job

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.  

THE DIVE

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.  

THE CAVE

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.

SUMMARY

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 1: Day Sail

So you want to work on a boat huh?  Great!  It was one of the most rewarding and fun jobs I ever had, but also one of the most challenging.  It is an ever changing position that will test you everyday, but if you stick with it you will never regret it.  There are many different types of mate jobs, whether it is on a cruise ship, a day sail, or motor charter.  I worked on day sails, sunset sails, and motor charters with various destinations and excursions.  Some were snorkel trips, some dinner cruises, some booze cruises, and some had all of that with a hike involved.  It didn't really matter where we were going, it mattered more what we were doing with our guests.  I can only speak to my personal experience, so I will tell you about my experiences with the particular boats I worked on. Today we will focus just on the day sails.

There are mono hauls and catamarans you can work on, both unique and not much difference in them from a mate standpoint.  I worked on both, and only the captain really notices the differences based on performance and handling.  For us mates, we have the same tasks no matter which type of boat we are on.

BEFORE WE SAIL

Whether it is filling up Dinghies with beer, water, and ice, or prepping for lunch, there is usually at least an hour of prep before guests are on the boat.  Once prepped we had to put on our logo golf shirts and greet the guests.  They are typically lined up along the dock where they can board the boat, very eager to get on.  These trips are a little later in the morning typically, so it was a little more relaxed and a little easier to get going.  We would get the guests on board, have them remove their shoes or sandals, get them situated, and bring them drinks before we left.  The mates would then retreat to the galley while the Captain addressed them and gave them a run down of what our day will look like.  During this time we could wash dishes, sweep up, and get the snorkel room prepped before we are underway.  Once the Captain has finished his address it was up to us to get the boat out of the slip.

Getting the boat out of the slip was a bit of a challenge for some boats.  One of the sailboats I worked on weighed over eighty eight thousand pounds, was made of cement, and as you can imagine didn't have the best turning radius.  One of us had to hop in the dinghy and push the bow out as instructed by the Captain while we were backing out of the slip.  This was another part of training that you will most likely not have to do but it was a good skill to learn, made us learn how to use this specific dinghy in case of emergency.  Dinghies sound hilariously easy to use, but that's not always the case, they can be hard to use (giggity).  Anyhoo, one of us would tend to the ropes, and the other would hop in the dinghy and get the boat out of the slip.  Once we were turned out and facing the right way, we would tie up the dinghy and get started with the trip.  For other boats we would drop off mates and materials at all the boats and get them ready to go, stranding ourselves out in the harbor until it was quitting time.

UNDERWAY

As a mate, especially the first mate you act as the relief Captain in case of emergency, or if he/she needs to leave the helm for any reason.  One of the reasons for us was that we had a manual sail, which only the Captain was allowed to put up.  While the Captain set up the main, one of us had to steer and take over the helm, making sure we were heading directly into the wind (this made it easier to release the sail).  Other times it was so the Captain could, well, you know, relieve him/herself, always be prepared!

In addition to sailing to a couple of islands, we also had a snorkel/lunch stop, so once the Captain was set it was our job to get every guest outfitted for snorkeling.  Giving everyone masks and a snorkel was pretty easy, it was when we needed to get shoe sizes from everyone (in Euro sizes) for fins and only had a limited time.  People would typically give you a range, and you had to bring multiple sizes in order you to find their fit.  Sometimes it would take until we were right at anchor point, but there were usually two of us mates so one could finish up and the other could drop anchor or moor (depending on which spot we went to that day).  Once tied up, one of us would have to "life guard."  Typically it was up to the Captain, but we would usually just rock-paper-scissors for it, unless one of us wanted to do it.  I was the only male mate for this company, and most of the women I worked with didn't want to get their hair wet, so I typically jumped in.  It was a lot easier than staying on the boat during that time, all I had to do was float on a buoy in a breathtaking place, usually off an uninhabited island and get tan!

While all the guests were snorkeling or setup tanning on the beach tanning, the mate left on the boat had to make lunch.  We had a full kitchen in our boat, so we were able to provide a hot lunch.  We made sure to have vegetarian options, as well as options for children too since this was a day trip.  The Captain will ring the bell, we will finish up and then help get all of the guests back on board.  Once everyone is situated, the Captain will make a little speech about what we offer for lunch, how to go about lining up, and where the trash cans are (that was us, we were the trash can).  Once everyone is done with lunch, we would bring up the anchor (or untie from the mooring ball) and sail to our next stop.

