Leading Woman Marine Opal Farquharson can be found rappelling down a three (3) story building and climbing a forty (40) foot rope. She’s not a G.I. Jean, but rather, a qualified Combat Diver within the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. She recalled the day she took the physical fitness segment to become a qualified combat diver, that it was about 5:30 a.m., dark and a bit foggy. She remembered the unsettling feeling of bubbles resonating within her stomach until she made contact with the water in an all-out sprint to meet the qualifying time for the 500-meter swim.
She vividly remembered prior to the swim aspect, it was an all-out effort during the push-up, sit up and pull-up segments. While gasping for breath, she heard Instructor Marguerite Taylor shouting “Come Farquharson I will be counting for you”! As she took the push-up position, Taylor laid on the ground and placed her fist beneath her. She was successful in completing that aspect of the physical, with the run being the final physical exercise that day.
The most difficult phase of the dive course Farquharson found challenging was removing her mask, clearing it and readjusting it, an exercise that is performed in thirty (30 feet) of water. This segment was called the qualifying dive where the diver is required to go a certain depth of water, prior to the physical fitness and theory segment. The day before the qualifying dive, the members of the course usually perform all the required skills in the pool. She recalled that whenever she removed her mask, bubbles from her mouthpiece shot into her nose. With her dive being the next day, she was terrified. With the help of one of the course instructors who remained with her until the late evening, they both practiced removing and replacing masks until she got it.
On the actual day of the dive, the one thing she feared the most, happened to her. While swimming in a pack, the divers were a bit closed together, resulting in one of her teammates accidently lodging her mask to the side of her face. Evidently, she froze, regrouped, pulled herself together, and remembered what she was taught. Farquharson says it was a frightening experience for her, because although she practiced, she still wasn’t as comfortable and confident in taking off her mask. Nevertheless, she successfully completed her deep diving qualifying.
Early on in her career, Farquharson learned how to push herself and overcome challenges. This ever-enduring spirit has aided her in achieving such goals as a combat diver along with other accomplishments.
“When I passed out of New Entry training, I was drafted to the Commando Squadron Department where I was required to do Infantry Training. After completing a six (6) mile run and at the end of the training day, each participant was required to climb a forty (40) foot rope and hit the wooden plank at the top. As I climbed the rope and got to the top to hit the wooden plank, I swung and missed the target. I slipped all the way to the bottom of the rope. My fingers, palms, and ankles burnt from the rope. My instructor, Chief Petty Officer Derrick Richardson asked me, ‘Woman Marine, why didn’t you make it to the top and hit the board?’ I said, ‘Chief, I tried! But I don’t have any skin on my palm and fingertips, nothing Chief!’ His reply: ‘Pain is temporary, death is forever! Get up that rope!’ I got up that rope at 9:00 p.m., after everyone had dispersed from 3:00 p.m.”
Her advice for females entering a male-dominated profession: “It is important to get involved and not sit on the sidelines allowing the men to overshadow or overpower you as a female. Always try to be on the same par in terms of executing your duties. Nevertheless, there are some natural physical attributes the men have that some women may not naturally possess. However, this should not keep a female from leveling out in her career path regarding equality in the workplace. Opportunities must be given to both genders to succeed equally in their career paths.”
In leading men, Farquharson stated that she has experienced resistance. However, she has recognized that it is not her, but more of a cultural and social aspect of society. She has found that to get a better response from her male counterparts, the tone of her voice is important. She realizes that to get the reaction she wants; her tone has to be different. “I can’t be barking! I am affirmative, not aggressive with them. I guess when the men get to know the individual, things get a little easier and we work together better.”
As a female diver, Farquharson knew there will be barriers and hurdles to overcome while achieving her goals. Her barrier occurred early during the dive course when she was required to complete a particular evolution. A cemented block was thrown overboard in a deep water, and the diver was required to dive down to the seabed and tie a bowline onto it and retrieve it. For the first week and heading into the second week, the farthest she got was tying the first loop onto the block, which proved a challenge. This meant spending extra hours in the water when the class participants had left for the day. Determined, she spent her lunchtimes and the end of the instruction period trying to overcome her hurdle. Because working underwater can be tedious, she knew that to tie the rope properly, concentration is needed. As a female, Farquharson possesses great buoyancy, so it was a bit easier to sit on the seabed with the block in her lap, and
tie the bow-line efficiently. This particular exercise was the biggest barrier for her during the dive course, but she succeeded.
When asked to describe the perfect working environment Opal stated, “Out to Sea”. Being away on the sea from the hustle and bustle of HMBS Coral Harbour and Nassau can be serene, where being a part of a boat crew is like working with a family. According to Farquharson, one experiences the opportunity to see the islands that make up the archipelago of the Bahamas. No one day is alike, and it is likened to an adventure. Because being out to sea is one aspect that is certain on the Defence Force, the men and women are committed to protecting the territorial waters of the Bahamas.
Leading Woman Marine Opal Farquharson looks forward to the day when more women would explore the diving field. As part of the Commando Squadron unit, it was mandatory that she completed the combat swimmer’s course. Today the course is on a voluntary basis. Also, she plans to further her diving career as a member of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Dive Team. Among her accomplishments are Combat Diver, PADI Diver, Rescue Diver, Combat Swimmer, and Advanced Diver. She has completed the Close Quarter Battle Course and is a Tan Belt in Martial Arts. She plans to encourage future female divers to be more active in the dive department.