|CrystalblueoceanSailing and Diving Around the World|
sailing and diving around the world
As you all know, I decided to do a Divemaster internship, and actually had been planning on doing it for years, now. I finally had a bit of time (just barely), and so the research began. After weeks of researching, looking at what seemed to be a hundred different dive schools, I noticed I kept coming across two names- Utila Dive Center, with Andy Philips, and Divemasterinterships.com, with Mike Sobel. Mike Sobel's name, especially, kept coming up all the time, with people raving about him, not only as a course director/dive instructor, but as an excellent person all-round. People were even talking about how he picked them up from the airport, gave advice about what to do with down-time, and advice about Cozumel in general. I needed to know where the local churches, so I called Mike and was able to attend mass regularly, at Corpus Christi, a lovely short walk from the DM house.
Initially, I was going to go with Utila Dive Center, on Roatan, because it's one of these dive schools where you pay a fixed fee, and don't have to worry about anything else, and they are also known for their quality dive training. But then a couple of buddies decided to do their DM internship here on Cozumel, so I decided to join them. They had to back out at the last minute. By that time, I knew so much about Cozumel, and I had so much positive feedback about Mike Sobel, so I decided to come here to Cozumel. The experience was fantastic and I don't have a single negative thing to say. Mike is set up the same way, in the sense that you pay one fee, and don't have to worry about anything else besides your food. The free housing Mike provides is fantastic. In fact, the house I stayed in is huge, and I lucked out because I ended up with my own room! :)
Mike is a PADI Platinum Course Director. He mostly teaches the students who are training to be instructors. However, you'll see Mike around quite a lot, because he does do some of the course lectures and maybe the odd knowledge review, when the other instructors are busy. But he's always available. I liked him right a way because he's a straight-up kind of guy and he does what he says he's going to do. In my case, I saw a name, I saw his website, he invites the world to train with him and his team for quality dive training, and he delivered. I saw him a few times, too, outside of the dive school. One day we had to change the gas bottle at the Divemaster house, and we paid and kept the reciept. As soon as Mike knew we had paid for it, he was there minutes later to pick up the reciept and reimburse us. In that instance, it was Jochem and I who had paid. Mike is always in the background, fine-tuning and making sure that everything was moving along smoothly. That's Mike, as he usually appeared, in his motorcycle helmet, stopping by the equipment house. That's Jochem he's saying hello to.
Ken is the senior instructor, and he also didn't spend a lot of time with us DMTs. He trains the higher level divers. But, he was always around. He did a couple of the DM lectures for us. I didn't really get to know him, either, but I learned a lot from his teaching techniques when he was taking us through the DM skill-testing. He is a person that is always available, and, as he's one of the most experienced divers at the school, he definitely the guy to ask questions, something that I've done many times. He loves to teach and pass on his knowledge, guys, so ask away when he's around! He was the person that I had to send some assignments to, as well, such at the underwater site map, and the typed out dive brief portion of the 'brief and lead.' Ken is on the very end at left. The photo was taken after our 'snorkel test,' which is why I've got vodka and orange juice all over me :):)
Meghan Reilly is also one of the senior instructors, but is the one who seems to do most of the work :):):) She's everywhere, and you'll definitely be working with her and recieve training from her. She's involved in all aspects of the school's operations, and she's also the one who sometimes has to play the 'bad guy,' when she has to remind the divers to follow guidelines. She's had to remind us, more than once, to be more careful in the equipment room, for example. At the end of each dive day, the equipment is taken back to the house and rinsed/cleaned in fresh water. The BCDs will typically have water in them, and if all of the water isn't removed it will cause decay/rot/mold ect, inside the BCD. A couple of times when people haven't handled the gear properly, she's had to make mention of it. I'm sure it's a pain in the butt for her, but someone's got to make sure everything's being done properly, and that task basically falls to Meghan, because she is the one that spends the most time with us. She is basically mentor to all of the DMTs.
