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I “met” Suzy and Mark, who run Curacao’s “The Dive Bus” last week on the SB's ABC Islands forum. I dropped in on their shop in person on Friday and did two dives with them today (I’ll post more info on their dive op – along with my hearty recommendation – in the ABC forum in the near future).
On the second dive, we were joined by a Finnish guy who was snorkeling his way around the Caribbean. I don’t mean he was snorkeling from island to island but he was visiting major dive locations and snorkeling on the dive sites there, using scuba divers as his safety and support mechanism.
Before the dive, he had coordinated with our divemaster. I didn’t get the complete lowdown but the Finn obviously was also a scuba diver. He was instructed that, if he was in a very bad way, he should seek out the divemaster only and they two would buddy-breathe until he could get under control. But it was made clear to him that that was a direst emergency only option and that the divemaster would not could not abandon the dive group for his benefit. And Suzy reminded him in a firm tone that, if the unthinkable happened, he must remember to exhale on ascent.
Mr. Finn agreed with all, and very sincerely.
He appeared fit and trim and dived with only mask, fins, snorkel and weight belt (~6#, I should think). At one point in the dive we were briefly around 70 feet and that was the only portion of the dive when he didn’t routinely appear in our midst. Anywhere from 55 feet and shallower, he was likely to drop in on us, especially if we were surrounding some spot and obviously had located something worth seeing. On one of his dives I timed him at more than 30 seconds “useful bottom time” at a bit more than 50 feet. Twenty-five to thirty feet, he had easily a minute of “bottom time”.
I was mightily impressed. I knew a fisher-boy who snorkeled deeper on Grand Cayman in the 1970’s, but apart from him I rarely have seen such a competent display of watermanship. Mr. Finn never appeared to be over his head and never sought that life-saving breath from our divemaster. I thought him unusually reserved before the dive but I later learned he was entering a sort of Zen state of grace where his heart rate and breathing would be better controlled on his many dives. Afterward, he was as engaging and animated as any one of us on the dive.
He was hoping to get to Colombia and do some diving on their Caribbean coast but was reevaluating because he wasn’t finding the transportation by boat he had hoped for (I joked that he must look for an obliging drug smuggler who was on his way back to Colombia for a refill). Flying from Curacao meant traveling through Bogota, and he was none too keen on the place. Even Panama, he said, was difficult to reach from Curacao without going through Bogota.
His complete traveling kit was a mid-sized daypack with his fans lashed to the sides. The backpack was actually a bit shorter than the fins, and narrower than his shoulders. It couldn’t have been an ounce more than 20#, snorkeling gear included.
The more I think about Mr Finn, the more I envy that young man. He was bold but not reckless, and he was quite a skilled snorkeler. He was traveling with the barest essentials and living to experience the sea in an amazingly pure fashion. And he had hit upon a compromise to hedge his safety bets without compromizing the simplicity of the endeavor.
I mentioned the Bay Islands and Belize as an option to Colombia but he said he was avoiding going north until later in the trip. He had an airline ticket for home from Cozumel and he was hoping to save Central America for later in his journey.
I think he was enjoying Curacao rather more than he’d expected -- and not just the diving – and decided to remain overnight and ruminate upon his options. So I gave him a lift to Mambo Beach, where their notorious Sunday night Happy Hour was just about to kick off, and wished him luck.
My skin-diving skills are now where near those of your acquaintance but here is a certain magic in turning it all off and being underwater in that manner. It's something I need to make time for next time I am in clear warm water.
To be honest, 55 feet is not impressive (& 6 lbs. of weight is not either). There are more than a few free-divers on Grand Cayman (and elsewhere) who free-dive past 100 feet routinely and without weight.
For example, I was on a scuba dive once on the Cayman Wall when a free-diver swam over to me to check my depth guage (as he didn't have one). It read 117 feet. After checking it, he continued on swimming deeper (without weights). I imagine he got to 130' at least.
Another example would be the caverns (swim-throughs) at Eden Rock. I have seen several free-divers cruise through those. Not a safe practice, IMHO.
Free-diving is a popular activity for people born & raised in the Caribbean. It tends to build a high level of aerobic fitness. For some reason, though, scuba diving is not popular at all with Caribbean people..
Jacques Mayol free dived to 105 meters when he was 56, but the depth was hardly the point. The man I met was Finnish, and Finland isn’t in the Caribbean (go ahead, check your atlas, I’ll wait).
See? Mr. Finn was not born to this. Still, I’d bet a month’s beer money there’s not one member in a thousand on SB who could duplicate what he was doing.
But that’s still not the point. The point is that he was a free spirit, a man gone walkabout, experiencing the magic of the sea with the minimal mechanical assistance. He was a vagabond, traveling whichever way the winds blew in search of the perfect snorkeling site. Kinda like that 60’s surfing movie, Endless Summer, only he was living to experience what was under the waves..
He wasn’t trying to set a record or to show up the guys on Eden reef or to entice tourists to toss him their loose change. He was doing it because there was something in his soul told him he had to.
Rarely do we meet anyone in any walk of life who has answered to that small, still voice inside themself and is living with such purity of purpose.
But what’s the point. If I have to explain it, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get it.
Free-diving is such a graceful sport. Did 5 days of intensive dives in and around Port Hardy (north Vancouver Island), and a couple buddies free dove on their first dive of the day. They were routinely down to 120' with us and the water was cold and dark.
Free diving is amazing to see. I had the experience of being down about 35 feet in our local underwater park, when another diver cruised past me and my buddy and waved to us. I did a huge double-take as I realized he had no tank! He spent a mind-boggling amount of time with us, and then went up and shortly came back again.
I can imagine it was a great deal of fun to dive with such a companion. Thanks for sharing the story.