Education, Enjoyment and Exploration…

Archive for August, 2009

The Ande – 8/29/09

Gearing up for the diveAs I’m leaving the house around 6am, I’m thinking to myself, this had better be worth it! After a number of hours on the turnpike, numerous cups of coffee and silly updates to Facebook via the iPhone, I finally pull into the dock. The first person I see is Mike Barnette and of course he looks at me and asks “what are you doing here?” I laugh, we shake hands and I have to go through the friendly banter of what is a cave diver doing diving in the ocean, you know there’s salt in the water, right and all the good natured ribbing that goes along with technical diving!

It all started when I met a couple of wreck divers a few years ago, they decided to take my Cave DPV course earlier this year and they managed to talk me into heading down to Wreckfest in Key Largo earlier in the year. I went along with it and as you probably noticed from previous blog entries, I had a great time and now have a new thing to do as well as cave dive!

I look up and David’s pulling in, so I flag him down and we start prepping our gear for the dive. The Ande sits in 190 ft of water so we’ve decided on 18/45 for the dive and we’re carrying 50% and O2 for deco. We’re using standard gases since both of us prefer using ratio deco in the ocean. David’s also brought his Gavin and I’ve got my SS ‘cause of the currents here. We’re humping all this gear onto the boat and I’m already missing my North Florida picnic tables!

We’re heading out today with Emerald charters and I like the size of the boat, plenty of room for divers with scooters and tech gear and it doesn’t seem crowded at all. We have a few divers on rebreathers and a few on open circuit which I’d imagine is fairly typical for the tech boats. It’s definitely a far cry from the cattle boats of the islands that I used to work on back in the 90’s!

Tim having a mischievous momentHeading out to the wreck, the typical South Florida squall breaks out, but the captain assures us it’ll blow over and after a few anxious moments we relax and get ready to go. This is my first “hot drop”, so I jump off the back of the slowly moving boat to the sounds of “dive, dive, dive” with my deco bottles attached and scooter under my arm, how cool is that! I quickly orient myself and catch a glimpse of David powering down to the bottom so I head off to join him.

We can’t see the boat yet, but my wonderful buddy remembered to bring his compass (yes, you can read that as I didn’t!) so I follow him North to where we think the wreck is. We’re scootering along and suddenly this huge behemoth appears out of the gloom ahead of us. I start hollering and whooping through my reg, it just looks so cool, this massive, intact wreck just sitting in the bottom inviting us to play….

We decide to circumnavigate the wreck once first, but like a typical cave diver, I see a huge hole on the stern and that’s that. We clip off our scooters, tie off a reel and start heading in. We’re almost immediately engulfed in huge clouds of silt, you can tell that nobody’s been on here in a while and hoping David can see something behind me. Like an idiot, I take a wrong turn and end up in a dead end passageway, so we flip around and start heading out. Of course on the way out, I see where we should have gone, but our precious bottom time is coming to a close and it’s time to start thinking about the ascent. As we’re heading back to the scooters I notice Mike pointing out the light holders which still have light bulbs in them and it’s all just so cool!

A bunch of happy wreck divers :)Finally we grab the scooters, clip them off, swim slowly up to about 130’ or so and David blows a bag since we decided I’d take care of the deco and he’d take care of the bag. Holy smoke, the bag’s almost going horizontal! There is a screaming current and I grab a hold of David so we don’t get separated and watch 400’ of line let out in about 20 seconds! I feel kind of bad for David since I know he’s going to have to reel it all back in, but I’m concentrating on our time and stops as we drift at a crazy pace through the depths of the ocean. We see other divers from our boat from time to time, but David’s busy with the bag and I’m busy with the deco schedule so we just focus on our team. After an uneventful and fun ride, we break the surface, start laughing and signal okay to the boat. We get picked up and everyone starts going on about the dive, the 100’+ vis and life is good!

