And not a little baby shark at some aquarium, I’m talking about a wild, five-foot long nurse shark.
I knew there was a reason I loved scuba diving.
From August 8th to 15th, I traded the tall maple trees of New England for the balmy palm trees at Sea Base–a Boy Scout Camp located on Islamorada island in the Florida Keys–with Venture Crew 359.
Venture Crew is a co-ed program that is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America for youths ages 14 to 20, giving girls (such as me) opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise get, such as the chance to go scuba diving in the Florida Keys.
Within 24 hours of arriving at the camp, I was under about 30 feet of water. By the next day, I was under 50 feet of water, swimming quite literally with the fishies.
The thing to understand about scuba diving is the view you get of the wildlife is nothing like what you see when you walk in the woods. Aside from the obvious difference of being underwater, the biggest difference is that the fish aren’t afraid of you. In fact, they couldn’t care less about you.
As a result, they will swim right next to you. At any given moment on a reef, you could see hundreds of fish schooling all around you and dozens within a foot of you. It’s so stunningly different than squirrels that dart up a tree as soon as they notice you looking at them.
During a one-hour dive alone, I saw a shark, turtle, stingray, spotted eel, lion fish, puffer fish, a pair of reef squid and hundreds of other fish. Within that day, I saw two more sea turtles, huge moray eels and an elusive octopus. And if I tried to name all the fish I saw within the week, I would go over my word count by at least 1,000 words.
Long story short, the diving is incredible.
But then, so is the whole trip.
For a Venture Crew like ours, which has shifted to be mostly girls, we are still a novelty in the boy-scouting world. This was made abundantly clear as soon as we stepped foot off the bus.
For each girl that stepped off the bus, I swear to you, the jaws of the watching crowd of boys dropped a little bit lower. Our dive master received a $150 offer to switch crews. A scout from another crew approached one of our leaders asking, “how to I get into a crew like that?” And at one point, we were told a popular boating game where scouts holding the bumpers of the boat run into each other to knock each other off the boat was too rough to teach the girls.
Not long after that declaration my brother, who towers over me at six foot two, was knocking me into the water. And, despite my status as a “girl,” it was fun.
But so was everything about that trip.
I will always remember the feel of the sand covering my legs during the intense games of volleyball we played until the lights illuminating the court were turned off. I will always remember the withering heat of abandoned islands during the day. I will always remember the shimmer of the barracuda that guarded a wrecked brick barge. I will always remember the joy of an impromptu trip to a local beach. I will always remember the smooth feeling of an alligator’s scales.
And, most of all, I will always remember the people and the laughs.
Sea Base will be my last Venture Crew trip as a scout. I have officially hit the age limit. And at times it was hard knowing that as almost all of my fondest memories, all the stories I tell, and all my accomplishments I am proudest of have their roots in scouting.
And I hope that someone will read this and consider the possibility that maybe scouting isn’t actually the most uncool activity out there and maybe even want to sign up for Venture Crew (which is by the way looking for new people and planning an equally impressive trip for next year).
But if I have to go out, Sea Base is definitely the way to do it.
If you want a longer list of opportunities Venture Crew offers, to see some pictures or have ideas for my next column you can reach me on Twitter @KatieLandeck.