Author: Stephen Weir | Date: 19 September 2019
There wasn’t a dry eye at a very special St Lucia wedding held last Thursday. A well-known scuba diving Canadian travel agent Julie Gilchrist and her beau Sean Gillen decided to get hitched underwater and in doing so set a record for the Caribbean!
This past weekend the third annual Saint Lucia Dive Festival ended with a wrap-up celebration to honour the Southern Ontario couple who literally deep sixed their wedding vows two days before. It all happened some 30 feet down on the sandy bottom of a Caribbean bay near the ever-so-posh Royalton Resort.
St Lucia is no stranger to out-of-country couples getting married on the island. In fact they hold over 700 such weddings every year. But never ever in the history of the island have they ever seen such a wedding – it all took place underwater where the fish out-numbered the guests and wedding party.
On behalf of the Caribbean Camera I put on my newest wetsuit, strapped on a scuba tank and plunged in the warm clear waters of the Caribbean to witness this record setting event. There were about 20 of us under the water, kneeling in the bone white sandy bottom in front of a hand-painted wedding arch. Up on the surface of the bay another 20 guests wore snorkels and fins and swam over the site to watch the ceremony from above!
There was no music, just the sound of our bubbles as the groom, Sean Gillen, swam up to the wedding arch. He wore a white shirt, a bow tie and swim fins. A scuba tank, buoyancy compensator, and mask rounded out his wedding duds.
It is a wedding tradition that brides can be late for the ceremony and that was true to form at this underwater ceremony. The groom and the audience didn’t mind the wait except for the fact that there is only so much air in a scuba tank limiting how long you can leave a man treading water at the alter!
“I didn’t keep him waiting for waiting sake,” said Julie Gilchrist. “ I bought my (long white) wedding dress on-line and hadn’t much opportunity to actually swim in it. Took me a bit of time to maneuver my way from the back of the dive boat to Sean!”
When the bride and groom finally got settled under the brightly painted wedding arch, Celestar Laurencin madly waved and flashed hand signals to get everyone’s attention as he started the ceremony.
Of course you can’t talk underwater without special gear, so Laurencin used giant cue cards to show the couple their wedding vows in large black print. And when the card came up with THE question to the bride – do you take Sean Gillen to be your lawfully wedded husband? She flashed a round card attached to her wrist that said, “I do”.
Although it is not a common practice to take the air-supplying regulator out of one’s mouth, both the bride and the groom did just that and had a quick but meaningful kiss to seal the deal.
“I am not a recognized minister,” Laurencin told the Caribbean Camera. “ I am actually the manager, dive instructor and boat captain for the St Lucian dive outfit, Island Divers. I really did enjoy every bit of the ceremony, especially the grand finale!”
The vows taken, the kiss given, the couple turned around and began swimming out to sea. Instead of confetti the scuba guests used our spare regulators to shoot up bursts of air bubbles upwards as the newly weds swam under them and back to the dive boat named Kika.
The dive ceremony took place in the morning. In the afternoon, back on dry land, the new Mr. and Mrs. Gillen did it all over again in dry wedding outfits in front of an ordained minister.
“They needed a second time to comply with our rules,” explained St Lucia tourism official Ernie George, “Because the laws of the land do not observe below-the-water surface or above-in-airspace (i.e. in a balloon or plane) weddings as being legal!”
The couple didn’t mind the redo; neither did those guests that didn’t know how to dive or snorkel and opted out of the subsurface ceremony. And, for the Gillens their wedding kiss was a lot longer and certainly not as wet!
The wedding capped off a very successful underwater festival. DiveFest is held in September to highlight the island’s beautiful underwater fauna, and the overall Saint Lucian dive experience.
In addition to the wedding the 4-day event featured a number of activities including a dive treasure hunt, a lion fish hunting derby, an underwater cleanup activity, a photo seminar and competition, themed dinners, street fiestas and above water island tours.
“This was the most successful DiveFest we have held in St Lucia. I don’t what we are going to do next year to top this,” Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee said at a wrap-up DiveFest party. “This was the first "underwater wedding in the history of the St. Lucia and most likely the first underwater wedding in the Caribbean.”