Sunday, December 20, 2009

Diving in Thailand

Gwen and I are currently sitting in the Minneapolis airport, waiting for our connecting flight back to Salt Lake City.  We left Phuket Thailand about 30 hours ago and we still have another 6 hours before we will be home!  Wow, really a long trip!

We had a great time in Thailand.  The trip was to celebrate our 30th anniversary and was not a dedicated dive trip, although we did dive a couple of days.  I didn't take my CCR with me, because it was a long way to travel and since we were only diving for a couple of days, I thought we would keep it simple with our recreational OC gear.

We dove at a couple of locations.  The first day was called Phi Phi (pronounced "Pee Pee")  The diving was very easy going and quite good.  We saw lots of Leopard sharks and some very cool large Jelly Fish. We also saw a Mandarin Shrimp that just sat out of its hole and let us inspect him as long as we would like.    The biggest downside to the diving was that the dive operation was very into baby sitting the divers and we had a nervous Nelly dive master that was hovering around us the entire time.  Additionally, it was a 14 hour day to get from the hotel, take a 3 hour boat ride each way, do the dives and then get back home.  Not sure it would be worth doing day trips in Phuket area multiple days in a row.

The 2nd dive day was at the Similan Islands.  The viz was much better, but the animal life was a little lacking compared to Phi Phi.  Similan is supposed to be rated in the top 10 world wide by many people, but like most rankings, I was underwhelmed.  The diving was alright, but not spectacular.  Both dives were drift diving in a pretty ripping current.  The top side scenery was spectacular and I'm glad that we made both trips.  I does rub me the wrong way when the dive masters are constantly asking you what your remaining pressure is.  I would hope by this stage in my diving career, I am capable of keeping track of my own gas consumption!  Oh well, that's what you get when you dive with Thai Cattle Boats!  We had a good time none the less!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas came early at my house!

My wife Gwen was very kind and bought me an amazing underwater video setup for Christmas this year. (Of course, I left some pretty specific hints as to what I was looking for!) And even better, she let me open it early

It's a Gates Housing with external video monitor, Greenforce 250 Watt HID lights, wide angle dome port that will go from 2 millimeters to infinity, and a Canon XHA1S HD Video Camera.

I took it in the pool today for a trial swim with my CCR. No camera, just that housing. I wanted to make sure that everything was water tight before I dunked the camera. It was absolutely awesome. The housing is a little positively buoyant without the camera in it, so I'll do another pool session with the camera before I start slapping weights on it. It comes with quite a bit of lead, so I'm sure I'm going to have to put some on it.

I'm really excited to get started with this. I have done quite a bit of underwater still photography, but this is really my first serious attempt at video, so it should be a challenge! Once I get something that is halfway decent, I'll post something! (Might take awhile!)

OK, back to reading my owners manual!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Steve Lewis' presentation at the NACD conference this past week

