Sometimes, the most treacherous creature you meet underwater is another diver.
How’s that for a hook? If you haven’t read the thrilling new book out by our guest, Sharon Ward, run and buy a copy of In Deep. Set in the Cayman Islands, we meet Fin Fleming, an under water photographer. Underwater, Fin is supremely competent. On land, not so much. She has a hard time making friends. Complications with her family. Hassles with her ex-husband, and problems managing her career. But her troubles escalate the day of the first accident…
I asked Sharon how she managed to make Fin’s diving adventures so authentic in In Deep. It turns out, Sharon’s own life is a bit of a thriller.
How long have you been diving?
I got my basic open water certification in 1990 in Massachusetts. I took a ton of additional classes after that, including advanced diver, deep diver, rescue diver, medic first aid, and divemaster all that first year. It was an intense year, especially considering I could barely swim when I started. By the end of the year, I could swim a mile in something like fifteen minutes. Not a world’s record, but quite an achievement for me.
What do you mean you could barely swim!
I took swimming lessons for five or six years when I was a kid and never got past the beginner level. I did a mean dog paddle, but no other strokes. And I always had to hold my nose or wear a nose plug to go under water or else I choked.
What got you interested in diving?
When Jack and I got married, we vowed to take an annual “honeymoon” so we’d never forget why we got married. While planning our third honeymoon, I said “Let’s learn to scuba dive and go to Bonaire.” What was I thinking? Naturally. Jack thought it was a great idea, so I was stuck.
What was it like learning to dive?
To be honest, it was awful, because remember, I couldn’t swim well and always had to hold my nose. I had to be rescued twice during the pool sessions.
It was hard to be a woman diver in those days because they didn’t have any gear made for a woman’s body. The shoulders were too wide and the waists were too big and the vests too long on the buoyancy control devices so they always rode up and slid around. Thankfully, that’s changed and most manufacturers now have woman specific lines.
And we did our open water dives in the ocean, in Gloucester Massachusetts, in February. It was snowing. I have never been so cold in my life.
As I was walking out after my last certification dive, I was stumbling across the rocky shore, my back bowed under the weight of my gear because I wasn’t used to carrying it yet. My hair was plastered to my head, and my face was covered in snot because my nose was running from the water and the cold. I had never been so miserable in my life. And this funny thing happened.
A woman had been sitting in the parking lot watching us, and she came running over to me as I struggled to reach level ground. “Hey,” she said. “Is diving a good way to meet men?” I could only laugh.
Tell us about some of the places you’ve been diving.
I’ve been diving all over New England, which is rugged. California. And besides Bonaire, we’ve been to the Turks and Caicos, Belize, Curacao, and all three of the Cayman Islands. Once we hit the Cayman’s, we never wanted to dive anywhere else. It’s got it all.
What’s the scariest thing that ever happened on a dive?
On one dive, I was the first one in the water and I was a bad, bad diver and made a beeline for the wall without waiting for anyone else. I dropped over the lip of the reef and came face to face with an exceptionally large, very startled bull shark. I was paralyzed. Luckily, he wasn’t. After he stared at me for a second, he just turned and swam away.
My favorite dive happened in the Caymans. Jack and I were diving when a spotted eagle ray joined us in skimming along the top of the reef. He just glided in and out of the coral fingers, while Jack and I swam as hard and as fast as we could to keep up. I think he was toying with us.
Every site in the Cayman’s is wonderful. For a wall dive, I love Babylon. For an easy dive with lots of colorful fish. I like Aquarium or Fish Tank. And for sharks, you can usually count on the East End or North Wall of Grand Cayman. I’m not big on wreck diving, but the Tibbetts in Cayman Brac is amazing, although the wreck off Sunset House is more my speed.
What is it like learning to dive?
I highly recommend it. It’s an amazing experience, even though sometimes it’s hard. And if you can, go to the Cayman’s after you learn. Stingray City alone is worth the trip.
Let’s hear from readers and writers about whether they actually experience the thrills they read and write about. And you can share Sharon’s adventures with Fin here: Buy In Deep here.