In stark contrast to our last blog update, me and Katie have come out of hibernation and have heaps to report. We’ve been scuba diving in Key Largo, skydiving in Punta Gorda and even had a bash at hang gliding.
We’re still getting plenty of time to relax as we have to lock ourselves away indoors by 4pm every day when the afternoon storms roll in. We’re talking storms of biblical proportions here – the thunder makes the furniture vibrate while the lightning bounces around the park, causing the whole house to light up inside. It’s like having bombs dropped right outside your front door.
However by morning it’s 40 degrees again with barely a cloud in the sky. This is our opportunity to get out and have some fun – and what a blast we’ve had.
Scuba diving in Key Largo was awesome. Our first trip was to the warm crystal clear waters at Molasses Reef, one of the best dive sites in America. Within minutes we were swimming with enormous sting rays, sharks and turtles.
It was an unguided dive, something Katie and I haven’t done for a long time. Katie was too busy concentrating on not puking to listen to the on board dive briefing, so it was left to me to memorise the map and navigate ourselves around the reef and back to the boat.
I was doing really well until Katie swam off frantically after a turtle. The buddy system dictates that we stick together so being a loyal buddy, I followed Katie following the turtle, which did several loops around the reef leaving us both completely disoriented. Or in other words, lost.
We eventually found our way back to the boat and made our way to the second dive site. Katie promised not to chase after the sea-life on this dive and stick to the plan.
The misguiding turtle:
The second dive was going well until I felt my regulator being ripped from my mouth. My air tank had fallen through the harness on my back, dragging me down to the sea bed as I frantically fought with the bottom of my tank to keep it close to my body.
A great example of why the buddy system is so important, so you have assistance on hand for emergencies like these. Hang on, where is my buddy? Oh there she is - swimming off at speed after a bloody shark!!!!!
I’m desperately banging on my tank with my fist and mumbling through my regulator trying to get her attention, as she disappears off into the big blue. Nice one love!
After a couple of minutes Katie eventually remembered that she had a buddy and looked back to see me contorted on the sea bed trying to keep my equipment together. After a bit of underwater re-assembly, we had my kit fixed. I must be jinxed as the same thing happened about 20 minutes later though thankfully Katie was by my side this time. Trust me to get the crap dive gear (not to mention the crap dive buddy).
We went on several more dive trips and came across some really weird and wonderful stuff on every dive. I thought I’d met my maker on our dive to Dry Rocks reef, when Jesus Christ suddenly appeared in front of me. No I’m not crazy – he really did!!
It seems it wasn’t an epiphany but a bronze statue which has been on the sea bed for decades. It’s quite an eerie sight to see him stood there within the coral garden looking up towards the surface.
Cracking coral gardens:
After my equipment malfunctions and brief encounter with Jesus, we thought we’d leave the water for a while and take to the skies. We found a small but friendly drop zone in Punta Gorda and booked ourselves in for some skydive refresher training. We’d not jumped since I fractured my spine skydiving last year so were more than happy to go over our emergency procedures before jumping again.
Before we would be allowed to jump solo, the drop zone required us to complete our first jump with a coach. Me, Katie and our coaches boarded the tiniest plane I’ve ever seen - a 4 seater Cessna which you exit by hanging off the wing. This was going to be interesting!
At 13,000 feet, the door opened and Katie and her coach climbed out. They both disappeared into the clouds beneath us, quickly followed by me and my coach.
We’d both forgotten just how much fun it is to jump from a perfectly good airplane and plummet to earth at 140mph. There really is nothing else like it.
Katie hanging off the wing.....
And falling to earth at 140mph!
Me at Terminal Velocity:
As I approached 6,000 feet, I tracked away from my coach and pulled my parachute. My parachute opened within a few seconds and looked perfect – always a relief! Sadly my relief was short lived.
I reached up to release my steering toggles only to discover that one of them was completely stuck. After a minute or so of trying to release the toggle, it eventually pulled free. I breathed a sigh of relief, before realising the bloody thing now couldn’t move up or down. The result? Me and my canopy spinning out of control.
It wasn’t long before I was below 3000 feet – decision time. Unable to fix the problem I only had one choice.
I located my cutaway handle, took a deep breath and did exactly what I’d practiced on the ground that very morning – I cut myself away from my parachute. Before I knew it I was back in free fall as my main chute flew away. I now had around 15 seconds to pull and open my reserve chute before I hit the ground. No pressure!
