Conquering fears: how a once hydrophobic girl became a divemaster

Karen and hawksbill

Me and a hawksbill turtle in Roatan, the Bay Islands, Honduras. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

Fears are things that can hold us back from experiencing life. While people who meet me now would never believe my previous fear, old friends, family and even Mike remembers how completely and deathly afraid of water I was. So much to the fact I would just walk near the shores of the North Saskatchewan River which runs through Edmonton, Alberta, where I grew up and would instantly start to hyperventilate.

 

After 2 very close to drowning incidents when I was a child I refused to continue swim lessons past the shallow end. In High School when discover scuba diving was offered as part of our physical education curriculum I quickly got my parents to write a note saying that I absolutely refused to go in the water. Summers at the lake where one of my best friends’ parents’ had a place was amazing and frightening, I wouldn’t go into the water without a life jacket. Year after year this got terribly annoying. Stifled by my fear, I couldn’t cliff jump, venture into water deeper than where I could stand and couldn’t feel comfortable kayaking.

 

When I met Mike I was still deathly afraid of water. My now husband has always been a water baby. He can cut the water on a slalom ski with his ear just inches off the water, he has a love for swimming, kayaking and diving. All of these interests I couldn’t really share with him. I distinctly remember one of our first kayak trips together. Although in reflection we should have probably had a double at the time, we were each in single ocean kayaks. Mike with a lot of experience and me with nothing. On our trip home the winds had come up and the waters became choppy. Paddling became difficult and Mike got very far ahead of me. Overwhelmed by fear I started bawling. The cute harbor seals that popped up all around me I swore were there to eat me. This irrational thought almost paralyzed me.

 

 

Kayaking Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia.

 

What if I tip? What if I can’t get back in the boat? What if Mike doesn’t notice?

 

I was getting fed up with being limited by what I could do by my fear. Early in our relationship, Mike had been accepted to a university exchange program in Brisbane, Australia. My plan was to go and visit, but I swore that I would not be visiting Australia and not see the Great Barrier Reef despite my overwhelming fear of water. It was that decision and my stubbornness that got me, at the age of 22 into an adult swim class. Little by little I felt more comfortable in the water. And while in Australia, traveling by myself I booked myself on a snorkel tour of the Great Barrier Reef out of Port Douglas. All by myself. That experience was magical within moments I was swimming with a sea turtle, side-by-side and saw my first white tip reef shark.

 

The drive was there, but it still was a slow process. A year later we visited the Dominican Republic where Mike suggested I try a Discover Scuba dive. Within moments in open water I bolted to the surface. It was too scary. It wasn’t until the year after when Mike and I had planned a kayak trip to Belize that 6 months before the trip Mike put the thought into my head to consider doing my open water course. I could complete all the academics and confined sessions at home our local dive shop, Ocean Sports at my own pace and complete the open water portion of the course as a referral in Belize when we went there.

 

But I looked into the course requirements, a 200 metre swim and a 10 minute tread water…

 

When you have NO IDEA on how to swim or even the slightest to tread water these can be HUGE hurdles, the even thought of this was terrifying. So again with support from friends and family, back to the pool I went for some more lessons and to practice swimming and treading water. Mike had plastered our bedroom with inspirational photos of turtles, whales, sharks, coral, nudibranchs and other types of fish to motivate me why I was doing this.

 

I finally gained the confidence and completed my Open Water course in 2006, followed by my Advanced Open Water course in 2007 in Koa Tao, Thailand. Since then Mike and I have dove off Vancouver Island in Canada; Cozumel, Mayan Riviera and a few of the cenotes in Mexico and in Útila, Honduras.

 

Both Mike and I recently completed our Rescue Diver course in Roatán, Honduras.

 

Cavern Diving Mexico

Mike and I diving Dos Ojos cenote in the Mayan Riviera in Mexico.

 

Not only have I completely delved into diving, but in 2009 both Mike and I completed the a 9 day Overnight Assistant Guide ocean kayak course off the coast of Tofino, British Columbia furthering my comfort and skill in and on the water.

 

I am not sure when it actually became a goal but I remember before Mike and I set out on our cycle trip coming up with a list of things I wanted to accomplish on this trip. A list of goals. I remember writing down “to become a Divemaster”.

