Sunday, November 21, 2010

Papua New Guinea with Dive Addicts

Papua New Guinea November 3rd-17th, 2010

Traveling from Draper, Utah to Papua New Guinea is one of the more horrendous travel experiences I have personally had.  2 ½ days of full on travel with overnights in Brisbane, Australia and Port Moresby, PNG (the murder capital of the world!), somewhat lively discussions with Air Nuigini personnel over weight restrictions, very tired travelers, and stiff muscles, but all was forgotten about by the time we finally rolled into Walindi Resort in Kimbe PNG.  With friends and loved ones asking us if we needed our head examined, we were determined to make it to one of the premier dive destinations on the planet!  We actually were returning to the site of a pervious Dive Addicts trip aboard the Star Dancer, a luxury liveaboard that calls Kimbe PNG home.  Our trip in 2007 was an amazing experience, and this trip lived up to our expectations! 

After a nice lunch at the Walindi Resort, we boarded the Star Dancer to find that she had undergone a retrofit since our last trip in 2007.  New ownership and a new captain were a welcome relief and the crew commanded by Christopher Guglielmo a native Floridian by way of several years in the Turks and Caicos, assisted by Yuki Kawamura, a young Japanese girl who served as Trip Director and Dive Master, as well as several PNG locals, the boat was in tip top shape and ran extremely efficiently and comfortably.  The food was top notch and plentiful.  Captain Christopher is a world-class underwater photographer and was very helpful at assisting and giving helpful hints to guests when requested. 

Our Dive Addicts group consisted of 10 people including Randy & Gwen Thornton, Doug & Carrie Larson, Alex Miller & Andrea Kelly, Doug  & Amy Smith, and Mike & Nikki Robinson.   Our itinerary included Kimbe Bay, Witu Islands and Fathers Islands.  PNG offers a wide variety of animal encounters with the widest variety of bio-diversity found on earth.  One of the most exciting adventures for new divers coming to PNG is the small critters found on the “muck dives”.  Muck dives in PNG consist of diving in usually dark sand from the many local volcanoes.  Found amongst the rumble, palm fronds, coconuts, and various and assorted trash on the bottom, you can find some of the coolest small unusual creatures found anywhere.  Pipe Fish, Leafy Ghost Fish, Leafy Scorpion Fish, Mandarin Fish, Mantis Shrimp, Decorator Crabs, Twin Spotted Gobies, Blue Ring Octopus, Unidentified Ringed Octopus, Enormous Sea Cucumbers, numerous Nudibranchs of all types shapes, sizes and colors, Hermit Crabs, Upside Down Jelly Fish, Boxer Crabs, Moray Eels of several variety, Twin Spotted Lion Fish, Ornate Ghost Pipe Fish, Blue Ribbon Eel, Rock Moving Wrasse, Juvenile Spotted Sweet Lips, Flamed Colored Dart Fish, Bi-Colored Dart Fish,

Our diving on the bommies included lots of sitings of Bump Head Parrot, Napoleon Wrasse, Silver Tip Shark, White Tip Shark, Grey Reef Shark, Squid, Cuttle Fish,  Spiny Devil Fish, Lion Fish, as well as all of the usual suspects. 

We participated in a couple of different shark feeds and got up close and personal with a gaggle of White Tips and Grey Reef Sharks who were not shy about getting right up in your face. 

Papua New Guinea is a photographer’s and videographer’s paradise.  There is something virtually on every dive to grab your attention and challenge your skills! The water temperature during our 8 days was a balmy 87 degrees Fahrenheit!  Many of the guests went without wetsuits or skins and simply dove with a rash guard.  The water conditions ranged from raging current to virtually no current in bathtub type conditions.  We dove on mostly bomies (sea pinnacles) in the mornings and in the afternoon and nights mostly in more protected sites.  The dive masters were top-notch young PNG local boys who were able to pick out even the smallest creatures who us mere mortals were oblivious to! 

While in the Walindi Islands, we had the chance to visit a local village.  A guy named Dicki, who has lived on the island for 45 years running a Copra plantation, took us through the local village and introduced us to the folks there.  Most of the adults were up the hill at their garden spot while the kids were home mowing the lawns with bush-whackers, a large machete type knife.  The kids were unbelievably sweet and followed us around posing for pictures and smiling from ear to ear.  They were thrilled to practice their English.  Each island has its own unique language that is unintelligible to the people on the islands next door.  In PNG there are over 867 unique languages with Pidgin the common language spoken throughout PNG as well as a fare amount of English.  There are over 50 political parties and no one prime minister has lasted their entire 5-year term.  Indigenous counting systems are more than 50.  One counting system is based on the joints of the body and nose! 

