Boy Scouts from Jefferson City, MO, focused on safety while on a scuba-diving trip to Cozumel, Mexico. The dive master emphasized the importance of following guidelines to help prevent the 'bends.'
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1997 Boy Scouts of America, Inc.
ON A SUMMER NIGHT darker than belief, in a foreign land far from home, Trevor Tallent, 14, and nine other Missouri Scouts strapped on breathing gear and sank into a world unlike any other.
The act was completely planned and entirely safe.
"But scary as all get-out," Trevor admitted just before being swallowed by the inky sea. "We'll never see a shark coming...."
An Amazing Undersea World
Last July, Varsity Scout Team 2 of Jefferson City, Mo., explored the Caribbean island of Cozumel, Mexico--both above and below the water.
Located off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, Cozumel is 29 miles long, 9 miles wide and 45 feet at its highest point. In its early days, the island suffered everything from smallpox to pirates. Today, its beautiful beaches and year-round 80-degree-average temperature make it one of Mexico's top resorts.
And those are the above sea-level pluses.
What lured the Scouts--and countless other scuba divers--was under the sea.
Amazingly clear water flows at a steady pace in the 10-mile-wide channel between Cozumel and Mexico's mainland. This benefits the coral reefs off Cozumel's western shore by bringing oxygen-rich water to the coral, washing deadly sediment from it, and feeding ample sunshine to the living coral and its fish.
Divers benefit too: The clearness allows unusually far viewing--up to 200 feet--and the current almost eliminates the need to kick. Most divers simply drift from one end of a reef to the other, where their dive boat collects them.
Paradise by Flashlight
Trevor and his crew quickly understood that clear seas and observant dive-boat operators were especially important during night dives.
When the group hit the dark sea above Paradise Reef, one of the first things the Scouts did was make sure their underwater flashlights worked.
As the group slipped below the surface, their light beams cut the inky darkness like so many swashbuckling swords.
For almost an hour, the Scouts traveled fish-like along the 40-foot-deep reef. A gentle current carried them as they spotlighted crazy-looking creatures such as the self-inflating balloonfish and the splendid toadfish, native only to Cozumel.
About halfway through the dive, 28-year-old dive master Gabriel Burgos used sign language to get the Scouts to circle him and turn off their flashlights. Suddenly in the liquid pitch, Gabriel's hands flashed past the boys' masks, his fingertips trailing an eerie green glow that looked like countless lines of lime-colored fireflies.
No one had to tell the Scouts to give this amazing trick a try. In seconds, the circled group churned the sea into a great glowing green wall. Later, back on the boat, Gabriel explained that the phosphorescence was created by tiny one-cell sea critters.
No Fear. Fins to the Left, Fins to the Right
Throughout the trip, the Scouts were more than a little aware that multicellular--not to mention multitoothed--sea critters also cruised their diving areas.
"They don't call where we're staying the Barracuda Hotel for nothing," Scout Ryan Kimlinger said.
As if everyone needed to hear, Scout Nick Kraftor noted that the big blue water nearby was said to hold blacktip and lemon sharks.
"But way below 80 feet," he added. "We don't dive that deep."
"And sharks can't swim shallow?" Trevor suggested with a nervous laugh.
Still, the boys did not seem bothered. Perhaps their fearlessness came from previous high-adventure outings that included mountain skiing, whitewater kayaking and more. Maybe it was because their leader, William Kimlinger, is a doctor, and the unit's assistant, Rob Reed, 24, attends nursing school.
It certainly should have been due to the unit's preparedness: Dr. Kimlinger made sure everyone was prepared for this trip. From shakedown dive trips in Florida to last-minute reviews on board the Cozumel boats, the Scouts reviewed safety, safety, safety.
No Accidents, Por Favor
Diving allows no room for error. Scuba (for "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus") divers breathe compressed air that adds nitrogen bubbles to the blood and body tissues. If divers follow guidelines, their bodies easily pass the nitrogen. If they do not, the nitrogen in their bodies expands, causing the "bends," which can cripple or kill.
