August

Our coworker had a friend come stay with us for a month to do his divemaster training. Becoming a divemaster is the first step towards professional training in the dive world. A proper internship usually takes around a month, where you do all your training, whilst learning how to work in the setting of a dive shop. Fletch and I both did the same internship in Honduras, just a year apart. That is how we met. That is what started this blog. That is what turned my life into this awesome adventure, that one divemaster internship in Roatan. Having had such life-changing experiences, we wanted to make Kaitti’s internship the best thing it could possibly be. We couldn’t offer nine other people to train with, as we both had, our boat doesn’t even hold that many people. But we could offer some exceptional training, and as much fun as can be had on a little patch of sand in the middle of the ocean. When he had successfully completed his course, we threw him a killer snorkel test. A snorkel test is a rite of passage for any newly certified divemaster. If you went through divemaster training without having a snorkel test at the end, then you’re not truly a divemaster. For this reason we had Krysta, our coworker, compete alongside him. My snorkel test was pretty lame five years ago; I had to chug three beers straight and then do push-ups. I don’t drink beer because I can’t stand the full feeling, so chugging three in a row was a disaster. And what’s fun about uncomfortably-full push-ups?


Fletch had some fun at the liquor store on the mainland and made a killer cocktail. We stole ideas from some of our favorite snorkel tests we have witnessed in the past, and made up some new things on our own. When the night came, we put masks and snorkels on Kaitti and Krysta in front of the whole resort and poured copious amounts of alcohol down their snorkels, between making them complete various tasks and challenges. Mareca, our lovely receptionist, even dressed Kaitti up in drag for the occasion, and he turned out to be the funniest entertainment this place has ever seen.


Round one was a deep scenario. When teaching people about the effects that the compressed gasses we breathe have on the brain under depth, we make the analogy to drinking alcohol. Every ten meters is roughly the equivalent of drinking a shot of liquor. So we made Krysta and Kaitti simulate a deep dive to 40 meters by each taking 4 shots. Then they had to race to assemble Mr. Potato Head. Krysta won.

Round two was a tank race that Fletch and I designed after a Survivor challenge. We planted two floats out waist deep in the water, and gave both Kaitti and Krysta a scuba tank to carry. Each person started on opposite ends, at one of the floats, and had to race around in a circle whilst carrying their tank, trying to catch up with the other person. With a final leap and a bound after five minutes of running, that resulted with a face plant into the water, Kaitti managed to catch Krysta, winning him the round.

Round three was another race. Both contestants had to race back and forth to the dive shop, only taking one piece of gear at a time, until they had a full set of scuba gear assembled in front of the crowd. Krysta won that contest. Next we pulled all the certified divers in the audience to form a panel of voters, and made both contestants demonstrate 5 skills that are learned in the open water course. Of course demonstrating without any gear or water was funnier than anything else. Kaitti won just from the comedic aspect. And finally we gave both divers a final exam, asking each of them questions in turn about PADI and diving in general. A wrong response earned them a drink down their snorkel. Unfortunately for Kaitti, the round was rigged. We had purposefully given Krysta all the easy questions and Kaitti questions that most course directors probably don’t even know off the tops of their heads. All in all, Krysta won three out of the five rounds. I don’t want to brag or anything - I’ll give Fletch most of the planning credit - but it was probably the best snorkel test I’ve seen.


Late August 

August in Fiji is the tail end of winter; the water should be warming up soon, but hasn’t quite yet. In this part of the country there is a relentless wind that constantly hounds us, which is no fun when you’re cold and wet. My student, Sebastian, was a pilot from Argentina and wanted to dive the wreck. The wreck is an hour boat ride away, and a deep dive, so we can only go when there aren’t any open water fun divers wanting to look for turtles. We did have one more fun diver wanting to go, and luckily he was advanced, Thomas from France. And finally I brought along the girl from Texas who was meant to be filling in for Krysta, who was on leave. She ended up being about as helpful as a chocolate teapot, and so I was really just bringing her along to keep her from losing anymore bottle caps (she actually decided to clean all of our water bottles, and in the process, somehow managed to lose half of the caps. Every other task she started ended in a similar fashion).

The four of us entered the water at 1:30 in the afternoon and had a lovely dive. We visited Peter the pufferfish, a massive puffer that is always lurking in a dark corner somewhere and staring menacingly. He’s really very sweet though. 