The people of PNG are generally quite pleasant and friendly, with the notable exception being the hoodlums who run around Port Moresby.  Once out of Port Moresby, the people were always excited to see us.   There are still quite a bit of territorial village/tribal protectionism.  Apparently, the week before we arrived, a group of 6 men were hacked to death when their boat ran out of gas and they washed up on the shore of a non-friendly competing village.  The villagers didn’t appreciate the intrusion and hacked them with bush-whackers! 

On several of the dives, upon surfacing, we would find young kids in dugout canoes with outriggers, wanting to trade flowers, fruit and vegetables for soap, rice, or other staples.  They would float for several hours behind the boat until the cook would come out and do a little “business” with them!  They also love to get their pictures taken and grin from ear to ear! 

While diving the pinnacles in Fathers Islands, we were hosted by a resident 5 foot long Great Barracuda by the name of George, who is very photogenic!  In fact, so close that you get an up close and personal view of his nasty dental work! 
One evening after completing a night dive, we were greeted at the hang bar by several large Silver Tip Sharks that were quite interested in checking us out.  Made for a few anxious moments during the safety stop!

Interestingly enough, PNG has experienced a bit of an El NiƱo year, and so there has been a small amount of coral bleaching, but they seem to be recovering nicely.  One cool photography opportunity of the warm water is that occasionally you will see an ultra white bleached sea anemone that makes for a striking photographic opportunity.  According to Captain Christopher over 60% of all species of the world’s coral is found in PNG with an incredible amount of endemic fish. 

The Star Dancer holds 16 guests, and Dive Addicts had 10 of the spots.  This was our 2nd time onboard for this itinerary, and this particular crew was a huge improvement over the previous experience!  The diving, accommodations, food, service and sites were certainly worth the effort to get here and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something a little off the beaten path!  The travel home was a little tedious and included 3 flight cancelations and lots of sitting around in the Hoskins airport which certainly gives a whole new meaning to airport services!  I now refer to the Hoskins airport as Hoskins Prisoner of War Camp!  One small hint - don’t even think about opening the door to the restrooms!  It was a near death experience!  Air Niugini is not Delta by any means, but we made it safely and I would gladly return to PNG again!  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eurotek 2010

October 16, 2010 - 

Just finished attending the first day's sessions. The biggest problem was trying to decide which of the many sessions to attend. As they run 4 concurrent sessions each time slot, it made for some difficult choices!

So far, here are the presentations I attended: 

Leigh Bishop gave a very interesting presentation about Carl Spencer's unfortunate death on the Britannic Expedition 2010. 

Dr. Simon Mitchell gave a very informative presentation on decompression sickness including in-water decompression. 

Antti Apunen & Janne Suhonen shared incredible photographs and spoke about The Molnar Janos Cave System beneath the city of Budapest. 

Phil Short spoke about CCR safety and design parameters. 

Jill Heinerth gave an amazing presentation on Blue Hole exploration in the Bahamas. 

We have a formal dinner and awards show tonight. 

The show has been a blast for me so far. I anxious to see and hear more tomorrow! 

October 17, 2010

Another great day of presentations at Eurotek 2010!

Started off with a very interesting presentation by Barry McGill & Ian Lawler entitled “Misadventure, Minefields and U-boats – the deep wreck of Donegal.” I’m very jealous that they have some many incredible targets just off their backyards!

Carl Douglas gave a presentation called “Baltic Ghost Ships – Shipwreck Discoveries in the Baltic Sea”. This was absolutely one of the highlights of the weekend for me. Incredible photography and video of shipwrecks in the Baltic. Amazing viz, ships from the 1600s to modern, and some of the most spectacular images I have every seen. The wrecks are in pristine condition. I really want to visit this place!

Tomaz Stachura gave a cool` presentation on “Graf Zeppelin, Nazi Aircraft Carrier, expedition 2009” Another amazing dive in the Baltic Sea! Looks like I am going to have to book a trip there soon!

Watched a half hour film by Edoardo Pavia on a recent expedition to Truk Lagoon. Shot in Hi Def video, the videography was very impressive!

