Deliberately different, is how we like to think of Indian Valley Scuba and how we operate. And this weekend is no different, with our Instructor Development Course candidates heading down to warm and sunny Key Largo for thier PADI Instructor Examinations.
Last weekend we had the honor of welcoming Richie Kessler into the instructor ranks, as he survived the chilly waters of Dutch Springs and competed his exams with honors! Bogden Bachmatiuk joined Richie in our local waters, and they both made us proud. Way to go men!!
However, the rest of the class decided that a nice, warm water instructor examination sure sounded more alluring than braving the near-icy waters of Dutch, so we headed to Key Largo for this weekend’s exam. Steve Clem, Bill Zyskowski, and Csaba Lorinczy came down to IVS South, aka the Hartman Estate, to spend the weekend in their little PADI coccoons, ready to break out and hopefully spread their wings as Open Water Scuba Instructors come Sunday afternoon. Of course I had to come down and assist in this endeavor, and sure, it’s convenient that the Keys Full Moon celebration party is tonite, and a coincidence that the Christmas boat parade is tomorrow, but none of that had anything to do with me being here to cheer the men on and support them in their endeavor. it’s all business!!
Dave Hartman has rented us a private boat for the weekend, and our plan is to use that to finalize our inventory of lobster-laden dive sites for next season’s lobster mini-season. But first we needed to make sure the guys were prepared for the start of the instructor exams tomorrow. Tonight we had our orientation, with introductions, a review of the weekends’ activities, assignments being given out, and a general overview of the goals and expectations for the next 48 hours. After a brief stop for dinner, the men hit the books, reviewing their assignments and preparing their academic presentations. It got a little testy at times, with some harsh words as teaching aids were claimed and reference books grabbed. But after a little while, everyone calmed down, and great stuff started to come out as they practiced their presentations before each other, critiquing and evolving the process with the goals of maxxing out tomorrow with scores in the high 4’s to perfect 5’s. Finally, time for a break, and some reminiscing about how this whole process has evolved, from learning to dive, advancing through the various levels of certification, and finally getting to the point they’re at today. Well let’s get this paperwork completed, Dave says, so we spend another two hours wrapping that up! So as the clock strikes nearly 2:00 a.m., our little butterflies retire to their bunks to rest up for the big two days ahead.
Saturday morning dawned bright and early as our candidates headed off to the first day of the examination. Meanwhile, Hartman and I headed out to pick up our boat for the weekend. We chose a nice 23 foot center console, with 225 Yamaha horses on board. After a brief review of the boat’s features, we motored on out and headed through the canal systems to Dave’s house to load our scuba gear. At 10:30 my cell rings, and Csaba gives me the update – confined water presentations and skill demo’s completed! Yahoo! Now they are heading in for the written exam portion.
Dave & I load the boat and head out to sea. We have a brisk 20 to 25 knot wind coming out of the north, and the ocean is awfully full of white caps and chop. Our selected site for our first recon mission is Carysfort Light reef, which is about a 9 mile run from Dave’s house. Let me tell you, it is one loooooong nine miles as we are pounded incessantly heading into the seas. It’s a wet and rough ride, and the boat & crew are getting a serious workout. As we near the reef, we can see 5 and 6 foot waves rolling and breaking over the shallow portions of the reef – just the picture you want to see to start your dive! And with the sea conditions, it is not surprising that we are the only boat on the ocean, in fact, we only passed two boats in the canals on our way out, so it’s awfully lonely out here! And, while we were heading out, our depth finder decided to take the day off, so now it’s a crap shoot on the depth under us, making the site selection even more diffficult. We finally choose our first location, and drop the anchor in a sandy clearing just outside the reef. With the confused wind and seas, the boat is spinning on the anchor, giving us the sinking feeling of being caught in a whirlpool….hmmm, is that a sign?? Well, we didn’t sail this far out to sightsee, so we gear up, roll over, and head on down. First stop – to inspect the anchor! Why, you may ask? Let me share a little story of a dive from my past…..
Some years ago, I was out in my own 23 foor center console, diving alone about 8 miles off the Jersey coast. That day had a lot of similarities with today, with some strong winds and choppy seas, but I was full of bravado and knew I could prevail against whatever Mother Nature decided to throw me. Ah, the foolishness of the young man! On that day, I was alone, so I anchored the boat on a rock pile in about 90 feet of water, headed on down, gave the anchor a quick look, and set off searching for lobster. It proved to be quite the productive dive, with quite a few bugs in the bag, and finally my doubles were getting a bit low, so I headed back to the anchor. Well, at least I thought where the anchor was. So I looked around, pretty darn sure that this was the rock the anchor was set in, but hmmmm, maybe it was that one, …no, maybe that one over there! Finally, after expanding the search pattern to the limits of the dwindling supplies of gas left in my tanks, I knew it was time to head up and sort things out on the surface. So I slowly ascended, did my safety stop, and broke the surface, spinning slowly as I did, looking for the boat. OK, let’s spin again, and find the boat. Alright, maybe three times is the charm……no…..ok….not so funny now, and my mind starts to run through the possibilities….boat was stolen…boat sunk…..the common denominator being me here, boat not. I spun around again, and again and again, and it was obvious the seas had picked up from when I first went in, with gentle rollers now in the 5 or 6 ft height range, making my view of the sea around fairly limited. It was probably on my 12th or so rotation, when finally I was on the crest of a roller, and so was my boat, that I realized what had happened. As the seas picked up, my anchor must have lifted out of the rocky crevice I left it in, and my boat had slowly drifted away, driven by the wind, but thankfully slowed by the dragging anchor on the sea floor. Never-the-less, the distance between me and the bobbing boat was close to a mile, so I kicked back, and started the long and tiring swim to my little floating island of salvation. An hour or so later, I finally was there, at the side of my sturdy vessel, and after an extended rest, I tossed my bag of lobsters on board (yes, I had never let go of my catch – priorities, you know!). I climbed on board, and vowed to never dive alone again!
