In March of 2005, Craig and I were on vacation with some friends (Jay, Vicki, Bruce, and Kia) in Florida. One day after diving in Key West Bruce (who was stationed at Guantanamo Bay) said “you should come visit and go diving.” We looked at each other and said “we can do that.” Bruce said “sure, I’ll just sponsor you.” Since Americans are not allowed into Cuba, we figured this would be an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. It didn’t matter to us that we couldn’t leave the base, we were going to Cuba to dive !
So…once we were back from Daytona, Bruce, Craig, and I began working on the plans for our 2 week Guantanamo Bay scuba diving vacation ! Yes….just two months after being back in Boise we were heading off to Cuba. Let’s just say that between Bruce and Craig we had our itinerary nailed down and full of lots of activity.
We flew from Boise to Atlanta, then onto Fort Lauderdale. Gitmo flights only depart from Fort Lauderdale with one stop for fuel in Exuma. And yes…..they needed to weigh everything including the people so they could balance out the plane. Once we landed at the Gitmo airstrip, Bruce met us and we proceeded through security. Let me tell you, it was a little intimidating and exciting to be surrounded by all branches of the military dressed in full garb - smile.
Once we got past security, we took a UBoat across the bay that separates the airstrip from the rest of the base and Bruce got us settled into our “lodging”. Wow….we had a fully furnished 2 bed/2 bath duplex to stay in. It was pretty sweet. The next morning we headed off to Windmill Beach for the regular weekend BBQ. As you can tell, Craig and Bruce were chilling.
Our 'housing' - a 2 bed/2 bath condo
Relaxing at a BBQ our first night
The original diving plan was….dive three dives every day. Bruce told us it was all shore diving and we needed to have good cardio since it was usually a rough technical entry and exit, long surface swims, waves, current, and surge. As boat divers, we were a bit apprehensive, but thought “no sweat, we can do this.” So we both worked out really hard and were running 3-6 days a week to prepare.
On our first day of diving, we dove Kittery Beach and then Windmill Beach. The shore diving was definitely different than anything we had done before. We would suit up in all of our gear (wetsuits, BCD, weights-Holly’s are 14 lbs, Craig’s are 12 lbs, tank, etc.) and walk to the waters edge. Since most of the dive sites were surrounded by rocks and sharp reefs, you needed to find the entry/exit “rope” to get through them. This was usually a large cable rope that you’d find in the water at about 3-4 feet. Once you found it, you don your mask and fins, grab hold and start pulling/swimming yourself along the rope. This meant angling around, between, and over rocks. Once you got past the rock and corals, the rope would end and you were into the dive. The entry/exit at Kittery wasn’t bad at all, not a lot of current and it was kind of fun. The next dive was at Windmill Beach. Once again you donned all your gear, walked about 200 yards to the waters edge, had a surface swim of about 200 yards, then we could drop and begin to explore the ocean.
The next day we decided to dive The Slot, Pebble Beach and Phillips Dive Park. This was our first day of 3 dives.
First dive - The Slot: Bruce is explaining to me how we enter/exit The Slot. We don all our gear, walk down the road below, find the rope and weave our way around and between the rocks. The Slot is the most technical entry/exit because of all the rocks, surge, waves, and currents which are usually very strong. Wow…..this was an interesting dive. The entry/exit was very rough with strong surge and surf. This was churning up the debris in the water and the visibility during entry/exit was pretty bad. We soon learned, you just tuck your head, wrap your arms, body, legs around the rope and pull. When the surge pulls you back, you hang on and when it pushes you forward you scramble as fast as you can on the rope. Once we passed the rocks and were out into the ocean, we didn’t notice the surge and current as much and enjoyed the diving.
Bruce explaining the technical entry
Craig and I standing on an overlook by The Slot.
Second dive - Pebble Beach: During our diving this day, Bruce caught some fish for our dinner that night. We decided to have a party at his place and check out his culinary skills. I have to admit, I was impressed and the fish were awesome !
Third dive - Phillips Dive Park: This dive was a little easier. We relaxed in our lawn chairs while waiting for some of Bruce’s buddies to show up and dive with us. This entry was fun, it was about a 4’ drop off the platform, then climbing stairs to get out. Needless to say, with this being our second day of diving and having dove three dives today, we finally understood what Bruce meant about “make sure you are in shape”. We decided from then on out that we would only dive 2 times a day – smile.