This is a copy of the presentation given by Steve Lewis at the National Association of Cave Divers conference this past week.  Steve gave me permission to post it here.  I think his thoughts are right on the money and should be required reading by all technical divers Cave, Open Circuit and Closed Circuit Rebreathers.  Thanks Steve!
Forgive me for straying somewhat from the agenda, but it seems the diving community needs your help; needs help from us all.
As many of you know, there appears to be a general misunderstanding among the general diving public about standards, protocols, guidelines, rules. Call it what you will, but something is just not squared away with the tech diving community; and people are getting themselves killed because of it.
Every one of us knows that diving is dangerous. And we know that anyone telling us otherwise is either delusional, completely ignorant in the art of risk assessment; or they are lying.
Technical diving, what we are most interested in, is extremely dangerous; perhaps an order of magnitude more risky than common or garden sport diving. But we render the risks manageable by simply following some really basic rules. These boil down to staying within the limits of our training, our skills and our experience; making a dive plan that takes into account the lessons learned from accident analysis; PLUS we adapt our plan to account for the actual environmental conditions we find at the site on game day; and, of course, we stick to our plan.
Risk management is even better assured by resisting any temptation to push our comfort zone or that of our companions. And we are well armed against the wiles of Murphy if we are prepared to react creatively when the dynamic nature of diving presents us with “real-time” challenges without warning.
In any high-risk activity where we want to weigh the odds of a favorable outcome, the normal path is to follow what’s called Best Practices or Best Practice Behavior. It’s really just a label we stick on a process that leads us along the, statistically speaking, safest pathway through a series of conditions that present threat; either physical, societal, financial or psychological.
However, there are few guarantees and every year divers die.
In rare cases, divers die even though they have followed best practices. They do everything according to the book, but die regardless. The issues in very many of these incidents are truly accidental; often an underlying unknown health problem; and heart problems seem to top that list.
But in the great majority of cases, people die as a direct result of NOT following best practices.
In some cases, their mistakes or the mistakes of their buddy or instructor were errors of omission. What I mean by this is that they forgot to do something important or maybe were unaware that conditions, equipment, personal needs or a combination of all three were going to demand something they could not provide. These events are sad.
At the other end of the scale of culpability, and a factor in the majority of diver deaths, are mistakes that are errors of commission; which in this context I take to be deliberately refusing to follow what they knew at the onset of their dive was best practice. They knowingly did something negligent and these events are tragic in the truest sense of the word because they are avoidable; totally, 100 percent avoidable.
Now, all this is pretty obvious to you and me, but in the past couple of years, our community (the technical diving community at large) has suffered several shock looses and almost every one appears to have been a direct result of divers trying to pull off dives using the wrong gas, wrong kit, having inadequate skills, or inappropriate training. In at least one case — a young man diving air to 75 metres (about 230 feet), well beyond the most extreme limits for that gas in consideration of narcosis and oxygen toxicity — a strong influence would appear to have been pressure from an employer slash instructor; in other words, someone they looked up to.
When invited to come down here and talk to you folks today, I jumped at the chance because I like cave country, I like cave diving, and apart from a bias against Alabama in favor of the Gators, I feel comfortable among cave divers.
My intention was to give a light-hearted presentation pointing out some of the influences that North Florida cave divers have had on the wreck diving community and underline the way we wreck divers have evolved the basic cave diving kit and skill sets to fit a very different environment. We are still going to look at that but from a viewpoint influenced by several recent deaths. None of us knows much about any of these incidents, but there is a common theme in at least almost every case; Lack of Training. Specifically here in North Florida, divers who had no cave training, dying in caves; what a sordid cliché that is, and how sad it’s still happening.
Of course it begs the questions: what can be learned from the misfortune of others, and how can you and I help prevent, by example or influence, others from repeating the same mistakes?
Let’s start with a few declarative statements.
Number one: Wreck diving is very different to cave diving. They are cousins, siblings even, but certainly not identical twins.
Number two: If we accept number one, it follows that the skills required for diving wrecks and diving in caves are NOT interchangeable. The skills have the same names but their deployment is different because the environment is different.
As a result of these two issues, it is NOT possible to train cave divers in wrecks nor can one train wreck divers in caves. To attempt one or the other is wrong and it is dangerous. Since technical diving is risky to begin with, sending the wrong message to the people we train in either of these activities just throws a wrench into the whole risk assessment / risk management exercise.
OK, let me add one more statement to those two. Without simulating or demonstrating the specific risks associated with a special environment – such as a cave – those risks do not exist for the student. In other words, taking a student into any overhead environment OUTSIDE of a course specific to that environment, be it cave or wreck, sends the wrong message. As mentioned, the risks do not exist unless they are explained and outlined with the big black magic marker of demonstration, guidance, performance, feedback and repetition.
OK, let’s start with some history, because if we go back to the start, we may get a better idea where the confusion comes from; and why some people think wrecks, caves and deep open water are similar.
A generation ago, when technical diving was coming out of the closet and before it became a convention, there really was only one place to go to get serious training. And that was Florida. Cave diving was and still is as far as I am concerned the original and purest form of technical diving. If you wanted to become a better wreck diver, and you wanted to learn techniques to make it so, you made your way to High Springs and signed up for a cavern/cave class, because organizations such as the NACD were the only ones offering an alternative to mainstream sport diver education.
Without doubt, because of this simple slice of history, almost everything that is the norm among technical divers around the world today, from Sydney Harbor to Seattle owes a serious debt to Florida Cavers. The classic back mounted rig; backplate, wing, doubles, long hose et al, had its genesis here in North Florida. Today, for some mystifying reason, this rig gets called DIR, Hogarthian, DW2, and god knows what else… but you and I both know that it is just standard North Florida Cave Diving Kit, and if it were not for the malleability of the road signs used by the Department of Highways, and Greg Flannigan‘s ingenuity, we’d all be diving poodle jackets.
The same is true of side-mount diving. Wreck divers are turning more and more to side-mount configuration for open-circuit wreck diving. In doing so, they are copying or borrowing from the kit configuration cave divers have been using for at least a couple of decades.
The connection is there. Cave divers and cave training agencies wrote the screenplay for wreck diving techniques and training. And so, if they are siblings, then cave diving is the older sister.
But over time things have evolved. Driven by a void or need within the wreck-diving community, technical instructors and training agencies have developed specialized technical wreck or advanced wreck programs. The starting point may have been the NACD cavern course but the program now has morphed into something more appropriate for the wreck environment and with attention being paid to skills that are not required in cave and cavern diving.
We do not have time to drill down into the nuts and bolts of each course and do a line item comparison, but we do have time to think about some major differences. So let’s look at them to justify our statement that the two types of diving are not the SAME.
Here is a partial listing of the skills tested during a TDI or NACD cavern and Intro to Cave courses.
• Gas Management
• Propulsion Techniques
• Deploy Guideline
• Lost Line
• Lost Buddy
• Air Share with Buddy in contact with line
• Air Share with Buddy blacked-out mask through restriction
• Light and Hand Signals
• Light Failure
• Problem Solving
Here is a partial listing of the skills for a TDI Advanced Wreck program.
• Gas Management
• Propulsion Techniques
• Deploy Guideline
• Lost Line
• Lost Buddy
• Air Share with Buddy in contact with line
• Air Share with Buddy blacked-out mask through restriction
• Light and Hand Signals
• Light Failure
• Problem Solving
They look the same don’t they; well, of course they are the same… But if we advocate and advise that caves and wrecks are different, how is that so? The answer is that it is in the application of the skills to the specific environment and not the skills themselves.
Gas Management: The Rule of Thirds is sacrosanct to cave divers and wreck divers but there are few wrecks offering several hundred metres of penetration; and so the rule’s application in wreck diving is far more like the Hub Plan used by CCR cave divers than the classic and simpler one third in, one third out used by OC cavers.
Propulsion Techniques: Wreck divers may have to employ a modified pull and glide to navigate narrow corridors inside a wreck where ANY fin movement is guaranteed to reduce visibility to zero in seconds. One other difference is that when a wreck diver kicks a wall by mistake is moves… it might even fall down. Anyhow, finning is NOT the default propulsion technique in “real” wrecks.
Guideline: Cave divers are warned about line traps. Cave divers can follow and usually do follow permanent lines for miles. Wrecks are one big line trap and a permanent line is the stuff of dreams. One might also consider that a continuous line to the surface covers a wreck diver’s need to be able to deploy a DSMB and decompress in blue water. In fact, that constitutes a required skill: hang off knotted line… keeping track of the knots to judge depth, with a blacked out mask, and counting breaths to track time.
Lost Line: Not a big issue when you carry the “permanent” line on a reel in your hand, but a required skill nevertheless for a wreck diver. However, more often than not, during their search for the lost line, students manage to get a manifold, spg, fin or something wrapped up in hanging cable… or their instructor’s simulation of hanging cable. Last time I audited a cave class, tying up the student was not part of the course work. It is in a wreck class. Another time for rodeo work is when students exit through a restriction with blacked out masks sharing air.
Communications, light failures and so on, are no different, but problem solving is. In a cave, the shortest route to fresh air is almost invariably back the way you came. In a wreck, the surface is closer but not necessarily easier to get to. And once there, getting out of the water may be a challenge.
Now if we stopped right now, some of you might leave here thinking, wow, wreck diving sure sounds tougher than cave diving. And in lots of ways, it is. But if things were that simple, how come we are not looking at a bunch of dead cave divers dying in wrecks instead of a bunch of wreck divers who are dying in caves. To be honest, I am able to turn up a constant and irreversible answer to that. But l have a theory…
Any of you who ski will have seen on the various ski runs leading from the top of the mountain back to the beer and nachos waiting at the bottom of the hill, a classification system indicating how difficult each trail is. A green run is the most straightforward; blue involves more slope and turns; a black diamond is technical and demands experience; a double black diamond is for experts and carries a real and present danger of injury or worse.
A skier can break his leg on a Bunny Hill (the simplest of green runs), but at least this classification system let’s punters like myself know which slopes to avoid on the morning of the first day of skiing after an eight month hiatus.
We avoid the black runs until we have our legs back under us.
There is no really well-established and universal “indication of risk” system in wreck diving or cave diving.
The powers that be do not post a series of Green, Blue or Black buoys above a wreck site for example. Perhaps one of the reasons for NOT posting colored indicators is that an errant fin kick, misplaced line wrap or simple quirk of fate can instantly turn a green dive into a black diamond. All experienced divers can all tell stories about a dive that started as a Green or a Blue but that went completely pear-shaped and immediately became a double black diamond.
But the point here is that many wreck dives and all open water dives offer the potential of a green or blue level dive. And in many cases, the journey to the wreck site is undertaken in a charter boat which gives some opportunity to restrict access to the dedicated black diamond sites.
So let me pose a proposition, and this flavors the magnitude of the request for help that I made earlier: I don’t think ANY CAVE DIVE can be classified as a Green dive. ALL cave dives, even a simple bimble in a place like Peacock, start out as a Black Diamond.
In addition, many cave dives on the other hand are “drive ups,” leaving them more open to abuse.
Touching the hull plates of the Empress or Ireland, counts as a dive, but swimming around the basin at Orange Grove is not a cave dive. If an open water diver wants to “give it a try?” he is totally committed and once beyond the grim reaper sign is participating in a Black Diamond level dive.
In addition, sites like Wayne’s World, the DiePolder system, and Eagles Nest are beyond double black… triple black perhaps. Yet we have divers with zero training, zero experience, who have no business being in there, diving in these spots… and not making it out
Now; who is at fault and how do we change things?
The easy out is to blame the agencies for not “controlling” the situation. But this is a rather naive take on the whole affair. It’s “Tooth Fairy Philosophy;” we can talk about it all we want… it’s still a myth, and believing in it will not make it any more likely to happen.
The agencies have an important role in things; they write standards, they enforce them – under the ‘strong recommendations’ of their insurance underwriters – and they set up a QA infrastructure for the network of men and women who teach under their banner. But agencies can’t work in a vacuum, they need feedback, information.
That leaves us. You and me; and to be completely clear on this, I have no foolproof plan. No guidelines for intervention. No killer argument or presentation of logic that is going to win people over when you bump into them getting ready to take their “Try It” dive in a site where they stand a good chance of topping themselves.
All I can suggest is that we work to educate and lead by example, and become more involved.
And as with any massive change or revolution, it begins with you. Each of us should ask ourselves the question are we diving the plan? Are we diving within the parameters of our experience and training?
As I recently wrote in partial jest, but the sentiment is real… All of you are now deputies, so get out there and kick ass… but before you do so, make sure YOU are without sin before you cast the first stone.
Thank You.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Guy James Cave Diving Review

