The next morning Luis, my scuba diving instructor, and I were diving in very shallow water when we heard a deafening roar which got increasingly louder. I knew it could only be one thing; a speedboat heading straight for us. Fortunately, my first reaction was to keep breathing through my regulator and to try and get down close to the sea floor. However, my buoyancy prevented me from doing this effectively, so in an instant Luis lay on top of me and flattened me. Within seconds the boat passed over with its propellers missing us by less than a foot. Luis signalled to check I was ok and we swam under water back to the shore with him clutching my hand tightly.
Once on the dock he turned to me and asked if I believed in God, before looking skywards and crossing his heart. He then promptly sat on the sand and chain smoked 3 cigarettes, despite being a non-smoker. We subsequently found out that it was a Coastguard patrol boat which had broken all rules by crossing a ‘diving safe’ zone. For me it took a few hours for the enormity of what had happened to sink in, but I knew there was only one thing for it, to get back in the water as soon as possible.
I am pleased to confirm that the rest of my training was deliciously uneventful and 2 days later I faced my Certification exam. Luis told me that ‘I just had to roll backwards off the side of the boat, dive to 20m and swim about for 40 minutes without needing to be rescued.’ This is one of the scariest things I have ever done. Never one to admit defeat, I just dived in and once submerged deep down in the giant aquarium, complete with a mesmerising coral reef, I forgot to be petrified for a 42 whole minutes.
On surfacing, Luis, my guardian and coach, confirmed that I was now a qualified Open Water scuba diver. The good thing about bobbing about in the Caribbean Sea is that nobody notices when you shed a tear.
I spent 2 weeks on the remote Belizean island which was fascinating for many reasons. Setting aside the scuba diving, living on an acre square island, in the middle of the sea, with 30 others of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds could have been challenging. However the remoteness of the location and the lack of contact with the outside world actually brought the best out in people. Evenings were spent enjoying food worthy of MasterChef, cooked by the island’s flamboyant chef, entering into lively debates and playing cards.
Everyone, with the exception of me, was an avid scuba diver and ecologist and all were united in the goal of the conservation project which was quite simply to kill as many Lionfish as possible in each dive. A basic three-pronged stick was used to stab the beautiful, but destructive, creatures. Every day the catch was counted and filleted and appeared with great regularity on the menu in various guises, and delicious it was too.
I actually only ever speared one Lionfish, so I can’t say that I personally contributed much to the cause, but I did have one of the memorable times of my life for good and bad reasons! At the end of my stay, I headed back to the mainland to start the long journey home.
My ‘Midlife Crisis Tour 0f ‘21’ was coming to an end…