Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Class Photos, Fall 2010

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
Shooting a bag while maintaining buoyancy

Shooting a bag while maintaining buoyancy

This fall in the Northeast was a bad season for blowouts and poor visibility.  Several hurricanes passed by, stirring up the surf.  Often, this can help the conditions by mixing the surface water with the cooler water below the thermocline.  Unfortunately this fall it cleared out the plankton on the surface, then just stirred up the bottom into soup.  At this point, the surface had over 50 ft of visibility, but the bottom would drop to less than 5.  That’s on the days we could make it out.

On the plus side, this gave me the opportunity to drag some students up to Dutch and finish up classes.  Once most of the drills are done, I dragged the camera along to grab a few shots.   After this fall, I needed the practice or I’d forget how to work the housing.  Also, I’m playing with a new lenses/port combination that takes some getting use to.  For what it’s worth, here are some of the photos that came out well.

Back to get my butt kicked.

Friday, May 28th, 2010
Cave 2 Kick your butt off

Cave 2 Kick your butt off

Butt kicking again!

In the early spring, a good friend convinced me to take my cave training.    The first part (cavern and intro) was quite enjoyable.  While there were a good number of skills, the conditions were moderate.   This past week we completed the class ( apprentice and full cave).  The dives/ skills were significantly more challenging.  I should have expected this, but it was quite a shock to the psyche.  In addition, I took the first half Open Circuit.  The second half I chose to take Closed Circuit (CCR).

Please don’t take any of this as a negative statement against my instructor.   Just the opposite, he did not hold back, and made sure we were capable of performing the dives safely.   The initial class was restricted by the systems available at the time.  The class was in February, when Ginnie and Manatee were the only systems that were still flowing.  The rest were siphoning river water, and unusable for training.

Given the earlier conditions, I was probably spoiled.   Ginnie is huge with bright, wide open, passages.  Manatee was open with dark but clear passages.    During the dives we practiced our skills and had some really great dives.

This week most of the other systems were open.  We dove Peacock (1 and 3), Madison blue, Cow Springs, and Orange Grove. After getting my butt kicked for a few days, I can say I did survive.   There were many points where I was ready to throw in the towel.  Either my head was not in the right place, or I was struggling with new gear configurations that I did not have time to practice with (my fault).  Either way, it was quite an eye opener.

Don’t get me wrong, some of these passages can be quite beautiful.  The formations and clay layers can be stunning.   On the other hand, I’m not a small man.  At 6’6″, I don’t fit into small passageways.  With full CCR and side mount bailout, I was fighting my way into places that were probably much easier on OC.   However, with the time and duration advantages of CCR, I wanted to finish the class in this configuration.

I’m not going to go into the detail of each dive, but I will say that Paul kicked our butts on most dives.  The skills included several out of air, lights out, lost line… which involved feeling your way along the passages ways.  Some passages ways were smaller than my gear, and involved pulling our way out, as swimming was not an option with OOA diver in tow.   With the low vis on entry, and tight restrictions, it was often difficult to even feel your way.  Only the gold line gave indication of the proper direction.

All in all, we had some great dives, some difficult dives, and some really uncomfortable dives.  Again, this is par for the course.    Many of the skills were to make sure you had the state of mind to survive the worst case.

After all the skills were done, we had the opportunity to just dive.   We hit Orange Grove, and headed over to Challenge sink.  It was a bit of a swim, but a nice open dive with lots to see.  Paul dragged my camera along and took a few shots along the way.  I wish we could have taken a few more shots at Challenge Sink as the light streaming in was quite beautiful, but once we signaled turn, the rest of the group bolted (I’ve got to be more careful with those signals).

The trip was worth the effort.  I know I’ve got a lot to practice before my next excursion.  Paul made me work hard, and he did push a few of my limits, but we also had some great dives, and saw a lot of new systems.  Next time down, I’d love to get some more photos, of these great systems.

Cave 2010

Sunday, February 7th, 2010
Cave 2010

Cave 2010

This year, I finally broke down and decided to try cave diving.   Back in the dark ages, I tried a cavern dive in Mexico.  While I enjoyed the dive, it was too early in my diving to fully understand the nuance of the dives.