This is a review of a cave dive in Guy James Cave by a friend named Skip Kendrick.  I absolutely loved his description of the dive, so I have reprinted it here with his permission.  I hope you enjoy it!

There we were in zero viz searching for the gold line. The cave ain't that big, but dang if I can find the stop sign! I thumb the dive 15 feet in; less than 3 minutes. That must be the record for short cave dives! I would call it a cavern dive, but there was no visible sunlight due to the lateness of the day and the total siltout. Up close in Crawford's face I stuck a big thumb with my light inches from it wondering if he would see it….he did and turned to leave, signaling Marbry to turn the dive too. After they both exited, I looked around (as if I could see anything - funny how you rely on sight even when sightless) and soon found the stop sign and the beginning of the gold line. I tied off and followed the line back out to signal Crawford and Marbry to come on down!

The viz was the usual blue-white haze requiring us to stay on the line, or within an easy reach, as we finned along that little golden highway. Why is it blue-white in the first few hundred feet? We know there's a side passage leading to a rock-filled sink that brings it in, but what is it: limestone run-off? I'm thinking of something dead. You know when you see a dead fish or crayfish on the floor of the cave how it is surrounded by blue-white, and then later it's covered in blue-white hairs? I've seen deer thrown in water-filled quarries and how a simple light touch will suddenly fill the water with bit of flesh and that same blue-white fog….

