Becoming a Course Director

Becoming a Course Director

Created: 2017-04-23

On a cold, dark, rainy October night in the dive centre, I finally hit send on the email that could change my life – my Course Director application.  It had taken me months to compile (business plan for myself and OTD, Diving CV, Project Aware portfolio, credits from IDCs I had staffed, webinars and forums attended, letters of recommendation from existing CDs, summary of certifications and last but not least, evidence of passing the theory and standards exams at a recent IE to the much higher pass mark required for a CD!). Nothing was guaranteed, my application now went into a pot with all the others from Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA) to be assessed and ranked.  This EMEA pot was then stirred into the Asia Pacific pot and the Americas pot, so that overall global rankings were given to each applicant.  This process was done throughout what felt like a very long winter – until on 10th January we were all poised by phones to see if we had made the final cut and the top 45, to be offered a place.  I literally dropped my phone when I found out I had.  This was especially embarrassing since I was helping with a school trip at my daughter’s school that day and was sitting in the library with some other mums chatting away before being called to collect out charges for the day, when my phone fell from my hand and crashed onto the floor whilst I sat aghast, mouth wide open and unable to speak.  They were really quite worried about me!

The next month was a whirlwind of preparation (to leave my family for 3 weeks, and to leave my other baby, Ocean Turtle for 3 weeks) both in terms of logistics and self-study – yep even at CD level the same structure applies – presentations / self-study and knowledge reviews before the course starts.

I flew on my birthday – the shortest birthday ever given the time zone – and missed the connecting flight due to a delay leaving Heathrow.  At Hong Kong I was bumped to a flight to Kuala Lumpur, then onwards to Kota Kinabalu, finally arriving 8 hours later than planned, but thankfully bumping into Rich Somerset and Terry Johnson from PADI EMEA who scraped me off the airport floor and delivered me to the utterly luxurious hotel in Kota Kinabalu.

I had one day to acclimatise and get over the journey and jet lag. The idyllic surroundings certainly helped this process, and by close of play I was set up and raring to go – portable printer (oh yes, it’s a thing!) plugged in, laptop, iPad, iPhone laid out, thousands of slates and notes carefully arranged in my room.

Walking into the conference room on day one I was greeted by a tall, smiling guy from PADI who said “you must be Kerrie” – this scared the beejaysus out of me, but he promised me all he had heard had been good, and showed me to my seat.  It turned out this was Eric Albinsson from PADI Americas, a lovely, giving person. We had all been allocated into teams of 7 or 8 people, and I was given Blue team.  My team was the most globally diverse – Malta, Indonesia, Germany and Korea – and we had a translator that the Korean guys had hired to help them out.   The overall diversity in the room was astounding – 45 candidates from 25 countries, but only 7 women, a statistic that I am hell bent on correcting.

Blue Team in the pool after one of the confined water sessions.

The CDTC followed a recognisable structure to the IDC – there were confined water and open water presentations, classroom presentations (of all levels, instructor to students, CD to candidates and everything inbetween) and a team marketing project. The difference was, to be successful the scores needed to be higher (understandably) and the role play was more of a challenge to get our heads around – someone playing DM, someone as Instructor, someone as Staff Instructor, someone as CD, and then the PADI examiner.  Many a time the question “who am I?” was raised, and not in a philosophical way! The super-intensive 9 days were roughly split into two parts.  The first half, all of our assessments and assignments (and there were many of them!) were practice runs for the real event.

Blue Team after an Open Water session.

The second half of the course, the mood changed palpably, the stress levels sky rocketed, and the make or break presentations came thick and fast.  Some days two, other days three or more.  I had expected it to be an intensive and difficult experience but nothing could have prepared me for the extraordinary experience. The highs were higher than I’d ever experienced outside my personal life (wedding, kids) and the lows were absolutely gut-wrenchingly deep. My support network back home were completely incredible throughout, but especially when I needed them most.  On returning to my room at almost midnight one night, exhausted, frustrated, angry and close to tears (long story) there was a huge bunch of gorgeous tropical flowers waiting for me with a motivating note saying “We’re all thinking of you back home.  We know you’re going to smash this”.  I completely broke down, for a good half hour, but when I picked myself back up, showered away all the negative feelings and emotions, I felt stronger than I ever had, and I knew, indeed, that I was going to smash this.  And I did.