Phil Short presented, “Cave Diving Adventures – one man’s worldwide cave diving exploits”. Once again, Phil convinced us that he is certifiable! Even though I have heard the story before, his tale about being trapped underwater in Swindon’s hole, is enough to raise your blood pressure!

Agnes Milowka regaled us with tales of “Cave Diving Down Under – a Look at Cave Diving in Australia” Amazing that such a skinny young girl has added so much new line in so many locations around the world! Very entertaining!

We had a formal dinner last night with black tie and the whole bit! Good food and an entertaining time. The Brits really know how to put on a good show. Well organized, and top notch presentations. Mostly Europeans, but there were also people from OZ, USA, South America, Russia, Eastern Europe, etc. etc. As I mentioned earlier, the biggest challenge was just trying to decide which presentations to attend, as they had multiple ones going at the same time!

Definitely worth the trip over! 

When the team is in Sync!

Doing technical dives, as a team can be one of the most rewarding experiences as a diver.  This is especially true when the team members are in sync with each other and have the same goals, equipment configurations, and safety and communications protocols. 

I have the fortunate advantage of being able to dive quite frequently as part of a 3-man team consisting of my two sons and myself.  Josh, Michael and myself are experienced cave, wreck and CCR divers.  All 3 of us are technical dive instructors or instructor trainers and have on “most days” very similar philosophies about diving in general.  All of my kids, having grown up in a “diving household” were part of the nightly diving discussions (sometimes arguments) that took place around the dinner table, and from a very early age were keenly aware of team diving protocols!  This made for some lively discussion and testing of dad’s opinions!   

As soon as the boys were old enough to start actively taking part in technical diving, I was acutely aware of my wife’s determination that we as a team return from our crazy adventures with the same team members with which we left the house.  If something were to happen to one of the boys, I might as well not come home!

Now as adults, Josh and Michael give me a serious run for my money!  Long gone are the days when dad dictates to the young boys what profiles and procedures we will be following.  Since these days we typically dive as a CCR team, our team activities include prepping and testing our rebreathers to make sure that they work as advertised!  Some of the prep will include making sure that the units are set up identically with gas selections, decompression algorithms, gas fills, bail out options, fresh batteries, O2 cells that are working properly and especially making sure that all of our equipment is rigged similarly and is in 100% working order.  Due to the fact that all 3 of us dive the same CCR rigs, we are more closely able to help monitor and keep an eye on each other during the dive.  It’s kind of funny sometimes to look at underwater pictures of us, because its often difficult to tell who is who!  (Although if you look closely, you can usually tell which one is me, because I have a little better form!:) )

Prior to any “big” dives, we spend a lot of time as a team discussing our safety protocols, rigging our equipment in the desired fashion and practicing our individual and team procedures in an environment as close as possible to the target environment.  We practice these team procedures over and over again until we feel comfortable that we are as prepared as possible for both planned and unplanned events.  We spend a lot of time talking about “what ifs” and practice our responses to such events.  One of the interesting things about practicing all of these “what ifs” is that it seems to makes us more aware of potential problems and as a team we seem to do a reasonably good job of avoiding the problems to start with, simply because we become more aware of them! 

Underwater communication because extremely critical when diving as a team.  Due to the fact that we have been diving as a unit for many years, we clearly have a substantial advantage.  Even though most of our signals are fairly standard cave diver and decompression diver signals, we still spend time before each dive reviewing our communication protocols.  Our underwater team communication actually starts above water.  Part of our pre-dive planning includes substantial discussion about the goals of the dive, the profiles and any unique procedures pertaining to that particular dive.  Underwater, is not the time to be figuring out these types of things!  We typically spend a lot more time discussing and planning our dives than we do actually executing the dives.  That is all just part of the fun! 

After each of our dives, we will hold a post dive debriefing, where each of the team members will take the opportunity to review how the dive went and offer suggestions on how to improve our team efforts. 

Even though we are all high spirited and competitive individuals, when it comes time to operate as a CCR team, there is no messing around.  We take our diving seriously, and even though we have a lot of fun, our goal is to pull each dive off with a precision that enhances our safety and effectiveness.  Believe me when I say that if any one member of the team deviates from the plan, you definitely hear about it from the other two members!  I have on a few occasions had to suffer through a tongue lashing from Josh and Michael when they felt I had not followed the plan with precise exactness! 

