Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve!

Okay gang, it's New Year's Eve and that obligates us (those of us up to the task) to participate in a crazy evening of excessive alcohol, partying, staying up late, and (here in Holland) minding the burning phosphorous raining down from the sky (fireworks).

The following are a few pointers for keeping your festivities up to standards:

1) When drinking a steady stream of alcohol, at some point you will feel sick and your body will let you know to stop drinking. If possible try to time it so this point hits after midnight. Once your body says "Stop" try to limit yourself to two more hours or 6 more beers.

2) Mixing drinks is bad! If you do it wrong. You can go from liquer down to wine down to beer. But you can't get drunk on beer and switch to liquer. Just remember the old helpful saying," Liquer then beer; everything's clear. Beer then liquer; never been sicker."

3) Ugly people get prettier the more you drink. If you're sick of hanging around with ugly friends, just keep drinking. Everyone around you will become prettier, the more you drink. (Warning: You may want a pint of scotch at your bedside in the morning... just incase you need to rebeautify your "date".)

4) In our civilized society we frown upon heavy drinking, binge drinking, making a fool of yourself in public and similar party related vices. These social pressures are good and keep the world running along smoothly on a day-to-day basis. This is the one night a year when none of these "rules" or "social graces" apply. Enjoy!

5) Lovers should spend some special time together as close as possible to midnight. Ducking away at 12:15 for a few minutes is something no one at the party will notice. Friends and strangers who've just hooked up for the evening have a more relaxed (3-4am) time schedule.

6) Wear non-flammable clothing! No one should have to be told to stick to natural fibres and fire resistant clothing, but in Holland, on this night, the sky rains fire for hours. Everywhere. So make sure to avoid hair sprays too. Seriously. Oh, and bring earplugs!

7) Don't drink and drive! I'm going to be walking miles and miles for hours tonight. For the safety of myself and others, please don't get in a car tonight. Per point 4, tonight it's acceptible to just sleep in a gutter if you have to.

Oh My! That's Me!

Woohoo! Up until very recently I had a very limited collection of good scuba pics. Especially ones that could be used as evidence for my participation in the sport. I have a few shots of me getting into and out of (rental) gear. Or standing next to water. But not underwater shots.

And then Wanda sent me a CDROM of her vacation pictures from Bonaire. We made multiple dives, during which the shutter-bug tooks tons of great shots of our dives, and us!

So this is what I look like underwater. At least in warm water. In cold I use a completely different suit, with hood, and the same equipment. Too cool! Finally evidence that I've been underwater. :-) A lot.

Friday, December 29, 2006

My monster, it's alive!

I mostly talk about scuba diving or life in general. But one of my true loves have always been electronics and stereo equipment. Heck, add in my bicycle, bed, and books and the stereo/computer system equals about half of all my worldly possessions.

On Christmas day Adam stopped by for a while to help me watch my new DVDs. (Some of which I was clearly very pleased to receive!) But the audio was NOT up to my personal standards. It was loud with noise and hiss, and one of the auxillary fans in the PC case was intermitantly wailing and screeching like it was about to explode at any moment.

So today I took steps! Fighting wires, cables, bad connectors, moody AGP cards and more I opened my computer, put a dedicated audio card (where I was using on-board sound) and pulled the nearly dead fan out.

As geek-like as it all is, I love playing with the tangle of wires that make up my stereo/computer system! I've just dramatically increased the sound quality of my system with only an hour's work and troubleshooting.

What is it about electronics that sets some people down the geek path? I have no idea. But I can't fight it either. I'm just happy my monster is alive and well again.

If you're gonna play it, play it loud!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas World!

Merry Christmas every body! In a world filled with problems I'm glad to have this special day to concentrate on the important things such as family, friends, and peace.

Stay well, enjoy this day, and let everyone you love know how special they are. My wish is that the good examples we set in our every day lives translates to a happier more loving planet with less war and few problems in 2007.

Failing that, I hope there's at least a lot of scuba diving!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Personal stuff...

Just a quick personal update to answer questions I'm getting via email a lot:

Job - I haven't heard any new news for a week now. I expect to sign papers shortly to start work in early January. But "shortly" is a relative term when applied to business during the Christmas season in Europe.

Money - My accountant is an ass. He's about 6 weeks late sending papers/numbers to my employer so I can collect my last paycheques. This, followed by the travelling, vacationing and relaxing has finances tight. But it's "cash flow" issues and not real money issues yet. I'll be fine assuming the new job starts January.

