I grew up in a small seaside town on the west coast of Scotland Ayr, for those of you with an atlas. During family trips, we traded the cold waters of Scotland for the Mediterranean. Perhaps it was during these years that my love for the water really began, but it just took a while for me to realize it.
In 1993, after graduating with a bachelor of science degree in physical therapy, I left Scotland for a new job in Chicago. Little did I know that within a few years I'd become a PADI scuba diver and eventually an instructor.
It was my moms Discover Scuba Diving experience in Turkey that got me interested in diving. She just couldn't stop talking about the wonderful world below.
Within a couple of weeks I was heading with a friend to West Palm Beach for my first open-water scuba experience. It was exhilarating and I was hooked. Within about two weeks I was certified.
Meanwhile, Chris, my husband to be, was working on his PADI Open Water certification. He'd been diving since he was young with his dad but had never gotten certified. Little did I know that he had ulterior motives for becoming certified.
A few months later we were in Grand Cayman diving the walls, identifying underwater life that we had never seen before and having the time of our lives. Just when I thought life couldn't get better, Chris proposed to me underwater at Stingray City. At that moment, the underwater world became an even more meaningful part of my life.
Chris and I began talking about how we could become divemasters and live on an island somewhere. At the time it was all talk. Life back in Chicago was comfortable. I started a four-year master's-degree program in Chinese medicine, which had been a passion of mine for many years, and cut my day job to part-time.
With every dive trip we took (and there were quite a few), the idea of diving as a career became more and more appealing. A trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands was the turning point for us. We fell in love with the islands and knew we had to find a way to make this a bigger part of our life.
So after looking through Sport Diver, surfing the Web and making some calls, we decided that we'd detour during a trip in Florida to visit Pro Dive in Fort Lauderdale. It took about five minutes to see that not only was this a great place to become divemasters, but it was unlike any dive shop I'd been in.
We had booked a dive, so our next stop was the 60-foot dive boat Prodiver II. After hearing Capt. Stu's briefing, we were not only ready to dive but chomping at the bit to start divemaster classes.
We knew we'd have some great classmates when we arrived at the Sea Beach, a sort of Melrose Place-like hotel filled with Pro Dive students in various phases of training.
My divemaster class had 19 students, a mixture of professional people like myself, looking either to change their career or add to their skill set, and students right out of high school. Everyone had a different reason for being there and a different goal. The class was divided into teams of six or seven students, each led by a different course director. Richard Hartley (aka The Commander) supervised my team.
The focus of the pool sessions was on improving skills to "demonstration quality." This was something Richard was quite a stickler about, and it definitely prepared us for the Instructor Development Course. Pool sessions, about three hours long, involved a lot of role-playing, with one student appointed the divemaster and the other students assigned problems that open-water students might experience. These problems had to be identified and corrected. Skin diver and rescue workshops were also part of the pool experience.
The open-water sessions were a combination of more skills practice and guiding dives. During both of these, assigned problems and sometimes unassigned problems had to be addressed and corrected. In addition, each group mapped an assigned part of a reef and participated in a navigation workshop. I was the last divemaster candidate in my group to lead a dive. The site would be Tenneco Towers, an oil platform sunk as a part of Fort Lauderdale's artificial reef program.
After my dive briefing, which was critiqued and graded by Richard, each student in my group was assigned a problem. We then descended the line to the wreck. The current was pretty good, and it was difficult to make headway against it. That was when the real fun began. The buddy concept was forgotten on a regular basis and occasionally a diver would try to penetrate the structure, something I had explicitly requested that no one do. As I worked to keep the buddies and the collective group together, I saw out the corner of my eye someone doing somersaults, pretending to be narked. Air was starting to run low, and it seemed like no time had passed before it was time to start the ascent. Whew. I realized that keeping a watchful eye on divers adds a whole new element compared to diving with only your buddy.
Having just completed my master's degree, I was impressed by the caliber of the lectures. The instructors were very familiar with the content of the divemaster course; they made the classes enjoyable and the information easy to understand. Everyone was impressed by our instructor's physics lecture or "fizziks" as he called it for once, physics made sense.
After two weeks, four stamina tests, numerous quizzes and lots of time in the pool and open water, I was an exhausted but very happy PADI divemaster. I was more than ready to start the IDC to become an instructor at Pro Dive, but a trip to DEMA in Las Vegas was next on my agenda.