You Get What You Pay For

By John Cottam

My wife and I had always wanted to go on one of those dive vacations highlighted in magazines such as Skin Diver, and we had finally managed to break away from our work schedules for a week of diving in the South Pacific. The resort we had chosen was first rate: private, cozy bungalows just off a pristine white sand beach with excellent diving staff and a full range of dive boats. The reef was half a mile offshore with the best soft coral I’ve ever seen. It was heaven.

On the commuter flight to our outer island resort, we met other divers who were also going to enjoy a week underwater. They were staying at various other resorts on the island, from luxury accommodations to backpacker hostels, but all were looking forward to the great diving.

Misguidedly opting for the month of July—the heart of winter in the southern hemisphere—it rained every day. But, since we were underwater most of the time, it didn’t really bother us or put a damper on the fun. That is, until the last day. As we went out for the last dive of our vacation, the sky looked no darker than on previous occasions. There was a slight breeze, but the waves were less than a foot.

We anchored above a coral bommie and explored the reef for 45 minutes. When we returned to the exit point, the anchor chain was gone. The divemaster surfaced to check on the boat and found that the surface conditions had deteriorated. The swells were three to four feet, and it was dumping rain. The divemaster had us surface, pointed to the boat about 75 yards away and told us to swim to it just under the surface to avoid the waves. Getting into the boat was treacherous, but we all made it without further incident. The anchor line had snapped from the waves, and the boatmaster had had to rig another, which explained the movement of the boat. Also, the resort owners had seen the freak storm blow up and sent a second, larger boat to help in case of problems.

After we got back onshore and into dry clothes, the resort got a call from one of the backpacker hostels up the coast. They had seven divers out when the storm hit. Their boat had also run into trouble. After three hours of searching, they had found only four of their divers. The hostel requested boats from other resorts to help find the missing divers.

Because of the storm, darkness and distance, we decided to wait until morning to begin the search. Although in tropical waters and the divers were wearing wetsuits, the water would eventually induce hypothermia. There were sharks, too.

At first light, a flotilla of boats set off to begin the search. After only three hours of searching, the three divers were found clutching a small rock outcropping on the reef where they had spent an uncomfortable, but safe night.

Flying back on the plane that afternoon we saw several of the people who had flown over with us. After talking about their vacations and sharing the news about the unlucky divers from the previous night, I came to the realization that the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” is as applicable to dive vacations as it is to anything else. We had a safe, enjoyable vacation because we booked with a professional, reputable dive operator with the proper equipment to ensure our safety under unexpectedly adverse conditions.

There is an inherent risk to diving, so don’t take chances. With the knowledge that you’re in good hands, you enjoy the dive that much more.