Divernet
We've all thought about it, but is dive instructing abroad your passport to pleasure, or a dangerous honeytrap? Diver seeks the experiences and advice of seven working divers, while a recent escapee, Brian Rees, sums up life after commuting in Carriacou

We've all thought about it, but is dive instructing abroad your passport to pleasure, or a dangerous honeytrap? Diver seeks the experiences and advice of seven working divers, while a recent escapee, Brian Rees, sums up life after commuting in Carriacou

'JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE'
was the slogan PADI used to advertise instructor development courses, the words laid across a background of instructor and students exiting the azure tropical water to a beach of untracked sand, fringed with palm trees beneath a cloudless sky.
Clichés perhaps, but every diver fantasises from time to time about the idyllic life of a diving instructor. Diving every day at the perfect tropical location. Lazing on the beach, swinging in a hammock strung between palm trees. Cheap beer, endless fruit punch, a full stomach and not a worry in the world.
Then we step back and question. It takes only one trip abroad as a tourist diver to realise that life just isn't that simple. There are awkward customers, lager louts, idiots wanting to dive beyond their abilities, reef vandals, visas, work permits, lazy schedules where things never get done on time, mosquitoes, sand flies, dodgy drinking water and irritable bowels.

the people
SUZY COOMBES started diving with a BSAC club, but soon realised it was going to be more than a hobby. 'I wanted to spend lots of time in the water, so abroad seemed the best option. I got a job with Easy Divers in Hurghada and have been with them for the past year. The diving is comparatively easy, but I had a lot to learn about the sales side of the job. The BSAC Open Water Instructor qualification is limiting, so I've decided to cross over to PADI.'
Further along in her career is CLAIRE TURNER: 'After five years as a graphic artist for the Daily Express I decided to throw everything in and follow my love of diving as far as I could. I ended up in South Africa, where I gained my divemaster and instructor qualifications. The learning curve from rescue to instructor was unbelievable, as I completed all the courses in about four months.
'Looking back, I would have liked to spend more time as a divemaster and learning from other instructors.
'It wasn't just diving, I managed the camp and helped run the shop. After nine months I was running low on money and getting very frustrated. There were no days off, I wasn't getting paid, and standards were being broken.
'They made me feel like a slave, but it taught me what to look out for when applying for jobs.'
Claire later signed up for a resort operations course at Pro Dive in Florida. 'The week before I left, I applied for a job in Aruba via the PADI job board. I was interviewed over the phone the night before I was due to fly, and during the course received an e-mail to say I had the job.'
SUSANNA SALONEN has found a different solution, splitting each year between working as a TV camera-person and diving. 'I hate cold weather and spend six months each winter diving somewhere tropical,' says Susanna. 'I learnt to dive in Cairns. I just did one course after another, becoming a divemaster after about three months, and in the process discovered a new lifestyle.
'Cairns is a bit of a macho place. The Aussie guys teaching were extremely playful and even silly. They were into bad jokes, games and shagging, but highly professional. I learned so much from these guys.
'I was the first-ever girl to divemaster on the boat. I got to fill the tanks, look after the equipment, fill out the paperwork, prepare the torches at night, do the dive briefing - but I didn't get to dive with the customers! Queensland law requires surface supervision, and that's what divemasters get to do.'
Next year she worked as a divemaster in Sharm el Sheikh, and the year after returned to Australia to train as an instructor in Sydney. Since then she has worked in Sharm again, Koh Samui, Cozumel and Phuket. 'Compared to Cairns, Egypt was a holiday. I didn't have to fill tanks. Depending on the company you work for, you can really have a great time.'
Fairly settled in Sharm is JOHN KEAN. 'There's a strong mix between locals and Europeans who've moved here. Sharm is an exceptionally friendly place to live. I've even bought a house here.'
John started diving with a resort course and got hooked. 'When I surfaced as a humble Open Water Diver, I decided that life wouldn't be worth living unless I could dive every day.
'I returned to the rat race in London and nearly got fired because I couldn't concentrate on anything else.
'I quickly got my qualifications and set about moving to Sharm. I did a short stint at Colona dive centre. Talk about learning curve, I think it was vertical! Teaching, guiding, safaris, the lot. Very good experience. Then I joined the mighty Ocean College dive machine, where I've been ever since.
'I take a view every six months and usually things are moving in the right direction. I have no complaints about Sharm, though in time I would like to dive around the world.'
PETE EATON slipped into his diving career. 'I scooped a construction job building the new airport in Hong Kong. Being a hub to South-east Asia, I had some great holidays and got into diving more seriously. A mate was working for Action Divers, a relatively new dive shop in the Philippines. With brass in pocket, I dropped out and just hung out and dived in Puerto Galera.
'It was only natural that I'd want to work there and after several months I got my wish. My mate moved on and I stepped into his fins as a divemaster.
'After two years I did my instructor qualification. There was no position for an instructor at Action, so I got a job at Coron on Palawan. I packed up the family lock stock and barrel and moved.
'There was great wreck diving and I was earning, but I became increasingly unhappy with the politics between dive operators. The relative isolation of the place didn't help with the family. At first it was the lifestyle that attracted me to diving, but now I need to support them.
'We're relatively settled now back in Puerto Galera. It's no fun dragging a family around. I spend my time working with Action Divers or freelancing to some of the other dive centres in the area, which gives me some variety.'
Some instructors are not content with simply roaming and diving. MARK RUSSELL, who has run his own dive centre in the South of France for four years, had been planning a diving career since he was 11. 'I saw James Bond diving and knew that's what I wanted to do,' says Mark.
His original idea of being a commercial diver soon palled. 'My mum knew someone who knew someone who found me a job in the south of France. At the end of the season I returned to England, got a job in a warehouse and saved enough money to take the BSAC AI exam in Aqaba. I headed back to the south of France and stayed for four seasons, finding winter work in vineyards or doing maintenance on campsites.'
Mark returned to England again to take a PADI instructor exam, then did a season in L'Estartit, Spain, before returning to France to set up his own centre. 'It's the only thing I ever wanted to do. I often try to think of another direction but I haven't come up with any good ideas. I wouldn't mind flying helicopters, and I think there's easy money in ice creams!'
Another Philippines-based instructor is PAUL RHODES. 'I initially came to do a divemaster course. The tuition was so bad, I cancelled the course and went travelling. You only learn once, so it has to be right.' Working in Canada, he tried again there but cancelled again for the same reason, and finally became an instructor on Vancouver Island.
Back in the Philippines, Paul freelanced before opening his own resort on Apo island. 'I did the older version of the instructor course and wasn't very experienced. I had just under 100 dives. I didn't have the benefit of working under any 'old heads'.

