Skimming The Surface

By Heather Reichle

Camp Basics
Student to Instructor Ratio: 3.5 to 1
Location: British Virgin Islands and Windward Islands
Cost: Ranges from $3,990 to $6,990, depending on level and course type. The cost includes all food, training, certifications, equipment, etc.
Ages: 13 years old to college

Campers gather on the beach.

Odyssey Expeditions isn’t the traditional overnight camp for children. This summer camp puts its students out on the sea to learn first-hand what it means to be a seaman.

Building A Foundation
Jason Buchheim founded the expeditionary camp 18 years ago as a way to share his passion for marine biology with others.

“This program takes the students out of their natural environment and submerges them into an environment which exposes them to drastically different places,” says Buchheim.

The programs take students through some of the most beautiful islands in the world, giving them access to the reefs, rainforests, shipwrecks, marine life and beaches of the Caribbean's British Virgin Islands and Windward Islands.

The expeditions range from beginners to more experienced levels, and are offered to students from 13 years to college age. The students are also able to earn school credit through participating universities.

“The programs are really leadership-oriented,” says Buchheim. “Each student takes turns being the chef, the skipper and every other role. They are experiencing real accomplishments towards real goals.”

The programs allow a maximum of 12 students per vessel. This enables students to receive the individualized attention and coaching to really master various skills throughout the journey. The smaller groups also allow students to have their own gear for the duration of the trip. And there’s one more benefit: the groups allow students to have a say in their itinerary each day.

In addition to learning how to sail and scuba dive, students can participate in traditional water sports, such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing, sea kayaking, snorkeling and rock jumping. The teams also are able to take advantage of other activities, such as playing beach volleyball, exploring volcanic highlands, and journeying through rainforests, hot springs and waterfalls--all while having the opportunity to immerse themselves in the island’s culture.

SEA Voyages And Adventure Voyages
Buchheim and his team offer students two program options: a two-week long Summer Educational Adventure (SEA) Voyage that focuses on community service, education and marine biology, and a three-week long Adventure Voyage designed for students interested in scuba diving and exploration.

Scuba diving at Odyssey Expeditions
In both courses, the students are responsible for manning a 47-foot catamaran, taking turns dropping and pulling up the anchor, trimming the sails, navigating, etc.

During SEA voyages, students conduct research during their dives that focuses mainly on studying the coral reef and environmental foundation. They conduct baseline studies on the reef to share with marine-biology researchers. One activity has the students visiting a turtle sanctuary, where they scrub rehabilitated turtles and release them back into the wild. Project time ranges up to 10 hours per voyage on an Adventure Program to over 20 hours per voyage on a SEA program. Participation in the projects earns students a certificate of appreciation listing his or her accomplishments and hours devoted to the service projects.

Diving As A Primary Focus
During the diving program, students learn several methods of scuba diving:

  • Core scuba courses
  • Open water
  • Advanced open water
  • Rescue diving
  • Diver master, an instructor course.

Other specialty courses include night diving, deep diving, computer diving, wreck diving, marine-biology diving, fish-ID diving, underwater naturalist and underwater photography. During the three-week course, students complete 30 scuba dives on 15 different islands.

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at