Thursday, May 26, 2011

I had a BAD feeling about this...

You would think that as soon as Cindy and I finished our open water dives, and received our c-cards, I would’ve blogged about it. Hey, who wouldn’t want to hear about our dives at The Blue Lagoon and how much fun we had? Well, most of it was fun. I promised a certain someone I wouldn’t mention any of the more, ummmm, errrrrr, let’s just say less than stellar training attitudes exhibited during a couple of our dives. To quote Forrest Gump: “That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

We did the Peak Performance Buoyancy class on Sunday after we finished our last open water dive for our c-cards.  Now those two dives were really fun! All of the pressure of having to meet very specific training objectives (for our open water certification) was now gone and all we would focus on was our buoyancy. We did some more “pin fivots” that we did in our open water training, but something just clicked in my head and they became so much easier to do. Yes, I know it’s actually “fin pivots.” I spelled it that way on purpose. The first time I heard it called “pin fivots” was when Cindy said it by mistake. We all got a good laugh over it, but what made it even funnier was when one of the divemasters said it during our pre-dive brief. We had a blast doing these dives and learned much about our buoyancy. After that, it was back to the surface and a LOT of paperwork to complete.

Our class photo

L to R: Watchara, Amber, Matt, me, Cindy, Master Instructor Bill Jones, background: Divemaster Ed, (Divemaster Jackie took the photo)

That was about 2 weeks ago. I had every intention, really, of blogging about such a milestone event in the week following our dives. How is it that I let so much time go by and let the “newsworthiness” of it fade? Probably the same reason I drag my feet on other things. It happens. I get lazy and put things off that I actually enjoy doing. Where’s the logic in that, huh? I promise to get back to you next week on that….or maybe the week after.

One of the really cool things about The Blue Lagoon is that it’s relatively shallow. I think the max depth at any point, at least for “Lagoon 2,” is 20 – 25 feet. Perfect for training divers, right? Before our trip to Huntsville, I bought two disposable underwater cameras which are good for a depth up to 35 feet. Hey, cool, these would be perfect for The Blue Lagoon! The problem with that particular weekend, though, wasn’t the depth of visibility (“viz” in diver parlance). Blue skies, lots of sun and good viz provided almost optimal conditions for photos. The task loading, on the other hand, pretty much prevented taking a camera on any of these dives. For once, I didn’t let my zeal for photography override my common sense. I kept the camera on shore, knowing I could always use it on another dive outing.

Which reminds me….

Our instructor has a fantastic attitude about new divers. When I saw his next OW class posted for mid June, I thought to myself, “Self, I wonder if we could go up there and just sort of hang out with his next class, doing dives with them, but not interacting with them?” I e-mailed him about this, and not only was he amenable to the idea, but actually encouraged us to do this! So, we’ve already reserved the rental gear we need and I’ve contacted the Blue Lagoon to reserve a spot close to Bill’s class. This time, though, Cindy and I will be able to do just what we want to do. There will be no pressure to complete specific tasks. We can work on our buoyancy, do pin fivots or whatever we want to. With minimal task loading, I will have the chance to take the camera down with us and hopefully get some good, or at least interesting, photos of us underwater. I hope the weather will be as clear and sunny as it was when we went up there a couple of weeks ago.

Another objective of this dive trip, besides having fun and practicing our skills, is to familiarize ourselves with our new dive computers. Dive computers essentially replace the printed dive tables and allow more flexibility in dive planning. One of the main rules about using a dive computer, though, is that they can NOT be shared. Every diver must have either their own dive computer or use the dive tables. Even buddy teams must have their own computers, as even slight variations in depth will change the remaining “bottom time” available to the individual diver. Unfortunately, dive computers aren’t cheap, which leaves us with two options: Save up enough for both of us to buy two computers at once, or both of us use the recreational dive planner (table). I won’t even consider the option of one of us using a computer and the other using a table. There’s just too much variability here to make it efficient.

Just for fun, I was looking at computers on eBay when I stumbled across a store that sells on both eBay and online. I went to their online store and found a very basic, wrist mounted computer, an Oceanic Veo 100. My guess is that this particular model will be discontinued before too long. The price was great, though, and low enough for me to buy two of them, with appropriate spousal approval, of course! At our level, which is pretty much COMPLETE newbie, this computer will work quite well for us. Naturally, I sought advice from a highly experienced diver (who thought it would be a good model for us) as well as read many reviews on it. Since most of our diving, at least for now, will be with rented gear, a wrist mounted, versus a “console” mounted computer would work best for us. This is especially true when we travel and dive. These computers should arrive in the next day or two, and I can’t wait to try them out.

