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