By Maddi Dolan
“Dive, dive, dive,” the crewman shouted from the stern of the boat. We had finally reached our dive site, just a few miles off the coast of Boynton Beach, FL. Looking out onto the horizon, the sky met the sea in every direction. My heart started to pound from pure excitement.
I stepped down onto the transom platform, put my regulator in my mouth, and did what I was instructed to do. I jumped off the stern of the boat, plunging into the chill Atlantic waters below.
One meter, five meters, 10 meters, 20 meters, I quickly descended until I reached the ocean floor. Only the sound of air bubbles coming from my regulator broke the silence as I looked up to watch other divers descend after me. That’s when I saw it out of the corner of my eye: a nine foot long lemon shark swimming just a few feet from my face.
I stopped breathing, not from fear, but from complete wonder and fascination. Never had I ever been so close to a shark that I wasn’t separated from by a pane of thick glass. Before I had time to panic, the shark swam away just as quickly as it came. I ended up swimming with three more sharks that same dive.
Serene, mysterious, slow-motion, quiet; there are a million ways I could describe what it’s like to scuba dive. But when it comes to diving, especially in the ocean, one phrase stands out to me: “out of this world.”
I don’t mean it in a cheesy way. I mean it in a literal way. Instead of jumping into water, it feels as if I’m being transported into another universe. A universe filled with underwater aliens, of all different shapes, sizes, and vibrant colors. A universe where houses are replaced with mesmerizing coral reefs and sunken ships. A universe where I can breathe underwater, like a mermaid I always dreamed of being as a kid.
I never thought I would ever experience a simulation of floating in outer space until I found myself miles off shore, halfway between the surface and the ocean floor. Strapped up in roughly 50 pounds of scuba gear, I become my own version of an astronaut; defying gravity, exploring the deep abyss.
No matter how many times you sink beneath the waves, you never know what you’ll see, or when you’ll see it. Every dive is a new experience. An “out of this world” experience.
I have gone on eight ocean dives in the past year, each time encountering new creatures and gaining new perspectives. From coming face to face with a grinning green moray eel, to swimming through a school of hundreds of Atlantic spadefish, to being approached by the largest loggerhead sea turtle my divemaster, who’s been diving for over 50 years, has ever seen.
So far, nothing compares to diving the MS Havel, also known as the Budweiser Bar, which is a 169 foot long ship that sits upright, roughly 30 meters underwater and a mile off the coast of Boynton Beach. The thrill of descending down the shotline to the wreck and the eerie feeling I felt in the pit of my stomach when the ship finally came into view is something I’ll never forget.
After being submerged for decades now, the ship has transformed into an artificial reef, growing different types of coral on every surface, including the staircase, which is for the most part still intact. What once inhabited people, now is home to hundreds of different marine species. It’s a somewhat chilling realization. What was once a part of our world, was swallowed up by unforgiving waves and is now a part of the sea.
The sheer amount of wildlife that exists just on that one boat is incredible, but it’s not just the creatures in the sea that fascinate me. What truly captivates me about the ocean is how mysterious it is. It is so foreign to us, just like outer space, if not more. After all, we know more about the moon’s surface than the ocean floors.
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting outer space, but don’t have the $50 million it costs to book a rocket to orbit, consider a scuba certification as an alternative. After all, water is neutrally buoyant, so it’s the closest thing we have to microgravity here on earth. Even NASA astronauts train underwater before they head up into space.
Every time I gear up in my wetsuit and scuba equipment, I can’t help but let my imagination run wild. Instead of preparing for a dive in the ocean, I’m gearing up in an astronaut suit ready for a space expedition.
I don’t think I’ll ever make it to outer space, so I’ll settle with exploring the next best thing.
For information about getting scuba certified through The University of Tampa’s PADI open water dive course, check out MAR 100 on Workday or in the UT course catalog.