As when I started geocaching, I figured the best way to keep my knowledge and skills sharp would be to meet fellow divers. Geocaching makes this easy, as there are organized events, read “parties,” called “event caches.” Not only do you get to hang out, eat, talk geocaching, eat, tell war stories, eat, and well, eat, you get to claim this event as a find. That’s right, you get credit for actually finding the event! Since diving doesn’t have event caches, I had to find another way to meet local divers. Lo and behold, I happened to find the Bay Area Divers club! What a cool acronym too, huh? I can belong to a BAD group, doing BAD things, and have a good time. From the outset, I could tell this club had their priorities straight. The monthly meetings are held at a pizza place…..oh, yes! So, last night just I attended my first BAD meeting. The group was very welcoming, very friendly and from my limited contact, very fun to be around. Cindy just happened to have a previous commitment, so she couldn’t be there. I talked to her on the phone, though, and she’s looking forward to the next meeting when she can attend. We’ll definitely be there, membership application in hand, ready to partake in all the fun (and for me, a pepperoni, onion, and extra cheese pizza).

Well, enough for now. While it would be easy to sit here, typing away, I’m sure most don’t want or need to know what I had for dinner, or what that funky little spot on my shirt is. OK, that funky spot is Imperial Citrus sauce from the stir fry.

I think…..

Until next time,

carpe cerevisi

Monday, May 9, 2011

Please, weight for me...

A little background info here…

Most of my formative years were spent along the gulf coast, near Corpus Christi. We would make occasional trips to the beach, and in general have lots of fun. Of course, given the relative shallowness of the gulf, as well as the “bottom composition,” the waters were murky at best, and oftentimes would be a brownish color close to the beach.

We weren’t allowed to get too far out, usually waist deep water or so, and we considered that fun enough to play in. I never used a mask or swim goggles, as there was really nothing to see. Not knowing any different, this was all well and fine with me, though. I still had lots of fun until I got sunburned.

In the early 80’s, I had the chance to visit Tahiti, and was amazed at how beautiful the beaches were! I’m not talking about the topless Europeans, either. The water was clear, like a swimming pool, not the brown gravy I was used to seeing in Corpus. The sand was completely different, and didn’t stick to everything. I remember thinking how cool this was, and how fun it was just to stand on one of the boardwalks and watch the fish swim by.

Since snorkeling equipment was available at our hotel, I checked out a swim mask, snorkel and fins and headed out to the water. I thought I was impressed with the view from the surface until I took my first look at the underwater life. Only one word could justify my view: breathtaking! Fish of all shapes, sizes and colors were swimming all around me. The reef, while beautiful from the surface, was simply stunning when viewed underwater. For the next few days, really until we had to leave Bora Bora, I spent most of the day snorkeling, taking in as much scenery as I could. The cheap, disposable waterproof cameras weren’t really common then, so I only have my memories to go by. From that moment on, I’ve wanted to learn scuba diving. Once I got back to reality, I put the thoughts of scuba lessons back on the shelf. Hey, I knew what the waters around Corpus looked like. I knew I couldn’t afford to travel somewhere to learn scuba where the waters were nice and clear like Tahiti.

Let’s fast forward about twenty years…

All this time, I’ve still enjoyed water sports. I love to swim, and when m late brother decided to buy a jet ski, I got to enjoy that as well. “Just like riding a motorcycle on the water,” he would say. That’s all well and good if you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle, but I haven’t. I did learn how to drive the jet ski, though, and had a blast doing that.

By now, I was wearing contact lenses, and could only imagine how expensive it would be if I had to buy a diving mask with corrective lenses in it. That’s alright, I could always wait until I could afford lasik, I guess. I had started skydiving by then, so with that occupying my time (and LOTS of my money), once again I put scuba back on the shelf.

After a brief stint working as a rig medic on an offshore drilling rig, I realized that even the Gulf of Mexico had beautiful, clear water once you got offshore far enough. One of our drilling locations was about a hundred miles offshore, almost due south of the Texas-Louisiana border. Pay attention to this, as you’ll probably hear about it again.

Cindy and I took our first cruise in 2007, to the western Caribbean. We had port calls in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. By now, I had given up skydiving (which is a whole other story) and the cruise bug had bitten Cindy and I….hard. I’ve always heard that places like Grand Cayman and Cozumel were “diving meccas,” but never really given it more thought until I realized that these were also common cruise stops. You can probably guess where this is heading, right?

Yep, Cindy and I finally decided to pull the trigger and start actively looking for a good scuba class to take. I started doing lots of serious research on the subject. Which main agency should we train with, PADI, NAUI, SSI or someone else. Google can be very useful, but can also just give you more questions than answers. After a LOT of research, and talking to other scuba divers at work, we selected a PADI instructor named Bill Jones. I exchanged several e-mails with him, and immediately realized that once again, making assumptions is so counterproductive! Not only were scuba lessons generally not that expensive (the equipment, on the other hand, is), but most likely I wouldn’t need a mask with corrective lenses. Apparently Mr. Jones has been diving a long time with contacts and has never had a problem. Of course, there’s still the issue of finding a suitable dive area near here, but more on that later.

