BY: Capt. Tom Kirkbright and Amy Gordon
With all the wonderful opportunities Vieques offers those pursuing water sports, few visitors realize an incredible underwater panorama is beckoning through the thrilling sport of scuba diving. You don’t need to be a certified experienced diver to explore the amazing underwater seascapes surrounding the island.
Isla Nena Scuba and Black Beard Sports are both recognized as exceptional scuba diving operations by PADI and their peers throughout the Caribbean. You can be assured safety is the primary concern of both dive companies. If you are looking for a shortcut to a diving certification you will not find it here. Both companies emphasize safety and professionalism and their instructors will not let you put yourself in a position of danger. There are never more than three divers per instructor for adults and one instructor for every two children. They offer a complete range of diving programs from the Bubble Maker course for children as young as eight years old to certification courses for dive professionals. Whatever your skill level or time allotment, you’ll find a program to fit your situation.
The Discover Scuba Diving course will have you in the water on day one. My friend and colleague, Amy Gordon, has just completed this program and these were her impressions.
A MEMORY OF A LIFETIME
A HALF DAY DISCOVER SCUBA COURSE
By: Amy Gordon
I’ve never been comfortable putting my face underwater. In summer camp it took me three years to pass the Advanced Beginner swim test because I was too scared to dive. But when I moved to Vieques last year I knew that overcoming my fear was inevitable; if I didn’t, I would be missing out on a big part of what makes this island so special.
A few weeks into living here I learned to snorkel. Putting my face into the water that first time was terrifying, but I held my breath, put on my big-girl bathing suit and did it. I loved the rush, and soon I was venturing out as far as I could, floating at the surface and spying lobsters, turtles, stingrays and lionfish below.
Next up on my pretend-you’re-gutsy agenda was Scuba. I signed up for the Discover Scuba Diving class (DSD) through Black Beard Sports, a half-day introductory class that costs $150. Upon enrolling, I received a booklet detailing the experience, which I read cover to cover.>
I arrived at the Black Beard store in Isabel II at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning, pulled on a wetsuit and met Cristina, my trusty guide to the underwater adventure to come. Cristina and I drove out to Punta Galindez – aka Pirate’s Cove – a rocky beach just east of Pata Prieta in the wildlife refuge. She introduced me to the equipment we’d be using: the regulator through which I’d breathe, the air tank I’d carry on my back, the vest that would keep me afloat, the depth and air pressure gauges. She talked me through the basics of Scuba diving, from buoyancy to equalizing my ears.
Next, top-heavy with air tanks and equipment, we made our way into the water. Before we could get our dive underway, I was required to demonstrate three skills: clearing the regulator, recovering the regulator, and partially flooding and clearing my mask. I hesitantly – but successfully – completed the tasks, and Cristina said we were ready to dive.
When snorkeling, it’s always an option to raise your head if you want to take a normal breath, which I do – a lot. With Scuba, that’s not the case, a difference that worried me until we started to swim. A few seconds into the dive my fears were overcome by the excitement of what I was doing, the beauty of the world I was seeing. I followed close behind Cristina, who kept looking back to ask, via hand signals, if I was okay. I returned her gestures as emphatically as I could, trying to convey that I was more than okay. I was enchanted.
Careful not to touch or disturb anything, we moved along the sea floor, swimming in an underwater world filled with coral, sea fans, snapper, barracuda, parrotfish, jacks and nudibranchs. Before I knew it, we resurfaced at our buoy 30 minutes later. The first dive of the day was done.
After a quick break and a chance to swap out our tanks, we headed down under again for a 45-minute dive. At our deepest we were about 30 feet below the water’s surface, two bulky, noisy beings gliding amidst brightly colored reef fish and plant life. I left the water energized, elated and a bit wobbly on my feet, which Cristina said happens often. On the way back to the store, I learned that in as few as three more dives I could achieve my Scuba certification.
Scuba can seem intimidating to those who’ve never done it before, but I urge you to give it a try before you leave the island. Our guides are eager to introduce visitors to the wide array of sea life that exists just off the coast, and they are trained extensively on keeping divers safe. The DSD experience takes just a few hours, leaving plenty of time to enjoy everything else that Vieques has to offer. Take it from someone who decided to push her limits; you’ll leave with a lifelong memory, a surge in confidence and an appreciation for the spectacular ecosystem that lies beneath the surface.
A few seconds into the dive my fears were overcome by the excitement of what I was doing, the beauty of the world I was seeing.