My student wasn’t great on air, and so I brought him up early while Texas and Thomas stayed down for a while longer. The other two came up not too long after, and we untied from the mooring, only for the engine to not start. Simi, our captain, tried and tried, and after so many pulls, even I realized that it should have started by now. I asked Simi if we needed to make the call. Those stupid engines are constantly breaking down but our boss refuses to replace them. Simi, the best boat captain you ever met, but a man of few words, merely nodded. We used Texas’s iPhone to message Fletch that we were stranded. Shortly after, it died, so we never knew if Fletch got the message or not. We anchored down before we floated any farther over the reef and sat and watched as a gorgeous mega yacht moored over the wreck and sent a dingy full of divers down. We wondered whether we should try to flag them down.

It’s always easy in retrospect to decide what should have been done in a given emergency, but at the time, it’s hard to tell at what point it becomes an emergency. When your motor is merely not starting, flagging down a mega yacht seems a little extreme.

Simi’s phone was out of credit, and for some reason the scratch-off code he had wasn’t working to load more. The iPhone had plenty of credit, but the battery was dead. With nothing better to do, we set about trying to open the SIM card slot to swap it into Simi’s phone. Being an iPhone though, you have to have the little key, or a paperclip. Fishing hooks were too thick. I took my dive knife and pencil and tried to whittle down the led until it was thin enough to use, but I only managed to break it. Thomas got the bright idea to pull the spring out of one of the dive torches, but before he had dissembled it, Simi had managed to get credit loaded. It was 4:00 by the time we finally got a phone call through to Bill. Bill didn’t leave until 4:30.

With only an hour of sunlight remaining, I decided to strip off my wet neoprene to try and dry off before it got cold. I was in the habit of staying in my wetsuit because being wet was actually warmer than the cold wind. Granted it is Fiji, and cold in the dead of winter still isn’t that cold, but when you’re diving three times a day, and the water conducts heat away from your body 20 times faster than air does, it’s really hard to keep your body temperature up. So I decided it would be better to have cold wind on my skin, then to be wet after the sun set. Most people in my situation would probably be writing about the stress of baking in the sun for however many hours. Not me though, my biggest fear was getting cold, in Fiji...

Excitement rose when we saw the small speck of Bill’s boat approaching from the distance, then our spirits slowly sank again when we saw him veering too far east and going straight for Beachcomber Island. Simi called him to try and give him directions, and the boat turned and instead started heading for the Yasawas to the north. 


We dive with these massive surface signaling devices here. They’re basically giant, bright orange trash bags that can be inflated and seen from a good ways away. We put one over the pole that Simi uses to push the boat through the shallow water, and took turns waving it around, trying to catch Bill’s attention. We could see him, and granted he didn’t know which direction to look, but surly a bright orange pole should be visible enough to pick out? Apparently not. When Simi called him again, he again started heading back towards Beachcomber.

Clouds started rolling in, and not caring for the cold wind in the absence of sunlight, I put my wetsuit back on. Everyone was a good sport, Thomas and Sebastian even made up a humorous song about my home state of Colorado, which we sung to pass the time. It went something like:

Colorado! Colorado!
Where you have a pocket for your gun,
and a pocket for your
Marijuana! 


So this is my state’s reputation to foreigners…

It finally got dark enough to be able to see the dive torches flashing in his direction, and at long last, we saw Bill’s boat heading towards us. It was 6:00 and we had been sitting there for three hours. Towing the boat back took another hour and a half. Small specks of bioluminescence in the water illuminated the otherwise dark way home.

When we arrived, it was to find Fletch and the rest of the staff eagerly awaiting our safe return. Fletch had towels and hot tea and coffee waiting for everyone. Dinner never tasted so good. We all stuffed our faces full of steaming hot cassava and taro, fish and veggies drenched in gravy, and traditional Fijian rourou, a spinach-like dish that is actually taro leaves cooked in coconut milk. I found out from Fletch that when Bill had left to come get us, Fletch had asked him repeatedly if he knew where the wreck was, and Bill had assured him that he did. Fletch felt awful that he didn’t just get on the boat and go along, but I would have done the same thing in assuming that the guy who lives here would know the way better than I would. We were all safely home though, and with a story to tell.