The cave clears a bit past the bone. It's a big black bone, like a cow femur. And there are hip bones, and pieces of broken bones all laying at the bottom of a break down rubble pile. I've been up and down the rubble pile; up to where tree roots hang down into the water and down to where the rubble thins and becomes rock/clay bottom. There's lots of bones in that breakdown pile and catfish too. They roam up and down the pile digging and pulling, so I'm thinking with lots of cows and lots of sink holes….well let's just say there's plenty of food in this cave!

And there's plenty of life too. Two species of fish, big wide-bodied big-eyed fish and solitary cigar shaped fish, that seem to come into the cave only in winter. Of course the usual sculpin, southern cavefish, crayfish, and salamanders, the year-round residents, are ever-present. White and black isopods crawl along the bottom and hide under rocks, while amphipods (some are really baby crayfish I think), fill the water if you just defocus your eyes like you do when staring at those dot-matrix three-dimensional posters (random-dot stererograms). When finally you get the focus right, the 3-D image unfolds and it's like you entered another dimension beyond ordinary sight. I can't help but think of these tiny little creatures, normally undetected by human sight, that spend their lives floating about eating microscopic bits of dead flesh and decomposing vegetable matter. 

And of course I think of our human lives as no more than microscopic in the larger scheme of things, of how our planet is but dust-mote in the universe, less even than a speck of nothingness. But my life seems so large! I, my life, must surely have more meaning than the life of a brainless reflexive cave amphipod. Or maybe not. 

My favorite is the southern cavefish. Blind, albino to the most of almost transparent, and if you get close enough you can see the pink heart beating. But getting that close is difficult. I wonder if a rebreather would calm them down, let me get up close and personal. I think of capturing them and taking them home to a basement aquarium where I can stare closely at them for as long as I want….

Whoa, where are we? As I've been lost in daydreams we've been swimming and the water is now as clear as a bell. I look back and Crawford and Marbry are back there, so I turn and swim back a short ways to where the milky-blue meets the nearly clear and play in the halocline. Like a white fog it hangs just so, in gentle hills and shallow valleys. You can put your head down into the milk, then raise it up and look out over the surface of the smoky fog. Cool.

Crawford and Marbry catch up and we continue on, up and over the camel humps where the water gets shallow and the cave walls get close. The bottom is coarse sand and pebbles and you can see the shapes left by currents from when the rains filled the passage with torrential outflow. Up high is a secondary shelf of beautiful chert formations; black rocks in the shapes of flat-topped mushrooms, rounded on one side and sharpened on the other, some up tall skinny stalks with big plate-sized heads and others small and squat, like little pancakes perched on short fat pedestals. Like a forest in some places and all spread out with room to breathe in other places, the chert formations are delicate testaments to the millenniums. This shelf was formed by a millions of years of rainfall, millions of years of water falling to the ground, of being absorbed by the ground, and millions of years of eroding away the softer rock from the harder, separating the two parts to reveal the artistry of Mother Nature.

We drop down and around the sharp corner, where I always fear the line will one day be cut by the razor-like edge, but today it's continuous and on we go. Deeper now, all of 35 feet, we follow the wide high channel. I stick close to the bottom where the small life flits and scatters, where they wiggle in great effort to move small distances and am reminded once again of our lives, how we too wiggle with great effort to move small distances. As if our lives depended on it, we struggle, we love, we hate, we engage and disengage and too often treat our lives as the most important thing on this earth. Then we settle down in a new spot, a new frame of mind, a place that is not there but here and stop wiggling long enough to catch our breathe and pray we are out of harm's way. I pass the little stick of black salamander, smaller than toothpick, no more than a short dark line in the bedding plane and understand that we are two of a kind. My wiggling and its wiggling differ only in magnitude, in quantity and duration. Long after his wiggling has stopped, mine will continue…or so I hope!

I wiggle a bit extra hard and come up on the triangle rock, the rock that was not there when I first dove this cave, and then one day was. I investigated the ceiling from which it fell and can see the exact placement where it once was, like a piece in a jig-saw puzzle and I always wonder what it must have been like to have been there when it fell. But mostly I think of other large chunks of ceiling falling - especially that one place where the ceiling and floor, both solid rock, are separated by no more than three feet, so that if the ceiling fell, you'd be squashed like a bug. It always makes me smile. Now that's a death! I can see my tombstone now: He was squashed like a bug. Here lies a bit of goo that was once you!
When I die I want my cremated ashes distributed in Guy James Cave. I'd really like an urn with a slow release valve, a time-release valve, hidden in some remote part of the system that would release just a bit of my ashes at 10 or 100 year intervals. Or maybe ask Michael Angelo to mix my ashes, some of them, with his artificial cave clay and blend me into that clay bank just where the milky-blue turns clear! Now that's a grave sight. No tombstone, no plaque, but an urn with my name and born/dead dates hidden where no one will ever find it, releasing the molecules that was once me into the cave waters, to join the milky blue haze.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Starting a new CCR Trimix class tomorrow

I'll be teaching a new CCR Trimix class starting tomorrow morning.  Should be lots of fun!  These guys are experienced CCR divers and very experienced OC divers, so we should have a good time.  Dive #1 will be a shallow dive to access skills and work on some specific drills.  People always ask why we are doing this drill or that drill and most of the time, there are specific skills to be learned by working on the various drills.  At this level of dive training, there is also an expectation that students will be able to calmly deal with not only single failures or emergencies, but also with multiple cascading situations that will test students ability to calmly and methodically deal with problems underwater.

We will work on gas planning, teamwork, emergency scenarios, equipment configurations, gas physiology,  decompression theory, dive planning, dive tables, dive computers and unit specific issues for their individual CCRs with regards to trimix diving.

