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Diving Bonaire

Saturday, February 5th, 2011
Flamingo snail

Flamingo snail

After a few weekends of being snowed in, I had the opportunity to work through my piles of photos and relate some memories (and pictures) of past trips.Val and I visited Bonaire on two separate trips. I’ve attached some shots of resort (Buddy Dive), and added a new gallery.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bonaire, it is 50 miles north of South America (Venezuela to be exact). The island part of the Nether Antilles. This location of the Caribbean is constantly swept by easterly trade winds. The east side of the island is subject to rough waves and the shoreline is rocky. The western side of the island is protected in the lea. Here is some of the best diving of the Caribbean.

Sunset over Kline

Sunset over Kline

The shore diving really is about as easy as it gets. The dock at Buddy Dive is only a few feet from the dive shop, and the reef is only a few fin strokes away. I spent the first day draining tank after tank poking around the reef. I was working with a new still camera, and practicing with the video housing. Surface intervals were only a quick stop for fresh tanks, batteries, or tape. The top of the reef is about 20 ft deep An Al 80 lasts quite a while at this depth, and decompression is impossible, especially on Nitrox. After 6 tanks, my wife dragged me out of the water for dinner.

The next day we got a map of the island and headed out in our pickup truck (provided with the suite). The west side of the island is rimed with a seemingly continuous reef. In some places it is a double reef with sand in between. On the shore, there are areas where you can park a your truck, gear up, and make an entrance. Some areas have docks and with ladders to facilitate access. These entrance sites have names, which are both on the map, and written on yellow stones along the side of the road.

xxx

Clearner shrimp on a butterfly

Our package included boat a few boat dives. These were mostly spent visiting Kline Bonaire. This is an uninhabited island to the west of Bonaire, also protected from the trade winds. Many of these dives were deeper as the slope to Kline was much steeper.

Many sections of the reef hold different microcosm and wild life. There are many web sites describing, so I’ll just point out some of the highlights. The Hilma Hooker is a shipwreck in the sand between a double reef. It’s a nice dive, and if you’re one of the first there, you will find a few large Tarpon hiding in the holds.

Salt Pier is where the dried sea salt is loaded onto ships. The structure of the pier seems to attract schools of fish, and event the shallows are full of life.

Fish to look for:

Eels: this is the one of the first times I’ve seen eels out hunting during the day.

Frog Fish: Another first for me. They are hard to spot, as their camouflage is nearly perfect.
Tarpon: They are huge, and will follow you on a night dive.

Sea horses: Ask your Dive Master where to find them.

School of fish: There are so many fish, that sometimes you feel like one of the crowd

Spotted Eagle Rays: These majestic rays swim effortless and leave you breathless if you try to follow.

Dolphins: I’m not sure how often these appear, but on one day we got snorkel with them on the surface interval.

Good to get wet

Monday, September 13th, 2010
Mooring Bits

Mooring Bits

After a few students backed out on my Saturday dive, I reviewing the weather forecast,  and checked with Roger to see if there was any room.  As it turned out, they needed crew for a student dive.  Life is good.   My gear was already prepped and packed, just set the alarm.

The morning was calm with some light clouds. The boat was quickly packed, and we were headed out in nearly flat seas.  Given a group of open water students, the destination was for an inshore wreck in less than 60 ft of water.  In my mind, that means more bottom time, and perhaps fluke.

On the way out, I found out that only half of the group was in Open Water, and the rest were newly certified divers getting in some more practice.   This became evident by the number of question about my KISS Rebreather.  Not wanting to take attention away from an instructor with a class, I tried to be polite, but kept the answers short.

We were quickly at our destination and Chris jumped in as I threw the hook.  Within minutes he had us tied in, and we started getting everyone geared up.   The students went in last as the other divers went in armed for some of the Tog this wreck is know for.   By the time they were in, Chris was up with a vis report.  Not good.

I tried to keep a positive attitude, and rolled in with the camera.    The surface was a little cloudy, but the bottom was downright dark.  Vis on the bottom was 5-10 at best.  I’m not familiar with this wreck, so out came the reel.   I left the gun topside as light, camera, reel, and gun just seems like a bad combination.  Of course, I immediately ran into some nice Tog on top of the wreck, and a fair size fluke as soon as I hit the sand.

