Journal

Archives: June 2008

Tales from a new diver…21 dives later (Part 1) 30 June 2008

new diverI miss the Beautiful Bonaire reefs already. I guess you can tell, since I did TWENTY-ONE DIVES on my very first six-day trip, I like scuba!

Background: As some of you may know, I dived in 2000 in Hawaii with Lester, and while he had found *his* sport, it spooked me. And while he has since become Master-Diver certified and finished over 350 dives, I kept saying “not yet, not yet…I’ll go up in the mountains and you can go down in the ocean.” But an amazing invitation came along last year, to go diving for a month in Indonesia this August with two other couples, and he asked me if I would consider trying it again. Taking a deep breath, I said yes! (more…)

Hilma Hooker…DEEP! (Part 2) 29 June 2008

So! Wednesday morning – I have now done 10 dives, the deepest to 50 feet; while I am ‘certified’ to go to 130 feet, I am only ‘trained’ to go to 60 feet so far – a distinction PADI encourages. Lester and I were having breakfast with Andrea and Caryn and Mel (Ellie’s husband and their instructor). The girls were working toward Advanced Open Water certification, which involves 5 dives. Mel was going over the “Knowledge Review” for their next dive, a deep dive to the wreck of Hilma Hooker – a 235-foot long steel-hulled freighter sunk in 1984. (Here is the very interesting history of this boat.) HHThe Hooker sits on its side in about 100 of water at the bow and 90 feet at the stern. Lester and I had developed a plan for us to dive to 60 feet – where the upper edge of the deck rests, and he shared that plan with Mel just before breakfast. (more…)

Underwater Nav – neither squid nor screwups nor photographers will get in my way! (Part 3) 28 June 2008

This was my 3rd Advanced Open Water dive (yes, they gently urged me to move right along), and was hilarious. As some of you know, I fancy myself a very good map and road navigator, though I have never worked with a compass. On this dive, Ellie briefed me ahead of time, I would do three things:
• measure my ‘kick-cycle’ (KC) distance – how far I travel with two fin-kicks by counting my KCs while swimming over a fixed 100-foot line,
• navigate a straight course out and back, once using the compass and once using ‘natural nav’ (the surroundings), and
• navigate a 100-foot square using the compass.

buddy dock Lester volunteered to be my dive buddy, so Ellie “didn’t have to do all the swimming with me”. We did this dive just off the Buddy Dock at the edge of Buddy Reef, mostly over sandy bottom in about 10-12 feet of water. ———>

Exercise One – kick-cycle distance: So, into the water we go, and Ellie fixes the line and heads off unreeling it, having asked me to 1) wait until she gets out a ways, and also 2) not to ‘start’ right at the end of the line, but to ‘move back and get up to speed’ and start counting as I swim over the start of the line. So, I did that, and off I went, dutifully counting, and sort of peripherally noticing that Lester seemed to be a ways back, following slowly. When I got back, Ellie asked how many KCs I counted, and then wrote on her slate “not a race!”

Exercise Two – navigate a straight line out and back: So now Ellie wrote on her sketch board (which is very grainy), ‘100 KC, 150 degrees.’ Then she signaled to wait, erased it, and wrote what I thought was ‘150 KCs’. I thought to myself – wow, that is about 400 feet! She is testing me…but okay, no problem – piece of cake! (On the dock, she had reminded me to “ become one with my compass” (hold it firmly directly in front of me keeping the lubber line in line with my body using both hands), and also to look around occasionally while I was doing this, so I could swim it again using ‘natural nav’ – just landmarks, no compass.) So I set my compass, and started off…

