Antigua

Posted on May 26, 2018

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My first day was packed full of activity. The dive school is a charming small business with nice staff and an affable manager who has a back-from-the dead story himself.

A seasoned and experience diver, seven years ago he had the mother of all diving accidents that has left him partially crippled physically but has miraculously strengthened his resolve. He was literally “bent” out of shape. He cannot walk without the assistance of crutches and his legs are not straight. He says he still gets in the water when necessary but from what I’ve seen so far he takes care of the running and bookings of the dive school. He told me he has certified more than a thousand students over the years.

So how did he escape the clutches of death? When you learn to scuba every certified diver must perform a CESA ( Controlled Emergency Surface Ascent). This is done by taking one deep breath and emitting an “ah” sound, while outstretching the right hand over head like superman and with the left hand holding onto the Inflator hose which is also held aloft one’s head. The sound “ah” is so that you don’t hold your breath. The most important rule in scuba. You release tiny bubbles usually for a maximum of 10m. This surface ascent is meant to be carried out slowly and without panicking.

I have no idea how this guy survived. Let’s call him Caesar. He had to do one of these from 100m. He went too deep, became “narced” (narcosis which takes effect anything below 40m and impairs judgment due to excess nitrogen) hit the bottom, ran out of air and had to go up fast! He claims he had to keep sucking at his regulator to get whatever residue air there was left just to make it. He surfaced, went purple, collapsed and was in and out of consciousness. He was given 100% oxygen before being airlifted to hospitalised. That incident put him in a wheelchair for a year and he was in and out of the hyperbaric chamber 11 times! So he didn’t lead yesterday’s dives.

But his story is quite something. I had a lovely newly certified Divemaster (DM) from South Africa who is soon off to join a super yacht as a boat delivery crew member. This is something I have set my sights on too. Not boat delivery but working as an instructor on a mega yacht. That’s the long term goal, dive and travel the oceans on someone’s boat.

The other divers were both advanced and pretty good divers. No dramas. One girl just 18 and keen as mustard from London, is also learning to sail. She joins a massive ship next week as a volunteer crew member and sails from Antigua back to Europe. A summer experience. What an experience she’ll have, at sea for 46 days and doing every conceivable role onboard. The other guy was a guy from London but I’m guessing originally India given his accent. Early 30s, lives in west London and works as a banker. He’s holidaying with his extended family.

Our two dives were lovely, gentle nothing extraordinary but good. One 50minute and the other 65mins. Wearing 5mm I was warm and thankfully didn’t have any cramping. I saw popcorn shrimp, an eagle ray, stingray, lots and lots of lobster, trumpet fish, one lionfish but not shoals of fish. I’m hoping today’s diving is better.

I also used my new toy – a Nikon camera that needs no housing and goes to 30m. I exhausted the battery and I experienced diving from a very different perspective yesterday. I can understand now how people forget and get distracted when they focus on something to film to check their air and depth. Another mate also a diver recently got put into the chamber after filming a turtle. He went into the no decompression limit. That’s when you’ve overstayed the time you can safely be at depth. So it can happen if you don’t keep your wits about you. I was mindful to keep looking up to check where the group was and to make eye contact with my DM.

I caught some good stuff on film but the battery is flat and now it won’t charge. I’ll be so irritated if the camera doesn’t work for the next three months. I’ve done everything: taken the battery out, turned the camera on and off, left it in the room to stay cool, cleaned it! Keep your fingers crossed I’ve run out of other options.

after the diving I ate at the local restaurant. Sandra the cook and owner is a 50-something Jamaican woman married to a local man. I wolfed down jerk pork, lentils-rice and salad. With a heavy stomach I decided to tackle Shirley’s Heights.

The circular road takes you to a fabulous view of the harbour and takes about an hour depending on your speed. It’s 5km up in heat with no shade. The view does not disappoint! It’s named after a British Admiral called Shirley. There’s a stone house which was probably the officers’ quarters and is now a restaurant/bar. Live music and reggae nights are hosted here. I arrived drenched in sweat and downed two club sodas immediately. The walk back I was met by a steady stream of joggers. Even though the sun had dipped the humidity meant everyone’s body looked like it was doused in oil. Men run shirtless and women just do their best. Mostly locals with some ex pats.

Eleven kilometres later I arrived home with my flip flops burning hot. The last pair I owned fell apart from all the mileage I clocked up while in Costa Rica. Let’s hope this pair hold out a wee bit longer.

I made a quick visit to the supermarket to stock up on breakfast oats, fruit, yoghurt and almond milk; took a hot shower and collapsed into bed, ready to do it all again the next day.

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