My reserve opened cleanly within a few seconds…. And I could breathe again! After I landed the drop zone Manager ran over to check I was OK before sending a team out to locate the main parachute. It was found hanging in a tree a few miles away. I felt bad for their inconvenience but was quickly reassured that the drop zone prefer to recover parachutes than dead bodies. Fair point.
Adrenaline coursed through my veins for the rest of the day.
Of course Katie was her usual sympathetic self, announcing every ten minutes “Wow babe you nearly died today!”, insisting on watching the skydiving film ‘Cutaway’ that night and sending me a link to a website giving advice to skydivers in the event of a complete parachute malfunction (apparently if you have a strong aversion to paralysis through spinal injury, it’s recommended you dive head first to ensure complete destruction of your cranium and therefore death). Thanks Katie, you’re my rock!
Only about 1 in every 1000 jumps ends in a cutaway, so I’d just been really unlucky. I figured I was good for another 999 jumps so we returned to the drop zone a few days later so I could get back on the proverbial horse.
With a new found confidence in my equipment and training, we took to the skies once again and made our first jump of the day. I had loads of fun in freefall, pulled my parachute and looked up desperate to see a perfect canopy above my head.
Me having a blast in Freefall:
Sadly I was confronted with what can only be described as a mangled bag of washing. You had to be kidding me!??!!!! To add insult to injury I was only connected to it from one shoulder – it was already half cut away.
It’s all a bit of a blur from that point on but I do remember shouting “Oh F*** Off!” at my parachute (that’ll teach it!) before cutting it away for the second consecutive time.
Seriously – what are the chances? I’ll tell you the bloody chances – 1 in a million (Katie’s been enlightening me on cumulative probabilities, lucky me). So I’m officially one in a million, but you all knew that anyway.
The staff at the drop zone tell me I’m the unluckiest skydiver they’ve met, but I tend to disagree given that I walked away from both jumps alive.
I made it back to the drop zone safely, for the second time. The staff offered me the chance to jump immediately afterwards using a different canopy. Before I had chance to talk myself out of it, I got geared up and boarded the plane. Third time lucky, right?
My exit, freefall, opening and landing were absolutely spot on – at last!!!!!!!
I looked around for Katie to give her a big thumbs up, just in time to see her drop behind the treeline into a field of cows haha!!!! She was eaten alive by fire ants before the staff ran to her aid with a step ladder and helped her over the barbed wire fence, much to everyone’s amusement. Of course I offered her the same sympathetic ear she offered me after my cutaways :-)
We were the least experienced jumpers at the drop zone but everyone was really welcoming. I was a little taken aback when one of the more experienced skydivers came up to me and said “Hey man, fancy a 3 way with your girlfriend?”. After realising he was referring to a group skydive, me and Katie agreed formation skydiving would be a laugh. We had some coaching in formation jumping and learned some new skills as well as having a great time.
Not content with almost killing myself twice skydiving, I figured I could try a bit harder so signed us up for hang gliding lessons. The thought of us running off the side of a hill beneath a glider was hilarious – remember that episode of Only Fools and Horses??!!
Thankfully there are no mountains in Florida so no running was required. The gliders are towed up by planes and released several thousand feet in the air.
After donning a bicycle helmet and goofy goggles, we were strapped into what is basically a sleeping bag hanging from a huge kite with an instructor attached beneath us. After being attached to the plane by 200 feet of cable, the plane took off and so did we.
After a few minutes the cable disconnected and we were at the mercy of the wind.
Controlling a glider is so easy – pull the bar left or right to turn, push the bar forward to soar upwards or pull it towards you to nose dive. With just a few small moves, you’ve got yourself a roller coaster in the sky.
Here’s a short video of our time in the Florida skies……….
We were initially sceptical about coming to Florida and couldn’t help feeling it was a bit of a cop out, but we both agree it’s been a great way to end our trip. Everything here is just so easy.
Staying in one place for 6 weeks has also given us the chance to get prepared for travelling home, or as prepared as we possibly can. We’re looking for jobs, making plans to see family and getting our finances in order. All the boring grown-up stuff we’ve not had to worry about for the past 12 months.
Tomorrow we fly back to London, which is a bitter-sweet pill to swallow. We’ll update the blog one last time when we get home to Cardiff, but right now we’re off to enjoy our very last day doing what we do best – getting absolutely rat arsed.
See you all very soon folks……