We make plans to all go to “Bru’s” in Pompano, take the long ride out there and reminisce over some of the best wings I’ve ever had, and I think to myself I like this wreck diving stuff! Many thanks to David for being a great buddy, to Tim, who was kind enough to let me crash at his place after a cool day of diving and socializing and to Emerald charters for running a great operation…

Madison Blue – 8/16/09

Madison BlueAh, what a gorgeous day as we pull into Madison, the sky is blue, it’s not too hot yet and it looks like we’re going to have the cave to ourselves! This is extremely cool as we’re planning on hitting the Courtyard and were really hoping that no one else had beaten us to it!

I’m with my friend Hitoshi from Japan, who’s spent a couple of weeks every summer for the last four years with me, diving the caves in North Florida. He’s an excellent diver and today, we’re going to try a three stage push out into the nether regions of the Courtyard. For those of you who are not familiar with Madison, to reach the Courtyard one has to swim over a thousand feet down the mainline into the flow, jump right into the Mount offshoot, then work your way through a couple of hundred feet of narrow, extremely silty passage called Potter’s Delight (due to the white clay everywhere) and then negotiate another couple hundred feet of extremely small body tube aptly named Rocky Horror. After it opens up again (not much!) you swim another couple hundred feet to where the passage opens into a huge room that drops off into an upstream and a downstream tunnel. The upstream is known as the Courtyard and just goes and goes…

Unfortunately, one is currently not allowed to use scooters at Madison, hence our planning the big swim dive. A couple of the bottles we’re carrying are filled with 30/30 which gives the stages superior buoyancy characteristics (gotta love helium!) and this’ll decrease our drag through the water and hopefully extend our penetration.

As we’re carrying bottles down to the water, I glance at Hitoshi and he just looks happy as a clam, echoing my own thoughts. After we each put our three stages and O2 bottles in the water, we take a moment and start discussing our dive plan. Normally, I’d be scootering this type of dive and using a leash for the stages but this time I decide to clip my nitrox bottle on normally, but nose clip my two 30/30 bottles to the rear d ring where they’ll lay out nicely behind me and not catch on anything. Hitoshi likes this idea and decides to do the same thing. We don our exposure suits and head down to the water. It takes a few minutes to get everything clipped on but soon we’re heading down to the Rabbit Hole, where I tie off a primary, hang my O2 bottle on it, get an okay from Hitoshi and we’re off!

The minute we enter the cavern zone and head across it, I know we’ve made the right call with the stages. It feels just like a normal stage dive (gotta love helium!), so I tie into the gold braid, exchange okays and settle into the groove for the long swim ahead of us. Being first in has its advantages and today is no exception. The cave is crystal clear and as we pass the jump to the Godzilla room, I check gas and we’re kicking ass, awesome, this is going to be a sweet dive! As per our plan, we drop the first stage on the downstream side of the Half Hitch restriction, switch to our second and continue on, the cave is opening up before us and this is one of those dives where everything is just starting to click. After some really pretty passage, I tie in the jump to the Mount offshoot and we continue on our journey. After some more swimming we reach the slate, where we drop our second stage and thankfully it’s marked “out.

Due to the restrictive nature of Potters Delight and Rocky Horror, there is only one team allowed in at a time, that way no one has to back out three hundred feet! I change the slate to read “in” and per our plan, hop on the last stage and “superman” it. By this I mean undoing the bottom clip while leaving the top one on and pushing the bottle ahead of you as we figure this is the best way to pass through these tight passages without disturbing the silt or banging up the cave. Potters Delight is gloriously white and I look back between my legs to make sure I’m not silting it up for Hitoshi. Water’s clear behind me and I see Hitoshi grinning at me through his reg. This is where the 30/30 starts kicking ass, as the bottle lays out almost perfectly neutral in front of me. We wiggle through the entrance to Rocky Horror and start working our way through this twisty, winding body tube. I thought this would be a big deal but with the neutral bottle in front of me, it’s not half bad! I almost laugh out loud as we pass Wayne’s “happy face” as it describes my mood perfectly and then we’re through Rocky Horror, pass a line on the right (David’s Fork?) and soon enough we pop out into the Courtyard.

