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I've always been fascinated by the world underwater but had put off learning SCUBA because I had only previous experience diving and it wasn't positive; during my high school senior trip to Okinawa I had done a test dive but the regulator was adjusted so that it forced air into my lungs and all I can remember of that one dive was trying not to hyperventilate. This experience prevented me from trying diving again until recently.
While I was docked at Hodge's Creek in 2009 I befriended the staff of Sail Caribbean Divers, joining them for happy hour drinks at the Calamaya daily. After listening to their stories for nights on end, they finally convinced me that I should try diving and take their PADI courses. After a lot of waffling about and procrastinating I finally decided to take the plunge and signed up for the Open Water Diver course. I was assigned Kevin as my instructor and the others (over drinks, of course) told me that he was easily spooked. We came up with a grand plan that I would show up for my first lesson wearing floaties on my arms, in the end I didn't go quite that far but did test his reaction when I mentioned that I couldn't really swim. The initial lessons went well and the setting at the Cooper Island Beach Club was great.
The first introductory dive around the Cooper Island beach was fun and a taste of things to come. The course was a fine mix of reading the book and watching the course DVD and then actual time under just a couple of feet of water. My course and diving career almost ended on the second day with the practical exercises. I had absolutely no problems with the initial skills up until the mask removal. I could fill the mask halfway and clear it out, fill it all the way and clear it - neither was particularly difficult or stressful. But when it came time to take the mask off I popped off the bottom like a cork and headed right to the surface. There was no thought involved, it was just a panic reaction and I was up in the sunlight before I knew it! I went below with the instructor and tried again with exactly the same result. I tried using the regulator on the surface and putting my head below the water without a mask and that was no problem but somehow I couldn't do it underwater. At the time I thought that I should just accept my limitations and stop right there; but then came the thought that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of others have done exactly the same training and all of them passed - and I wasn't going to let myself be shown up by them.
With that resolution firmly in my mind I went below again and this time took my time taking off the mask. It turns out that was the secret and I managed that exercise and swimming about without the mask on while breathing with ease. My problem was that I had ripped off my mask each time and managed to get large amounts of water up my nose, triggering that panic-like reaction. When done slowly I didn't have that problem and the exercise was a breeze thereafter.
The Caribbean, with its warm, calm and clear waters, is an ideal place to dive - and to learn. After I passed my initial exam my first dive was to the renowned wreck of the Rhone. I've now done several dives on the wreck with different dive companies and different dive masters (who are at the same time also tour guides) and have never heard the same story of how the wreck came about twice. Nonetheless each rendition was interesting in its own right.
The waters are warm enough year-round that I can dive without a suit; luckily my natural insulating layer keeps me from getting too cold even after dives of an hour or more. I purchased used gear from Sail Caribbean Divers but am thinking of replacing it with new equipment, mainly because the BCD (buoyancy compensating device) as well as the Octopus are leaking air and look rather ratty, the vest is a lighter shade of gray while it was originally dark black.
I've done a number of dives since then and have a Bauer Junior II dive compressor aboard so that I am not beholden to dive shops for getting my 2 dive tanks filled. I opted for high-pressure tanks and have the high-pressure option on the dive compressor, but currently only fill my tanks to the normal pressures since I get sufficient bottom-time in any case. Much of my diving was done in Grand Case, St. Martin and I've done numerous dives with the Chris, Sally and the other good folks at Octopus Diving.
One of the few insurance policies that I think are worth the investment, i.e. where the perceived risk versus reward benefits are felt to be in my advantage, is the Diver's Alert Network and their insurance policy for health problems during dives or dive trips. I've been a member since starting to dive and fortunately have never even come close to having to use their services, but as is always the case with insurance policies one never knows in advance. Repatriation costs in the event of an accident can be staggeringly high, and this policy covers that eventuality.