That was Den, this is NAUI

Two puns in one title?! I am on a roll!

Anyways, this past week I spent time with some excellent divers! My week started with a flight to Orlando, where I was greeted by Amy and her daughter Aallie at the airport with a big welcome sign. Round two of the welcome committee was at home; when I came through the door a big howl came from their dog Bogey, and Amy’s other daughter Maren baked some delicious smores treats! After settling in, we went out to dinner with Amy’s friend, and previous coworker, Terrence. Initially, Terrence had recruited Amy to volunteer with the Cambrian Foundation, which conducts data collection projects all over the world for a variety of different agencies. However, these days – when he isn’t busy discovering new species in deep caves – Terrence is the training director for the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). I would be joining him at NAUI’s headquarters in Tampa for most of the week. Though we planned to dive the next day, we were unable to do so due to some of Amy’s gear malfunctioning, so we brought Alie, Maren, and their friend Asia to snorkel in Devil’s Den. Initially, I was disappointed to miss out on a diving opportunity, especially because I had to reschedule a dive with Mike Lodise from Backscatter AGAIN just a few days earlier. However, I was excited to return to one of my favorite dive spots in Florida. I fell in love with Devil’s Den during a weekend trip with my school’s local dive shop, Patriot Dive Center. I was fascinated by the bottom topography of this young sinkhole and got to experience a taste of what it is like to dive in overhead conditions. I was able to appreciate the beauty of Devil’s Den even more, and I could tell the girls were having a great time. While Aallie practiced clearing her ears as she dove to the bottom to prepare for when she gets scuba certified, Maren showed off a very unique skill – she caught some fish bare handed! Though we had to head home so Amy could check on the local lakes and ponds before the tropical storm hit, we had a great time!

Amy, the girls, and me at Devil’s Den

The next day started early, as we met Terrence so I could join him and his son TJ (who is already an incredible diver) at the NAUI office. Though the plan was to spend the week with him and earn my cavern diving certification, Terrence was called for business in Connecticut the following day. But like all good divers, he had a contingency plan! I would spend time with NAUI’s training manager, Jim, who would teach me for my search and recovery certification! After a brief tour of headquarters, we went right to work. I helped Diane at the front desk go into the archives to search for diver certifications for people who needed a replacement or were on a charter and forgot to bring their card. Most of the certifications had been digitalized, but there were still files and files of divers from the 70’s and 80’s that are still on paper. Due to plenty of difficulties, such as name changes due to marriages, uncertainty of the certification year, or even uncertainty of what organization they were certified with, I was unable to find any of the divers’ certifications. That night, I was introduced to Danelle, Jim’s wife, and their nine cats (81 lives people!). The next day, I began editing course manuals, checking for misspelled words, and even adding more information to the underwater naturalist book. I also went through several other course manuals like underwater archaeology, dry suit diving, and even ice diving! My job was to make sure each course coincided with the NAUI standards manual. It was interesting to see how these course manuals come together. Due to rough conditions, Jim and I were unable to go shark tooth diving on Friday, so instead, we visited the Florida Aquarium, and even got a behind the scenes tour! I watched as volunteers fed gars, and also saw how much space is used to filter the water in each exhibit! For my last full day in Florida, Jim and I went to Lake Denton, where he was my instructor for my search and recovery specialty course. I was ready to search for the cinder block that Jim “lost” in the lake. I was sure I would be able to spot it – the real problem was that apparently many people lost cinder blocks in the lake as well! Luckily, his was easily identifiable as it was the only block that was not covered in algal growth. After successfully finding, rigging, and lifting the block with a lift bag, our dives were done. After washing our gear, we spent the afternoon at Busch Gardens! Though the weather wasn’t the greatest, Jim and I still managed to ride front row on most of the coasters. We ended our night with Jim getting soaked by the log flume ride and me stuffing my face with a victory ice cream. I can’t thank Jim enough for giving me this opportunity and Danelle for baking the most delicious coffee cake I’ve ever tasted.

Jim and me at Lake Denton