Christmas - This is going to be my third Christmas in Amsterdam. My third time spending Christmas away from family. I'd be in financial trouble if I'd bought an expensive flight to Canada in addition to all the rest of the cash flow issues! And I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of friends in town whom I haven't seen for a while. This week the van Bekkums are home for the holidays, Mike is flying in tomorrow, and Alex from Sweden may drop by next week. *fingers crossed*

New Years - The local dive club isn't even considered a new years dive on or near new years day. LOL! Everyone knows they'll be too hungover January 1st. So it looks like Adam, Humaira and I and perhaps others will plan a festive series of events involving beer, wine, champaigne, insane amounts of fireworks, more champaigne, and then some unwise & uncontrolled attempts at dancing.

Diving - The gear is cleaned and dried and now packed away except for my (partially inflated) BCD and reg which hang from a tall bookstand in my room. I'm constantly asking Adam when he's available to do his Scuba Review course with me, but January is the best I can get. The club isn't planning anything that I'm aware of. Not til Jan. 7th. Pansies. So I'm left high and dry without a buddy who wants to go enjoy the cold mud of Holland.

Immigration - My friends, especially my dutch friends, are telling me I'm becoming more dutch every day. And after nearly 6 years living in Holland, I am technically entitled to become dutch (with certain requirements.) Alas, the immigration authority is still stalling on a problem with my 2005 permit and using that to delay my 2006 permit. Hello, we're going into 2007 now! My immigration lawyer (you can pay a guy to worry for you, so you don't have to) is trying to time his actions based on the start date of my new job. But of course, we don't know that yet. So it's all on hold for now. (Not like the immigration authority will be looking at it over Christmas.)

Morale - Personal spirits are still running high! Still thrilled by having been to Bonaire, and writing about it. Still hopeful that all the pesky issues involving lawyers and accountants will all be properly handled soon. And I'm still enjoying my time off! There's no big budget to go wild on, but setting the alarm for 9am and sleeping til 10 (just because I can) is a marvelous thing. Oh, and the roomate is away for the week! Woohoo!

And that's the update. Sorry, if you wanted pictures, there aren't any. If you wanted excitement, too bad. If you need a reference for a certain Utrecht accountant, I'd *love* to help you out!!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

You missed a great sunset...

No, not in Bonaire. (They were good.) But night after night Holland rewards me with stunning sunsets from my balcony.By the way, now that it's December 20th (wow!) maybe it's time to acknowledge Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone! I hope your holiday seasons are wonderful and that the "spirit of the season" hasn't gotten you down yet. :-) Here in Amsterdam I'm hoping to see THREE groups of friends for the first time in months and months. Some are arriving Wednesday, another on Saturday, and so on. So just to let you know, I'm ready and festive, here's a picture to prove my Christmas Spirit. Ho Ho Ho *cough* *cough*

Okay, so it's not a traditional Christmas tree. But it's a tree. This is Christmas. And that's a Christmas decoration in that tree. So it's a Christmas tree.

The pressents are mostly for me. *blush* Sent via care-package from Canada. But one of those is currently in transit to Canada. It has a 0% chance of arriving before Christmas. So I hope the picture of it suffices for now.

The Hesper wreck. At the limits!

On many dives along the house reef I spotted a wreck on the sand, at the bottom of the wall, usually 15m (~50 feet) below the lowest point of my deep dives. It was clearly a small boat. And it sat out of the range of the nitrox I was breathing. Clearly, to find out more about this nebulous shadow deep below me a bit of planning would be required.

A quick check with the dive masters and sure enough they knew the hull sits in roughly 40m or 132 feet of water. I mentioned the idea of exploring the wreck to Mike. He didn't dismiss it outright, and soon his interest grew too. After a couple of days we discussed the wreck over dinner and decided to go for it. Lotsa water, early to bed, and air instead of nitrox for our morning deep dive.

I had been to 40m twice before this. Both times with instructors, for training in conditions significantly worse than found here. So my training was up to par. And my curiosity was peaked. But my confidence was walking, not running, behind the rest.

Sure enough, something clicked in my mind as we passed 30m. By the time we were at 40m I was aware I was breathing twice as hard as normal. And since I was hovering over a sandy bottom, with no current there was no good reason for that. Perhaps "scariest" though, was not the mental thrill of the depth but was seeing my dive computer tell me I had 5 (FIVE!) minutes before I would be forced to decompress. Even at this depth I had 15 minutes or more of air. But only a fraction of that time before pushing things farther than desired.

In truth, we had known the time limits we would have before we went deep. We planned it and planned to leave once the computers showed 2 minutes left. And we did. On the way up we stopped often at intermediate depths, and ran out our air in shallow water for an extra long safety stop. Quite a safe and tame dive shared between two good dive buddies. But psychologically it was a real ride!