'In the beginning I made tons of mistakes - fortunately safe ones. A blessing in disguise is that as my business grew it developed its own distinct personality, away from stereotyped dive resorts.
'My wife Liberty was born on Apo and looks after the business side of the resort. I'd like to think we're now settled, though the education needs of my two daughters are knocking on the door. And I still have my old backpack somewhere!'
Motivation? 'Construction worker at -5?C or diving in tropical water? Get real!'

  money, money, money
However much you love the lifestyle, you have to eat. Can you make a living from diving?
'While an instructor salary is millions by Thai, Egyptian or Mexican standards, it's nothing by our standards, but then life is cheaper,' says globe-trotting Susanna.
'If I was here on my own I'd make enough to live on,' is the view of Suzy in Hurghada. 'You don't dive to get rich, but with two of us working we manage to save some money each month. Luckily we work all year round here. In the long term I'd like to be running a technical school somewhere.'
'I've been going flat out at Ocean College since '98. I'm permanent staff so the buggers keep me busy seven days a week,' says John, further north.
'Everybody in Sharm brings something from their other life. A friend was grounded for a few weeks and spent his time as an electrician working in hotels and private homes. Others might paint or play in a band or work in IT or go into management or whatever. My other activities have included lecturing, quad bikes, video rental and writing books. I've completed three since I've been in Sharm!'
Claire is happy with the money in Aruba. 'I've never been one for saving but I seem to be doing quite well here. So long as I have enough to live on and eventually get to the next place, I'm happy. My goal is to island-hop for the next few years, taking in Central and South America.
'You hear a lot about people burning out after a year or two but at the moment I can't see how that could happen. To start with it was enough to be an instructor, but the longer I work, the more I'd like to become a course director.'
'I'm lucky enough to have a small income from investments,' says Pete in the Philippines, 'though I still have to work to save and have a lifestyle. Out of season I wait around until everyone has left for a job at home, then I pick up the scraps.'
For Mark, who owns a resort, money is more of an issue. 'As an instructor I always wanted to give everyone a good time. When I started my own dive centre I wanted it to be the best on the coast. Now I want to make it into a successful business; you can't work all your life with no pay!'
Unfortunately, fate also plays a hand. 'Until last year more and more people came and the business just grew,' says Paul. 'I don't know about the future. Business is slow when the crazies ram planes in to buildings and kidnap tourists. Before this I would only have two or three days per year with no guests. Busy or not, I'm here till the end of the race.'

