Of all the activities you can do on a superyacht charter, nothing elicits quite the same level of excitement – or trepidation – as a scuba diving experience. For some, the prospect of being completely submerged, unconstrained by gravity, exploring an entire Technicolor world beneath the waves holds tremendous appeal; but for others, the idea of plunging into the unknown, putting your trust in an oxygen tank, and leaving everything familiar behind can be a source of anxiety.
Neither of these reactions is surprising. Short of going into space, diving is pretty much the only way to experience a totally different sensory realm to the overwater world – and is therefore one of the most extraordinary situations in which you can put yourself.
At Yomira, we love the extraordinary, but we recognise that a scuba excursion can sometimes be a daunting prospect for a first-timer, for a host of different reasons. Our dive partner, Dive Butler, is run by the remarkable Alexis Vincent, whose passion for underwater exploration has defined his life for almost three decades. Over the years, he and his global team of instructors have helped countless aspiring divers of all ages and levels of physical ability overcome their fears and discover the beauty and serenity that await beneath the surface.
The obstacles that many people face when diving are, Alexis explains, largely experiential or cultural. Some people are irrationally afraid of creatures such as sharks (“Jaws did a terrible disservice to potential divers,” he says); others have had negative experiences in water – perhaps being ducked in the pool by a boisterous relative as a child or having had a previous scuba lesson from a poor instructor that went badly – and fear drowning as a result. Furthermore, certain cultures have deeply ingrained reservations about spending time in the sea, with many people never learning to swim as result: “There are some cultures that see the ocean as an evil place.”
Fortunately, such barriers can be overcome – with a little patience, conversation and empathy. For Alexis, helping first-timers overcome the things holding them back can be a sort of conversational detective work: “To assuage people’s fears it’s important to have a dialogue. Ask the right questions and you will find the right answer. You can pinpoint and address the source of the fear. There’s no magical solution except dialogue.”
A good diving instructor is therefore not just competent and experienced, but also empathetic – a cross between a teacher and a therapist. If you have a particular concern about diving, even one you’re not consciously aware of, it’s their job to identify and assuage it. When it comes to teaching someone to dive, empathy can be every bit as important as experience.
“When you are a dive instructor, you devote yourself to the wellbeing of the students that you guide,” Alexis explains. “You become like their father, mother, or psychotherapist. You are there to ensure that they are happy, that they are safe, and that they have the best possible experience that they can have. The people who follow you underwater essentially trust you with their life. They are not necessarily conscious of it, but there needs to be that connection for them to feel safe.”
The major advantage of learning to dive on a superyacht charter is that the instructor has the time and scope to devote their personal attention to everyone learning, and can modify their teaching and dive timetable to suit the individual – which is of course brilliant if you’re a nervous first-timer.
The practicalities of scuba diving are actually very simple to master – it’s the psychological element that can sometimes holds us back. Once that is overcome, the whole ocean world is your oyster. “A lot of people have self doubts, Alexis acknowledges, “but when they learn how to do it, they realise they are capable of much more.
Typically, the first scuba lesson will involve a short 20–30-minute briefing to cover the basics. You’ll get a light introduction to the relevant physics concepts and how to deal with pressure underwater. The instructor will show you the key hand signals so you can communicate below the surface, and explain how to clean your mask and clear your regulator – once you’ve mastered these simple steps, the whole underwater world is your oyster.
You’ll also learn the essential breathing techniques. As a diver, mastering breathing is not only about maximising the efficiency of gas exchange, it’s also a powerful means of regulating your emotions. Steady, measured, breathing can help keep you calm and can save you from panicking if something unexpected were to happen – something yoga instructors around the world have understood for centuries. “Diving gives us a way to help people to breathe properly,” Alexis says. “Once they learn how to breathe properly underwater, they also have a new skill set to help them deal with life.”
Your first dive will be in shallow water, such that you can easily stand up at any time. Once you’re confident here, you can then move on to greater depths – as much as 12 metres on your second dive – but only as deep or as quickly as you’re comfortable with. With a private instruction service such as Dive Butler’s, you can really take your time. That means that even the most nervous of divers can conquer their fears and experience the extraordinary world below the waves. “Baby steps to mastery”, as Alexis puts it.
However, he does one caveat: in order to learn to dive, you have to actually want to do it. Your fears can be conquered if you want them to be, but if you’re only in the class to keep your friends or family happy and have no personal inclination, then it’s likely that diving is not for you. “There’s three types of people,” Alexis notes: “There’s the fish that take to it very easily; there’s the frogs that can go either way. And then there’s the cats. They’re not meant to be in the water – and that’s ok.”