Technical diving, especially team diving in overhead environments on CCR, requires a single mindedness of attitude and execution.  It also makes for great stories to talk about around the dinner table!   By the way, my daughter and wife, also technical divers in their own right, are equally capable of joining in the lively diving discussions at the dinner table!
We are all about fun, but at the end of the day, the greatest satisfaction comes from developing a plan, executing on the plan and then returning as a team to tell our big fish whopper stories that make our dives sound incredibly difficult, exciting and death defying!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ricks Spring Cave - Logan Canyon, Utah

This past Monday, Richard Lamb and I did a quick dive at Ricks Springs Cave.  It had been almost a year since I was up there last, so I was anxious to get back in there and see how things were looking.  Being a sidemount dive, I was diving steel 85s and Richard had steel 95s.  

As usual, the water was VERY cold, about 39 degrees or so!  The weather was great, just staring fall weather, but beautiful!  We left the dive shop about 7:30 AM and arrived at the cave about 9:30.  We had a bit of an audience when we got up there, with lots of people asking us questions like: "Is it dark in there, and is the water cold?".  

We prepped our gear, and started the dive.  The entry way was clear and the flow was not too bad. I was wearing a new dry suit, which I apparently cut the neck seal a little too much, and so I suffered a flooded suit.  By the time we were about 30 mins. into the dive and back at the second air space, I was so cold that I had to call the dive!  By the time we made it out of the cave, I was really chilled!  The top of my head was so cold, I couldn't feel a thing!  Completely numb!  I was quite hypothermic and really struggled even getting my gear off.  In fact, Richard had to help me remove my fins!  

All in all, it was a beautiful dive, albeit cold!  I had a great time, and about 2 1/2 hours later, by the time we made it back to Dive Addicts, I was actually almost warmed up!  What we won't do for a little adventure!  

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Legend has been lost

This past week, we spent the entire week in Cave Country cave diving and having fun with the family.  We took all 3 of our kids and their spouses, (well a fiance in one case) as well as our 2 grandkids.  While we were there, we were able to attend the memorial service for Wes Skiles who died while on a fairly benign dive in 70 feet of clear blue sea water in Boynton Beach, Florida.  He was on a video shoot for National Geographic, and apparently wasn't involved in anything too strenuous or challenging during the dive.  He was diving a CCR unit, but little is known about what went wrong at this point.  

The entire dive community was in shock, and there was an immediate outpouring of condolences from around the world.  Additionally, tech divers everywhere were stunned that Wes Skiles, one of the original and best known cave divers of all time, could suffer such an unlikely accident.  

For those of us who dive CCR units, this was a severe dose of reality.  If it could happen to Wes, it could certainly happen to anyone!  Unfortunately, as is the case with most of these types of accidents, it is unlikely that the entire story will be made known.  Either due to lack of information, or reluctance to speak publicly about well known figures, the information surrounding the cause of death is rarely made public. The one thing that does happen however, is that hopefully many of us to stop and consider our own diving practices, and hopefully recommit ourselves to ensuring that we are safeguarding our own fragile lives.  

When we dive, especially technical dives, we are placing ourselves in a harsh unforgiving environment.  Hopefully, Wes' unfortunate death will serve as a reminder to all of the rest of the technical diving community, that none of us are above having things go wrong.  I know that I will approach my personal diving with a renewed commitment to ensuring that I prepare and execute every single dive as though it is the most important one I will ever make.  

Wes Skiles was an incredible underwater explorer, diver, cave diver, underwater photographer, underwater videographer and environmental advocate for the planet.  It is a huge loss for the diving community that he has left us this early, but his presence will long be felt and experienced through those in the diving community that he has touched.  The close to a 1000 people that showed up to Wes Skiles' memorial service is a small testament to how many people he influenced with this photos, videos and infectious enthusiasm for life.  

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More CCR pics

Michael, Randy & Josh Thornton prepping for a Trimix dive on the wall in Grand Cayman May 2010.

Josh and Michael doing their pre-breath!

Plenty of CCR units headed for a deep dive!  

Randy, Michael & Josh doing deco after a dive on the Carrie Lee in George Town Harbor

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eagles Nest - a Fairly Serious Dive in Cave Country!

I'm just on my way home from a great week of cave diving in Cave Country (North Central Florida). I had the opportunity of doing a beautiful dive at Eagles Nest with my good friend Wayne Kinard. Wayne was diving OC while I was diving my Hammerhead.