additional skills
Which skills apart from diving and instructing will come in useful for a budding overseas instructor?
John used to work as a salesman and has a reputation for never missing an opportunity. 'My colleagues take the piss out of me now as I sell so many courses and trips, but I never ram it down anyone's throat. I was very much undersold as a student, and didn't realise I could do so much more. My manager once told me it's sometimes easier to employ a salesperson and teach them to dive than the other way around.'
From the diving point of view, John advises: 'Think about your value as an employee to your dive centre, which is, after all, a business. Getting qualified in many different areas not only gives you new opportunities but makes the old ones more effective. I've taken up technical diving and the new knowledge and skills have added a valuable dimension.'
Suzy rates general life-skills highly: 'Organisational skills are essential when running a boat of 25 divers, and experience in selling is also a plus. I'm a little arty as I used to do some graphic design, so I find myself doing signs and things. I wish I had had more servicing skills when I started. You never know what kit problems will occur.'
Pete agrees: 'I'm a mechanical engineer, so that helps in the compressor room and servicing equipment. I used to have a Sunday market business, so that helped on sales and communicating with people. I'm working on my computer skills.'
'Being computer-literate goes a long way,' says Claire. She speaks highly of the resort operations course: 'It helped me to understand a lot of the basics for working in a resort and introduced some skills I'd like to build on, such as boat-handling, photography, retail, maintenance and repair.' She also wants to acquire a skill most instructors recommend - languages.
Which are useful? Susanna can list German, French, Finnish, Japanese alongside English. 'Brush up on your language skills - speaking more than one will greatly improve your chances. Finnish isn't very helpful, but I am currently learning the Discover Scuba- diving programme in Japanese!'
When he opened his dive resort, Paul was able to call on a useful skill: 'I was a builder, which has helped tremendously. At this stage in my business I would also like to have an MBA and be able to build my own web page.' Last time we saw him he was building an Internet cafŽ on the side of his resort.

what they miss
What do instructors miss most by being overseas? 'Marmite,' says Claire. 'I have my mum ship some out to me from time to time.'
Mark has similar tastes. 'I miss brown sauce, pickle, salt and vinegar crisps, going to the pub with my friends and, of course, my family. I normally get home over Christmas.'
'Mum's cooking and mushy peas,' says Pete, and continues: 'Family, the seasons, Christmas, driving a car, going down the pub, going to a football match. I should go back for a visit soon, but I can't afford it this year.'
'A cold pint of Guinness,' said Paul, 'and family, though they visit me here.' John Kean misses Guinness and family, too, then adds: 'I also miss popping into the cinema, theatre, M&S, full English breakfasts, bookstores, buying CDs and clothes and loads of English things that I used to take for granted. I get home about twice a year but would like longer.'
Perhaps it's just that Suzy hasn't been overseas as long. 'There isn't much I miss about England. If I had to say one thing it would be Tescos. Going to all the different shops here takes a long time.'
So now you know what small gifts to take on holiday to get you well in with the diving instructors.