After about 10 KCs, I realized this was *not* such a piece of cake. As I was careful to be ‘one with my compass’ and keep the needle squarely pointed North (this is harder than you might think underwater), count my kick-cycles, and look around, I also found myself scraping the sandy bottom. So then I was trying to also reach my inflator button on the left even though it is best to hold the compass with BOTH hands…I found it very tricky and rather incongruous, and started laughing into my regulator. You know…like patting your head while rubbing your stomach – underwater while kicking, counting, watching, etc, etc! (Note to non-divers: at shallow depths, scorpion fishit’s a little difficult to maintain a constant depth, especially if you are new at this, plus when we first descended, I had forgotten to firmly establish my neutral buoyancy by adjusting the air in my vest.) It was tiring, but I got to 150 KCs, and stopped to turn around, and I saw Lester coming slowly after me. Then I happened to look down, and right beneath me not 2 feet away in the sand were two scorpion fish about 7 inches long (left), moving slightly so we could see their colorful side feet-fins.

I also goofed up using the compass on my return, but found Ellie anyway, waving to Caryn snorkeling on the surface on my way back. When I got back, Ellie wrote on her slate “I lost you at about 65 feet! 50 KC?” So I signaled to her ‘oh, well – got my workout!’ (patting my lungs) The natural nav portion was no problem.

Exercise Three – navigate a square: Ellie had told me I would do right turns, and would find myself heading out over the reef into deep water, so to now also watch my depth (now we are into serious multi-tasking), and we had also worked out my headings. So I took off, swam my 100 feet (38 KCs), and then adjusted my bezel to the new heading. However, I forgot to re-orient the needle, and instead just swam along the lubber line. I [sort of] realized I hadn’t made a 90-degree turn, but kept going and did my 100 feet. I turned the bezel to the next new heading…and did the same thing! This time I really noticed that I wasn’t out over deep blue water as expected, but sort of over the edge of the reef, and realized that I had really messed it up, so I just ‘felt’ my way back to Ellie. I approached her from her back left, as she was just hanging nonchalantly in about 8 feet of water, holding her knees and sitting on nothing, waiting for me to come toward her out of the ‘blue’. She didn’t see me, so I tapped her on the arm and shook my head slowly; she shook hers slowly in return! Then she wrote “try again”.

This time I nailed it, BUT, I was so determined, and so ‘one with my compass’ that when I literally bumped into a photographer who was **in MY line of direction**, I just pushed him out of the way!! (Then I gave a sheepish ‘ok’ sign.) Terribly rude, but funny too – Lester saw me do it. When we got out of the water, he tattled on my pushing the poor photographer, so Ellie asked me “what would you do if it was a coral head in the way?!”

Then Caryn and Jeremy came over and said “did you see the squid?” When I said no, they laughed and said “wow – you were going so fast you blew right through a pod of squid, and they didn’t even move – they must have known you weren’t interested in them!” And then Lester said, “Ellie, I’m not racing HER in the water!” So Jim, I guess my cycling legs were just pumping away, ticking that fast cadence!

As I was saying earlier, my hands were sore, and my whole left arm, actually, from becoming one with (gripping) my compass!

A Few Odds and Ends Diving Tidbits (Part 4) 27 June 2008

squidMonday evening (Day 3), Lester and I and his frequent dive buddy Jack went diving off Buddy Dock and swam about 200 feet down the shoreline over the sand to just hang in about 10’ of water watching a beautiful pod of 30+ squid! They are so cool – they just gently motor forward and reverse, waving their lovely gossamer skirts. I didn’t see them change color, but felt like maybe they were checking me out in my bright-colored top, to see if I might be food.

Tuesday afternoon I finally noticed these tiny fascinating creatures called ‘sand blennies’ (related to Ellie’s favorites, the yellow-headed jawfish) in the shallows darting around just above the sand…what I suddenly realized is that when you get too close, they just disappear…into the sand!

I think my favorite fish is the trunkfish (photo up there in Part 1) – a cute, small boxy creature white with black spots, a long snout, and whirring side rudder fins. They do a ‘reverse hoovering’ maneuver, blowing sand to look for food. Later in the week I finally saw a juvenile trunkfish – it was a black ball about ¼ inch in diameter, with yellow spots. So tiny and so cute!