On the last day, following the last presentations, we were called one by one into a small board room to be told our fate by our regional Head of Instructor Development.  I walked into the room and Terry stood up and said “come ‘ere” and gave me a massive hug.  I hoped it was a good hug, and I didn’t have to wait long until he told me that I was now a Course Director and ………..  I have no idea what else he said as my soul left my body momentarily and was floating around god knows where trying to take in the enormity of it all, and planning whether to start with a cheeky gin or a glass of bubbly! (for the record, gin won).

Exhibit A -Eric Albinsson, Alan Jan, Linda Van Velsan, Terry Johnson, Roger Sun, Thomas Knedlik.

That night PADI and Tourism Malaysia laid on an extravaganza for us. It started with a cocktail reception where I finally managed to persuade the entire PADI team to participate in the Ocean Turtle Lunge (exhibit A) and was followed by a gala dinner, with live entertainment provided by the incredible Sabah dancers. The PADI team had prepared some emotional video montages (more emotional still since that first gin was now about 7 hours ago and we were still going strong) and then we were called up on stage one by one to be given our certificates, badges and as a huge surprise, our certification cards.  Then we headed off into Kota Kinabalu for the night in a great bar by the waterfront and slowly let it sink in.

I actually don’t have the words to fully do justice to the experience, nor to where I now find myself and the incredibly privileged position I have to help other PADI Pros on their journeys.  All I can say in an absolutely enormous thank you to those who encouraged me, stood by me, picked me up, reality-slapped me, drove me, and believed in me.  I could not have done it without you, and my gratitude to you is unending, truly.

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Ocean Turtle Diving
Ocean Turtle Diving
WIth a return to the water imminent, now is the time to make sure everything is in good working order and serviced in line with manufacturers' recommendations. Bring us your regs, BCDs, computers and tanks - we offer a 2 week turnaround time for most servicing so that will ensure your gear is safe and ready to use by the time we can resume diving. We are open on Thursdays from 10am until 5pm, for a kerbside drop off and collection service, but please ensure your visit is part of an essential journey in line with current guidelines.
Ocean Turtle Diving
Ocean Turtle Diving
Not to be outdone by BoJo, here is our road map.

We will remain closed until 12th April 2021, with the exception of click and collect / kerbside service as before. For these, we will continue to open every Thursday from 10am until 5pm, with no appointment necessary.

We hope to commence outdoor in-water training from 29th March assuming our inland dive sites are classed as outdoor leisure facilities. We then aim to commence indoor in water training from 12th April when indoor leisure facilities are allowed to reopen.
Ocean Turtle Diving
Ocean Turtle Diving
As the end of lockdown appears to be within touching distance, we come to the 8th in a series of Anna's favourite warm water destinations.

RAJA AMPAT – WEST PAPUA - INDONESIA

Where is Raja Ampat and what’s so special about it?

Although technically you wouldn’t be wrong to say that Raja Ampat is situated roughly halfway between Madagascar and Mexico, and is an archipelago made up of the four (Ampat) Kings (Raja) islands (pulau) of Misool, Batanta, Salawati and Waigeo, in reality, there are more than 1500 islands here, with a total population roughly the same as the town of Salisbury in the UK. You can spend a week anywhere here and spend time with pretty much only the people you’ll dive and stay with, either on a liveaboard or on land (I spent a week on Gam, one of the smaller islands. No roads, no mains electricity, no noise, no light pollution. Marvellous). Other advantages include its considerable and stunning marine life biodiversity and a reef system agreed as housing the richest ecosystems on earth. This area is also home to the incredible Birds of Paradise (for your entertainment – watch “Dancing with Birds” on Netflix, narrated by Stephen Fry).

Why should I dive there?

See above. What other reason would you need. You won’t run out of dive sites, nor things to see. Absolutely incredible. You will likely see the Tasseled Wobbegong shark, Giant Clam, Bumphead parrotfish, pygmy seahorse and many kinds of frogfish. Raja is also known for some fierce currents, so get some diving practice in before you go to fully appreciate it. All the islands will offer spectacular diving – Misool is considered the crème de la crème as it really is so much further (and less explored/busy).