Even though I’ve been here numerous times, it never fails to take my breath away! Imagine peeking out of a small hole high up on a wall and looking down into a huge boulder strewn room filled with crystal clear water, and you will maybe have an idea of what this beautiful area of cave looks like. For those of you who have been there, it looks like a mini version of Diepolder 3! We leave our last stages on the line, floating by the window at the top of the room, get on back gas finally and we’re out of here!

Unfortunately, the cave will now stay between 100’ and 130’ for the rest of the way and our deco will start racking up from here on out. Such is the price we pay I guess, but I’m toasty in my drysuit and not concerned about deco in the least, the passage is to breathtaking to think of anything else! As we swim over huge boulders and pass gorgeous, jagged formations on the wall I roll over onto my back and shine my HID up into the huge domes that appear above us. There are jump lines popping up all over the place, but unfortunately we’ll have to leave those temptations for another day. This is truly cave diving at its finest, I can hear Hitoshi’s camera and see his flash going off behind me and a sense of awe fills me as we continue on with the ups and downs that characterize the first part of the Courtyard. A little further on, the passage settles down into huge bore tunnel that reminds me of Peacock except much bigger! There are tantalizing, untouched formations of goethite everywhere and much as I’m tempted to pull and glide against the flow, I cannot in good conscience touch anything back here, so we settle into a nice froggy groove and continue. 

After about twenty minutes, I pass my previous best in here and now I’m in uncharted territory, at least for me! Hitoshi’s light is steady behind me and I know that this is exactly where I want to be, thousands of feet back in a achingly beautiful cave with a good friend having the time of my life! A little bit further on we hit our turn pressures, so we place cookies, take a reluctant last look at the going tunnel ahead of us and reluctantly spin around to head back the way we came…… 

The ride out is uneventful, more of the same visual overload and we really take our time poking around in various holes, since we have the flow at our backs. I make a mental note of which jump lines look promising for our next time back here and let the flow sweep me along. Far too soon, we’re back at the stage bottles and heading out of the Courtyard and I actually take a moment to wave goodbye; who’s a silly cave diver… 

As we squeeze back out of the Rabbit Hole and pick up our O2 bottles, I look around and the basin is ours, then suddenly a bikini clad woman flies into the water above me from the diving platform. Back to business as usual I guess, so we complete our long decompression picking up glass from the bottom and watching the locals swim around in what is to me, one of my all time favorite caves, the stunning Madison Blue…

Northern Light – 8/7/09

Wreckfest Party!I’m wakened in the morning by this rude German banging on my door! I open up the door groggily and find David grinning at me. After blearily brewing a cup of coffee, we head out to the dock for another wonderful day of wreck diving with Silent World. I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to redeem myself today after my “silly cave diver” antics from the previous day. Today, we’ve decided to dive a wreck that’s dove fairly infrequently called the Northern Light that sits in about 190’ of water.

Having had a strict diet of no shellfish the night before supplanted with a couple of happy drinks, I’m feeling great and ready to try this wreck diving thing again. We meet up with Les at the dock, as we’ll be diving as a loose team of four on this dive and pack all the scooters, deco bottles and doubles onto the dive boat, which over the ten years that I’ve spent away from it, has turned into some kind of cave diver hating machine! We’ve got a pretty full boat today, but as usual there’s plenty of room for all. We motor out to the site, while I enjoy some spectacular views of the Keys. We go through our predive checks before we hop in and finally we’re descending down into the gorgeous blue of the open ocean. The current is howling and I’m glad that we have the scooters, as are a couple of swimmers that we end up “helping” to the wreck and what a spectacular one it is. It’s sort of folded in half with one half lying on top of the other, and it’s nice to drop into the “shade” of the wreck and get out of the current.

