A good friend had recommended I try out Frenchie’s Diving School for my PADI Open Water scuba dive course in Belize before I’d even got there. After asking around at three other dive shops in Caye Caulker, just to check, Frenchie’s ended up cheapest by around £100. That, combined with the recommendation, sealed the deal. I was going to do my PADI Open Water certification with Frenchie’s, and I was going to start right away.
Day one: PADI videos and book study
I carefully timed it so that my day one of the course would coincide with the rains on Caye Caulker island. I sat indoors in a little room at Frenchie’s Dive School and watched over five hours of instructional videos. Seeing as I only turned up at 11 I had to fit them all in one after the other, as well as read the huge book they gave me to pass day one of the course.
There was a lot of information to take in.
I learned all about equipment malfunction, what I’d have to do during my skills sessions, how to look after my buddy diver, what equipment to buy and how not to be an idiot when I’m out in the water. The five hours actually passed soon enough and I was sent on my way with the book to read by tomorrow.
That night I tried to make it through the book, I really did, but more interesting things were happening in the hostel and I couldn’t focus on the words after concentrating on the TV for so long. They just weren’t going in. I vowed to wake up early the next day and study then.
Thought I might as well see the night out with a celebratory free rum punch at the hostel bar…
Day two: under the sea, a metre or so
I managed to wake up a whole 30 minutes before I had to be at Frenchie’s. I crammed as much of the book into my mind while cleaning my teeth and getting dressed. Obviously, it wasn’t going to work.
I arrived at Frenchie’s and met my dive master, Mario. He was really sound and just told me to relax and do the rest of the book in my own time. One of the sayings you’ll see everywhere on Caye Caulker is to ‘Go Slow’. In fact one of the guys in the street said to me once (read in your best Caribbean accent):
“Go slow lady, ya bouncin,” as he looked at my boobs.
The book took another two hours to get through. Oops. Perfectly fine seeing as I was the only one in the Open Water class that day but if there’d been others, not cool. That long lost feeling of handing in my homework late was back.
After learning all about nitrogen levels, triple dives and what the right wetsuit could do for you, it was time for the final test.
I ended up with 40/50 – not entirely sure what the pass rate was but apparently I’d made it through to the next stage. Yay!
Onto the scuba dive equipment
The next stage was to work out how all the complex-looking breathing equipment worked. Mario went through each piece with me and then I had to set it up. Five times. It took a while but I reckon this was the perfect repetition, I had it down by the end, and seeing as you can’t breathe without it being connected correctly it’s pretty important.
Finally it was time to get in the water. After suiting up and swapping my flip flops for flippers we got in the water just by the Frenchie’s Diving School Pier to try all the skills out.
- I had to simulate losing my regulator (the bit that goes in your mouth) and using the spare one he had, and that all scuba divers have, to breathe from. It was weird being able to open your mouth underwater and put something in it. In my head it shouldn’t work, but it did.
- I also had to simulate losing my mask underwater. Obviously this meant my nose was no longer covered and I couldn’t open my eyes. Felt weird, but it was fine. You have to be able to put it back on underwater too.
- Next was to fill my mask with water by pulling it out, then to push the top and use your breath through your nose to clear it all out. Easy.
- The next simulation was to pretend one of us was out of air. I had to be the ‘hero’ and Mario would need saving. After he did the ‘out of air’ signal I had to hold onto my regulator and point to my spare one. He then had to grab it, hold onto me, and I had to pull him out the water. Then we changed roles. You have to hold onto your regulator to stop them panicking and grabbing it out of your mouth. Felt like an underwater warrior when I saved him.
By this point we were both shivering from the cold, the storms were coming in, and we decided to hold off on the other skills until next time.
Day three: time to get serious
Mario took me a few metres out to sea on the boat, and then we went a few metres under. After getting kitted up and rolling off the side of the boat backwards we went through the skills above again, this time a lot deeper. For some reason this time when I did the mask thing I totally panicked. Mario had told me yesterday that he never worries about running out of air underwater because he knows you can be up and out of the water from the legal depths in under a minute. I tried to remember that and just calm down. I managed to get it back on and it was all over in a few seconds.
Then we went for a 40 minute dive around the Caye Caulker reef. Being underwater is so relaxing – all you can hear if your breath, like Darth Vader, and you swim over and around the coral with the fishies going along by your side. We were the only ones there and I felt like Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
When our time was up we got back in the boat, drove somewhere else nearby and did the same. This time I could really relax as there were no more skills, just a good look at the marine life in Caye Caulker. Loved it.
Day four: diving at Esmerelda dive site
Today it was for real, no more wimp depths. I joined a qualified dive group and went out to the Esmerelda dive site – one of the most popular in Belize. I stuck with Mario all the way and he showed me round the coral. We did two separate dives with a break on Ambergris Caye to get our nitrogen levels back to an acceptable level (learnt all about that in my book, ask if you have any questions). First dive was for 41 minutes at 18 metres and the second 44 minutes at 16 metres. I can’t actually believe we were down there for that long.
I saw stingray, colourful reef, vibrant fishies and loads of things I didn’t know what they were. I need to buy one of those marine life ID books. Before I knew it it was time to get up and out.
Back to land
On the way back in the boat I started to feel really ill. They passed out rum punch and chocolate biscuits and I couldn’t have any of it. Actually couldn’t even look at it. This is one of the main reasons I decided not to do the Blue Hole – more reasons explained in my post on how much Belize cost.
Obviously I’ve never done a PADI Open Water dive course with anyone else but I’d definitely recommend Frenchie’s Dive School in Caye Caulker for their chilled atmosphere, professionalism, and price. It was a really fun four days and if you do go with Frenchie’s, ask for Mario.
I paid $800BZD to do the PADI Open Water course with Frenchie’s (£255).