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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bahamas - Day 6 : Scuba Diving

At 8 am we made our way over to Caribbean Divers at Bell Channel Inn for our 9 am resort dive appointment. When we arrived we met Presley Knowles, the owner and captain, who had us all sign waivers. After signing away our lives he had us watch a short intro to scuba diving video that taught us the most important skills and hand signals.

Next we met with Presley's nephew Jerry Knowles, our instructor and guide for the day. Our first task was getting fitted for a wetsuit and weights. Once we had put on our wetsuits, he taught us the proper way to put on a weight belt by leaning forward and resting the belt on our back and then fastening the buckle.

Once suited up he introduced us to our tank and bouyancy vest. He gave a quick explanation of the primary regulator, secondary regulator, and bouyancy controls. As novice scuba divers we were not to adjust the bouyancy of our vest. 

Ready for the pool portion of our introduction he had us sit on the pool edge and put on our fins and spit in our goggles to prevent them from fogging up. Then he turned us around and helped each of us put on our tanks. Immediately I felt the significant weight that the tank and vest added. He told us that when we enter the water the tank will feel weightless and not to be concerned by th added weight on land. 

Fully geared up we entered the water to begin the in water portion of our instruction. Our first was to check the fit of our masks by putting our faces down in the water and breathing through the regulator while holding the side of the pool and kicking. My mask leaked as I expected since I have tried many and always struggle to find the perfect fit. He grabbed me a different mask which seemed to fit much better.

With a better fitting mask had had us all swim three laps in the pool while breathing through the regulator. Of course we all sank to the bottom of the pool with all the weight. It was more like crawling along the bottom of the pool the swim. 

Having successful circled the pool our next test was what to do if the primary regulator came out of our mouth. He quickly instructed us that it's very important to breath out before breathing in when reinserting the regulator. The purpose was to expel the water that had gotten into the mouth piece through the purge valve. Without purging the water you would swallow a mouthful of sea water. He had us demonstrate this process three times before we moved on to the next portion of our instruction/test.

With my leaky mask concern our next skill is one I practiced a few extra times. The key is to press firmly on the top ridge of the mask while facing forward and exhaling through your nose. The air from your nose carried enough force to expel most of the water from your mask.

An extension of the previous skill came next and was my least favorite. In fact it almost made me want to stop. We had to completely remove our mask and put it back on and expel the water from it. Never being good underwater without a mask I had to keep my eyes closed during this skill. And while the previous exercise of expelling air from our mask was ok it took 4-5 times for me to clear my mask and made me very uncomfortable. I made it through only slightly panicking once and swallowing a small amount of water having breathed it through my nose.

When we all surfaced I could tell from Dan's face he was as uncertain was I was about this new experience. We put on our poker faces and our instructor told us it was time to board the boat! We did so hesitantly. Since I was the first to board and clearly the most comfortable on a boat our instructor handed me the tanks and had me line them up along the aft rail of the boat. As we got everything we needed situated we learned that a last minute rusty diver was going to join us and was just taking a quick refresher course in the pool.

It wasn't long before she and a guest had boarded the boat along with the three of us. Our captain and our instructor secured all the tanks before casting off for the roughly 10 minute ride to Treasure Reef. With the anchor down and the dive flag proudly displayed we all made our final preparations for our first scuba dive in the open water.

With our arrival the captain reminded us to keep an eye on our air supply once in the water and validated that we knew the hand signals. He also informed us to hold the guide rope on entry and wait for our guide to instruct us before descending to the reef below. He had us all review our gauges that read a tad over 2000 psi. He told us when we reached 1000 to flash five fingers twice at him. When we reached 500psi we should be on the rope heading back to the boat.

After putting on my fins, weights, and mask the captain helped me secure my tank and vest. One final safety check of everyone yielded no reasons to delay and the rusty diver was the first to enter the water. We did the traditional hold your mask and lean back falling into the water entry. I was the second to go and hesitated slightly before letting go and falling back. I give my entry an 8 for a novice. I swam to the guide rope and waited for everyone else to enter the water.

With everyone bobbing at the surface he had us go face down and reminded us all to equalize our ears as we decended stressing the importance of taking our time. Again I was the second to decend. Once I reached the bottom and saw how beautiful the reef was all my fears and worries were gone. The mask fit great and breathing and swimming was far more easy then it had been in the pool. It didn't take long for everyone to reach the bottom along with me.