The fact that the Hesper is now just two pieces of hull, one standing and the other laying beside it, wasn't the least bit disappointing!

The whole time (all three minutes) on the wreck I swam in an unusual position. Instead of hands crossed under me, I held both arms out holding my gauges and computer directly infront of my face the whole time. (I noticed by the end Mike was too.) I was certainly paranoid and wanted to know if it was the depth or nitrogen narcosis.

Nitrogen narcosis is common in most divers (mildly) by 30m and a serious issue by 50m deep with air. It is the narcotic effect of nitrogen under high pressure. Normally inert in metabolic and chemical processes in the body, at 4 ata of pressure and beyond nitrogen can be fun! It can make you feel euphoria, nicely drunk, or paranoid. It causes poor judgement and coordination. And of course it's dangerous and thus 40m is set as a limit for recreational diving.

And stepping back after going to the limit is a serious rush! It took no arm-twisting to get Mike to agree to repeating the dive the next day. But the second time on Nitrox, custom blended for the depth.

Chris took two half-empty 40% mixes we'd used the day before, ah custom nitrox, and with some magic fiddling made us two tanks of 26% nitrox filled to 3200psi each. That's a safety limit of 41m... 0.5m into the sand. And the result?

10 minutes of bottom time on both computers! Of which we used 8! We set a limit for "up" at 2000psi or 2 minutes (no decompression time) remaining. And at 2 minutes I had (relatively) tons of gas left.

Partly the nitrox, and partly the experience of the day before, my breathing seemed unaffected by the depth. And my brain was not at all paranoid. Was the narcosis gone? I still swam with my gauges a lot. But some times didn't and just enjoyed the wreck.

An old ladder still sits in the old fishing boat. It looks like you could take it up to the surface and still use it. Except for some old rope, the floor of the boat is indistinguishable from the sand plateau around it. Little critters in shells seem oblivious to the fact that they're living in a boat.

The wreck will continue to disolve into the ocean faster than most corals will grow on it. Someday it will be barely visible as debris in the sand. Like trying to imagine a rose by seeing peddles scattered on the ground. There are so many details to explore you could stare all day.

Could and should are different things. At that point, I could have stayed longer. But knew I shouldn't. Mike and I made a relatively long dive again. Visiting the much shallower La Muchaca wreck higher up the reef, and taking longer than required for safety stops.

How did doing these dives help me? Simple! The next day I visited the Hilma Hooker and was amazed by how well I remained calm *inside* the wreck. Later the same day I spent longer on a dive with a single tank of air than ever before! These "training" dives made all the difference in the world to my comfort in later dives. And they've helped my confidence catch up to my training. A nice feeling!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Laundry, Head Colds, and Jetlag

Honestly, I have some friends who are going to explode if they here another word about my vacation or scuba diving. So how about a short simple post today, discussing the other realities of my world.

Firstly, I'm on the fourth load of laundry that will now allow that part of my life to fall back into a routine. Colours, whites, colours, whites, bedding. Colours, whites, colours, whites, bedding. That last flurry of activity also coincides with the last packing of now dry scuba equipment. My roommate will be glad when there isn't a wetsuit hanging in the living room any more.

For months now I've been predicting the end of my physical energy followed by a time of renewal and rebuilding. In other words, I've felt like I was about to get sick for a long time now. And as of yesterday I accepted I now am. My head is completely congested. I've gone through one whole box of Kleenex in the last 24 hours. And today I feel okay, but definitely still stuffed up. I've only been out (on the town) once since getting home. I've had a couple of long nights of 12-13 hours of sleep in row. And I've gone easy on myself during the days. These have combined to give my immune system the strength it needs to fix months and months of pushing my physical limits. From wrapping up my work in Boston, to the marathon drive home to celbrate Thanksgiving, all the way through to now I've either been too stressed, to busy, or too manic to take the time to rest.

Unlike the flu or some terrible illness, I'm just tired. Stuffed and sneezy and tired. And I know it's just my body saying "enough!" Okay. Christmas is in a week and there'll be all kinds of people in town (Mike, Lies, Alex) who I hope to see after long absences. Rogier (roommate) is already talking about a "little gathering" in the apartment New Year's Eve, and God knows I don't want to be less than 110% for all that!

Thankfully my jetlag has not conspired against me like it did last time. Two days after being back I had to meet the furnace repairman at 8am, and it was no problem. Instead of staying up too late and sleeping until the afternoon (per October) I'm going to sleep early and taking long nights of sleep ending at a decent time in the morning. Almost.

This morning I was up at 9am. But being "sick" I decided it was okay to go back to sleep... which lasted until noon. Could be worse.

