What to do for spring break…. It’s the age-old question that arises each year for all college kids. And since this spring break was technically our last one, we had to make it epic! Unfortunately, being at different schools meant our breaks didn’t line up exactly, but we did we did share a common weekend. It was the weekend that Casey and her fellow PADI interns had been working with Water World (a local dive shop) to set up a scuba diving trip to Florida. We decided to tag along and test our skills at the Advanced Open Water course. My brother, Josh, and Casey’s good friend Alexa (also a PADI intern) joined in the fun. After the 10-hour road trip from Wilmington, NC to Ocala, FL we promptly went to bed before our 7am wake up call Friday Morning.
Our first dive was at a location called Blue Grotto. It is a 90 ft cavern with little aquatic life but super clear water and a great cave-diving feel. To complete the Advanced Open Water Certificate you have to complete five different dives, each surveying different skill sets. We started with our peak performance buoyancy skills: descending without a reference line, hovering motionless for a minute, and using our breath to control our depth. It felt great to be underwater again. Our next dives consisted of underwater navigation (using an underwater compass) and the thrilling deep dive. The deep dive took you to 91 ft and a dive light was required unless you wanted to get lost in the darkness.
The next day was the drift dive and underwater naturalist dive. We woke up at the crack of dawn and moved locations to the crystal clear Rainbow River. The whole river is spring fed, much of it from underwater caves that you can poke around in. This was my personal favorite. As I’ve mentioned before, drift diving is the lazy way to dive. If you get your buoyancy right, the current will do all the work for you. The river was full of eel-grass and served as home to just about every type of freshwater fish, including the intimidating long-nose gar, and soft shell turtles the size of my torso. We even got to see a perched bald-head eagle on the boat ride down the river.
Last but not least, we took a snorkel to Three Sisters, a warm water spring that attracts manatees in the winter. I’m gunna tell you straight up, don’t mess with the manatee! They have more rights in Florida than the people do. You are in no way allowed to harass them, which includes swimming towards them, or there are massive consequences. With this in mind, Casey and I had to have a lot of patience when we found one who had just woken up from a nap. We stayed put and made the classic manatee call with our hands (Alexa taught it to us, and it cannot really be described using words…) After about 5 minutes of looking like idiots, the manatee finally decided it wanted to play and came right up to us. It was a pretty awesome experience. They really are quite friendly—nearly too friendly—and once it came up for air and nearly kissed me. It also rolled over for Casey begging for a belly rub, to which she quickly obliged. After our fair share of playing with “Mandy” the manatee, we went back to the boat and prepared for our long journey back home as newly certified Advanced Open Water SCUBA divers. Next step: rescue divers.
I also want to give a quick shout out to Alexa’s blog, which talks all about her Chapel Hill experiences. She is a fantastic writer and always entertaining, so give it a look! I’m sure she’ll also be talking about the trip if you want a different perspective!