This was our history and interaction time, our main task during this stretch was to mingle with guests, make them laugh, and give them historical facts about the area.  It's also a great time to photo bomb every guest on board.  It was also a good time to answer some let's call them interesting questions.  Some of my favorites were "why is the water so blue?" as well as "what makes the water so salty?"  Making up random and incorrect answers on the spot became a specialty of ours, lots of talks about pirates salting their food, to tourists throwing blue jeans in the water to answer those...It was also a time where they would like to get to know their mates and captain.  The captain had group around the helm that he/she was always engaging with, and it was our job to walk around and make friends.  Lots of questions about where we were from, and what brought us down here ("airplane" was my response to that usually).

RETURNING TO SLIP

On the way back in is one of the only times where we can pretty much ignore every guest on board, it's too important to focus on the tasks.  Some guests will ask you for another rum drink while you have lines in your hand, but the day is over for them and we need to safely get the boat back in.  One of us has to pull the dinghy in, hop in and help push the bow while the Captain backs the boat back in.  The other mate has to make sure the lines are ready and ties us up as soon as we are backed in.  Once we are all tied up we run to the back of the boat to say our farewells, thanks, and hold out the tip jar!  We do get a mate wage per trip, but the tips are really what puts our wages up to "livable."  All the guests are off the boat, we are all done for the day right?  Not so fast, we have a dirty boat that isn't ready for the next trip, that's right it's cleanup time!

There are a few things that are nice about cleanup time.  First and most importantly, we are allowed a shift beverage once all the guests are off the boat (rum and something typically).  We usually take about fifteen minutes to wind down, sit and chill before we get working, talk about the day, blast some music and hang out.  Once the first drink is done, we all choose our tasks and get to work.  We get paid by the trip, so there really isn't any time frame, we can take as much time to cleanup as we want and the drinks are cheaper on board.  One of the other nice things about cleanup time is if something cool happens, we are free to go check it out.  For instance, one evening we were cleaning up I was folding t-shirts down below, and my mates yelled "Dolphins!!" and all I heard was a bunch of splashes.  I ran up and my Captain and mates were all swimming with a school of Dolphins, so what do you think I did?  Heck yea, I dove right in and swam around with a school of dolphins during sunset, it was absolutely incredible.  There are perks!!  Once we were done swimming with dolphins, cleaning the boat, making sure it was ready for the next day it was go time.  What does a mate do after a long day?  I'll cover that a few articles from now under "A Mate's Tale Part 4: A Mate's Time Off."

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.

BEFORE WE SAIL:

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!

UNDERWAY

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.

 

RETURN

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 ;)

BEFORE TAKEOFF

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!

UNDERWAY STOP #1: HIKE

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.

 

STOP #2: LUNCH

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!

STOP #3: SNORKEL

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.

STOP #4: BAR ISLAND

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.

LAST STOP: CUSTOMS

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 :)

A Mate's Tale Part 4: A Mate's Day Off

Yeah so THIS is why we move here, when we have a day off we get to play!  Typically someone will have a boat going out, and we can hop on and go island hopping with whoever is off that day.  It was hard to plan, and usually you didn't get to choose who you hung out with that day because of our random schedules.  We had a group on social media and someone would post about a boat trip and how many spots there were, and how much it would cost.  We usually knew the captain as well, so we could do anything we wanted and go anywhere.  These ended up being LONG days usually, since we start drinking rum right off the bat.  Breakfast was rum and OJ, usually leaving around seven in the morning, yikes I know.  Each trip was different, but we had a few "hot" spots that we always had to go to.

This was usually our first stop, pretty much every boat trip went here right away.  It was a remote and uninhabited island that wasn't too far away, had a very nice beach all the way around, and it was peaceful.  We would setup beach games, throw a frisbee or football, blast some music, and have some more drinks.  We spend a couple of hours here, it's our very own private beach party, not easy to leave.

