Never Make Assumptions

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Over the course of the past year and a half, we have had the opportunity to dive with some wonderful people from all over the place. We’ve also been to a variety of dive sites from freshwater quarries, to cave mouths, to the Tongue of the Atlantic. It’s been fantastic. But we’ve made it our mission to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly so we can learn from it. As you know already, they can’t all be gems. Sometimes it’s things you can’t control. Here are some things you can.

Never assume anything. Never be sure about something you haven’t seen or experienced and even then, be wary. We felt this topic needed some discussion. The first couple times we dove with other divers, usually locals, we assumed they knew their dive sites. We figured they’d know how to get there and back, what to expect, average visibility, distance to the site, etc. In reality though, we’ve seen people lose their buddies. They’ve gotten lost. They didn’t know how to use a compass. Maybe they’re doing some unsafe things. Don’t assume things about other divers. Most folks only do 10 dives a year. Trust your own skills. If things go sideways, you’re going to be the one those divers are looking to for help.

The key here is to work on you. Practice. Know what you can and can’t do. Get your compass navigation down. Practice your buddy breathing, mask clearing, and emergency skills. Go over your dive plans a couple more times.

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Diving accidents happen when the small stuff is overlooked. Do your buddy checks. Sharpen the skills. If it’s a skill you don’t like, then you really need to do it. You will be a better and safer diver because of it.

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Another thing that’s been on our minds recently is making assumptions about gear. We dive a lot. Most of the time, things go to plan and everything just works as it should. And it will until it doesn’t. Practice your skills. Check over your gear before each dive. Get your regs serviced and your tanks inspected like you should. It costs money and time but it is your life support gear after all. Treat it that way!

Lastly, don’t be a snob. Ego kills in diving. And ego is human nature. We all have to work on it. But we have our fair share of it in dive industry and community. Remember to learn something from everyone. Even if you’re experienced and have 90,000 dives and have been teaching for 47 years and eat deco dives for breakfast, please don’t be a snob. That goes for safety snobbery too. Be respectful of other divers. They may be doing something unsafe because they weren’t trained appropriately. They could be new. They possibly haven’t been diving in years. They could dive all the time and are just having a bad day. Maybe they are just nervous on their first boat dive. We’re all here for the same thing y’all. A gentle reminder will do. Be excellent to each other.

The Out of Underwear Emergency

I recently returned home after a 4-day trip. I was exhausted and dealing with a stomach bug that came home for the weekend and pretty much had me out of commission. What time I did not spend sleeping or…well…other things…I spent catching up on dive forum reading. That particular weekend there was a lot of talk about buddies, emergencies and handling of incidents. Fast forward to Monday morning and I discover as I am dressing that I missed regular laundry day and have no clean underwear in stock. This is a problem. How did I handle this crisis? I pulled out the drawer a little further. From a back corner behind the socks I retrieved the emergency underwear.  Understanding that my schedule can sometimes go sideways and laundry might not get done, I made plans for a potential shortage ahead of time and was able to solve it myself. Without external assistance. It got me thinking about diving.

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As divers, we should have a similar mentality. All diving, but especially recreational diving, is founded in the buddy system. I think that’s wonderful. To be clear, I trust Cameron with my life with no reservation. However, I consider it my responsibility as a diver to be aware of potential issues impacting my safety, consider how I would handle them, and communicate them to my buddy. Some require the assistance of my buddy. Some I can handle myself. Some circumstances may necessitate a change in equipment to improve safety or reliability in the event of an incident. The point is to be aware. It is all too easy to say “my buddy will take care of me” and become complacent. It is all too easy to trust the guide/divemaster/instructor/buddy and be ill-informed and ill-prepared for a dive. We each bear ultimate responsibility for ourselves, our gear and our well-being.

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Conversely, as a buddy, I bear some responsibility to keep an eye on my buddy and be available to assist in an emergency. I consider situational awareness to be critical on any dive, especially since when diving our senses are severely limited.

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I am fortunate to have a regular dive buddy that I know quite well and trust completely. We often practice air sharing and other drills just to be prepared and comfortable with the process. Even without a regular buddy, we can all be more aware of our surroundings, our skill level, the potential problems that may arise on a dive and how we might handle those problems. As divers, we must not grow complacent, allow our skills to rust, or become comfortable in the belief that “our buddy will always save us”. Safe diving is aware diving. Safe diving is prepared diving. Safe diving is fun diving.

The Vortex Spring Test

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In How to Dive on a Budget Part II Destinations, we took a short weekend trip to Vortex Spring near Ponce De Leon, Florida. The diving is wonderful at Vortex thanks to clear water and consistent temperature year round. The site itself is fairly small. Certified cave divers can get plenty of adventure at Vortex but for us recreational guys, a day at Vortex is plenty of time to see it all.

