We did our three minute safety stop, surfaced, and boarded the boat. I had been hooked. I wanted so badly to share my experience with Beth, but how can one describe something like that? It was my first time in the ocean, and I just didn’t have the words to say.
So I did what most self-respecting husbands would do. I pestered her to get into scuba herself, so we could dive together. When I got the index finger in the face with the words, “Stop pushing me!!!!!” (emphasis not mine), I knew I needed to back away. That having been said, we did go snorkeling together nearly every day we were there. One time we were snorkeling off Seven Mile Beach, and I would guess we were perhaps a quarter of a mile off shore. I saw a conch on the bottom, and wanted to check it out. I told Beth I would be right back, took a couple deep breaths, and had to power my way to the bottom, probably about twenty feet down. In fact, I had to keep kicking to stay at the bottom. I looked the conch over, and when I was ready to surface, I simply stopped kicking and turned to look at the surface. I popped to the surface with no effort at all. I virtually could not sink!