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January 2004 Vol. 19, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Valet Diving for Your Next Half Century

may I assist you with your rig, sir?

from the January, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As divers age, getting in and out of gear and the boat gradually becomes the more difficult part of the sport. With aging, many people become increasingly less fit. Knees fail, hips get replaced, backs ache. People aren't as stable or as strong. Yet many aging divers want to keep getting wet. They have done their adrenaline dives and seen their sharks, so many look for quieter waters, often to spend more time on photography. They want help with their gear and don't want to risk their backs toting 50 pounds up a ladder.

Smart dive operators address the aging market. They're aware that these empty nesters have more disposable income, more free time, and are repeat visitors. So, to tap this market, the staff picks up a diver's gear at his cottage door the first day and returns it clean, rinsed, and maybe even packed on the last day. On diving days, gear is on the boat, ready to go. The crew does all the heavy lifting so divers can avoid lurching around the boat with tanks on their backs. Divers sit on the transom, wait for their gear to be brought, and fall in. Afterward, staff hauls up the gear while the diver is still in the water, freeing him to climb aboard without all of that back-bending weight.

Not many years ago, divers who were helped were often considered wusses. No more. Marc Pothier, who operates Paradise Divers on Little Cayman, says that when these services are offered, guests overwhelmingly take advantage of them. Pothier says that "occasionally we get customers who prefer us not to touch their gear at all, but they usually change their tune after a few dive trips."

You still have to check your gear

One concern for a diver, however, is letting someone else hook up your gear. While you wouldn't expect a dive crew to install a regulator upside down, they could easily put a regulator or computer on the wrong tank. So divers must check everything including little things such as ties on the regulator mouthpiece or the inflator connection on the BC hose. After all, individual divers are ultimately responsible for verifying their gear is rigged properly.

Steve and Cheryl Lathrop (Coopersburg, PA) told us how they got rigged at Little Cayman Beach Resort. "Getting your equipment on when the waves were up was easy. They do it for you. Valet diving. You and your buddy carry your fins/mask, sit on two platforms on the stern and they carry your equipment to you. Equipment, self, and buddy checking must be done first and again in the water, but it still is great to be waited on. ... I unknowingly left my VHF that I travel with on board and was happy to receive it in the mail."

At the Riding Rock Inn on San Salvador in the Bahamas, Hans Menco (Pittsford, NY) noted, "As you are ready to enter the water they put the tank and BC on your back and help you out of it when you return. Dive gear stays on board overnight and gets rinsed by dive guides."

JoAnn Doino-Ingersoll (NJ) reports that Aldora Divers of Cozumel takes care of all equipment "from the first day to the last -- you don't have to lug it off the boat to soak it; they do it all for you. Your equipment is set up on the boat every morning."

Sometimes valet service goes beyond diving assistance. John and Nancy Nakamura (Littleton, CO) reported that at Mike SevernsDiving of Maui, "they set up and verify all your equipment for you. ... Once you're on the boat, they greet you with Kona coffee, juice, water, fresh fruit, and great pastries from a local bakery." Likewise at Matangi Island Resort in Fiji. Besides the towels, hot drinks, and cookies offered between dives, Gerry Gherardi (Bayonne, NJ) was impressed by the helpfulness of the staff. "Out of shape divers can find the reentry procedures daunting," he points out, "but help is available for those asking. Merely raise your arms and the muscular boat captains lift you up and onto the platform." Many live-aboards, notably the Aggressor and Hughes fleets and other top of the line craft, are exceptionally skilled with their Diving of Maui, "they set up and verify all your equipment for you. ... Once you're on the boat, they greet you with Kona coffee, juice, water, fresh fruit, and great pastries from a local bakery."

Likewise at Matangi Island Resort in Fiji. Besides the towels, hot drinks, and cookies offered between dives, Gerry Gherardi (Bayonne, NJ) was impressed by the helpfulness of the staff. "Out of shape divers can find the reentry procedures daunting," he points out, "but help is available for those asking. Merely raise your arms and the muscular boat captains lift you up and onto the platform."

Many live-aboards, notably the Aggressor and Hughes fleets and other top of the line craft, are exceptionally skilled with their valet diving services. On the Odyssey in Truk Lagoon, Russ Snyder (Stockton-on-Tees, OH) said, "They even put your fins on your feet on the dive deck. It doesn't get much more convenient than that!" Diving off the Nai'a in Fiji, Walt and Angie Redmond (Austin, TX) found that when the skiffs were ready, "you only had to walk to the rear platform carrying your mask, fins, and camera." Once on board a skiff, a crew member would help you into your BC. At the end of the dive, "skiff driver Bale would lift BCs and tanks out of the water."

Just because a resort claims to have valet diving, it still has to pull it off and that didn't happen at Cayman Brac Divi Tiara in July, says Ken Metz (Cincinnati, OH). "The resort had been overbooked so they were trying to handle twice what they claimed was the normal diving load. This resulted in boats designed for 16, and normally carrying less, being jammed with 20 and 21 divers. On the afternoon dive the staff insisted on pre-loading the gear for the next morning dive resulting in even more crowding, not to mention the abuse of the equipment. The morning boats had to leave a half hour earlier than normal to allow additional time to get divers on and off the boat onsite, thus further inconveniencing the guests. One couple found no room on the morning boats for them. When they asked for tanks for shore diving, they were informed that all the tanks were on the boats. The dive staff tended to be short tempered with the crowding. They strongly encourage valet diving that involves complete handling of your gear for you, but I observed a lot of rough treatment including one instance of actually tossing the gear bags off the boat. At one point they ridiculed us for asking for a new tank O-ring because it wasn't leaking enough."

Don't hang up your fins too soon

In response to our September article on aging divers, Al Tisch writes: "Just when I think I'm getting too old to dive, you come out with the most pertinent issue for me I've seen yet! I've been diving for 20+ years with [various conditions all medically controlled], but continued diving has given me pause, despite the inspiration of the similarly aged Halsteads and Taylors. I got my wife to dive with me for the past 15 years thanks to Max Benjamin and his 'valet diving service' (as you so aptly put it) at Walindi Plantation, PNG. Larry Smith, of Indonesia, and Manik, of the Manthiri (Maldives), are truly the epitome of what valet divemasters can be, to the benefit of all who know them. The sport in general, and Undercurrent in particular, has the following it does because of people like Max."

So rather than give in to those aches and pains that start creeping into the second half century of one's life, sign up with those operations that cater to you -- those with valet diving services. You'll find plenty of places in our 2004 Chapbook. You can also become an online member (Undercurrent) and research the last seven years of issues and chapbooks. And, if you're still undecided, e-mail before you make reservations, explain what you need, and see if they'll take care of you. Smart operators will.

-- Ben Davison

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