Recently, some friends and I were discussing the best possible scuba diving boat. There were some great examples, but we finally agreed that the best dive boat is Somebody Else’s. Oddly enough, just a few days later, the same subject came up on a freediving list to which I subscribe. After a lively discussion of various makes and models, again, the consensus was that nothing beats Somebody Else’s boat.
Having grown up with powerboats and as the current owner of a classic sailboat, which I have outfitted for diving, I know the amount of work and expense it takes to buy and maintain your dream boat. Apparently, lots of other divers have discovered the benefits of Somebody Else’s boat as well given the success of the dive charter industry and the popularity of local dive clubs. Somebody Else’s boat never needs repair or maintenance, never breaks down, and never needs a complete overhaul.
Several years ago, I joined a Florida dive group that is comprised of such like-minded individuals. Members with boats post their anticipated dive schedules and interested member divers respond and join the trip, with the captain’s permission, of course. These individuals are not offering charter services, just a convenient way to orchestrate a quick resource-pooling dive trip among friends.
The boats vary from two-person kayaks to bluewater yachts. The concept works well and everyone understands the unwritten rule that the idea is to share expenses and conveniences. Divers chip in their fair share for gas, and bring lunch, extra tanks, expertise, equipment, or whatever else is needed on the trip. Of course, some folks are more generous than others are and some miss the concept altogether. Word of freeloaders usually travels fast and the offending parties soon find themselves uninvited. Equally, news of unsafe diving practices or unsafe captaining also travels fast, which provides for a pretty effective system of checks and balances, not to mention educating divers and skippers alike. More experienced divers tend to mentor less experienced divers and the symbiosis works well overall.
Through these clubs and also through charter boat diving, I have developed fast friendships with divers I never would have known otherwise, and in the process, have had some great diving adventures. Some of the members organize chartered trips and negotiate discounts with various dive boats, others group together for beach dives or even cavern dives. Instructors and charter operators in the group sometimes offer group discounts, special trips or courses, but usually try to avoid shameless self-promotion. A boat owner might get the instructor from the local dive shop to teach a private group class on Friday night, with diving on his private boat the next morning. The possibilities are essentially endless assuming you have willing divers, capable captains, and well-equipped and well-maintained boats.
Other clubs have sprung up here and there, and some have splintered off into their own groups after finding a core group of folks they trust and with whom they enjoy diving. The concept is simple: groups of friends inviting their buddies for a nice weekend dive or a mid-week "Hooky Dive" – when divers play hooky from work and get wet instead. Before the recent changes to Bahamian customs charges, arranging convoys of boats from South Florida to Bimini was fairly popular. Whether on their own boats or on charters, divers will find any excuse to get out onto and under the water.
Of course, in addition to diving with club friends on their boats, I support the local dive industry and dive with local charter operations. When venturing into new territory or on a new wreck site, nothing beats the comfort of diving with professionals. Having the peace of mind in knowing you have a DAN 02 kit, a licensed captain, and a concerned Divemaster onboard your charter boat is well worth the minimal expense. Charter boats are often larger and can venture to wrecks that smaller boats cannot reach safely, not to mention having all the right GPS points, and the other safety gear that makes a professional operation. Plus, sometimes it’s just nice to be catered to instead of doing it all yourself. Being able to walk off the boat the moment you reach the dock, without having to stay and swab the decks, is nice sometimes.
All in all, many of us have learned the joys of Somebody Else’s boat, whether it is a charter or just a friend with a boat. As an example, my friend, Randy, frequently calls me at 9pm on a Friday night, "Hey, wanna dive tomorrow?" If I answer affirmatively, the next sentence out of his mouth will be, "Great, be at the dock at 8am." I make the short drive to his boat, and we’re diving in the open ocean within the hour – Randy’s 24-foot Aquasport Cuddy is just minutes from the Atlantic and many of our favorite dive sites are within a 15-minute cruise. On a typical two-tank excursion, I bring enough munchies to share, help transport the gear from the dock to the truck, help wash down the boat, chip in the usual $20 or $30 for gas money, and have a great day of casual no-schedule diving with people I know and trust. If we catch fish or lobster, we usually share and share alike; nobody goes home empty-handed.
Some of my favorite things about this arrangement is that I don’t have to pay the monthly dockage, the annual insurance, the towboat membership, or the upkeep on the boat, but I have the benefit of getting out onto the ocean and diving whatever spots we collectively decide to dive. Of course, Randy is happy because he has an extra set of hands onboard that he can trust to steer the boat while he and his dive buddy are drift diving across the reefs below, and of course, to pick them up when they surface.
Often, that extra pair of steering hands makes the difference of whether or not the boat goes out at all. Two divers on a boat can only dive if they tie off to a buoy or trust their anchor (and their safety) enough to make the plunge with no one left on the boat. A third diver who happens also to know how to handle a boat leaves one person on the boat at all times; you simply drop two divers at a time and with three drops, everyone has had their two dives. Of course, charters are real handy when there are just two divers or even a single diver.
Last week, my mobile phone rang and Randy’s familiar number popped up in my caller ID, "Hey, my buddy, Dr. Julio, wants to dive off of his 30-foot Grady White on Saturday, but there’s just the two us and we need someone who can handle the boat. Wanna go?" Saturday morning, the three of us left out of Lighthouse Point, Florida and did two fantastic dives each. Our dives included the Mercedes, a 194-foot German freighter that was built in 1952 and was sunk in 1985 in 97 feet of water as an artificial reef. The wreck is slowly succumbing to the ravages of seawater, but there are still great swim-throughs and tons of schooling fish. This was the first decent weather day in several weeks, and well worth the gas money I chipped in to Dr. Julio. Any day on the water is better than even a good day at work, right?
With all of this in mind, I have put my sailboat up for sale. I did the math and realized that for what I was paying for dockage, insurance, and maintenance, plus the proceeds from the sale, I can take more charters this year than I have free weekends. Anyone want a nicely equipped Morgan 22 sloop?
So, whether your next dive is with friends on a private boat or on a professional charter, one thing is for certain… you’re diving on the perfect boat: Somebody Else’s.