As I waited to board the ferry to Utila, the Utila Dream, dubbed by many as the vomit comet, I was treated to a Honduran Delicacy. The pastillito. Little did I know that this Caribbean Pastry would soon become the staple of my diet!
With all my dive gear on my back I got onto the ferry for a very bumpy ride! People on either side of me were chucking their guts up as we crossed the water.
As we docked I was met by a Tuk Tuk ready to take me to my temporary home. When I booked the Divemaster course, I got 4 free nights accommodation thrown in.
I made my way to the dive centre and was shown around and welcomed to the fold by Nico, one of the staff instructors. He invited my back that evening to take part in a quiz and to get to know some of the other people at the dive centre.
Our quiz team didn’t do great but I did get to meet some of the amazing people at UDC. (Utila Dive Centre) that evening after the quiz the drinks were flowing, a new shot called Tequilamite , Tequila and Marmite, was invented and the rest is a solid blur. But I’m pretty sure it involved dancing on tables!
With a sore head I awoke and went for a pre DM fun dive. This was the first time id used some of my new gear and it was magical. The dive itself was a bit forgettable but what I do remember was how amazing my new fins and BCD felt. So streamlined and comfy. Defiantly a good investment!
I met the other DMT (dive master trainees) who would be on my course. A Danish girl named Sofie, A Romanian/Hungarian named Orsi and a fellow brit called Hayley.
While there were other DMTs at the centre, the 4 of us would be doing everything together.
1st up was my dive medical, the islands local doctor came and checked me out, Perfect health!
The next step was a boat workshop. A workshop to familiarise us with the workings of the boats, how to tie them up, what to do with fenders, what our responsibilities would be while on the boat. We learnt how to brief customers on the boat, how to carry and store the tanks and just the general workings of setting up the boat!
This workshop was completed by Jemma, who was my mentor. A vastly experienced Marine Biologist with a passion for the environment and teaching divers about responsible diving practises. She was also the inventor of the Tequilamite!
My first week was filled with various workshops to learn the duties of a divemaster and to hone my own dive skills.
We learnt how to assist DSD (discover scuba dive) courses. Learnt how to run a Skin Diver course. Did 2 dives to improve our deep and navigation skills. On the 1st of these dives Hayley and myself had a slight hiccup.
We had to do a straight line course, then turn 180 degrees and come back on a reciprocal heading. Hayley had the compass, I was counting the kicks.
As we hit our 30 kicks I squeezed Hayley who turned us and we returned. At 30 kicks I squeezed her shoulder again. We should have been back where we began! All around us was blue!
We slowly surfaced from 30m and did our safety stop. We were a long way from the boat!!!! A long and exhausting surface swim got us back to the boat and a worried Nico who thought he had lost 2 of his divers!!
We redid that dive another day and realised that poor Hayley gets Narked around 25 metres! No wonder she read the compass wrong! It highlighted for me why we needed to practise though!
When I wasn’t in the water I was studying. Each night we had knowledge review sessions were we went over a chapter in the DM manual. It was a lot of reading and a pretty intense week!
Intense but great fun. I loved having a chance to lead dives! (I even found the boat each time!!) and to experience the professional side of diving! I could also feel my own skills getting better and better. This was shown by my improving scores on the 2 skills circuits I had to do.
I was really eager to get involved in some courses! My opportunity came quite quickly, after my 1st week I was asked to DM on an open water course. 3 students who had never been in the water before.
My job was basically to hold their tanks while they got their buoyancy right and to watch to make sure they were safe. As we only had 3 students as well as an instructor, an MSDT (master scuba diver trainer) and Orsi we outnumbered the students. This meant there wasn’t a huge amount to do.
I still loved it though! I spent a lot of time watching the MSDT and instructor (Luke and T) and thinking that id love to do that!
As part of the course we did a beach clean up. It was horrifying how much crap we managed to get from off the beach, and we still barely made a dent as to what was there! Plastic bottle tops, forks and toothbrushes were everywhere! It made me really quite sad. PLEASE PEOPLE REFUSE STRAWS!!!!!! They kill and are pure evil!!
The day of my 2nd exam (id scored 100% on my first!!!) was also the day of Carnival! This was poor timing as I wanted to mix studying with enjoying carnival! I somehow managed to pass that exam despite a lot of day drinking! That night Sofie Orsi and Rikke (sofies sister) went out and I enjoyed my first visit to the legendary Tranquila! This would become almost a second home! A bar that sells awful drinks but Is great fun!
We became the dance craze that night of dancing to the skills circuit. Doing dive skills in the medium of dance! It was great fun!
I joined my second course assist. An Advanced Open Water with Nico as the Instructor and Jules and the MSDT. It was again a fun and uneventful course where I spent lots of it watching and learning. However on one of these dives I was involved in an incident that became my snorkel test story, more on that later!!!
As part of the Divemaster, we have to do a set of physical challenges. A 400m swim, a 800m swim with snorkel and fins and a 15 minute float with our hands out of the water for the last 5 mins! The hardest of these being the equipment exchange, swapping all equipment underwater with a buddy, while only using 1 regulator!!
That was a real challenge as the 1st time we tried this I had flashbacks to my accident the year before but I did manage it! I was really chuffed with myself afterwards! This video from my friend Rhys shows exactly what was needed In the challenge.
UDC is a very environmentally conscious organisation and as such as part of the DMT we needed to do our part. Along with the beach clean we each had to take part in a coral watch. This is an official project, of which UDC is the biggest contributor. Divers go down and monitor the health of the corals and report their findings.
After 3 weeks I only had 1 more task to complete! I needed to map a dive site! this was great fun, taking measurements and depths and mapping the corals! The challenge was to draw the map! I somehow produced something that was deemed good enough, but it cant have been by much!
And like that, I was a divemaster!!
Another video from Rhys shows a day in the life of the divemaster
The course was so much fun, both what was done on the course and the extra activities I did!
I went for an Eco walk around the island, exploring bat caves and learning about the islands eco systems.
I did a course about taking out divers with disabilities. This involved doing a dive with a blacked out mask and doing another with my legs tied up, to simulate various impairments! I really enjoyed these added challenges but it did make me think hard about adapting practises to allow anyone to experience the under water world.
Another memorable experience was a trip to water kay. A sand island nearby. This beautiful place was invaded by drunk divers for one hell of a party!
Now I know I said I was a divemaster, but before you can officially be a dive master you must complete your snorkel test. You put on a mask and snorkel and booze is poured down the snorkel. I was doing really well at mine until half a bottle of chilli sauce found its way into the snorkel! Thanks Dani!!
Ive never experienced burn like it! My hands and face were on fire!!!
On top of that, I had these wonderful encounters with Dolphins and whale sharks!!
Id only planned to stay 4 weeks on Utila, but the experience id had with my Divemaster’s, coupled with a tax rebate, convinced me to stay and do my IDC. My instructor development course. To become an instructor, to be able to do what id seen the wonderful instructors at UDC doing! It was too good an opportunity to pass up!