My First Cave Dive

What do you think when you hear cave dive?  Some people think of a horror movie where you swim into a cave and meet some sort of biblical monster and battle it to the death.  Others think of cold darkness, with an eerie feel swimming into the unknown without an idea of what's ahead. I think of excitement, of wandering off into a new experience, of letting your guard down and trusting yourself to come out on top.  It takes a certain person to go dive into a cave without a whole lot of experience, but luckily we were in good hands, and we were swimming into a hole that wasn't as challenging as you would think.  The only intimidating factor was that we hadn't planned on this, the opportunity presented itself and we spontaneously decided (underwater mind you) to follow through.  


This dive started out as a normal one would, customers on board, mostly full boat, and a few of us DMT's (Trainees) on board to learn and backup our instructor.  There was also a good friend on board tagging along on what we call a "fun dive."  He was a seasoned Divemaster who had completed his training there, and was a friend of the shop, and filled in as a lead when they needed it.  He is one of the most excellent divers I've ever had the privilege to swim with and follow.  Our drive was only about ten minutes from the shop, so once we were loaded up and underway we didn't have much time for a briefing or explanation for what we would be doing. There were a whole lot more of us DMT's than needed, and we were always goofing around with each other since we had grown so close being side by side each day.  We chug along to the spot, our instructor gives the briefing to the guests, and we all chat and ask what is needed of us.  The answer was "not much."

We have moored up and are currently floating along a shallow reef, less than twenty feet deep. One by one we all file off of the stern of the boat (know which part that is?) and all get together in the waves for a gathering before our descent.  The sea is choppy and it is too hard for us all to stay close, so our instructor signals for us to go down giving us a thumbs down motion.  We slowly descend under the surface and as I look up I can see the boat getting thrown around, and many waves crashing all over.  I look back to our instructor and my friends and we head over towards the deep water following the shallow and colorful reef just below. The current isn't rough at all at this point, and we easily cruise over to the drop off.  This particular reef is vibrant and full of sea fans (they look like giant leafs) of all colors, brain corals, and a myriad of other lively sea life.  The reef drops off however just in front, and our shallow fifteen foot depth is abruptly replaced with a two hundred plus drop into the depths.

We slowly swim over the wall and ride it down to about sixty feet, which is a great depth to explore and conserve air.  I could stay at sixty feet for the whole dive, unless something thrilling pops up and a chase is involved.  The side of the wall is the same as the top, colorful, vibrant, full of life.  We saw a giant school of Jacks (common fish that travel in huge packs), many other types of fish on their own, exotic little shrimps, just an endless world of action.  

The first twenty minutes or so was spent exploring small openings, looking for new species we hadn't seen before, and pointing out the exotic ones to each other.  Every now and then we would hear or supply a tank bang (smacking a metal clip on our tank to garner attention) and see a sea turtle, sting ray, and even a giant barracuda.  The one larger fish that I could never get over was the Parrot Fish, these things would swim all over with these big goofy teeth always showing, making it look like they are laughing or smiling at you.  Look it up, it's the silliest thing, I almost drowned because I was laughing so hard at some of those.

Some time had passed and my friend banged on his tank for my attention and was pointing down at the ocean floor.  I looked at him and threw my hands up like I didn't know what he was talking about.  Obviously we can't talk down there, so we usually had our own sign language and after diving together for a while we could communicate quite easily.  He made a signal like he was driving a car, then pointed down again.  There on the sea floor was the hood of a car, white and almost invisible laying in the sands on the bottom.  Our seasoned friend swam up with his eyes large and full of excitement, this had reminded him of something.  He signaled for us to follow him, so we did, and we swam hard to keep up but had to know what he was so giddy about.  He stopped, turned around, and pointed to an opening in the wall and gave us the "excellent" signal (thumb and pinky out, middle fingers closed).  We all looked at our instructor and she signaled to us to go ahead and go in, she would take the guests along, and we would meet back at the boat.  


I had never trained on cave diving, I honestly had no idea what to expect, but luckily I had brought the shop camera with me!  I filmed the whole experience, and will post the video at the end of this post.  I let everyone go before me so I could film us, and our buddy that had done this before lead us all into the cave.  It was single file, there were very narrow parts and shallow parts that could barely fit one diver at a time, little less two.  Everybody disappeared into the hole, and all I could see now was the last set on fins from my last buddy going in.  Here goes nothing, camera is on, and it's time to carefully streamline myself and enter.