When to go?

October to March has the calmest waters if you’re doing a liveaboard. Having said that I was there in November and some days were pretty choppy, but not blown out. Visibility is superb, and the water is always warm.

What to take?

There’s a fair bit of flying involved, so definitely trade out the heavy wetsuit for a dive skin. My favourite is the Sharkskin, it’s super light to pack, windproof, warm, quick drying and neutrally buoyant. A reef hook. Do NOT be tempted to buy one there or any other dive related item for that matter, you will pay double or triple UK prices. Take a camera and learn how to use it before you go! If you’re going to be island based, particularly homestay, do take some snacks and favourite foods like apples, oranges, snackbars, as the food can sometimes get a little samey (in my experience), drinking water is in good supply but don’t forget your reusable water bottle, and a good supply of electrolytes! Try to take as little packaging as possible, or plan to take it away with you.

Preparation, preparation, preparation !

It takes time to get there, so plan your time appropriately. You’ll fly into Sorong, and if you’re land based will need to take a speedboat to your accommodation. It’s very easy to arrange one (just tell your accommodation and they’ll pick you up), but not particularly cheap (too many variables to list here – the exchange rate at a glance is…. Knock four zeroes off the end and divide by 2 e.g. 3,000,000 rupiah  3,000,000 300  £150 approximately.) If you’re land based, you may need to pay cash (the bigger resorts will take cards, homestays don’t), and hence you’ll need to plan a larger than normal zipped bag/Ziploc to carry around your wad of notes.

Where to stay

You can choose to spend as much or as little as you wish, from high end luxury liveaboards (the Dewi Nusantara, anyone?) which will give you a fabulous selection of incredible dive sites throughout a week or 15 nights, to basic beachfront homestays (from around £25 a night upwards, including board), up to beautifully appointed dive resorts (Raja Ampat biodiversity Resort for example). One salient point to note… the liveaboards boast photos of white billowing sails atop romantic Phinisi schooner style yachts… you may get a last morning photo op with the sails up, but don’t be fooled – you’ll be motoring around the dive sites, not sailing. Homestays are all grouped and managed under the “stayrajaampat” website since they’re remote and don’t all speak English/ have internet. It’s a great website for info on all the islands and their attractions: https://www.stayrajaampat.com/ultimate-raja-ampat-guide/raja-ampat-islands/ It’s also run by volunteers who do an amazing and fair job.

Splurge.

Raja Ampat is definitely a splurge destination – but as much as you want to spend all your time underwater, do plan for a few days on land exploring the jungle and the magnificent birds of paradise on Waigeo or plan to go further afield down to Misool which is 4+ hours by speedboat from the airport town of Sorong and may set you back over £300 (round trip) on top of your accommodation. You may want to plan a trip to the highly picturesque Piaynemo island lookout (below is a picture of my friend and dive guide Tommy precariously showing off there).

How to get there?

Sorong airport is your destination whether land or liveaboard based (there’s a smaller airport in Waisai but isn’t that useful for transfers). You get there via Jakarta, Makkasar, Manado, then a ferry (huge, busy, cheap, relatively comfortable, air conditioned, fascinating if you’re a people watcher) to Waisai, then a small boat to your destination. It’s a long, long trip and you will know you’re on the other side of the planet by the time you get there. Plan the length of your holiday accordingly. I only had an hour and a half flight from Manado but the transfers took all day from Sorong to Gam (see map below) and vice versa.

Good to know?
Overweight luggage isn’t actually that expensive on the local airlines.
Get your cash before you get to Indonesia, preferably! ATMs limit you to 1,000,000 at most (£50).
Bring a good first aid kit and make sure you have insurance (Dive and travel). Dive conservatively. There is a deco chamber in Waisai, but it’s expensive and doesn’t guarantee 24/7 operation. The nearest DAN approved chamber is in Manado (see above for my trip times to and from Manado).

I stayed at Yenros Homestay and dived with Raja Ampat Biodiversity Resort next door, on Gam island.