 

Image

This 'little' guy has been hanging around for a few days now. This black grouper seems to follow us every time we dive near Fish Den dive site. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

To become a Divemaster means a lot of different things but mainly it’s a demonstration that you have a proficiency in the water, the ability to plan for and anticipate dive site conditions, supervise and lead certified divers, assist instructors in courses, refresh certified divers that have been away from the water for a while,  brief divers about local dive conditions if they are new to the area and can demonstrate a skill circuit of at least 24 skills to instructor level proficiency.  Tests consist of written dive theory exams and timed 400 metre swim, 800 metre snorkel, and an 100 metre tired diver tow. In addition, you have to execute a search and recovery scenario, rescue scenario, map out a dive site, prove you can independently lead certified divers and problem solve as required, and finally complete a stress test which involves an underwater equipment exchange while buddy breathing (i.e. only one tank is on and you have to share air through a single second stage) and includes everything except for weights and exposure suit.

 

Do I ever plan on working in the field as a Divemaster, perhaps not, but I wanted the knowledge and confidence that this course provides. I started my Divemaster training on May 7, 2012 with the minimum number of logged dives (40) to start the program. Within the two months that I have been working with the Reef Glider crew here in Roatán, Honduras, I have gained invaluable experience and have become a much better and confident diver.

 

School of juvenile grunts at 107 ft on deep temptation. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

I have had the opportunity to work with several different instructors on a variety of courses and am fortunate to be able to take away so many different lessons from each of them. I am in debt to them all for helping me develop my skills (thanks Elizabeth, Torri, Glen, and Cynthia).

 

When the instructors do not need my assistance on course I am out “fun” diving with somewhat of a local legend if not a legend within the whole dive community, Mr. Mickey Charteris. With over 12 years of experience on this reef alone, he himself is a former instructor who resorted back to the duties of dive-mastering for the love of diving, has been a fantastic mentor. Have I mentioned he is not only a fabulous mentor but also one of this islands’ leading under water naturalists who has claim to fame in the scientific community to discovering his own species of blenny and shrimp (and probably a few more I don’t even know about!) in addition to an accomplished underwater photographer. One of the first assignments he gave me is to learn a new species of invertebrate, vertebrate, coral and algae a day (true geekdom, I love it!)

 

Tiger groupe cleaning station

Tiger grouper cleaning station. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

I am only days away from completing my dive master training with only my map left to complete. Through this experience I have learned so much. I now wake up craving the water. I have never in my life experienced ‘missing’  the water like I do if I can’t dive for a few days due to a cold.

 

I have always enjoyed exploring this natural earth, and being a terrestrial biologist, that was my job for years; to wander around the forests, grasslands and tundra identifying different vegetation and wildlife species, now a whole new world and ecosystem has been opened to me, and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to explore this new realm. I have also had the fortune of seeing many rare and even undescribed  underwater species as so much of that world remains yet to be explored.

 

So what does this mean for our cycle journey. Nothing, it’s still happening, just postponed. Mike and I have always said cycling is a means of travel not our purpose of travel. I have been living in Roatán for the past two months and plan on staying here a few more. With not a lot to do on the island other than diving Mike was fortunate enough to land a contract back home with our old employer to earn some extra money so we can set our sights on a few destinations that otherwise our budget would have limited us from experiencing. This has allowed me to take my time and work at my own pace. Now that I have almost completed my official training I plan on sticking around for a few more months continuing to learn and gain experience, I may even freelance a little.

 

I am very thankful to have such an amazing supportive husband who had been with me the whole way on this journey and gave me the push to be where I am today. Thanks Mike!

 

We’ll be back on the road soon enough, just living out this adventure first …

 

I’ll leave you with a little taste of what my world has looked like the past few months:

 

Green Turtle

Green Sea Turtle. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

Image 3

Getting ready to hug that GIANT barrel sponge on the infamous Texas site (Roatán, Bay of Islands, Honduras). Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

green morray

Green Morray Eel. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

filament blenny

Tiny filament blenny. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

cryptic tear drop crab

This tiny cryptic tear drop crab uses pieces of it's surroundings to camouflage itself including bits of coral, sponge and you can also see tiny anemones growing on it. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

scrawled file fish

Scrawled file fish. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

black spotted nudibranch

Black spotted nudibranch. Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris.

 

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