Since I can remember I have dreamed of the ocean. I wanted to be dolphin and seal trainer at Sea World when I was little and I actually applied to several marine biology programs before I settled on Rollins College. I was certified to dive at 18 and got my advanced with the great Ames Massey in 1990. Diving was a way of life back then. My dad and I enjoyed diving together off our boat, I loved diving with friends anytime we got the chance and being in Florida provided me with lots of opportunities. I was hooked.
David and I had the chance to dive on our honeymoon but between work, kids and living in a landlocked state we never had much opportunity to dive after that. This summer we made it a priority to get David and the kids certified while I took a refresher course. Lee is the minimum age to obtain PADI Jr. Open Water Certification. Knowing that we were going to travel to some of the best dive sites in the world we decided this was something we all wanted to do.
Jr. Open Water Certification is just like regular Open Water Certification. It required the kids to do everything any adult would have to do – it just limits them to a depth of 12 meters/ 40 feet until they are 15 years old. At that time their certification switches to a regular PADI Open Water Certification. The kids were naturals at diving and quickly learned the ins and outs of what you need to know to dive safely. PADI stresses safe diving and respecting the natural environment. It was a lot to learn and a lot of work. But by July we were all certified divers.
We have since had the opportunity to dive in Fiji, Lady Elliot Island, Mission Beach and most recently went on a 3 day liveaboard dive boat on the Great Barrier Reef. This last experience pushes divers to dive 11 dives in 3 days. It is exhausting, exhilarating, and for passionate divers – a dream come true.
After a 3-hour boat ride from Cairns out to the reef, we were briefed on our first dive site, reminded how to use our compass, advised on how the crew would organize our equipment and refill tanks between dives, prepped on what we can expect to possibly see, reminded of our safety signals, and sent down to get ready.
We were guided on the first dive to get familiar with the site. We slid into our stinger suits (It is stinger season in Australia – and the “stingers” – little jellyfish – that can seriously hurt you if stung are present) and started the equipment preparation process. The kids are pretty good at this by now but still look to us for guidance. There were plenty of helping hands on deck. After buddy checks we headed to the back deck and took giant strides into the water.
Immediately we were struck by the awesomeness of the Great Barrier Reef. The fish are huge. The coral is healthy and beautiful. There are fish everywhere you look. Imagine the most amazing fish tank you have ever seen and that is one small snapshot of the Great Barrier Reef. Every fish from “Finding Nemo” is there. There are always sharks which are always exciting and never scary. The sea turtles come so close you can touch them. There are giant clams in every color of the rainbow and so many fish I’ll never know the names of them all.
Life on a liveaboard dive boat is an experience itself. Our trip had about 30 divers with a dive staff of about half a dozen and several dive masters in training. With a large group of committed divers the passion and enthusiasm is contagious. Nowhere else will you overhear “There is a huge shark in the water. Quick! Everyone get in!”
I have yet to fully relax on a dive with my kids. David did the navigation and a wonderful job of it. I can say that now. At the time we had a few underwater disagreements about where we were and the speed we were traveling. Underwater disagreements are interesting. Everything is done in hand signals. If the signals are not understood, we usually resort to some old school easily recognizable ones. Anyway, diving with kids makes it a bit stressful as you can’t help but worry about their safety first. We found it was best to travel with David in front, both kids in the middle and me in back. That way I could always see them and David could lead.
After 11 dives in three days (each of us dove every dive!), I can say we all enjoyed ourselves, we are much better divers, we dive cohesively as a group, and have a pretty good system down. We are all exhausted and probably need 24 hours to recover but the trip was an amazing experience. I am very proud of the whole family.