I was diving a 10/60 mix at a set point of 1.2. Even though I choose to dive OC in some cave diving situations, Eagles Nest is in my opinion, a dive that is more conducive to CCR. It's a very deep, large wide open cave with variable conditions that are effected by the tides. (Even though you won't find salt water in the cave, the tidal exchange will completely affect the viz from day to day.) We did a nice long dive with a total run time of 3 hours and 10 mins.

Although Eagles Nest is also the perfect cave in which to use a scooter, we chose to swim this time around. We dove the Upstream section and swam to the 1000 feet mark, which even though it doesn't sound like much, when you are swimming at 270 feet, a 1000 feet in and a 1000 feet back out is a pretty good work out! It took us 41 mins. to hit the 1000 feet mark where we turned the dive. at about 43 mins., I started to notice that I was getting a fair amount of water in the loop. I emptied it several times over the next few mins., but I kept getting more and more water! Thankfully, the Hammerhead is extremely flood resistant and tolerrent, and I knew that I could deal with a fair amount of water. Over the shoulder counter lungs and the radial scrubber that sits on top of a sizable spacer, combine to make for a substantial safety margin when it comes to water trapping.

When you are 40 mins. back in a cave at 270 deep, about the last thing in the world you really want to do is to test out your bailout planning efficiency! I was pretty confident that I was packing sufficient bailout, but not real excited about testing out my theory! Consequently, I was determined to complete the dive on the loop if at all possible. Because my buddy was on OC, I really wasn't too excited about having to share air with him if it turned out that my bailout was not sufficient, so I had even more motivation to stay on the loop as long as possible!

My work of breathing became a little more difficult as a portion of my scrubber became wet, but again due to the scrubber design, it was still functional. I just had to slow down a little bit so as not to over breath the scrubber at that point. A slight adjustment to my normal cave diving trim also helped keep the water out of the scrubber.

3 hours and 10 mins. later, I completed my deco and with a HUGE smile on my face surfaced still on the loop! When I later cleaned my unit, I found a couple of liters of water in both counter lungs, and in the canister. Never once did I even taste a hint of caustic cocktail. I was actually quite surprised at the volume of water!

So the big question that is now going through my mind is "Did I really have enough bailout? Given that I was diving with an OC buddy that really wouldn't have been in a position to do "team bailout", should I have staged more bailout then what I did?" I think the answer is that even though I theoretically had plenty of bailout, in this particular buddy team situation, one CCR and one OC, I will error on the side of extreme caution in the future. When I'm cave diving with my two sons on CCR, we dive as a team and carry loads of bailout between the team. When diving with an OC buddy, this type of dive does not lend itself to team bailout practices.

The conclusion I have come to is that I will be staging more bailout than my planning requires when doing a deep cave dive with an OC buddy. Although the Hammerhead is extremely flood tolerant, I will be hedging my bets in the future! A flooded CCR in a deep cave is a CCR divers worst nightmare! When in Cave Country I will occasionally see CCR divers way back in caves with nothing more than a couple of aluminum 40s. I wonder what would happen if they had a CO2 hit, or a flood and actually had to make it back out on these little tanks in what would surely be a very stressful situation? A little scary in my mind!

By the way, once I realized that I was taking on water, neither me or my buddy could figure out where it was coming from. After the dive, I noticed that it was coming from a slit in my mouthpiece. A simple problem that caused my a bit of concern during the dive!

Dive safe everyone! 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Just finished up InnerSpace 2010

I'm in the Atlanta airport on my way home from InnerSpace 2010.  We had a great time, and I had a fantastic time diving with my two sons.  We had spent a significant amount of time preparing for the week, working and drilling on our team diving procedures, and it paid off!  The week went smoothly with no problems and we finished off the week with a dive to 352 feet at Texas Hole.  Photos courtesy of Doug Ebersole.

It is amazingly peaceful to do a deep dive on the Cayman walls, especially when you and the rest of the team are in synch!  After nine days in a row of deep dives together, we really were working well together.  Our equipment configurations were working well and it was awesome exploring the incredibly beautiful vertical walls.

Thursday we dove the Carrie Lee, a wreck that sits in the sand on the edge of the wall in George Town with the bow sitting in about 280 feet.  We dove down to about 330 feet and then came back up the wall underneath the bow.  It was a very cool dive!  Very pretty looking up the wall and seeing the bow hanging over the edge.

