Scuba diving is definitely a macho sport. You probably shouldn’t try to join it unless you have the chops. And the chops go far beyond a PADI certification. To really make the grade on a dive boat, you need the schtick. That includes many things, but two are paramount: 1) having a backlog of stories of dives you’ve done that have at least twice the difficulty level of the one you are on and 2) wearing a T-shirt from a dive shop as physically far as possible from the dive you are currently doing or from a relatively obscure diving spot. To give you an example, Andy showed up to both our Belize dives with a Gecko Dive Bali T-Shirt and a Dive Bequia Hat and flashed his British Diving Certification listing dives as far back as 35 years ago in the Scilly Islands and the North of Scotland. I asked him what his outfit was saying about him. His answer: “F*ck off. I’m a better diver than anyone on this boat.”
The point I’d like to make in this post is that there will always be an Andy on your dive boat. You will never be the best diver. You just don’t want to be the crap diver that holds everyone up, exasperates the dive masters and blows it for everyone else. This could be hard to avoid if you are a snorkeler who ends up on a serious dive boat. My advice is: Snorkelers, don’t do it. Stay with the tame snorkel boats. Showing up as a snorkeler on a dive boat is like showing up 40 lbs overweight for a Marathon wearing flip-flops and riding a tricycle. Yes, everyone will laugh at you. Then they will hope you just stay out of their way.
But some of my readers who are snorkelers, like myself, might find themselves on that dive boat. You don’t want to be, as Andy puts it: “the spastic who ruins everyone’s dive”. There were several of those on our boats Thursday and Friday. I was not one of them. So I think I can safely say that I can teach you not to be THAT person. Forthwith, five simple rules for snorkelers who unavoidably find themselves on dive boats:
Rule 1: The word unavoidably in the last sentence is italicized for a reason. Avoid getting yourself on that dive boat, if at all possible. Book another tour or find a snorkeling only boat. Believe me, everyone will be much happier.
A bit of background here: when I met Andy, an avid diver, I let myself be talked into a resort course in diving. There I quickly found out that I have a sensitivity to the fumes or whatever in those masks. Or maybe it’s all psychosomatic. Whatever. They reliably make me throw up. Multiple times. I discovered in the resort course that throwing up in your regulator at 40 feet below water is not a fun experience. I have since learned that with snorkeling, I have the leisure and opportunity to take off my mask periodically, throw up, then get back to viewing fish. It works well for me. In fact, it may even chum the waters since I always seem to be the lucky snorkeler who sees more fish than anyone else.
Rule 2. Don’t try to be macho. You are not macho. You are a snorkeler. You are the one who showed up at the Marathon with flip-flops and a tricycle. I find the best tactic is to declare exactly how wimpy you are. I always take the dive master aside before we leave the dock and tell him about the vomiting thing, assure him that I’m okay with it and I can keep pace, I just prefer to swim tethered to a life preserver. Makes it so much more convenient and comfortable for my periodic hurling sessions. I figure, from that confession, I can only amaze him — in a good way. Worked this time. The “minder” assigned to me praised me for keeping up with him even through 5 foot rollers and a current that was carrying us away from the dive boat. And the highest praise: “You gimme no pro’lem, Mon.”
Rule 3: Divers come first. This boat is not there for you. Stay out of the way when the divers start hefting on forty pounds of gear. Hand them things, help them zip up or just stay out of the way. Let them all leave the boat first. Remember, as they heave themselves over the sides with all their baggage, you only have to slip on snorkel, mask and flippers and slip lightly over the side of the boat causing barely a ripple. Try not to smirk.
Rule 4: Be amazed and appreciative when the divers come back to tell you their tales of what they think you’ve missed. They will have many. They will probably include near escapes from Great Whites and sightings of fish so rare that even Jacques Cousteau never saw them. Seem to be generally interested, but don’t forget the most important rule:
Rule 5: If you are diving in the correct places — like pristine coral reefs — you will see everything the divers see — but from better seats. I have documented proof of this since Andy got an underwater video camera and started recording his dives. He plays back the footage trying to wow me, but I saw the Moray Eel and the Barracuda and the turtle and everything else, including the divers. And I saw it all from the Dress Circle, as it were. There’s a reason the cheap seats in an Elizabethan theater used to be all the way up against the stage. You don’t get the same commanding view as you do from the Balcony. Just don’t tell the divers that.
Extra Tip: Once in a while, the divers will catch something you can’t see as a snorkeler. That’s why you must arm your diver with a video camera. Today, Andy saw a school of Snapper doing their mating dance and releasing their spawn. Ironically, this is what draws those elusive Whale Sharks we’ve been trying to see, but have hidden from us so far.
But as I gazed from the comfort of my life preserver down on dozens of divers madly finning after those schools of spawning Snapper, I imagined the Whale Sharks were thinking the same thing I was: “Don’t want to be down there. Too many tourists.”