I'm a college student studying marine biology at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri. I absolutely love it! However, when my dad called me and asked me if I wanted to take a week off to go along for a Tiger Beach expedition, I immediately said yes. I worked with my professors to get the necessary work and studying done beforehand, and sorted out what I would need to finish after I got back. It was a Friday, so I had already ended all my classes and had done all my homework for the week, and my dad and brother picked me up at around 1pm to start driving to Florida. I had packed a lot of packaged food that I was able to eat so it didn't go bad on the trip, and select gas stations had options for me as well. We drove for 13 hours and finally stopped at a hotel south of Atlanta at around 3am.
As we left the hotel at 8am, we put in the coordinates in Google Maps for West Palm Beach, Florida. It told us that we would arrive there at exactly 4:34pm. After many hours of driving, traffic, a lunch break, bathroom breaks, and getting gas, we arrived at our destination at exactly 4:34pm! Astounding. We stopped at a Whole Foods first so I could pick out some food for the boat. We boarded the boat, ate dinner, and put our belongings in our designated bunks, which we were sharing with one other person. I was able to talk to Cory, our chef, about all of my food problems, and he graciously took everything I had brought and put it in the fridge for the week's meals. Jack and Dad shared one a cabin, and I was to share a cabin with a wonderful lady named Kelly. Kelly was one of the many wonderful people on that boat. Cory was our wonderful chef, Finch and Ryan were the divemasters, Eli Martinez (Owner of SDM Adventures) was the one organizing the trip, Scott was the Captain, and my fellow divers were Chris, Cleve, Mark, Christina, Mike, and Kelly. I asked Eli where Kelly's, and therefore my, cabin was, and he showed me. I put all of my bags and electronics in that bunk, then went and hung out with everyone else up top. I got to know everyone and catch up with those that I hadn't seen in awhile, but after the long drive days, I got tired pretty quickly. I said goodnight to everyone, got ready for bed, and proceeded to be one of the first to go to sleep. Awhile later, I woke up to the sound of someone in my bunk cabin. Thinking it was Kelly, I didn't pay much attention to it, until I saw that it was a man! I was wide awake at that point, and had no idea what to do. I waited quietly until he went to sleep, then very slowly got down from my bunk and went to find my dad. When I asked both Jack and Dad if they wanted to switch with me, they both declined and told me to look around until I found Kelly. I went up the stairs, and luckily ran into Finch, who told me where Kelly was, and relieved, I climbed into my rightful bunk.
I kept waking up in the night because of the rough seas. My stuff in the cabin was being tossed around and knocked off of shelves, and at times, I would be knocked clean off my mattress. I heard a huge crash in the night as well, and in the morning we found out that all kinds of things were strung out all over the floor, and there was shattered glass all over the galley where the seas had been so rough that it had broken things. Because of this, I imagine that the crew did not get much sleep, either. That morning, Eli, Dad, Jack, and I, had discovered that Eli had shown me to the wrong cabin, and found that Chris was the man who was in there with me. We all had a good laugh! However, after all of that, we arrived at Grand Bahama, and set up all of our dive equipment before heading to our final dive site. We had our dive briefing, where we were instructed to always descend on the downline, which would guide us in a straight line to about 20 feet, where we would need to descend the last 20-25 feet on our own. We were also reminded that everything down where we would be diving bites, and that is something to keep in mind at all times. Once we arrived at the dive site, we dove for the fist time, which also happened to be my first open ocean scuba dive. Little did I know that this would be the roughest dive I have ever had thus far. I got on all of my gear, and Dad got in the water right before me. I jumped in, and grabbed onto the downline. I immediately realized that I could not see. The water was so murky, and I could hardly even see my dad right below me. As I was descending, my ears started to hurt a little, but I just kept trying to clear them, and thought it was fine. However, my right ear was clearing, but my left one wouldn't. In my desperation to clear my ears, combined with my fear of not being able to see, I somehow at some point let go of the downline. I don't remember doing this, all I remember is clutching my ears as I tried to descend, which was the worst possible idea in that moment. As I thought I was descending in a straight line, I was actually rapidly drifting out to sea where I couldn't see, tiger sharks were below me and they could see, and there were no other boats in sight. Suddenly, I felt someone grab my arm, and I realized it was Dad. He was pulling me down to the bottom as fast as he could, which made my ears hurt much worse. By the time we had reached the bottom, I was screaming into my regulator and felt my mask get warm. Then, I saw Eli come over with Dad's camera, and he gave him the camera while he took me back to the downline. As we slowly ascended, my ears started to feel better, and then I was able to properly descend at my own pace on the downline. Once at the bottom, my head hurt, but my ears were much better. Oddly, I was comforted when I realized that we were all surrounded by sharks. There were reef sharks of all different sizes, with the occasional lemon shark, and they were not afraid to be around us. I couldn't see well because I had fogged up my mask in all then events that had just happened, but the visibility was also next to nothing. I would reach out slightly to run my hand along the sharks' backs or touch their fins, and some liked it while others didn't. When Dad, Jack and I turned around, we saw a huge lemon shark calmly resting on the sand. Dad slowly made his way up to her, and we had a little moment watching this shark's mouth get cleaned. Suddenly, Jack signaled to us that something was wrong with Dad's equipment. He told him not to move as Eli came over and we discovered that his tank had come out of his BC. Eli fixed it, which was the second time our family had needed his help on the first dive. When we finally decided to get out of the water, Dad and I went up first to do our safety stop on the line. It was almost eerie waiting on the downline, with the knowledge that though we didn't see any tigers on this dive, they were down there for sure. As Dad was on the edge of the boat getting out, a pod of spotted dolphins swam right next to me to greet me. Then, as my turn approached to climb up the line and get back onto the boat, a swarm of reef sharks encircled me, and I was quite literally pushing sharks out of the way to get to the surface. Once on the surface, I took off my mask, and Dad pointed out that there was blood on my face. Because of my ear problems on that dive, my nose had bled, and that explained why my face had suddenly felt warm once I got to the bottom. Exhausted, I washed my hair with the deck shower, and hung everything up. We ate dinner, which was delicious, and watched some of Eli's videos from his previous trips. It was a long day, and I was quite shaken up. However, the dives could only get better, and more unbelievable.
As you can see, the visibility was awful. But, it gets better!