She's a great teacher/instructor and it was a lot of fun working with her. She's an amazing diver. Meghan was with Zak and me when we did our equipment exchange and, although we didn't need it, she was right there with her octo, just in case. It was very touching. There was a lot of love and care that went into the things Meghan did for us, and I made it a point to tell her that I know what she does at divemasterinternships, and what she did for us.
On Thanksgiving, she did up a feast for everyone. Then, on Christmas Eve, she prepared another huge feast for us all, which included her famous lasagna, requested by me, and honey ham, requested by Zak :):) I'm a formally trained Chef, and Meghan's lasagna is the best I've ever had! I was delighted to know Meghan's Mum, too, Barbara, who was there to help make it all happen. Those events would have been different if Barbara hadn't been there. I really like Barbara. She's fun, like Meghan, and she's funny with the stories she tells, and, frankly, she reminds me of what I call 'the good ole' days.' When I think of Meghan I always think of her teaching in the classroom, as I didn't really spend a lot of time diving with her. So the photo is quite fitting :):) In fact, she was a teacher in the States before she became a scuba dive instructor.
Katie Lussier is one of the instructors that I bonded with instantly, and it figures because it turned out that she is also Canadian, from the same province as me, Ontario. So, she's always been my 'Ontario Girl.' :):) Great instructor, typical laid-back Canadian. I love it :) I received quite a bit of my training from her. In fact, my diving style has changed a lot since I've been here and I've taken on a few characteristics/styles from all the instructors. Katie glides only inches above the bottom so I learned how to do that. I'll always remember her whenever and wherever I go diving :)
Dennis is our resident Divemaster, and is on the boat all the time. Great DM, and has provided up with great leadership on most of the boat dives I've done. If there is a marine animal nearby, Dennis willl find it. Dennis had a rather animated way of saying, "let's go diving," something he said after each of his dive briefs. We all like the way he says it so much that we all, at some point, have repeatedly said it the same way Dennis does :):) In fact, Dennis is on one of the videos I took, saying LET'S GO DIVING!
Clara Mery is another gem. Everyone that comes through Mike's school loves her and they write stellar reviews about Clara on TripAdvisor and other social/travel sites :) I like Clara a lot, and I assisted her several times while she was training new dive students. Clara has all the abilities/qualities that you can hope for in a dive instructor, especially if you're absolutely new to diving, because she is patient, thorough, and extremely understanding of the fact that this may very well be the first time you've put on scuba gear. Great thing about Clara is she automatically gives feedback after each time you assist her. Because of this feedback, I was actually able to fine-tune my skills, even after the bulk of the DM training was over! :) Very cool, Clara, thanks a million! Another thing we loved about Clara are all the 'Clara-isms.' :):) She's French, and has a good accent, and is still winding her way through the English language, so she comes up with English to suit her purpose, but we all somehow understand :):):) Very charming and heartwarming :) She's so smart, she's found a way to disect the English to make us understand!! :):):):)
Luca Masaki Montorfano Ishikawa, is one of the most interesting men I've ever met, and he also happens to be a great dive instructor. I did my Rescue Diver training with Luca. I connected with Luca right away because I finally was no longer the best-looking guy in the room, when he was around. He's also multi-racial, like me. His mix is Italian/Japanese, and that's pretty cool. He looks Japanese but he sounds Italian :) Luca's one of those guys that has a million stories to tell. When you're down in Cozumel, get him to tell you about his experiences on the train in India :):):)
So, I had some time to finally do a Divemaster internship. What to do? Where to find the info? Scubaboard, as well as a myriad of other sites have all kinds of info. As I mentioned, I kept coming across Mike Sobel's name. Cozumel is a world-renowned place for diving. I don't know much about the other dive schools here on Cozumel, but it doesn't matter anyway, because you don't have to look any further than divemasterinternships.com I can wholeheartedly say that this is the place to come to if you want to be the best diver you can be :):)
Once I had decided to join Mike and his team for the training, it was simply a matter of filling out the online application. Mike got back to me right away, welcoming me, and he directed me through the rest of the signing-up process. Naturally, there is a small, initial deposit, and all payments can be conveniently made through paypal.