This year, Becky invited us on a Manatee dive down in Florida, and figured I’d stay in the area and take a cave class.   After many discussions on cave instructors, I settled on Paul Heinerth.  I wanted an instructor that would challenge me rather than let me coast through the class. My Trimix instructor (Corey Mearns) introduced me to Paul at a social gathering last fall.   Others echoed the recommendations, so I made plans to stick around and take the class.

Diver Bubbles

Little Devil

The cavern portion of the class involved a number of new of skills.  Many were familiar, some were not.  Much of the class pushed me to the limits of my comfort zone.  However, after it was all done, I felt much more comfortable diving in this environment.   I guess that’s the point.   I want to thank Paul, for suffering with me.  I’m sure he’s dealt with worse, but I know I was a handful. After the class, Becky and Dave were kind enough to take their time to dive with a cave newbie.   I’m sure it can be a bit annoying to dive with a novice.   I appreciate them taking the time to dive with me.  Given all the flooding in Florida, we ended up in Ginnie Springs.  Two days of our class was spent at Ginnie, so I knew a little bit about of the layout.  Diving after the class removed much of the “stress” involved, and we had a lot of fun.  Becky took a lot of photos.   I’ve posted a few here, but check out her website for more great shots.

I returned to the scene of the crime for some more shots of the cavern and caves.  The weather up North (NJ/PA) was not good, so my lovely wife (Val) suggest that I stay in Florida.   Did I mention that I love my wife?!   I spent the next two days practicing my skills, and taking pictures.   I’m not sure if I’m a died in the wool cave diver, but I did have a good time diving with some good friends.

Monterey: kelp, seals, otters, nudibranchs and some interesting students

Friday, June 6th, 2008

After a few false starts, and scheduling conflicts, I finally hooked up with Alan Studley for some training out in Monterey California.   This time my wonderful wife was able to join me for the trip.   I booked what I hoped was a nice room for the week.  We packed our bags along with my rebreather and drysuit, and headed out west.  The trip out was long, but uneventful.  When we left NJ, the weather was warm and sunny.  Upon arrival, we were met by the typical So Cal ocean breeze.  The temp had dropped 20 degrees, and I was digging my jacket out of the luggage.   Although it was 10pm, we were in a desperate search of food.  The airlines have now gone to a “pay as you go” meal program, and there was no food for half of the plane.   Fortunately the restaurant at the hotel was open.  We got a light bite to eat, then headed to bed.

The next morning was a wonderful surprise.   We woke to find a few rays of light sneaking between the curtains.  The first order of business was to acquire necessary caffeinated beverages.   Coffee, hot, and lots of it!  Room service!!!!

While we sipped the life giving liquid, we opened up those curtains to check out the view.   As it turns out, our room overlooked Monterey Bay.  Below us was a kelp bed, to the right was the marina.  While the coffee infused new life into our tired frames, we looked out over the bay.  We both commented that it was a shame that we did not bring our binoculars.   While pouring another cup, I noticed a pair of binoculars sitting on the table.  Nice touch!   Armed with binoculars and my wife’s digital camera, we sipped our coffee, and watched the wild life.

Off in the distance we could hear the calls of sea lions.  The marina is protected by a stone breakwater that they have now claimed as home. I would guess that there are over a hundred at a time on this structure alone.

We noticed an object in the kelp bed below us.  On closer inspection it appeared to be the floating remains of an otter.  Given the boat traffic in and out of the marina, I assumed it had been hurt, then drifted over from the channel, and caught in the kelp.   Soon, I was able to pick out what appeared to be a few other otters.  Much to my surprise (and embarrassment) they were all alive.  I was not aware that otters actually slept in the water (a feat I’ve yet to master).   Sea lions and harbor seals climb out of the water to warm themselves, and I assume to sleep.  Apparently otters do not.  Obviously, I need to watch the discovery channel more often.  Once they started moving about it became clear that this was a whole family with several small babies in the group.  I was really starting to regret my decision to leave the video camera at home!