Should be a challenging yet enjoyable experience for both me as well as the students.

I always enjoy teaching this upper level classes, because more often than not the students come prepared and eager to learn.  (If not, they get sent away until they are eager to learn!)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Advanced Underwater Photography Installement #1

First of all, I will be the first one to admit that I am not a expert at photography whether above ground or underwater!  I do have a lot of fun with it and have over time gotten a little more proficient although I still have a long long ways to go!  I once heard someone say that "underwater photography is an exercise in frustration!"  I can absolutely agree with that statement!  There are just so many variables when it comes to underwater photography that you usually don't have to deal with on land.  My intention with this blog is to gradually, overtime write about some of these variables and when possible share some of my lame attempts to deal with these variables.  

So here we go - Advanced Underwater Photography Installment #1 is hopefully the first of several ramblings about underwater photography techniques. I make no promises as to how often these installments will come, so check back occasionally and see if I have come up with anything new!

So here is a little about me and my camera/housing setup - I have one of the old original Canon EOS 1Ds, 12 megapixel cameras with a Subal housing. (At one time, this was the latest and greatest, but alas as with all things digital, it has long since been surpassed by other cameras which are far more powerful and have all sorts of cool and unique functions that I wouldn't even know how to use. So for the meantime,I use this "old school" digital dinosaur, that continues to serve me well. I do look forward to the day when a manufacturer releases a camera that require no talent or skill. This will suit me just fine!) 

I have both a wide dome port as well as a macro port for my Subal. For wide angle underwater photos I shoot a Canon 16-35 mm lens and for Macro, a Canon Macro 100 mm lens. Additionally, I have sever Sea & Sea strobes as well as some old Nikonos strobes. I primarily use the Sea & Sea YS 120s but occasionally also use a a YS 30 for backfill purposes. (More on that in a later installment). For arms to hold and position my strobes, I use Ultralight gas filled arms to help achieve neutral buoyancy.

When traveling, all of this photo gear takes up quite a bit of room and weighs a ton. It seems like on every trip I am just about fed up with hauling all of this stuff on the plane, but once I have arrived, I am really grateful to have my gear. For me, underwater photography helps keep diving interesting and challenging. With all of the underwater variables such as changing light conditions, visibility, current, challenging animal behavior, backscatter, and the list goes on and on, it seems like there is always something to work on and improve and definitely always something to keep my attention.

Here are a couple of shots - one macro (Brittle Star in Fiji) and one wide angle (Whale Shark and diver in Galapagos - natural light/no strobes) to wet you appetite for future installments! Underwater photography can be a life long pursuit that will challenge even the most experienced divers and photographers.  

I love it!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Unnecessary Deaths in the Tech Diving World

This past week as seen a tragic death at Eagles Nest Cave in North Central Florida.  All diving related deaths are regrettable and especially tragic to friends and loved ones as well as their dive buddies.  The death this past week of this particular diver is especially disturbing because it need never happened.  I say that because this particular dive team was not cave trained!

Apparently, both of these divers were diving CCR (Inspirations) and have neither  cave diving certifications or CCR Trimix certifications.  Eagles Nest is one of the pinnacle deep cave dives in Cave Country.  Most certainly a deep trimix dive and at a location that has claimed several lives over the years, Eagles Nest is often referred to as the Mount Everest of cave diving.  It is obviously not a dive to take without serious preparation and without the proper level of training.

According to the latest internet forum wags, both of the divers had recently enrolled in a CCR Normoxic Trimix class that was blown out due to weather.  The instructor for some reason decided to move the class to EN to take advantage of a diveable site unaffected by the current tropical storm.  The instructor reportedly sent the two students packing after the first dive when he realized they were not yet prepared for that level of diving.  Unfortunately, the two divers returned to EN to conduct a dive on their own in an ill advised attempt to explore EN.  Reports indicate that they were using diluent mixtures that were inappropriate for the intended depths and that this could have possibly contributed to the tragic result of their dive.  You would also have to assume that the overhead environment contributed to basic problem that they experienced.  One of the divers bailed out at 200 feet depth and refused assistance from his dive buddy when offered, and thereafter fell unconscious at depth.  His buddy was unable to pull him out of the cave and had to leave him at depth in order to ensure his own safe ascent.  Very sad indeed.

Bill (Bird) Oestrich and Cotl McCoy were the two primary recovery divers.  Unfortunately, these types of deep recoveries as very dangerous for the recovery divers and in this particular case should never have been required!  Two divers, untrained and under experienced diving in a serious cave that they should have never been in in the first place let alone by themselves lead to an unnecessary death and one that will continue to affect the diving community, their families and friends for a long time to come.

Hopefully, the tech diving community will learn from this tragic event and instructors will be more diligent in choosing appropriate venues for classes and students will take seriously cautions and training prerequisites for various dives they are contemplating.  We are a self regulating industry, and I would hate to see that change due to the actions of a few.  I am very sorry for the loss of life, and hope that we can avoid future such loss. 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I just finished up 2 days at DEMA and then 2 days cave diving in Cave Country (North Central Florida).

Had a fun time at DEMA catching up with friends and checking out the latest and the greatest dive equipment and drooling over new locations for future dive trips!  We saw lots of CCR stuff (rebreathers) and probably the most exciting unit is the new Hammerhead Extreme with lots of new features including new electronics that will allow for downloading via bluetooth individual dive data.  The screen size is also almost double the size and should make it much easier to read.  It will also make it possible to update the software via the internet.  Easier quick connections of all of the hoses, a smaller more streamlined BOV,  a very cool O2 sensor holder that allows users to remove the O2 sensor module much more easily than previously.  These new updates will make an already great unit absolutely fantastic!