We hadn’t anticipated revisiting Vortex this year since there’s so many diving options in Florida. Necessity led us back though and we needed a known site where we could test our Ocean Technology Systems “Guardian” full face masks. A couple months ago on our trip to Michigan, we were doing wreck dives from a boat in Lake Charlevoix. The first day, everything went swimmingly and we had two excellent dives on “The Elizabeth” and “The Keuka.” Our first dive of day two was another wreck called the “John P” and that’s where things took a turn.

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The captain set anchor near the wreck site and told us we were just south of where it lay in 60 feet of water. Ben and I hopped in and followed the anchor line down to the sandy bottom. No wreck was in sight, so we set a compass heading for due north and started kicking along. In case you’re wondering what lives at the bottom of Lake Charlevoix, the answer is: nothing! We swam five minutes out, looking around trying to find the wreck. No signs of it anywhere. I signalled Ben to turn around and head back to the anchor. This was part of our dive plan. In case we couldn’t find the wreck, we would slide back up the anchor line and try again or hit a different site.

So we head straight south and start kicking. Visibility was about 20-25 feet. After another five minutes or so we stop and look around. I turn to Ben and hit him on the underwater comms, to see if he wanted to run a quick search pattern for the line. Before he could answer, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and had the urge to head toward the surface. I tugged at his arm and gave the ascent signal. He could tell something was up so we started ascending to our safety stop at 20 feet. After about 60 seconds of feeling like a fish out of water, the decrease in depth seemed to help and my breathing and cognition returned to normal. We finished our safety stop without issue and slowly surfaced. Our little free water ascent turned out to be within 50 feet of the boat so we were pretty happy with that.

Back on the boat, I took a few minutes to recover but all was well. We headed out to “The Keuka” and did another dive there. This one was to about 40 feet. The dive went well but I had a couple moments where I was sucking on my regulator and not getting enough air. I ascended about ten feet got comfortable again and finished the dive. If things had continued, I planned to switch to my backup regulator and mask or signal Ben to end the dive.

After some discussion, we concluded I was experiencing the side effects of not being able to blow off expended CO2. This seemed unusual because we had been diving the masks for months and had them much deeper in our trip to the Bahamas without issue. I noticed it breathed heavier at 100 feet but I didn’t feel starved for air. Ben was having some breathing issues with his mask as well on the Charlevoix dives. They weren’t as severe as mine, but we took them into our local dive shop to have them checked out by a certified OTS tech. Upon initial inspection, our tech called OTS and explained what was happening with our masks. The tech at OTS told him to go no further and ship them back immediately to be tested by a machine that simulates breathing at depth.

So he boxed them up and out they went. A few weeks later we got our masks back with two bags of parts. Our tech spoke directly with the lead tech at OTS who had done a full overhaul on the masks. We got to speak to him directly at DEMA 2017 and he remembered doing the work! Basically, my mask was outside of spec and failed the breathability test. Ben’s mask was at the high end of normal and needed the same work done to it. At the end of the day, they completely serviced the masks at no cost and gave us dampening kits to quiet the noise they make underwater. We really couldn’t be happier with the service we got from OTS. The only thing left to do now was test the masks.  

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Which brings us back to Vortex Spring. We drove six hours north to test in known water. Once we got there, we geared up and dropped in. We kicked our way over to the mouth of the cave and dropped down to 58 feet where we kicked around for a few minutes to breathe the masks and shoot video. The masks felt much, much better and breathed easily. We shot some video, did some lazy laps, took a selfie, and surfaced after a 40 minute dive. Totally enjoyable.

A big takeaway from this experience is to always remember that when you’re on SCUBA, you’re on life support. Even if you’ve thoroughly tested your gear and used it and used it, things can still go wrong. Always practice your skills and keep them sharp. Remember to keep breathing, calm down, take a breath, and think you’re way through any issues. Cooler heads prevail. Plan for contingencies and emergencies. If they do happen, you’ll be much better equipped to handle it before they spiral out of control.

They Can't All Be Gems

We’ve talked before about perfect conditions and how you never know when things will be “just right” unless you show up to dive and get wet. As with all things in this world, there is a flip side and that’s what we’re talking about today. They can’t all be gems.

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I think you know what I mean. You wait all week or month or year for the dive trip. Maybe it’s a one day excursion or a full blown vacation. You pack your gear. Travel via whatever means. Once you get there, you travel to the site. You get your rig set. You fight with your wetsuit. You sweat and cuss and finally get your regulator in your mouth - air hisses from around the o-ring so you disassemble and replace it. Reassemble. More sweating and more cussing. Then you hit the water and get to depth - and you can’t see anything. Or you follow the anchor line down, only to find you are not, in fact, right on the wreck!