Along with the seals, sea lions, and otters, we also watched the birds diving under the kelp, and bringing up what appeared to be crabs.  They brought them back to their nests in an abandoned building down the shore line a bit.  The event was of particular interest since they did not fly directly from one point to the other.   Instead they took off heading out into the bay, then made a large turn heading back to the shore.   I’m guessing they needed to head into the wind to acquire lift, then they headed home once they had the necessary speed.  (Sea birds are notoriously bad fliers).

As a crescendo to our morning wild life experience, a large pod of dolphins came by just beyond the kelp.  They appeared to be chasing some form of prey towards the shore.  We watched for a few minutes as they churned up the surface in the pursuit.  We’ve only been here for a few hours, and I’m already amazed at the diversity of life.

I placed a call to Alan, and found that the class that was scheduled to start in the evening was moved to the next morning.   That meant that the rest of the day was free, so we spent the time touring the town.   We stopped in the local aquarium, the marina, and selected spots along the water.   I found the store front of Backscatter.com who’s shop was just a few blocks from our hotel.  It was a beautiful day, and we made the best of it.

Wednesday morning, I joined Alan at our classroom which was actually a well appointed garage of one of the students.  Looking around I could see several under water camera rigs, and what appeared to be video equipment.  We set up a sport and classic KISS and prepared for class. Alan and I took turns walking through the operation and setup of each unit.  Alan also showed me some of the upgrades available in the new units. We covered the operational fundamentals of each, and went about preparing them for the next days dives.

In the morning we packed our gear and headed out for the dives.  The offshore winds had picked up a bit.  We tried to head out around Monterey, but the chop was a bit much for our little boats.   Instead we set anchor next to the marina’s breakwater.  After our standard preparation, we splashed and headed down the anchor line.

Once on the bottom, I was again amazed at the diversity of life.  Here were tube anemone standing 6 inches out of the silty bottom. Their tentacles spanned another 6 inches.  Large colorful nudibranch slid along the bottom.  Here and there were huge sun starfish, over 2 feet across. At one point we could hear the sea lions above us so loudly that I was sure they were barking at us.  I was then startled to see one swim right between me and my buddy.  Looking up there was a group of them swimming in concert above us in a ballet of motion.  At first I was surprised at the lack of fish life, but with all those sea lions and seals, they probably don’t have much of a chance.

In the midst of all this, I’m supposed to conduct a class?   Along the way I signaled divers to perform various drills (hypoxia, hyperoxia, hypercapnia …)   Each was performed well, and we continued along the dive.   I must point out at this time that my buddy/student was the owner of all the previously mentioned camera equipment, and I later found out, is an accomplished photographer.   As such he had the unnerving habit of stopping and looking at objects underwater.   While doing this, he stopped and remained completely motionless.  For any of you considering CCR, do not do this during class!  It scares the shit out of your instructor!

During our surface interval we headed into the marina.  Here Alan had previously noticed an adult otter and baby that had taken up home in one of the slips.   We were able to pass a few feet away on our way to the dock.  (Damn, no camera again.)  The second dive went much like the first: a few more skills, and a lot more swimming.

We all survived the day, and headed back to clean out our rigs, and get ready for the next day.  I tried to casually mention the “hang motionless” issue, and got a few chuckles in response.  At least every understood my concern.  Drills had gone well, and it was just a matter of getting everyone comfortable with the units.  We agreed on a plan for the next day, and headed back to the hotel.   My wife had selected a great restaurant for dinner, then we turned in after a long day.

We were up and at them early again.  The marine forecast did not improve, so we headed back to the break water.   Alan had the skinny on a secret wreck, a few hundred feet off the breakwater.  That was our destination. We all suited up, and jumped in.  While I was helping everyone get ready, my student/buddy had hit the water a few moments before me.  When I rolled in and looked for him, he was nowhere to be found.  Again the panic of loosing a student runs through my head.  Alan suggest we descend the anchor line, and guess who’s at the bottom?  Damn, he’s going to be the death of me.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s an excellent  diver.  Its just the initial shock factor of not knowing where he was.

