This is what an average day is like for me. I currently work for two different dive shops. Both have their plusses and minuses. You are familiar with them as Dive Shop A, the first job I got here where the people were a bit cranky at first (understatement), and Dive Shop X, the posh shop that was really nice for a while until our head instructor went on holiday and shit hit the fan. Normally I’ll get a call the night before from one shop or the other, asking if I’m available to teach such and such course tomorrow. Sometimes I don’t get the call until an hour before though, which I’m still trying to get used to. I’m not a doctor making six figures a year, do I really need to be on call, ready to jump when you say jump like it’s an emergency?

Kyle and Shawna had to go on a visa run to Laos a few days back and so Kyle asked if I wanted to finish up his Open Water Course for him. I happily agreed as it’s been slow season and work has been scarce. It was just one student from London and all he had left to do was Open Water dives 3 & 4. The nice part of it though was he signed up for his Advanced course, and being the instructor who certified him for Open Water, I got first dibs.

The Advanced course is comprised of five adventure dives out of about twenty you can choose from. Two of these dives have to be a Deep dive and an Underwater Navigation dive, but the other three you can choose to your heart’s desire from a whole array of fun choices. I say you can choose to your heart’s desire, but each dive shop will usually try to lean you toward three specific options that they are accustomed to teaching. At Dive Shop A, these three dives are the Peak Performance Buoyancy dive, the Night dive, and the Wreck dive. I tried to persuade my guy away from the Night dive and offered the exciting options of Search and Recovery (my personal favorite), Fish ID (boring) and Boat (jokes), because Night dives still make me nervous, but he chose to go with Night dive.

At Dive Shop A there is a massive white board behind the front desk with the entire week’s schedule, all color coded with who is working and what courses are going on and who is going out on each boat and where each boat is going, etc. It’s only now beginning to make sense to me, at first it was a big white board colored in complex mathematical formulas. I took a look at the schedule with my student, D, and decided that we would take the following day off, start with academics at 9:30 on Tuesday, go on the afternoon boat on Tuesday, Night dive Tuesday night, and then morning boat on Wednesday when it would be going to Chumphon Pinnacle, the best site to go to for a Deep dive.

Mornings that I’m doing academics are always nice and relaxing. Wake up at a leisurely pace, sit at the kitchen counter and eat some yogurt and granola (I’m a creature of habit when it comes to breakfasts), get my things together, then drive down the hill just to sit and have my students fill out paperwork and go over their Knowledge Reviews, one Knowledge Review for each of the five dives. Break for lunch as soon as we get through all of the questions, I pack up his bag of gear, then meet back at 11:45 for the afternoon boat. At 11:45 all of the instructors and divemasters load the gear bags onto the longtail boat, and then herd the students and fun divers over to the longtail as well. The longtail transports us all to the big boat where the captain lives. We unload everything onto the big boat, and then have our customers transfer boats and we are off.

Our first site of the afternoon was Japanese Gardens, a beachy joke of a site located just off one of Koh Nang Yuan’s picturesque strips of sand. This is where we take all our beginner students. If you go and visit Koh Nang Yuan, you will promptly get your fins confiscated at the entrance gate. And yet this is where they bring all the beginner divers who should not be entrusted to have fins on their feet.

One of our other instructors was doing a Peak Performance Buoyancy dive this site, and therefor was using the buoyancy hoop, so I was left with doing our Underwater Navigation dive. I’ll vary this dive slightly depending on the site, but it usually involves some variant of making my student find the way back to the boat for us. Very useful for someone like me who hasn’t figured out herself how to navigate some of the sites yet. Oh you’re doing your Navigation dive? Sweet you get to find the boat then. Muahaha. D’s mission was to use natural navigation to lead us toward the beach until we found a suitable sandy patch, then we laid out my reel which is marked off every meter so that he could measure some fin kicks and time to travel a certain distance, then use natural navigation to get us back to the boat again. Natural navigation means no compass, you are using the bottom contour and reef formations, etc. He had us headed back in the right direction, the noise of boat traffic told us we were close, and then we reached a large sandy patch that we definitely had not passed on our way to the beach. He led us in a series of twists and turns and corrections until even I was beginning to lose sense of where we were. Then he magically led us straight into the mooring line from the opposite direction we had initially started out with. I don’t know if that was intentional or a lucky mistake, but he played innocent and I congratulated him for such a neat trick. The rest was easy, use a compass to navigate a straight line and a reciprocal course, and then to navigate a giant square.

