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The Toy Boat

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Before I moved to the Caribbean and my best friend,
Melissia, began law school, we decided to take a wreck diving trip. Our search
for a dive operator was met with dozens of, ‘sorry, the boat is full’ replies.
After a desperate internet posting, I received a message from an operator stating
he was available.

A few mornings
later we followed his directions to an abandoned motel in the tropics. The
sight of the dock behind the motel gave us pause as it wasn’t a dock at all but
rather a rotted wooden walkway. Then, we heard our boat coming ’round the bend.
Having grown up watching The African Queen, I feared what the boat would look
like from the sound of its motor.

The boat came into
sight as our fellow divers arrived. It was smaller than a six-pack with no
seats and several rolls of duct tape plastered on the bow. Our fellow divers
were a couple Melissia and I immediately dubbed Bean Pole and Big Un. As a dive
instructor, and having been Melissia’s instructor from the beginning, I took
her aside. In my best instructor language I advised her to abort the trip. She
laughed and headed back to the boat.

Since there was no
room for gear bags we set up onshore and handed our units to Cap’, being
careful not to put weight on the dock. Our tanks were laid flat on the deck of
the toy boat where we sat on them to keep them from rolling into the outboard
that was barricaded behind a strip of plywood.

Wreck Diving Tips and Tricks

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The radio was a
conglomeration of parts that actually worked even though the captain had to
hold the speaker to his ear in order to hear.

On the ride out, Bean Pole never stopped
talking as he regaled us with tales of their diving prowess; never mind Big Un
could not bend over to don her fins. He volunteered to free dive and tie off
the boat to a submerged mooring which Cap’ said was a blue barrel as I wondered
if the cleat on the duct-taped bow would hold the fraying, knotted rope. Bean
Pole dove and returned in about 15 seconds, hyperventilating, as he spluttered
about never being in deep water before.

Cap’ then told me
to get my ‘expletive deleted’ over the side and find the ‘expletive deleted’
blue barrel. Since the dive ladder had long ago been bashed to bits and could
only be reached by climbing over the plywood, through a tangle of fuel lines
and rusted gas cans, and across the outboard, I back rolled over the side with
frayed line in hand. Cap’ yelled for Melissia to get her ‘expletive deleted’
over the side and help me to which she gladly complied since remaining on board
would have meant dressing Big Un.

Under we went as
the boat drifted rapidly. After a futile blue barrel search and Cap’
repositioning several times, Melissia located a large white mooring ball 25′
down. We gave up the barrel hunt and tied off. When we told Cap’ we’d tied to a
white ball he advised that he’d installed the blue barrel some 25 years
previously and it might have been replaced. Not knowing to what we’d tied off,
Melissia and I descended and found our wreck at 135′.

How to get back on
the boat with no ladder wasn’t as much of a problem as we’d thought. At Cap’s
direction we made our way to starboard. It was a tad surprising when he reached
down, grabbed my tank valve with one hand, the seat of my wetsuit with the
other and hoisted me aboard. Once Melissia stopped laughing she was hauled
onboard in like manner. Big Un, who hadn’t made it below 30′, presented a
problem as it took 3 of us to haul her up.

During the trip to
the second wreck we declined the snacks from the hold filled with an
unidentifiable, foul-smelling mass and newspapers from the 1970s, we developed
a camaraderie with Cap’ who told wonderful stories.

His briefing on
the second site consisted of, ‘you can go this way or you can go that way. Just
come back when you’re ready and wake me up’.

Completing the
second dive we banged on the sides until we’d awakened Cap’, Bean Pole, and Big
Un, and were hoisted up. We raced toward shore when, suddenly, the boat stopped
dead in the water. Cap’ uttered several ‘expletives deleted’ about running out
of gas again. I looked at Melissia as we bit our lips to keep from laughing,
figuring we were in for a very long swim towing the toy boat. After combining
the dregs of the rusting gas cans Cap’ restarted the motor and we were off once

Our dive trip on
the toy boat was some years ago. We’ve both had many dives since but that trip
will remain our favorite for as long as we live. We have Cap’s number and are
planning another trip with him, in fact, we’re planning an entire week of
diving with Cap’. and we hope he hasn’t replaced the toy boat.

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Becky Bauer is a scuba instructor and award-winning journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean. She is a contributing photographer to NOAA.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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