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My First-Ever Liveaboard Trip

A new experience becomes a portal to the past
By Terry Ward | Updated On April 16, 2024
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My First-Ever Liveaboard Trip

Illustration of a diver getting onto a boat looking sea sick with beautiful mountains in the background and coral reef underneath
Lauren Rebbeck

I happened upon some old photos deep in the cobwebs of my inbox recently. Such are the perks of hoarding emails the same way I stockpile frequent-flyer miles. I can dive decades back into the digital archive with a couple of keystrokes and be taken to far-off oceans, another life—another wetsuited me. This time I had searched the word Palau. Suddenly it was 2009, and I was on my first-ever liveaboard trip, aboard Fish ‘n Fins Ocean Hunter III, a full 12 years after my open-water dive certification.

Related Reading: Dive Hotspots: Hawaii, Palau and Bahamas

Speaking of firsts, this new column is a first in my nearly 23 years as a travel writer. That this page will be devoted to highlights, friendships, laughs and lowlights I’ve had all over the world as a diver makes it all the sweeter.

My first time on a liveaboard—in a dream spot like Palau, no less—was thanks to an assignment that had somehow landed in my lap from Sport Diver magazine. Nobody on staff could make the trek to Palau, so they sent lucky me instead. I was an established freelance writer then, but less established as a diver. The editor told me he was looking for “writers who dive” to contribute to the magazine, not “divers who write.” So off I went on the dive trip of a lifetime—with roughly 15 dives in my logbook, almost all of which were in the placid Florida springs. I couldn’t help but think I might have oversold myself.

A cyclone had just passed over Micronesia, and the waters were still bouncing around like a bowl of Jell-O as we tendered out to the liveaboard from Koror. When we did our first dive the next day, I stayed less than a foot from the divemaster like a remora glued to a shark and forced the whole group to ascend early when I’d sucked through my tank. We surfaced to roiling waters, and as we waited to be picked up I fed the fish through my snorkel. When I hurried to get up the ladder so I could lie supine on the boat, a French guest clucked, “Well, excuse me. It must be Americans first here!”

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Happily, things got better. The seas finally laid down, and the Frenchies and I bonded over après-dive biéres (beer) once I admitted to these more experienced divers that it was my first liveaboard and I was just a hired scribe.

By the end of the week, I’d racked up more than 20 dives and even had my buoyancy under control enough to master the reef hook at Blue Corner—it’s amazing what a week on a liveaboard can do for your learning curve and confidence when you’re new to the sport.

I have to admit I feel a bit like a newbie with the chance to write a personal column like this for Scuba Diving, but I also realize I have a lot to share. I’ve been at this writing, diving and traveling the world thing for more than two decades now, after all. So thank you for coming along on the ride—all I ask is you let me hurry up the ladder first if I get green in the face.