This was our boat that day, they are all about the same for these day trips hopping around the islands.  They are fast, spacious enough for up to ten of us, good stereo on board, and you don't need a dock so you can just beach it nice and close (you have to make sure the cooler is close by you know).  We have absolutely ZERO timeframe, we just go with the flow.  If you have a boat full of close friends (as we were this time) it makes things so much smoother, but people are so laid back on de islands that it doesn't matter. Once everyone seems to be done and ready to move on we slowly make our way back to the boat and head out!

 

Ummm hey girls it's time to go!!  It's okay, you can walk around the entire island in less than ten minutes, we will be loaded up and ready to go by the time they come back around.  With our morning fun in the rear view mirror, it's time to find us a cool place to get some snacks, and maybe a drink or two.  Can you recommend a place?  That's okay, I think we will find something, gotta be a bar around here somewhere no?

We found one! You have to stop at a bar before noon, it's a Pirate's code or something. Even though we have rum and beer on board, it's more about socializing than just drinking, I mean it's both.  Luckily this place has an actual dock!  We usually take a vote on board for where to go but most of us don't care and let the Captain take us wherever he/she wants.

 

Sure Captain that looks fine, what do you think?  This place ended up being really cool, they actually had horses out back and a couple of hiking trails.  Cool little bar spot with an unbelievable view, cool breezes, and excellent food.  Ever had Conch Fritters?  If you haven't, please do, I don't even like seafood all that much and they are delectable.

 

Sometimes there is a house pet as well that you can play with or pet, there was a house cat here that was sitting in the only available bar stool.  Oh well, guess we will stand!  We get a few beers or rum drinks, some appetizers, and walk around taking pictures. It's never easy to leave any of these places, but you know the next place is going to be really cool as well!  Now that we are full and have sobered ourselves a tad, it's time to hop back on board and have some drinks!

Do you like music?  Strange question I know, I don't think I've ever met a person that said no to that seriously.  Our playlists are always all over the place, reggae, classic rock, r & b, little bit of everything on these trips.  We would just trade off hooking up our phones, unless the Captain had his hooked up then we would just let him/her pick the music. Let's go I'm thirsty!

 

Aaaahhhh much better.  Yeah the boat has cup holders absolutely EVERYWHERE.  Only problem is there ends up being two drinks in every holder all over the place and it gets hard to keep track of which drinks are which.  We are always moving around the boat, mingling with different friends, bothering the captain, and changing the music.  But as long as you make sure everyone on board doesn't have cooties you will live.  Time to stop again!

So, even though we have a bunch of drinks, we do like to be active throughout the day. So we decided to make a snorkel stop at this incredible place.  No land to stand on, no beach, just amazing corals and sea life under all those rocks poking up right there.  There is also a swim through where you can dive down and swim through a little opening in the coral.  Be careful though, it is lined with fire coral and you can get stung pretty bad. The currents can be challenging as well, so not everyone wanted to jump in, but I did! Once we were all done snorkeling, guess what it's time for?  No not another drink, come on now, plenty of time for that, plus I still haven't finished the one from before I dove in.  It's time for another stop!

Man, this day is flying by.  We usually stop off somewhere that has hammocks and is quiet and peaceful, our "nap spot."

 

Some take a nap in a hammock, some of us walk the beach taking pictures, some read, others make sure our rum consumption is kept up correctly.  We usually only spend about an hour here, before our last stop of the day.  *Yawn* I'm getting tired just thinking about how relaxing this is.  Okay okay, wake up it's time to go!!

Our final stop, every trip always ends up here.  If you read my previous post I called this "Bar Island."  A beautiful beach just lined with bars amongst the palm trees, my favorite place on Earth.  A certain Country Music star frequented this place and even wrote a song about it.  Pulling up we had to look out for floaters, snorkelers, passing boats, drunk people, floating coolers, etc.  Once we get beached, it's time to find a good bar.  There is one that is famous, and always over-crowded, not really our style.

 

Want to nail your shirt to the wall ladies?  Not a problem, this ceiling is lined with shirts, towels, all sorts of random things from all around the world.  There seems to be some music coming from one of these places, I'm sure we can find it.

There it is!  This guy was actually the owner of the place, he just sat out singing about anything and everything.  He would look at you and ask you where you are from, then sing a song about your home town making up stuff, incredible.  I'm pretty sure he was real, and I didn't imagine him singing did I?  