The wreck was mostly intact with some areas where you could penetrate.  A quick inspection for lobster came up blank.   The camera was just about useless.   Some part of me was tempted to go back up and exchange it for my spear.   Instead, I fell back to my age old plan of just looking around when on a wreck for the first time.  Even in the tight vis, there was lots to see.  In addition, it’s good to just practice using the camera controls and playing with different settings.  It was good to get wet without students of my own to watch.

After a complete loop around, I doubled back.  I could hear some of the divers starting their second dive, so I headed back to the boat.   We got the class back in the water, and Chris prepared to pull the hook.  Once everyone was aboard, we were quickly free, and on our way home.

Back at the dock we set to work cleaning fish and the boat.  The new divers were obviously excited about the dives, and asking when they could go again.  I only wish I could have gotten some pictures for them to remember the day by.

Manatee 2010

Thursday, February 4th, 2010
Manatee calf looking for attention

Manatee calf looking for attention

Val and I were invited on a trip to Florida, including a Manatee dive in Crystal River. As it worked out, I did have some time off, so we packed our gear and headed down. Val was going to stay a few days, for the Manatee dive, after that, I was planning to stick around for a cavern/cave class.

Packing went smoothly, except for the snowstorm that covered the area the day before the trip. Most of the roads up here were dry with some salt for good measure. On the trip down we stopped over with our friend Grace in Durham. Their roads were not cleared as well, and the drivers were not accustom to snow. It was not a pleasant situation, but with only minor delays we were back on the road the next morning.

We arrived in Crystal River a bit later than expected, but were up and ready for the dive the next morning. Dive gear, camera gear, and all weather gear packed and ready, we headed out.

This was our first time diving with Manatees. The boat rental required us to watch a video concerning the regulations around Manatee interaction. Bottom line, nothing can prepare you for the actual dive! Becky had invited a group of experienced divers. We hit the water expecting to see a few dozen Manatees. I’m not sure if it was the cold weather, or something else, but there were a few hundred Manatees in the area.

We anchored in a small tributary with river water, and spring water running past a Manatee Sanctuary. Within the roped off sanctuary, there were a dozens of resting Manatees. Back in the springs, the sandy bottom was covered with them. We were all snorkeling on the surface looking to see if any were interested in interaction. Many were resting, but others would swim right up to us.

At first, it’s a bit unnerving to have a 1200lb animal swim up to you. These creatures are 5-6 times our size. It makes you think for a second. Then they roll over and want their belly rubbed. Ok, not so intimidating. The juveniles (calf) are more curious than the older adults, but both were curious about us as divers. I’m not sure why, but my camera seemed to draw their interest. Some would swim up and interact. Several would swim up, play for a bit, and then swim away. Many came back again and again.

After I filled up my still cameras memory card, I switched to the video camera. It was both fun and enlightening interacting with these gentile creatures. As usual, they had to drag me from the water, since I was having so much fun.

If you ever get a chance to dive with Manatees, I highly recommend it. Take your time, and let them come to you. They are both fun and engaging.

SCUBA for the warm water diver

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Many divers live in tropical climates, or only dive when they travel to these climates. Up north they are often called Caribbean divers, or blue water divers. I prefer warm water divers, as many travel beyond the Caribbean, and blue water is often used in reference to very deep water.

Diving under these conditions can be both exciting, and relaxing! The scenes of tropical reefs and colorful fish are beautiful and serene. The diving is often easy and at many resorts it’s supervised. This is a great place for beginning divers to practice their new skills, and enjoy the wonders of underwater world.

Gear:
We previously talked about basic SCUBA gear, so now let’s add a few items for tropical diving.

Exposure protection:
This will be the major consideration. There are a few variables here:
Water temperature
Air temperature
Your bodies reaction to cold
How many dives are planned

Read the section on Exposure Protection for more details

Signals:
Tropical diving is often done around small islands. Sometimes in strong current. Separation for the boat is a real possibility, and signal devices can be real life savers! If your planning a drift dive, then will need a marker to let the boat know where you are. A visual aid like an SMB is ideal for both situations. Also a audible signal like a whistle, or Dive Alert can get the attention of the dive boat when you’re hard to see. Both of these can be easily carried in a BCD pocket.

Skills:

Buddy Skills: With all the fascinating beauty of the tropical reefs, it’s all too easy to become distracted and lose contact with your buddy. Try to stay within about 10 ft, and don’t forget to check on them regularly.

Depth Control: The clear water can be very deceiving. Remember objects appear closer under water. We can easily go deeper than planned, and run into issues with gas management, or decompression. Keep an eye on your gauges!