On Wednesday, we had a really funny thing happen during one of the dives.  We were coming up the wall from quite deep and when we saw another diver on an Inspiration hunched over and very still on the wall at about 280 feet.  I watched him for a few seconds and when he wasn't moving, I became concerned and swam over to him to see what was going on.  I floated over the top of him and it appeared that the skin on the top of his head was loose and flowing back and forth in the slight current.  Obviously, this was quite concerning, and I couldn't figure out what on earth was going on.  I wiggled his arm to get his attention, and he looked up and he had a Halloween mask pulled over his head!  I certainly didn't see that coming!  Even on serious Trimix dives, divers are stilling having fun!

If you haven't been to InnerSpace before, it is definitely worth a try!  It's just plain fun hanging out with other CCR divers with similar interests all week!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

One more day of InnerSpace 2010!

This week has been an incredible experience.  9 days of deep technical CCR dives and interesting seminars every night.  Sitting around between dives chewing the fat with some of the who's who in the industry has really been just a blast.  And to make it even more fun, I've been able to dive with both of my sons on each dive.

We have spent quite a bit of time this winter discussing and practicing our team diving skills and procedures, and I think the time has paid off.  Josh and Michael are already excellent divers and diving with them as a 3 man team has been a great experience.

The weather has been on again and off again raining then sunny, but we have not had any dive called due to weather.  Most of the dives have been between 300-330 feet, and we have really had a great chance to put the Hammerheads through the paces.  Haven't had a single problem with them.

Cayman is a great place with for this kind of stuff, and everyone in attendance has been very friendly and open for discussions about CCRs and tech diving in general.  It's been great to rub shoulders with some very experienced guys and listen to their thoughts on various things.  Dive Tech has done an amazing job  of keeping up with 64 CCR divers!  The logistics much just be overwhelming!

We dove today at a place called Hepp's wall and a dive site called "Funky Town".  We entered a tunner/cave/swim through at 180 and exited on the reef at 290 feet and kept going down the reef till 312.  Incredibly quite and beautiful and relaxing!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

InnerSpace in Grand Cayman

InnerSpace at Dive Tech and Cobalt Coast Resort started officially last night in Grand Cayman.  Joshua, Michael and I all arrived on Thursday afternoon after an all night red eye.  We weren't complaining however when we got off the plane and were greeted by warm breezes about 80 degrees and beautiful blue oceans!

We were picked up at the airport by the resort and about a half hour later were unloading at Cobalt Coast.  Dive Tech really does a wonderful job of putting on this event.  64 CCR divers plus staff this year.  All sorts of units here - Inspiration, Evolutions, Sentinels, Hammerheads, Titans, rEvos, Megs, Kiss, and Optimas.   They range from the newbies/freshly minted CCR divers to crusty old hands that have been around since the beginning of CCR diving!  They divide up the boats so that we have a recreational boat, a normoxic trimix boat and a deep trimix boat.  Of course the boys and I opted for the deep boat!

The first couple of days prior to the open of InnerSpace we did some shore dives as warm up.  First dive was a 180 footer, later that afternoon we did a 150 footer.  The next morning we did a 225 footer in the morning and a 60 footer in the afternoon.  Here in Grand Cayman there is a mini wall and then the big wall.  In between, depending on whether you are swimming from Cobalt or Light House, the distance swim between in 15-20 mins. each way, so you definitely get some exercise.

On the dive at Lighthouse reef yesterday we were cruising along at 225 feet when we saw a turtle come screaming up from the depth at 300 plus feet.  As it got about even with us, it got tangled in a fishing line wrapped around its head and front fin.  Fortunately, we were close enough to help cut it free and it was able to swim to the surface unscathed!

This morning the boats started up and we did a 250 foot dive this morning.  The group on the boat are all quite experienced divers with several CCR Advanced Trimix instructors and divers.  It was fun to not have to worry about anyone besides your individual team!  Nice and relaxing with incredible viz and nice and warm!  It is very quiet down there with just CCR divers on the wall.  I didn't personally see it but other members of the group saw a large hammerhead swim overhead.

Having a great time.  Hope to get the video camera out soon!


Monday, April 5, 2010

Taking your time!

The last few years I have become more and more convinced that when it comes to learning advanced technical diving theory, procedures and skills, that taking it nice and slow is better!  I know that some guys are into the total immersion, zero to hero mentality, but my own experience as both a student and as an instructor has shown me time and time again, that a gradual, step by step approach usually makes for better internalization and more polished divers.

