From One Busy Guy



As a guy from upstate New York it never occurred to me that I would one day possess all the necessary skills to become a certified scuba diver. I was raised in the Finger Lakes region (my old neighborhood) and the water temperatures are freezing cold even in the warmest months. I remember seeing plenty of adventuresome divers who wore thick rubber suits and hoods and booties inside their fins. It was not attractive.

Scuba diving was something of a fad in the mid-sixties owing in part to the TV series  'Seahunt' (1958) starring Lloyd Bridges. I was quite young though I do recall the image of this bulky and unflattering gear.


Years later I'm in South Florida. I'm newly divorced and trying to find the way forward. Perhaps it's only me but I think it's always more difficult for men to find a new circle of friends after a divorce. Then one day I meet a smallish, zesty and much younger girl with a true flair for the joy of living. She's a camper, a hiker, a runner, a wind surfer and a scuba diver among many other skills. She suggests it would be good for me to step outside my 'comfort zone' and so I do.


A suitable dive instruction class is found (about $200 with books and class time). Nearly five hundred dollars in gear is purchased; [ fins, snorkel, face mask, wetsuit, weight belt, regulator (for breathing) and a buoyancy compensator (BC) ] and I'm ready to go. There are classes and a kind of sign language to digest. Soon enough we were traveling to the swimming pool hall of fame in Ft Lauderdale for underwater instruction. The pool is 18 - 20 feet deep. I remember it was difficult for me to clear pressure from the ears and when that strange balloon style squealing sound dissipated you knew you were successful.


Eventually all the study and instruction was complete and it was time to venture out onto the ocean for the 'check-out dive'.  Everyone in my class (about 20 of us) motored down to Tavernier, Florida located just beyond Key Largo for the big day.


The seas were 5 to 8 feet that day. That may not sound like much but I remember because the boat (a 25' dive boat) would peak on a swell and suddenly drop to where there was only water all around before repeating. It made everyone nauseous. Most of the class was not prepared for this and we were barfing over the side even before the first of two dives. It was very different than the Swimming Pool Hall of Fame!


To become a certified diver requires that a number of behaviors be competently demonstrated. Students must remove their mask and all their gear underwater then place it back onto their body. There are codified ways to enter and exit the water as well as signals to master (after all there is no speaking underwater). Emergency air sharing (buddy breathing). Students learn to clear water from the mask while under the waves. I remember kneeling on the ocean floor with my mask in my hand and thinking; "What the hell am I doing here?"


Well, since everyone was already barfing the whole buddy breathing thing went out the window. It seems most people would rather suffocate and drown than breath from a partners vomit soaked regulator. Students are instructed to keep their regulator in the mouth even if they get sick. The underwater surge made it hard to keep the class together. Even while viewing the entire class would shift right 4 feet and then suddenly return. Strangely while underwater there was no nausea. That would return back on board.


The weather worsened and so we only did the one dive. Thanks. Everyone was just as sea sick as possible and the entire dive should probably have been cancelled. Naturally the teachers were calm and unfazed by all the reactions. It was just another day for an experienced instructor and a hellish ordeal for the rest.


These kinds of adventures would continue throughout my scuba career. It turns out that I'm prone to sea sickness although it has lessened with age. The one time I did not become sea sick was diving a reef about 20 yards off Dania Beach, Florida and in only 20 feet of water. I got a parking ticket instead. 


Then one day I returned home from working on the Majesty of the Seas sailing out of Miami only to discover that my house had been burglarized. There was some missing cash and a few damaged VCR recorders (as well as my telescope). But mostly the crooks ran off with the BC and the 'shorty' (a small version of the wet suit). I've never tried diving again.


Maybe it was the salt water but one thing I do remember very well is how great those icy cold beers tasted once back on warm pleasant and mercifully still terra firma.