The other cool CCR update at the show is the Sentinel's CO2 sensor and electronics.  This is quite possibly the worlds first really true to life functioning CO2 sensor that is actually currently available.  Exciting stuff!

The Apoc was there, but it is really difficult to tell if it is actually a production model or just a prototype.  Time will tell.

While diving at Peacock Springs with Mike Robinson, we ran into Jakub from Golemgear.  He was diving a very cool sidemounted Hammerhead, that he had designed and built.  It uses a spherical O2 tank that is housed in an extended tube that connects to the bottom of the Hammerhead canister.   I saw Jakub swimming underwater with it and it looked very streamlined and I think it will pretty much go anywhere that an OC sidemount diver can go.  Pretty cool design!

Mike and I did a dive at Peacock, Little River and Orange Grove.  We were diving OC sidemount.  (Didn't have time or space this trip to haul along the CCRs, but it was a blast none the less)  We crawled into some very tight nasty little spaces and had a lot of fun working on our sidemount skills!  We stayed at my place in Ft. White and were able to do a little work on the yard and house.  

Gotta love Cave Country!  Very relaxed and laid back!  Just what the doctor ordered!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Diving in the Maldives on the Aggressor liveaboard

We have just completed a week of diving on the Maldives Aggressor based in Male, Maldives  (pronounced Mahlee!)  After a grueling 36-hour flight that included a 5 hour layover at JFK and a 6 hour layover in Dubai airports, by the time we landed in Male, we were definitely ready for some R&R!  Flying coach on Emirates airlines was quite an experience especially with a very large Arab man who oozed into my seat the entire trip from JFK to Dubai! 

Gwen and I arrived one day early and checked into the Bandos resort, just a 20 min. boat ride from the dock at the airport.  The resort was beautiful and we took advantage of a much needed day to catch our breath! 

The next evening, we met the rest of the Dive Addicts crew at the airport and hooked up with the Aggressor staff and went by Doni (the dive boat) to the Aggressor.  The boat is brand new, about 110 feet long and is a motor schooner.  As far as liveaboards go, it is one of the nicer boats we have been on.  The crew was all Maldivian except the “Co-Captain John” who is from Florida.  The crew was a little shy but worked very hard and were very accommodating. 

The food was all right, not fantastic, but better than our food in Indonesia last year!  The cabins were fairly large and the ensuite bathrooms were huge by liveaboard standards.  

Now to the diving!  We had a slow start and after the first day I was starting to wonder if we had really wasted our time and money coming all the way to Maldives.  However, I was absolutely wrong!  By the end of the 2nd day I was saying this is really, really great diving!  We saw Mantas on several dives, Mobula Rays, Marbled Sting Rays, White Tip Sharks, Gray Reef Sharks, Hawksbill Turtles, Green Turtles, and one Whale Shark!  We also saw some fish and critters that are unique to the Maldives including the infamous Maldivian Sponge Snail! 

Probably the most notable thing about the diving in Maldives is the schooling fish.  Once we sailed to the Southern Atols called “Thilas” in Maldivian, we started having really great dives, with enormous schools of various types of fish including Bat Fish, Blue Stripped Snapper, Oriental Sweet Lips, Red Snapper, Jacks, Tuna, Dog Toothed Tuna, Blue Trigger Fish, Banner Fish, Black Pyramid Butterfly Fish,  Cornet Fish, Unicorn Fish, Powdered Blue Sturgeon Fish, Big Nose Unicorn Fish,  Glass-eye Big Eyes, and Moorish Idols.  When I say schooling fish, I don’t just mean a few here or there, but I mean schools of literally hundreds!  It was absolutely amazing! 

We also saw several different types of puffer fish – Guineafowl Pufferfish, Black-spotted Pufferfish, Yellow-eye Pufferfish and the Starry Pufferfish.  Really a wide variety!  In addition, we also saw several blotched Porcupinefish. 

We saw several different types of eels – Black Cheek Moray, Honeycomb Moray, Yellow-margin Moray and the Giant Moray.  I have never witnessed so many eels on the reef at the same time, sometimes two or three eels in the same holes!  You had to be quite careful that you didn’t bump into one or touch one.  They would also quite often be seen free swimming, even during the daytime.  We also saw quite a few Lion Fish mainly the Spotfin Lionfish but also the Common Lionfish.  We saw lots of Stone Fish and on one dive we saw a very large Frog Fish as well as a Leaf Fish.  Both were VERY cool!  Saw a few Mandarin Fish.

We saw more large Groupers than I have ever seen anywhere in the world.  And of course, the several large Napoleon Wrasse, including one called Freddy that was very friendly!  He hung around for 10 mins. or more and was very photogenic! 

We saw lots of Anemonefish and Clark’s Anemonefish as well as 3 different types of of anemones. 

The coral and sponges were not prolific, but the fish life more than made up for it! 

The Dive Addicts group included the following divers:

Randy Thornton
Gwen Thornton
Mike Robinson
Laura Robinson
Mark Robinson
Candice Caulkins
Jeff Matson
Craig Ramon
Doug Smith
Amy Smith

We had a little mishap on the second dive day.  Jeff Matson unhooked his tank from the bungie that holds the scuba units in place on the boat and it fell on his foot ripping off his toenail and fracturing his toe.  It was bleeding pretty badly and Jeff had to fly back to Male to the hospital via seaplane and have it x-rayed.  It turned out that he did not need surgery and was able to rejoin us on the boat the next day, but unable to continue diving.  Craig Ramon came down with some kind of a upper respiratory infection and was unable to dive more than a couple of times during the week, so the Madivian diving didn’t work out for those two, but they did get some diving in while visiting Thailand on the way over there. 