So no diving or planning trips or anything exciting today. Just some laundry, maybe a bit of grocery shopping (more Kleenex) and some videos or TV. Thank goodness too. I need a rest and apparently am still not bright enough to realize it on my own.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Good Buddies and Bad...

Today's thought is simple. "Good buddies and bad, I've descended with both. All of them have taught me more about how to be a better dive buddy myself."

Good buddies are grown and trained. So perhaps it helps to think of those divers who train great buddies, and those who are in training. Hopefully we're all in both groups. But some divers definitely have their act together, while others are still learning to make basic open water training into diving instinct. As a result, your value as a buddy should be readily available to all, with pace, planning, intervention changed to fit your individual buddy's needs.

Dive training tells new divers to try and get experienced buddies, in order to learn from their experience. But all too often experienced buddies don't want to limit themselves to less experienced limits. I've heard an experienced diver lament that any dive under an hour was a waste of a fill. Perhaps he's right... if he hasn't used his shorter dive to help train a better buddy.

If the problem is air consumption, for example, setting a slower, shallower pace doesn't detract from the fish you see, but does improve your buddy's air consumption. You'll stay longer and have a better dive.

Similarly, teaching a buddy to swim closeby is easy if you also swim close to them. Review handsignals and dive plans so each diver knows the intended route and who's leading.

In diving I've watched my own progress and that of various students. Improvements can come quickly when learning is made easy. And for my own latest progress in diving, I mostly have to thank a number of good buddies. Diving with people like Mike or Wanda helps you to relax, enjoy and generally get more out of your dive. They're great buddies!

And what they pass to me, that which improves the quality of my dive, I should pass on to those less experienced divers I buddy with later.

In the diving world... or any world for that matter... the more good buddies we train, the better off we'll all be. So get out there and enjoy your diving while trying to improve yourself as a buddy. Before you know it there'll be no shortage of good buddies to dive with.

Nitrox Rox!

Enriched Air Nitrox (EANx) is usually just referred to as Nitrox. Not to be confused with Nitrous Oxide, nitrox refers to a blended breathing gas made from mixing air with pure oxygen. It's popular amongst recreational divers who are properly trained and qualified to use it.

Nitrox is popular as an alternative to air for a number of reasons. The increased oxygen replaces a significant portion of the nitrogen in normal air. Nitrogen uptake into body tissues is the limiting factor (besides air supply) for how long a diver can remain at a certain depth. By using nitrox a diver can choose to either:

  1. Stay longer at that certain depth than air would allow, or
  2. Spend less time between dives off-gassing excess nitrogen, or
  3. Dive to the standards for air with an even greater safety margin.
Either, or, or, but not all three.

Aside from what the textbooks say, most nitrox divers also report feeling less tired after a day of multiple diving and multiple dive days. I know that a few short air dives tire me out in a way multiple long nitrox dives don't. Given the choice, I always pay the extra for the chique breathing mix!But nitrox comes with it's own dangers. And thus every tank and piece of equipment used with nitrox must be prepared for it's use, and must be labelled to warn untrained divers not to use it. The issue with nitrox is that it brings a problem of the deep up to recreational levels.

At about 220 feet down, air is toxic to humans. The "partial pressure" of the oxygen in the air is enough to cause blackouts, convulsions, trouble thinking, tunnel vision and more. But 220 feet is way deeper than recreational divers are allowed to / trained to go, so issues of oxygen toxicity aren't taught.

Adding oxygen to the breathing mix not only displaces harmful nitrogen, but also raises the depth at which oxygen reaches a toxic partial pressure. This can put it into the range of depths a recreational diver might plan to reach. So the specific maximum depth for a specific nitrox tank is something the diver using it must measure and calculate.

Breathing nitrox underwater is no different from breathing air. Other than remembering to avoid your specific maximum depth, there is no difference in taste, smell, sensations or otherwise. Only the analysis of the tank's mixture and the calculation of the limits are different from diving with air. (And making sure your equipment is appropriate.)

These issues are now taught in "classroom only" nitrox certification courses. You can study scuba in the dead of winter and not get wet or cold. (Like a dry suit.)

For those interested, contact your local scuba shop. Breathing air is nice for land. But adding oxygen makes scuba even more fun.

The Perfect Video!

Hither to, all the posted videos have been mine. But I stumbled across a You Tube video today that's just exactly what I wish I had taken myself. It's underwater footage from the house reef outside Captain Don's Habitat. And set to a BNR song! What's shown here is a small part of the wonder of Bonaire. I hope you enjoy it too.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Captain Don's Habitat

Captain Don's Habitat resort in Bonaire stands out amongst other dive resorts as being the best of the best. One of the oldest and certainly most influential dive operations, in one of the best dive destinations in the world. When a cruiseship-sized yacht pulls into Bonaire and needs dive leaders, Capt. Don's staff get tapped for the job.

