Guest writer Marcy Harris describes her birthday trip to the Bahamas, where she went swimming with the sharks. Marcy keeps us up to date on her latest bucket list accomplishments.
For my 55th birthday, I went to the Bahamas. I stayed in the Riu Palace Paradise Island Hotel, right next door to the Atlantis Hotel. It shares the same beautiful, white sand beach. I chose the Riu Palace because it’s an all-inclusive. I knew I’d be really busy doing things, and I didn’t want to have to worry about deciding on or finding a place to eat.
I received my Open Water scuba certification on Sun., May 18, at Clear Springs Scuba Park in Terrell, Texas, from instructors at Scuba Toys in Dallas. That was 2 days before I flew to the Bahamas, and my very first non-instructional dive was planned through Stuart Cove’s Dive Shop for Wednesday.
Stuart Cove is a diver and underwater photographer and has shot many films and documentaries. His dive shop is situated on the southeast end of the New Providence Island, where Nassau is – Paradise Island was constructed to connect to New Providence Island. The area by Stuart Cove’s dive shop in the Bahamas is so clear and beautiful that many movies have been shot there, including some James Bond movies, Pirates of the Caribbean (2 and 3), Cocoon, a lot of National Geographic and Discovery documentaries, and Stuart Cove himself filmed the movie Open Water. There are many shipwrecks there to dive and discover.
Diving in that beautiful turquoise water for the first time was exhilarating! Since I’d just certified, I remembered everything I’d learned and felt very confident. I buddied with another single diver there, Todd Wilson, a college student, and he didn’t mind that I was new to diving.
We were diving a 2-tank dive, meaning that we would dive once, surface, change tanks and dive again. Our first dive was to go along the trench wall – a 6,000+-foot drop called the Tongue of the Atlantic. Our second dive was to dive with the sharks. Not only dive with the sharks, but dive while our dive master FED the sharks!
The first dive was at Runway Wall and went perfectly the first 20 minutes. I went down 62 feet along the trench and saw corals and Caribbean fish of all kinds. I’d brought a waterproof fish identification book along with me on the boat so I could check off the ones I’d seen, kind of like bird watchers do. The fish were so beautiful and everything moved so slowly and peacefully. The fish seemed unafraid of us. It was very relaxing. I’d always loved snorkeling but this was exciting because the fish were bigger, but not too big at 62 feet deep, and the water was so clear. I was so excited for the second dive!
For a second I couldn’t see my buddy, Todd. I looked around and saw that I was much higher than he was. I swam sharply down toward him but I wasn’t getting any closer. I kept kicking and pulling with my arms, but I was rising. I tried to deflate by BC (buoyancy compensator) vest, but even completely empty I was still rising. There was nothing I could do. Before I knew it I was bobbing on the surface.
I was really mad. Something had gone wrong with my weights. When I’d rented my equipment, they didn’t have any weight belts left so they gave me weights to put in the pockets of my BC. When I turned upside-down so sharply, the weights fell right out of my pockets.
Up on the surface, I looked toward the boat and gave the signal given to us before the dive that meant I was OK. Then I started my way over to the boat. I wasn’t far away, and within 6-7 minutes later, everyone came up.
For the second dive, my buddy Todd traded me his weight belt for my weights. It wouldn’t do for me to all of a sudden start floating off with hungry sharks swimming around.
I wasn’t worried about the second dive now that I had a weight belt on. We drove to our new location, Shark Alley. All of us, except our Italian male dive master, Danielle (Dani) Buttarelli, got into position.
We were 45 feet deep on a very large, sandy circular area, a little smaller than a baseball in field. There were medium-sized rocks spaced out around the outer ring of the circle about 3 to 8 feet apart. We kneeled around or lay behind the rocks and were told not to move. Dani came down in the center of the circle with a huge, metal bait box as tall as his waist. He wore a kind of chain mail armor over his wetsuit that had a few holes in it (bite marks?).
Dani would open the bait box in the middle, skewer a fish head and whip it out for the sharks. The sharks, 6-foot to 9-foot Caribbean reef sharks, could smell the fish (and knew it was snack time since this dive was done every day) and snatched the fish away as soon as it was extended.
When Dani opened the bait box, sharks came in from all sides. They swam between us as we held on to the rocks. I had a couple brush my head and mask trying to get into the circle. I was thinking, “This is AWESOME!” Having the dive suit, my mask and all the gear on, I didn’t actually feel anything except a slight impact. I felt fully protected. If I’d been skin diving and actually felt the shark on my bare skin, that might have been a completely different matter.
Dani kept skewering fish and as soon as he brought them out the sharks would fight over them. One shark bit another as it tried to take a fish. The sharks were so many and so thick that at times I couldn’t see Dani in the center of the circle.
Dani had gotten permission from each of us prior to the dive to bring the bait box closer to us so the photographer/videographer, Katie Storr, could get better pictures. Sharks swam next to us and over us and in front of us. By then we felt pretty comfortable with them. But don’t get the wrong idea – we still weren’t moving around!
