October 28th, 2011 by Sally

Well, I haven’t blogged in a while and I wasn’t sure what to write about. Not that things haven’t been happening here. In fact, in the last 3 weeks we’ve had 3 birthdays! Chris had his birthday on the 7th, Stu’s was on the 17th, and Abbey’s was yesterday. Phew. I guess when it is cold in England (Jan/Feb time) there isn’t much to do but make babies ;)

We’ve been diving, of course… In fact I’ve had some great dives. I went on a discover scuba dive with Patrick from Philly and it was like he was a secret agent from PADI coming to check up on me. I say this because he was so awesome in the water. I gave him my usual briefing, but unless I am the best instructor in the world (which is possible) he was a secret instructor from PADI making sure that I am doing my job correctly. I wonder which one it is?

Sometimes my blogs actually have useful information in them (I know it is rare) and I thought I would make this a useful one as well. People are often asking me whether or not they should tip their diving instructor and boat captain. In the PADI Open Water Manual they do cover some diving etiquette, like not being late for the dive boat and how to be a good dive buddy, but there is no section on tipping.

Chris and I have worked all over the world and the tips do vary from country to country and from diving center to diving center. Some places put a little tip jar out, or a sign on the boat saying “tips are greatly appreciated.” I know what my dad would say to this, he would say “Here’s a good tip. Never pee into a strong wind!” However, as when I finally donned my cap and gown for my graduation from university this tip seemed wanting… and I think on a dive boat the instructors may feel the same.

We don’t like to put a tip jar out, or have a sign on the boat as I feel that this is a little trashy… but that’s just me.

Tipping of course, is completely optional. It depends on the experience. I am a New Yorker, and I fully endorse and support the tipping culture. When I walk into a restaurant the server is going to try and give me a great experience, so I tip well. There is nothing that bothers me more than bills that come at the end of a meal with the tip included. You should beware of this in St. Maarten, (only on the Dutch side though). Many restaurants on the Dutch side are now including a 15% tip in the bill. If you aren’t looking, (or you had too many Margarita’s), you may end up tipping twice, so please take care. I detest this. And you can refuse to pay the tip. I also know from many friends that work in the restaurant industry on the island that the servers are not getting that whole 15% tip. The owners are taking half of that for things like “breakage of restaurant materials” “staff drinks” and other obsolete fines that they are making up. Unfortunately a lot of the restaurant staff in St. Maarten are working illegally, so there isn’t much they can do about it. The best thing is to tip in cash, directly to the server.

However, what about the diving industry? Tipping servers in a restaurant is normal, should you tip your dive guide? Again, I would say that it is totally up to you. Our staff is so great that they do get tips quite a bit, and it is normally about 10% of the cost of the diving, or $10 for a two tank dive. However, some people tip more and some less and some not at all. We do seem to get a lot of alcohol as thanks for our services. Not sure why, perhaps because when people are leaving they decide to drop off any extra wine or beer to the dive shop. Also, I should add that we don’t provide a great service to get tips, we provide a great service because we love what we do. And I’ve never heard anyone curse any divers that didn’t tip, it’s just a nice added bonus when they do.

We had a really nice tip from one of our favorite divers (Tony Darst) when he left us a gift certificate to a restaurant in Grand Case, Le Ti Provencial. That was really nice. Also had a really nice tip from some snorkelers the other day who brought me two bags of Jolly Ranchers. The one’s that Lisa Wightman bought for me are almost gone…! But for Chris and I, a great review on Tripadvisor.com or just a nice email is enough.

So, there are some little tips about tipping in the diving industry.

(Sally wrote this blog :) )

October 6th, 2011 by Sally

So, I know I haven’t blogged for awhile and I apologize for that. The thing is, we were in NY relaxing with my parents and generally just soaking in the greenness of the trees and the beautiful September weather and I didn’t feel like it. Please don’t be offended, but I needed a little break from Octopus Diving and I wasn’t feeling it. So I didn’t blog. I did send out a newsletter though, did you get it?

Now I find that we are back in St. Martin and the season has begun and it is time for me to once again waste your precious time with my nonsense and ramblings.

