Take Your Passion Cruising

Gwen took her SCUBA passion cruising

gwen and whisperActually, it was the other way around: It was my passion that took me cruising.

I became an avid scuba diver while living in New York City.

I know it sounds odd, but not only is there some excellent (and very historical) diving in the New York metro area, but the city probably has the world’s best access OUT by air to great diving destinations.

I learned to dive in the first place because my sister and brother-in-law had invited me to join them and my nephew on a bareboat charter to the Virgin Islands. Since they were all divers, I assumed that meant they would be diving, and I didn’t want to be left out.

Ironically, although we did fit in a rendezvous dive on that trip, the main message I got was that many people think diving and sailing don’t mix. Something about scuba tanks and fiberglass decks, the awkwardness of getting into and out of the water, the lack of storage space, maybe even the amount of time scuba takes out of a vacation day, etc.

Still I got hooked, and began working for a dive shop part time,

Gwen teaching diving: Teaching in stand-up pool conditions, the best part! … took group dive trips whenever and wherever they were offered, and began my climb up the professional hierarchy assisting in city pools in the evenings and schlepping a couple dozen sets of wet scuba gear around the city. I loved the teaching. I loved making this adventurous endeavor happen for people, especially for the timid ones. It had changed my life, I loved being part of it changing theirs!

Like many people, I was, at that time, following a course of least resistance in my life.

I was supposed to be writing full time, but inspiration for my next book project wasn’t coming. The dive shop was fun and time consuming (I worked all day most every day!), and assisting dive classes, even in pools, was rewarding. But it simply hadn’t occurred to me to make any big changes.

Then my mother got terminally ill.

One of the things she said to me near the end that stuck hard was,

“Why don’t you just do it!”

“Do what?”

“Go to the Caribbean to live. Do your scuba diving. It’s all you talk about!”

Now this was coming from a woman who had long professed the expectation that I should settle down, marry (a lawyer or an accountant) so I would be ‘taken care of,’ and produce 2.5 children, preferably after joining the Junior League.

It was a release, and it was a tremendous gift.

And more or less, that’s exactly what I did.

I moved to the Virgin Islands with a new instructor’s certification and started working on a live-aboard dive ship.

On the ship I dove 3-5 times daily, taught 1-5 students most weeks, and learned a lot of what I know about how things should be done onboard ship from a terrific captain. And I got my captain’s license.

With the captain’s license joining my instructor ticket in my toolbox, I was armed to make the next huge leap in my life:

Teaching the "giant stride entry" on charter for SAIL Magazine. (Photo: SAIL Magazine) … the purchase of the CSY 44 Whisper in order to operate my own dive/sail charter business.

While charter isn’t exactly cruising, it isn’t not cruising either.

You are moving around every day, anchoring multiple times a day, and responsible not only for your charter guests’ safety, but for their vacation good time.

You get to know a given area extremely well (above the surface and below).

And for this, you get paid! You are paid to be doing what you wanted to do anyway!

I loved my ten years sailing and diving the Virgin Islands.

Gwen Hamlin: Guiding guests on the RMS Rhones was a weekly dive. I always sought to find new places every week and explore new reefs, but returning to the same locations, the same anchorages, the same dive sites over and over actually gave them a whole new dimension.

You don’t just visit; you belong. You see how they evolve over seasons and years!

There’s a certain irony in the fact that I ended up taking my passion for scuba diving and teaching scuba back to a sail boat, when the first message I got about the pairing was that they were incompatible.

Gwen Hamlin: Loading and unloading gear from our center cockpit quarter proved the most stable system. Tanks storage was on the aft deck. Much of the success had to do with choosing the right boat for what I wanted to do and carefully thinking through the setup.

I don’t think I would have had the patience to make do with a setup that was difficult on a daily basis, where it is a struggle to get the gear unpacked, to fill tanks, to get in the water, etc.

But when you have the right platform (and remember, it doesn’t HAVE to be a catamaran), diving from a cruising boat means you can dive ANYWHERE in the world!

When Don and I left the Virgins to go cruising full time aboard Tackless II (a sister to Whisper, and as well set up for diving), I did truly see the world ahead as one long sequence of scuba dives.

Diving in Bora Bora with friends from sv Waking Dream  (Photo credit: Ben Newton)Looking back, I realize that in the ten years between the Virgin Islands and Australia I have been fortunate enough to dive in dozens of countries, eco-systems, islands and reefs, warm water and cold.

It never got old.

I have been incredibly fortunate that such a dream came true!

Gwen Hamlin aboard About Gwen Hamlin

Gwen Hamlin, one of the hosts of Women & Cruising, writes the Admiral’s Angle column for Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine and maintains a web site of their travels at www.thetwocaptains.com.

A former charter captain and dive instructor in the Virgin Islands, Gwen and her husband Don Wilson have spent the last 10 years aboard their CSY 44 sailboat Tackless II slowly cruising the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific. Gwen & Don are currently taking a break from cruising to spend time with family in Florida.

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What’s your passion? Have you taken it cruising?

Let us know. Email kathy@forcruisers.com or leave a comment below.

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2 comments to Gwen took her SCUBA passion cruising

  • Maria

    Hi. Your whole journey was inspirational and will inspire many others. I will also be getting my first certification soon. I have also collected some good articles to inspire newbies. You mat want look at them.
    Here: Scuba Diving Beginners

  • Gwen, your story is so moving! So many of us move through life doing what we think we have to do and not what we want to do. Kudos for your mother for encouraging you in her final days and you for making the bold move! See you on the reef some day!


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