Sure, it's very possible to do the minimum requirements in the minimum amount of time all in one condensed period, but I do not believe that it makes for superior trained divers.  IMHO, the most relaxed and proficient divers are ones that take each level of training one step at a time and have sufficient time in-between certifications and even individual class sessions to improve gradually and methodically.  This stuff is not a race, and the first one to the finish line is not necessarily the more polished or skilled diver.  Muscle memory and diving knowledge is not gained overnight.  It has been my experience, that just like learning a musical instrument or learning a foreign language, consistent, focused, repetitive work on a daily basis leads to more polished skills and internalized theory that over time becomes second nature.  There are no short cuts to this stuff, and those that think there are short cuts are usually not long timers in this sport.

I think this is especially apparent in CCR diving.  CCR diving is very much a thinking man's activity.  The CCR divers that become the most proficient, are usually the ones that have a very good understanding of the basic theory as well as have put in the hours over enough months and even years to really "be one with their units" and know enough to realize what they don't know!  Cramming may help university students pass a final exam, but does not contribute to long-term retention.  Careful, step by step progression, coupled with ongoing education and repetition makes for a much safer and more enjoyable diving experience.  As they say, "practice makes perfect", but probably even more important is "Regular perfect practice, makes for perfect performance every time!"

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Beneath the Sea 2010

I had the opportunity to attend Beneath the Sea 2010 (BTS) this weekend for the first time.  I was actually quite surprised at how big of event it was and the volume of attendees!  Friday night was kind of sparsely attended but Saturday as the day wore on, it was absolutely packed.

It was fun catching up with some old friends and acquaintances - Tom Mount, Joe Radomski, Steve Lewis, Ted Greene, Mark Nix, Corey Mearns.  I was fortunate to get a free pass from Dona at South Pacific Island Travel, so even better, it didn't cost me anything!  Seeing all of the cool travel locations, I've got the itch to get out on a dive trip!

Didn't really see anything that was earth shattering new, but there was lots of cool stuff to check out.  The new Silent Submersion Magnus scooter looks pretty cool!  The speed controls on the handle are way cool!

The North Eastern diving community is certainly a hardy bunch.  It was interesting to note that the average age of attendee appeared to be in the late 40s.  There were very few young people there.  I'm not exactly sure what that tells us - Does it mean that young people are not be attracted to diving or that they just can't afford it?  I don't know the answer to this, but I intend to do a little more research into it!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

It must be in the genes!

My two year old granddaughter is hard at work studying for her upcoming cave course!  Her father is in the middle of finishing up his Full Cave course, so I'm sure she comes by her fascination honestly!

Next up will be Intro to CCR diving!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ice Diving with Dive Addicts at Deer Creek Reservoir

This past Saturday, we spent the better part of the day ice diving at Deer Creek Reservoir in Utah.  With air temperature of around 23 degrees fahrenheit and water temperature at approximately 36 degrees, this kind of diving is really only for the hardiest divers!  In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn't actually dive, but was there to provide surface support and snap a few pictures!  (too stikin' cold for me!)

The four divers were Josh Thornton, Michael Thornton, Mike Nygard and Rich Cherian.  We left Dive Addicts about 8:15 AM and got up to Deer Creek about 9:00 AM.  It took us about 45 mins. to cut the hole in the ice and then we had to struggle a little bit to get the triangular piece of ice pushed underneath one side so that we could get the divers in the water.
We split the divers into two teams so we always had 3 surface support while there were two divers in the water.  One of the surface support was always geared up and ready to splash if there was a problem that required his help.  Both divers were tethered together with a climbing rope that was anchored to 3 points of the triangular opening using ice climbing screws and carabineers.

The set up for the dive is the hard part.  Hauling out all of the gear on sleds, marking the spot, drilling three holes in the ice with an ice auger, cutting the ice with a chain saw and then finishing off with a lumberjack hand saw with lead weights on the end that sticks in the water, moving the ice slab out of the way, anchoring the ropes, gearing up the divers, helping them into the water took approximately 3 1/2 hours before the first dive even started!

The dive profiles were approximately 110 feet deep for 29 mins.  At an altitude of approximately 6500 feet,  under the ice, this is a fairly serious dive!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Teaching an Advanced Trimix Class

I just started teaching an Advanced Trimix Class this week to a group of 4 tech diving students.  These 4 are all students who have taken previous classes from me so it is fun to watch them progress and develop as  technical divers.

I really enjoy teaching Advanced Trimix because it is the highest level of open water training and as such the students must be prepared virtually on every level for extreme diving, including physically, mentally, and emotionally.  These types of dives are very demanding and as such, the training is equally demanding.  