Being with those sharks was thrilling. Never once did any of the sharks make any movement that indicated they were interested in us. After all, this was their normal afternoon snack. They went there the same time every day, kind of their version of happy hour at Cheers. Not scary in any way. Of course, I didn’t move a muscle either.
After emptying the bait box, Dani took it up in the center of the circle and led the sharks away so we could ascend safely. On board, all of us talked about how amazing the dive had been. And by the time we got our gear disassembled and returned to the dive shop, our pictures were ready in the gift shop and the DVD was for sale. Of course, I bought both. I can watch the DVD now and still feel the excitement of being in the water with the sharks.
After the Dive
And what a sense of accomplishment! I’d been battling some tough personnel issues at work but after diving with those sharks, I felt like I could do just about anything. I could make it through anything. I felt so peaceful and strong. There was a determined fierceness inside of me that nothing would shatter the peace I’d found.
As soon as I got out of the water, I knew I had to get my Advanced Open Water scuba certification so I can dive deeper, at night and learn to navigate better. There are so many other places in the world I want to dive!
Along with the pictures and DVD, I had to buy a couple of other things. T-shirts, of course, but I also bought a bumper sticker. I’d never had a bumper sticker on any of my cars before because I thought it would bring down the value of my car. But this one is like a badge of honor. It gives me street credit.
What About Your Bucket List?
We don’t know how long we have left to enjoy (or endure) our lives. Maybe it’ll be 30 years. Maybe it’ll be 30 days. The point is, we all have things we really wish we could do. Things that we’ve always wanted to do. How long has that been for you? Has it been over 45 years like it was for me — wanting to swim with dolphins?
There’s something I’ve learned from all these activities I’ve been doing and that’s that I should have done them sooner, every single one of them. The confidence they’ve given me, the feeling of controlling my own life, my destiny, rather than feeling like I had no say in what happened in my life or what came my way, was a BIG eye opener.
Yes, we all have commitments and cannot take off to travel the Nile or live in New Zealand, but I felt for a while like I had no choice in the direction my life was going. I was on a carnival ride that I didn’t like and it would never stop. I needed a change. I needed something positive in my life.
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in May 2013, and I’m so grateful my spirit didn’t give up. My symptoms kept me from participating in just about everything for a year because I didn’t have the energy or the strength to walk or stand or hold or carry things. But, thankfully, I went into remission and I’ve been on full speed since then. I don’t know how much time I have until my symptoms come back or how long it will be before I go into remission again, if I do.
Don’t let an opportunity pass by you. OK, you don’t make a fortune. But if you’ve wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise to see the salmon spawning and see whales and bears and the Northern Lights, start taking action. Set your mind on the idea of going. And start saving a little here and there. If you can, have a separate account set up and have a small amount go directly out of your pay check into a vacation fund.
The thing is, if you don’t start to take some mental action, researching travel, looking at possible dates, finding someone to go with (or deciding to go by yourself), that dream will stay a dream. Once you start acting on it, making plans, your dream becomes reality. Find out if that adult grizzly’s paw is really the size of a dinner charger plate.
And if there’s something you’ve wanted to do or to take a trip to a particular place and all of a sudden you learn that it’s available or there’s a trip planned, don’t automatically tell yourself you can’t go because you don’t have the money right now. Or that it’d be better to wait until … the kids are grown, the car is paid off, the credit cards are paid off, spring, etc.
You may not have all the money at this exact moment, but on most trips you can pay in installments. With the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman trips, you can pay in installments (check out the upcoming trip to Costa Rica – you may meet me there!).
Memo from Marcy
If you tell yourself you can’t afford it, you’ve set yourself up to not be able to afford it, whether it’s this month or 12 months from now. In self-talk, you’ve reinforced the idea to yourself that you can’t afford it. And if you wait until …, well … something else always comes up that you should use that money for. WAIT is a bad four-letter word.
Instead, let the thought of adventure peak your interest. Let yourself get excited by the possibility of doing the thing that you’ve wanted to do. So you were going to paint your fence, but what will you get more enjoyment out of? What will you be able to look back on with utter contentment? And what can truly wait? Your happiness? I don’t think so. You’ve waited too long already. That fence can wait.
The exhilaration you’ll get from doing what you’ve been waiting to do will be enough to sail you through thin times ahead if you need to cut back a little. Your memories, pictures and video will sail you through times of loneliness, debt, sickness, thin paychecks and more. Will your fence?
Be open to what is presented to you. Be aware of opportunities being placing in front of you. I wanted to swim with dolphins, the dream of my life. But I also found that I could scuba dive (something I’d wanted to do since I was a teenager) while sharks were being fed right in front of me. And it was one of the best experiences of my life!
Oh, and if you think you can’t find anyone to go with you somewhere, let me know. I might be able to join you!
Be open to opportunities, friendships, life and love.
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