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Maybe you got some bad intel or maybe you didn’t prepare well enough. Maybe you did everything right. The point is that it’s just going to happen every once in awhile. Since it’s gong to happen, just be ready to learn what you can from it.

As followers of the blog already know, we slid down to Vortex Springs in January to show people how easy it can be to dive on a budget. We wanted to dive Morrison Springs nearby but it was flooded and closed. We thought we’d do a dive double header which just turned out to be a blog post double header as you’ll see in a moment.

So here’s how it went. The shop divemaster at Vortex tells us Morrison is closed and there ain’t no getting around it. Well, curses. So I quickly formulate a plan. Sound logic here. We’re already in Florida and about an hour from Pensacola. Let’s call around and see what shops are open. They can give us the inside track on some of the best shore diving and we can score our first ocean dive!

So Ben calls up a spot and they tell us to come on down. Since we were diving Indiana in 36 degree water, then 68 degree ocean won’t be a problem. RIght? The viz would be less than ideal but nothing serious enough to keep us out of the water.

An hour later we arrive with all gear in tow and find our way to the shop. It was a nice place and the divers on staff were super helpful. There were two possible dive sites. One was nearby where some rocks projected out into the bay. We could slide in and descend, following the rocks around and staying close to avoid the light current. This dive would require walking with all dive gear about a half mile to the entry point. Option two was a bit of a drive away from here and we were anxious to get in the water so we eliminated that choice fairly quickly.

With a decision made, the gal at the counter sketched out a map and said the viz should be about 15 feet. The bay floods with water from the ocean and this in and out water motion messes with how far you can see. But hey, we dive the midwest so no big deal. We got this. We bought a flag and float, then hit the road.

Gearing up was quick - we wanted to get in a dive or two so we could hit Vortex again before bed. So we put on our suits and BC’s, slipped weight pouches in, grabbed our masks and fins, then headed for the beach.

About 20 yards in, the whole walking in sand thing is already taking its toll. Fifty yards and I’m taking gear to help lighten the load. Halfway to our entry point we decide to sit in the sand and take a break. Almost a quarter of the way there, then another break. Some folks had anchored their boats on the beach by setting the hook in the sand and letting out maybe 20 feet of anchor line. Obviously we had to leave the hard packed sand by the water and slog our way around the lines.

At long last, we reached the entry point and took another break in the sand. We are all hot and sweating profusely. So, so ready to get in the water. We turn our air on and do our checks. Ben’s regulator starts to free flow. He sort of has to crawl over on his knees to get to me so I can reach out and turn it off. As you can imagine, the mood is pretty sour at this point. We cuss the regulator as I take it apart to blow out the sand which had accumulated during our rest stops on the beach. We get everything working properly, I turn the air on and he’s good.

We finally slip into the water. The waves are gentle and we start walking backwards into the surf. Kalie falls in two feet of water and gets stuck on her back when the wave rushes out. I press on into the waves while Ben grabs her BC and unceremoniously drags her into the ocean. As soon as she is freed up, my regulator starts hissing and pitching a fit. Yup. Sand in that one too.

After all this, you’d think we’d just call it, right? Well just like they say on late night TV - But wait! There’s more! When we get out to more than waist deep water we stick our faces in. The water is exactly the color of tea. A thick, brown, can’t see the bottom of the cup, want to throw out after your first sip, drinking out of an ugly mug tea.

Then we fight the ocean. Swells deposited Kalie up on the rocks and left her stranded like a turtle on its back. I swim to pull her off, then it’s my turn to do the turtle thing. Joy. Ben is trying to swim towards shore now because the current is stronger than expected. Ben gives me that look and it was over. Finally, my stubborn self makes the realization that this dive just isn’t going to happen. Looking back, I should have called it off much sooner for safety, let alone all the other things that went wrong.

One the way back to the truck, we stayed in the water to make the walk easier. It was a long walk. Long enough to reflect on some things. First, trying to dive the ocean having never done it - we should have had some help. No sense in adding additional risk to an already difficult and unfamiliar dive. Second, a little recon goes a long way. The folks at the shop were awesome. But this is Florida after all and 68 degree water to Floridians may as well be 36 degrees. They weren’t diving much. Third, it pays to be in decent shape as a diver. It really helps out when things don’t go to plan and you’re hauling gear all over hell’s half acre. Lastly, and you guessed it, they can’t all be gems.

