I am speaking of my Master Scuba Diver Award.
As readers of this blog and my column in The Anguillian will remember, I started scuba diving in Anguilla in 2007 when my friend and dive trainer, Rob, asked me to try diving. He knew I loved swimming and snorkeling and thought it was a shame I did not dive. I thought about it. My son dives and I had always associated diving with youngsters, which was daft as several friends dive and my son was initially introduced to diving by one of them, who is several years my senior.
I will always remember my first dive. I hated it. I did not want to tip backwards off the boat into the water and then when I finally plucked up the courage to do so, found the water so choppy it really upset me bobbing about in it. Then there was descending! Well, that was another challenge. Rob took my hand and we went down together. Then he found himself with a Penny attachment as I would not let go. If he had let me go I would have ascended and never dived again. As it was, we stayed down for over half an hour and in the end I could appreciate all that I saw. It was beautiful, teeming with life, flora waving majestically in the current.
Unfortunately when we were on the surface again I had to do some drills. One of these was to take my buoyancy control device (BCD - looks like a sleeveless jacket which holds the air bottle and equipment) off and put it on again. I nearly drowned myself and had to be rescued by the ever vigilant Rob. After that it took lots of tears, counselling from my instructor (poor man) and some stiff words to myself to make me carry on. I hate to be beaten by anything and this was not going to get the better of me.
I carried on and waded my way through the rest of the PADI Open Water Certification course. That was my goal. Complete the course and then walk away. It had not beaten me. The problem is that I really do like the marine life. I was asked if I would like to dive off Anguillita, the tiny island just off Anguilla. I bravely said I would and got hooked! I loved it. Anguillita is my favourite dive site, as you never know what you are going to find there. I have seen reef sharks, turtles and tarpon to mention just a few of the myriad species there. So then, of course, there was no stopping me.
My instructor, who freely admits he did not think I would complete the Open Water course, found himself being pestered for further training. I wanted to do the Underwater Naturalist course. He taught it as part of the Advanced Diver qualification, so I took that.
For this I had to do a night dive, deep dive, wreck dive, the naturalist dive and a navigation dive. I had to learn lots of new skills and conquer my fear of being in the water at night. A lot to take in and I was absolutely terrified of the darkness. What was there just beyond the torch light? I now this is irrational. I was perfectly happy to go on a deep dive and sit doing my drills at 80 feet without a thought of anything apart from what else I could see while I was down there.
One day I sat and thought about my diving. I decided I really wanted to go all the way and become a PADI Master Scuba Diver. This is the highest non-professional diving qualification PADI offers. I think Rob thought I was mad when I announced this to him. It was only a matter of a few months since I would not let his hand go and now here I was telling him I wanted to be a Master Diver!
After assuring him I was not bonkers, we decided on a plan. This changed once or twice but essentially I worked through the courses I needed one by one until I had got there.
I took an Underwater Photography qualification while I was in Miami at the end of 2007 and then took a first aid course back on Anguilla to prepare me for the Rescue Diver Course, the huge hurdle I needed to get over.
This course is really tough. I am not just saying it. It really is. I still have the scars and I am sure that both Rob and Dougy, his partner, still have some too. (Particularly poor Dougy as I dragged him into the corner of one of his boat's engines on one of the rescue scenarios. It really hurt! Sorry Dougy.) We did the course over four days, which I was glad about as I do not think I would have been able to do it any faster. I was exhausted every day after the gruelling scenarios and trying not to get drowned as I 'rescued' Rob or Dougy, or both. I was really pleased to have passed, particularly as Rob and I had had words during the course. Stress, it really gets to you. I needed to get it right and he would not pass me until I did, which is exactly as it should be.
I needed five speciality dive courses and had two, the Underwater Naturalist and the Underwater Photographer. I then took the wonderful Boat Diver qualification. This was really fun! I got to take control of the boat and found how difficult it is to steer, particularly at speed. I thought the other passengers were very good not to panic when I sent the boat into a huge circle and could not pull it out again! Luckily Claudelle, (aka Punky) the lovely Boat Captain was there to rescue me (and the others!) and set me right again. It taught me a valuable lesson. Do not underestimate the Captain's job.
Next I took the Deep Diver and Night Diver qualifications to complete the requirements of the Master award. Once again, I loved the deep diving. I was already qualified to dive to 130 feet, after the Advanced Diver Certification. Now I learnt more about the effects of pressure and the way light is perceived at depth. It was fascinating.
Not so, the night dives. My husband was keen to do this course and so I tagged along too. We had not done a shore dive and so we went along to a local beach and dived from there, along an outlet pipe in very shallow water. I did not enjoy it the darkness, although I loved the marine life we met along the way. There was everything from cuttlefish to octopus. Fantastic.
So there I was, finished. I had worked hard, but no harder than my excellent instructor, Rob. I was awarded the Master Scuba Diver Award in September 2008. I was overjoyed! I love diving and now look back on my earlier experiences with a laugh. I can remember how I felt at the time and do understand my feelings, but have moved on. I was determined to do it and I did it but I could not have done so without Special D Divers, Dougy, Rob and Claudelle. Thank you Guys! A special thanks to Rob, a wonderful instructor, a kind and patient man and a good friend.