I was supposed to go on the radio in about an hour and talk about the work I’ve done traveling. The radio station was walking distance and I was sitting with a few friends at a beach-side restaurant in Jamaica. Everything was good to go, I had ordered food and gotten comfortable when I saw a curious group of men gathering things together and placing them in a small boat. They carried and hoisted a large air compressor and about 250 feet of hoses. They were then carrying spear guns, masks, fins, and that’s when I knew what they were up to.
My friends joked with me saying, “you should ask to join them Josh!” They knew I was supposed to go on the radio. I looked at my friend sitting there and asked, “Would you cover for me?” He laughed for a second before realizing I was serious. “I mean… Sure dude”. I profusely thanked him and left him with enough money to cover the food I had just ordered. Now he was going on the radio and I was getting in a boat.
The Jamaican men graciously let me join them to see what the process was like to gather fish. They even put up with my filming shenanigans.
“Set in da middle! Set in da middle mon!”
The small boat rocked side to side the further we went out. We had left the bay and gone around the corner where the waves nearly toppled over the sides of the small craft. The three of us had to make sure to stay centered in the middle of the boat, otherwise the driver had a much more difficult time steering.
We went about a mile off shore to what seemed like no where. Floating in the waves I could see a string of old coke bottles tied together and anchored to the bottom. They had marked this location and often came to it for fishing.
The air compressor sounded more like a weak lawn mower and didn’t bolster much confidence to keep a man alive under that much water. Nevertheless the man popped the hose in his mouth and with a spear gun in his hand he went over the edge. That was the last time I saw him for about 1.5 hours.
I asked him how deep it was and between his thick accent and the joint rolled up in his mouth I could barely understand what he was saying. I could have swore he said it was 30 feet deep so I asked if he cared if I got in the water to swim down and take some pictures.
“You afraid of da wata? You afraid of da sharks?”
“Nope I’m good”, and away I went. Without a mask it was almost impossible to tell how deep it really was, but after a few failed attempts to reach the bottom I knew it was well over 50 feet deep. I kept trying however to no avail.
I climbed back inside the boat and waited to see what catch the other man would bring up. Eventually we heard a shout behind us and we could see him waving his arms. Throwing the sack of fish over the side I quickly asked if I could go. Their response let me know they never expected me to actually get in the water, let alone put that hose in my mouth and try and reach the bottom.
Reluctantly they motioned for me to get into the water. They showed me how to wrap the hose around my chest so it wouldn’t fall off and handed me the mask. They explained everything so fast it was hard to take it all in. All I could think about was the rickety compressor I was about to entrust my life to. Once everything was in place I started my decent.
I had been scuba diving many times before that but this was way different. The flow of air was constant instead of regulated so you needed to time your breathing right. It also became harder to breathe the deeper you went which made breathing more of a sucking-air-in kind of experience. On top of all that, I didn’t have enough weight to hold me down very well and I had a GoPro trying to catch it all.
My handicapped state made it pretty disconcerting to be as deep as I was but it was an experience unlike any other. The water was crystal clear and there was coral everywhere and fish bobbing around. I could tell why they liked this spot. To think that these men do this for a job blew my mind.
“Do you ever get tired of this work?” I asked after we started to head back. They laughingly they answered, “Neva mon… Neva”.