David and Ron aka "the Germans" :)Immediately I notice a couple of big bull sharks swimming around and for a second I think of the shark free overhead I’m used to at home, but then I start getting this kick ass diving buzz. The bulls continue dozily on their way and I start noticing the soft corals everywhere, the little feather dusters and all the small stuff you don’t normally pay attention to and I marvel about how a little wreck like this in the middle of a barren ocean floor can harbor so much life. We do a little bit of penetration, but not too much, as the gas goes quick at these depths, swim once around the wreck and all too quickly decide to head back to the boat.

I pair off with Ron for the deco, David goes with Les and we start drifting at the whim of the current. Once in a while, AJ runs the boat close by so we know he’s watching the bag and just a little while later we’re climbing into the back of the boat, removing gear and starting the story telling. We’re going to dive the Vandenburg tomorrow and my buddy Dave is giving a presentation tonight on it at the official Wreckfest party so we start coming up with crazy dive plans and ideas. Eventually we make it back to the dock, and while we’re unloading gear I suddenly realize that I’m really starting to like this crazy, boat diving stuff…

USCG Duane – 8/6/09

Our "quiet" getaway.As I steady myself before hitting the water, I wonder how on earth I found myself lurching around on a boat in full tech gear with two deco bottles and a scooter. Well, it all starts with a couple of wreck diving buddies of mine whom I’ve known  for a while, that decided to take a DPV cave course from me earlier in the year. As we went through the course, they kept telling me that I had to come down south and do some “real diving” as David so aptly puts it with his German accent!

I was informed that Silent World in Key Largo puts on what they call “Wreckfest” every year and while my buddies David and Ron have been going since it started, they decided to drag me along on their tomfoolery this time. I decided to sort of turn the week into a quiet get away with my daughter/wreck diving vacation, so I booked myself and Kaley into a beautiful little place on the beach just down the road from Silent World. Little did I know that “the Germans” were staying there also, so the quiet father/daughter thing immediately flew out the window…

Ah well, one thing led to another and I find myself stumbling around this boat with all this gear on feeling like an inebriated, neoprene clad buffoon. Finally I giant stride off the back of the boat, (what the heck, this water’s salty!) and find myself scootering down to this magnificent looking wreck, the USCG Duane, which sits upright in about 130 ft of water off Key Largo. After leaving that weird thing they call a dive boat, I felt much better and dropped back into my usual diving groove. The first thing I notice is that I forgot to add weight to my scooter for the salt water, so I’m trying to go down and my UV-18’s trying to go up, not the best of combinations I must say!

Drinking the koolaid!We’ve cruised around the wreck a couple of times and I look at David as if to say, well, now what? And, aha, he pulls out a reel; finally it’s a piece of equipment I know how to use! We drop the scooters, he ties off and all three of us head inside this gorgeous steel cave. I’m trying to keep the line tight and well-placed behind him, but instead of these little knobs of rock, we have to use these sharp, corroded old pieces of metal, but I’m still enjoying myself, even in this sodium chloride infested water.

We continue on, turn a couple of corners, head down a deck or two and all of a sudden I see light pouring in another hole. Cool, this is like a little mini cave and I’m really starting to get my groove on now. We play around on this gorgeous wreck for just over an hour, pick up the scooters and starting heading up to finish our deco obligation. After the switch at 20’, I suddenly find myself throwing up through my reg, the fish like it and swarm avidly around me, but I’m definitely not digging it! After the dive, I found out a very valuable piece of information, apparently one should never eat shellfish in a month that doesn’t have an “r” in it. It would have been nicer if I’d found this out the night before but it’s too late now!

Our Dive Boat!I finish out my deco, and am suddenly confronted by the thought of how the heck am I going to get all this gear back on the boat? Luckily, Silent World has some great crews who made life really easy on this wayward cave diver and getting back on the boat was much easier than I thought it would be.

Of course, on the way back to the dock, I’m hurling off the downwind side of the boat (hey, I did learn something!) and having to endure the regular’s comments of silly cave diver, miss your drive up sites now and all that other rubbish. I try to protest but to no avail, they’re having way too much fun with me so I just suck it up and think back to how cool that wreck was. After some more friendly jawing at the dock, I leave all pumped up and ready to do it again tomorrow…