From Restaurant Manager to Divemaster: How A Sabbatical Can Change Your Life

I’ve done lots of sabbatical interviews, but rarely do I come across somebody who has had their life so dramatically changed by a sabbatical.

Jo was managing busy restaurants in Central London but decided to make a big change.

She used a sabbatical to think deeply about her future and decided to pursue her childhood passion of diving.

Shortly afterwards she left the restaurant business to get her divemaster training and has now spent eight years teaching people to dive across the world.

That is quite a course correction!

Without further ado, let’s find out exactly how a sabbatical can changed Jo’s life.


Tell us a bit about you

So I am a 37-year-old mermaid!

Having worked in the restaurant industry for years I took a sabbatical to work out what I wanted to do post 30 – was it open my own restaurant or something completely different.

Fast forward eight years and I am about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime with my own project with Buccaneer diving in Zanzibar.

I spent the eight years after my sabbatical living and working for the amazing Simple Life divers in Koh Tao. This is where I did my divemaster then instructor training and became part of the Diving family.

I am now taking everything I have learnt, and bringing it to Buccaneer Diving!


What was going on in your life that prompted you to take a sabbatical?

I was living and working oil London in restaurants, which I LOVED…

…however…

…the lifestyle and pace of things led to a bit of burnout and I was torn between sticking it out no matter how unhappy I was, or doing something completely different.

A sabbatical gave me the opportunity to reassess and re-evaluate what I wanted and has in-fact not only led to a completely new career but to me being than ever – it’s hard not to be when you live and work on a beautiful tropical island!

A grid of multiple images showing people diving

How long did you originally take for your sabbatical?

Originally I planned on around 6 months. I started out in Kenya, where my mother lives and I did a lovely safari at a place called Lions Bluff Lodge (highly recommend) before heading to the coast for some time out on the beach!

After a month I headed to Thailand, spending a few days in Bangkok, then up to Chiang Mai and Pai to travel around a bit. Eventually, I ended up on Koh Tao where I planned 2-3 months (or so I thought) of diver training.

READ NEXT: The 10 Best Things We Experienced In Thailand


What line of work were you in when you decided to take a sabbatical?

I was working in the restaurant industry.

Ever since I was little I was obsessed with cooking and making up recipes (not always a success). I worked out that what I really wanted to do was run a restaurant so that’s what I did, starting out at as an assistant manager in a busy, 200 seater restaurant in Covent Garden. Over 7 years I worked my way up to become the General Manager at both their restaurants, running a team of around 35.

READ NEXT: Taking a One Month Cooking Sabbatical


What made you decide to learn to dive?

I started diving with my Dad when I was 11 years old, he loved it and it was something special we could do together. We went out a few times and I loved how magical everything was underwater.

I dived a lot again when I was 18 travelling around Asia and from there I never looked back. You just don’t understand how serene and peaceful it can be until you try it. Unlike snorkelling, when you dive you become like a fish, so the aquatic life treats you as such.

A woman diving towards a shoal of fish in murky blue waters

What advice would you give to someone looking to do the divemaster training?

Just do it!

It doesn’t matter if you have never dived before, or have been diving all of your life. The challenges and rewards you get from the course far exceed never having thought about doing it. 

Even if you’ve never dived before, it is possible to achieve full divemaster status in three months, which is perfect for a sabbatical.

With a divemaster qualification, you can work all over the world so it’s a great tool for those who want to travel and work. It is also a great way to build your confidence, meet a lot of people and explore a part of the world that some many people will never experience, Under the water!

Don’t sweat the little things, everyone has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to diving. Take your time, practice, watch others, assist as many different instructors as possible and trust that your mentor and trainer will get you through it. 

The confidence I gained from my training was unbelievable, both with diving and everyday life, and the diving community worldwide is so friendly and inclusive, you will find yourself making friends all over the place!


Can you turn diving into a career?

I am living proof that you can.

As a divemaster, you can effectively work in every country in the world. Hot, cold it doesn’t matter there is always diving.

You need to be dedicated as even though it is an amazing job to have, it requires hard work and stamina, though I have never regretted it.

And the amazing things you will see under the water will blow your mind. During my divemaster training, I was lucky enough to see Whale sharks, Bull sharks, turtles and octopus to name but a few

A woman diving surrounded by a shoal of fish

Where have you dived around the world?

Thailand, east and west. I trained and worked on Koh Tao for nearly 8 years so I got to explore every inch of every dive site around the island. I can highly recommend Chumphon Pinnacle, Sail rock and the HTMS Sattakut Wreck.

 I visited Koh Phi Phi as well on a number of occasions, Bida Nok and Bida Nai are two of my favourites as I got to see leopard sharks!

In Kenya I have dived both off Kilifi and Watamu, I love The M/V fish eagle wreck as well as dolphin spotting between dives

 Zanzibar – having dived here a number of times in the past I’m now here to work and hopefully stay!


Tell us about Buccaneer diving

Well, Buccaneer is situated on the east coast of Zanzibar in a place called Paje. It is right on the beach and has been there for a number of years. We have the dive school, apartments and hotel rooms, restaurant and bar all on-site. The team is small but very welcoming, great fun hailing from all corners of the globe.

We are a CDC (Padi Career development Centre) which means that we, as a dive school have achieved the industries highest rating. With fast fibreglass boats, we regularly dive outside of the reefs, including the beautiful Mnemba atoll in the north and Kizimkazi to the south.


How much does the divemaster training cost?

The training cost depends on where you are starting from. If you’re starting from the beginning we call it going from Zero to Hero’ and takes 2-3 months. This takes you from an Open water diver through to Divemaster.

Some people come to us having never dived before and leave 3 months later fully qualified as a Divemaster, with over 60 dives under their belt. Some arrive already having completed a number of recreational courses and many dives and just do the divemaster program. 

You need to be certified up to rescue diver with 40 dives under your belt before the training can begin. (This is all something that can be done with us in house too, and is actually a really great way to get integrated into the dive school lifestyle and get to know everyone really well). 

We can put together packages for anyone interested that can also include a full set of equipment, accommodation, food etc.

So it is best to get in contact with me (details at the bottom of the post) and then I can put together a custom package for each individual based upon what they need.


How long does it take?

We recommend that people take 6-8 weeks to complete the training.

It can, in fact, be completed in 2 weeks but you do not get the same level of understanding and confidence.

Also, you don’t get to dive as much either!


Why choose Buccaneer diving over another company?

Buccaneer Diving has a fabulous location, young fun team and a great teaching ethic. We want everyone, not just our divemaster candidates to become part of the buccaneer family. 

We have a number of boats going out every day, with small group sizes so you can feel safe and enjoy yourselves.

Our divemaster training focuses on quality and safety, with programs being put together for the individual. 

We also include eco and conservation initiatives and projects underwater and on land wherever we can.


Where do people sign up if interested

The best thing to do it to get in contact with me, we can then have a chat about what you are looking at, dive wise, time wise etc and then we can work out the best plan and package.

The best thing to do it to get in contact with me, we can then have a chat about what you are looking at, dive wise, time wise etc and then we can work out the best plan and package.

Email: jojo@buccaneerdiving.com

Whatsapp : +447388251660

Insta: @jojoinzanzibar

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