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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dive In

Roatan is a mecca for scuba divers from around the world, and Anthony's Key Resort (AKR) is a mecca for divemasters looking for a job on the island. Serge, a divemaster, has spent two years living in Roatan, working at various dive shops, but when he had the opportunity to work full time at AKR just two weeks ago, he jumped at the chance. "This is where everyone wants to be," he says. "It's the best outfit in Roatan and in the Caribbean, in my opinion."

Serge is helping me and my husband get reacquainted with diving. It's been just over two years since we dove in Cozumel and we're feeling a little rusty. A refresher course costs $85, but it's worth it from a safety standpoint. After walking us through the steps of assembling the equipment, we dove into the shallows and went through a series of drills--regulator recovery; underwater mask clearing, buoyancy control; and air sharing with a buddy with a low air supply. With a submerged high-five, we passed with flying colors. By 10:30 we were on our assigned dive boat, Trevor, ready to take the plunge.

But that's where the fun ends. Looking out into the Caribbean Sea, boats are being tossed two and fro. It looks like a storm is brewing. I have flashbacks to a boat ride in Peru that I experienced through a Dramamine-induced haze. The boat lilts left and right, and I keep my eyes focused on the now-distant shoreline. "Just get me in the water," I say to the Scuba gods as I gag slightly. "And I'll be fine."

I jumped in and felt instantly better, but my husband wasn't as lucky. He made it under the water, but his breakfast rose to the surface. The boat's dive master, Frank, pulled him to the rocking boat(where he spent the next 50 minutes, while the rest of us were plowing calmer waters at 80-foot depths), while I bobbed at the surface wondering what was going on. Frank motioned at me to descend.

When Frank returned, I buddied up with him and drifted along a rainbow-hued coral reef on my right side. With a divemaster as a buddy, I got the best seat in the house. He knew where to look for creatures from the depths, spotting gigantic crabs tucked into crevices. But it was I who noticed the sea turtle swimming on the sandy bottom.

Returning to the surface was like the shock a child must feel when it emerges from the womb during birth. I sputtered as the deep, blue calm gave way to overwhelming surges of water. The boat made an unsuccessful bid to retrieve us and looped around again. Some of the waves obsured my view of the vessel, which made things disorienting. I imagined what it must be like for rescue divers with the Coast Guard, braving the high seas (Yes, Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher flashed through my mind momentarily).

Once on board, the waves of nausea made me stomach turn, and soon I was bent over the side of the boat next to my beloved spouse, who was oblivious to my predicament. I can't say that this was the way we envisioned spending our vacation.

Once we were on land again, we all compared experiences, as though we were exchanging war stories.

"That was pretty rough. It was rougher than anything I encountered in the ocean," said Charlie McCoy, a kidney specialist from Rhode Island, who experienced rougher ocean waters during a boat race last year from Rhode Island to Bermuda. His family are diving together in Roatan, and this dive was one of the first for his 14-year-old daughter, Bridget. "I was worried about her. Her gear was just as heavy as she is."

Bridget did great, though. That is, until her mother puked in her lap. "I'm taking a shower first," Bridget exclaimed.

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