Island Times Blog

Leading My First Dive

November 28th, 2014 by Weston Hughes | 2 Comments

This Island Times blog entry is part of a series of personal essays illustrating how SeaTrek has impacted the lives of our students and staff. We thank Weston Hughes (aka. Wolfman) for this insightful and heartfelt account of what SeaTrek has meant to him. 

We descend beneath the slowly dancing surface of the Sir Francis Drake Channel in the British Virgin Islands at around 9:15 on a warm August morning. The water reflects a turquoise sky, while the reef below screams out in every color imaginable. Around me, several divers descend, some with clear experience and others with none at all, leaving trails of silver bubbles above. I count them. Six students between 14 and 16 years old. The newest divers use their hands to push themselves downward, ever fighting their natural buoyancy, while the more experienced simply exhale and fall through the water column. Despite their imperfect form, none seem to be struggling. I look at their eyes, searching for signs of masked distress, but all are calm.

            I, on the other hand, am not. My students don’t know it, but this is the first dive I’ve ever led. The fact that I’m even here means that I’m ready, but I still feel ridiculously under-qualified. The bends. Lung over-expansion. Oxygen toxicity. Man-eating octopuses. None of the hundreds of divers I’ve met have ever fallen victim to any of these things, yet they all haunt me now. Nothing makes you understand danger like being responsible for other people’s lives.

            I’ve known this day was coming since my first dive in Jamaica, six years ago. Since then, I’ve been steadily moving towards this point, first earning my Rescue Diver and Red Cross Lifeguard certifications then participating in SeaTrek’s ShIP internship program and Divemaster Training Course. The NAUI Divemaster is the first professional diving leadership certification and the first step towards becoming a scuba diving instructor. I’ve been taught everything from how to rescue an unconscious diver from twenty feet of water, to the principles of running a dive shop, to the operation of a 46 foot catamaran (under both motor and sail). But none of that prepares anyone to direct a bunch of confused kids underwater.

            This isn’t the first time I’ve dove Coral Gardens, but it feels different this time. As we arrive at a depth of about 45 feet, I shoot the students a quick “ok” sign. They respond in the affirmative, I twist around so that I’m lying prone, and we begin the dive. I lead, followed by three rows of “buddy pairs.” As we move, I memorize underwater landmarks to aid in navigation on the way back, occasionally glancing down at my compass to check myself. I watch my divers, searching again for any signs of distress or gear issues that could escalate into serious problems. I watch the reef, trying to pick out with my veteran eyes anything that my students might miss. I discover a spotted drum here, a flamingo tongue there, a huge cowfish in the distance. Something about this process and the act of floating underwater is calming, and as the dive goes on I become more comfortable. At fifteen minutes in, I signal to the group to turn around. At twenty-four minutes, we’re back under the boat. I feel only slightly accomplished for not getting lost. We ascend slowly, and break the surface six minutes later. Thirty minutes, six divers. The first breath of fresh air is one of relief.


         Back on the boat I debrief with the students, discussing what we saw, how the dive went, and things to improve on next time. After we’re done I pause. “Did you guys know this is the first dive I’ve ever led?” I ask, smiling. At their looks of surprise, my feeling of relief turns to one of pride. 

            “Let’s pick up this anchor!” the cry comes from the helm. I stand.

            “Aidan, you’re on windlass. Sophie, can you spot the anchor chain? Alina, get ready to take the bridal off. I’ll show you how.” We pick up the anchor and cruise out of the bay. 

2 Responses

  1. Erik says:

    I was on this dive with you! It’s so cool to hear what was going on in your head! You looked completely calm and collected throughout. Couldn’t have asked for a better dive master!

  2. dougierotan says:

    Woh.. You put things in perspective for me. I’ll be earning my dive master cert. this summer and I’m glad I got to read this before its my turn to lead dives. I see the anxiety involved..but it definitely seems rewarding to lead a successful dive. Their is a sense of apprehension, but I’m stoked to start leading!

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