Monday, January 21, 2013

Scuba Lessons

David first got interested in Scuba in the 60’s, and even studied some of the written materials then, but never went on to take lessons.  Our friends, Jill and Rod Hearnes, are avid divers.  They are even older than we are, and their example showed us that it is never too late to get started.   So we decided last spring that we would book a Scuba course this season.

The course is sponsored by an international organization called PADI.  There are several groups that certify divers, but PADI is one of the biggest.  There is quite a lot of book learning that you need before starting to dive, and you can take an online course that covers this material.  Both Gretchen and I completed the online course while we were in Switzerland last fall.

When we got to Bequia, we started the practical part of the training.  First, you learn some basic skills in “confined water,” which in this case means “shallow and relatively still.”  I.e., a few yards off the beach in front of the dive shop.  Then you repeat these exercises in “open water,” which translates to “deeper.”  There are a total of 8 or so dives, counting the confined water work.

We found the practical training to be more difficult that we had imagined from the online materials.  The specific skills (e.g. clearing water out of your mask, finding your mouthpiece after losing it, sharing air with a buddy if you run out) are actually pretty straightforward.  What we found challenging was even more basic:  controlling buoyancy and equalizing our ears.

When you are diving, you have a weight belt to help you sink.  You also have a jacket-like device that can be inflated to help you float.  It seemed like all it would take to control buoyancy is to get the proper balance between the two.  But it was not so simple.

The other thing that affects your buoyancy is your lungs. If you take a deep breath, your lungs expand and this makes you float.  If you exhale strongly, your lungs get smaller and you sink.  But of course, you are inhaling and exhaling constantly.  It proved quite difficult for both Gretchen and David to control this.  On our first couple of dives, we were bobbing up and down in the water like yo-yos.

Well, bobbing up and down just adds to the second problem:  equalizing our ears.  As you descend, you have to add air to your inner ears, in order to balance the increasing pressure from the water outside.  It’s kind of like the pressure on your ears when you are on an airplane that is landing, except more intense.   Equalizing your ears is a learned skill, and becomes easier with practice.  But of course, on our first dives, we didn’t have much practice – and needed to equalize a lot because of our constant descending and ascending.  If you get this wrong, it hurts!

On the second dive, Gretchen got so frustrated that she was crying into her mask.  She couldn’t stay down on the bottom.  Her ears hurt.  David wasn’t in much better shape.  We had to take a pause, and deal with these two basic issues before we could continue.  The dive shop (DIVE BEQUIA) was extremely patient and accommodating.  We scheduled a dive where we focused only on these two skills.  By the end of the dive, we both were feeling much more comfortable and relaxed.

We still have two dives to go, but the skills in each of these dives should be learned and demonstrated without too much trouble.  Then we will be certified divers!


After sitting in the boatyard for several months, it always takes some time to get Callisto ready to sail.  There is general clean-up, buying and stowing provisions, refilling propane tanks, and all the rest.  We can generally launch the boat after 3 days or so of work, but there are inevitably many chores still to be done before we can sail.

This year, like last year, we initially had a lot of trouble with the outboard engine on our dinghy.  These little motors simply do not like to be left sitting in the tropical heat for months at a time.  We had actually (at the last minute) asked the boat yard to check out the engine before we launched, but we had troubles anyway.  A big part of this was due to the fact that the mechanic had switched two fuel lines when reassembling the engine.  It took David a couple of days to figure this out.  Then, because of the huge rainstorms that we experienced at the time, we got some water in our fuel tank.  This is not a good way to make an engine happy.  We finally got everything sorted out, though.

All last year we had a problem with the instrument that tells us wind speed and direction.  It worked maybe 5% of the time.  So, when we laid the boat up in May we asked the local technicians to fix it while we were away.

Well, of course, nothing was done until we arrived in Grenada in December.  Then we had to order parts.  These come from Sint Maarten, and are supposed to arrive in Grenada within 7 working days.  This is wildly optimistic when the 7-day period straddles Christmas and New Year’s.  So, we had to sit around the harbor for another week, waiting for the parts to arrive.

This allowed us to experience the fabulous Hash House Harriers.  This is an organization on Grenada (and in other countries) that arranges treks through the woods.  The trail maker (“Hare”) puts small clumps of shredded paper to mark the trail (sort of Hänsel and Gretel in the 21st century).  There are intentional false trails.  And there is mud.

Some people run, and some walk, and some do a mixture.  It is usually pretty rugged, but always beautiful.  A hundred, or even two hundred, people participate.  And after the journey, there is cheap beer and local food.  Great fun.

Finally, parts arrived, were installed, and off we sailed for Carriacou.  After a couple of days on that island, we cleared out of Grenada and sailed to Bequia, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.