So it's almost (almost) surprising that a place which has so much to be proud of, is so friendly, laid back, and accessible to the average dive tourist. Capt. Don's is not so much a collection of achievements, as an attitude and feeling. Gezeligheid the Dutch call it. "Diving Freedom" is their term. Tanks, dock, support, a spectacular reef and all just minutes from your room or villa. All the experience of the highest quality liveaboards, without the sea sickness.

Most of what Captain Don's Habitat is can be traced to two great groups of people. First, there's Captain Don himself. DEMA Scubadiving Hall of Famer, he is responsible for the Marine Park surrounding Bonaire, the sinking of the Hilma Hooker, and starting the Habitat resort. The second and equally important part of the puzzle are the staff who carry on Captain Don's original dream.

From Jack, the General Manager of both Habitat resorts (Bonaire & Curacao) to Jheisen (Jason) your friendly provider of food and beer, each person understands that they are there to help improve your diving experience. And they all truly like what they're doing and so do a damn good job of it!

The resort staff are either part of the hotel/bar/restaurant or the dive shop. But it hardly matters. Everyone dives! The waitstaff are just as aware of the timing of the afternoon boat as the divemasters.

And the people, the customers, that this collection of tradition and preservation draws are second to none. No one shows up for the beaches. There hardly are any. We're all there of one common mind, to explore, enjoy, and protect the spectacular underwater world that makes this island special.

The Habitat is made special by the reefs it straddles. Just a short swim from the shallows surrounding the dock (be careful, that's firecoral there) and you reach the wall. Coral grows on everything. Sponges abound. Fish range from the smallest of fry to giant predators like the 7 foot long green eel who prowls the night beneath the tarpins circling above.

In fact, if you haven't been night diving yet, this is a wonderful place to start! Instructors, experienced buddies, rental lights and more mean you can overcome your initial night jitters and soon end up seeing more than in any daylight dive. "Shift change" on a sunset dive is the most spectacular. The schools that swam openly in the light come towards the reef and start choosing sheltered spots to sleep. At the same time, the things which hid out of site within the reef crawl out and start their night feeding. Lobster and eel and octopus are the most spectacular, but so is a bloom of living coral pollips; out of site, but no less fragile, during the day.

The resort can pamper a guest who chooses. Massage therapy for those cramped swimming muscles is there for the asking. But most there are too busy getting more cramps. Tired bones can also rest for the night at Rum Runner's Restaurant and/or the Deco Bar.

Unlike a traditional vacationer's resort, here the point of the resort is diving. Ellsewhere the point is more about the resort making money by offering services including some to divers. Semantics? No way!

Instead of going for the quick buck. Habitat has a long history of repeat divers who come over and over for the reef, and the atmosphere. Improvements are constant and ongoing, but cutting back on the diving experience is not tolerated. What used to be the head office is now a car rental agency. The old frontdesk now serves as part of the buffet table busy nights in the expanded restaurant. Grounds Keepers keep hedges trimmed and walks cleared, but it is the diving ammenities that set it apart. Rinse tubs are right there, fresh and scrubbed clean every day. Lockers hold gear right where you need it. Next to the short walk past drying wetsuits to the dock purposely build for your stride in and walk out. Fins, buddy check, waddle waddle, jump. It's so easy it feels almost wrong. Comfortable. And this will have rapid impact on your skill and confidence in the water. Some how every dive feels better than the last.

Is it any wonder I've already booked my next trip. See you there in May!

FYI: This short clip is designed to loop well.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Did I Mention the Rescue?

I know I've mentioned that during my diving vacation I achieved a number of firsts and bests. Deepest, longest and more. But I haven't yet mentioned my first real-world use of rescue skills.

This is not the same as saying "I rescued someone". I didn't. But I applied multiple skills learned from rescue and divemaster training to help improve the outcome of a tense situation with another diver. And that felt incredible! Once it was all safely over.

I met Jos and Joke at Capt. Don's. It was my last day of diving and I had time for one more dive before having to start packing (and paying my tabs.) He was a well experienced diver and an instructor for search and recovery diving. She had just recently learned to dive with not yet a dozen open water dives to her credit. Clearly they formed a buddy pair and I tagged along as the third man; to introduce them to the reef and enjoy my last dive that trip.

Even before we hit the water the issues were clearly popping up. Joke's certification comes with an 60 foot depth limit. And the pair admitted they had already gone well past that depth earlier that day. I informed them that my previous dive had been shallower and that (to follow established safe diving practices) I shouldn't (and thus we as a group shouldn't) descend below 50 feet. Plan your dive and dive your plan should be the mantra of any diver.

