Thursday, May 05, 2011

The diveboat is the way to go

Most of our training dives commenced from the resort’s dive boat. This held true for both my basic and advanced training.

There are definitely advantages diving off a boat versus just walking out into the water from the shore. For one thing it’s easier going by boat. A guy with painful load bearing joints, like me, much appreciates not having to walk even a few steps with a heavy tank strapped to the back. Pursuant to NOT having to carry 50 pounds of tank for even a single step, the Big Apple dive boat experience for me meant someone picked up my tank and held it in place while I strapped it on, right there as I sat in the place from which I would fall into the water—now that I’ve been spoiled like that by those guys, it’s the ONLY way to fly as far as I’m concerned.

Getting into the water off a dive boat wasn’t a new experience for me—I’d done several from Coral Cove’s boat before it finally crapped out. What WAS new was the feel of it. There is an air of excitement going over the side with a whole crew of other divers. When it was just the two of us, Don and I would usually take turns capsizing ourselves singly back into the water. It was unrushed and casual.

On the other hand, going over the side on a Big Apple boat trip was definitely NOT easygoing. After the second time I even joked that I felt like a paratrooper jumping into Normandy. As soon as we entered the boat, Jamie would start his spiel as he helped us strap into our BCDs, “Okay, put your fins on and get ready to go. Check yourselves, check each other. As soon as we get to the point around the bend we’ll be going right in. And please, when you go, it’s important that we ALL enter the water at the same time. Last week, a fella waited a second and his tank landed right on my head. It hurt like hell.”

Almost every time we went out on the boat there were two groups of divers—our band of merry trainees and two instructors, along with a group of adventure divers, already certified. Our group rarely dove with the other, and usually we got out first. I learned quickly to start focusing on diving as soon as I stepped foot on board, there was no lollygagging or time for joking around. I pulled on my fins, strapped on my buoyancy compensator, made sure my regulators provided air, and tried my mask on for fit, usually more than once.

Jamie grabs a bamboo pole and pushes us back from the beach. Soon, the driver roars the motor and speeds us on our way. Usually, in less than five minutes, without even a hint that the boat is about to slow down we hear the warning to get ready. No sooner than the boat begins to slow down we hear, “Okay, regulators in, masks on; divers, get ready to go in. On three. One. Two. Three.” And with hardly a moment to think about it, we all push over backwards into the water.

They probably did it that way, especially for us new guys, to try to prevent someone from hesitating. It was never a problem for me, even the first time I did it, but I understand that sometimes a new diver will balk. It’s a bit of a leap of faith if you’ve never done it before. You are more than four feet above the water and it’s definitely not something that comes naturally—throwing your body blindly back into the wet unknown. So, making the departure a hurried proposition is probably a pretty effective technique to take some of the anticipation out of the equation for the new guys—don’t let ‘em think about it, just make ‘em do it.

And now that I think about it, I remember one afternoon last year sitting up on the veranda at Coral Cove observing the dive boats come and go, and watching an evidently new diver unable to get into the water, still being coached by his very patient instructor on “how easy” it is do it, and STILL trying to convince him fifteen minutes after all the other divers had long since submerged. It would have been a lot easier to do it the military bootcamp way—first berating and shaming the fraidy-cat; and if that doesn’t work, just shoving him straight back into the drink.

PADI doesn’t seem to teach it this way, but every time I go back into the water from my perch on the side of the boat I naturally end up doing a reverse 360° after splashing in. It feels great, a real rush actually. Holding my mask and regulator on tight to my face with my left hand leaves my right free to protect my head. I keep that hand high right up until the moment my backwards spin brings the underside of the boat back into view. There have been times when having that hand up has kept me from banging my head into the side of the boat, or on a rare occasion it’s helped me to avoid head butting another diver.

Once all are in the water the normal drill is that all divers are supposed to meet at the rear of the boat, but the Big Apple boat doesn’t hang around long enough for that to happen. There were times when it was already on the way to being gone before I even got situated at the surface. That’s actually a good thing since once the boat is out of the way all divers can then see each other.

In the water, the boat already fading into the distance, we never stayed long at the surface. If no one spoke up it was assumed that everyone was good to go. The dive master makes a thumb down motion and down we all went. The dive was underway.

At the end of the dive, back on the surface, that is when the primary advantage to a boat dive becomes obvious—there is no swimming and walking back in to the shore when a boat is involved. I think THAT is my favorite reason for diving from a boat.

Besides saving on energy, diving off a boat also saves on air. I noticed that most of our dives only lasted between 35 and 45 minutes, but when no time is spent on getting to the actual dive area then a 40 minute dive is not so bad at all.

If we were fortunate we didn’t have long to wait for the boat to make its way back to us where we floated like bobbers around the portable diver down buoy. Several times the other group’s dive was either considerably longer than ours was, or they were that much farther away. There was one dive where the five of us drifted several hundred meters past the spot from which we initially came up. We actually floated almost all the way past the resort. It was taking so long for the boat to return that we joked that we should just swim our way back home.

But usually the boat waits for us nearby. Once the boatman spots us, in no time at all the dive boat approaches and crawls to a stop. All divers make their way to the left side, where the ladder is. I always hang on with my left hand to the rope draped along the hull while removing my flippers, handing each one up as I take it off. Then unstrapping my BCD vest I let the boatmen pull it up with attached tank onto the deck as I do my best to push the heavy thing up for them from the water. After that, I pull myself along the rope to the ladder and heave aboard. Once all are back on the boat and seated on the narrow ledge along the top of the hull, we chatter away about the dive as the boat speeds us back to the resort.

If I get to do it a hundred times, or a hundred times a hundred, I can’t imagine diving EVER getting old. I’m ready to go right now in fact.

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