As our small dive boat bobbed up and down in the choppy but crystal clear water, I suddenly realized that I had not been issued one vital piece of scuba equipment….

My mask!

I jumped overboard with a splash and ran across the beach to the shack where I intercepted the dive master on his way out to join my boat. I told him that he had forgotten to give me a mask and with a grumble he grabbed one off the wall and set a quick pace to the waiting boat. Normally, you would want a mask that fits…and the straps on this one were so dry rotted that I wondered if it would survive even one more dive. When I asked where my wet suit was, the Jamaican divemaster laughed and said “come on mon, the water is warm”. Hmmmm…my first time diving without the comfort of a suit but why not. I took his word for it and hopped back on board.

We made way across the Caribbean and were soon on the reef, which is within eyesight of the shore. I was a little nervous assembling my equipment because of all the trouble that I had experienced while diving in Egypt, but it all came back to me and I was once again feeling like I deserved my advanced certification. Interestingly, the SVG (your dials) here are in PSI and feet, rather than BAR and meters. It looked a little strange to me, but my dive buddy gave me the correct numbers for a safe dive. When we suited up, I noticed that EVERYONE on the dive had a suit but me, including the dive master! Oh well, I always did like to be different. Next, my mask literally broke in my hand. If it had done that while I was 90 feet under water, I would have had a very unpleasant dive. They confirmed my suspicions of being a dodgy dive shop when they had no spares of anything on board. The divemaster ended up using my mask by having the boat captain tape it around his head! He gave me his mask to use.

Finally, I got into the water. My loaner mask was shaped for a much smaller African face and took on water which I constantly had to clear. You learn to clear water from your mask when you get certified, but it is not something that you normally have to do every 10 minutes. My SVG and BC vest were both producing an alarming amount of bubbles – I had more leaks than a Chinese fishing boat! I grumbled to myself and continued to equalize my ears on the way down.

We literally started the dive by entering a coral cave at about 20 meters. The water was indeed warm, but I was really wishing that I had a wet suit like everyone else when I was surrounded by the needle sharp tips of black urchins all around the cave. It took every ounce of focus I had to navigate into the tunnel without bumping my tank on the fragile coral, or my exposed stomach on the urchins about 6 inches in front of me. Also, the tunnel went straight down so I could not equalize and swim, not so good for my ears.

Once inside, it opened back out to a beautiful coral garden, which was like an explosion of colors in the clear water. This was the clearest water that I have ever dived in, including the Red Sea, and I was very impressed. Unfortunately, we did not really see a lot of sea life beyond a Morray and fish, but it was still a thrill. Where are all the sharks that the Caribbean is famous for?

I ended my dive back on the beach with a smile, despite the minor setbacks. The divemaster was immediately requesting a tip (like all good Jamaicans) but I declined. I highly recommend diving the Caribbean for the quality of water, but beware of your dive shop – especially in Negril!