During our predive discussions I also spotted a few issues. Joke's equipment wasn't fully set up yet she was ready to jump into the water. I connected her inflator hose to her BC and tightened the fin strap that looked like it was going to fall off.

In the water things started well. The pair said Joke had some troubles descending earlier and may need more lead weight. I looked at the ton already on her belt and suggested we try with that. Just before descent I passed on the advice that Joke try to cross her legs when trying to descend. Students and new divers who kick there legs while trying to descend is a common problem. Sure enough, legs crossed, getting below the surface was no problem. Indeed, as Joke began to move it was clear she was seriously overweighted.

Overweighted divers move through the water at an angle. Rather than a comfotable horizontal position, their heads are up, their legs are down, and they are constantly kicking to overcome the lead weights pulling them deeper and deeper. And deeper and deeper is just where we went. Passed 50 feet as planned. Passed 60 feet as recommended. Passed the point that made it clear something was wrong. Joke wasn't comfortable controlling herself in the water, and Jos wasn't able to communicate to her. He kept motioning to her to ascend. She kept kicking and falling downwards. So I caught up to her (at a depth I did not intend to or want to be at) and gave her the sign to put air into her BC vest. That she understood and complied with.

Joke halted her descent. But at no point was she neutrally bouyant as a diver should aim to be. She kept kicking to maintain her depth, and as a result, the pair of divers ended up making some rather severe depth changes, going at once from climbing too rapidly to falling too deep and back again.

But the escapades to this point were not unusual for a new diver. Nor was it a surprise that Joke was quickly down to half a tank and it was time to turn back. This is where the fun began!

A normal dive profile involves swimming out, reaching 1/2 a tank, ascending to a much lower depth (where air is used more slowly) and swimming back. But we didn't ascend. Or at least, Jos and Joke didn't follow me up. So I took a position slightly aboved and began to watch a drama play out. Joke showed Jos her air pressure gauge, and Jos replied okay. Then Joke would show her air pressure again, and Jos replied okay. Each exchange was clearly getting more and more tense. Ultimately Jos offered his alternate regulator and the pair began breathing from a single tank and started to ascend past me.

To this point it had been a typically bad training dive. Now a diving incident was in progress and a rescue was being affected. And my rescue training was screaming that something was wrong! In a moment of telepathic clarity, I realized the pair were going straight to the surface. And given the depths and times we'd been to, coupled with their already dangerous profile of sudden ascents and descents, surfacing without a safety stop would dramatically increase the risk of further (decompression sickness related) problems for the pair. So without really deciding, I quickly made the descision to join in and help Jos' rescue efforts.

While Joke was clearly on the edge of panic, Jos understood my frantic signs to stop and make a 3-minute stop. Before Joke understood I was holding her left arm. Jos held her by her right
arm and he and I linked our free hands. Together we held the bouyancy for the three of us while I timed the 3 minutes with my dive computer.

Thankfully Joke responded well. The firm hands, the two tanks of air now there if needed, the shallower depth, and the general calm and reassurance we tried to send her all worked and the panic was held in check. Three minutes later we finally ascended to the surface. Them more quickly than I.

What was I going to find on the surface? Just a few feet above me Joke was throwing the reg out of her mouth and gasping for the unlimited air. Her hand was on her BC's inflator but my eyes and ears told me she'd only made two short pushes of the button. Her legs were flailing beneath her and she certainly wasn't calmly resting on the surface.

Rather than coming to the surface infront of her (which divers are trained to recognize as dangerous) I swam behind Joke, reached up to her hand on the inflator, and inflated her vest (her hand sandwiched between mine and the inflator button) until it was full.

Now she was safe!

Popping out of the water behind her I inflated my BC and checked the scene. Two seriously stressed people were realizing it was now over. One with a look of joy to be still alive, the other with a look of shock brought on by the realization of all that had just happened. I grabbed the happy one's tank valve and started towing her on the long swim back to the dock. Perhaps unnecessary although it served to get Joke out of the water perhaps a minute sooner and that was to be desired.

On the way to shore I wondered if she was ever going to dive again. Was this what she was thinking too? I realized the "job" I hadn't anticipated still wasn't over. A moment later, walking down the dock to relieve ourselves of the burdonsome gear I knew what to say. My first words (aside from the few "God Verdommes" that had already escaped) were to tell her she did a great job at recovering herself underwater, holding the safety stop well, and breathing more calmly. This got a smile. Further talk of how there were multiple problems, including overweighting and poor bouyancy, but that these problems were all common to new divers, seemed to set the right ideas on the incident. Jos and Joke discussed the incident themselves, then we talked on that and other subjects while sharing lunch and signing logs.

