Deep ocean classroom
Lifestyle

Deep ocean classroom

Tristan Rutherford
30th January 2019

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Dive Butler’s 100 scuba professionals have taught ages from five to 85 aboard the world’s most luxurious yachts. Company founder Alexis Vincent believes we can all benefit by diving deep - preferably alongside a colourful school of damselfish. Vincent also shares his favourite scuba locations, from French Polynesia to Cuba’s pristine reefs.

 

Alexis Vincent is the founder of Dive Butler, a company of 100 leading scuba instructors who freelance aboard the world’s most prestigious yachts. However, his first underwater immersion was far from glamorous. His PADI course was taken inside a public swimming pool in Vancouver. The first item he saw was a band-aid.

Vincent’s inaugural open water experience was similarly frigid. The location was Lions Bay on Vancouver’s northern reaches. The sea temperature was 2°c. Visibility was 50cm. It was a far cry from Cancun. Still the experience of swimming with sea life, in this case sea lions and giant octopus, inspired him to dedicate his life to ocean exploration. Within a year he’d served as dive instructor in Costa Rica, Panama and the Philippines. In December 1998 a speedboat landed him at the Four Seasons Resort on Kuda Huraa in the Maldives. There were no sea lions here, only drift dives with giant pelagics, butterflyfish, oriental sweetlips and 1,000 other enchanting species.

“Fifteen years ago the first luxury yachts arrived in the Maldives,” remembers Vincent. These included the Lauren L, a 90m leviathan with an RYA watersports centre onboard. “The problem was that when owners or guests asked a five-star hotel to hire out a dive instructor, the hotel claimed it wasn’t in their remit to provide a private guide.” Vincent saw a gap in the market. By vetting, training and mentoring the Maldives’ best divemasters, he could hire out professionals for a day, a week or even longer to any passing yacht. Better still, each of his hand-picked scuba instructors possessed additional skills; underwater videography, say, or a marine biology qualification. Surely the Dive Butler concept could work anywhere from the atolls of the Indian Ocean to the frozen grace of Antarctica.

Fast forward a decade. Sacha Williams, Camper & Nicholsons Director of Charter Marketing, sits on a deserted beach in the Bahamas. Although Vincent now guides the industry’s most celebrated divers, he’s personally teaching Williams, a nervous novice. “Sacha was brave but many beginners make a Hollywood production of their fears,” recalls Vincent. “She and I put on our equipment on the beach. Then we held hands and stepped into the water, our toes still planted into the sand. There were no time limits or peer pressure. When Sacha was ready we stepped off into a floating otherworld, like two angels flying.”

Williams wanted more. Luckily she was anchored close to the James Bond wrecks, a ‘torpedoed’ ship and a fake ‘Vulcan bomber’ that were used as cinematic props in the 007 franchise. Schools of fusiliers and damselfish paraded past Williams like a hallucinatory dream. White tip reef sharks, completely harmless but a revelatory spot, swaggered under the sunken airplane. “There is nothing on earth like your first dive,” claims Vincent. “It’s like your first kiss. As a diving instructor, which also requires you to be an older sibling, friend, medic and psychologist, it’s a joy to see such magic.”

Once the watery connection has been made, there’s apparently no turning back. “Water covers seven-tenths of the earth,” says Vincent. “For nine months we all experienced similar levels of buoyancy and Ph levels in the womb. No wonder it feels so good to return.” His Dive Butlers now install themselves on countless yachts. They are mainly based onboard, although instructors sometimes operate from a shadow boat, a hired liveaboard or on a daytrip from the coast, location permitting. “Although it’s best if a chartered yacht has a PADI Centre,” says Vincent. “Because all our Dive Butlers are PADI certified trainers, they can include the name of the yacht on your dive training certificate. That’s a real badge of honour.”


Ten of our staff can shoot professional underwater video then edit the movie during the afternoon.

 

Camper & Nicholsons charter brokers have invited Vincent and his teams aboard a dozen luxury yachts. These include 73m Titania, an Espen Oeino design for Lürssen that prowls the Indian Ocean for scuba spots. Plus 63m Lady Britt, a Feadship fond of the Caribbean with twin Laser dinghies and Yachtwerft Meyer custom tenders. As Vincent explains: “We can act independently or in tandem with the boat’s dive crew, using our unique geographical knowledge to lead dives, import unique equipment or plan itineraries.” Vincent also notes that when you place an underwater camera between a diver and sea life it acts as a barrier. “Ten of our staff can shoot professional underwater video then edit the movie during the afternoon, so it’s better to let Dive Butler worry about filming on behalf of guests.”

Tempting filming locations include Jardines de la Reina, part of Cuba’s barely explored 5,500km-long coastline, which contains the planet’s third-longest barrier reef. And South Africa’s sardine run, where writhing balls of fish millions strong are spotted by ultra-light aircraft, before divers are directed to the cold water action. “Many of today’s guests want more than a week of relaxation,” explains Vincent. “They want adventure and memories. And the knowledge that they will be the first among their peers to see such a sight.”

Some of Dive Butler’s favourite dive experiences have been aboard 67m Vertigo. A former ‘Sailing Yacht of the Year’, her interiors were designed by Christian Liaigre, the Frenchman who styled the homes of Karl Lagerfeld and Calvin Klein. Better still, her vast decks and can be turned into a mobile dive platform. Vertigo is also capacious enough to host multi-generational groups, a compliment that Vincent adores. “We all live Instagram lives, but phones don’t work underwater. So when I escort an entire family I see bonds reform. Those connections stay true during the whole trip.” Age appears no barrier to entry. Children five and over can join in with PADI’s Supplied Air Snorkelling beginners program. Over eights can use a ‘bubblemaker’ that limits dives to 4m. Ages ten and above can take the full Open Water diving course. The oldest Dive Butler client was in their early eighties.

Such family tales make one feel envious of Vincent’s 12-year-old daughter. Last summer the pair dived their way through French Polynesia. The 118 islands, only half of which are inhabited, offer a kaleidoscopic circus of tuna, humphead wrasse and schools of jacks 10,000 strong. Their scariest dive was the La Vallée Blanche off Papeete, where several hundred sharks - hammerheads and tigers among them - circled like ghostly wraiths. Father and daughter are also freediving adherents, as are several specialist Dive Butler staff. “Without tanks or mouthpieces there’s a sense of utter freedom,” says Vincent. Although in warm water he still wears a Lycra shortie in place of his usual Scubapro wetsuit to guard against nicks, stings and jellyfish.

He’ll need a 30mm drysuit for his dream destination. “I work with ice diving experts but I have never visited Antarctica,” says Vincent. “Diving colleagues talk of crystal clear waters and penguins swimming past at 30km. Plus the otherworldly possibility of cave diving inside a ‘berg.” If guests consider sailing below the 60th parallel in the likes of 77m Legend, they know whom to call.

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