Monday, September 26, 2011

Diving In (with American history)

(Rick's view: Divemaster on St. Elsewhere)

I had no idea what to expect when I showed up at the dive shop for my first day of practical PADI divemaster training here on St. Elsewhere. Having been here before, I knew the shop and most of the dive sites. But before I actually got here, nobody could tell me what the new PADI curriculum would require.

The second thing my instructor, Mathias, did was to examine my online training report. The first thing? We went diving (of course). A group wanted to dive in a well-known dive site here on the island; it was a perfect chance for Mat to check me out. The sun was shining, air temperature in the mid-80s (Fahrenheit -- about 26-27C), the water was 80 degrees, and visibility underwater about 60 feet (18 meters). The bottom was white sand, and the spectacular caribbean creatures were all there, just as expected. We saw stingrays, jawfish, blennies, garden eels, and even several mantis shrimp. (The last is found worldwide but not usually seen in the Caribbean; I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen them myself.) The group was well-behaved and the dive, easy.

On day two we started with the "drudgery" -- the tests and demonstration of required skills. Mat, another divemaster candidate and I walked to the end of the pier and jumped into the 80-degree, blue water. The bottom is white sand, bordered by a shallow wall. If this weren't hurricane (rainy) season, the water would have been crystal clear. We swam down the wall, passed the cannon, and quickly found a flat piece of sand where we could practice our skills.

Wait a sec. Cannon? Yes, Virginia, St. Elsewhere has history. This tiny island so few Americans know was critical in supplying the then-revolutionary army during America's war of independence. True to their Dutch heritage, the first settlers here reclaimed land at the shore to make their port and warehouse district; the sea took it back sometime since then. There is so very much history here that new artifacts from the time of the American revolution turn up almost daily; rubble and cannons remain visible and unrecovered underwater. (To be clear: They are protected and must not be removed, but much is still on the bottom where casual divers and snorkelers can easily find it.)

The wall? It's not just a reef; underneath is a colonial stone wall. The cannon leans against it, pointing out toward the deeper sea -- I imagine just as intended when it was put here.

So here we sit -- underwater on the sandy bottom, practicing mundane diving skills; taking off our masks and buddy breathing. Just past the cannon, amid ruins of a port that was part of the American revolution.

How cool is that?

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