Tuesday, April 19, 2011

USA - Florida - Disney's Dive Quest at Epcot


OperatorSiteDiveDepthBottom Time
Dive Quest Nemo and Friends Aquarium 39 26 ft 40 min

A 5.7 million gallon tank, sharks, rays, turtles, and more. This dive was like the petting zoo of diving, where semi-domesticated fish hang out inches from your face, and tiger sharks will swim over your head. It's a pretty amazing experience, and while artificial, is one of the best diving experiences I've had.

The dive started with a backstage tour of the aquarium, including information as to their role in conservation with other aquariums, their animals, the layout of the tank, and some information as to what to expect on the dive. We couldn't take any pictures backstage, so there's not much to share visually, but it was interesting to see how they take care of the tanks and fish.

After the tour (about ninety minutes worth), we made our way into the gear that they supplied (you can't use anything but your own mask), and went down into the tank. The dive started with a ten minute tour around the tank, followed by about a half hour of free time.

One item they told us about prior to the dive was that the interaction with spectators into the aquarium needed to be as if we were cast members, because most of the public doesn't know that we're not. And they weren't kidding. One of my favorite things in the dive was swimming along the windows, waving at and interacting with the kids. It felt like I was adding to the experience of hundreds of kids, and that was great.

Beyond that, like I said, it was like being at a fish petting zoo. At one point, I sat on the ground, and three separate sharks swam within a foot of me at the same time. It was quite intimidating, but awesome.
The eagle rays, the sharks, the closeups with the turtles, and more. It was amazing being so up close and personal with so many fish.

There isn't much else to say, but I definitely would recommend the dive to any diver out there, no question.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Netherlands Antilles - Saba - Ladder Labyrinth/Tent Reef


OperatorSiteDiveDepthBottom Time
Saba DeepLadder Labyrinth3773'0:46
Tent Reef - Drift3867'0:45

One thing is for certain, getting here was worth the dive, but next time, we fly!

The boat over to Saba, just a seventy minute boat ride off the coast of St Maarten, was fast and furious, leading to more than one pale or green face, and a lot of blank stares out towards the horizon. Arrival into the island was by way of a little port, with a small road leading straight uphill to the town of "The Bottom." The three local dive operators have storefronts alongside the power plant and two restaurants that occupy the port. Selecting Saba Deep as my dive operator was very scientific: it was the only one of the three that our hotel booking agent had heard of.

The shop was small, but friendly, and as for the staff, they were great. Suggestions to pre-order lunch with the restaurant above the shop, so that we could still get to eat, and make the return trip on time, were well received by the divers. After mentioning that I hadn't eaten yet, and that the only thing the restaurant offered that I could take with me was potato salad, they directed me to an item on the menu that could be made in less than the ten minutes it would take before the boat was taking off. This type of common kindness and courtesy has lacked on some previous charters I've taken, and it was nice to see.

The captain and divemaster had already taken our gear down to the boat and gotten all of the rigs set up on tanks by the time we got down and set out for the south-west coast of the island.

It took a while to find a dive site that wasn't too choppy to dive, or too deep to give us much time. The first dive was at Ladder Labyrinth, an area around the site where the original Saba settlers had to hike goods up before the port and road were built. The site had fingers of lava extending from the mountain, covered in coral and offering the area life. The first thing to strike me here was a new type of coral that I hadn't seen in my recollection. While tube coral I'm used to seeing, this larger tube (whose name I don't know yet), was amazing in its texture and size.

The second thing to amaze me was my first encounter with a seahorse. The little guy wasn't moving much, or at all, but I've met divers with hundreds of dives under their belts who've never seen one. The divemaster said that one had been hanging around this site, and that she'd set off trying to find it once we got down. After she didn't find it, I had lost hope, but on our return after our time was up, she flagged us all down, and we got to see it hanging out on a rock right below our boat.

Our second dive was a drift through a lot of varying reef types, from crevices between large rocks, to boulders and lava fingers. We started the dive with a shark swimming off (which I didn't get to see), and a ray on the sea floor. The drift took us through a lot of varying sea life, with an abundance of nudibranchs, small schooling fish and larger ocean fish (one barracuda that I got a photo of its tail end departing). Box fish, butterflies, and other species that I typically associate with warm tropics were in abundance,
and while the life was plentiful, and much more like what I expect in warm water diving, this dive was not much different than many others that I've been on; which is to say, I loved it, and would go back in an instant.