We did another dive at Vortex that evening and washed all the salt out of our gear. The trip overall was a success. The failed dive was miserable but it was also successful. We learned some things that made us better and that’s the key: learn a little from each dive and stay humble.

They won’t all be perfect. Sometimes the awesome shot didn’t get captured because the camera wasn’t on. Maybe the viz was terrible and you couldn’t see much. If you’re having a bad day, just call it and dive again another time. They just won’t all be “perfect.”

For the full story of gemology and how I came up with this brilliant insight, you may be interested to read about the guy who introduced me to the concept. You can check out discus coach and Highland games athlete Dan John, right here:  http://danjohn.net/the-summa-liftologica-of-daniel-john/

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Morrison Spring

Waaaaay back in January, we packed up and drove down to Vortex Spring near Ponce De Leon, FL. We had been told by our good friend Randy Smith that nearby was a great little spot called Morrison. The story went on to say there was a nice current coming out of the cave entrance here caused by the outflow of 48 to 70 million gallons of freshwater per day.

We didn't get to dive Morrison that weekend. It's prone to seasonal flooding and when it's overrun with water from the nearby Choctawhatchee River, the viz drops to a few feet and the water becomes polluted with unhealthy bacteria that isn't safe for divers. This is exactly what happened and the dive was out of the question.

Last week, we made the drive to Vortex to test out some gear that had been recently serviced. We got a solid dive in there, then decided we'd stop by Morrison just to see where it was so we could dive it later.

The spring is only a few miles from Vortex. There's a couple small back roads that lead you into a small park. When we pulled in, we had the place to ourselves, save for a dog walker.

We got out and made for the beach area. It was low and Sandy from all the ebbs and flows from rising and receding water levels. We crossed the beach and hopped on the wooden bridge which led out to the floating dock for divers.

I can't describe how beautiful this spot is, so here’s a couple photos:

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We were absolutely struck by the clarity of the water. It was more clear than the ocean in Nassau. With the spring pumping out cool, clear cave water at such a high rate, we probably shouldn't have been surprised but wow!

The trees growing in and around the water display their adaptations and scars from the in and out flow of water. We could tell the water was much lower than usual and we guessed that conditions would likely never be better than this. I found the county's number and asked if it was safe to dive. They assured us the bacteria levels were low and we would be good to go.

We hustled over to the truck and started unloading our gear. We were diving dry on this one because our earlier dive at Vortex had chilled us to the bone. By the time we got organized and suited up, we were sweating heavily into our masks and couldn't wait to jump in. When we finally splashed, Morrison took our breath away!

By the way, this dive is free. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better….

Enjoy the video guys and as always:

Be excellent to each other!

DEMA 2017

This year we were fortunate enough to score media passes to the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association trade show in Orlando, Florida. It was a dive professionals only event not open to the public so we knew we had to get some inside info for all of guys out there in the underwater.world.

It ran Wednesday through Saturday at the Orlando Convention Center and let me tell you, this show is huge. We ran around non stop for four days straight and didn’t get to see everything! On the final afternoon, we were absolutely ragged from all the action. We learned about remote operated vehicles like Gladius and iBubble. We talked about trips with folks from Curacao, Raja Ampat, Colombia, the Solomon Islands, and the ice caps. People told us stories about their favorite dives and dive sites. We even got to play in the pool with the Hoverstar Aquajet Dive H2!

The founders and CEO’s of some of our favorite gear manufacturers were there. OTS, Shearwater, Aqualung, ScubaPro. All the big names. The guys at Fourth Element and their story was definitely a highlight. Of course, hanging out with Stuart Cove and his team was as much fun here as it was in the Bahamas.

Row after row of SCUBA gear, accessories, travel, maps, software, social media apps… you name it. There was truly something there for everybody. We just wish we’d had more time to take it all in. 

All told, we really, really enjoyed ourselves and are super excited to be able to share it all with you. Let us know what you enjoyed most! Check out our DEMA page for all the interviews (37 of them!) or view them all in a playlist below. There's something for everyone!

Be excellent to each other.

Torch Lake

After our first Charlevoix dives, we spent that afternoon putting the finishing touches on the barn roof. Three straight days of long drives, hard work, early mornings, and boats dives. We were just plain wore out! We swore up and down we’d go to bed early Friday night. Ten o’clock may be early for some but it wasn’t early enough. Saturday morning came too quickly.

We intended to dive all day Saturday. We’d start the morning at Charlevoix and do a couple dives with NorthWest SCUBA. You saw last week how those turned out! Next on our list was Torch Lake.

