Another surreal experience. Do you remember the first time you rode a bicycle? I recall darkness falling on a warm summer evening, still riding up and down the street, not wanting to stop; I didn’t want to lose the thrill, afraid I wouldn’t be able to ride again the next day. That evening I laid in bed, my mind and feet unconsciously pedaling, holding onto that metaphysical two-wheel balance feeling. Many years later similar feeling occurred at college, after sweep-rowing for hours for the first time in an eight-person shell. Pinnacle experiences linger on, and make us who we are.
Fayaway just-arrived at Marine Park anchorage outside Oranjestad, dominated by The Quill, a 4,000 year old extinct volcano.
We sailed from Dutch St. Maarten the previous day, anchored in the marine park, just outside of Oranjestad. After (partially) clearing in, we walked along the broken concrete roadway, passing a neatly painted shipping container, where inside the front “door” were people chatting, just enjoying their morning. I half-noticed the signage out front, but made a mental note of equipment neatly organized outside. As customary with Statia’s residents, I said a polite “good morning”, and received the same with an enthusiastically bright smile from a woman standing closest to the door.
I say "partially" clearing in because as typical, especially at smaller islands, there's a less-than-timely process associated. I went back three times to find someone working so I could pay the harbor fees, which are supposed to be done first. Fortunately, all the agents are friendly, and the nice Customs woman let me take care of that out of official order. I also went back again to see Immigration (as required) but she waved me off saying "you're all set". Post script, a similar series occurred when clearing out. Again, their friendliness makes up for the slight inconvenience.
We continued along the barely-paved road to the Marine Park office to pick up our hiking “tags”, for which a modest cash payment helps keep this island beautiful and accessible to all. Our plan was to hike The Quill, a dormant volcano. (Upcoming post).
After further strolling about the little town, and receiving countless pleasant greetings from its residents, we headed back down to the customs dock, attempting to complete our clearing in process. On the way by, I took notice again of the white shipping container that had caught my attention earlier.
The following morning, I poked my head into the Golden Rock Dive Center, aka GRDC, or “white shipping container”. Barely one foot was cautiously in the door when the same woman warmly greeted us and cheerfully asked, “would you like to go diving?” As though the answer should be obvious. In a completely unprepared response, we stared back with an innocent smile. “hmmm, I don’t know; we don’t know the first thing…” I gazed around at the pamphlets, t-shirts and miscellaneous diving masks on display. We asked basic questions like how does one go about learning to dive? How much? Etc.
Vittoria offered a concise introduction – GRDC provides diving excursions to many local fish-filled reefs and shipwrecks. And… lessons! She continued to explain that we could “just try it out” with an introductory “Discover Scuba Diving” course.
Hmmmm. An interesting opportunity, but definitely not on our agenda!
But then I couldn’t shake the idea of learning to dive from my thoughts. We were intrigued and thought of YouTube diving videos, never considering that we could actually be there too. Our heads were buzzing over this thought, and continued to simmer over a lunch of delicious curried goat.
Vittoria met us after lunch the following day, for an hour of filling out forms and briefings before any hands-on. Then came a crash course fitting up equipment, and soon we walked in our wetsuits to a nearby beach. In the chest-high rolling surf, we practiced breathing, using the BCD (buoyancy compensating device) and clearing water from our masks. Next step was to go a bit further into deeper water, repeating and trying more exercises, such as losing and recovering the regulator while kneeling onto the sand, under water a couple feet.
We realized that Vittoria was always assessing us, and taking carefully choreographed steps to acclimate. At some point she repeated her “ok” signal at each of us, essentially asking… are you feeling ok; ready to start?
Looking back, it was all a blur, trying to remember so many new terms, signals, names and protocols. With a little uncertainty we let the air out of our BCD’s (buoyancy compensating devices) and followed her deeper underwater as she dragged a little floaty flag buoy behind. We flapped our fins and ventured on and out toward a nearby 17th century underwater wall, teeming with artifacts, coral and many colorful fish. Time slowed down tremendously, and only a couple meters under water I was hovering weightless in this strange and thrilling new world.
Seemingly only a few minutes passed, and with a teasing glimpse of colorful fish, rusty cannons, a resting turtle and other strange underwater life, we turned back toward the dive center, where Dave and Sarah helped us to reclaim gravity, walking upright onto the land-world. Our minds reeled as we were helped out of all the gear. Back at the dive center, someone handed us each congratulatory frosty cold beers! David, Sarah and Vittoria hung out to chat a while and answer more questions.
I can’t imagine this being a more positive and exhilarating experience! Warm water, combined with warmer people, in an environment straight out of Jurassic Park. We’d taken and swallowed the hook, and immediately signed up for the full certification lessons. Now only one week later, we have already completed “Open Water” certification, and more incredible dives. We can’t give enough credit to Dave, Sarah (GRDC owners) and our fantastic instructor Vittoria for creating this new addiction!
5 thoughts on “Deeper in Statia”
Sounds amazing, something I have always wanted to try. I love snorkeling but this would be so much more.
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Talk with Kelly, and she’ll convince you to go for it!
Wow! Congrats on becoming divers! I also took the introductory diving this year but decided going further wasn’t for me. Seems like this is a natural progression for you two. Happy!
Nice touch offering up a beer to celebrate your dive! Might have to go there myself to get re-certified.
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You won’t regret the personalized approach. The amount saved vs doing this back home would probably pay for your plane ticket. Not to mention the pleasant surroundings!
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