This dive Alan brought his camera.  I wish I had mine!  During the surface discussion, I found that the nudibranchs prey on the tube anemones. During this dive we got to see this in action.  It was quite the sight, and again I need more time on the discovery channel.   Alan was able to get pictures, and we watched as the slow mo action played out.

We took bearings and headed out to the secret wreck.  It turned out to be a good swim, and again we did some drills along the way.  The wreck appeared to be an old wooden barge, broken up on the bottom.  Hidden between the planks were small groups of fish.   I guess we were far enough away from the sea lions for the fish to survive.   Alan got some more shots, then we headed back.

The last few drills were the hardest.  I had briefed them in detail on the surface, but the execution takes some thought.  The frustration factor was climbing, but by the time we hit the surface, everyone was done the class with flying colors!  We cleaned our gear and debriefed for the the week.

My wife and I packed our bags and headed home.  I had spent the week diving, and she had spent the week sightseeing, and stopping at various saunas along the California coast.

Training at 40 Fathoms, February, 2008

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Kind of sounds like a Jules Verne novel.

After some scheduling conflicts, I was finally able to head down to Florida for NAUI Tech instructor training. The class included me, as instructor in training, and a friend of mine as a Trimix student. Our class was with Chris Laughrey a NAUI Tech Course Director from Pittsburg, PA. He comes highly recommended by fellow divers, and most of my instructors. After completing the course, I would also highly recommend him.

The trip down was long. My friend (also named Chris) and I were going to travel together, but some more last minute schedule issues caused us to go separately. I got on the road Saturday morning around 4:00am and found myself pulling into the driveway around 8:00pm. One more “South of the Boarder” sign, and would have lost it. We talked for a bit to unwind from the road, then turned in.

We were up at six and out the door to 40 Fathoms Grotto. It’s recently been taken over by a commercial diving training agency, and is also a NAUI training facility. There have been a lot of changes including a new Mixing station and classrooms. We unloaded, went over the dive plan, reviewed gear configurations, and then jumped in the water for Laughrey to have a look at our abilities. We demonstrated skills, Laughrey would have me demonstrate them to Chris, then he would do them fo me. (At this point, I have to admit that I’ve been CCR, save for Open Water classes. This was my first time in doubles in two years.) Dive one went off without a hitch. We debriefed, and we were off to the classroom.

Laughrey had the latest rev or the NAUI Tech course material (still under review). It contains details on new studies and the latest research. Great stuff! We went over it for a while during the surface interval, then jumped back in for more skills on Dive 2. This was an all skills dive Valve drills, S-drills, stage drills, line drills … Again after a debrief we packed up and headed back to the room and out for dinner. It had been a long Sunday, and the class was just starting. We had dinner and talked shop for a while. We started the dive plan for the next day, then turned in.

The rest of the class proceeded much the same way. We did progressively deeper dives early then classroom during the surface interval and skills in the afternoon. As the week progressed we transitioned from Laughrey running the dives, to him briefing me, then I worked with Chris to plan and execute the dive. Each morning we would arrive, setup our gear, and analyze our mix. It’s a new mixing station, and they are working out the bugs. Most of the time it was pretty accurate. On occasion it was off. The crew was very helpful in correcting any inaccuracy, and we did teach Chris to always analyze.

Laughrey seemed to know everyone in the area. I know he has been diving and teaching for years. During dinner he would entertain us with stories from the who’s who of diving. On the last day Hal Watts stopped by to join us for the 240ft dive.

By the end of the week Chris was proceeding well. We had worked through some equipment issues, and were honing our skills. Everyone learned a lot. Even Laughrey said he learned a couple of tricks, but then he may have been humoring me. I look forward to getting the production copy of the course materials. A great deal of work has gone into this, and it shows. I also recommend 40 Fathoms Grotto for anyone considering Trimix training. There are constant improvements going on. It’s like a smaller version of Dutch with 240ft of water.

On a final note, we were extra careful not to lose Laughrey’s brand new reel. He did make the mistake of calling it “jam proof”. We took that as a challenge.