Torch is a huge lake. It’s Michigan’s biggest inland lake. It’s also unworldly beautiful. Just coming back from the Bahamas, we can safely say it looks like the Caribbean - when you’re on the surface. That’s an important distinction because when you get in and start swimming towards the middle, the water gets pretty milky. Past 20 feet or so and you can’t see a whole lot. At 300 feet max depth, this beauty is cold. She also rarely freezes across the entire surface because of her size. Absolutely amazing.

Due to the viz considerations, we stayed pretty shallow and played around. We had planned to swim out to the drop off and kick around along the wall. It’s basically a shallow ring around a very deep hole.That didn’t really work out so we just had some fun. Boat traffic was of minimal concern. As a matter of fact, most of the traffic we saw was people pulling their boats out for the season. Which is common up there the week or two after Labor Day.

The water was spectacular. It was like diving in a chilly swimming pool. After we got out, some ducks came and poked their heads in our flippers and walked on our dry suits. Once they figured out we had no food, they waddled down to the beach and hopped in. Special thanks to Jonathan Butler for suggesting we check this one out!  

Sadly, this was our last dive of the trip. We wanted to dive West Traverse Bay again but the boat traffic was heavy and there were some questions as to our map of the area and where the wreck we wanted to see was located. So we went on a tour and stopped by Chrystal Lake, Bear Lake, and the Coast Guard station in Manistee right on Lake Michigan. We thought we’d check out access points at Chrystal and Bear then decide which to dive on Sunday. We liked Bear Lake a bit better as it was closer to home and had easy access near the boat ramp. We later realized there was no way we’d have time to pack everything, dive, and actually be home at a decent hour on Sunday. So with heavy hearts, we decided to nix the dive and hit those lakes next time.

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We caught the sunset on the pier in Manistee that evening. Beautiful beach area there with a playground. Fisherman were everywhere trying to catch Walleye and whatever else might bite. It was a perfect end to an amazing week of work and diving. Until next time, Michigan!

The Keuka

Al Capone. A floating Prohibition speakeasy complete with dance floor. A quiet getaway on Charlevoix that kept its secrets during a time when secrets had to be kept. “The Keuka” has a reputation and a story that precedes it.

Our second day of diving with Towboat US took us out to her final resting place. She’s a good size wooden boat supposedly owned by Al Capone resting in 50 feet or so of freshwater. The back end is the only portion of the boat not still intact. Somebody wanted one of the props, so they dynamited them both off after Prohibition ended and Al Capone was behind bars. T

What a fantastic dive site! The wooden boat is largely intact with tons of huge bass and walleye calling it home. Bluegill and crappie are all over this thing and local fisherman take advantage. There are several large openings in the deck where a properly trained diver can drop in and scope out the innards. The bow of the ship holds some interesting mechanical relics, along with a lot of crappie. Visibility usually runs between 20 and 100 feet depending on what time of year you visit. The best viz can be had during the annual ice dive. The locals drive their vehicles out on the ice and cut an access hole. How cool is that?

If you get a chance, add this dive to your list. Captain John will take you to “The Elizabeth” and “The Keuka” in the same trip. “The Keuka” is good for multiple dives. You could really spend a lot of time on this one. We were very happy with the two dives we got to spend at this site and of course, we are suckers for a great story.

 

The Elizabeth

We spent the day after our night dive in West Traverse Bay tearing off the second half of the barn roof and slapping on shingles. It rained and alternated between hot enough to sweat and cold enough to shiver. Thankfully, my lovely aunt kept us well fed and hydrated. That evening was spent with friends of my aunt and uncle and we were treated to a delicious home cooked feast complete with Michigan sweet corn. We talked and laughed and stayed up way too late, especially considering the dive schedule for the next day.

We had to be up at Lake Charlevoix by 9am. That meant a 545am wake up so we could make the drive. With much hesitation and with the warm sheets calling to us, we managed to get out of bed and on the road towards our first Michigan boat dives.

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Our spirits came up with the sun and by the time we arrived, we were ready to dive. Our captain and crew were John and his his son John. Great guys with a little place up there called NorthWest SCUBA. John’s craft is the Towboat US which he also charters to do groups throughout the year. They can run six divers at a time and we cannot recommend these guys enough. They were extremely helpful getting gear on and off the boats, helping us get gear donned, and of course were very knowledgeable about the lake.

We were greeted on the dock and Captain John showed us his credentials. As we got everything situated and headed out onto the lake, the grogginess had disappeared. The sun was up and skies were clear. An absolutely gorgeous day.

Our first stop was actually in Round Lake which connects to Charlevoix. The first wreck sits in 60 feet of water. Exactly 60 feet if you lay on the bottom. Ask how we know! “The Elizabeth” is a small tug whose owner scuttled it back in the 1960’s for the insurance money. The company got wise to the scheme and off to jail he went. Now she is a nice little attraction for divers and a regular hangout for our fish friends. Check it out!