Our guide gave each of us the "ok" hand signal and everyone replied alike. With everyone feeling good he took us towards the reef. Just before the reef he picked up a few large stones clearly looking for something. After a few attempts he came towards us with what we would learn later was a spiny star fish. It was a very cool creature and he carefully placed the underwater creature in the hands on the rusty diver who after admiring it passed it to us. 

I was like a kid in a candy shop taking pictures of the many colorful fish. We saw yellow snapper, a pair of French angel fish, Margaret fish, and others like the vivid blue tang, stripped Sargent Major and stoplight parrot fish. There were also smaller fish like the cocoa damselfish swimming in abundant schools around th reef. We continued to swim along the edge of the reef. He was being chased by a school of fish and it was then we discovered he had food with him. He handed each of us food and we took pictures with my camera of the fish swarming us for the food. One of the yellow snapper coded that I looked tasty and tried and failed to eat my finger.

After we all got a chance to feed the fish Jerry looked at his gauge and checked with each of us to make sure we had plenty of air. My gauge showed 1500psi and I gave the "ok" signal. With everyone good on air he began looking under loose rocks and brought a baby spiny star fish over for us to check out. He didn't have his spines yet and was much smaller. We continued to explore and swim around we explored the many coral that swayed back and forth with the waves. He pointed one out in particular that he indicated we should avoid as it will cause intense itchiness.

We continued on carefully looking for any more of those itchy coral. Thankfully I saw none. jerry once again was looking under rocks and found a female spiny star fish. You could tell the difference because the males were all black and the females had white parts on their top. It felt like we had only been under the water for about 30 minutes but I figured I'd check my gauges. It was then realized I was at 500psi and should be on the rope beginning my ascent to the surface. I gave him a five finger once and he replied with 10 I shook my head no and flashed the five again and the need to surface signal. He gave me the boat signal and I replied with the ok. He pointed in the direction of the boat and rounded up the others as I started swimming that direction. I handed the camera off to Dan as I swam just incase he had more time and saw something to take a picture of. 

With everyone rounded up and right behind me we made our way to the guide rope and I began my ascent remembering to go slow and breath. As I surfaced Presley guided me to the ladder and onto the boat where he helped me out of the tank. I took a seat on the edge of the boat and watched as head after head began bobbing in the water next to the boat and each climbing back on board. Grace had a huge smile on her face while Dan looked like he had fun but was still on the fence.

When Dan sat down we chatted about the experience and I remarked that in the pool I wasn't happy at all and was definitely leaning towards the no for certification but after diving in the open water and seeing the reefs and fish I was unquestionably convinced that it was something I wanted to do. Dan took a little convincing to continue on with certification but having enjoyed the experience we decided it would be a fun thing to do together.

After a short boat ride back to the Bell Channel Inn we tipped Jerry for the great experience since without him we wouldn't have had such an amazing experience. We certainly worked up an appetite and decided lunch was well earned. We returned to the resort to pick up Chris who didn't want to participate.

After picking Chris up we head to Port Lucaya. Grace wanted to stop and pick up another piece of wood craft from Leonardo. She picked a piece that wasn't yet complete but Leonardo pro,used to have it done that day and likely after lunch. We opted to try another new place and picked the After Deck "Authentic Bahamian Cuisine". Before sitting the local personality dressed in Bahamian Carnival style gear spoke to us and we took a picture. He also served as our host as. Sat us at one of their outdoor tables. While it did had several conch relate meals I selected the lamb gyro. It was delicious and definitely hit the spot. Chris and Grace got the same and Dan tried the jerk chicken which he let me try. It was also delicious.

After lunch we returned to Leonardo's booth where he was still working on Grace's mask. He asked for us to give him another hour for it to properly dry. We decided to head back to the resort and return in a few hours. When we got back to the resort we all ended up taking a nap. I woke up at 4:00 and woke Grace up and we raced back to Port Lucaya and the new piece was done. We put it in the car and explored the shoppes we had yet gone into. After about an hour we returned to th resort to a still sleepy Chris and Dan.

While at Port Lucaya we noticed the Italian restaurant we had planned to go to dinner was closed on Wednessay nights. Given that I called Pier 1 to see if they had any openings. Luckily they did and so it was decided we would return to see the shark feeding at 7:00. We arrived just in time and were seated right along the harbour channel where they feed the sharks.

Dan, Grace and I all got the Mahi Mahi and Chris got the Braised Lamb Shank. We also had numerous piƱa coladas and rum runners. At 7:00 and 8:00 they feed the Sharks and like the last time we only saw a few sand sharks, many of the Sargent majors and a bunch of jack fish.

After a big dinner we crashed when we returned to the resort. Another great day.

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