outstanding customers
Instructing is a very social job, but which customers have stood out?
'A guy who dives with us looks and sounds exactly like Sean Connery,' says Pete. 'He was born in the same area and is around the same age. We told all our wives and girlfriends he was here between movies. It was a push-over. My wife thinks 007 is great.'
'Top of the list must be Tommy, a motorcycle-racer,' says Paul. 'He was my hardest student, taking 21 dives to certify. Three teaching staff in the water, surfacing after 15 minutes so he could smoke a couple of fags.
'He couldn't fin properly because of a motorcycle accident. Climbing all over me to get away from a small sea snake - he had a phobia of snakes. He came back next year and went diving just like any normal guest, much to our relief.'
Claire remembers the third dive on a customer's Open Water course at Sodwana Bay. 'She had her mask off her face doing the skill when her husband tapped me on the shoulder and pointed. I looked to see this huge raggie-tooth shark coming straight at us.
'I was terrified that she would freak out and bolt for the surface, so I gripped her even tighter. She got her mask cleared, looked over my shoulder and saw this thing for the first time. I'll never forget the smile that came over her face. We ended up doing a 50 minute dive with four raggies swimming round us.'
Suzy had just spent a week diving with Peter Van Burren, Dräger's technical guru. 'He was determined to get me to dive on the Ray rebreather, something I was keen to do anyway. He was very helpful and full of advice,' she says. 'This is one of the ways you make good contacts in the diving world.'
Mark had also made a useful business contact from diving. 'Rob Wilson learned to dive with me in France. He had such a good time in the water that he wanted to help me set up my own centre. Sadly Rob died of a heart attack on a diving holiday in Malta. His wife Maureen helped us set up the dive centre. I would like to thank her for her generosity, kindness and patience.'
'Sometimes I wonder how customers got their diving licence,' says Susanna. 'I dived with one old lady who would have floated like a jellyfish to wherever the current would have taken her. Eventually I grabbed her tank valve and pulled her through the water. She loved her dive.'
One of John's three books is called Lost Wife, Saw Barracuda. 'It takes a light-hearted look at teaching, guiding, taxi-drivers and the daily entertainment which occurs in a place like Sharm,' he says. 'I never have to look far for material. Only yesterday, I stepped out of a taxi driven by a bloke who was forced into retirement as a welder because of damaged eyesight!'

when things go wrong
Working full-time, sooner or later a dive instructor will witness a serious accident. We weren't looking for incident analysis, but how does this affect them personally?
'They tell you it's a potentially dangerous sport, but it's not until you see the results that it actually falls into place,' says Suzy. 'I witnessed an air embolism, and it made me think. We later found out that the person had a PFO [hole in the heart], which partly set my mind at rest, but the dangers of diving are now much closer to the front of my mind. I try to avoid pushing limits.'
'I have seen many deaths here in the Philippines, though none from diving,' says Paul. 'There's a big party every year on St John the Baptist Day. A few years ago a drunk 16-year-old boy fell off a boat in front of the shop. We tried for 90 minutes to resuscitate him. He died. What got to me was that people just carried on with the party on the beach. Life is very cheap in Asia.'
Boats are always a hazard. 'We took another centre's boat on tow when it broke down,' says Mark. 'The two came together, and rather than use a fender the owner stuck his leg out to push them apart. He slipped and was thrown onto our boat with an open fracture.
'It was a terrible sight. I had already seen this on the Medic First Aid tapes, but nothing prepared me for the real thing. After the helicopter took off I broke down in tears and had nightmares for several weeks. I'm just thankful we had no clients on board.'
'I remember the shattered voice of a dive guide on the VHF radio after her boat had had a diver chopped up in the prop,' says Susanna. 'Beware of boat props in tropical countries. Watch your head, and make sure your customers do the same.'
On a happier theme, Susanna had saved a life on Christmas Day. 'The guy's girlfriend was my Open Water student and he came along and free-dived. I surfaced with my student doing a controlled ascent exercise. I saw him in a slightly awkward position and swam over.
'He wasn't breathing. I pulled him to the boat, resuscitated him and he started breathing. He hadn't regained consciousness when we got him to the doctor in Sharm. He got helicoptered to Israel and we put the girlfriend in a taxi to follow.
'A week later she called and said that he was OK. A month later he called and said: 'Thank you for saving my life.' What do you say to that? I just said: 'No worries.''
Out on the dive boat in Tiran, John was called across to a nearby snorkelling boat. 'They'd pulled out a guy who'd had a heart failure. A stupid waste, as I later found out that he'd had a heart condition and shouldn't have been anywhere near the place. He was well dead by the time I got there, but I couldn't help noticing his watch ticking on his motionless wrist.
'I had to carry him inside and tell his wife the news. It was all very grim, and I couldn't wait to get away.
'Diving the Thistlegorm every day for a month should cover most eventualities at sea,' continues John, his tongue only slightly in cheek. 'On my first dive as a professional guide a guest pulled a blade on the Thistlegorm in an argument with his buddy, who wouldn't give him right of way through a passage.
'I took the knife from him and suggested he go on. Back on the boat, I told him he ought to watch the Midnight Express video, and that any repetition of his behaviour would result in him being handed over to the local authorities.'