Is Freshwater Ruined?

Ben and I both had 100 freshwater dives under our belts before we hopped in the drink and did our first saltwater dives. During that time, we got to hear other divers stories and their opinions on the quality of the ocean dives they had experienced. Some people rarely dive freshwater or low visibility sites after they’ve seen perfect conditions. Others still dive both but have a strong preference for one or the other. We’ve even had a couple people tell us that freshwater diving would be ruined after we dove the Bahamas!

The day after we touched down from the Bahamas, we went back out to our home quarry in Muncie, Indiana and spent 30 minutes kicking around in 12 feet of viz. We needed to wash the salt out of our gear and figured a dive would be the easiest way. Did we miss the Bahamas? You bet we did. But it’s our opinion that comparing the two is like asking which of our kids is the favorite.

We don’t mind bad visibility. There are some days where we draw the line and say It’s just not worth the effort of squeezing into neoprene when we can lay around in the sunshine. By and large though, we are diving!

And of course you already know, we really get into some of the tougher dives as well. Cold and dark and low viz. Why? Because it makes us better divers. The more comfortable you are, the better those perfect dives seem to go and the better able you are to manage anything that goes wrong.

Freshwater can be as clear as the best ocean viz and the ocean can have terrible viz like a mud bottom lake. So is freshwater ruined? Not by a long shot. You can bet we’ll be out there, just seeing what we can see!

The Bahamas, Part 3

This is the last installment of our trip to the Bahamas and we hope you’ve enjoyed the ride! On our last full day, we had two dive sites left. The first would be Sand Chute again so we could check it out during the daylight. I’m sure glad we did.

It started with the now familiar breakfast routine and gear assembly on the boat. Well, I forgot my wetsuit so apparently not familiar enough! With the water at 86 degrees, gym shorts turned out to be just fine. We anchored at the same spot where we did our night dive and hit the water. This time, we followed the chute down over the wall and spent some time swimming along the ridge. Now, Ben had handed over the camera rig as he had pretty much been stuck living the last few dives through the viewfinder. Being a good dive buddy, I volunteered to take my first real crack at running the big camera.

There was so much life on this reef. It was what we came to see. We saw lobster as soon as we hit the bottom. Schools of fish and lots of activity. A sea turtle came up out of the trench and floated around the 80 foot mark for a minute before heading up to the surface. What an awesome sight!

Tooling along at 100 feet or so, I spotted a reef shark patrolling the wall about 15 feet below me. He had an eye on me as he swam passed but didn’t see our divemaster, Ricardo until it was too late. By the time he realized there was another bubble blower, he was stuck with swimming between Ricardo and the wall which turned out to be an pretty cool experience for both of us.

The second dive was just as good as the first. We stayed shallower and just swam around on the reef. They call this one Pumpkin Patch since there’s a lot of orange coral in the area. The sun was hitting everything just right and there were fish and sharks everywhere. There was so much to see, it was hard to pick what I wanted to point the camera at!

As with all dives, the air ran low and safety stops loomed. With a little sadness, we broke the surface and climbed back in the boat. The trip back to Stuart Cove’s was just too short.

Back at Orange Hill, we set our gear out to dry and hung out by the pool for the rest of the day. After a good night’s sleep, we packed up and had a good breakfast. After that though, the rest of the trip was just waiting around for our flight at the airport. Ben and I chatted the whole way back from Fort Lauderdale about what we would do with all the video we took - and now here is the rest!

The Bahamas at Night

After our wonderful shark dives, we were excited to see how things changed at night. As the sun set, we were on our way back out to a site called Sand Chute. We finished sliding into our wetsuits just as we arrived and set anchor. Allie and Ricardo gave us our site briefing while we donned our gear. The sunset faded to black, the stars came out, and we splashed!

It was dark enough that we needed our lights immediately so everybody switched on and headed for the bottom. Sand Chute is just what it sounds like: a narrow strip of sand that starts out wide and narrows as it descends. If you follow it down, it takes you to the tongue of the Atlantic which drops off at the 80 foot mark down and down into the deep blue abyss.

We spent this trip meandering around on the coral seeing what we could see. On the way back to our boat, I swam out from the group a bit and turned my light off. With an eye on my depth gauge, I flapped my hand out in the water and watched the bioluminescence spark in the dark water. The GoPro went the way of its ancestors at the James Bond site, so no video. But it was neat. You’ll just have to take my word for it!     : )

Another good Day to be a Bluegill

Something we noticed about the quarry bluegill. In the early spring they are a little standoffish around divers. They aren’t used to the bubble blowers because they haven’t been coming around as much in the colder months. As the water warms, the fish become more curious and begin to realize that free meals are easier to come by. As the year rolls on, these little guys lose any self control they once had and will even subject themselves to a little pet here and there so long as the dinner bell has rung. We just couldn’t help ourselves...

