By Beth Rasin

Fifteen years ago, Dave and Melinda Volkert left Middleburg to embark on a real-life Caribbean adventure.

They met in Middleburg amid stables and steeplechases, but before long Dave and Melinda Volkert were diving headfirst into a passion further afield. This one involved sharks and snorkels, and it was more than 1,200 miles from Middleburg.

“We take people scuba diving in our backyard for a living.” -Melinda Volkert

Dave, a Middleburg native, and Melinda (née Goslin), a California transplant first drawn to the area by the equestrian offerings, were introduced by a mutual friend in what was Magpie’s Café (now Red Horse Tavern). They married in December 1999 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Middleburg, and within three years they’d taken the plunge to purchase a Caribbean scuba diving business.

“Fifteen and a half years ago, while on a scuba diving vacation in the Turks and Cai-cos Islands, the opportunity to buy Provo Turtle Divers, the oldest dive shop on Providenciales, was presented to us,” said Melinda. “We said yes very quickly, setting the wheels in motion to change our lives forever. Six months later, we became the proud new owners of a thriving dive operation on a small island south of the Bahamas. We weren’t just moving; we were moving overseas to a foreign country!”

They’d been diving in Kona, Hawaii, Curaçao, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caymans and Tortola before selecting “Provo,” which boasts some of the best beaches in the world in addition to spectacular diving, with wall dives that descend more than 7,000 feet through scintillating sea life.

They were also lured to the Caribbean by “the carefree lifestyle of living on an island,” said Melinda.

But it was no small endeavor.

“I was tasked with making all the arrangements to export our one dog, five cats (two barn cats and three house cats), our car and a 40-foot container with all our personal house and barn items that we thought we’d want or need,” said Melinda. “Having never lived on an island, it was really hard deciding what we should ship.

“Living on a small island is very much like living in a small community like Middleburg.” -Dave Volkert

“I had to pick a date that the truck was picking up the shipping container,” she said. “We were supposed to only have it for five days, but luckily a little snowstorm bought me an extra week. That’s when the move became real. Before that, I think we were living a surreal dream. We were quitting our jobs, selling the condo, dispersing the horses (I had five at the time) and moving our entire lives and pets to a tiny island that no one had ever heard of. ‘The Turks and what?’ was a common question that my friends asked me.”

Melinda and Dave loved their lives in Middleburg, where Melinda was an IT support manager and webmaster active in eventing, foxhunting and point-to-point racing, and Dave had worked for the state government, was a diving instructor and retail manager. Along with diving, Dave was an avid tennis player at the Middleburg Tennis Club, of which his father David was one of the founders.

“But the lure of giving it all up to live on a tiny island and be scuba instructors was too hard to resist!” said Melinda. “Swimming with sharks, turtles and more fish than we could name and showing visitors what an amazing backyard we have underwater have been so rewarding. We have a combination of the most extraordinary shades of blue [water] against the white sand beaches, teaming with an abundance of marine life.”

Melinda still can’t believe this is their life. “We take people scuba diving in our backyard for a living,” she said. “Sharing our passion with strangers makes a perfect environment to form new lasting friendships. It also helps entice our longtime friends to come on down for a visit in paradise.”

She estimates about 20 friends from Middleburg and elsewhere have come to Provo to dive or visit, and the small island has a familiar feel to the Volkerts.

“Living on a small island is very much like living in a small community like Middleburg,” said Dave. “We see people we know wherever we go.”

But even with their feet in the sand and an ocean to explore, they haven’t forgotten their roots in Middleburg. “I miss walking around to all my favorite shops,” said Melinda. “I especially miss the Fun Shop, Danks Deli [now Middleburg Deli], The Upper Crust and walking into the post office and being greeted by my name. I miss the beautiful countryside and all the quaint, winding roads that lead in and out of Middleburg.

“And the weather!” she said with a laugh. “We miss seasons! Here we have ‘always sweating,’ with daytime temps in the upper 80s and nighttime in the mid-80s. Where’s all that snow and ice that we used to curse? But, we’re very lucky to have trade winds year-round and, of course, an amazing white sand beach with the world’s third-largest barrier reef to play in.

“We’d like to return [to Middleburg] someday, maybe when we retire,” she added. “After 15 years, we still have to pinch ourselves to remind us that our jobs are real — we dive with sharks! And turtles, and amazing things like humpback whales in the wintertime, and wild dolphins and rays!”

In the meantime, whenever they return for a visit, they make sure to hit The Upper Crust, where Melinda goes for a cowpuddle and Dave gets a ham and cheese croissant. ML

Melinda Volkert (left), shown with her husband Dave Volkert, of Provo Turtle Divers in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Melinda Volkert (left), shown with her husband Dave Volkert, of Provo Turtle Divers in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

An International Animal Lover

When Dave and Melinda Volkert decided to move to the Caribbean, Melinda had a few reservations about leaving behind the horses that had always been at the center of her life.

“I intended to ship a horse down to the island. But after spending about six months here, I realized I would be selfish to bring down a horse that was used to living in green fields of grass in Virginia,” she said. “Our island is very dry, and not much grows here. All hay and grain is imported, and the horses here live in small paddocks. I adopted two island ponies instead, one that I ride occasionally.”

Still, she needed her animal fix, so she began volunteering with the local SPCA and a dog rescue group called Potcake Place (the island dogs are called “potcakes”), and she started fostering puppies.

“We’ve had over 200 foster pups over the last couple of years, and we’ve managed to fail at fostering a few times,” she said with a laugh. Their current animal count includes four dogs, four cats, two ponies and a goat.

In addition to being a scuba instructor and running the dive business, Melinda also works part-time at the local veterinary clinic. “No matter where I live, I couldn’t imagine living without pets and animals in my life,” she said.