staying healthy
'You can guarantee that clients will have health problems,' says Susanna. 'Sunstroke, diarrhoea, snakebite, an OD on seasickness tablets. You can stock up on medicine in Egyptian, Mexican or Thai pharmacies much cheaper and easier than in Europe. Most of the stuff in my first-aid kit is from some faraway country.'
Paul has some good general advice: 'In the beginning I suffered from overwork and trying every native food. The remedy was to slow down, eat only safe foods and drink lots of water - I drink 8 litres a day.
'Don't let cuts become infected. Listen to the locals, they have experience, but don't trust the local quacks.'
On the subject of local doctors, Pete advises: 'They're OK for things like flu. If you have a broken bone or worse, Manila is the best bet. You need health insurance and a credit card.'
The bright side is that you can benefit from the climate. 'I've been healthier here than I ever was in England,' says Suzy, and Mark comments; 'I think healthcare in France is better than in Britain.'
Being philosophical, John Kean comments: 'The NHS is full of Egyptian doctors.' And with respect to Sharm: 'The medical facilities here are extremely high-standard - largely through the famous Dr Adel of the hyperbaric centre, which is also a doctor's surgery.
'Naturally we're all insured for diving and related accidents but, touch wood, I've been pretty lucky over the years. I did break my hand a few months ago, but it only cost me a couple of weeks out of the water.'

mistakes and lessons
'Don't learn from your mistakes, learn from other people's,' John recommends. 'In this business the worst that can happen is actually quite serious, unlike a shop assistant who might cock up the till or keep someone waiting. Luckily I've had nothing serious happen, but there are always little reminders that we're not immortal.
'All the divemaster stuff we learn in training has stood me in good stead. I've been lucky to work with very experienced people and learnt many good habits.'
Owning a resort brings a load of additional hazards. 'When I was setting up the resort I was a one-man show,' says Paul. 'I was doing four dives a day, servicing equipment, teaching the staff, designing the place, building it, mixing the concrete, making menus, purchasing all we needed, talking to guests and trying to raise a family.
'The list goes on and on. My mistake was not delegating. By spreading myself too thin, I had to go back over work to make it right.
'I also had problems in the beginning dealing with local customs. Things go at a different pace from what we're used to back home. I learnt that most problems will become easier the next day, or that they were not really problems after all.'

