Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: A banner diving year for me!

Let’s get a couple of things straight right now. Since being elected Communications Director for my dive club Bay Area Divers, I’ve been writing a blog for the club as well as maintaining this personal blog. The only minor issue is that I write the BAD blog under my own account name, so it will appear alongside my personal essays. What I want to get straight is that I’m not going senile (at least not yet). Yes, those who read both blogs will see similar material, but I’m repeating some things here because not everyone reads the BAD blog. So, I’m repeating myself for a reason.

I knew back in 2012 that 2013 would be a good diving year for Cindy and me. Due to the way we like to plan in advance, I could see how, if everything worked out, we would be doing some way cool diving. Now, I’m sure some of y’all are thinking: “What about 2012? Why wasn’t that a great diving year?” Good question….

We didn't do much diving in 2012. I think perhaps this had to do with taking an Alaskan cruise in May and having a new house built. First of all, I’m not interested in cold water diving, so that ruled out any diving in Juneau, Sitka or Ketchikan. With our house being built, all of our extra time went into that. So yes, we dove a little in 2012, but nothing of real significance. I did manage to squeeze in a first, though. I did my first night dive at Athens Scuba Park in May.

Our 2013 diving started off with a bang for us. We were originally booked on the Carnival Triumph for a 5 day cruise to Cozumel and Progresso in April. We booked a two tank dive in Cozumel with our favorite dive op Alison. In February, the Triumph had that engine room fire, which caused our cruise, and many others, to be cancelled. Fortunately, we were able to rebook on the Carnival Magic for almost the same time period. This was a 7 day cruise, though, and with the itinerary now being Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Montego Bay (Jamaica), we now had two places to dive! Due to the way the scheduling worked out, this would put us in Cozumel one day later than originally planned.

This normally wouldn’t be a big deal, unless you are booked with such a popular dive op as Alison. I e-mailed her about the change, but she was already fully booked the next day. No surprise there, really. A fellow member of BAD suggested contacting Chucho Divers. I’m glad he did, as Chucho turned out to be another fantastic dive operator. Now we have two trusted dive operators in Cozumel we can use. More on Chucho a bit later…

Our first port call was Grand Cayman. After doing a little research, I booked with Cayman Turtle Divers, and am glad I did! They are another top notch dive op, and one that I’ll gladly book with any time we are in Grand Cayman. I had originally booked a dive on the USS Kittiwake with them, but when we arrived, they told us the sea state would make this a poor dive. They took us to two other sites, though, that were fantastic. When we got to the marina, we found out we would be the only ones on the boat! Yes, it’s true! Instead of cancelling the dive trip due to a low booking, they took us out anyway. So, basically, Cindy and I had our own private dive boat for the day. Wow! Now you can see why I’m so quick to recommend Cayman Turtle Divers (“CTD”) to my friends or anyone who is looking for a quality dive op in Cayman.

The next we were in Cozumel. After a brief taxi ride to Caleta Marina, we arrived at the dock to find… guessed it…..we were the only divers booked that day with Chucho! Whoa, another day of having our own, private dive boat? How cool is that? These kinds of dive trips are as completely opposite of “cattle boat” trips as they can be. Since we had the boat to ourselves, Chucho asked us what we wanted to do, what we wanted to see, etc. My immediate answer was to dive the C-53! This wreck is one I’ve wanted to do since I first heard about it. It’s very “diver friendly” and we had a lot of fun diving it. A YouTube search will show you tons of cool videos to watch.  Our second dive that day was the classic Cozumel drift dive, which was fun.

So, I got to do a cool wreck dive in Cozumel that I’ve wanted to do. What’s next?

At the end of 2012, fellow BADdie Mei-Hwa Ferguson and I started planning a road trip to Florida to dive some caverns (NOT caves!) and the USS Oriskany. The Oriskany is definitely an “ambitious” dive, and nitrox is highly recommended. I arranged to have a friend of mine, and PADI Instructor, give a nitrox class to Cindy, myself and a couple of others. Dave Romano was gracious enough to schedule this one evening in our house, so not only was it convenient, but comfortable as well.

Anyway, in June several of us BADdies set out for Florida. The weather was really crappy the first few days, with torrential thunderstorms. This made us have to juggle our itinerary around. Even with the rough start, though, the trip overall was a smashing success! We got to dive the Blue Grotto, Ginnie Springs, a shore dive in Panama City and of course the Oriskany as a grand finale.