Well, here we are today, and although I am not diving alone, technically, with both of us in the water, that sorta makes for the same situation, with no one on board to monitor the boats position. Oh well, what/s the odds, I ask? So, that being said, let’s double check that anchor, and sure enough, it is solidly buried in the sand, so we begin our dive. We circle the entire reef, and my mind keeps flashing back to that day long ago, but I maintain control of that demon, and finally, we return to our starting point, and sure enough, our boat is still there! Woo-hoo! Cross that calamity off the list! After that, we hit a second location, and although we see lots of lobsters, they are all shorts, so our take for the day is zero.
So we start the long and pounding journey back in, and on the way, the cell rings, and the men are reporting in the good news – Team IVS is shining in the instructor examinations. A few glitches, but we are well on our way to becoming PADI instructors. I am thrilled, and we decide to celebrate by taking the boys out to see the Christmas boat parade that evening on the bay side in our sturdy little boat. All the horror stories we have shared over the years with boats breaking down on our trips, this time we are feeling good, in command of our own little vessel, which has performed so well so far!
We get back to Dave’s dock, clean the boat, the guys return from the exam, so we pack the coolers with refreshments and head out to enjoy the parade. Yes, we heard the warning about operating the boat after dark, but heck, Hartman is a local, so he knows the route through the mangroves! The wind has died down, so it is flat calm as we head out for the 4 mile run through the mangroves. It is pitch black out tonite, as the sky is terribly overcast, making navigation a bit of a challenge, but my captaining skills are up to the challenge. We enjoy the ride, and finally make it to the ocean side of the cut through the island. The boat has gotten quite the workout today, with lots of serious pounding on the ocean, and our depth finder is still not working, so we are careful in our voyage through the darkness. As we pass through the cut, Bill is on his phone, struggling with text messaging in the dark, so he moves to a spot near the stern, where he can get a little illumination from our stern light. Wow, it’s wet back here he says, and as I slow down to turn and look, it goes from wet to about 6 inches of water running across the deck – Holy Smokes, we are sinking!!!
We check to see if the bilge pump is on, but it is too deep to get down and confirm. We think “need to find a dock”, and start to look towards the Marriott Resort or the Sundowners docks….no, this water is really starting to rise, so scrap that dock plan, we need help! Trying to pick up speed to avoid the Titanic-remake, it’s challenge with all the darkened boats in the bay making all sorts of targets for us to steer around. The anxiety picks up and bit and the boat is getting hard to steer as we sit lower and lower in tthe water. Well, the boating gods were smiling on us, and who is the next boat we can make out in the darkness?? SeaTow, the boat rescue people! “Hey, we are taking on water” we say, and they pass us a small bilge pump and a battery to pump it out. No, this isn’t going to work, this boat is going to end up on the bottom, so we’d prefer a shallow bottom at that! We pick up the pace, and the boat is really wallowing in the water now, as we are standing knee deep in water on the deck. Finally, the motor is too deep, and it stalls, and we are dead in the water. Quickly, we pass a tow line to the SeaTow boat, and they drag us the last couple of hundred yards to the beach at the Caribbean Club, where we sink gracefully in 2 feet of water just off the beach, to the delight of the cheering crowd of hundreds of juiced-up partiers! The SeaTow boat pulls up tight to us, and we break out the big 2 inch gas powered pump, and as we are passing lines and hoses back and forth, I look up and who is crewing the SeaTow boat but our own Captain Anna from this years lobster trip! What a small world it is in Key Largo.
Finally, we we pump enough water out to realize we must have been torpedoed or something cause the inflow is like a small fire hydrant. The boat is light enough now that we are able to enlist the help of some of those on shore, and we drag it half onto the beach. I get down and inspect the hull, and it appears that it has split open on a joint for about 5 feet of the waterline – no wonder we are taking on water! I can stick my hand in right through the crack! No doubt the day of pounding on the ocean was a bit too much of a test for our little craft, and thank goodness that this took this long to open up, or we’d have been in deep doo-doo! So our crew slogs ashore, McArthur-style, and we trudge through the Caribbean Club, leaving our vessel. We grab a cab, head down the road to grab a pizza dinner, and call it a night! Enough excitement, but at least we did get to see the parade!
It’s Sunday morning now, and I head to the Jules Undersea Lodge for the final part of the exam with the guys. The PADI examiner has requested my help to move things along and get everyone done this weekend. Seems a lot of the other candidates have a hard time understanding the concept of “brief” being a key part of the briefing, and they are waxing on way too much to maintain their audience’s attention. This is so important, and something we preach AND practice at IVS – it’s not about the talking, it’s all about the doing! So today’s activities are the open water teaching presentations along with the rescue workshop, and I take care of the rescue aspect while the examiner takes the two teams underwater for their presentations. Finally, the debriefings are given, and congratulations all around as we welcome a total of ten candidates into the society of PADI instructors! Way to go men!