I am holding the camera with two hands stretched out in front of my face, arms extended and straight, swimming with a normal freestyle kick instead of our usual frog kick.  The cave starts around sixty feet, and slowly ascends almost all the way to the surface.  It takes quite a bit of technical skill to control our ascent, and avoid the walls to our sides, as well as our tanks that are strapped to our back.  It is usual practice to never use your hands while diving, you just lock up your arms and hands and use your breathing and legs to direct yourself, but in this instance hands were necessary to keep from running into the sides that could have fire coral, or other harmful agents.

As we enter the cave, it is dark, blue, and narrow, the visibility at first is minimal.  Keep in mind this was spontaneous, so we didn't have our nigh lights as we normally would if it was planned. We swim in and it is an immediate climb, it is a steep climb with fuzzy rocks on all sides, but no other life to see at first.  We slowly climb avoiding the rocks as much as we can, and follow up and up and up.  This was a real test of our skills, and it was a fun experience and a crash course on control.  Once we reach the top we are only about ten feet from the surface, and it is bright and cramped.  We can't all fit up there, so our lead has to turn upside down and swim head first in a vertical position down the other side before we get there or we won't be able to fit. Once I get to the top our lead has already started down the other side, and my friend in the middle is fins up getting ready to follow.  As I enter the "pool" at the top I'm not paying attention as I'm filming and a giant claw speeds by the side of my face.  I jerk away and look over and see a giant crab, the body about two feet across and not happy.  Apparently he was living right in that spot and wasn't thrilled about all of us swimming through, so he was on the attack once I pulled up the rear.  He snaps at me again and again, but doesn't leave his nook, so I think it's time for me to speed it up and descend now.  I flip the camera back on and catch my friend swimming straight down, and I slowly follow keeping an eye on the crab, as well as making sure I fit nicely through the little crack in the rocks.

It gets dark again, but not dark enough that we can't see, as long as we can see the fins in front of us we are fine.  Deeper and deeper we swim, through the rocks, through the darkness, wondering when the opening will show up.  It is impossible to know how deep you are without your computer, but there isn't enough space to see it so you just trust in the cave itself, and hope you will eventually pop out on the other side. Under more rocks, and through the rest of the cave we slowly go, trusting and following our lead until eventually we see an opening.  I'm running low in air, with all this excitement and concentration I forgot to check how much I had before the entrance.  It's okay, we made it to the end of the cave, we are right back where we started and it is time to head back to the boat.


Doing something spontaneous can be one of the most amazing experiences and stories you will have ever had.  Always think about whether it is a good idea first though, even for a minute, because if we didn't have an experienced diver who had been through this very same cave before the consequences could have been disastrous.  I know it isn't fun to think about safety, but it is imperative in certain situations.  All of our boxes were checked before we did this, and even so, one of our friends didn't feel comfortable with it and proceeded along with the instructor and skipped it.  It's okay to say no if you aren't comfortable with something, but if you can make a quick list in your head and check off everything, trust yourself and go for it. This ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I have a video of it and will remember it forever.  Oh yeah, always have a camera with you, you never know what you might be able to record!

A Mate's Tale: Part 2 Sunset Sail

One of my favorite trips was the sunset sail, I always tried to request a spot for this one, it was always so peaceful and gorgeous.  We had a few marriage proposals on board, right at the bow as the sun was setting, cool breeze going by, absolutely perfect.


Getting us underway was very similar to our day sails, just more alcohol involved, different food, and no snorkeling.  These trips were typically only an hour and a half or so, just enough time to sail to our spot, serve dinner and drinks, and slowly head back as the sun was setting.  Usually, the night captain and one new mate would be waiting on the dock for us, help us in, and have all of our new inventory there for the evening.  Day sail crew also did some prep work for us during the day (if they freakin remembered...). Our crews were based on numbers, so depending on how many signed up for the sunset sail we could have two mates and a captain, or only one.  It was very unusual for a mate to work straight on through because that was a thirteen+ hour day, and they didn't like to do that to us very often.  But if all the other boats were full during the day, sometimes it was necessary.  It just meant we were allowed to have a shift drink during night shift! Champagne and cranberry was always a popular choice. We greeted the guests with free champagne with a strawberry garnish as they walked on board, and it was all you can drink for the night, although we typically switched to other spirited beverages once we were underway.  Same deal getting out of the slip, captain speech, food prep and we are off!


