With the wind in our faces, we were screaming the classic "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey at the top of our lungs as we sailed aboard Steppin' Up, a catamaran belonging to the Odyssey Expedition fleet, en route to Young Island, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. All nine of us teenagers were on the bow, being soaked by each oncoming wave.
My greatest fear before this Odyssey Expeditions trip was diving in the dark. I had many opportunities to try night diving, but refused, fearing the unknown.Before I could dwell too much,we reached our destination.
We were surrounded by rugged cliffs and crystal-blue water, painted by a setting sun. As the sun descended, it grewlarger and larger. The larger it became, the closer I was to night diving. The sun was half-gone, holding me in suspense. My thoughts raced. What will it be like? What will I see? Will I be able to see? Questions came as quickly as the sun was setting."Prepare for the green flash!" yelled our boat captain.
Flash! The brilliant burst ended.We washed dishes and assemble dgear. The stars were shining bright: timeto dive. With a giant stride off the boat,I descended 15 feet to the bottom. I scanned my surroundings, just as a long worm swam right past me, twirling closer to my light. As I watched, I realized that I had left my fear at the surface, and that diving is diving, no matter what time. It would always be a luxury I enjoyed.On that night dive, we saw moray eels, lobsters and urchins. And I discovered how temperamental squid are: As we approached, their tentacles flare dand colors changed, as if to warn us.Night diving was new for me, and trying it alongside eight other people my age made it easier and more fun.After receiving our PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certifications, we started working toward our PADI Night and Wreck Diver specialties. One skill necessary for wreck diving is mapping. Our first assignment was to sketch a wreck called Devil's Table. The name alone was enough to create excitement throughout the boat.Gear on, before we knew it we were descending.My buddy and I began drawing.I came to the bow, where I saw a light pink coral sponge. I was going to continue on when it moved. I looked more closely and adrenaline kicked in.
Before going on the Odyssey trip, I had listed the creatures I would most like to see, and now I was able to cross one off: a frog fish. I got the attention of the diver nearest me and he swam off to signal the other divers. The frogfish was 6inches long and wore a permanent frown. I could have stayed there mesmerized all day, but I needed to continue my dive. As I came to the stern off in the sand, I saw another group of creatures on my list:garden eels. I have always been fascinated by their behavior. I finned toward them,but they sensed my approach and ducked into their homes. After finishing my map,I realized that most of the divers had ascended, and it was time for my buddy and me to join them at the surface.It had been six days since we had set foot on land. That afternoon, we motored to a dock at the island of Bequia,where an army of friendly dogs greeted our dinghy. They were everywhere. Our new friends followed us as we walked in search of a restaurant. We settled on one called The Porthole, and the dogs got cozy outside the entrance. For most of us, this was our first experience with island time a far cry from our fast food lifestyles. Though it was an hour waiting for our food and watching the dogs watching us wait for our food, we cleaned our plates in roughly 10 minutes.After dinner, we strolled down the sidewalk and spotted an Internet café.I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to e-mail friends and call family to tell them about all of the awesome experiences I was having every day and how much fun my new friends and I were having. At 10 p.m. we went back to the catamaran. We lay down on the nets and counted shooting stars, still in awe of our surroundings.The next morning we awoke early for a special opportunity. Back ashore, every one piled into two taxis that took us to the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. When we reached our destination, we were ambushed by chickens, ducks, goats and dogs. This was a turtle sanctuary?An older man approached, introducing himself as Brother King. He ledus into the sanctuary, which was filled with sea turtles: greens, hawksbills and even albinos.
When he was younger, Brother Kings aid, he fished specifically for turtles.They provided good meat and money. But as time passed, he noticed a difference in the turtle population. In the 1970s, hawksbill turtles were declared endangered,yet they were still being hunted.It amazed him that, even after 30 years of being endangered, they are still being hunted and, yet, they still exist.
Things changed for Brother King several years ago when he was camping on the beach, and he awoke at 3 o'clock in the morning. He looked down to find a sea turtle laying eggs. After the turtle left, he covered the eggs with more sand to hide them more efficiently. They were kept secret from everyone. Two months later, he and his friend were walking the same beach when his friend began jumping up and down frantically.Brother King looked down to seebaby turtles climbing up their legs.His friend exclaimed, "Where did these ants come from?"Brother King responded, "Those are my turtles!"
His friend said: "But they are only babies, what would you use them for?They are no good for meat or shells."Brother King said, "I want to help them." Then he and his friend scooped them up and placed them in a container.During the first few days, Brother King tried feeding the turtles crackers,but the crackers went untouched. One day, he was eating a tuna sandwich over the turtles, and when some dropped in,the juveniles swarmed toward it. He later read an article that said baby turtles don't eat for the first five days of their life. It was then that he decided he would help the ocean and reef by building a sanctuary for the turtles. Even now his turtles come back to his beachjust to play. And this year, he hopes that they will come to lay eggs.
After his story, we grabbed large brushes, dipped them in sand and began scrubbing algae off the turtles' backs. Itwas a tiresome undertaking, but it was amazing to be so close. Turtles are said to be slow, but we were chasing them around the tank breathlessly. After the turtles' shells were sparkling, we went to play with the babies. They were only a few months old and were the size of the palm of my hand. I stroked their heads to calm them down, and they fell asleep in my hands. I felt like a turtle whisperer. After spending the morning in the sanctuary, it was time to return to Steppin' Up.
Lifelong Learner Every morning after breakfast, we took time to educate one another about the marine life we saw daily. We'd gather and listen to "The Fish of the Day!" presentation given by a fellow shipmate.
A popular Caribbean fish, creature and coral would be presented and later, during our dives, everyone would search for the marine life of the day. We also took part in REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) surveys. Each of us was given a numbered slate and pencil along with an ID card with names and images of fish we could see in the Caribbean. On each dive, we would make note of it on the slate. The information helps REEF research all around the world. But Odyssey Expeditions does more than just morning lectures and fish ID.It offers a program that allows participants to earn two college biology credits.Before the program, Odyssey sends an e-mail with the assignment attached: a document with questions that had to be answered with information from outside sources given. During the trip, we had to become familiar with marine life. What we learned from our dives expanded upon what we had already been learning throughout the two weeks.
I never believed I would have the chance to spend two weeks living on a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands.I never believed it was possible that I could have such knowledge and respect for the ocean. I never believed I would receive my PADI Night and Wreck Diver Specialties, let alone my PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certification. Sailing with Odyssey Expeditions convinced me otherwise. Because of Odyssey, I was able to accomplish all of these things with people who were encouraging and who I loved being with. Though we were banned from singing any Journey songs by the end of the first week, the need to sing "Don't Stop Believin'" was always in the air. None of us could have ever imagined that we would travel around the Caribbean,live on a sailboat or receive all of our dive certifications at our age, or in our lifetime but we did it. We will never stop believing. odysseyexpeditions.com