Now I get to add nitrox diving, cavern diving, another wreck dive and diving in another state to my list.

CTD was kind enough to sign off one of our dives as a “boat dive.” This is important to satisfy a PADI requirement for having a certain number of “adventure dives” to qualify for their Advanced Open Water (“AOW”) certification. The nitrox certification and a few other dives I did were also part of this requirement, so I was in good shape for getting my AOW soon.

About a month after our Florida trip, Cindy and I took PADI’s Underwater Navigator class from Bill Jones. Not only did we get the training to learn how to navigate under water more efficiently, this also finally qualified both of us for our AOW.

And a month after that….

We headed up to Clear Springs Scuba Park in Terrell for a BAD group dive. Terrell is just southeast of Dallas. So, here it is in August, near Dallas. Ummm, yeah, I don’t think we’ll be camping out for that one. Most of us elected to stay in a nearby hotel. Ironically, though, it was unseasonably cool that Friday and Saturday night, so those that did camp said it was most comfortable. We dove at Athens Scuba Park before, which is another hour southeast of Terrell from Dallas, but this was my first experience at CSSP.

All of this brings us through August, and there is still much more to come.

Cindy and I have wanted to do a back to back cruise (“B2B”) since we started cruising in 2007. We figured with 2013 being our 5th wedding anniversary, why not go for it and just do one. We actually booked this B2B while we were on the Carnival Magic in April. This time, though, we would be leaving out of Miami so we could get to some ports that we can’t get to when cruising from Galveston.

Our first week was on the Carnival Liberty, and we stopped in Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Grand Cayman. Some of y’all are already thinking that the Carnival Magic, out of Galveston, does that same itinerary (sans Cayman). Yes, it does, but we still wanted to do a B2B with different ports. We could’ve easily done both weeks on the Carnival Breeze, which was our second week. Doing this, though, would’ve meant repeating some ports, and we just didn’t want to do that.

On the Liberty, we planned on diving in Cozumel, Belize and Roatan. We would use Cayman as a “rest day.” Once again, we booked our Cozumel dives with Alison and as usual had a great time with her. In Belize, we booked with Sea Sports Belize and wouldn’t you know it, we were…..….wait for it…..….the only divers booked that day! Wow, we keep getting trips like this and soon a boat with just 8 divers will feel like a cattle boat. We had a fantastic time diving with them, and the lunch they provided was delicious. Our divemaster Juan was most professional and friendly and gave us an extensive history of the area, as well as a thorough description of the area. I’m glad to now have a trusted dive op in Belize, and will use them anytime we are there.

The next day we were in Roatan, and dove with Subway Watersports. We had fun with them and the second dive site, “Sponge Wall,” was perhaps, my favorite site of the entire trip.

After a week on the Liberty, we then boarded the Carnival Breeze, which is much like the Magic, except newer. This was an 8 day “exotic eastern Caribbean” cruise, with stops in Grand Turk, San Juan (Puerto Rico), St. Maarten and St. Thomas. We booked dives in Grand Turk and St. Thomas for this trip. I could write a whole blog on just the B2B itself, which I may do if I can motivate myself to do it. Anyway, back to the topic at hand….

We used Grand Turk Diving Company and had a good time with them. An interesting side note here. For all of our diving on the Liberty, and with St. Thomas on the Breeze, we booked our dives using nitrox. Apparently in Grand Turk, nitrox isn’t available when doing single day dives. This is common throughout the island, and only those booking multiple day dives will have nitrox as an option. Obviously it wasn’t a deal breaker for us, as we still went diving, but it would’ve been nice to have it available. Now, why am I making an issue of this? I’m really not making an “issue” of this, so much as I am making an observation. PADI teaches in the nitrox course that the main benefit of diving nitrox is to reduce the nitrogen loading in your tissues and extend your bottom time. Many who dive nitrox, though, myself included, feel much better after a dive than when diving on just air. Even Alison, who’s a very experienced diver (and a PADI Master Instructor) swears by this. Is this just psychological? Who cares if it is or not? I feel much better when diving nitrox so if it’s available, I’m gonna dive it.