While I was following D around on his various courses of navigation, I had noticed an instructor who’s student was laying in a patch of coral, just laying there like a helpless overturned turtle, wiggling his legs and arms about uselessly while the instructor hovered there at a loss for what to do. A little later I saw this same instructor, now by a different patch of coral, trying to grab hold of his student to keep him from floating to the top, and in the process stomping all over the coral that was unlucky enough to be in his way. Yes, the instructor was stomping on coral this time. A little while later still, I saw this same instructor (he had very distinguishable board shorts on) writing on one of those magical etch-a-sketch slates. Only the Japanese use those, and Asians can’t dive. It all added up. (I don’t mean to be stereotypical but they are worse divers than they are drivers). After we were back on the boat taking our surface interval, one of our other instructors came up with the etch-a-sketch slate I had just seen the Japanese instructor using, super excited by his find. I laughed and said I knew exactly who it belonged to. The poor guy couldn’t control his students or keep track of his fancy slate.

Our second site was White Rock, but seeing as we would be doing Peak Performance Buoyancy and not seeing much beyond sandy patch, the site didn’t really matter. One of our DMTs, a sweet Chinese guy who is very helpful and always offering to put together weight belts for me, came up to me and asked if he could come with me this dive. I happily agreed; it’s always better to have two students so they can be buddies. We made our descent, buoyancy hoop in tow, began with some hovering and fin pivots, and then spent the rest of the dive swimming through the hoop at various angles and in different positions and practicing upside down hovers. Our DMT, despite having just finished his divemaster, readily jumped in with the buoyancy training and we made a game out of seeing who could do certain tasks the best. I’ll let you find the irony there, I’ve made enough racist jokes for one post.

By the time we got back to the shop we had about an hour to break before heading out on the night dive, and I had about an hour to prepare myself mentally for my sixth ever night dive. Night dive #1 was in Raotan, and I decided I was not a fan but would give it a second chance. Night dive #2 came the following week and I decided that night diving was just not for me. Night dive #3 happened once I was a certified divemaster and my customers begged me to go on their night dive with them and I caved. Night dive #4 was a nice fun dive in the Virgin Islands where I saw my first ever octopus. and Night dive #5 was a few weeks ago when I went out with Kyle to test out my new UV light, which turned the entire reef into an underwater rave. So dive #6 would be my first ever night dive as an instructor, and I was terrified because we don’t put strobe lights on the boats here. In Roatan we just put a giant strobe on the boat that you could see from way far away and so just navigated in a giant circle around it. Here there are only two dive sites that boats go to at night, so having strobes would just light up the entire site. I would have to rely on my navigation skills. I can’t even navigate on land in the dark. I just lose all sense of direction. This was going to be fun.

The plan had been to go to Twins, one of our other easy peasy beginner sights, and so I had spent the past day memorizing every inch of the map just to make sure I knew my way around. And then as the longtail took me and one other class out to the big boat, the other instructor on the boat decided we should go to White Rock. White Rock is our biggest, most spread out site on the island. I’ve only in the past couple of days started to figure out how to navigate White Rock in the daylight with good visibility. But this other instructor was one of the people who was rude to me in the beginning, so I wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of informing her that White Rock was beyond my abilities. I formed a game plan in my mind.

In the beginning, navigating here was hard because I was used to a different sort of navigating. Roatan was surrounded by one huge barrier reef. Certain areas of the reef were designated dive sites, but you could really just keep going and going along the reef and keep finding interesting stuff to see. There was no real beginning or end to any of the sites. Navigating consisted of heading out til you found the reef wall, choosing which direction was against the current, diving until the first person reached half a tank, and then turning around and coming back. I was so confused by the sites when I first got here because there is no real reef. It’s all just rocks and sandy patches. And then I came to my senses and realized that navigating here is a joke because it’s all just rocks and sandy patches. If you see a rock with coral growing on it, that’s the dive site. If you see sandy patch, you’ve left the dive site. So for White Rock, just swim around in a big circle, right?