FOOD!  This trip is mostly about the sunset, hence the name, but there are a lot of hungry people on board, so one of us stays down below almost the entire time and makes apps, dinner, and desert!  Caviar was one of our appetizers, most try it even if they are a little weirded out, I know I was!  But, once we are moored up it takes a little time to cook up the dinner and get it all plated, so drinks, apps, and music is enjoyed throughout while it's cooking.  We went to a private little cove that very rarely had any other boats or trips going on, it was incredibly serene.  Once dinner was put out (buffet style) and the folks were eating it was okay to take a quick break before it was time to do the dishes, refill drinks, and get underway for the quick trip back.

Or if you have some really cool guests they will ask if you want a picture of yourself at work, since you take pictures of other people all day.  Some of the nicest people in the world come on board, and that's most of what makes it such a memorable experience day in and day out.  Also the uniform, can't wear that to many formal office events huh? I did have to make sure my khaki shorts and golf shirt went back on before we reached the dock however, just in case the boss was looking.



The trip back is almost always lit by moonlight, beautiful, calm, and smooth sailing so to speak.  People are in the mood to drink, and sometimes dance depending on what we have on the transistor radio.  Could be Bob Marley, could be a little Hall and Oates maybe?  Whatever gets them going, we take requests as long as I have service, otherwise they had to choose from the iPod from 2003 that is pre-loaded by our bosses with "family friendly" songs (lame).  The favorite to take us home was always "Moon dance" by Van Whats-his-name, always a nice finish to the night.

Same tasks getting us back into the slip, although it's pitch dark (except for the marina lights) so it makes things a tad more challenging, but who doesn't love a good challenge? So what if we run aground and beach thirty drunk guests, at least we are on land now! No but seriously, safety is priority #3.  Once we are all tied up and the guests are off the boat, it's cleaning time which also means shift drink(s).  It's late and we are usually very tired, so if there isn't a day sail the next day we can do a speed clean, and finish up the next day.  If there is a day sail the next day, there is most likely going to be less champagne after our shift *wink *wink.

A Mate's Tale Part 3: Day Charters

Day charters are similar to Day Sails but with a larger motor boat, typically more people, and more things on the menu.  Because the boats are faster they usually go to multiple stops, sometimes four or five different islands or snorkel stops.  One of the boats I worked on (pictured above) held upwards of a hundred and fifteen guests!  Now, you have a bunch of mates on board to help, but it is still a bum rush getting that many people outfitted with fins for our snorkel stop, we typically had about twenty minutes...Other boats have a lengthier plan, with a whole day planned out accordingly, that's what I would like to talk about here, so let's get started in my usual manner ;)


Okay, well if a big storm happens to pop up and your early morning trip gets cancelled, you do the above.  Otherwise, there is a lot of prep work to do for your fourteen hour day.  Typically you are on the boat around six am, which gives you an hour before takeoff, and about forty five minutes before guests start showing up.  The Captain checks the engine, does his tests and evaluation, and us mates are down below.  We have to slice up muffins and fruit for breakfast, stock beer, soda, and ice, and get customs forms ready.  We went to islands in a different country so we had to go through customs at the end of the day.  Once that is done, we greet the guests on the dock and get them outfitted for snorkeling BEFORE we leave, that way they can just keep the equipment with them and we don't have to worry about sizing them up underway, we have enough to do on this trip.  Once all the guests are on board, Captain has his speech, and then one of us mates calls out directions for them to fill out their customs forms, and we are off!


On the way to our first stop we don't have a ton of tasks, mostly getting to know our guests, get them water and juice, and tell them about the islands we were passing.  There were so many islands going by, I didn't know what they were all called, or all the beaches people kept pointing too so we made up a lot of names.  Usually I would ask the names of the kids on board before we left and name random ones after them.  "What island is that?" - Guest, "Oh that's Tyler Quay" - Me, "Oh my god that's me!!" - Random kid.  Works every time, also named one after myself hence my blog name.  Anyway, once we got docked, we got everyone ready for a hike to that beach above.  The hike was about an hour and a half round trip, very beautiful with a few nice picture stops, and a few historical stops for education including a Goonies joke for good measure.  We had about ten to fifteen minutes of chill time in the water at the beach, depending on how quick our guests were that day, then we would hike back up and hop back on board for the next stop.


This was one of our picture stops during the hike, I would take people's phones and digital cameras and take photos of them and their family.  Usually I would tap the "turnaround" button first and make some faces and snap a few while their backs were turned and before they were set so they have a fond memory which they will find later.