Overall the week was a blast, the diving was superb and the boat and crew were very good.  I would highly recommend the Maldives Aggressor to anyone who is interested in a unique diving experience.   The flights getting there are a bit of a nightmare – 36 hours in total from SLC, but none the less, a great week of diving! 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just chillin' at JFK on our way to Maldives!

Gwen and I are sitting here "just chillin'" here in the Delta Sky room at JFK.  We are on our way to Maldives to meet 8 other divers from Dive Addicts and board the Maldives Aggressor.  Our itinerary is Salt Lake to NYC, NYC to Dubai, Dubai to Malee (Maldives).  36 hours in total!  Fortunately, we are arriving one day early so we can kick back and rest from our vacation!!!!

Even though this is just a recreational trip, I'm really looking forward to doing some relaxing diving and concentrating on my photography.  I've said many times that underwater photography is an exercise in frustration.  I'm hoping that I can take a sufficient number of photos on this trip to end up with some nice shots.

I'll be shooting my Canon 1DS, housed in a Subal housing.  I have both a wide angle dome port as well as a macro port.  I suspect that the wide angle lens and dome port will get more use on this trip than the macro set up due to the expected large amounts of schooling fish and pelagics, but we'll see how it goes.
Humpback and Black and White Snappers, Trevally Jacks, Barracuda, Batfish, Unicornfish, Yellowback Fusiliers and Harlequin Sweetlips 
  I'll try to post some shots on the way home next week, since I don't think we will have internet access on the boat during the week.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Here I sit in the Crown Room at LAX on my way home from wreck diving in San Diego.  I was teaching an Advanced Wreck diving class for Rick Heil.  Joshua and Michael were also diving with us.  Josh, Michael and myself were on our Hammerhead CCRs and Rick was diving a set of steel 95s with a ali 40 of deco gas.

We had a blast.  We dove on Friday on the Lois Ann which was alright, but slightly crowded.  On Saturday we dove on the Humboldt which was MUCH nicer and had lots of room and great amenities - nice dive ladders, hot shower, hot food, plenty of bench space and dive masters that were very tech savvy.  They made the diving a real pleasure.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Humboldt to anyone diving in San Diego.  (Waterhorse Charters

Over the two days, we did 4 dives on the Yukon and 2 on the Ruby E.  Lots of space on both boats to do penetration and although not technically difficult, it is just challenging enough to offer the students a realistic wreck diving experience.  ( at least it is realistic enough to demonstrate and let them experience some wreck penetration skills.  I think Rick will agree that the location and course material was challenging as well as fun.   We also dove with Doug and Marc from San Diego which was a pleasure. Doug was on a Hammerhead and Marc was on a Hammermeg.  ( a Meg with Hammerhead electronics)

The Hammerheads worked flawlessly and we had a great time working on skills and exploring these wrecks.  We will be back again to use both of these wrecks for future classes!  Had a great time!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Can you tell which case belongs to my daughter in law Ashlee?!!!!!  Josh and Ashlee drove down to San Diego today to meet us this weekend for some wreck diving.  Ashlee has yet to embrace the Thornton passion for all types of technical diving, but we are working on her!  The first step will be to purchase a suitable tech diving box!

Monday, October 12, 2009

I taught the second session of an Evolution class tonight to two gentlemen from Bountiful.   They do a fair amount of diving in Hawaii every year.  (7-8 trips per year!)  Must be nice!

We will be in the pool tomorrow night and then we head up to the crater next week to start the open water segments.  They seem to be picking up the concepts fairly quickly which is always nice!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Advanced Wreck Class

Just started teaching an Advanced Wreck Diving class this afternoon.  We are headed to San Diego next weekend to dive some of the "tourist wrecks" in wreck alley so that my students can get a taste of what wreck diving is all about.  Should be pretty tame diving, but will give them an opportunity to do actual penetration.

One of the wrecks we will be diving on is an artificial wreck called the "Yukon", which is a decommissioned Canadian Coast Guard Cutter.   The Yukon has been prepared for recreational divers to experience wreck diving with large holes cut in the side for easier access.  Should be a perfect site for a new technical divers introduction to wreck diving.  I'll post some pictures from the trip later next week.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This is the sign that leads to Cave Country Lodging, our house in Ft. White, Florida!  I will be down there diving for a couple of days immediately following DEMA.  Should be a good time!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Josh Thornton, myself (Randy Thornton), Richard Lamb, Tom Lamb and Amy Smith dove Ricks Spring last Saturday with the intent of shooting some photos of as much of the explored sections as possible. When we got there the entrance appeared to be quite a bit smaller due to a substantial amount of rock that had slid down closing off a portion of the entrance. It has always been a side mount entrance, but Saturday it was suitable for skinny guys only! This basically meant that Josh was the only one who could initially get in! Once Josh was inside, he was able to scoop some of the new rocks out of the way which allowed Richard to barely squeeze through! The next 40 mins or so was spent with both teams (inside and outside) clearing the entrance so that we could all make it through the entrance. This also meant because the water is 40 degrees cold, we were already quite cold before the dive really got under way!