We officially reopened for business on the 1st of October but didn’t actually take divers our until Monday the 3rd of October. There were lots of shenanigans getting the boats ready. Originally we had someone on island that was supposed to do a lot of work to both Octopussy and Arvor while we were away. Just fixing up the gel coat and also anti-fouling the boats. But alas, when we arrived the first day back (the 24th of September) none of the work had been done. This meant that the extra week that we were going to have in St. Martin (relaxing on the beach, having a beer at 1 in the afternoon, and slowly getting back into the island life… it takes a while!) didn’t exist. We went from no stress to total stress. So that week we spent getting everything ready in time to have the boats back in the water and ready to go.

Plus, Stuart cunningly arranged his flight so that he would arrive the night before we opened on the 1st of October, meaning that he wasn’t around to help us with the boats. (This was not an unplanned travel itinerary, trust me. Entering his 3rd season with us, Stu knows the deal. :) )

Finally everything was all set with just some minor hiccups for the 1st. We spent this day cleaning the boats and the departure sight and generally getting to know the new staff. “New staff?” You say, I think I even heard your ears prick up just then. “Oooooh, tell us about the new staff.” Well, I won’t say too much about the new staff because I don’t have any real dirt on them yet, but when I do, I will let you know.

Just briefly… (YES, it is possible for me to be brief!) there is Chris from England. This is confusing I know. This isn’t my Chris, the tall guy that I am shackled to for the rest of my life, it is another Chris. His full name is Chris Blackwell and we really need to come up with a nickname for him or something. I suggested “Blacky”, being short for Blackwell. However, Stu and Chris (my Chris, not “Blacky”) think that might be inappropriate to yell out as we live on a Caribbean Island. I think it’s fine! Anyway… We are currently flirting with the name “C.B.” but we will have to see what sticks. Really we need Chris (“Blacky” Chris not my Chris) to do something embarrassing so that we can paint him with this label for the rest of his time in the Caribbean with us. I’m just terrible, I know. Stu reminds me all the time.

(I guess it isn’t possible for me to be brief!)

Alright, let’s go with CB for now, it’s easier to type. CB is from England and was working in the BVI’s with his girlfriend Jude. CB and Jude are both instructors and boat captains and now they are part of the Octopus Diving Team. Jude is from Scotland and they arrived on island with Coco, which is their lil’ island dog rescued from the BVI’s.

We also have Abbey from England that is starting her Divemaster Internship with us. More on them in another blog… I promise.

You may be asking what happened to Stefan, Michelle and Mike. Well, Stefan has bought himself a 47 foot yacht and is going to sail all around the Caribbean. He is still in St. Martin and is awaiting crew. Not sure where this crew is coming from, but Stef has a plan. If you would like to sail around the Caribbean with Stef, then just email me and I can tell him. It is preferable if you have some sailing experience please because Stef doesn’t have any and we are a little worried about him. The other day when we saw him he said “Check out my new boat. It is 45 foot from the back to the front and then another 2 foot on that thingy that sticks out the front of the boat.” We were in awe at his nautical vocabulary. Bless Stefan though, we wish him well in his adventure and also we wish that an experienced sailor will read this blog and go with Stefan!

Michelle is off to Grand Cayman to do underwater photography and topside photography. She leaves at the end of the month. Although I already miss her and all the fun we had on the boat together, we are happy that she is following her dream and traveling on. But oh, how I will miss her pretty eyes underwater!!! The way she flutters her eye lashes puts her clasped hands under her chin. We will all have to go to Grand Cayman to see her! Here is a photo of us on our last dive together. :(
Michelle and me in St Martin

Mike is returning back to London for a bit and then we aren’t sure what he is up to after that. Perhaps over to Grand Cayman to see Michelle, or back to South Africa, I’m not sure he knows exactly what he is going to do, but whatever it is, I know it’s going to be great.

So… back to getting ready for the season. We decided on the Sunday afternoon, (that would be the 2nd of October), that we would go for a fun dive! Yippee! One whole month out of the water and we were finally going diving again! This is what it’s all about, isn’t it? I decided to take my camera so I could get some shots of the new staff underwater, plus I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

The conditions were great and as we were all getting onto the boat a 4 foot Devil Ray was swimming around. In only 3 feet of water you could see it really clearly. It was beautiful. What a great start to the season! I tried to grab my camera and jump in to get a shot of it, but every time I got close enough she would swim in the other direction. So… I went onto the beach and would run ahead of it and then jump in the water. At which point she would turn and go in the other direction! This repeated itself a couple of times at which point my much paler and fatter body (after 3 weeks of eating amazing food in NY) told me to get back on the boat!

