01/11/2011 09:29 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Caribbean castaway's New Year's adventure

When we finally reached the island - when it became clear we were going to be castaways on land, rather than adrift in the dark on the Caribbean for the night - I stopped thinking about movie references.

Well, not really. As our crippled diveboat limped its way into port on Blackbird Caye off the coast of Belize at sunset, I cracked to my fellow passengers, "This could be the start of a bad horror movie. The endangered boat finally reaches shore - only to discover that all the inhabitants are vampires. Or, since this is the Caribbean, those voodoo-kind of zombies. That's it - 'Zombie Caye.'"

Thus began my 2011: semi-shipwrecked on a Caribbean Island. It was not quite the dive trip any of us expected.

Least of all me. I'd taken my family to Belize for the Christmas break and had waited all week to see whether my older son, who came down with a sinus infection almost as soon as we landed, would be able to dive. (He couldn't.) By the time I booked my trip to the Blue Hole for Friday, Dec. 31, most of the day's Blue Hole trips were already full. But I finally found a place on a boat leaving at 6 a.m.: "Be here at 5:30," I was instructed.

I'd almost bailed on the idea a couple of times. While I was certified for open-water scuba diving in 1998 and had been diving ever since (usually on annual trips to various Caribbean vacation spots), I hadn't been down since 2006. When my wife and I took a long weekend in Jamaica in November, I went through a refresher course and signed on for a scuba trip. But when I went out for my dives, I had problems with my mask; it leaked badly and I couldn't seem to clear it of water. Within a few minutes of going down, I was back on the surface.

I had panicked, to put it simply. By the time I got to the top, I was breathless and breathing hard. My mask problems - and then my inability to breathe slow and easy, the key to scuba - had freaked me out. I was shaken enough that I didn't dive again the rest of the weekend.

And, though friends had raved about Belize (home of the second-largest coral reef in the world, after the Great Barrier off Australia) as one of the great scuba destinations in the Caribbean, in the back of my mind I toyed with the idea of just doing some snorkeling and skipping the dives.

But when I mentioned that to my son, on the boat out to a snorkeling spot, he said, "You've got to do it. How do you know if you'll ever be here again? What if you never get a chance to dive the Blue Hole?"

So I did decide to sign up for the Blue Hole trip. Then, when it looked like I might not find a spot on a dive boat, the decision was nearly taken out of my hands. But I got a spot.

When I showed up at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 31, however, the wind was so strong coming off the ocean that the crew members were shaking their collective heads, saying it didn't look good. But the owner of the dive shop turned up and suddenly the word from the crew was, "We're going anyway."

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