A Dive for the Ages
The Pacific’s youngest and oldest divers share an adventure at Wakatobi Dive Resort
Underwater, there is no generation gap. Or so it seemed when a buddy team with an 86-year age difference shared a dive in the waters of the Banda Sea.
At age 92, Dr. Herb McCoy presents an ideal picture of graceful aging. Back home in La Jolla, California, he jogs a mile or more on the beach each day, then hops in the pool or ocean for a one-mile swim. And he’s a scuba diver. Herb picked up the sport at the age of 40 inspired by his wife who is a certified divemaster, and for the next five decades logged hundreds of dives all over the world. After retiring from his medical practice in the mid 1980s, he signed on as a ship’s doctor for adventure cruises and diving expeditions to areas as diverse as the frozen coast of Antarctica and the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
Of all the underwater environments he’s visited around the world, one of Herb’s favorites remains the Sulawesi region of Indonesia, and more specifically, Wakatobi Resort. He favors this region for its unmatched diversity of marine life, and for the healthy condition of the reefs made possible by the resort’s proactive conservation initiatives.
In the spring of 2013, Herb made his third visit to Wakatobi along with his wife, Lanie and some friends. Though he’d made the decision to hang up his scuba gear in 2011, he returned to this diving mecca for the magnificent snorkeling opportunities found on Wakatobi’s shallow reefs and grass beds.
Within a stone’s throw of the resort’s beachfront bungalows, the reef drops from expansive shallow grass beds to unseen depths. This is the Wakatobi House Reef made famous by numerous articles and blog posts, and it provides divers and snorkelers with hours of exploration in benign, convenient conditions.
Herb’s plan’s changed when he met Max Maeder, age six. Max got introduced to snorkeling and swimming on the reefs and sea grass beds off Wakatobi’s beach, and at age six was already quite comfortable using an octopus regulator to follow mom and dad through the shallows. Now, he was preparing for his first true self-contained scuba dive”under the watchful eye of his father and a resort divemaster, of course.
When Herb learned of young Max’s ambitions, he decided this was reason enough to don a tank once more. “I’d stopped diving [at age 90] because I felt I was using too much air and my vision wasn’t as good as it used to be,” he says. “But when I heard that Max was about to do his first dive, I changed my mind. I guess you could say I came out of retirement.”
Accompanying Herb and Max was Wakatobi Dive Experience Manager Komang Adi. A native of Bali, Komang was drawn to Wakatobi after becoming a diver himself, and now provides private and small-group guide services for resort guests and divers aboard the luxury liveaboard yacht Pelagian.
For Herb’s return to the sport Komang took the pair to the edge of the House Reef near the jetty, where it drops off into the depths. Here, the coral-encrusted shelf plummets from a crest that begins as shallow as two meters to depths beyond 100 meters. Exploiting the shallow profile of the reef crest proved ideal for Max to experience a complete ecosystem and rich fish life at the resort’s doorstep, while at the same time providing a great reintroduction for Herb.
“The experience was obviously memorable for Herb and Max, but it was very special for me as well,” says Komang. “It was also a privilege to dive with Herb. I hope I can keep diving when I am his age!”
“It’s like riding a bike, you don’t forget,” Herb says of his return to diving. “And it was amazing to see how comfortable Max was in the water. It certainly didn’t look like it was his first dive, and it was a real kick to think that we were probably the oldest and the youngest divers in the Pacific in the water at the same time.”
The dive not only rekindled Herb’s enthusiasm for diving, but also reminded him of why he keeps coming back to Wakatobi. “The dive sites are in excellent condition,” he says. “There are too many places in this part of the world where you’ll find trash on the reefs and beaches. Wakatobi has done a great job of partnering with and educating the local people to protect the reefs and keep garbage out of the water.”
Herb says he also appreciates the resort’s emphasis on sustainable operation and social respectability. A portion of each dollar generated by resort operations is used to make payments to local villages in exchange for the cessation of destructive fishing practices. The resort also installs and maintains moorings on area reefs and harbors, and supplies water and electricity to a neighboring village.
“Another thing that sets Wakatobi apart is the professionalism and personal attention of the staff,” Herb says. ” The ambiance is wonderful, the food is superior and the bungalows are really comfortable,” he says. “I’ve been diving all over the world, and these reefs are some of the best.”
Diving with Max has renewed Herb’s enthusiasm for scuba diving. “I guess I never really quit,” Herb says. “I just took a break, then remembered how wonderful it was. I plan to keep diving, and I definitely hope to revisit Wakatobi again.”