After music it was time to jump off the boat a bunch of times.  This is a very good sobering activity, and a ton of fun!  Especially if you have a tennis ball or something, brings me back to my kid days trying to catch something jumping into the ocean.  After a bunch of jumps, I guess the day is over and we have to go back to the dock and end the long sunny day huh?

 

Bye favorite place ever!!  Oh man, this day went by so fast I am so not ready for it to be over with.  But it sure is pretty out here, if only there was one more thing we could do before we go home, just one thing, one teeny tiny thing.  Wait a minute, do you see that?

In the distance, you can't see it?  Wait a while, it's coming up fast!

 

That's what we needed!!  A floating bar!  The party isn't over quite yet, it's time to get a drink and jump off the back of that boat.  Every time I see something like that all I can think of is how badly I want to jump off of it.  Apparently you get a free drink if you jump off naked, but I have no problem spending two dollars on a rum drink.  Ready, set, go!

 

My belly is not that big in real life I swear, it's just full of Caribbean beers and rum today, geronimo!!  Okay, NOW we are done for the day and have to head back in.  It's so terrible we have to leave such beautiful places to head back to our boring apartment.  I'll show you a picture of the awful beach I lived on, it's not for the faint of heart however, please don't fill yourself with pity.

I know, you are asking yourself "How did he ever live in such shambles?"  It's okay, as long as I had a day off every now and then I was able to survive.  This was only one day, this whole story and all of these pictures were from one day off.  I had many days off down there over the course of the two years I spent there, and I could write so many posts about my days off.  This is what made me want to move down there, days like this made it all worth it, and made me be happy with my decision to move there.  It's all all rum and fun though, it is more work and hours in paradise to maintain that lifestyle and have those fun days than it is in your home town.  But who wants easy?  If days like this are the result of the many many hard days of work I'm okay with that, and you adjust accordingly if you want this.  Hope you had fun with me today, it was a long day :)  The next and final post in this segment isn't fun, and will really show you the hardest part of working on a boat in paradise.  It takes place in a spot we called "The Boneyard."  Yeah not a fun sounding place to work in huh?  See you then!

A Final Mate's Tale

So, everything is happy and hunky finding Dory now right?  We just had an amazing day of hopping around islands, toasting with friends and fun strangers alike, and had a day full of delicious drinks and savory treats.  Our job as a mate is going well, and our life is looking quite marvelous.  Just like anywhere there are good days, and there are bad days, then something awful happens and makes life a real challenge.  This is a scenario that you can't plan for, that happens to some but not most, and makes you question everything from your job, to where you are living, and it forces a choice.  This was me at the end of the day after that wonderful day off.

Happy, content, and honestly in total disbelief of how amazing things were.  This was the happiest I would be living on the islands, overnight something happened.  For starters it was now the off-season, we didn't have boats going out as often, and we had to pull rough shifts in what we called "The Boneyard."  The Boneyard was the place where our boats would go to be renovated and fixed, it was a place full of loud noises, cranes, paint, grinders, and all the things that are needed to redo an entire charter boat.  It was not a fun place, in fact it was one of the worst places to be on island.  It was always super hot without a breeze, and you are doing hardcore manual labor getting covered in metal shavings and lord knows what else.  It.was.hell.

This was one of the only times that we are required by law to wear shoes, and for a good reason.  Please don't ask about the nail polish, that is a really long story and I caught enough heat from my bosses and Captains on it already.  Our boats do get routine maintenance, but once every now and then we need a complete overhaul.  We strip the sails, lines, and masts off and basically start from the bare bones.  We have to make sure the thickness of the haul is still intact, and sometimes have to cut out holes and patch them up.  This was however a good way to maintain a living during a time when most people are sitting on their hands, or back home visiting family and not making money. You do what you have to do, and when the boats aren't going out during hurricane season and the start of school, you work in the boneyard to pay the rent.  Remember that nice happy guy on the boat you saw above?  Well this is him now.