"You must do as we ask," Ventura Nah, 33, politely yet surely instructed the group. There will not be an accident while I am dive master, por favor (please)."
A story circulated about a diver who only weeks before surfaced in time to meet the prop of a passing boat. That it was a rare accident did not change the fact that the guy died. And Ventura was not going to let anything bad happen to his charges.
"You can bet I'll be using a `safely sausage,'" Chris Simpson, 17, said, referring to an inflatable device divers use to clearly show their position on the surface.
Island Time: Tanks for the Memories
With water temperature a toasty 84 degrees, the Scouts spent plenty of comfortable time breathing air at depth. On one day alone, they went down four times, including the night dive on Paradise Reef.
As soon as boats were docked, dive gear rinsed in freshwater, everyone fed and in bed, morning seemed to follow quickly with another day of diving. The humid dawn air filled with the wake-up alarms of a tropical paradise: the crowing of roosters mixing with the clanking of aluminum dive tanks being loaded onto boats.
For six days, the divers cruised through arched coral passageways, under overhangs holding pink and purple gorgonian fans, past caves packed with tube sponges. Huge groupers studied the two-legged visitors. Tiny crowds of yellow-striped grunts and yellowtail snapper trailed.
The Scouts excitedly pointed out to their dive buddies the reef squid, the tubelike trumpet fish, the comically colored parrot fish.
Back on the boat between dives, Trevor reported sighting barracuda.
"But no sharks!" he added with a grin. "Although they could have seen us...."
RELATED ARTICLE: Know Before You Go
Getting around Cozumel might be easier than getting around your neighborhood. Almost all businesses are in San Miguel. You can walk or bike anywhere--or take taxicabs, if you are going far (like more than a mile). Your Cozumel neighbors are glad to see you. And the whole atmosphere is easygoing.
Still, make no mistake about scuba diving rules. Cozumel dive-shop operators follow them to the letter. They will want to see a diver's certification card, for example, and also record its number.
When the Jefferson City, Mo., Scouts shown here traveled to the Mexican island, they used a tour package that included round-trip airfare to Cancun, a ferry ride out to the island and back, plus hotel and scuba charges.
"It cost each Scout $720," said Dr. William Kimlinger, the unit's leader. "Fund-raisers included car washes, garage sales, pizza sales and food concessions at community activities."
Depending on your experience, you may tailor your own trip. All gear can be rented at Cozumel dive shops; a basic vest, regulator and weights cost about $10 a day.
Find details on everything from Cozumel dive shops to hotels to area history at these Internet sites:
Finally, be aware that Cozumel's waters are a protected national marine park. So, as always, Scouts should treat any outing as no-impact, taking only memories and leaving only footprints.
Or, in this case, taking only pictures, leaving only bubbles.
RELATED ARTICLE: GET DIVING!
For basic diver certification, the minimum Boy Scout age is 14, with parents' permission.
Thousands of Scouts will blow their first bubbles at the national jamboree this summer. Right now,
Scouts are diving at some high-adventure summer camps. And the BSA's Florida National High Adventure Sea Base [P.O. Box 1206, Islamorada, FL 33036, (305) 664-4173] offers a full certification program, plus diving for qualified Scouts.
Check your telephone book for local dive shops offering quality certification courses sanctioned by recognizes organizations such as:
* Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), 1251 East Dyer Road, No. 100, Santa Ana, CA 92705, 800-214-PADI, Internet: http://www.padi.com
* National Association Underwater Instructors (NAUI), P.O. Box 14650, Montclair, CA 91763, 800-553-NAUI, Internet: http://www.naui.org/
Source Citation:Butterworth, W.E., IV. "Reef riders: Missouri Boy Scouts dive into another world off the Mexican island of Cozumel." Boys' Life 87.n6 (June 1997): 8(4). Popular Magazines. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 8 Oct. 2009
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