At the end of a most delightful diving holiday on Guanaja, my wife and I became involved in one of the worst examples of “dive planning” we have ever come across, in which we played the part of rescuers to a hapless trio of poorly prepared and inadequately trained divers. We were diving with Bo Bush and had just surfaced after a deep wall dive called Bayman Drop. We were at a fixed mooring about one kilometre off Soldado Beach on the north shore, not far from the canal to the airport; as the three of us climbed back on board Bo’s dive boat we heard cries of distress. A couple of hundred metres away we could see an inflated red safety “sausage” and a swimmer with a raised hand, the universal divers’ signal for “Help!” We quickly stowed our gear, fired up the engine, dropped the mooring and raced over to the swimmer. As we closed in, we could see it was someone in a wetsuit, possibly another diver in need of assistance. It was “Captain” Brian Rowland. We then made out another safety sausage and a red gas tank further away with two other divers in the water. We hauled “Captain” Brian on board and headed over to the other two fellows, brothers from South Carolina and Georgia and staying at the “Guanaja Island Club”; one could swim but the other was a non-swimmer. As we approached them we could make out the shape of a small submerged boat sitting on the coral reef in about 3 metres of water.
Over the next 30 minutes we managed to get everything from the water and on board Bo’s dive boat, including the three divers and all of their gear (tanks, weights, fins, masks, snorkels, plus), lines and the anchor, the motor and gas tank from the swamped boat, and even someone’s camera seen floating away. “Captain” Brian does not have a dive boat; he had rented this small dinghy (less than 4 metres long) to take two guests on a spear fishing expedition. One of his guests had some diving experience, the other brother (the non-swimmer) admitted to having very little.
We have been diving on the Meso-American Barrier Reef in Cuba, Cozumel, Roatan, Utila, Little Corn Island and Guanaja over the last 10 years and, like most diving visitors, respect the notion that for conservation you do not touch anything; you do not touch coral, you do not remove species from the water, you observe – that’s it. Many jurisdictions have established protected Marine Parks, but that doesn’t alter the basic premise; take only photos. In all of our Caribbean diving we have never seen ‘divers’ like “Captain” Brian with gloves, a dive knife, a spear gun and two groupers (one still impaled on the spear, and in its death throes). Yes, we hauled them into our rescue boat too!
This “resort owner” had taken two inexperienced Americans about 1 km from the beach in an offshore wind and choppy seas, and anchored a tiny rented boat they were supposed to be diving from to the coral reef. While they were spear fishing, the dinghy was swamped by a couple of waves and sank to the bottom. There was no built-in buoyancy, no life jackets, no bailer; the guys had to use their BCs for flotation and try to hold on to the anchor line jammed into the reef to prevent them from being washed out to sea. After we had them all on board with all their gear, Bo rigged a line to their submerged boat and carefully manoeuvred his craft to allow him to accelerate and pull the sunken vessel to the surface. By the time we had returned the three souls to the Guanaja Island Club, their boat needed little more than some bailing to keep it afloat.
“Captain” Brian should never have attempted to go diving from such a small boat in the ocean. He should never have taken inexperienced divers so far from shore without suitable equipment. He should not advertise on the Internet that he is a capable dive master. If we had not been diving relatively nearby, and he hadn’t managed to get close enough to be heard by us, the three of them would have been pushed offshore by the strengthening southeasterly winds and the next landfall would have been the Mexican coast about 350 km away!
It was a sickening incident to have witnessed and its stupidity still haunts us. If you value your own life – do not dive with the man who runs the Guanaja Island Club; “Captain” Brian Rowland is not worth the risk.