scuba: first boat dive

Warning: The following post is (almost) photo-less, scary, and gross. Read on.

Our first boat dive was with Red Sail Sports to the North Wall (a "main wall" dive). Before launching into the details of our underwater adventure, here is some background: The Cayman Islands, unlike many islands, are not formed from volcanoes. With the highest elevation of Grand Cayman at 30 feet (!), mountains and volcanoes are not generally in our vocabulary here. The islands are actually the superficial points of the Cayman Ridge, an underwater mountain chain that runs about 8,000 feet deep.

I had to sneak one photo in here.
The diving geography of Grand Cayman is such that this bed of coral on which we sit has two main underwater cliffs or drop-offs which surround (or partially surround) the island: The main wall and the mini wall. The mini wall, situated to the west of the island, starts at 25 feet deep and is usually a 60-foot shore dive. A shore dive means the wall is close enough to dry land that a diver can swim right off the shore to the edge of the mini wall, dive down about 60 feet or less, and see all kinds of seascape and sea life. But there is also the main wall surrounding the island which starts at 60-70 feet (and drops, like, infinity feet - or at least 8,000), and can be the site of many unusual (or just plain larger) sightings. If you're going to see a shark, it will be on the main wall. To be more specific (for those who want to live on the wild side), the north and east ends of the island boast bull sharks, tiger sharks, great hammerheads, reef sharks, and the occasional lemon shark. It's good I didn't know any of this until after I got my PADI certification. I'm more into searching for dolphins.

To circle back to my original point, the reason we were on a boat is that the main wall is too far of a swim from land. For this reason, charter boats that take divers out to the main wall are frequent and popular on the island. As residents (which all of us on board were), we can usually get the trip (and rental gear, if necessary) for a discounted rate from the tourist price. It's just a fun way to see a part of the island that is usually invisible and relatively far away. (Okay, so it's just a 15-minute boat trip, but still.)

At any rate, we were on this boat, heading out to the North Wall. The sea was pretty calm that day, which is about the only way these boats will take divers out. If you can avoid it, it doesn't make sense to get sloshed about both on and off the boat, wasting air just trying to stay in one place. As the boat neared the ridge of the main wall (where boats typically moor) and we approached Roundabout, our first dive site, it surprised me that I started to feel a bit queasy. I'm not one to get motion sickness; I can read in a car, I've been on cruise ships, and our little Dalyan II has given us less than a smooth ride once or twice. None of these things have given me issues. But on this particular morning, as I loaded what was probably more than 50 extra pounds on my back while confined in a full-body 3mm wetsuit, I could not wait to get off that boat. Perhaps it was because we geared up in a part of the boat that was partially enclosed? Perhaps it was because I had just used the head just before donning dive gear? At any rate, I was keen to jump in, and once I did, I started feeling better. Even on a calm day, the water outside the main wall is much choppier than inside the sound, so we were bobbing up and down in the water immediately. No worries though - soon I was 40 feet down and unaware of the motion.

Our first dive was a guided 100-foot dive. Before we knew it, we were swimming through alleys under the sea and then along the wall at 100 feet. To be honest, we didn't see many unusual things. That didn't bother me, as I'm still new to diving, and everything seems unusual to me. What I noticed, however, was how much bigger everything seemed on the main wall. The fans and coral seemed to be super-sized. The fish were larger too. Maybe undisturbed wildlife thrives and flourishes better than those in the Sound with all the boats whizzing around above. But I am (for now) a boat owner, so I'll not get on a soapbox about that.

We finished our first dive and boarded the boat, and I immediately felt sick. I sipped on some water and tried to think about anything but being ill. The dive master suggested that as soon as we got to Eagle Ray Pass, our second dive site, I should have my gear on and be prepared to enter the water immediately. I took her advice and geared up as soon as the boat started slowing down. While everyone else finished putting on their gear and listening to the dive briefing from the captain, I felt a wave of nausea. I unceremoniously pushed my way to the back of the boat and jumped in - no briefing for me! Once again, when in the water, I felt a lot better.

We dove the second site - again, nothing unusual to report - but the underwater geography was spectacular, and there were plenty of "normal" fish and other creatures to spy on. Oh yes - we did see a turtle. That's always a favorite with me.

Too soon, the dive was over (we were feeling cold anyway, as it was an early morning dive), and I had to board that wretched boat once again. NS offered to break down all my gear for me so that I could get to a part of the boat that was open. I chose the bow (a mistake, I'm now told), and prayed for dry land. As I was chatting with a few of the other divers, I started to get that feeling. (Side note: Since moving here and meeting so many Brits, I've learned a new word for what I'm trying to be delicate about. "Chunder". You get the picture.) It happened: Breakfast, round 2. Yep. Fortunately, my aim was pretty good, and everything landed over the side of the boat. Almost instantly, I felt amazing. (And embarrassed and grossed out.)  Not a fun way to end a diving adventure! What I've learned: Don't eat breakfast. Skipping the first meal of the day is border-line sinful to me, but if it'll save me from an experience like that, I'll do it.

Apparently everyone is different when it comes to food and diving. It agrees with some and upsets others. I certainly plan on doing more boat dives in the future, so I'll just have to plan my meals differently. Living on an island known for its world-class diving will not be lost on me. And with 365 dive sites in the process of being mapped out, I might just see a different part of this island every day of the year!

Note: A special thank you to KE, one of our great dive instructors from Happy Fish Divers, for contributing fun and scary facts to this post.