My Week On A Dive Boat
My family’s most exotic vacations were to Missouri and Minnesota as a kid, usually involving weddings or some family event an excuse could not get us out of.
My father will tell you it was because he was a small business owner and was on-call 24-hours-a-day.
Truth be told, I am sure our lack of vacations had more to do with him not wanting to be cooped up in a station wagon or mini-van with a gaggle of children acting
like, well, children. The few vacations we took are almost legendary to the point that the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation is probably like Vietnam flashbacks
for my parents.
I tell you this so that you understand that I am not someone who is into vacations. I don’t get climbing on a cruise ship where you dodge the bubonic plague, gorge
yourself, and discover your best friends in the world is an insurance salesman from Omaha and his wife Miki.
I also don’t like leaving the dogs. My family and I am fine with leaving, the dogs are another story. So, I surprised myself when I agreed to spend a week on a
scuba diving boat cruising around the Bahamas. Four dives a day, six days and seven nights at a great price that can warm a cheap Norwegian’s heart.
Now, there are beautiful diving yachts where you get your own stateroom, order your own personal meals, and enjoy all the amenities of civilization. My boat was
not that boat. Those boats cost three or four times as much. My boat held twenty-four divers and five crewmembers, and, if you changed your mind about
something, you were likely to bump into somebody.
A passenger was allowed 30 to 60 seconds of fresh water to shower with everyday, but most people’s showers consisted of using the deck hose to squirt the
mineral and salt mess your hair became. Even though the crew worked hard to keep the ship clean, by the second day the place looked like something Cuban
refugees used to sneak into America during the Carter administration.
Any notion of luxury was just that, a notion. A dive boat trip is basically all dudes. Guys that just want to dive and have fun. Next to a comic book shop, it might
be the safest place a woman can send her husband.
The one thing they don’t tell you about a dive boat is that space is at a premium. There should be a warning on the pamphlet you get stating the toilet or “head” is
maybe big enough for a Munchkin to get one cheek on. It makes airplane toilets look spacious. (The term “head” comes from the early days of sailing when the
toilets were placed at the head or bow of the ship. Why you ask? Ships could not sail into the wind, they were pushed by the breeze. Hence, the ship did not smell
like a Metallica concert.) There was also a clutch and stick shift attached to the toilet. One of them allowed water into the bowl. The other took your gift to the gods
away. You had to pump one three times and the other four times or maybe it was hit the clutch twice and pump the stick shift three times. I am not sure.
When I looked at this closet too small to hide a hobbit, I heard my sister’s voice talking about how she was regular as a clock, and how she visited the porcelain
gods once a week, every Sunday, whether she needed to or not. I thought I was the freak. Like an Olympic athlete, I could take up that challenge. I pictured myself
on a good old American toilet back in the states, victor’s wreath on my head, gold medal dangling from my neck. I was going to do it. I was going to use this bowl
meant for African pygmies. I am a champion. I came from a proud, noble people. It does not matter that they feed you like a king, three meals a day, something to
snack on after every dive, because you are burning calories like mad. I could do this. I COULD DO IT.
I lasted four days. Okay, three days. Two-and-a-half days, I swear. It was not a Hallmark moment. That saw-a-lady-in-half, but less comfortable, cabinet became
my favorite place on the boat, even if I had to pray, stooped shouldered, that a big wave was not going to hit the boat sending me crashing through the door into the
hallway, shorts around my ankles. It would not be the most heroic way to die. I pictured them notifying my white-haired, sainted mother. “Yes, ma’am. The boat
got hit by a twenty-foot wave. He got squeezed out of the head like cookie dough out of a tube. His last words? ‘I see a bright light. It is glorious. Yes, Jesus,
clutch, clutch, clutch, shift, shift, shift. I’m sorry.’”
I had an older neighbor woman in my small town that was being driven home from a church event by one of her friends. The car pulled into the driveway. She
started to get out when her friend somehow got the gas and brake confused. Slammed back into the car, the vehicle went through the garage, out the back wall,
across the yard, and only came to a stop when all four wheels left the ground when they hit the ditch. The EMS and fire department arrived. Her husband, arriving
home, sprinted, well, as fast as an elderly gentleman could sprint, out to the vehicle as the EMS was preparing to transport her to the hospital. She looked at her
beloved husband and said, “Nothing against you, honey, but that was the most exciting 15 seconds of my life.”
In spite of all the hardships, being on a dive boat can be some of the most exciting moments of your life. During one dive, I discovered that moray eels, just like
everyone else, love bacon. They really love bacon. I discovered this when one of my fellow divers put a few strips of our breakfast bacon in my BCD vest. He
thought it would be funny to watch the fish bother me, trying to eat the bacon out of my pockets.
It was all fun and games until a huge moray eel showed up. Normally shy, they usually stay hidden under ledges and inside holes. This eel decided I was going to
be the pig in his blanket. I spent the next forty-five minutes being shadowed by my new eel pal as I cruised around the three shipwrecks we were diving. I would
turn around. There it would be, sharp teeth exposed, hissing at me. I would move as fast as I could to get away. It would follow. It was not going to let me go. It
was like the eel was channeling one of my old girlfriends.
My heartbeat picked up. I was sure I was to be an eel sandwich. Then I reached into my pocket and discovered the bacon. Lesson, children: God did not ask his
chosen people to give up tofu. That would have been way too easy. Bacon is a different matter. All of God’s creatures love bacon, even moray eels.
On a dive boat, you get to see things and experience underwater places that most people never see. Some of which, due to pollution and global warming will
disappear all too soon. A diver can actually see places where the coral is dying. You can dive into blue holes, poke around shipwrecks, and come within inches of
sharks. There is beauty that can change you beneath the waves. It almost makes it worth suffering through Munichkin toilets and moray eels. Almost.