Sunday, September 15, 2013



I hear the divemaster say he’s from Jamaica and wait for my chance, “I hear you’re a yardie.”

“What?” He turns his large, muscular body and intelligent face toward me, his eyes gleaming with either curiosity or animosity, I’m not sure which.

Josephine in Cockburn Town, South Caicos had assured me “yardie” wasn’t an insult, so I gather my courage and hope I'm not offending this big, beautiful man who will soon lead me seventy-five feet underwater.

“I hear you’re from the yard, from Jamaica, right?”

“Where’dya here that?” his face still unsmiling.

I tell him about Josephine, the cook and waitress at the cafe where I played dominos and ate conch salad delicately flavored with orange. Josephine had told me she was a yardie and giggled, explaining, “yard is slang for Jamaica.” According to her, Jamaicans are called “yardies” because they love their home, the “yard.”

Hearing this, the divemaster smiles and laughs deeply. That’s the reaction I’d hoped for: silly foreigner knowing things she shouldn’t - or at least that’s what I think his laugh means at the time. Only later, will I learn that “yardie” was originally a derogatory name given to residents of government yards, or housing projects, in Trenchtown, a neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica. I’ll wonder about the genesis of Josaphine’s positive re-envisioning of the word “yardie,” and if other people share her feelings, but standing on the dive boat, speeding over turquoise water, I don’t know any of this. I don’t realize how graciously the divemaster laughs away the insult. Unaware of my mistake, I smile back, pleased at what I think is my insider knowledge. Silly foreigner and her misguided attempts at friendship.

The divemaster, seeing my curiosity, begins teaching me the local language, “Wahgwo’on?” He looks at me expectantly. 

I shake my head perplexed. 

“What’s going on?” the divemaster translates.

One of the guys working the boat, we’ll call him Tyler, stifles a laugh as he watches the divemaster instruct his eager pupil.

“Meh bendig go big sea,” translates to, “I’m thinking about going to the beach.”

My lesson is cut short by our arrival at the dive sites on the northwest point of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos. Seeing the many clearly marked moorings bobbing in the water, George, who owns the sailboat I’m traveling on as hitchhiking crew, remarks that we could have come over in his boat, Carpe Diem, dove with his gear and bypassed the dive company. Too late for that now; we’re $300 committed.

More than 10 great dive sites at the Northwest Point of Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
We suit up with the other divers and flop gracelessly into clear water above colorful, living coral. “The visibility is incredible,” George says, “must be close to 100 feet.” Once we’re all gathered in the water, the divemaster, clad nonchalantly in khaki shorts and a t-shirt, guides us two and a half atmosphere’s underwater to explore “The Crack,” a site covered in living coral, christmas tree worms and feather dusters. 

At one point the divemaster points out a sea turtle, tagged, three feet across and sound asleep. Our eight person group slowly swims into a circle around the loggerhead turtle who floats unaware of our presence, motionless and serene, as we each marvel at her speckled fins and shell. I hold my breath until my lungs scream for oxygen and then breathe as shallowly as possible, hoping my noisy air bubbles won’t wake her. Sleeping beauty begins to move one yellow-green fin, then another, slowly lifts her head and looks around as if confused, but doesn’t move at first. She looks back at us as we look at her and then slowly swims away.

Loggerhead Turtle, picture thanks to National Geographic
On my way back to the dive boat I get a violent cramp in my leg. It feels like my muscle is tearing itself away from the bone. I manage to grab onto the boat’s mooring line to keep from being swept away in the current. Miraculously, Tyler is there and when I explain my predicament, he doesn’t hesitate to knead my calf. “You need to exercise more.” I don’t mind his scolding because in his expert hands my painful muscle relaxes. When he releases my leg I’m tempted to say that after the dive he should come over to Carpe Diem and finish the job, but don’t. I thank him, but he’s already on to help other wayward divers get back to the boat.

With two fully functioning legs, I board the dive boat and hear that George also had a terrible leg cramp. Its not just me, I think, breathing a sigh of relief. When we trim sails on board Carpe Diem, we work our upper body grinding winches, but our leg muscles don’t get much use. We need winches you can grind bicycle-style to keep in better shape.

Back at Southside Marina we have a beer at the bar and talk about the dive. The dive company, Ocean Vibes, picked us up at the Marina, provided local knowledge, lunch, and a cultural lesson I won’t soon forget. If you don’t have a boat equipped with dive gear to go to the dive sites on your own, I highly recommend them. Just don’t put your foot in your mouth the way I did. Your divemaster might not be as gracious as ours was.

Southside Marina, picture thanks to 2 Gringos in the Caribbean
The next day we say our goodbyes to the Turks and Caicos and Bob, owner and manager of Southside Marina and our local guide during our stay. Despite good intentions, we get out late, so that the sun is in our eyes as we attempt to exit the reef strewn pass.