It all started nearly a year ago when 13 year old Jake Whitlock sent Jonathan Bird's Blue World a paper he had written for English class. He wrote about a dream to go diving with Jonathan Bird. We decided to get Jake certified and make his dream come true! (Read about our surprise film crew visit at Jake's house in this previous blog post).
After surprising him at his front door with a camera crew, he started his certification in Massachusetts where he lives. But for the final part of his exciting journey, we wanted to take Jake someplace amazing to complete his final checkout dives and go diving with Jonathan. Where? Grand Cayman of course! The Cayman Islands are a world-renown diving destination with warm, clear water, great reefs, coral, walls, shipwrecks and Stingray City! We contacted the Cayman Tourism Authority and they thought it was a great idea. They put us in contact with Sunset House—the perfect place to stay. Sunset House has been focused specifically on divers for 50 years!
So we let Jake (and his parents!) in on the secret. Last week we boarded a flight in Boston. Even with a huge delay due to a late season snow storm, we made it to Grand Cayman with our gear. But before we drove over to Sunset House, we made a stop at Divers Supply. What Jake found there was a special surprise. Thanks to the generosity of Sub Gear, Divers Supply and Sunset House, Jake was outfitted with a brand new set of Sub Gear diving equipment! How lucky can this kid get? Can it get any better? Yes!
Next, we headed over to Sunset House and checked into our rooms. Within an hour, Jake and his instructor Kathryn Apse were in the pool, reviewing skills (since his first two checkout dives were in the fall up in Massachusetts). While we were doing that, Channel 27 (Cayman News) came over to interview Jake. WATCH THE SEGMENT.
The next morning, after a wonderful Sunset House breakfast, Jake and Kat hit the water right off the dock to get in another check out dive. They intended to do both of them quickly and get them over with, but a curious sea turtle extended the dive to almost an hour, and Jake started getting cold, so the second checkout was scheduled for later in the morning off the boat.
After an early lunch, we hit the Sunset Divers boat and headed out to a nice wall where Jake did his final checkout dive with Jonathan instructing him on the proper method of blowing bubble rings and sneaking up on garden eels. The second dive at Eden Rock was spent swimming through the coral tunnels.
That evening, back at Sunset House, Jake was presented with his own certification card! He had become a real scuba diver! But the fun had only just begun, because Jonathan had another surprise: a brand new pair of Force Fin Pro diving fins for Jake--the same ones Jonathan wears. These were donated by Force Fin and also personally signed by Bob Evans, the designer of the Force Fin. Now Jake had truly joined the team!
Sunday morning was a typical beautiful Cayman day—warm and sunny with poofy white clouds. We left the dock with Sunset Divers right after breakfast on the boat and headed to Grand Cayman’s newest wreck, the USS Kittiwake. And what a wreck! Sitting on the sand upright in only 60 feet, it’s a jungle gym for grown-ups! Already the wreck has a huge school of jacks and two Goliath Grouper residents. Jake and I swam through and around the wreck while Cameraman Tim filmed everything. We had intended on doing only one dive on the wreck, but it was too much fun. So we did a second dive too. On the second dive, a huge school of reef squid had moved in and surrounded the upper structures, so we spent some time filming them too.
After lunch, we piled into a van and our Sunset Divers crew drove us across the island to the marina up in north sound where they keep another dive boat for Stingray City. Twenty minutes later we were splashing into the 10 foot deep water while curious stingrays came over, looking for a handout. Divemaster Andy had given us a lesson in the proper way to feed the stingrays without getting a hickey. As soon as we hit the water, Jake eagerly accepted some bait and started feeding like a pro. He quickly became the most popular guy on the sea floor with 5 stingrays taking turns eating from his hands. And yeah, we got it all on camera. This is going to be a fun segment. Congratulations on your new c-card Jake and welcome to the world of scuba diving!