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!