permits and visas
Despite the EU, paperwork seems to be more of a problem in France than in many tropical locations. 'I thought that being British in Europe I didn't need any papers,' says Mark. 'Wrong. I've only just finished getting all my paperwork in order and now have my Carte de Sejour, which recognises me as a citizen in France. Without it, the smallest problem and I could have been thrown out of the country.'
Then comes the diving qualification. 'Although I could work all over the world with my BSAC, CMAS, & PADI qualifications, I couldn't work in France. The government requires any instructor in any sport to pass a national exam. This can take several years, and without perfect French is virtually impossible.'
It took Mark three years to negotiate an equivalence for his instructor training. 'But I still had to take a practical and theory exam over two days,' he cautions. 'Some of the exercises were more suited to the SAS than a dive instructor.
'Try lifting your buddy from 25m without inflating your BC or suit or removing your weights!'
Even then, his problems were not over. 'To pilot my boat I have to be French, so for the moment I have to employ a French captain. It's a never-ending battle that's demoralising.'
Further afield, the authorities are easier to get along with. 'Visas are taken care of quite easily but work permits are still a bit complicated,' says John. 'We have a very good diving union in Sharm which is helping to ease relations between the dive guides and the local authorities with regards to being official here.'
Suzy, in Hurghada, says: 'We don't have working visas, and we all duck if they come to check. I learned to renew my tourist visa on time when they refused to let me leave the country with an out-of-date visa.'
It's not uncommon to end up working without the right paperwork. 'The locals will tell you what not to do if you're without a proper visa,' says Susanna. 'I always sit with the tourists on the drive to the jetty and not beside the driver.'
She also points out that a working visa will leave you in a better position 'if your boss is trying to cheat you', and that 'work in Australia without a visa will be impossible unless you can teach in a language a company dearly needs, like Japanese or German.'
'Aruba is the first time I've run into bureaucracy,' says Claire. 'The work permit is the biggest problem. I've been told the visa can take anything up to a year to be approved, and when I chase the company about it they just say don't worry! I'm working illegally at the moment, which means I can't leave the island if I want to come back.'
In the Philippines, tourist visas for up to a year are no problem, but working visas are.
'Most people used to stay on tourist visas and scarper at any sign of immigration, but it's getting tougher,' says Pete. 'The easiest way is if you've got a cool US $75,000 to put in a bank account you can get permanent residency, or you can get married to a local girl and the same thing costs $1,000.'


Instructor at work. Is this your idea of a good day at the office?


Instructors and dive guides get plenty of opportunity to practise their first aid skills


If you enjoy teaching, you don't mind covering the same ground again and again


Poolwork with a new diver. The more problematic customers can provide lasting memories for instructors!

CAN'T WAIT? HERE ARE SOME TIPS:
CLAIRE

  • Service with a smile, no matter what. You must always remember that the customers are on holiday.

    JOHN
  • There's always room for fine-tuning. I really like team-teaching with new instructors who are fresh out of an IDC and full of enthusiasm and knowledge of all the latest techniques.
  • Make sure you have a good alarm clock and are able to count!

    MARK
  • Learn a language.
  • Don't party too much; work the next day can be a nightmare.
  • Smile, enjoy yourself, but never forget that people's lives are in your hands.
  • Some people need more help and supervision than others, but you have to watch everyone and everything in a natural way without being on everyone's back.

    PAUL
  • Marry a local. I let my wife deal with all the paperwork.
  • The bigger your diving business becomes, the less you'll dive. Ask yourself if you want to be a diver or a businessman?

    PETE
  • Keep your visas current. It'll save a lot of hassle and money.
  • Live a quiet life. It's not your country.
  • Help your mates. It's reciprocal.
  • Dive operators normally employ someone who already knows the area, so it's handy to have dived there beforehand. Doing your divemaster course in the area you want to work in may help.
  • It always helps to have more skills than just diving.
  • As far as dive shops are concerned, small is best, large is worst.

    SUSANNA
  • One rarely sees middle-aged men who enjoy taking orders from younger women, and boat skippers are no exception. Learn the dive sites as soon as you can. And know how to do a bowline.
  • Divemastering in Australia sucks. If you want to work down under, you want to become an instructor.
  • Be aware of seasonal variations. Don't go to Phuket in May when the rainy season starts and everybody else is about to leave, or to Egypt in February - you'd never get a job.
  • You have to be PADI. That's just the way it is.

    PADI: Contact the regional PADI office for advice on work permits and visas.


  • HOW TO GET STARTED:

    • It's easier to get a job if you know the sites and the people. For your first job, consider taking a diving holiday to get to know the area and the dive centres.
    • Consider doing your divemaster/instructor training at a resort at which you want to work.
    • Get relevant experience. Help out with your dive club's training.
    • Be careful about working for free to gain experience. In the long term it devalues the job at which you hope to make a living.
    • Keep in contact with other instructors and pass on tips for job opportunities.
    • Get supporting skills such as languages, equipment, sales, computers or boat-handling.
    • Have instructing qualifications beyond basic Open Water Instructor, such as first aid, specialities or technical, and through more than one agency.
    • Some instructor training facilities have a jobs/placement scheme to help their graduating students find work.
    • Prepare a one-page diving CV and keep it honest and to the point. Remember to list supporting skills.
    • Use Internet job boards. PADI members can use the one at www.padi.com.
    • Talk to the dive centre stands at the Dive Shows.
    • Check the situations vacant ads at the back of Diver.
    • Phone/e-mail/write/talk to dive centres, asking if they have vacancies. Make an initial brief introduction, then follow up a few days later. But don't be a nuisance. Some dive centres get hundreds of job enquiries.
    • Be confident, presentable, polite and professional.
    • Keep your insurance, medical and vaccinations current.