So, all this mumbo jumbo about nitrox aside, I’ll continue with our cruise diving. St. Thomas was our last stop on the Breeze, and our last diving spot as well. We booked with St. Thomas Diving Club and due to a miscommunication about the time, actually missed the morning dive we were booked on. Throughout both cruises, we based everything on ship’s time, which was Eastern Time. Even during the booking process with each dive operator, I was clear to state our port times based on leaving from Miami. Somehow, this detail wasn’t fully clear to STDC, as they are one hour different from ship’s time. Long story short, we missed the boat. When I called them, looking for our ride, they explained that we missed our pickup. They offered us an afternoon dive, though, and since we had the time we opted for that.

We got picked up near the cruise terminal by the boat captain and the two divemasters. Once again, and this is starting to sound pleasantly familiar, we would be the only ones on the dive boat for the afternoon. Oh, yes! What started out as a miscommunication and missed morning dive turned into another private dive in the afternoon.

We had two fun dives, including the wreck of the Cartanza. Cindy took over the camera for the second dive, so there are actually some pictures of me diving. I added STDC to my list of preferred dive operators, and now have one for St. Thomas.

If it seems like I sort of glossed over the details of all the different dive ops and locations, it’s because I did. I’m intending this to be more of an overview of the year. I do have detailed reviews of these dive ops on Trip Advisor, though.

What an amazing year it’s been for diving!

Both Cindy and I got new nitrox compatible dive computers, and the data generated from them is incredible!

We obtained not only our nitrox certifications, but also Underwater Navigator and AOW as well.

We added Florida as another state to dive in, as well as logging some cavern dives, some really cool wreck dives four more Caribbean locations: Belize, Roatan, Grand Turk and St. Thomas.

What will 2014 bring?

We originally planned on diving the Texas Clipper in September during “Dive Week,” but a tropical storm cancelled those plans. I still want to dive the Clipper, so maybe doing this outside of hurricane season will be the best way to go.

I’m hoping to get my PADI Rescue Diver and then Master Scuba Diver certifications, just for the personal challenge of it…..probably around June or so.

In April, we are planning a cruise on the Carnival Sunshine. This itinerary will take us to Mo Bay, Aruba, Curacao and St. Thomas. Hopefully I can add Aruba and Curacao to my list of Caribbean dive sites. At least I know who I can book in St. Thomas, right?

Who knows after that?

Until next time…

carpe cerevisi

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hello, 2014!

BAD Blog 2014
January 1, 2014
2013 in Review

Wow, where did 2013 go?

I mean, really, it seems like just a few weeks have passed since the last New Year’s Day. So, first and foremost, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Based on my work schedule, and the timing of our last cruise, I worked all of 5 days in December. It is going to be soooo hard getting back into the groove!

Speaking of getting back into the groove, 2014’s first board meeting is this coming Tuesday, January 7th at 7 pm at the League City La Brisa. At the board meeting we’ll start planning activities for the year. The first general meeting will be on Wednesday the 29th, 7 pm, at Mario’s Flying Pizza in Webster. We will have elections for the Board of Directors at this meeting as well, so try to make this meeting if at all possible. Make sure to keep up on either our Facebook group or the BAD website.

So, back to our year in review….

Our first group event was a boat tour of the Port of Houston on March 23rd. It was overcast with a light mist, but the tour was both interesting and fun. Many of us met at a nearby Pappasitos for lunch after the tour. The first group dive was the 288 Lake equipment check and cookout on April 20th. I understand the water was still plenty cold then, but that didn’t stop the BADdies from having a good time.

May saw us camping out at the Blue Lagoon. What a difference a month makes! The air temperature was around 90 during the day, and my dive computer registered the lowest temp at 78°. Saturday night was cool enough for comfortable sleeping in a tent. As usual, all of us had a great time, and there was a ton of food. One thing about a BAD event, if you are bored or hungry, it’s your fault!

June was busy for us BADdies. On the 1st, several of us went to Galveston Island’s annual sandcastle building competition. I have to laugh at the title, though, as very few sandcastles are actually built. Most are elaborate creations, and usually follow some sort of theme. Many times local events or big news stories will drive the design of the “sandcastles.” One popular theme was the Carnival Triumph fire. There were several cruise ship creations relating to that incident, and most were pretty clever with their designs.

Just a few days later a group of BADdies set out for Florida. Thanks to a LOT of hard work by Mei-Hwa, we had a fantastic 10-day road trip. We caravanned from Houston, meeting a group in Beaumont for breakfast and then pushed through to Pensacola.The weather didn’t fully cooperate with us, and we had to juggle our schedule around some, but wow, what awesome dives we got to do! We got to dive the Blue Grotto, Ginnie Springs and the Oriskany. This allowed for many “firsts” for several of our divers, myself included. Many of us on that trip agree that the Oriskany is definitely a must do for more diving. There was so much to see that there is NO way you can see it all on a two tank dive. Both Cindy and I are looking forward to diving the Mighty O again.