Then I purchased my plane ticket and counted down the days. I decided to fly into Cancun. From there, I took a bus, and then a ferry, to get to the island. I would suggest flying straight into Cozumel because it's simply easier. The airport is only minutes away from the dive school and the DM house. Because I had flown into Cancun, I chose to find my own way to the dive school. Mike had sent me an email, however, once I arrived in Playa del Carmen, on the mainland, and he told me how to get to the school. The school is directly across from the ferry terminal, so it couldn't be easier. I was given a friendly greeting, once at the school, and then taken to the DM house.
The house is huge. There were a few, just-graduated DMs when I got there, Lilly, John (from Canada), Martin, and Clay. First thing I noticed was the whiteboard, where all of the things you need to do during your DM training are listed. Tristen, one of the other divers-in-training kindly put my name up on the board for me. Of course, I couldn't start in on the DM training right away because I still had to do the Advanced, the EFR, and the Resuce Diver levels.
Mike and Meghan came over to the DM house, that night, and we completed the rest of the paperwork. Meghan also brought fresh bedsheets for me and I was humbly surprised to see that she actually made up the bed for me. I was going to ask if she would be here to do that every laundry day, but I didn't want to get slapped. She may not have understood or appreciated my sense of humor :):)
Anway, once I was settled in, Tristen showed me around a bit, and it wasn't tough to develop a frame of reference, in terms of finding my through the neighborhood streets. I found out pretty quickly that there were lots of restaurants close by that served delicious, cheap food! I was shown the laundrymat, and where the equipment-room house is. I think it's called IDC2, but I still don't know cuz I wasn't paying attention :):):)
I didn't do any diving the first day, but I was up early with Meghan, the next morning, and I got to see Lilly, John, Martin and Clay do their 800-meter swim. That's when I started to get a tiny bit stressed. But it was cool. That's just my thing, I get a little stressed when it comes to endurance sports. I'm a hockey player, so I was used to sprinting. Now I had to dig down deep into the ole' grey matter to get the 400-meter free-style, and the 800-meter snorkel swims done. Mike and Meghan asked me, the first night, if I had any questions/concerns about the up-coming DM training, and the only thing I told them was I had a bit of stress about the swim tests, that was all. So, on the day of the swim tests, Mike very kindly swung by the house and told me to not worry about it and the only thing he wanted to see was that I didn't give up. Well, his words stuck in my head and that's exactly what I did, I didn't give up, and made it to the end. Anway, I was thrilled to see that they all completed their swim tests. I have a video of that up on my website, in fact.
Before I did any diving, Meghan guided me through a scuba review, where I had to demonstrate a few diving techniques, and she had the opportunity to sort of get a gauge of where I was at. Then the Advanced training started, with Katie, and it was a breeze. So was the EFR training. I did the Rescue Diver training with Luca, and that was a bit of a challenge, because of it's serious nature. I mean, all diving is serious, becasue it's about safety first, right? But now we're talking about changing speeds, and we're no longer focusing on just our own fun, but saving the lives of other divers, the very purpose of the Resuce Diver training. In the end it was a lot fun, but those training days were the most tiring for me.
Our daily routine was to be up at around 7:30, to be at the equipment house for 8. Each night, Meghan would post the next day's schedule, which would tell us all what we'd be doing and who was on equipment. Those of us who were on equiment room duty were responsible for signing out each diver's gear, and making sure it was all returned at the end of the day. Once everyone had their gear, the 'boat box' was put together, and we had enough weights for everyone, we'd pile into the school's van and head, either to the marina for the boat, or to the shore. The tanks were always there waiting for us. So, if we were doing a boat dive we'd have to load up the tanks, weights and gear. If we were diving at the shore, we'd have to take the tanks down to the beach, as well as weights and the gear bags. Sundays we had off, to study, do laundry, clean the house, etc.
