Jumping in at the deep end

  • Candy Ray enjoying the waters off Spanish Point (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Candy Ray enjoying the waters off Spanish Point (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Candy Ray trying out jet skiing (Photograph supplied)
  • Candy Ray, left, dancing on a cruise (Photograph supplied)
  • Candy Ray: a keen writer and diver
  • Candy Ray trying out Dolphin Quest (Photograph supplied)

Candy Ray’s plan: to stop learning when she’s dead.

The 72-year-old has never been afraid to try new things.

Cliff jumping, however, made her hesitate.

“I worried for two weeks ahead of time,” she said of her first experience last month. “I thought I might be paralysed. I thought I might not come back alive.”

Once at Admiralty House, however, she plunged into the water while her friends looked on.

She confessed it wasn’t excitement that made her go for it.

“I was wearing a wet suit and was starting to overheat,” she said. “It was now or never.”

Having done it, she’d happily go again.

She’s been passionate about the ocean since she was a child in Cleveland, Ohio. She dreamt of learning to scuba dive after watching episodes of Flipper.

A lack of funds prevented her from taking lessons until she was 38. By that time she was married and living in Bermuda.

She followed her husband, Gene Ray, around for five years before he got sick of having her as a shadow.

“One day he said, ‘For God’s sake!’ I thought, ‘Fine’.”

She didn’t get the reaction she’d hoped for from some of her family back in the United States.

“Some people thought it was ridiculous,” she said. “Some people said, ‘Why would you want to do such a thing?’ I didn’t care.”

The irony is that she’s really not a daredevil.

“In fact, I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to diving,” she said.

“I don’t take chances. If I go into a cave I want to make sure there is light at the end of the cave.

“A lot of people wouldn’t dive with me because I am like that.”

She trained with the Bermuda Sub Aqua Club. In those early days she had to make a 20ft dive on a single breath, to collect sand from the seabed.

“This was the hardest thing,” she said. “I had to do it three times. I really pushed myself on the third attempt.

“I don’t know how I didn’t pass out. But nobody was going to take this opportunity from me.

“It was at the wreck of the Marie Celeste. In those days you could take shells. There was this beautiful cowrie shell just sitting there on the reef, as though waiting for me.

“I found one or two others afterwards, but none of them looked as pretty as that one.

“Of course I don’t take shells anymore because the laws have all changed.”

In her younger days she went diving every week, sometimes twice in a weekend. Nowadays she has arthritis, and only dives a few times a year.

“I love the feeling of weightless and freedom,” she said.

“One of the best dives I did was with a dive buddy in 110ft of water. We were at an aggregation site, where groupers come in to mate at a particular time. The fish are big, and hundreds surround you. They are not afraid unless you try to approach them.”

She recalls it as a spiritual experience.

“How can you not believe in God when you see things like that?” she said. “Now I am very picky about when I dive. It has to be a warm day and the ocean has to be warm.”

Her last was during the Groundswell Lionfish Tournament on July 22.

“I’ve done it three years in a row,” she said. “I almost had a lionfish last year.”

It got away at the last moment, but she’s pretty confident she did some damage to the ocean pest.

Mrs Ray gave talks at the Aquarium inside the North Rock tank for 13 years until the special mask she used broke in 2008.

“They might start again this April,” she said. “Although I might do it from the dry side as a docent, because of my arthritis.”

She worked as a journalist for many years and today loves writing poetry.

In 2009, she won first place in a writing competition organised by government. Her winning poem, Red Flag on the Reef, was inspired by the ocean.

“That one I wrote while waiting for a poetry class to start at the Bermuda College,” she said. “But I’ve written poems underwater. I used to take an underwater slate with me.”

She recently qualified as a tourism ambassador and is looking forward to helping Bermuda’s visitors.

She also tries to go to the gym three times a week. “The emphasis is on tries,” she said.

Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or Have on hand the senior’s full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them