In July, we toured the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum in Galveston for their “Rigs to Reefs” program. Texas A&M – Galveston even had a scientific diving exhibit at the museum that day. Afterwards, Rick Decker and Shelby Dill graciously opened their home for a BAD party. That was a fun day, and even though there were no organized dives in July, we still had fun spending time with each other and taking in new experiences.

August had us….wait, August already? See what I mean about 2013 just flying by? Where was I? Yes, that’s right, I was talking about events in August. First up was an outing to Moody Garden’s summer “Bands on the Sand” concert series. The day we picked to go, August 10th, featured the band Vertigo. Vertigo plays a lot of 80’s rock, which I can totally relate to. If you like music from the 80’s, and have a chance to hear Vertigo, I encourage you to give them a try. A week later, we BADdies traveled to Clear Springs Scuba Park in Terrell for the weekend. Given that it was August… Texas, most of us elected to stay in a hotel rather than camp. Ironically, though, that Friday and Saturday night had cool temperatures, so those that did camp had a very comfortable stay. We did a night dive that Saturday night, with a glowstick hunt, that was a blast! We had a BBQ dinner catered by a local restaurant that left us all stuffed. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote earlier that we BADdies like to eat! You come to a BAD event, you won’t leave hungry unless you choose to do so.

September had a bit of disappointment for us. We had planned to dive the Texas Clipper in the Valley (South Padre Island) but once again the weather changed our plans. Is that really a surprise, though? I mean, come on…..South Texas/Gulf of Mexico at nearly the peak of hurricane season. You do the math. Sure enough, a tropical storm was brewing down south and cancelled our plans. Now I know some of y’all are probably wondering “Well why did you plan a dive trip in the Gulf during hurricane season, you dunce?” Well, ummmm, you see, it’s like this. There is really only one dive operator who does the Texas Clipper, and they have their annual “Dive Week” each September. The prices are much better then (gee, go figure!) so we thought we’d take a chance. BZZZZZT! Thanks for playing. I will look at setting up another trip to the Clipper this year, but maybe before hurricane season.

Now that our “diving season” was starting to wind down (have I mentioned lately how fast 2013 has gone by?), it was time for our annual Divers Market and Expo. We held it on October 12th, and once again Mother Nature decided to give us a hard time by whipping up a thunderstorm that lasted several hours. This hurt attendance, I believe, but one of the good things to come out of this was a change in how we fed our guests. In the past, we provided BBQ plates, and usually ended up with lots of leftovers and minimal to no profit. This year, we brought in food trucks. Originally, we booked two different truck, Bernie’s Burger Bus and Pho-Jita. Due to some bad luck, Bernie’s Burger Bus had a fire in their kitchen and was unable to attend. Pho-jita was there, and the food was divine! I talked to them afterwards and they were happy that we booked them and are looking forward to doing it again this year. We also brought back an October tradition with a costume contest at the meeting. Several members had some really unique costumes, but it was Rusty Benigar’s gorilla costume that took first place.

And then there was November. Our anniversary party was held at Salsa’s in Galveston, with an “after party” at the Leissner’s house. Cindy and I were truly surprised, and very much humbled, by being named diver of the year. Once again, yes, you guessed it, we had more food and fun than we could possibly handle. Afterwards, several of us went to the Leissner’s for drinks. His “Captain Kirk” drink is like drinking an orange creamcicle…..with a kick! Many of us had reservations at the Springhill Suites in Galveston so it was a short ride back.

Wait, we’re not quite done yet. On December 28th, a few brave BADdies wanted to squeeze one last dive for 2013 in, so off to Mammoth Lake they went. Dave Romano reported that his dive computer showed a water temp of 57°! Gassssp! That’s wayyyy too cold for me! Viz was 5 – 6 feet, which seems pretty typical for Mammoth most of the time. Dave said they were able to heat some water, though, and flood their wetsuits with it. This prevented the cold water from contacting their skin and the dives went well.

And that, my fellow BADdies, is that! I can only wonder what 2014 has in store for us. Hang on, though, as I have a feeling it’s gonna be a wild ride!