Buoyancy Control: Coral reefs are fragile environments! A single kick can kill an organism that has lived for 100 years. We as divers are fascinated by this spectacle, but we must protect it from ourselves. Work on your buoyancy. Practice it whenever you have a chance.

SCUBA Exposure Protection

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

In the process of diving, we are subjecting our bodies to an alien environment. This environment exposes our bodies to conditions that we are not accustom. Divers need protection in a few different forms:

  • Thermal protection: The major reason for protection is Thermal protection. Keep in mind that water conducts heat 25 times faster than air. In air, our bodies would be warm at 75 deg F. Underwater, most people would chill very quickly at 75 deg F. Our bodies can not tolerate a drop in temperature. Hypothermia develops after a drop of only a few degrees.
  • Abrasion protection: Rocks, shipwrecks, shells, corals can all easily scratch, or cut through exposed skin.
  • Marine organism protection: especially in tropical waters, there are many stinging organisms both on the reef, and floating in the water. Sea Urchins, scorpion fish, lion fish and a long list of others have sharp if not poisonous barbs that can easily hurt a diver.
  • Sun protection: While not as obvious, the sun in the tropics can burn sensitive skin on the deck of a boat, or even while we are snorkeling in the water.

The type of protection available breaks down into three groups:

  • Dive Skin: These provide no thermal protection, but do provide the other three. They are often made of Lycra to hold the suit close to the body and reduce drag.
  • Wetsuits: These are made of Neoprene rubber, which consists of thousands of small gas bubbles. The thicker the wetsuit, the more bubbles, and therefore the more thermal protection it provides. The thickness is measured in millimeters (mil) and varies form 0.5 – 7.0. A small amount of water enters the suit (hence the name) but the body quickly warms this water, and the suit insulates it from the outside water. In order to work properly, they must be snug to prevent water from flushing through the suit and cooling the body.
  • Drysuits: These provide an airspace under the suit that can be inflated to provide protection. An undergarment holds the air in place around the body and reduces air movement to the highest part of the suit.

Which to use:

Since each diver responds differently to cold, it’s impossible to give an exact answer. Here are some factors that affect how much thermal protection is needed:

  • Water temp: Duh. Colder water will need more protection.
  • Depth: Often it is cooler down deep, and wetsuits will lose some of their protection as we go deeper.
  • Air temp: On an overcast day, it can be cooler in the air than under water.
  • The diver: Size, fitness, metabolism, even what was eaten for breakfast will all affect the reaction to cold.
  • Length of dive: Longer exposures will require more protection.
  • Number of dives: More dives done in a day or over a week can cool our bodies slowly.

There is no right suit for all divers under a given conditions. No one can say “you’ll be warm in a 3 mil suit at 80 deg F.”. However, here are some guidelines:

Dive skins are used in very warm water ( over 85 Deg F ). They have little to no thermal protection, but do provide a layer of protection from sun, scrapes, and stinging organisms. In tropical environments, this protection can be very important. Corals, sea urchins, and shells can cause punctures and abrasions. Also, the Caribbean sun can cause dangerous sunburn very quickly. If you don’t need the thermal protection, it’s still advisable to wear some form of dive skin.

If the water temperature is below 85 degrees, many people should consider a 3 mil wetsuit. At 80 degrees, many will wear a suit between 3-5 mil. On the other hand, some very cold people will where a 7mil suit. As the water get colder, the thickness of the suit can be increased.

Since water temperature varies throughout the year, it can be beneficial to consider layers. A 3 mil shorty can be worn over a 3 mil suit when the weather turns cold. Or, a hooded vest can be warn under a suit to keep the core warm.

Below about 60 Deg F, many people are thinking drysuit. Some will stay with a wetsuit as long as possible due to the cost of a drysuit. For longer dives in colder water, drysuits are heaven sent. With a drysuit, dives under the ice in lakes are possible. To handle cooler temperatures in a drysuit, the undergarment thickness is increased to create a larger air space around the diver. Some exotic materials are often used in the undergarment provide more thermal protection for the same size air space.

Unfortunately, when discussing thermal protection, there is no right answer. It all depends on the diver, and trial and error may be the best approach. One parting point: If you’re warm, you can flush water through the suit, or remove your hood to cool off. If you’re cold, you have to end the dive to warm up. It’s better to error toward the warm side.