Rowan’s Undersea Adventure Last week, 7News showed you the end of 15 year-old Rowan Garel’s third major adventure, when he dove the Blue Hole.
Rowan, the blind young man who has become the ambassador for sight, and for the BCVI, made a major accomplishment on Friday, and we were there to capture it on tape while Tony Rath captured the action beneath the sea’s surface.
Here’s the full report.
Daniel Ortiz reporting
At around 6:30 a.m., all of Rowan Garel’s supporters gathered at the Radisson Pier to see him off.
It was finally the big day after a 2 successive postponements due to weather. But the significance of the event didn’t seem to affect him much, as he socialized with his friends and supporters, just another Friday morning where, he would dive into history.
And when the boats arrived, those who would accompany him boarded, and it was then off on a 2 ½ hour ride out to the Blue Hole.
Once out there, Rowan looked more focused on the task at hand, taking last minute instructions from his dive instructor, John Searle.
Both he and the representative from the Belize Audubon Society made it a point to demystify the Blue Hole, which majority of the population has never seen in person.
John Searle - Dive Instructor, Sea Sports Belize
"For a lot of you this is the very first time that you are coming to the Blue Hole and you've probably heard a lot of stories about the Blue Hole and it might even sound a little scary. But I'm here to let you know that it's only a bigger swimming pool - you've done everything already in the swimming pool and in the open water dives that we've done during our training, so this is just a bigger swimming pool, alright?"
Celsio Sho - Park Ranger, Belize Audubon Society
"You guys are here at the Blue Hole, the young man here Mr. Rowan, I am glad he's going to do the dive. Show them buddy, how you can dive the Blue Hole, right? It's a sink hole that a lot of people come to dive and the Blue is 400 to 412 feet deep."
"The Blue Hole is kind of like a big funnel like this, and we're going to be diving down to the lip and just where it starts to go straight, we are not going to go any deeper than 60 feet today. If we're lucky we'll get to see sharks, sometimes quite a few of them, but there's no reason to be alarmed or worried about the sharks, there has been no shark attack or any shark incidents here in the Blue Hole. Are you excited?"
Rowan Garel - Diving the Blue Hole
"What's the second most important rule in scuba diving, buddy?"
"Alright, let's go have some fun guys."
And after that briefing, Rowan started assembling his own equipment with minimal help from his instructor. According to his father, it is important that Rowan be treated like any other diver on the trip."
Joe Garel - Father
"Rowan’s going to set up his own equipment just like anybody else, those are one of the things you learn to set up, hook up your regulator and BC to the tank and put everything properly, see that he does it on his own, nobody helping him, he went through this whole course on his own, so he is capable of doing that. So he will get in the water and he will be along with the dive master and just enjoy the dive."
"This is the Blue Hole and it's very great and famous and it's a real honor for me to dive here."
Due to Rowan’s blindness the dive posed additional difficulties, but through a stroke of good fortune the team was able to get access to a specialized piece of equipment for underwater audio, called the Casio Logosease Underwater Communication Device. He was also equipped with a specialized gauge for him to check his tank’s air levels.
"There are a couple of things that we have that are a little different than most divers, he's got a mechanical gauge that can measure how much pressure is in the tank - so he can monitor it, there is a needle that comes up and he can feel exactly where the meter goes up and he can feel where that is, how much pressure is left in the tank; so he can monitor his tank on his own. The other thing he has is an underwater walkie-talkie device and it was loan to us from the branch of Casio and it clips on to the edge, on the strap of the mask and he can communicate."
"I also have a little thing on my mask that you tap it and you can actually communicate, for example if John wants me to check my air, he'll tap his one and he'll tell me, check air."
"These units, I believe are something like $1,500 US each but as I mentioned, with help from Ms. Noreko from Japanese International Cooperation Agency, she communicated with the company in Japan and they loaned it to us so we have them loan, so it's very generous and we're very thankful that they helped us with this, it makes the job a lot easier."
"And if you guys hadn't had this audio equipment - how would you guys have conducted the dive?"
"We were communicating just with hand signals before and we still do communicate with hand signals but it makes it a little easier and sometimes even a little more fun if we're able to talk to each other."
When Rowan was ready, he jumped in and joined his dive party, and with footage captured by cameraman Tony Rath, we got to see how his underwater adventure looked.
Rowan’s dive of the Blue Hole is notable to the rest of the country, but for his family, adventures like these are normal because they want him to experience life to the fullest, despite his visual impairment."
"I grew up very adventurous, both my kids, since they were six months old, they've been on hikes with us up to Tikal, to all the ruins. I mean, not because he's blind we're going to have that keep us back so this is just something else, his sister is diving along with him as well, so we don't look at it as anything special, just another day."
Aesha Garel - Sister
"We grew up with snakes and everything before we ever had like a pet dog so we're kinda into wildlife and I've been teaching swimming for like 13 years now so the water is basically my second home and I've taught Rowan as well Climbing Victoria Peak, we always go hiking and so it's normal for us but very wild for other people, I think that's what people don't understand about our family."
Milago Garel - Mother
"He amazes us because he has a huge heart and lots of courage and I think that a lot of it has to do with growing up with Joe and Joe is a a very adventurous Father and he has encouraged Rowan to do everything that we have encouraged our older daughter to do."
"Well if he's doing it, then that pushes me to do it because I'm the big sister, I am supposed to be doing it first but since he does it first, it gives me extreme confidence and courage, that if he can do it, of course we can do it."
And when he completed his dive, we asked Rowan about what his experience was like.
"After the months of preparation and the anticipation, was it exactly as you imagined it would go?"
"It was almost as what I thought it would be, I mean, I'd expected that I would feel, sort of crowded because there is a lot of people down there but it wasn't like that at all."
Rowan was awarded with his PADI certification as en entry level open water diver. He had participated in 6 other dives already
"On behalf of PADI International and Sea Sports Belize, I am happy to present you with your certification cards. You guys worked hard for this whole program and I know we have to come up with some adaptive techniques, we had to do a lot of extra dives in the pool and in open water and throughout all, you guys were great students. To my newest dive buddy and the newest certified diver in the whole world, we have Rowan Garel."
"This Blue Hole dive, we were hoping to raise a hundred thousand dollars and we are at just about fifty thousand right now so we're still working even after the dive to try to promote what Rowan has done to make sure we can reach our goal."
It is important to note that Rowan’s sister, Aesha Garel, and their friend, Carla Musa also received their certification as entry level open water divers.