Skills training and diving in the Caribbean
You’ll recall that I began my eLearning with PADI a few weeks back in my journey to get SCUBA certified. Our upcoming trip to Saba was a catalyst in this process and finally got me working towards my SCUBA certification in Anguilla. After a couple of weeks of self-paced coursework, I was finally ready to begin the practical component in the water.
Confined Water Dive #1: Shoal Bay SCUBA Shack at Roy’s
I arrived at Roy’s on a Saturday at 1:30PM for my first experience in the water. While some divers-in-training do the confined water dive in a pool, we did ours in Sandy Ground in the shallow water in front of Roy’s Bayside Grill. Being a solo diver, I joined up with another couple who was on the same certification journey. In town from Germany for a two-week getaway, they happened to be renting the villa adjacent to our home. Happy coincidence and fast friends.
Before we got to jump in the water, we were given forms to fill out with our information, to verify that we were able-bodied people with no medical history that would preclude us from diving. First mission, accomplished. We were promptly given a refresher exam to test our knowledge from the eLearning course, and were gifted our crisp new Diver’s Logs to record our subsequent training and dives. Once the formalities were out of the way, we jumped into our wet suits (lest we become victims of bikini malfunctions in the water), suited up and made our way to the ocean.
Anyone who’s gone through this certification can certainly attest: the experience of using a regulator and carrying the heavy equipment to the water takes some getting used to. I had always seen divers walking ever-so-leisurely into the water and assumed that the equipment was fairly light. Incorrect. The equipment weighs practically as much as I do. Between the weights, the tank and all of the accessories, I felt like an overweight octopus entering the water for the first time.
Breathing in the water with a regulator is like learning to breathe for the first time (not that we ever ‘learned to breathe’, per se). Trusting your tank, your equipment and your regulator surely takes some time. Our first plan of attack was to test our skills in shallow water, about 6′ deep. It gave us a chance to inflate our BCDs and plunge our faces into the water with masks and a breathing apparatus. I breathed in, sounding like Darth Vader, and breathed out, surrounded by the resulting bubbles. In and out, getting used to the feeling and the sound.
We went through the requisite tests: recovering our regulators, filling and clearing our masks, learning how to react when out of air, taking our masks off and putting them back on under the water. It seemed simple enough and I surprised myself with how easily I could clear my mask (something at which I thought I may fail miserably). Some skills were easier than others, of course, but I left the water a few hours later feeling fairly accomplished and one step closer to real diving. My souvenir for the day were these lovely mask lines that stayed put on my forehead for hours. Lovely.
Dive #2: Diving 20′ at Little Bay
For our second training session, we jumped on Shoal Bay Scuba’s boat and headed out to Little Bay to gain more practical experience and re-test our skills in a deeper dive setting. I was equal parts excited and anxious. Being pretty competitive by nature, I wanted to test well and ace this thing.
One at a time, we sat on the edge of the boat with our fins and gear on and plunged backwards into the sea. Our first skills test were done individually with Matthew, owner of Shoal Bay SCUBA. We released the air in our BCDs and sank, sank, sank to the bottom, 20’+ below. In reality, the 20 foot depth isn’t far, but it’s far enough for a novice diver still learning how to breathe in a new environment. We practiced an emergency ascent (easy enough) and then tested our out-of-air skills. 20′ below the surface, we were to act as if we were out of air, signal to our buddy (Matthew) that we needed to borrow air, and then pop the second regulator into our mouth to begin breathing as we ascended to the surface.
Cue moment of panic. I removed my regulator, grabbed his and without putting it fully into my mouth began breathing in. After swallowing some sea water, I panicked. There was no air, I couldn’t breathe and knew I needed to go up immediately. I went up, took a deep breath and felt my heart racing at the surface. A minute later, we went down to attempt the skill test again. I took a few deep breaths through my regulator, trying to calm myself down before attempting the test again. He signaled me to begin and I stared at him, breathing, immobile. It wasn’t going to happen. I signaled that I was going back up to the surface and quickly ascended. This whole being good at testing thing? I wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped, and not doing well was making me more nervous about being able to breath sufficiently under the water.
I let another diver test while I gained my composure. I practiced breathing through my regulator, clearing it and breathing calmly. It was my turn again and this time I was able to get the feel for it without panicking. Skills test #2 done (the hardest for me), and back to the surface we went.
The remaining skills felt simple in comparison. We flooded our masks and cleared them, completely removed and replaced our masks under water, practiced giving air to a buddy in need, towing tired divers, etc. I could feel myself understanding how to breathe in the water and how my body felt when it was completely submerged. It was strange and new, but I was beginning to feel more confident with each breath.
After a couple of hours of testing, we hopped back on the boat and made our way back to Sandy Ground where we removed our wet suits and learned a bit about how navigation skills.
Tomorrow I’ll jump back in the water — with Scott in tow! — as I complete my final couple of dives for certification. This time we’ll forgo skills testing and have a chance to really experience diving and to explore Anguilla’s underwater world. Next stop: Saba!
Have any of you been diving in the Caribbean? What are your favorite dive spots?
xoxo from Anguilla,