We spent the first night in the classroom talking about what would be required in the class, and beginning our academic discussions.  In this particular class, the academic sessions are typically more discussion than lecture, because the students usually have a firm grasp of the basic academics and now we spend more time discussing various alternative view points and procedures.  The classes are usually quite stimulating.  

Fortunately, these 4 students are local, so we can take some time spread over a few weeks to really dig into the academics as well as the practical - the diving.  Our first dive will be a shallow dive at the Homestead Crater where we will do an assessment of their current skill level as well as string together some more involved complex multiple failure drills.  It is usually a somewhat stressful time for the students due to the volume of skills and drills, but ends up being a lot of fun and makes for memorable discussions afterwards!  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Trimming out my Hammerhead

I spent a couple of hours in the pool today tweaking my Hammerhead CCR setup so that I was happier with my trim for cave diving.  I have just recently started using the Golemgear sidemount bungee in conjunction with the GG buttplate.  I have been using the buttplate for years, but have always used Dive Rite bungees.  The GG bungees are a little different and cause the tanks to ride a little farther down my body.  

I really like where the tanks ride now, but it causes my trim to be a little butt heavy, so thus the time I spent in the pool today.  I think I have about got it where I need it now, but I won't know for sure until I try it with a wetsuit and then a drysuit.  

I like the GG bungees because the tanks don't clutter up my chest like the ones I was previously using.  I have to reach a little farther for the bailout regs, gauges and valve knobs, but it is way more comfortable!  I really do like it.  I'm sure once I get the trim dialed in, I will be completely happy!  (that is until I find another new option! )  Seems like there is always something to tweak when it comes to diving CCR, but I think that is half of the fun - messing around with this stuff!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fun Times at the Crater Yesterday

Josh, Michael and I went up to the Crater yesterday to do some practicing on our CCR Trimix team procedures.  We spent a couple of hours doing drills and working through various scenarios.  Even though all of this stuff should be 2nd nature, it is always useful to practice it within the confines of the actual team that will be diving together.

Obviously, all of us know the procedures as well as the fundamentals and reasoning behind the procedures, but it is helpful to work on making the execution as smooth as possible within the actual team.  Doing deep Trimix dives require excellent coordination between team members, and attention to detail.  We have been practicing not only emergency procedures for when something goes wrong, but also simple things like communication skills, situational awareness, team planning and specific goal oriented tasks.

Of course as a father and  sons team, we are obviously close and used to diving together frequently, but honing these types of drills, skills and procedures helps us all to be better divers and more specifically function much better as a team!  When you are doing big dives, everyone has to be on the same exact page or unfortunate things can happen!

On the lighter side, after we got finished with our drills and practicing, we buzzed around on a Salvo scooter which was a lot of fun.  Josh decided to give it a go while free diving and buzzed a PADI OW class that was going on much to the delight of the students and aggravation of their instructor!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Deep Air

This is a reprint of a post I made on Deco Stop recently.  The past few days there have been a couple of different arguments going on on the dive forums concerning how deep people should be diving before they squirt a little Helium in their mix.  

I love these "Deep Air" discussions because they usually end up being quite entertaining!

My own experience with deep air requires me to look at each and every diving scenario and make a "hopefully educated" decision as to what is appropriate for the environment and mission in which I will find myself.

Obviously, warm, clear, calm, open water environments are much more forgiving than cold, limited viz, overhead environments. I would suggest that each diver needs to use his own judgement based on experience to gage what is appropriate for himself or the team. Until said diver has sufficient experience to make educated decisions about what is appropriate, dogmatic lines drawn in the sand (END limits) are necessary to keep young divers alive until they learn how to make appropriate decisions.

I really, really, really hate hard fast rules with this stuff, because I consider most of them to be impractical, but I do understand why some instructors approach this in such a dogmatic way with students. It helps keep them alive! What I don't understand is why any student would just accept a rule as the "gospel truth" without having a very good understanding of why it is the rule and then having verified it based upon personal experience. I'm not suggesting that we go out and do something stupid just to verify, but there are lot's of different philosophies out there and sometimes DIR or whatever doesn't necessarily trump DIL (Done it Longer!)

Learn why rules are being suggested and then through personal study and experience, gradually figure out what is appropriate for you and your team in various scenarios. Anything less, is just blindly following something that may or may not be appropriate.

Just my $.02