After heading back to shore, the operators dismantled and cleaned our gear, while we all enjoyed the lunch we'd pre-ordered. On our way back out to the return boat to St Maarten, I watched other divers cleaning their own gear and doing their own work. I guess my random choice was a good one, since the sites were great, the divemasters great too, and the shop was the most customer-service friendly of the three.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

USA - Hawai'i - Kona - Pelagic

Operator Dive Site Dive Depth Bottom Time
Jack's Diving Locker Blue Water 36 45' 1:04

Amazing. Absolutely surreal. The pictures won't do it any justice, because, frankly, making pictures in the dark of 1" critters that the camera can't really focus on is only possible with gear much nicer than my own.

The dive started out about three miles from shore, and drifted with the current. A parachute attached to the front of the boat kept it moving in the direction of the current, five ropes weighted down kept us first-timers from getting too distracted and sinking too far, and from that on, it was just "shine the light, and look two feet in front of your face."

The most embarassing point of this dive was when I nearly hit my head on the bottom of the boat. The only good part about that is that two of the other four divers did the same thing, so I wasn't alone in my distraction. You don't feel like you're moving when you're just floating and following something that's an inch or three long, but when you've found that you dropped twenty more feet, or rose (fortunately slowly) twenty feet.

The best pics definitely came from Josh, and I must give him credit for this one directly, as none of my pics were half as good as his two best, so that's what you're looking at here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

USA - Hawai'i - Kona - Garden Eel Cove/Manta Dive

OperatorSiteDiveDepthBottom Time
Jack's Diving LockerGarden Eel Cove3478'0:46
Manta Dive3534'0:53

Hawaii 2008 - Kona Dive Manta
Let me just say, that dive made this entire trip to Kona worth it. Seven massive rays, flying around, brushing (or knocking into) the top of our heads, twirling, dancing, feeding... it was absolutely amazing. The pictures and video just don't do it justice. While I can't say it's my best dive ever, it was amazingly unique, wonderful, and an astounding experience.

If you watch nothing else, I compiled some of the best video clips from Josh and my camera into two different, minute-long videos. Watching these will give you a taste of what it was like, though the quality leaves a lot of lighting to be desired. I don't want to slow down the site with flash, so here are direct links:
  Josh's Video
  My Video

The dive just reinforced to me why I like Jack's. Their crew are great, with a great attitude, the dives they choose are wonderful, and I can't understate that anyone going into Kona NEEDS to do one of these dives.

Friday, November 21, 2008

USA - Hawai'i - Kona - Pipedreams/Eel Cove

OperatorSiteDiveDepthBottom Time
Jack's Diving Locker Pipe Dreams3291'TBD
Eel Cove3345'TBD

Highlights: Back in a more pleasant dive environment, and the Javanese
Lowlights: How can you not see ANY eels at a site called eel cove?

The Dive
Hawaii 2008 - Kona Dive
Josh and I went out on this, my thirty-something dive, back again with Jack's Diving Locker, my favorite charter I've used over the past few years. As always, the boat was amazingly clean and nice, the crew was laid back and fun, and the location, well, I came back to Kona for a reason, ya?

The first site we dove was called Pipe Dreams. As you can see by the album cover, it's an area where the energy lab placed some large pipes to do research, and in this case, one giant pipe that they laid just to see how well pipe held up in the environment. This pipe is the only remaining segment from that experiment, and is, as always, teeming with life. The neatest part is that insite, a giant Javanese Eel was hanging out.. and I do mean giant. Probably two to three feet in diameter. It spooked and swam away, just as I was going to take a picture, but it was an amazing sight.

Also spectacular on the first dive was my first octopus sighting. I didn't get a good look, as it had wedged itself under a rock, but the blinking eye and the one look at the suckers on its tentacles were enough to make me smile in memory. Other than that, what this dive gave me was a remembrance of why I loved Kona so much, the color, and life well exceed the other dive vacations I've taken.

