2023: The Florida Keys

Back in the Water

March 18


R-Day -- as in Refresher Day, as in scuba diving refresher course -- was finally here. I was a bit nervous. We got to the dive shop just before it opened at 8 a.m. and I paced. The shop opened, and I went inside to check in, where I met Matt the instructor. I also met Dominick, a delightful Londoner who was taking the course too. He'd be diving with his father Tony.

We started out in a small conference room with a quiz. The online refresher had been a good warm-up for this! Dominick and I each missed three of 20 questions, although not the same ones. We discussed the missed questions with Matt and then it was time for wetsuit fittings. Rather than struggle with the overkill of my 7mm suit, I rented a 3mm full suit, and for extra warmth, a 3mm shortie to go over it.

The next part of the course was supposed to be some pool work where we'd review basic skills like buoyancy control (not sinking or rising but staying neutral), clearing water from your mask, etc. Then we'd go out in the afternoon for two open-water checkout dives.

But then Matt got news from the dive boat that it was going to be too rough to go out; so instead of the pool, Matt said we'd go to a nearby lagoon and count that as our checkout dives.

"Lagoon" is not how I would have described this place; it was an enclosed boat dock where an underwater research habitat sits. When we got in the water, it was déjà vu from the manatee snorkel: near-zero visibility. The whole dive consisted of trying not to lose sight of Matt's light-blue fins.

Matt stopped us a few times to check skills. He would give hand signals about what we were supposed to do, then we'd do it one at a time. There were some strange floating metal rings that we used as swim-thrus to test buoyancy control. It was all pretty tame stuff. So after about 30 minutes, we were done. Presto change-o, I'm refreshed!

The big test was the next day. We'd hired a dive guide to go with us since the dive shop didn't provide an in-water divemaster. We didn't know the territory and the last thing I needed was to worry about getting lost underwater.

At Matt's suggestion, I'd started taking Dramamine the night before to get it into my system. Then another one that morning. Fingers crossed for no seasickness.

Unfortunately we found out that we were going to be on the shop's big catamaran, so my favorite thing: a cattle boat. Meaning a whole herd of other divers. And it was a herd. There seemed to be two groups of divers who were doing classes, a couple of snorkelers, and then one other couple who were also going with our guide.

There was about a 45-minute boat ride to the first dive site. I had to step down onto the top rung of a ladder before doing a giant stride; THAT was fun. Couldn't have managed it without the dive captain supporting my tank from the back! Then we were off.

The site was very shallow; the deepest I saw on my computer was 24 feet. There wasn't nearly as much life as we were used to seeing in the Caribbean. Lots of juvenile parrotfish. Mike apparently saw a big barracuda but I missed it. One very good thing was my new prescription mask; I could really see everything! I was doing ok for the first 30 minutes, then my back started to hurt from bending more backward than normal. Also the water seeping down my back started to get cold. The last 15 minutes were tough.

After we got back on the boat, I licked my wounds and had a snack. The boat was at the second dive site almost immediately; at such shallow depths they don't bother with a surface interval. I made a difficult decision and told Hugh I was going to skip the second dive. Mike went ahead without me; later he told me I didn't miss anything.

So several thousand miles and a few thousand dollars later, I got one more dive under my belt and didn't really see much. Worth it? Hmmmm. Oh, well...it's only money.

Cattle boat. Dominick, me, and Tony. Diving couple. Selfie time! Tony mugs for the OTHER camera.