I’m lucky. Most of the dive guides at the operations we frequent are knowledgeable, helpful, skilled divers who spoil us silly. They love showing us critters (but enough with the pygmy seahorses already!), and understand the currents and other idiosyncrasies of the dive sites. But a few weeks ago we had to dive with a character we hadn’t seen in a while, (drum roll, please), the dive guide from hell.
From the time he arrived at the dock dressed to kill in a custom wetsuit, this guy was worse than useless. As the day wore on, he became downright dangerous. His briefing was basically a command to “follow me”, yet he consistently put us in the water down current from the site. We had to fin like crazy to get to the “sweet spot” while lugging our heavy cameras . Most of the time, the other divers on the boat didn’t make it to the intended starting point. When we asked the guide to check the current before we got in the water, he acted all miffed that he’d have to work a bit harder, made a big show of getting in the water, and still pointed in the wrong direction.
Unfortunately, several divers with minimal experience were on this boat. These folks were stressed by the fairly strong currents and the fact that they weren’t hitting the right entry point. Once on the site this so called guide never looked back at his clients, he just cruised the reef at warp speed, then ascended and got back on the boat well before the 60 minute bottom time limit. After the first dive we ascended to what appeared to be an empty dive tender. If it hadn’t been for the cigarette smoke enveloping the boat like a stinky fog bank, we would have thought the crew had abandoned ship. If we hadn’t used our Dive Alerts, they’d probably still be lazing away out there.
To make things even worse, on the afternoon dive this guy carried a camera, his, not a guest’s. Now this group of mainly inexperienced divers was being led by a guide who was preoccupied with finding his own photographic subjects instead of paying attention to the people he was supposed to watch over. Camera in hand, he had become dangerous not only to the divers on the boat, but also to the animals underwater. I’ve witnessed lots of bad behavior toward animals on the reef, but this guy was near the bottom of the animal sensitivity grid. Nudibranchs were de-gilled, crabs tweaked, leaf fish nearly speared with pointers. What a great example he set for the newbies in the group! A few questioned the guide’s tactics, and one even asked if I “didn’t think he was a little rough on that weird nudibranch?” Yes, I did, especially when the lovely Janolus shed all of its cerata while being manhandled.
When he got back on the boat he started futzing with his camera. We already knew that he was obviously a person far too superior to lean over the side and help another diver with her gear. None of the other crew snapped to either. Once the first two divers were on the boat it seemed as if they were expected to help the rest of the passengers. Whatever happened to engaging the customers in a discussion of what they’d seen or how they liked the dive?
I couldn’t help digging a bit into this guy’s background. I admit it was difficult sitting next to him during the surface intervals while he chain smoked. (I did protest when he threw his butts in the ocean.) Seems he wasn’t even a certified divemaster. As if I was impressed enough, he explained that his rich uncle’s cousin owned the operation, and that’s how he got the job. When I asked how he planned to deal with an emergency, the kind that might take some training to be able to handle well, he just shrugged and said, “don’t worry, be happy.”
Of course we talked to the shop manager, and asked for a different guide the next day. Of course this is a rare experience, and hopefully not one to be repeated. Still, it made me wonder how many so called dive guides without proper training are out there leading people. Should we, the customers, demand transparency? Should all operations be required to display their employees credentials so that you can see exactly who you are diving with? Wouldn’t you rather dive with a professionally trained guide, one that could deal with emergencies, one that wanted you to enjoy your experience and did everything possible to make that happen. We sure do.