The second dive, at "Eel Cove" was quite the disappointment. Our DM Shep mentioned that the last time he dove the site, he saw no less than eight different species of eel, and that I might get to once again see a dragon eel (which I've seen now twice, and are quite beautiful). The grand total at the end of the dive for eel sightings were a whopping zero.
That's right, no eels in eel cove, at least for us. I did get a great shot of a pair of lizardfish, had fun getting swarmed a few times by schools of raccoon butterflyfish hoping that I scare away the parent fish on guard over their egg nests, and got to see a couple of beautiful cornetfish and trumpetfish. So in honesty, a good dive, only disappointing in the expectation of numerous eel.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mexico - Baja California - Cabo San Lucas

Operator: Manta SCUBA
Site: "Cabo Local" areas, Pelican Rock and Land's End
Gear: Full Oceanic setup, with Zoot tri suit, Alum 80s, 16lbs
Highlights: The seals, the water
Lowlights: A dead computer battery, Josh's sickness, and FREEZING cold shivers

Pelican Rock
I'll be honest. I expected Cabo to feel more tropical and less ... well, California-like. The coral color, the water, the feel of the life was much closer to what I'd expect in San Diego, which shouldn't surprise me I guess, since it's not that far off. My favorite part of this first dive was the puffers, as always, and the large number of schools that we saw. The water clarity was just good enough to see large numbers of schools swimming around. The location where we were diving was very near the most southern rock of Cabo, right inside the bay where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez.

Land's End
Unfortunately, a bit of alcohol induced sickness kept Josh out of the water for the second dive. This second dive was a drift, starting near the perch of the local seals, and moving along the rocks to where the life was. By this point, I was shivering, and half of my thought was on keeping warm, and making sure that if I couldn't stop shivering, I ascended.

By far, the best part of this dive was my first encounter with seals. Watching them swim down, do loops around each other, and come up near us having fun, and looking like they were generally playful, made for a great, and new experience! I actually captured a bit of video footage of them swimming, though this was the tail end when they didn't come back.

From there, we progressed along the rocks, where I found that Cabo has some of the largest eels I've seen! They were wicked, and awesome. The fact that they'd just sit their with their mouths open and fish would continue to swim around, and through, their mouths surprised me. It wasn't at all what I expected of the predator, prey interaction, but it was amazing to watch. Beyond that, the second dive was generally less colorful or full of life, and was somewhat ruined by the lack of cold weather preparation on my part (the rest of the divers were in 7mm jumpsuits).

Summary
Will I dive Cabo again? Sure! Would I have dove again that weekend? Maybe, but I had fun with the rest of the trip. I'd like to head out on one of the excursions a couple hours off shore, but all the operators do those runs during the May to November periods, not during winter. So next time, a summer trip.

P.S. - The "Experiment"
Having invested some money in a wetsuit with extra mobility for swimming, I figured I'd try it out for the dives. My opinion? My hands are at my waist or by my side so much that the extra flexibility wasn't needed, and the general delicate nature of the tri suit says to me it's not worth it. That and the arms being 1.5-2mm, and the core being 5mm, it was not nearly warm enough for the water. So, worth a try, but back to my Bare and O'neil suits for diving. Oh, and my gear that used to be a little big (but better that than constricting), is now huge on me! Ah well, I'll take that versus the opposite.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

USA - California - Monterey - North Cypress

Operator: Monterey Express
Site: North Cypress - Open water, not in the bay
Gear: Full oceanic setup, 7mil jump + 7mil hooded shorty, 30lbs (perfect!), lp steel 80s
Highlights: The Jelly! And my first Monterey dive
Lowlights: How sick can you get on one trip?

Monterey Sep 3 2006
Aug 5, 2006 - 17 Photos
The blog (or should it be dlog?):
I was already a bit woosy going in, reminder to self: sit at the back of the boat. Once down, as always, things went great. Vis was poor to start, but as we left the boat area, it cleared up to probably 30 feet or so. The kelp was surprising; I expected "forests" of kelp, especially as it's seen from the surface. Kelp, however, grows up, then continues to grow along the surface of the water. More often than not, there is a single kelp stalk rising up to the surface. We did see one rock near the end where there was a veritable "forest" of kelp, but that was still a 10x10 area, max.