I'm sure the pair was in the water the next day. And I'm also sure that Joke has learned a flurry of practical lessons that will make her subsequent dives much less work and much more fun.

The story ends there. But for the divers in the croud I offer the following points to think on:
1) Don't dive outside your limits, nor those of the least qualified buddy. Limit recommendations have a purpose. Don't learn that purpose the hard way.
2) Stressed, tired divers can turn into panniced divers more quickly than you think. Remember the first steps are Stop and Breath. Followed by Think. Bolting for the surface is rarely the answer.
3) Most problems can simply be avoided. For example if a buddy is having bouyancy problems, stop and correct them BEFORE they're also having exhaustion and overbreathing issues.
4) Lastly, I learned that when needed, my rescue training comes quickly to me. This will help my own confidence as a safe diver and convinces me to speak up more and work harder to prevent issues before they become problems in the future.

Safe diving to exciting places!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Hilma Hooker

A quick search of the Internet reveals many stories attributed to the shipwreck known as the Hilma Hooker. During my Fall '06 trip to Bonaire I dove on the Hooker twice, loving the time spent outside and inside this spectacular wreck.

The Hooker's story begins back in 1984 when a ship lost engine power and was stranded off the coast of Klien Bonaire. The crew and their papers identified the ship as the Hilma Hooker from Columbia. Local port authorities lent assistance and towed the ship to port in Kralendijk, Bonaire. But there were problems. Firstly, much of the crew suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Then authorities realized that the ship's papers did not match the ship. Her length at port was clearly 50 feet larger than the registration information claimed.

The descision was made to fully inspect the ship. When boarded for inspection, none of the crew remained to be found. Nor could they be found on Bonaire and there were no records of them leaving legitimately. What was found was 12 tons of marijuana. And not surprisingly, no one stepped forward to claim the deteriorating ship or responsibility for drug smuggling.

Precisely how the ship sank in September of '84 is also a mystery. Some claim the leaky hull (which needed to be constantly pumped) simply took the ship down. Others make claim to which local divers purchased the ship from the Port Authority and sank her, with permission, in the sand between the double reef near Angel City. Still more stories say that the authority to sink her was never officially granted and that the sinking was thus illegal.

How's aside, the ship now rests on her starboard (right) side on sand, between two beautiful coral reefs. The bow faces south, in 30m / 99ft of water. The propellor and the port side of the stern are the highest points at 16m deep (as seen in the picture). Written here in raised letters on the hull, you can still read one of the previous names, "William Express", above the word "Panama".

The holds are wide open. Perhaps the safest wreck penetration a recreational diver could hope for. Giant openings lead to open areas wide enough for multiple divers to explore at once. For those with more confidence/experience, large holes in the bulkheads join the hold openings to each other. They are high and wide enough for a buddy pair to pass through side by side. There are smaller rooms with swim through openings, and technical wreck penetration opportunities with crew quarters, the bridge, the galley and other inner areas still in the condition they were in at the time the ship last sailed.

On my first visit (Nov 30 '06 - dive #93) Wanda and I explored the outside of the ship from it's lowest points (29m) to the highest, where Divemaster Chris gave demonstrations of shrimp providing dental checkups. At a porthole com cleaning station, tiny shrimp work all day cleaning the open mouths of much larger fish. A diver's open mouth, proferred to the shrimp, gets the same attentive cleaning.

Here's one of Wanda's pictures of Chris (needs a shave) having a dental checkup from cleaner shrimp.

We also explored one of the forward holds a bit, using my dive light to show all the amazing colours of sponge and coral life growing ontop of the ship's rust.

Our dive took 31 minutes during which I sucked my full tank of air nearly down to my minimum 500 psi reserve. There were certainly points when the combination of depth and "shade" played with my mind and increased my breathing. Overall the dive was a total rush! I surfaced and immediately enthused aloud," I've got to start taking wreck dive courses!"

I was so enthused by the wreck I resolved I had to visit it again. And this time I was going to have a (proper and legal) souvenier. So I went to visit Michael at the nearby Chat 'n Browse where I picked up t-shirt depicting the wreck. Next I waited until the morning boat from Capt. Don's Habitat was scheduled to go to the Hilma Hooker again.

Now I can bastardize a cliche line and say," Been there, dived that, brought the t-shirt."

Worn overtop my wetsuit, the shirt got multiple spots of rust on it; mainly from my swim through of one of the smaller rooms. By this time (Dec. 8 '06 - dive #117) my own confidence was up dramatically. I was much easier on my air, more used to dive profiles with long deep portions, and super excited to get deeper into the wreck.

