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Jason Pawlak

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Husband, Dad, Navy Officer, Coder, and Tinkerer. I have many interests and am always looking to learn something new. This site is a launching point to the many areas of the Internet that represent me.

Scuba Open Water Certification Trip

What a trip! So much fun going down to West Palm Beach, Florida with Melissa and completing our Scuba certification with Bill Crumbaugh from Pura Vida Divers.

Day 1 (4/16/2009): CVG to PBI

Everything went as expected with regards to travel until we were in West Palm Beach ready to pick up our Toyota Yaris rental car from Budget. I had been told over the phone that if I used a debit card, I would not be charged an underage ($27.00 / day) fee. However, if I used a credit card, I would be charged the underage fee. It turns out, when we got to the counter and were signing papers, that Budget doesn’t accept debit cards from underage drivers (under 25 yrs old) and only accepts credit cards, meaning we had to pay the underage fee. The lady behind the counter was very friendly and in the end helped us get half of the underage fee refunded, this was still quite disappointing, though.

But soon we were zipping our way to our Travelodge. The hotel was satisfactory, however, the neighborhood was not so much.

That night, we decided to drive down the coast and see what we could find for food and entertainment. We ended up in downtown West Palm Beach near a city sponsored festival. Parking was free, there were food and craft booths set up all over the place, and live music on a stage. Lots of families were milling about, which we thought was unusual for a Thursday evening. Walking down the main street, we scouted out restaurants on either side and decided on a place with a slightly medieval theme, Roxy’s Bar and Grill.

While sipping some drinks and munching on dinner, we found out that the festival happens every Thursday night and is sponsored by the City to bring families downtown. Why does Cincinnati have to be so boring?

Day 2: (4/17/2009): Scuba day #1

Melissa and I were both excited to get started on our open water dives and were happy when the time came to drive out to Pura Vida Divers located on Singer Island. When arriving at the shop around 12:30pm, we met with our dive instructor, Bill, and talked about how the referral dives would work. The shop mostly handles PADI referral dives, but Bill is also an SSI instructor and could do a Universal Referral Form just fine. We found out, a bit to our disappointment, that our first two dives would really only be one dive. Due to the tide, there wasn’t enough time to really get out of the water on this shore dive and they had approved it with the agencies to allow an extended single dive count for two.

Our first dive was at Blue Heron Bridge (West) off of Phil Foster Park. This dive only went to 15 feet, and the water was fairly murky. After reviewing and testing our mask clearing, regulator retrieval and the such, we swam around for about 45 minutes checking out the sea life.

Before getting too far from the beach, I did almost get run over by a kayak. The water was only about 5 feet deep, and I was working on establishing my neutral buoyancy, and an orange kayak zipped right over, a foot or two from my head. Our instructor had out his Diver Marker, but apparently this kayak didn’t like to abide by the 300 foot clearance rule.

While out swimming around we saw a number of cool fish, crabs, eels and star fish. I had never seen star fish so big before. I had always though they were the size of your hand, but these guys were bigger than your head. All-in-all, a fun experience, but the dive definitely left something to be desired.

After our dives and paperwork for the day, Melissa and I headed to dinner at Coconuts on the Beach, the restaurant of Hilton on Singer Island. It was a bit windy, but we still sat out on the deck and ate a nice dinner with a little cat standing by begging for food. The cat would sit there and stare, and his eyes would slowly shut, looking like he was having a tough time staying awake while begging for food. Either that or it was just a cuteness ploy for us to give him attention.  Either way, he didn’t like the greens I tossed to him, so he was still hungry when we left.

Once dinner and a walk on the beach for the sunset (unfortunately not over the ocean) was complete, we headed back towards downtown West Palm Beach to see what other activities we could find. We found some street parking and decided to take the free trolley around town. About halfway through the route, we found the real down town West Palm Beach where EVERYBODY was hanging out. It was very spectacular to see so many people all eating, drinking, and just having fun in a downtown setting. Yet again… no good Cincinnati.

Taking a few pictures and people watching, we found our way to an open area with lots of tables and a Latino band on stage. Definitely a fun place to be for a fun night.

Day 3 (4/18/2009): Ft. Lauderdale

My parents and little brother had just come in from a 7-day cruise down in Ft. Lauderdale, so Melissa and I headed down to meet up with them. The plan was to visit with them for a little bit then go off and do some snorkeling. After spending an hour or two at the airport, we followed our blue dot on the iPhone towards the dive shop we were going to snorkel with. Upon arrival, we heard the expected, the winds were too much and snorkeling was out of the question for the day. No worries, though, we went across the street and spent the day laying on the beach, jumping into/over/under waves, and getting buried in the sand. A few sunburns later, we left and had dinner by the ProDive dive shop we were going to snorkel with at their restaurant, Coconuts. Nice shady outside patio, big juicy burger, and tasty Mojito, yet another good dinner.