Photo Information:
Map Source: Wikipedia
Piaynemo islands. Photo Credit: Tommy Milton
Ferry from Sorong to Waisai. Photo Credit: Anna Williams
Tiny frogfish. Photo Credit: Anna Williams
Dive dock at Gam island. Photo Credit Anna Williams
Ocean Turtle Diving
Ocean Turtle Diving
This week Anna is transporting us away from the grey skies of the UK, to the crystal clear Caribbean Sea!!!

The Elbow – Turneffe Atoll – Belize – Caribbean Sea

Where is Turneffe Atoll and what’s so special about it?

Turneffe is one of the only four atolls in the Western Hemisphere, three of which are in Belize (sandwiched between Mexico and Honduras). Almost every diver will be familiar with the Maldivian atolls of the Pacific– typically a ring shaped coral rim, a chain of islands surrounding an extinct volcano that has eroded leaving a central lagoon. Turneffe Atoll is almost 50km long, 30km off the mainland, and is the largest atoll in the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef System with over 200 mangrove cayes (islands). What is more, it’s been a Marine Reserve for nearly 10 years, has no permanent inhabitants and is largely littoral forest and mangroves – great news for both marine fauna and us divers!

What is The Elbow?

The Elbow is one of the most well-known dive sites in Belize, but whereas most of the dive sites are generally known for being calm, easy, shallow and colourful with no current, the Elbow is famous for being a true drift dive (with occasional currents running like a train!). Situated at the southernmost end of Turneffe Atoll, the current here rages towards the south, and divers are scooped up on a kind of marine motorway, shunted out into the blue, down the coast and spat out where the eastern and western drifts meet at the atoll tip. More info on Turneffe and its other dive sites here:

https://ambergriscaye.com/pages/town/diveturneffe.html

Why should I dive it?

Big currents mean big pelagics, big schools and the big wide blue. The current whisks divers out into the blue, where I’ve seen runs of 20+ huge eagle rays, schools of Horse eye jacks and cruising turtles before drifting back towards the wall. It’s huge thrill “armchair diving” and watching the canyons and coral formations scroll beneath you.

When to go? Between November and April/June is “tourist season”, do your homework on the “shoulder” season though for fewer visitors and better prices (October, July). The Elbow dive is most definitely dependent on conditions including weather, swell and tides so it’s best to stay at the Atoll to make sure you get to dive at optimum conditions. Blackbird Caye Resort is a well-established 5* PADI dive resort right on the ocean’s edge.

What to take?

If you’re a photographer – it’s your wide angle kit you’re going to need at the Elbow.

Preparation, preparation, preparation!

The Elbow is most certainly an Advanced Open Water Dive/ Deep Diver spec – for the depths (up to 30+ metres), and the drift (Drift Diver recommended). You’re likely to be doing a negative entry (buddy teams descending together directly from the boat without surface wait) and each diver should be very comfortable sending up their DSMB. Preparation makes the most of your dive!

Insider tips….

There are weeks and weeks’ worth of dives here at Turneffe, so it makes sense to stay on the atoll to take full advantage. Turneffe is also home to the rare Whitespotted Toadfish endemic to Belize. Listen for it, you’ll hear and feel its grrrrunt in the pit of your stomach before you see it. (Like a mobile phone vibrating on a glass table).

Splurge.

Blackbird Caye is the only resort on Turneffe to have its own airstrip. Do splurge, Turneffe from the air is breathtaking! Do not miss treating yourself to a few days inland either … I highly recommend Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle lodge where you can float upriver and visit a Mayan spiritual site deep within the caves, before relaxing in your rooftop bathtub under the stars and palms. Un-Belizeable!

Bonus

Belize is English Speaking and tiny. You can get from the mountains to the bottom of the sea in a couple hours. It’s also absolutely stunning.

Fun facts

Turneffe Atoll has been touted as the actual location of Peter Pan’s NeverLand according to a theory published in 2018. An attempt to drum up business was subsequently made by the Belize Tourism board, offering a free holiday at Turneffe to randomly selected applicants with the names Wendy or Peter. News and video here:

https://www.breakingbelizenews.com/2018/05/10/is-turneffe-atoll-the-geographic-location-of-peter-pans-paradise/

Whitespotted Toadfish. Photo Credit: www.reefguide.org