The experience paid off! Buddied with Divemaster Ginny, I felt more comfortable inside the Hilma Hooker than I could have guessed I would. By then my Bonaire dives had taken me deeper multiple times and taught me to go longer on my air than I'd ever done before. When I did manage to squeeze through one of the smaller openings I was surprised by how calm my breathing remained (while my head tried to realize it was floating in a dimly-lit room deep underwater.) And I was really happy that by the end of the dive, after 37 minutes, I still had 1100psi of air left.

FYI Mom, both dives were done using Nitrox and the computer to keep me extra safe. Niether pushed any limits.

For me, it's time to start learning about mutliple tank diving, gas switching, and more so that the next time I visit the Hooker I'll be able to spend a lot more time there. Until then, I've got the t-shirt.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Home Sweet Home

It's been a year of homecomings, with a grand total of ~7.5 months of living out of suitcases and in hotel rooms. This time I'm home (Amsterdam) for Christmas and New Years after an incredible few weeks in Bonaire scuba diving to excess. 46 dives in 15 dive days (with two rest days) and a whole bunch of personal bests. Tons of stories too! And best yet, I met tons of great people who have really touched me in so many positive ways. New friends, future coworkers, new students and new local dive buddies.

This time coming home felt a little different. I have quite a strong notition in my head that I'm soon going to pack up and leave Amsterdam to head to Bonaire to live. And I've already booked and paid my deposit for my upcoming (May) instructor course that will allow it all to happen.

Still, my home is a sweet home. And I'm there now. Even though it feels less permanent than it did before leaving, I'm still happy to be back. And so full of stories that I really want to start writing!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More from Bonaire

"Papa Dock" at Capt. Don's Habibat (Bonaire). In the background is one of the dive boats used to take divers to all the great dive sites.

The "giant stride" is the safest, easiest way for a fully equipped diver to enter the water. It just doesn't look that way to non-divers!

Iguanas are funny looking animals!

Underwater Blog Tag

Uhg! My blog "friend" Minka has tagged me for blog tag. Here's how it works.

THE RULES: Each player of this game starts with the '6 weird things about you.' People who get tagged need to write a blog post of their own 6 weird things as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave a comment that says 'you are tagged' in their comments and tell them to read your blog."

ok, here goes nothing:

1) I'm crazy enough to update my blog while on vacation on a tropical island.
2) Blondes are pretty, redheads are hot, and brunnettes melt my knees, but women who scuba dive drive me absolutely bonkers.
3) I can read minds. Sometimes. I believe telepathy is a great skill, when used responsibly.
4) I once met God inside a cave, diving 27m below the Maltese island of Gozo. It turns out God is every thing and every where. And really pretty full of love.
5) I actually believe that the future will always work out for the best, no matter how bad it feels in the present.
6) I spend forever typing my thoughts into this blog, but couldn't name 6 other people who even have blogs.

There. I'll have to notify the following people to post their 6 weirdnesses to the comments of this blog via email... when I return from vacation: Mike C., Irene, Wanda, Mom, Adam, and Alex.

In the mean time... 40 dives and 32 hours underwater (bottom time) thus far! About 48 hours left to dive before I have to desaturate for my flight. More once I'm home.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bonaire is Beautiful!

It doesn't even really need saying, but Bonaire is beautiful both above and (especially) below the water! After almost two weeks I'm completely in love with the place, the people, the diving lifestyle here on the island... all of it.Thank goodness I've still got 5 days before I leave. Alas, I only have 5 days before I leave.

So far I've done 23 dives, a few to 40m (130'), a ton of night dives, and one that set a personal best time of 75 minutes on a normal sized tank of air. But it's not about numbers. My diving is so relaxed, so enjoyable... it's an incredible experience bordering on the surreal. I'm spending 3+ hours per day below the waves, feeling completely at one with the sea.

Details, pictures, videos and stories will all be posted once I'm home. For now, this is just to say that I'm enjoying what could ultimately be a life altering experience.

Live altering? Yep. I'm coming back in May to do my Instructor course. After that, I'm LOOKING FOR WORK! My mind is already made up and I'm coming back to stay! Some times life hands you an opportunity that you'd have to be a fool to pass up. Don't worry, you'll all be welcome to come visit me once I'm hear to live... provided you let me teach you to dive. :-)

So far I've helped (as a Divemaster) three new divers become certified. I've also introduced two new divers to the joy of night diving (note my login name) and I just can't get enough of seeing peoples' reactions to the beauty I can show them. Life is good. Really really good!