The safety stop went fine; however, when we rose to the surface, we were a good 100-150m away from the boat. I went down 10' to go swim below, but Josh was having problems coming down. Were it not for the viz, it would have been no problem swimming 10' apart, but here, I didn't want to separate for that long. So I went to the surface, too. Needless to say, we both got very seasick. So seasick in fact that we skipped the second dive all together. No harm, though, it was a great day!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

USA - Hawai'i - Kauai - Happy Talk

Operator - Bubbles Below
Buddy - Justin K (PADI Instructor), Josh (PADI)
Highlights
Large turtle population. This area is an industrial runoff from a sugar processing plant, so the algae is prolific (winning the algae/coral war), however, it attracts turtes. Pictured at the right is a turtle that I got three minutes of video footage, as it hovered at a cleaning station. Notice its lowered head, several fish were cleaning the algae from around its neck.

Running across a school of Heller's barracuda was intriguing, having been a very different picture than my previous barracuda encounters. These guys school, but are significantly smaller than their caribbean counterparts.

Friday, November 18, 2005

USA - Hawai'i - Kauai - Koloa Landing

Dive Site - Koloa Landing, 2 dives
Operator - Bubbles Below - http://www.bubblesbelowkauai.com
Buddy - Justin (Instructor), Josh (PADI)
Highlights:
These were Josh's first dives, so the dive started with him on skills, though I hovered around the area checking out the aquatic life. The vis to start with, because it was a shore dive, was pretty miserable; however, that quickly corrected itself. The number of endemic species around Hawai'i is wonderful. These dives gave us the opportunity to see domino fish, lizardfish, surgeons, and many more! The best sight was the dragon eel, which I saw while Josh was doing his cert work, but didn't get to capture a great pic of.

We stayed pretty shallow (40'), so got over two hours of bottom time on these dives. They were great introductions to diving for Josh. My observations on this dive, having dove Kona and Maui before this, is that Kauai definitely lacks the color and variety of the main island. Whether it's the 3 degrees cooler water, or the sugar and the algae growth winning the algae/coral war, I couldn't tell you. Maybe both.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

USVI - St Thomas

Operator: Admiralty Dive Center
Site: Nine dives, see below
Gear: Full oceanic setup, warm water 3mm jumpsuit, 16lbs
Highlights
Four days, nine dives, and an advanced cert to end the week. The timeshare was beautiful, and the diving was great. More wrecks around this area than anywhere I've dove so far, and where there are wrecks, there's life. Very happy with the operator and their multiple divemasters.

Dive 1 - StoneFace
Led by a DMT, Jaime, this one had much less life than what I'm used to from Hawai'i, but the coral is definitely neat, the fan coral being one of the most unique things I've seen. This was a shallow dive (29'), so 41 minutes to swim around and enjoy.

Dive 2 - Navy Barges
Wow, wrecks sure allow life to flourish. 44 minutes at 39', we lost the first part to advanced excercises. We did our nav dive here, the DMT did a horrible job communicating what we were supposed to be doing while underwater, it was inconsistent with someof the surface instructions, but neither of us had problems and we definitely learned a bit about using our compasses. Kevin was the supervising DM, and his post-dive talk was very good.

There were two wrecks here, and both were abundant with life, the ladder being one of my favorite shots from this dive.

Dive 3 - Kennedy
Stacey was our DM for this dive, a great wreck that we used for our adv cert, including a significant amount of pre-talk about penetrating the wreck, and a guided swimthrough. BABS (short for big-ass-barracuda) swam out of the wreck as we swam in for the penetration. I only got a blurry shot of backside as I swam in, but needless to say, she was impressive. Favorite shot this is BABS' back end. Got a couple boxfish pics here too.

Dive 4 - Carol Point
Now here is the type of life I was expecting. Lots of photos taken on this trip, we performed it as a drift dive, which being my first, I must say I love. Floating with the current and allowing or whims to take us wherever we want, not caring about where the boat is, only where the guy with the buoy is makes it amazing, using less energy (and thus less air! 59 minute dive). Here also, I got one of my best shots ever:

I decided at this point, I should use my flash for all pics. Now, I know better. I should use my flash for all close-up pics in enclosed areas. This shot really shows off how much better it becomes.