Day 4 (4/19/2009): Scuba day #2

Now this is the day we were really looking forward to. Due to the wind, we had concerns that our boat dive was going to be cancelled, but everything worked out. Bill called us at 6:25am to tell us we were still on for the boat dive, and we were pulling up to Pura Vida Divers at 7:00am. Their boat was in maintenance, so we were taking a buddy dive shop’s boat out with a few other people. We made it to the dock watching the breathtaking sunrise over the Atlantic and were soon on our way. With the water being choppy, we got set up most of the way before leaving the dock. The boat ride was fine until we really got out into the ocean. Then is when all the good times started. I had never been on a boat that was rocking and rolling like this one was.

Soon after getting out into the ocean, while we were getting briefed on our dive site, the Captain yells down, Dolphins on starboard! We all turn to look and there are 2 or 3 dolphins jumping out of the water, being the wingmen to our boat. Good start to the trip.

The first dive we were going to take was at the Flower Gardens. By the time we got there, Melissa was looking a little bit queasy. The boat was really getting to her. Soon, however, our 40 minute trip was complete and we all strapped on our gear and jumped into the ocean. There were about 10 of us diving, and with the dive masters instruction all deflated our BCs and went down.

Let me tell you, once we were down at 50 feet, flying over the reefs, checking out the sea life, it was amazing. Our little 15 foot dive a few days before was crayons on wide-ruled paper compared to the masterpiece that was down here. The freedom of weightlessness and 50 foot visibility was simply spectacular. During this dive I saw one sea turtle that zipped right through our group of divers and more fish than I could ever count. I bottomed out at 56 feet and spent most my time at 45 feet skimming the reefs. The dive lasted about 37 minutes. Since we had done all our fundamentals in the previous dive, Bill just followed us, and two other students from Arkansas around making sure we didn’t do anything stupid. Melissa had brought down a cheap underwater camera that we were hoping would turn out some good pictures as well. On the surfacing, we took about 5 minutes at our 15 foot safety stop before hitting the surface and flagging down the boat to pick us up. Unfortunately, we later found out, that not long after we went to the surface, the rest of the divers got to see a 7-foot shark. I think I would have liked to see that.

With these dives being drift dives, the dive master had a long rope attached to a Scuba floater and flag. The boat would then just follow the flag and bubbles as we drifted along.

Once on the boat, we switched over our tanks and had some freshly cut pineapple and soda. Now this might have been a bad idea for me. After getting some food in my belly, the rocking of the boat really started to get to me. After about an hour of surface interval time, I was getting ready to get my gear on again and got that feeling. I quickly made my way over to the side of the boat and gave back my pineapple and sprite to mother nature, a few times. Now I had never been told this before, until now, but apparently I am a very loud puker. I am so loud, in fact, that I got the attention of the Captain. After hanging over the edge for a few minutes, the Captain yells down for me to go to the back of the boat and use the fresh water hose to spray my face down, that it would make me feel all better. And miracle of miracles, it worked perfectly. Whether it was just the hose or the combination of emptying my stomach along with the hose, I have no idea, but I was just glad that was done. Unfortunately, both Melissa and the guy from our other student couple were also then hanging their heads over the side of the boat.

Soon enough, however, we were back in the water going down down down to dive site #2, Turtle Mound / Breaker’s Second Window. This dive lasted about 35 minutes and bottomed out at 54 feet. On this dive we spotted an Eel that was about 5 inches in diameter, yellow, and very ugly. By the time I got to him, he was already hiding in his little cave, but I could still see his face in the shadows, definitely wasn’t going to investigate further. We also spotted a sting ray that was much bigger than any I had ever seen before. He was at first hidden in the sand, but as we swam closer, he uncovered and flew away. His wingspan was about 5 feet wide! Too soon, we were headed to the surface, again.

On the trip back, Melissa and I hung out at the back of the boat where the boat was rocking the least. It also helped that we were riding the swells in, instead of battling them when going out. The girl in the other student couple we were with was in real bad shape at that point, however. She refused to stick her head over the side of the ship, and instead sat and put it between her knees. I felt bad for her.

But that was it! Once back on land, we went back to Pura Vida Divers, filled out the remaining paperwork, and made it official. Melissa and I are now Open Water Certified Scuba Divers.

Day 4 (4/20/2009): PBI to CVG

Nothing too eventful on our last day. After checking out of the hotel, we sat at the pool letting our gear dry out a little more in the sun. Every now and then there was a quick 10 minute Florida style shower/downpour where we’d frantically gather all our gear under our umbrella, only to take it back out a few minutes later. Dropping off the Yaris was hassle free, as was getting to the airport and through security. I was the ‘randomly’ selected person for a pat down, as it seems I usually am, and we were at our gate. The flight was delayed just a little over an hour, but we made it back to Cincinnati just after dark.

The trip exceeded all expectation and was truly amazing. I cannot wait to see where our Scuba adventures take us next!

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