 

The Bahamas Part 2

There was an option to do additional afternoon dives during our trip and we wanted to take advantage if possible. The first day of diving was a no go on the extras. The seas were relatively rough that day and Ben and Kalie were a little queasy. I was too, after watching a couple of our group leaning over the rails and feeding the fish. By the time we had our second dive in though, I knew we’d be heading for shore. We hung out around the pool and got a good night’s sleep.

After a light breakfast on morning two, we were off to Stuart Cove’s for a full day of diving. Two dives before noon, then our two tank shark dives after lunch. The Dramamine doses were adjusted accordingly….

I was particularly excited because we got to start our morning with a wall dive. After a couple of these, I was pretty much convinced that any wall dive is a good dive to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the wrecks and underwater features just the same but if I had to pick, I’d start with the walls. Lots of coral that changes at different depths, different critters, and the opportunity to look out into deep blue nothing. Way cool.

Tunnel Wall is what they call this one due to the many natural openings that things can hide in and divers can swim through. Swim throughs and a wall dive!

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Our second dive of the day was James Bond. They shot part of “Thunderball” here as the skeletal remains of the plane and ship bear witness at this site. There is a small forest of pvc trees where they are growing coral to be transplanted to different reefs around the area.

We headed back to shore so we could grab lunch. Everybody felt good today. Well, almost everyone. Ben was still a little queasy but was feeling better than the day before. We docked and moved our gear to another boat for the shark dives that afternoon.

Over a lunch of pbj sandwiches, it was brought to our attention that we could do a night dive if we had enough people interested in going. We had enough. Most of us didn’t want to miss out on it!

The shark dives were awesome! Enough said there.  But what about the night dive? Stay tuned...

SHARKS!

During our recent trip to Nassau, we had the opportunity to go on a shark feed with Stuart Cove’s dive operation. All we can say is - WOW! What an awesome experience. We started the two tank dive by descending into the shark arena, which is a large sandy circle surrounded by rocks. Hungry reef and nurse sharks were already patrolling the area when we showed up. They know when dinner is on its way!

Emily finding a tooth!

Emily finding a tooth!

Most folks spent their time sifting through the soft white sand for shark teeth. Ben and I kicked around taking video and exploring the other life. We came across a sea turtle and stingray resting on the bottom. The sun was up and the seeing was excellent.

For awhile, I just sat on the bottom in the middle of the circle and watched the sharks and how they casually swam around and through all the divers. A slow current was evident but nothing concerning. The 45 minute dive was incredibly comfortable and entertaining. At the end, everyone did their safety stop and got back on the boat for a quick tank change.

With everyone accounted for on the boat (and only one seasick diver), we swapped out tanks and listened to our divemaster, Rich, begin his safety brief for the shark feed. The feeders and photo/video staff would be wearing chain mail suits. The gist of the program is this: sit in a circle kneeling, sitting, or lying on the bottom and use a rock to anchor yourself. This part is important because the sharks get anxious for the free lunch and jostle you around as they swim in for a tasty bite. Most importantly, we were instructed to keep our hands to ourselves! Rich made a sweeping overhead motion as he would while holding the pointy stick used for stabbing fish and feeding the sharks safely. Don’t make this motion!

The divers hopped in and the divemasters helped everyone get comfortable. Start to finish the feed is 45 minutes long so comfort was definitely a consideration. We had also been instructed to strap on a few extra pounds of lead to keep us on the bottom. Once everyone was situated, our shark feeders brought the fish box into the circle and it was on!

As you can see in the video, sharks were absolutely everywhere! Swimming all around and making passes at the bait box, you would almost lose sight of the feeders there were so many shark bodies. Nurse sharks hugged the ocean floor and jammed their noses into the bait box from every angle trying to score a meal. The bigger reef sharks just circled and swooped in over and over. The fish barely made it out of the box before being snagged in the jaws of one of the flashing gray streaks.

The crew brought the bait box and set it in front of each and every person on the dive so they could get in on the action. The film and photo crew were top notch and made sure they got some mementos for everybody. While they were in front of me, I managed to pet one of the nurse sharks as it swam by. There were so many nurse sharks trying to get in the box, our divemasters had to literally pick them up and move them out of the way!