Cool! Let’s do this!

This last weekend, May 6th – 8th, we spent doing lots of classwork, tests, buying our basic scuba gear (mask, snorkel, fins, booties, weight belt and weights) and our “confined water” dives.

A bit of irony here, and finally on the main point of today’s blog…

In my first blog, I mentioned my skydiving nickname “Anvil.” A friend of mine, Jason, commented on my Facebook page about how he was like an anvil, except that he tended to sink like one in water instead of floating. At the time, I’m not sure he, or many others, knew what Cindy and I were planning. We all started out with an estimated amount of weight on our weight belts which would help us be just a little negatively buoyant, or “slightly sinking.” Not only did I have difficulty becoming negatively byouant with this first set of weights, adding a few more pounds didn’t help either. I had to add yet more weight to finally achieve negative buoyancy. I think this is the first time I’ve ever needed to gain weight instead of lose it.

Anyway, I was surprised how quickly I adapted to underwater breathing in the pool. Have a dive mask on, which not only allows one to see clearly underwater but also keeps water out of one’s nose, and a constant air source pretty much removed most of the factors that make being underwater so uncomfortable.

I’m glad I started reading the student text a couple of weeks before class. This made the class much more enjoyable, as I wasn’t having to learn everything new for the first time. The way Bill taught the class, though, made learning everything easy even if I hadn’t read the text before our class.

Next weekend we will do our “open water” dives at The Blue Lagoon in Huntsville. Yeah, it’s about a two hour drive for us, but I guess it beats a two hour flight, right? During class, Bill mentioned an interesting dive area in the Gulf called the flower garden, about a hundred miles offshore, south of the Texas-Louisiana border. Sound familiar? According to him, this area should be attempted only with a little more experience after getting our c-cards.

Since we are booked for a December cruise on the Carnival Magic, we are already planning on diving in Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Bill Jones also organizes an annual diving trip to Cozumel, so that’s an idea we’ll consider for 2012. This year’s trip is already booked solid, so we’ll do our diving while on the cruise.

If I can find a disposable underwater camera suitable for about a 25 foot depth, I’ll take it on our training dives. I’ve seen some rated for 10 – 15 feet, so if that’s the case, perhaps I can tie it off on the ascent/descent line at 10 feet and get some photos there.

Until next time,

carpe cerevisi

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A case of beer...

One of the most important lessons I learned when I started skydiving many years ago was the "Rule of Firsts." Basically, your "first" anything meant you bought the drop zone ("DZ") a case of beer. Your first jump, first dead center landing, first time to close an RW formation, etc. would require the suds to flow. Even mentioning something as your first would immediately invoke the rule.

Yep, you got real careful in your conversations with fellow jumpers.

Which brings me to the title of this, as Carnival Cruise Line's Senior Cruise Director John Heald would say, blog thingy. Here I am, typing away at my first blog, wondering how many of my skydiving buddies might eventually stumble across these words. "Hey Anvil, your first blog, huh? That's a case of beer!"

Yes, I was called "Anvil" during my jumping days due to my fall rate, which approximated that of an anvil when rolled out of the jump plane. Forget all that stuff you hear about terminal velocity being a certain speed. We all fall at different rates. If you don't believe me, take two sheets of paper, crumple one into a ball and drop them both from the same height. Which is gonna hit the ground first? The wadded ball, of course! I'll leave the rest for you to figure out, as this really doesn't have anything to do with the blog. I only mention the Anvil thing because this is probably the last time you'll hear me refer to myself with that term.

Nowadays, my most common nickname, especially on online forums, is "Lefty Writer." I'm predominantly left handed, and enjoy writing, so it was only natural that I came up with this moniker.

I've been wanting to try blogging for a while now, but like many things in life, this often took a back burner to other, higher priority items. We'll just have to see how frequently I make this a higher priority than, say, geocaching or creating another culinary masterpiece (at least in my wife Cindy's eyes). Then again, with gas so close to $4 per gallon, geocaching will easily take a back seat to other activities.

So, what can you expect from my musings on life, the universe, and everything? Hhhhmmm, lemme see, there's my fondness for good food and drink, travel, geocaching, "reality" TV like The Amazing Race and Survivor, and my beloved Dallas Cowboys. Of course, Survivor already has tons of people blogging about it, notably that awesome host Jeff Probst. I can only hope to write as good of a blog as Jeff does. There's another activity that I'll definitely blog about, but you'll have to wait until at least a few days to hear about it.

Hang on, it's gonna get bumpy at times.

Until next time,

carpe cerevisi