GUE with a Caribbean Flavour
By Guy Shockey
One frogfish on a dive would be great; two frogfish on a dive would be amazing; but three frogfish within a few feet of each other on a single tube sponge: that makes a dive spectacular! Even better, they were three different colours! To someone who regularly pursues cave exploration or deep-ocean wreck diving, this might not mean much, but to someone interested in the unique and strange creatures of the Caribbean, it was a banner day. We filmed merrily for nearly 20 minutes until we were satisfied that we had enough video footage for our project.
We were diving in Bonaire and what made this particular project noteworthy was that it was nearly six months to the day after our first visit to the jewel of the Southern Caribbean. It was on that initial trip that I had met my first GUE instructor and began to understand and appreciate what GUE training could bring to our film projects. Six months previously, we had found a frogfish on the exact same tube sponge and managed to snap a few photos but we found ourselves constantly drifting out of position and unable to maintain a steady angle and distance from which to film. This time, we were able to maneuver around the sponge, back kicking into the slight but steady current where necessary, and changing our position around the sponge with a precision that I could not have hoped to have done on that same dive six months previous.
Now I was applying my GUE training in a practical manner, in the cerulean waters of the Southern Caribbean. They might not be a deep wreck or an unmapped cave system, but our frogfish were helping me appreciate the skills I had learned.
My introduction to GUE came about purely by chance. After twenty-five years of on-again, off-again recreational diving I had again picked up the bug and after a year of solid recreational diving I decided to pursue an interest in technical diving. During one of my first twin tank dives, we practically stumbled upon two divers practicing stage bottle manipulation drills. I remember being absolutely amazed at the way in which those divers seemed to hover motionless in the water column while they did their drills. I waited for them to finish the dive and asked them how they were able to do what they did. They introduced me to GUE and shortly thereafter I began diving with them and arranged to take a Fundamentals class with Dan MacKay later that spring.
My wife and I are self-employed and a few years ago the time was finally right for us to begin enjoying some well earned holidays. I am also a recreational diving instructor at home here in the Pacific Northwest in my spare time and since my wife shares my passion for diving, dive vacations became our standard holiday. We began traveling extensively and managed to make multiple trips to the Caribbean and the South Pacific where we were able to enjoy the underwater highlights of the Cayman Islands, Belize, St. Lucia, Bonaire, and the Mayan Riviera as well as several locations in the Pacific.
After being introduced to GUE I found that the Caribbean was the home of only two GUE instructors, Benji Schaub in Bonaire and Fraser Purdon on Grand Cayman. My wife and I had already booked an early spring vacation in Bonaire that was scheduled for about one month before my Fundamentals course. Coincidentally, we had also planned a late spring- early summer trip to the Cayman Islands where we would spend a week on a live aboard diving Little Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Grand Cayman.
I contacted Benji Schaub in Bonaire and arranged for some introductory diving so that I would be further prepared for Dan’s class the following month. Benji offers these introductory sessions as a way of stimulating interest in GUE training and introducing divers to the holistic diving philosophy advocated by GUE.
I expected a short “watch me” dive and I was surprised to say the least when Benji showed up with a whiteboard and markers. He spent nearly two hours using diagrams to explain the physics behind buoyancy, trim, and propulsion. Only then did we hit the water and practice the skills he demonstrated for me. We spent well over an hour in crystal clear, 82 degree water and enjoyed every minute of it. My wife and I went on to enjoy the rest of the week diving in Bonaire and dove several spectacular “off the beaten track” sites with Benji.
I continued diving at home several times a week and worked on improving my skills and preparing for the more structured setting of a formal GUE class with Dan MacKay. I completed the GUE Fundamentals course and there is no doubt in my mind that the time spent with Benji in Bonaire was a contributing factor in my passing the course. After the course, I was eagerly anticipating our next trip to the Caribbean where I could apply my skills to some underwater video work.
Since we were going to the Grand Cayman and after my great experience with Benji Schaub, I naturally contacted Fraser Purdon prior to our trip. Fraser is the Operations Manager for Ocean Frontiers located on the East Side of Grand Cayman. I emailed him and asked if he had double AL 80’s available for rent for the week I was going to spend on the live aboard in the Cayman Islands. I explained to him I was a recent GUE graduate and planned on continuing my Tech training with GUE. Since I was diving doubles at home pretty much exclusively, I wanted to dive the gin-clear waters of the Cayman Islands with double tanks. Fraser said that it would be no problem and jokingly told me that his tanks would self destruct if anything other than 32% was put in them! I enquired about the price for the rental for the week and I just about fell out of my chair when he told me that “there is no charge for GUE trained divers”. Wow! Essentially Fraser saved us the $300 dollar rental fee that we had been quoted by another dive operation on Grand Cayman. As a businessman I am always evaluating my ROI and so far the return on investment for my Fundamentals course was exceeding that of the rest of our family business! I don’t think this is what Dan MacKay meant when he said we would be getting good value for our money but it was a nice bonus!
We also booked some diving with Ocean Frontiers during the two days before our live aboard headed out to sea. Fraser’s operation is very professional and his staff is top-notch. On our previous trips, we did not explore the East side of Grand Cayman and we found the diving on the East side to be excellent. I had asked Fraser if he had any “secret spots” and his reply had been “the whole east side is a secret spot” and he was right. We dove spectacular walls and a unique cavern system that was home to some very large tarpon. Overall the diving was fantastic and some of the best we have ever seen in any of the Caymans Islands.
From there we went on to spend a week diving Little Cayman and Cayman Brac from a live-aboard. Our team approach to diving and our double tanks at first drew a lot of stares and a bit of eye rolling. HoweverHoHow as the days progressed and we became more acquainted with each other, we began to entertain a few polite enquiries regarding our diving. Many divers on board were photographers and they commented on our ability to get up close and personal with our video subjects without so much as disturbing a single sea fan. In answering questions ranging from our lack of dive computers to our consistent pre-dive gear match, I tried to temper my natural enthusiasm with Benji’s advice to simply “lead by example”. I also recalled that Fraser had said that being a GUE advocate was best done “gently”.
From frogfish to filming, our Caribbean diving has taken on a decidedly different flavour since our introduction to GUE. While traditionally GUE training does serves as the gateway to the finest in technical or cave diving training, a recreational diver who elects to pursue GUE training will find that these same skills make a dive vacation in the Caribbean more enjoyable.
I remember from my days of playing competitive rugby that a higher level of training meant an easier game day and my diving has followed much the same pattern. I am now free to concentrate more fully on the actual art of filming and our footage quality has increased considerably. Caribbean diving with GUE ambassadors Benji Schaub in Bonaire or with Fraser Purdon on Grand Cayman is an experience I would recommend to anyone, even if you are not interested in frogfish!
You can reach Benji Schaub and Caribbean Gas Training by emailing him at Benji@caribbeangastraining.com.
You can Reach Fraser Purdon and Ocean Frontiers by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.