We descended down the line with a little light still left in the sky, allowing our eyes to gradually adjust to the darkness. I brought my UV light along again to district myself from being nervous over the task at hand, and to distract D from noticing that I was scared shitless. Why couldn’t he have just picked the Search and Recovery dive? The dive went smoothly as I knew it would until complete darkness fell. As soon as we had nothing but our torches to rely on, I lost all sense of where we were. You see White Rock, unlike some of the other rocks, is not just one giant rock you can swim around easily. It is a whole series of rocks that you swim over and through and around. My plan to just make a giant circle around the whole site was fine so long as you know where the outskirts of the site are, but I couldn’t see a thing past the coral glowing neon orange bathed in my UV light ahead of me. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. We were swimming counterclockwise around the site, and at some point we turned left around a rock that I suspected was too soon to be making that left turn, there should still be some more of the site to our right. Just keep swimming. I was never actually nervous, because worst case scenario you make an ascent where you’re at and then swim at the surface to the boat. That’s a little embarrassing though. It’s always nice to come up next to the boat like you have a secret radar to detect exactly where it is. Just keep swimming. I suspected at this point that we were actually cutting halfway through the sight, but I could not see anything far enough to confirm that theory, and my compass was no help; sure we’re heading West, but is that West cutting through the site or West along the north coast of the site? Just keep swimming and look at all the pretty neon coral. I kept checking back on my guy to make sure he was ok and had enough air, and was relieved every time to see the delight in his eyes. He’s having a good time so just keep swimming. My suspicions that we had cut through the site were confirmed as I finally saw lights ahead and to my right. I followed the lights until I finally saw the distinguishing pointed rock that would mean our mooring line was right on the other side. From the other side the rock looked like a thumb and three fingers holding the rope. I looked down at my computer to see we were at a perfect 40 minutes. I instructed D to kneel in the sand and cover his light while we looked at the bioluminescence, which was quite a letdown after all the neon coral we saw with the UV light, and then we made our ascent. D was thrilled over the whole experience. And I was high on adrenaline after having successfully navigated White Rock in the dark.

I went home and showered. Normally in the evening we would watch a movie, or sit around the porch in bean bag chairs smoking hookah, but I was tired after a full day of teaching and diving and would have to be up early the next morning.

Morning boat at Dive Shop A leaves at 7:00, which means that customers have to be there at 6:45, which means that I have to be there at 6:30. It’s a little early for me. I’ll usually ask Fletch to give me a wake up call, just to make sure I’m up, which ended up being a good thing that morning because my iPad alarm went off without any sound. So I’ll have Fletch call me at 5:45, talk to him for 15 minutes, stumble out of bed, find a swimsuit and something suitable for work (any dive related shirt but not from another shop on the island), try to wake up over my yogurt and granola, and drive down the hill. I also had to stop at 7-Eleven that morning for Deep dive supplies. Normally that would be an egg to crack underwater, but Dive Shop A decided not to let us pollute the ocean with any more eggs, so I went for a couple of Hershey’s bars. (Plastic wrappers are so much better than biodegradable egg shells).

Our fist dive site was Chumphon, my favorite site here on the island which I’m sure I have talked about many times before. There are only two real skills for the deep dive, compare depth gauges, and look at color swatches. I briefed D on what we would be doing after we made our descent down to 30 meters and then pulled out the larger of the two Hershey’s bars to show him, telling him to get a good look. The pressure change from being at such a great depth was going to have an impact on the chocolate. We made our descent down to 30 meters, compared depth gauges, looked at colors, and then I pulled out the smaller of the two Hershey’s bars I had purchased that morning and presented it to him, trying all the while not to die laughing at the look of amazement in his eyes. He kept motioning with his hand that it had shrunk and I just nodded and told him to keep the candy. His expression though was priceless. Back on the boat he asked what had happened, the chocolate he understood but how did the wrapper shrink too? I pulled out the larger candy bar and we had a good laugh. Not quite as much fun as feeding eggs to the fish, but still a pretty good joke.

The last of our five adventure dives would be the Wreck dive. We have a pretty cool little wreck here called the HTMS Sattakut. It was originally a battleship commissioned by the US Navy during World War 2, launched in 1944, and then sunk in 2011. The visibility is always shit, so you have to follow one of two mooring lines down or else get lost in pea soup. The boat dropped us at the wreck, we explored it for the ten minutes that we were allowed before our computers started screaming at us, and then we got to swim all the way over to White Rock. Once at White Rock, I got to play the game of guess which mooring line our boat is at. There are four. After navigating White Rock the previous night in the dark, I felt much more confident with my navigation abilities, and started with the south point. None of the boats looked like ours, from what I could see, so we went around in a counter clockwise fashion until I found a boat with a drop tank (ours always uses a drop tank on morning dives) and from what I could tell, looked like it was reflecting the right colors off the surface of the water. We made our ascent, and sure enough, there she was.

So that was more like a day and a half in the life of a dive bum, but I haven’t really written all that much about work on a day to day basis, so there you have it! Also this post doesn't have any pictures, and I haven't been posting nearly enough pictures due to limited internet data, but here's one of some batfish at Red Rock.