Tranquil turquoise waters shimmering with warm sunlight beckon visitors to the Caribbean to enter and explore.
by Karen Robbins
Many do so by playing in the water along the sandy beaches. Others don a snorkel and mask and skim along the surface observing the flash and dash of the busy marine life below. Some of us are called to plunge further and we strap on tanks of air, buoyancy vests, weight belts and regulators and dive into the fascinating world beneath the surface of the sea.
The gear felt awkward on my back the first time. I sloshed through the shallow waters of Coki Beach, St. Thomas, until I could squat down and pop my feet into a pair of swim fins. Was my heart beating faster with anticipation? Or fear? Would I enjoy this introduction to the wonders below the sea or would this be my one and only scuba dive adventure? Could I remember all the instructions I had just received on shore?
After a few dips below the surface in shallow water to get used to breathing air from a regulator attached to a tank of air, the dive master took our group of resort divers to the surface and patiently explained again the maneuver of clearing the mask underwater--the exercise we would practice next. My fellow novices and I put regulators in our mouths, took a breath as we released air from our BCDs (buoyancy control devices) and sank to our knees in the sandy bottom eight feet below. Each of us took a turn at letting a little water into our masks and clearing it with a burst of air from the nose to force water out as the bottom of the mask was held slightly away from the face.
The maneuver successfully completed, I expected to rise to the surface for further instruction but instead, the dive master signaled for us to follow him. He lifted off the sandy bottom and began slowly swimming away. For a brief moment I panicked. Instinct made me want to go up and take a deep breath at the surface but I started out with the others concentrating on the fact that I was breathing through the regulator in my mouth.
A few moments later, a swarm of fish surrounded us as the dive master released fish food from his pocket. Brilliantly colored fish scrambled about us gobbling up all that they could find. I was entranced--completely forgetting that I was twenty feet under water.
That was quite a few years ago. Now almost three hundred dives later, I look back and remember my first resort dive and am grateful for the patient dive master and his fish-feeding trick to cause us to relax and enjoy the experience.
Testing the Waters
Resort dives are an excellent way of discovering whether or not you might like to become a scuba diver. Dive centers throughout the Caribbean offer this opportunity for anywhere from $70 to $150 (USD). Be sure to check that they are certified by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) or SSI (Scuba School International). Some dive centers take you on a shore dive and others will take you out in a boat. For safety reasons, you will dive no deeper than 40 feet. You must be at least 10 years old, in good health, and comfortable in the water. You will be asked to fill out medical and release forms before beginning your experience.
The whole adventure will take you about 2 _ to 4 hours depending upon the dive center and their schedule. The instruction period will be on dry land where you will learn the most important rules of diving and the basic skills needed for your dive. Some dive operations will require you to watch a short video as well.
Next you will suit up in the gear needed for diving and in a pool or a calm shallow water area your dive master will take you through some practice exercises to familiarize you with the equipment and skills he has explained. Please note that if you do the exercises in a pool it may feel a bit claustrophobic. The pool is nothing like diving in the open water though and once you get into the real dive, chances are the feeling will disappear.
Once you are on your dive, the dive master will stay close. The group of resort divers should not be any more than four or five. The dive master will monitor your air gauge to insure you do not get low on air. The dive will last from 30-40 minutes depending upon your level of comfort.
Many dive operations allow you to do repeat dives for a smaller fee during a certain period of time. For instance, I found one that allowed repeat dives for up to two weeks without having to repeat the instruction period. If you are going to dive that long and that many times however, you are hooked and need to spend that money and time on getting certified.
PADI will allow you to use your resort dive as one of your qualifying dives for certification. Be sure to let your dive master know if you want to take advantage of that.
Author Suggested Dive Centers
Ocean Frontiers, East End, Grand Cayman--This is the dive center we use when diving in Grand Cayman. The East End is about a fifty-minute drive from George Town. Their Discover Scuba program lasts a half day. Pre-dive includes a 20-minute video, instruction on equipment use, and practice in a pool. The dive is a short ride by boat and is in about 25 feet of water. Places to stay on the East End include Compass Point, Reef Resort, and Morritt's Tortuga. Website: Ocean Frontiers
Coki Beach Dive Club, St. Thomas, VI--Coki Beach is easily reached from Charlotte Amalie by taxi (about 25-30 minutes) and the dive center offers a transportation voucher for up to $10/person if you have a reservation. They are located next to Coral World. After instruction on dry land, practice with the equipment takes place in the shallow waters off the beach. The dive takes place in the reef area near the beach. Website: Coki Beach Dive Club
Dive Dominica, Roseau, Dominica--We were very impressed with this dive operation when we dove with them on a shore excursion. They are not far from the cruise dock but you will need transportation. Be sure to contact them ahead of your arrival for reservations. They do snorkeling, diving, and whale watching excursions for visiting cruise ships and may be fully booked. Website: www.divedominica.com
Eden Rock Diving Center, George Town, Grand Cayman--Eden Rock is a short walk from the cruise dock in George Town. The area where we did a resort dive was right in front of the dive center. Be sure to contact the dive center if you are planning to dive with them while visiting from a cruise ship. Some of the Caribbean dive centers are fully booked with shore excursions when ships are in. Website: Eden Rock Diving Center