After everyone had their turn and the sharks had a couple scooby snacks, the feeders swam out of the circle to draw off the sharks so we could all ascend and do our safety stops. We didn’t mess around. We had been instructed to get on the boat as soon as possible so the feeder could get out of the water safely and with plenty of air remaining.

Everyone was buzzing back aboard the boat. The feeders came up to applause and handshakes. They really had put on an amazing show and most importantly kept everyone safe. If you get a chance to do one of these, take it! You won’t regret it. Don’t forget to tip your divemasters and captain!

The Willaurie

Our second wreck of the Bahamas trip. The Willaurie was a genuine shipwreck that sunk in about 40 feet of water. The crew swam to shore. This wreck has an interesting grid work on the deck that has served as a great habitat for soft coral.

The Bahamas Part 1

Well, it finally came and went. The trip of the year. The long awaited vacay. The much needed respite from the realities of a day job. The getaway to paradise arranged by Tom at Leaird’s Underwater Service.

Was it all that? It was all that and more! Don’t worry though, we still don’t believe that diving is all about the pristine conditions or big expensive trips. But they do have their place and we’re here to bring some of the Bahamas back to you.

It started with the typical long day of travel. Checked bags and carry ons. Layovers and plane changes. Board and deboard. Customs and baggage claim. But we arrived and we had everything. So that was a big relief.

Once all that was complete, we stepped out in the hot island sun and set off on a bus for Orange Hill. Talk about a short trip! It as less than 10 minutes from the airport and right across the street from a beautiful beach. The hotel used to be a plantation that grew a variety of different things in the hot Bahamian sun.

For those interested, the word Bahamas comes from the Spanish “Baja Mar” which means shallow sea. Which it is. Until it isn’t anymore. We dove several sites on the tongue of the Atlantic which is basically where the shallows around the island of 60-80 feet drop off a ledge and go to about 6,500 feet.  

Anyway, we hauled everything up to the room and got set for the upcoming three days of dives we had planned. We knew there would be opportunities to grab lunch at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas where we’d be diving and dinner at the hotel. We didn’t want to spend all our cash eating out so we decided a grocery run would be in order. They say never grocery shop when you’re hungry or you’ll end up buying everything that sounds good. So we struck out to find a restaurant nearby. It being Sunday, a lot of places were closed so we settled on a little Italian cafe and HOLY COW WE PAID $50 FOR THREE HOT SANDWICHES AND SOME SMOOTHIES! The grocery run began to look better and better.

A quick aside, the exchange rate is basically one to one with US dollars so spending your cash is easy and you end up with a rainbow of different monies in your wallet.

We hopped the number 10 bus into town with one of our dive buddies and GOOD GRIEF WE PAID $100 FOR PBJ STUFF, A PACK OF HOT DOGS, A BOX OF GRANOLA BARS, A CASE OF WATER, AND EIGHT RED BULLS! Ouch.

We all seemed to sleep well that night after a dip in the ocean. Neither of us had dove in the ocean yet in our 100 plus dives so we weren’t sure what to expect. There was always the question of getting seasick. What would the current be like?

The next morning we woke up to Ben’s alarm which basically sounds like a nuclear warhead is about to be launched. I could have thrown a pillow at him but reached in the fridge for a Red Bull instead. We had some granola bars and Dramamine for breakfast, then schlepped our dive gear down to join the rest of our group and wait for the bus.

Even on island time, the bus was fairly prompt. The drive to Stuart Cove’s seemed to take forever but in the coming days we realized that this was more of a first day anticipation thing than an actual distance thing. We pulled in and hauled the gear out. The check in and waiver signing was fairly quick given the size of our group and all the different divers running around.

One of our hometown divers, Allie,  was doing her internship with Stuart Cove’s. Allie had spent the previous summer with Captain Slate down in Florida and apparently had a blast there too. That experience is definitely on our short list. We were very fortunate on this trip though - we had 13 divers total so we had the boat to ourselves. The dive shop was kind enough to send Allie and our other divemaster, RIcardo, out with us everyday. We even had the same boat captain!

Once we all get acquainted and assigned to our boat, we assemble gear and get a briefing. Ricardo and Allie handled the lines and we were off to our first dive site - The Anthony Bell. There were actually two sunken boats here. The Anthony Bell and The Willaurie. The Willaurie actually sank and the crew made it off and swam to shore. Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas supervised the sinking of the Anthony Bell some years ago to create an artificial reef and dive site. Both are sitting in around 50-55 feet of 86 degree water.

The second dive was at the David Tucker, then over the edge of the tongue of the Atlantic. Visibility was excellent! Watch the blog and our Facebook page for more videos from this dive and the rest of our trip. Including sharks coming soon!

Special thanks to Bobbi Leaird for her excellent topside photography work!