I knew going to Roatan that I wanted to spend quite a lot of time diving. I did also have other plans, namely lying on the beach, eating lots of seafood and exploring the island but they never came to fruition. Instead, I convinced myself to spend three whole days on and off the dive boat , reading my coursebook in hammocks in my spare time, to complete my Advanced Open Water qualification.
I’m really not an impulse shopper but when the folks at Seagrape Plantation mentioned how little it would cost to do my qualification, it only took one check of my bank balance to convince me to part with the $280. That’s not much more than I paid to do my Open Water PADI two years ago in Thailand, so I knew I couldn’t pass when it was so cheap.
I turned up on my first day. an absolute bag of nerves. I hadn’t dived since the summer I passed my PADI, being reluctant to take to the chilly waters around Britain (wouldn’t you be too?).
Would I remember to breathe constantly? Would my buoyancy control still be as awful as before? What if I couldn’t get the wetsuit on?!
I’d been instructed to be at the dive shop for 8am and had wandered around town since 7, looking for a place for breakfast. I love island time and all, but you think there would be more than one place open to feed hungry divers when the whole island is full of them. It turns out that most of the diveshops provide breakfast themselves, but I settled for a pancake from a little roadside shack.
The first morning was a little bit of an disorganised mess. At 8 I was able to sign up and pay for my course, but it meant I missed the first boat of the day. I was sent off with my coursebook and told to come back at 11, which is when the second dive heads off.
At 11, I met Tony, possibly the coolest person on Roatan. Tony was my instructor for the next two and a half days, a Roatan native, he looked like someone had plucked him out of the Olympic swimming team. We talked through the dives available and he explained that the Advanced course is self taught. I choose what dives I fancy and read about them, completing tests as I go. Then he would take me down and have me complete a few practical skills, after which I had the rest of my air tank to enjoy the dive.
So once again, I’d missed the dive boat and was told to come back at two. Quite happy to sun myself by the pool with my book doing my homework for the day, I walked barefoot back across the hotel’s gardens. It was great being so close to the diveshop, especially in the early morning!
Finally we reached the time for my first dive. After an awkward ten minutes trying to get my short wetsuit on (the water was warm by English standards but I still found myself getting cold after about 40 minutes) and claiming that I knew how to set up my tank and then promptly forgetting everything I’d ever learnt, I was on to the dive boat and off to our first site.
Well it turns out that my buoyancy was as awful as I remembered but Tony was a patient teacher. He even lightened my amount of weights on the last day without telling me to show me how much I had improved. I enjoyed being more responsible for myself and the equipment than I had been on my Open Water course. I was also grateful that I didn’t have to spend most of my dives demonstrating repetitive skills over and over again like in the Open Water. Whilst they’re definitely important, it was so much nicer to relax and enjoy the freedom of my dives.
The biggest difference was the one to one tuition I received. In Thailand I was in a group of six and the instructor never spent any time helping any of us on our own, if you couldn’t do a skill you were just made to practice it until you could do it correctly. Tony always had advice and tips on hand for me when we resurfaced.
The dives were all fantastic. Seeing more than 15 turtles in one dive was special enough, but throw in an eagle ray, plenty of eels and the biggest, scariest crab I have ever seen in my life (we’re talking arms as long as mine) I was in heaven.
Doing three dives in one day was tiring and I left Roatan exhausted but ecstatic that I had done the course. I maintain that divers are some of the nicest, coolest people around and I loved spending the whole day with them.
I just hope it’s not another two years before I dive again!