Meet Layle Stanton: Adventurous inspiration for Paul Mila’s latest scuba novel, NEAR MISS
(DiverWire) Scuba Diving author Paul Mila’s latest novel, NEAR MISS, is the talk of the dive industry. One of the main characters in the book is modeled after real-life diver Layle Stanton (she just happens to be featured on the cover).
Mila took some time recently to write about his first encounter with Layle in Cozumel.
Cozumel Mexico, June 14th 2010: Aboard the MAXIMUS, dive boat of Scuba With Alison, with dive operator Alison Dennis and seven other divers.
My first dive of this trip, and I’m buddy-less. In these cases I usually hang close to the dive master, not only for safety but also because the dive master knows where all the critters are hiding. However, on this pre-dive briefing, operator Alison Dennis throws me a curveball. “Paul, you buddy up with Layle.”
I looked around the boat and saw an attractive, thirty-something young lady, donning her equipment. We exchanged greetings, and I noticed Layle was wearing mask, fins, snorkel, BC, and a paisley-print bikini.
“Where’s your wetsuit?” I asked. “Don’t use one, mate. I’m warm enough,” she replied casually, with an accent I couldn’t quite place. Could be British, South African, or Australian, I thought.
“Keep your eye on Layle for me, Paul,” Alison said. “I need to watch the rest of the group, and she enjoys exploring swim-throughs and outcroppings where I can’t see her. Okay?”
“Sure thing,” I replied, still not believing I had drawn the straw for this assignment. We dropped in on a dive site called Palancar Caves, an interesting site with colorful and varied coral formations. Once in the water, I immediately saw that Layle was comfortable and her buoyancy excellent. She swam like a fish, and as Alison had warned me, Layle loved exploring narrow crevices, twisting swim-throughs, and numerous tight spots, temporarily out of sight from the rest of our group. I followed her, trying to avoid scraping the coral and rocky outcroppings. But Layle, sans wetsuit, maneuvered through the narrow openings easily, without a scratch.
During our surface interval, I asked Layle where she hailed from. “Originally from Australia, mate,” she confirmed. “But I’ve been living abroad for fourteen years, six in the U.S. and eight in Switzerland. I’ll stay in Cozumel for a while, then travel south through Mexico, visit Belize, then head into Central America, probably Guatemala, and Honduras. I have no set plans, and I’m free to do whatever I want.”
I thought, Very few people Layle’s age have that much freedom. I wonder if there’s a story behind her remarks.
The rest of our dives were exciting, especially a dive with Papa Hogs dive operation, billed as the Special Effects Dive, which my friend Fulvio had arranged. For this dive, we descended near Paso De Cedral Wall, but far offshore in the disorienting deep blue, which I found out Layle loves. You drop to 100 feet, and then swim toward the wall, which eventually appears out of the blue gloom as a coral panorama. Then you ascend to between 80 to 60 feet and continue the wall dive. The current was strong and the dive challenging, but Layle was up to it. Every so often she intentionally drifted away from the wall to experience floating in the deep blue.
I was determined to find out more about my mysterious dive buddy, and over dinner one evening I learned a lot. I asked Layle what kind of work she did. “Well, I did some business consulting in the U.S., and then served in executive and corporate management roles while in Europe. I recently left my company with a generous severance, so I am free to travel, explore, and determine what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
After several days of diving in Cozumel, we bid farewell, and I wished Layle good luck. Months later, I received an email from her. She had set up residence in Roatan, Honduras, and added professional diving to her resume. She completed her dive master training at Bananarama Dive resort in West Bay, instructor training with Mayan Divers, and then worked as a freelance dive master/instructor for other dive operations, including Ocean Connections.
Several months later, she decided to become a teacher at a Honduran school, teaching all subjects to third and fourth-grade children. During a school break she invited me down to dive. By then she was also working part-time at Linga Longa, a wonderful restaurant located on Half Moon Bay in Roatan’s West End. Now, Layle was acclimated to warm tropical climates so she dived with a wetsuit.
Novelists tend to steal from life. We observe people and situations. In my case, interesting people I meet often find themselves as characters in my next mystery-thriller. Layle did not disclose why she left her firm, but I felt I could fictionalize an interesting story that led to her world-wide adventure. Every story needs a compelling character to keep the reader’s interest. So Layle became Dayle, the fictional heroine in Near Miss, keeping one step ahead of a determined assassin pursuing her across the Atlantic and down to the Mexican Caribbean. She even graces the book’s cover, facing down a spear gun in her trademark bikini and BC.
What’s next for Layle, who travels the world like an unpredictable current? Last month she headed home to Australia to visit her family. But in a recent email she wrote, “It was lovely being with my family. However I am feeling restless and more than ready to get travelling again. Just getting ready to head for the airport. First stop . . .”