Here is a link to download Lester’s really cool video of a leatherback turtle that played with our group for about 20 minutes on the surface at the end of a dive. turtleIt was so curious that Ellie was convinced he has been fed by people – it is common for boat divers to throw finished-snack watermelon rinds into the water between dives; the fish love them. Ellie and I were first to the surface at the end of the dive, and the turtle played with the two of us for at least 10 minutes even before Lester started filming (see it here between us?). After the turtle swam away and then came back up to me 3 times, Danielo, the captain, finally said “Linda, I think you’d better get out – I am afraid he is going to try to bite your arm!” (thinking I was watermelon in my bright diveskin…) So Ellie and I are not in this video, but Greg is the first person you see gently reaching to touch his shell!

Diving at the Salt Pier was one of my three top favorites – swimming around and between the tall, angled pylons (most about 2 feet in diameter) that were covered with coral and swarming with fish (below). salt pier More even than most sites, it feels like an other-worldly environment.

Ellie and I also did a night dive as part of my Advanced Open Water series – it was weird! Unnerving, because you can’t see as easily where you are in the water, but when you shine your [required] light on the coral, it is beautiful, and so many different things are out at night, the colors so vivid in the beam of bright light.

Last Day in Bonaire :( (Part 5) 26 June 2008

octopusLester and I did a dawn dive on our last dive-day, just the two of us (very romantic), and saw a beautiful spotted moray eel, about 5-6 inches in diameter and 4 feet long, curling among the coral heads and holes hunting for food – it was so cool to watch and follow it down the reef to about 55 feet. Then we went back to look for the squid, but instead found an octopus in his den (hole in a rock)! He had apparently finished breakfast (garbage around his den), and probably wished we would just go away and let him sleep. But we hung around for about 10 minutes just watching, and as Lester circled one way around him and I another, his head would come up further out of the hole (above) and each of his eyes would be following one of us – so funny.

On one of our dives during the week I swam with a porcupine fish for about 20 yards (a really funky and cute fish with a very human-like face Lester calls ‘ET’).

rappelOur last boat dive was to a site called Rappel – the most beautiful coral landscape I have seen so far, and my favorite. It is so-named because its discoverers had to throw in their gear from the top of a 50-foot cliff, then rappel down into the water (and then drift out to the next beach). The cliff continues down into the water for about another 12-15 feet, with shallow caves along the wall carved by the sea, then gently angles down and flattens somewhat at only about 25-30 feet. The coral formations are amazing – pinnacles and mounds and ridges of exquisite shapes and types. I am so looking forward to going back there.

Our very last dive of the trip was back off the dock at Buddy Reef – Mel showed us no less than four of the exotic and *very* odd-looking green and yellow frogfish, frogfish all of them moving so we could see their cute little fan-feet, and a seahorse, also gracefully swim-hopping from branch to branch. And then we returned to the octopus den again, and *I found* (no easy task) the now-sleeping creature again!, which I will call Rosie because in the daylight we can see that its color is a beautiful rose pink. I hope s/he is there when we return; what a great way to finish our Bonaire dives.

I am now comfortable with diving down deeper to see something, with using my breath control to float up and over a coral head and back down, and just hanging in the water, enjoying the view. I realized that so far, I seem to slightly enjoy the big picture more – the underwater landscape and the formations, while Lester enjoys the fish. But that may change! I also keep saying I don’t want to carry a camera to take pictures, but getting videos might be fun.

smileySo now I am also ADVANCED Open Water certified (and ‘trained’ to 100 feet) – thanks to Mel and Ellie – woohoo!! Yes, I have discovered I love diving (credits to a very patient hubby and a really great instructor); and no, I don’t wish I had done it sooner – I was ready now!

PS – When we got home, Jim and Irena had left me a birthday present, wrapped in some old smiley face wrapping paper, and Irena, in true red-headed wild-woman fashion, had decorated it so aptly!!