Once the Resuce Diver training was over, we got to real nitty gritty with the DM program. This was what I had been meaning to do for years, and I was finally there, ready to go, and very comfortable with Mike's team. I wanted to be the best diver possible, and I wanted to get the DM on my resume. The DM program turned out be easier than I thought, but that speaks to excellence of Mike's team, as well as to my own comittment to succeed. We were in the water every day. All of the skill-testing and confined water training took place in shallow water, in front of Cafe del Mar. At first, I was intimidated with the idea of having to do the DM skills in the ocean. The currents, while not a real hassle in shallow water, were a pain in the butt, in the beginning, when it came to trying to stabalize yourself long enough to get the skills done. But, a few days later, I was even happier that I chose Cozumel for the DM training because it was a tiny bit tougher. I mean, how real is it when you do skill-testing in a swimming pool, right? For example, part of the Rescue Diver training involved panicked-diver assistance, at the surface. Well, where would an actual situation like that take place? Right. In the ocean! So, it was a wake-up call when Steve played the role of 'panicked diver,' for Jochem, during Jochem's Rescue Diver training. I mean, Steve showed no mercy, and was climbing all over Jochem, to create as real a scenario as possible. We all learned that day.
The boat dive were fantastic. This was the first time I experienced rolling off a dive boat, and it was a blast. Of course, Cozumel is all about drift diving, which in itself is a blast. You simply drift along with the current, enjoying the spectacular underwater world. The Captain of our dive boat simply follows our bubbles and when we surface he's right there with the boat.
The swim tests, as I mentioned, were a challenge for me, specifically, but the others breezed it. In fact, most people breeze the swim tests. Fact is, there shouldn't be any worry anyhow because you can take your time with it, and if you don't get the points you expected, then you can make up for it with the points you get from the other skill tests.
The 'big one,' the underwater equipment exchange, the one everybody seems to get anxious about, was a piece of cake! And I loved the way Meghan just sprang it on us, right out of the blue! I was paired with Zak, one of the DM candidates that I really like and am very comfortable around. That alone I'm sure was a big reason for the success. He's a quite guy, like me, and always comes through when he needs to, like me. So, Meghan gave us ten minutes to prepare and figure out how we were going to do it. Some DMTs wear each other's gear before beginning the equipment exchange, others have other ways to prepare. Zak and I knew, by that time, that what we really needed to be in tune with was the breathing and being weighted down with enough weights so that we, or our BCDs, wouldn't drift away :) It was very heartwarming, to me, to see Meghan right there beside, ready with her octo, just in case one of us panicked. But, like I said, Zak and I breezed it. Zak was largely responsible for our success, because he passed on to me what he was told by Ken, to show one finger for each breath taken, and, when I was trying to get my BCD on, Zak actually swam around me to guide my hand throught he arm of the BCD. In fact, Meghan was so impressed by Zak's move that she commented about it.
Regarding the tests and exams, I can tell you for certain that if you guys do the knowledge reviews, and be prepared when called on to go over them with the instructors, you'll do well. The exams/tests are all multiple choice, and the 'tough' stuff that used to be in the DM exam have been eliminated. It's a little tricky for some people to get their minds wrapped around some of the dive physics, but it's really hard to fail the DM exam.
I'll stop here, but feel free, as usual, to contact me if any of you have questions. I'll keep coming back to this post to add more info as the stuff comes to mind. I need to come back, anyway, because I'm sure there are all kinds of spelling/grammar mistakes :):) I had a fabulous time, guys, doing the DM program with divemasterinternships.com, and I'm now a bigger, better version of myself for doing it. I think the DM program is something that should be something that everyone on the planet should do :):)
My thanks also go out to Steve McClain, John Dallaire, and Tracey Male, for their support, positive energy, and the excellent examples they provided for us all.