Party and fish that Bruce caught while diving at Pebble Beach.
The next day we decided to head to the Leeward side of the island for some diving. We dove Hidden Beach and Chapman Beach. As you can see with Hidden Beach, from the platform on top, it was a long stair climb with all our gear down to the water. And after the diving, on the way up, I had to stop and catch my breath, whew…..
We don’t have any pictures of Chapman Beach, but once again it was don your gear and follow the rope out. On this dive, we had a little miscommunication under the water with our direction and timing. By the time we turned back we realized that Craig was a little low on air and he’d need it for getting back to shore since this was a spot you HAD to follow the rope back in. We all enjoyed a fairly long surface swim conserving our air and when it came time to finally drop back down, we decided that Craig and I would buddy breathe since I had quite a bit of air left. So….in order to get back in, I was on the bottom pulling on the rope breathing out of my secondary, with Craig on top of me kicking and breathing from my first stage, Bruce was following behind. Again we had to fight current and surge. I was so exhausted I finally stopped and couldn’t pull anymore. Since we were close enough in, Craig climbed over me, took his air back and proceeded to shore. I was so weak, I lost my grip on the rope and had to have Bruce grab me and connect me to the rope again. Bruce and I proceeded to shore where Craig was coming back in to help haul me out of the water. That was probably the most scary experience of diving that I’d had just because I knew that Craig’s life was in my hands and air. We all learned a lot on that dive and it was a good experience for Craig and I to practice buddy breathing in a real situation. I can say that now that it is past and I’m not mad anymore – smile.
The next day we dove Windmill Beach again and the second dive we entered at Cable Beach and drifted down to The Slot for our exit. This was a rough dive because the terrain (you can see it’s a good walk of up and down before you get to the water), the surf, and when exiting at The Slot, the surge, current, and visibility. After getting out at The Slot, we walked back to Cable Beach and got some nourishment back into our systems. Some of Bruce’s Navy buddies showed up to go conch hunting before work. Since we’d “been there done that”, we told them the surf, waves, and current were pretty strong and they should wait, but…..they decided to go anyway. Let’s just say it was really comical watching them try to get past the surf and watching the ocean “spit” them back to shore.
We decided to rent a boat for a few days and enjoy some boat diving. We went out two days with Jeff and Nate taking turns as our captains. One day we rented some DPV (diver propulsion device) and took a spin on them, it was pretty fun to be propelled through the water and not have to kick.
Our last sets of dives was at Phillips Dive park where we took the Peak Performance Buoyancy training and certification from Vern (resident instructor). It was a blast and I finally figured out how to use my breathing to help with buoyancy. Below are some miscellaneous pictures from the diving which was great ! The purple vase coral below is my all time favorite ! Okay….so are the trunk fish – smile.
Love this purple coral
Bruce and Craig being comical
When we were done diving for the day, we spent the afternoons and evenings either checking out Bruce’s island vehicle, enjoying the ice cream truck, visiting the Lighthouse Museum, taking a fence line tour, golfing, or watching movies.
At the Lighthouse Museum, these were all of the boats that the immigrants made to try and escape the island.
The fence line tour was pretty cool. Right on the other side of the gate is Cuba and through this entrance is where they would trade, exchange, or let people pass. The last picture is the road that separates the base from the rest of Cuba.
Golfing was a hoot ! This is rated as the worst golf course in the World. As you can see the fairway is dirt with very little grass. You actually carry around a piece of turf that you put your ball on before hitting. The tee boxes aren’t much better. The fourth picture is us relaxing before teeing off again.
We took in a couple movies at the outdoor theatre. It’s pretty cool, you can either pick a chair in the orange area, in the grandstand, bring your own lawn chair, or park your vehicle off to the sides like a drive in. People bring their own cooler (beverages and food) and enjoy the show ! We even did a double feature one night.
One night a week they have a Mongolian buffet that we enjoyed. The people we met on the base had a hard time believing that Craig and I actually came to Gitmo for a vacation and to dive. With my short hair and Craig starting to grow his hair out, they thought we were spy's because they did not know what branch of government we were with. Guess it’s not that common to come to Gitmo for a dive vacation!
Our trip is finally at an end so we take the UBoat back to the side of the base with the airport.