Seniors can safely learn to dive into the sport
Martinique dive operator Alex Dobat has seen skilled and swift ocean-going proof that seniors can continue to successfully and safely indulge in sub-surface Caribbean Sea exploration.
Dobat’s lengthy diving career saw him befriend Albert Falco, who among other things served as captain of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau’s vessel The Calypso, which called in Martinique. Experienced diver Falco served as something of a diving mentor to a young Dobat, with the two of them diving together numerous times.
And Dobat — who runs Martinique’s Natiyabel dive centre, the name of which translates as Nature is Beautiful in area Creole — recalls one dive when a then 80-year-old Falco suddenly spotted a distant sea turtle and then approached it with a burst of speed for a close-up look, despite carrying a cumbersome large camera.
Falco’s speed left Dobat asking himself, “How can a man who is 80 go so fast?
“I’m quite proud of saying he was not only a friend but a tutor,” Dobat continues of Falco. “He was quite active in preserving nature in Martinique.”
Falco died in his mid-80s in his native France in 2012, but is well remembered in Martinique, where a marine reserve is named after a man who praised diving in the island’s waters, saying at times it was difficult to view a specific fish as the hoped-for sighting would often be obstructed by an abundance of other fish.
Another former Calypso crew member and skilled diver who has shown appreciation for Martinique is still-living but elderly Michel Metery, also a native of France who now mostly lives on the tropical island and is often referred to as Mr. Wrecks on Martinique, thanks to his being a pioneering figure in local wreck diving.
Metery is in his 80s and continues to dive, although he now needs a hand carrying his equipment.
“The man is incredible,” Dobat says of the soft-spoken, unassuming Metery.
Cousteau also praised Martinique as a great diving locale, unsurprising Dobat says given its varied seabed and diverse marine life that ranges from small creatures like shrimp and mackeral to larger ones, such as barracudas, moray eels and sea turtles.
It also offers different types of coral. There are 17 dive centres on the island.
However, Dobat — who can effortlessly switch from French to English to Spanish to Caribbean Creole and whose company also offers snorkeling expeditions — believes that the island needs to better promote itself in North American diving circles, being better known in France for the sport than it is in this hemisphere.
The energetic Dobat — who also is a hiking guide, leading hardy sorts up a side of a local volcano — was teaching a 70-year-old neighbour to dive this past August and says there’s no reason people of such an age who are in good health shouldn’t take up diving, although seniors wanting to learn in Martinique must first undergo what he labels “medical procedures” before starting their course.
And Dobat adds that he doesn’t believe diving at 80 seems like a daunting prospect.
“If I’ll reach 80, I will dive,” he vows. “There are so many places to dive. I need to live another 100 years.”
More information can be found at natiyabel.com.
Getting there: Air Canada’s upcoming Toronto-Fort-de-France service begins on Dec. 16. It will be the first time the carrier will have provided an Ontario-Martinique link, with the route running through winter. Air Canada already has Montreal-Fort-de-France service.