    BRIAN REES : THE CASE FOR A LIFE CHANGE
    Fat, 40 and fed-up with commuting, Brian Rees abandoned Blighty and headed for Caribbean paradise island Carriacou, to indulge his dream of becoming a diving instructor. Flight of fancy, or fairytale comes true?

    Think palm-fringed, bleached-white beaches. Think pristine coral reefs, lukewarm water, and visibility to die for. After 20 years' trying to appreciate English Channel diving, the chance to instruct at the only PADI five-star centre on Carriacou was too good to refuse.


    It cropped up in casual conversation at the Birmingham Dive Show. Having toyed with the idea for years, it was time to put up and work off the beer-gut, or shut up.

    So as my mates nursed New Year hangovers, I was flight-hopping to the 'Land of the Reefs', as the indigenous people named their 13sq mile paradise.

    'Welcome to the Land of the Reefs,' was exactly what I said when I greeted my first geriatric American wannabe divers, from a visiting cruise ship. The assembled group included a lady weighing at least 140kg.

    Nothing had prepared me for the challenge of going pro with a bunch of first-timers from the USA. You soon learn to string a few weightbelts together to accommodate the more generously proportioned customers.

    Diving instructors in the UK have it easy. Anybody eager to tackle British waters tends to have some propensity for the pastime.

    In the Caribbean, I marvel at the unwavering 'can do' mentality of tourists who equate the power of the US dollar with the ability to obtain a diving certificate. They've done the island tour, the steel-band evening and rum-tasting. Now they're going to be certified divers!

    Conditions might be perfect, but that doesn't mean I can work miracles. Patience is a virtue I happen to possess, but when the cruise ships call I'm often left wondering, why me, Lord?

    It's a far cry from my days with Barrow-in-Furness BSAC, when skill standards were set marginally below those required by the Special Boat Service, before they would even let you loose with a snorkel!

    Fortunately, the 'pinch me, I must be dreaming' feeling frequently arrives in the form of seriously sorted divers, usually from Europe, who want advanced training or just guiding. They're a pleasure to teach and lead. They want sharks? I'll give 'em sharks. They want seahorses? Come right this way. Frogfish? Follow me!

    Diving two or three times a day, for weeks on end, with skilled divers, in paradise - it doesn't get any better than that.

    When it's busy, the routine is simple. Up at 7.30am, breakfast, then set up for 9.30 guiding or instruction. Back for a quick bite at about 12.30, feed the goat, back out at about 1.45.

    If there's no night dive and empty tanks haven't been allowed to pile up, everything's ship-shape by about 5pm, so settle down to see if the setting sun flares its legendary green flash as it touches the horizon.

    Eat like a horse. Sleep like a log.

    On the rare days when there are no divers about, time flies by maintaining compressors, sending off air samples, servicing regs, fiddling with outboards and trying to catch the 6ft green iguana that's been trying to eat my wetsuit.

    Before coming out to Carriacou, I went swimming, cycling and weight-training in a vain attempt to look like a diving instructor and throw off years of sedentary work. I thought I was in fair shape, and I thought I worked hard.

    After just a month in the Caribbean I had lost a stone of lard from around the waist and would struggle to stay awake for dinner. After two months of diving twice daily and heaving hundreds of tanks around, I had put a stone back on in the right places and could stay awake long enough to enjoy a quick evening drink with customers.

    After three months, more than 100 dives, two dozen courses and just the occasional day off, I still can't wait to get into the water. My only regret? Not doing this years ago.

    I'm still 40 but I'm no longer fat, and I'm no longer a fed-up commuter. Excuse me, but I really must dash. The sea's like glass and I want a gentle swim before dinner. Love to Mum and best wishes to all on Connex South Eastern.