My camera set up is a Canon 1DS
which is quite large. It's housed in a Subal housing with two large Sea & Sea strobes on long arms. With a large dome port to accommodate the wide angle lens,we were all quite concerned about damaging it in the restrictions in a couple of different places. Consequently, we decided to put it in a milk crate to transport it to at least the first dry section. This turned out to be a very bad idea! I was to be the lead diver carrying the milk crate/camera so that I could be ensured of good visibility, but between the cold, flow, and trying to swim carrying a heavy milk crate, it was just about enough to do me in! About 35 mins. into the dive we were in a fairly tight tunnel called the "Slippery Slide" that only has room for
one diver when I suffered a major free flow! (I'm assuming due to the cold!) Carrying stages, camera, in a tight tunnel with a free flow made for some hair raising moments, and by the time the team was able to turn around in tight quarters with all of our gear and high tail it back towards the entrance, I had experienced about as much fun as I wanted for one day! Fortunately, my son Josh offered to carry the camera back out! (OK, I shoved it in his face and said: "Here you take this sucker!") Turning around in the Slippery Slide caused a silt out and we excited in next to zero viz. We ended up loosing two additional strobes that we were going to use in slave mode to light up the place. They were worth about a $1000 so we were pretty bummed about that, but better strobes than a diver! Hopefully we will find the strobes on another dive sometime.
Diving in cold water caves is another whole level of
stress that is hard to explain. Heavy gloves, hoods, thick undergarments, etc. etc. just complicates virtually every aspect of the dive. We are seeing incredible sights, but it is WAY hard work!
Josh and Matt are heading back up to Ricks on Tuesday to do another push and get some pictures for an article his is writing for Advanced Diver Magazine. I won't be able to go, but I wish them luck! We don't believe we are close to hitting the end. This is exciting stuff. Josh and Richard are convinced that we can haul a ladder somehow in to the 2nd dry section and climb up the 20 foot waterfall and explore that section, but I am not convinced it's possible. We'll see how that goes! We now know that there are at least two sources of water, one of which is coming down the water fall.

That's it for now. Stay tuned!

Josh, Amy, Me and Tom showing off the Crate of Death!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I'm sure for many of you that live full time in cave country or other areas around the world where there are numerous caves found, exploring a virgin cave is not a once in a life time event! For a small group of tight knit Utah cave divers, Ricks Spring is a dream come true. You may recall reading an article in the CDS magazine last year written by Wendell Nope, concerning the ongoing exploration of Ricks Springs in Logan Canyon, Utah. Of course compared to Wakulla or other major exploration projects, Ricks is of little consequence in the overall scheme of things, but having a diveable cave within a couple of hours of home is absolutely fantastic!

We have been pushing this cave over the past 3 years. Originally dived by Wendell Nope and Richard Lamb, the Ricks exploration team now consist of 10 people: Wendell Nope, Richard Lamb, Tom Lamb, Matt Mimnaugh, Tibby Petrescu, Mike Robinson, Amy Smith, Joshua Thornton, Michael Thornton, & Randy Thornton.

As a high flow, high altitude fresh water spring, diving Ricks is a challenge in many ways. It is only diveable during certain months of the year due to excessive flow! When I say flow, I mean during spring run-off times, you can't even make it in the entrance let alone make any headway in the cave! Probably the biggest challenge is the water temperature. 40 degrees is cold by anyone's standards, and cave diving in this environment certainly appeals to only the most vigorous divers! Dry suits, thick hoods and gloves make virtually every aspect of laying line in virgin passageway a challenge. Additionally, smoothed scalloped surfaces with few legitimate tie-off points make for line laying challenges.

About 1500 feet into the cave, you hit a dry section which then requires climbing up a waterfall section and portage through approximately 300 additional feet of dry/wet limestone area to the next section of going underwater cave. As of two weeks ago, with the teams assistance, Josh and Michael Thornton added about 300 feet of additional passage making explored passage past the dry section about 700-750 feet, for a total of approximately 2200 feet of cave explored. (rough estimate, as at some point we will go back an do a legitimate measurement!) According to Josh and Michael, the new unexplored passage became extremely silty as the percolation dislodged silt resting in the scalloped cups on the sides of the cave and viz when from 100 feet to 2 inches!

Run times for exploring the end of lines at this point are running in the 2 to 2 1/2 hour range, so you can imagine how cold the divers are when exiting the cave in these temperatures! The divers usually require help removing their equipment and getting out of the water at that stage because they are so wiped out!

The cave is definitely sidemount access. There are some very large passages, but also some restrictions that just wouldn't allow for backmount access. Yesterday, in order to continue past the dry section, the push team staged cylinders at the dry section so that they could use just their primary LP 85s in the new section without having to worry about extra stages in the large crack that is currently being explored.

Last year the CDS donated some gold line to be installed. Less than a year later, parts of the gold line already need to be repaired, and we hope to work on that project in the next few weeks as well as improve the routing in a few places. Past the dry section there is only exploration line in place for now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

August 2009 - Florida Cave Diving Trip

Peacock Springs is one of the most beautiful sites in Cave Country. The cave goes for thousands of feet and
makes for hours of wonderful dives.
Now a State Park, it has great facilities for cave divers. We dove at Peacock over two different days. Great time!

My son in law, Scott Olcott was with us doing his Cavern and Intro to Cav
e training. Notice the big smile on his face since he passed his class!

Scott gearing up at Peacock after he completed his class!

Amy Smith and Matt Mimnaugh spent the week diving with us. Amy was on side mount all week and Matt was on back mount.

Josh, Michael and I gearing up with our Hammerheads at Little River. LR is one of my favorite caves in North Central Florida. The flow was down a little bit due to the floods the previous 2 months, so the viz wasn't quite as good as normal, but none the less the dive was fantastic!
We did approximately a 2 hour dive. Gotta love cave diving on CCR!

My first Blog post ever!

Hi Everyone,

This is my first Blog post ever! My daughter has been blogging for quite sometime, but I am a little late coming to the party! I figured that I would make this Blog centered around diving. ( I know, big surprise!) My wife told me that I should name my blog "How I waste even more time on the internet with diving!" Hopefully, someone out there will be interested in reading my thoughts on diving. If not, at least I can entertain myself!

Oh well, I don't really know too much about this blogging stuff, but at least I got started. Stay tuned for more exciting, highly entertaining & witty thoughts on all things diving related!