Yeah rough place to have a lunch break huh?  I know, its one of the things that just never got old no matter what.  Many things you get used too, or take for granted, but not this.  I ate here almost everyday, and once we got the guests their food and situated we had some time to just chill and eat.  We also had a deal with this particular restaurant where the crew ate for free!  They had a decent menu, enough that you could rotate things and get something you were in the mood for.  Although if you've ever worked in the business you know that whatever you are craving that day isn't available...but tough to complain when you are sitting here, just pick something else it's gonna be fine.  This whole island only had this restaurant, and a gift shop, that's it.  Once we were done with lunch, we would round everyone up and head to our next stop!


After a proper digestion time we head over to our snorkel stop.  It is only a couple of minutes away from our lunch stop, so we slowly chug over there trying to kill time for our full guests.  We moor up, Captain gives a speech and we slowly get ready for snorkeling.  I usually volunteered to lifeguard, so I hop in first, check for jellyfish and sharks and what not and float around on my buoy waiting for them to file in.  I don't have to do all that much, just float around for an hour making sure people don't go too far, and if they do just swim over and tell them.  Sometimes I'll have to go retrieve a fin or mask if it's dropped (sometimes down forty feet), but otherwise I just swim back and forth watching everyone.  When the Captain sounds the horn it's time to gather everyone up which is the first time (but not the last) I need to go around gathering people up. Once everyone (and myself) is on board, it's time to start heading towards our last fun stop of the day, and one of my favorite places on earth.


Okay that's not what it's really called, but it's an island that has a beach just lined with bars and not much else.  We serve drinks on board, so our guests have had a few on our steam here, so they are already getting tuned up.  There is no dock here, and all the charter boats come here at the end of the day in addition to everyone else in the area, it's a very popular spot, so it can be quite crowded.  We have a big boat, and finding a decent space close to the beach is always a challenge, sometimes we have to get other boats to move, or circle till there is a spot, but it doesn't take long.  The most fun part for me on this was anchoring (I know that doesn't sound like fun, but it was! Let me explain).  Once we got the bow (front) anchor set, because of the limited space and our size we also needed a stern anchor which someone had to toss an anchor as hard as they could behind the boat.  This was so much fun!  The Captain would just point in which direction he wanted it and bombs away! Once anchored our guests had to wade in neck deep water typically, and head to the beach and the bars.

This was what we looked at from our post (My co-mate is on the right). We would fold towels, clean up a bit, and get the shrimp cocktail ready for when the guests came on board.  Remember when I said there was another time when I had to gather people up? Yeah this was the biggest pain in the rear all day, finding thirty guests spread across a bunch of bars having a good time and telling them to pay up and leave.  I usually swam ashore, and walked up and down the beach yelling our boat name and "We gotta go!" Then I would signal to the Captain how many he had on board, if we were still missing a few I had to go find them.  If we didn't leave at the right time we would get stuck behind some awful smelly boats at the customs dock and would be late getting back.  Once we get everyone on board it's off to customs and the end of our day.


Yeah, have you ever tried to get thirty drunk people through customs?  Let me tell you how THAT goes, ugh.  So, we tie up once it's our turn, bring out the laundry basket full of flip flops for them to put back on, ask them to put shirts on and get to the customs building, sounds easy yeah?  Hang on, they have to step over a rope and a gap just to get off the boat (one out of ten bites it and ends up face first in front of a customs officers shoes on the concrete).  We also have to make sure we are all together, there can't be any other people not from our boat in line unless they are in front or behind our group. Remember how busy I said that last island was with other boats?  Yeah well they are all here now trying to get through customs.  Some people forget their passport, others don't put a shirt on (they won't let women pass with just a swim top on, or men without a shirt).  We spent a lot of time running back to the boat to get random things, some people even walked through customs and started walking down the street in the town away from the boat!!  It was like herding cats to a boat, and this is all we have left before we are home free.  Oh by the way they had four dollar Patron (Tequila) shots on that last island, always a great idea after a day of sun, snorkeling, hiking, and activity hehe.  Once they are all through it's a great little hop home and people are usually in a great mood. We blast some music, some usually dance as we approach the dock, and it's the usual thanks and tip jar task from the last time.

Well!  That's it for the tasks, work stuff, and all the seriousness and what goes on in our typical work days.  My last post in this segment is "A Mate's Day Off" and I'm so excited for that one!  I didn't take nearly as many pictures while working as I did on my off days (Which is probably right for anyone), but my day off pictures are so cool, and I can't wait to share those experiences with all of you!  There will be less words and a lot more pictures for that one, I hope you are all okay with that!  Thanks for reading :)