Dive 5 - MS Opportunity
Our deepest dive, 89' total. We started with some skill work, though I was disappointed to get no narc effects. Tough to learn if you aren't affected, guess I'll just have to try a deep diver cert. Lots of penetrations in this one, including a full pass through the the ship from one end to the other (guided of course). The intact electrical boxes and lamps are great, though floating through a tilted ship and up and through doors is a bit disconcerting. The camera didn't do well on this one, fogged up. I realize now that I forgot the desiccant, and also haven't regreased the o-ring in a while.

Dive 6 - Supermarket
Another drift dive, led by Ryan, another DMT. As before, lots of life here, two rays, one "mid-flight," lots of lobsters, and some neat black and white fish. No pictures from this dive due to the fogging in dive 5.

Dive 7 - Kennedy at Night
Porsche, the owner's wife and trainer, took us around Kennedy (no night time penetration). The coolest thing was having BABS within a few feet of us at all times, following our lights and maybe looking for some food. Thank god they warned us this might happen. Lots of lobsters, lots of parrotfish, and I got to grab on to one of the boxfish, it's quite amazing how solid their bodies are.

Dive 8 - JBK
A smaller barge than the others, a lot of life on this one. We circumvented the ship twice and took a lot of pics. Here, we saw a lot of trumpetfish, though none of the pics of those turned out well, those things move fast! Also, I believe this is the dive where we met Terri:


Dive 9 - Buck Tank
This was the second half of our navigation, since we missed a piece. 100' for me is 62 kicks, just so I remember. This had the most variety of coral, and some really interesting fish that always swam around in pairs. This was our final dive, but most definitely, I love this area.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

USA - California - Lake Tahoe

Operator Dive Site Dives Type Bottom Time
Dive Ventures Lake Tahoe 11-15 Fresh Water Altitude 2:57 total
Elevation: 6200', Visibility: from 10-200', Water Temp: 59 degrees cold

Fannet Island
Depth: 54', Bottom Time: 0:24, Vis: 30'
As my first Tahoe dive, this was horrible. Starting with Amy freaking out and shooting to the surface (and me being a world-class horrid buddy), to moderately low visibility, the circumvention of the island was uninteresting, with a lack of life, and a few schools of very small silver fish. There were lobsters to see as the primary life. While Tahoe in general was a successful and fun trip, this was a poor start to it.

Barge
Depth: 52', Bottom Time: 0:52, Vis: 30' (maybe)
Sunk in the middle of emerald bay, a huge all-wood barge is preserved by PADI and the Tahoe association for divers to visit. It seems a tad more interesting than it is, in that, well... it's a barge. Large, flat, no steering, no complexities, just giant beams forming a large platform, railroad-spike looking iron pegs sticking out of the sides. It's an interesting sight, for a change of scenery, but not one I'm likely to return to, as emerald bay is emerald for a reason... gross, algae-ridden, greenness.

Cave Rock
Depth: 20', Bottom Time: 0:34, Vis: night, but clear
Now this dive is one of the two that make this trip worth recommending. A late night departure for a midnight dive, full moon shining through the perfectly clear waters... an awesome experience. While still lacking in life, the crawdads definitely come out en masse at night. With a small light light, or none at all, the div was peaceful, relaxing, and surreal.

Rubicon Wall
Depth: 76', Bottom Time: 0:29, Vis: Uninterrupted
Majestic. The word that describes this dive. Over a thousand dives in, and my buddy counted this as her best freshwater dive ever. The "wall" isn't quite what I normally think of as a wall: the drop was angled, the rocks split and sand making rivers through the wall, gigantic boulders splitting the peace of the sandfalls. Gullies in the rocks, the only word besides majestic is beautiful.

Rubicon Wall - South of
Depth: 42', Bottom Time: 0:38, Vis: Perfect
A few large fallen trees added dimensionality to the scape. The final dive of the weekend was shallow and short, to minimize nitrogen absorption so that we could make it out of the lake area by day's end. A clean end to a fun weekend of diving at the lake.