"Stay in school kids" was my headline after posting this.  Luckily we had a really great team, and we all worked incredibly well together.  You learned how to do a lot of things on the fly, lots of people didn't have any experience in boat renovations.  I had experience as an electrician and demo tech, but not specifically in this field, so I learned a lot too, but I was also able to adapt quickly since I was used to the rough dirty working conditions and the work itself.  Now, things get worse for me, and I'm getting there, but I'm going to go through this type of work first.  It's something you need to know before going into this profession.  We were all expected to be in the boneyard, and do whatever was asked of us.  Sanding, painting, grinding, hammering, climbing, wiring, welding, nothing easy, but all necessary.

That was one of our most successful boats, and the original one the company started with.  We had to strip it down and basically build it all over again.  I won't lie, it was kind of fun watching it take shape piece by piece, but it took a long time and was not easy work.  The finished product was refreshing to see however, and that first ride on a freshly painted and redone boat was indescribable, it was such a ear to ear smiling moment for all of us.  So, that was the before, and this was the after!

No guests were there for the inaugural sail, no bosses were on board either, it was the Captain that was set to take over the boat permanently (or the one that had been driving it a while) and a couple of us mates that worked on it.  We toasted some beers on the mast and gave it a good test run, amazing.  You can't see it but there is a smear of paint on that flag back there that will always belong to yours truly (Total accident in the wind, but nobody noticed so I remained silent).  So, there were some rewards to the rough work, and this was one of them.

We also celebrated in the boss's hot tub.  Luckily we had a really cool owner who would have all of us over to his amazing place, grill us steaks, offer us free wine and drinks, and show his appreciation for us.  It kept up moral, brought us closer together, and made those tough days worth while.  I loved wearing that shirt, I still wear it all the time, but I miss wearing it with a dozen of my mates together.  We would walk into a bar and take the place over, customers would look at us with envy because of how close we were, and how much fun we were having.  It was something I will probably never have to that level again, unless I join or start a similar outfit.  These were some of the most incredible people I have ever associated with, and I would have done anything for each and every one of them.

Now to go back a couple of steps, I said that I was going to go over the rough job and then get to what the worst part of it all was, the thing that forced a choice and made my life miserable.  Well, read the above.  The one fear of living in a tropical paradise is the insects, and the possible diseases they carry.  I had both of the ones listed above, at different times, and had different reactions to them.  The first one was Dengue, this you might have heard of and is absolutely awful and painful.  The only good thing about it is that it is gone in a week, no matter what.  I worked a couple of days with it, but was unable to work entirely for about five days.  That was the easy one.  Chikungunya is the one you probably have not heard of (unless you knew me then and heard me talk about it).  It is also supposed to last a week, but there is a small percentage that lasts longer, and that's what I got.  Mine lasted for nine months!  The fever, rash, and flu-like symptoms lasted for a week as usual, but I had this awful persistent joint pain that just would not go away.  This was at the same time I was in the boneyard, so I'm doing hardcore manual labor with joint pain as bad a osteoporosis.  I couldn't even open a beer, tragic.

Yeah, even rum didn't work!  The worst part was that there is no cure or treatment.  NIH has been conducting studies for years, and they have nothing.  It ultimately ended my career and life down on the islands, but I had a VERY rare strain that less than 2% of the people that contract it get.  It did go away one day randomly nine months later after I had moved back home.

This was one of my last days on island, reflecting and deciding.  My hands were virtually useless, I couldn't man the lines, steer a boat, or do anything relative to my work, so I had to make the hard decision to leave and go home to recuperate.  Here I am, sitting on a beautiful beach, my apartment a hundred feet behind me, the turquoise waters in front of me, and I can't do what I have loved to do.  I had an awesome tan, glorious beard, and thought I had everything figured out.  In life sometimes you get curve balls, you get impossible tasks to overcome, and you get a bad hand dealt to you, it's how you respond. My point with all of this negative info I'm throwing at you is respond positively.   I was lucky that I had a caring set of parents waiting for me with a place to stay, and a mother willing to help me get through everything.  I was very sad to leave the life, my job, and my incredible friends.  Now that I'm healed and better, and have had more experience I can always move back, and I may one day.  I hope that my writings have been informative, and my experiences interesting.  Even after all the rough things I went through down there, I would still move in a heartbeat, and I still love the experiences I had down there.  I miss it all the time, and I'm so excited each and every day to come home and write about such an amazing and incredible time.  If any of you ever have any questions, or I can help at all please find me on the "Contact" page and reach out! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you will join me on my next adventure!