Popeye - Man of 12000 DivesHailing from Southwest Ontario and the south tip of Lake Huron, Popeye and his wife Grace came down from Canada to visit Saba for a second time after ten years away. We heard he was diving with SeaSaba so we tracked him down on Friday as hugs were taking place and he said his farewells to the crew. First of all I have to tell everyone, Popeye has more dives under his belt than 99% of the divers in the world which gives you “like celebrity” status down here – 12,538 dives to be exact!

Are you sitting down? Popeye made his 12,538th dive the other day with SeaSaba. Yes, you read that correctly. And, I can’t believe I forgot to ask if he likes spinach. With that many dives, I’m guessing this man eats right and exercises regularly.

We jumped on the opportunity to talk with Popeye for a number of reasons:

  • What brings you back to Saba after 10 years – has it changed?
  • How in the world does someone get over 12000 dives? I want your job!
  • Grace doesn’t dive so how in the world have you gotten her to stay with you since 1965?
  • And, lastly what’s next on the diving schedule? Where haven’t you dived? And, good god, did you say, 12,538 dives – I can’t get over it?

What Brings You Back After 10 Years?
They fell in love with Saba ten years ago and have wanted to come back many time before. They love the island and it holds a special place in their hearts. They came back this time praying that it had stayed as they remember it – and I’m pleased to report it has. Popeye described the Pinnacles, abundant marine life and unspoiled UW beauty as just a few reasons for having to return again. Like us, Popeye and Grace like the easy pace, unspoiled natural beauty, friendly locals, and the sense of security – “it’s so safe and friendly feeling here”. OK, he did chuckle and remark “they have a few more cars now than they did 10 years ago” – but folks still stop to ask if you want a ride up the hill!!

12000 Dives! How In The World?
Inspired by Jacques Cousteau from an early age, he and some buddies in SW Ontario formed a diving club. Popeye’s first dive was in 1958 if you can imagine it. At that time, he reminds us, there were no BCs – they used milk jugs to control their buoyancy back then. But, it wasn’t until 1971 that he earned his Open Water certification. Truly, he has water in his veins – he told us much of his time underwater was spent on commercial dives. Diving and getting paid? I think we’re on to something here ladies and gentlemen. I’ve got do some more research – but that’s for later.

But … Grace Doesn’t Dive?
How do you get your wife to go on a live-aboard and then a week on Saba when “she only dives a little”? Well, Grace is an avid snorkeler. She doesn’t mind the snorkeling off the boats because the water is so clear, and the visibility so good, that she tells us it’s a close second to being down below. On Saba, it’s the hiking she came back for. Grace says the trails, the views, it’s just spectacular. And, like Heather, she enjoys the cooler temps and gorgeous views (check out our pictures!) – but it’s the safety of being able to hike all the trails across the island by her herself!! They visited a number of islands: Statia, St. Kitts and others but none have the quality of diving and the small town “neighborly” feeling like Saba. The one dive site I remember Popeye mentioning outside of Saba was Barracuda Reef on Statia. But, he said you can’t compare it to Saba.

We talked at length about Saba’s Pinnacles, Diamond Rock and of course Shark Shoals. Popeye told us about a manta ray they encountered at Shark Shoals that stuck around for quite a while and swam with them. I don’t think Grace saw the ray but she did spend some time snorkeling off the boat to keep an eye on him.

What’s Next?
Popeye and Grace tell me they have friends in Turks and Caicos who own a shop so watch out for him if you’re diving. He just might be the only diver who is wearing his Tilley hat underwater while diving. That’s right, he wears the Tilley underwater while diving – it’s the new style! I must confess – we love our Tilley hats too so we swapped stories on those for a bit when we met up. As soon as Popeye saw Heather, in fact, he said “hey, is that a Tilley?” But, back to what’s next, there was also some hinting about potentially visiting a cousin in Christchurch, New Zealand. But, we couldn’t pin him down. We made him swear on a stack of fish identification books that he and Grace would return soon cause “there’s no place like Saba”.

While Popeye said his farewells to Lynn, Dick, Bruno and the gang of SeaSaba, Heather took the picture you see above. Ahoy – that’s all for now – I’ve got to call Lynn and do some diving or I’ll never catch up with Popeye.

Popeye & Grace – come back to Saba and visit us soon!! We miss you already!