We went out to the dive site and I’m trying to be all cool in front of the new staff. You know, start off the season showing my excellent skills as first mate of Octopussy! We pull up to Turtle Reef and I grab the hook. I am explaining how I hook my leg on the pole so I don’t fall in the water, and I hold the end of the line from the boat in place with my other leg. I reach out, hook the buoy and attempt to pull it in. “Stu, I’ve got it!” I yell to captain Stu. “Stu, hold it there!” I repeat to Stu. “Stu, it’s gone under the boat, back it up!” I add. “Stu, it’s gone, I can’t hold it!”

Yeah, we were totally impressing the new guys!

Second attempt. I reach out and hook the mooring buoy, I pull in the line and as I do some water flicks up and splashed against my face. I don’t think much of it at the time (you see there is no way I am messing up our second attempt at getting the mooring buoy!!) and tie the boat up.

Then Stuart gives us his Turtle Reef briefing (which I have heard a million times and could probably repeat verbatim) for the new staff. I stop listening and I notice my face stings a little bit. Then it feels like I have something in my eye. I rub it a bit, but that doesn’t help. I squint my eye and try to itch my eye without touching my face. This means I am making the most ridiculous face you’ve ever seen! I ask Chris to look in my eye, but he doesn’t see anything.

Time to dive. My eye is still bothering me, but I think perhaps it will go away underwater. Diving makes everything better, right? I drop down. I can’t itch my eye now as I am wearing a mask, but it starts to sting and water. I wait for everyone else and find that after just two minutes I have to take my mask off my face to get rid of all of the lovely mucous that was rapidly accumulating at the bottom of my mask. And this isn’t easy when you are holding a large camera I might add. My eye is really hurting at this point. I see Chris and motion to him “something wrong, my eye.” He gives my hand a little squeeze and we keep diving. I snap a couple of photos of CB, Jude, Abbey, Chris and Stu.
Stu dive st martin
CB St Martin Scuba
Scuba Jude St Maarten
Abbey getting a beer fine
Chris at Turtle Reef
You can see that Abbey is already racking up some beer fines with Stuart in this photo!

After 10 minutes my eye is getting worse, I can’t think of diving at all, let alone taking photos. My eye is seriously burning. I grab Chris, close my eyes and let him drag me around a bit. I am constantly taking my mask off and blowing my nose. Finally I hand Stu my camera so I can be free of it for a moment. He snaps this photo of me! Probably the best photo of the dive.
Sally diving st Martin
You can see my eye doesn’t look right.

Then I call it. That’s it. Dive done, I need to get up. I am so congested that every foot difference in depth is giving me a serious squeeze. I signal to Chris and Stu that I’m going back to the boat. Then, as I head back over the reef I see this amazing hawksbill. He looks at me and says “Please take my photo, Sally. If you take my photo it will be the most amazing photograph you’ve ever taken. Ignore your eye. Look how pretty I am.” So, of course, I photo the turtle.
Turtle in St Martin
I am half blind at this point and sort of swimming in circles around the Turtle not being able to see if my camera is even in focus. After a few more minutes the Turtle start swimming away and says to me “Follow me, follow me across the reef where we will encounter something else that will make for the most spectacular photograph.” I start to follow the turtle, and then I think “Damn Temptress, my eye hurts!”

I go back to the boat, flush my eye with fresh water. I notice my upper lip and cheek are stinging badly, and I think there must have been some kind of jellyfish tentacle or hydroid on the line. I say to myself “Is it even possible to get stung on your eyeball?”

I have the answer for you. The answer is YES, yes it is possible, and it YES, it freakin’ sucks!

It takes a lot for me to abort a dive, especially after one month out of the water. But I tell you, a jellyfish sting to the eyeball, that does it.

Much to my dads dismay I did not visit a doctor, or go to the hospital. I toughed it out with some eye wash, a little whiskey, red wine and a hot compress. I wasn’t feeling better until about 24 hours later. Not a good start to the season!

OK, with just about 2000 words I think I’m blogged out.

(Sally wrote this blog, and she isn’t blind in one eye, in case you were worried :) )