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:: Our First Day of Dives

Once again, today started out with us getting up early so we could go down to the docks at Clifton. This time however, we were going to meet up with a dive master so we could go do some scuba diving. The Clifton dive shop is really the only place to go on Union if you want to do certified dives. Tim says that there's another place where anyone can just rent tanks (that's all some people want, so they can clean the underside of their boats), but we all agreed that you really want to go diving with someone who knows what he or she is doing. That said, the guy that runs the shop is bipolar, in the sense that one minute he's the nicest dive-advocate you've ever met, the next he's a complete a-ho' that yells at his customers. Things at the dive shop started out with the latter personality- he gave Pete a bit of a hard time because it wasn't clear if Pete's certification papers would work out. Pete still needed to do his open water cert dives (which he planned on doing with this guy), but Mr. Bipolar started acting like the cert dives were impossible due to differences in PADI / NAUI paperwork. In the end, Mr. Bipolar finally understood what Pete was saying and gave him the thumbs up for the trip. We packed up all the gear and nervously piled into the rickety speedboat.

The speedboat ride was something else. Engines roaring, we left the Clifton harbor and started to make our way along Union's coast. As we were leaving the harbor, I noticed that the back of the boat was taking on water at (what I thought was) an alarming rate. The boat drive had a solution to this of course- he whipped out an empty milk jug and started bailing as he drove. Every so often he would sharply turn the boat to the right to make it easier to get at the water. I should also point out that while all of this was going on, the boat driver was busy making a call on his cell phone (I have no idea how he could hear anything over the chainsaw-like noises of the boat's motor). Heh heh.. Just like in skydiving, it sometimes helps you overcome the fear of leaving the vehicle when you're already scared to be in the vehicle.

We eventually wound up in a secluded spot on the other side of Union, where we would make our first dive. The dive master barked out some orders to Pete, explaining that Pete would have to get in first and demonstrate some of his mad diving skillz. Once Pete was done, we'd all follow the anchor line to the bottom and begin the dive. This dive was sort of a drift dive- that's where you get in at one point, swim with the current, and get picked up somewhere else (nice because you don't have to swim back to the boat). Our dive master told us to watch out for a guy who was fishing from a boat further up. Our boat driver said the fisher was either deaf or not all together right. Anyways, they said to watch out for his line.

Diving in the Caribbean is quite a contrast to diving at Monterey. You could see very far, there were plenty of fish, and you didn't need a wetsuit because the water was relatively warm. Given my lackluster dives at Monterey, this first dive was really cool for me. We went along a reef that had a nice drop off on one side, that was covered with coral, fish, and plant life. Cambria pointed out a lobster or two hiding in the rocks. Me, I thought I spotted a cool looking fish that was all shiny, but as I swam closer to it, I realized it was just the fisherman's lure. Whoops. There you have it, I'm no smarter than your average fish.

After giving up on the lure, I noticed that our dive master was busily yanking on this white box thing that was attached to a line going to the fishing boat. Turns out, the boater was using an old car battery as an anchor. Hmm.. That can't be good for the environment. In any case, the rest of the dive went smoothly. I saw my first eel, poking his terrifying head out of the rocks (I was psyched because I'd never seen an eel in the wild before. Creepy looking bastards..). The boat met us downstream, where we had a hell of a time getting back into the boat (no ladder and no helpful instructions on how to get back in from the dive master).

The next dive spot was further down the coast. Our dive master said this was a good starting point, because the telephone company had dumped a number of telephone switches down there, which the fish loved. This must have been true, as just as soon as we reached the bottom, Tim spotted a nurse shark sleeping under the rocks. Pretty cool- everyone always talks about nurse sharks, but this was the first one I'd seen. This guy reminded me of how I feel when I sleep on an airplane- he was bent at a right angle in the middle, and angrily trying to sleep (based on the nurse sharks I saw later on in the trip, this seems to be a common theme).

The rest of the second dive was really awesome. Our dive master took us along the coastline, which had a sharp drop off and lots of aquatic life. Amy spotted a couple of eels that were hanging out- one was even out of his hole, zipping about like something awful. The best part was that we went through this deep valley of rocks for a bit. As you passed over the crack, you could look down and see tons of Sergeant Majors (striped fish) swimming along. On the other side of the pass, there was a sea turtle hanging out at the bottom. He eventually got spooked, and gracefully swooped out of there. Cool.

After the dive, we went back to the dive shop and swapped fish stories over lunch. Lunch moved over to the neighboring bar, where we went through a round or two of girlie drinks (I might add, that we were relieved to find out that Pete had secretly arranged to pay for the bill, and was not in fact just winking and nodding at the waitress to get her attention). Yep.. anyways, the diving was well worth it. Hopefully, we'll have as much luck with the dives we're doing tomorrow.

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