Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fond Memories of Cayman Brac

I remember the first time I dove in Cayman Brac.  Mike and I wanted to take our boys, 21 and 14yrs., on a diving trip over their Easter break, and found a good deal on a condo rental and dive packages on the Brac.  Our previous dive trips with the boys were to Guanaja, Honduras, where we stayed literally in shacks perched on the hill. While that was a wonderful adventure, and the boys sure didn’t mind the rustic conditions, Mike and I were looking for something a little more civilized and easier to get to.

Cayman Brac, the dive pier.  This is where the magic starts!

Upon our arrival at the airport, the resort staff met us and delivered us to the front desk for check in.  Our condo was clean and spacious, a restaurant, the Captain’s Table was next door, and there was a bar right next to the pool.  We tossed our bags in our rooms and trotted over to the dive shop to sign papers and find out what the schedule was going to be like. After the usual formalities, we were each given a mesh bag and instructed to put our dive gear in it for pick up in the morning.  What?  I am not going to be lugging my gear over the hot sand like a tropical Quasimoto?  The next morning, when we boarded the boat, there were our bags.  We all set up our gear and settled in for a ride out the reef.

The boat captain pulled up to the mooring and crew deftly attached the vessel to it. Next the divemaster, Vicki, briefed the dive.  I had never heard such a thorough briefing, with details on sight name, profile, time, critters to look for, a whiteboard map of the sight, pointers on entries and exits, and boat procedures.  I know now that this is exactly the way a dive briefing should be done, but clearly, not all shops follow that formula.  The completeness of the briefing made the dive that more enjoyable and relaxed.

The dives were incredible with 100ft+ visibility and spectacular underwater panoramas.  As with all the Cayman Islands, the Brac is known for its wall diving and the ability to take advantage of the clear water that allow dives to 100ft with enough light for photos and plenty of things to see.  I was glad, though, that they eased us into the deeper dives as the week progressed to allow us to reacquaint ourselves with our gear and work out any anxieties we had.  Vicki did a great job guiding us and pointing out many interesting fish and marine creatures.

Dylan demonstrating good buoyancy skills
Also, Dylan was growing his first beard which in picture look like a mustache 
Back on the boat after our inaugural dive, we were told to have a snack and some water while the crew changed out our tanks.  That’s right, we never touched our gear again the whole week, except when actually diving.  In fact, I never had to carry my gear at all, except to board the boat post dive.  When it was time to dive, we walked to the bow, sat on the bench, donned our fins and a crew member brought us our BC’s.  We slipped them on, did one more pre-dive check, and made a giant stride into the blue.  

During the week, we saw tangs, grunts, angelfish, flying gurnards, assorted rays, reef sharks and many others.  Every dive was just as magical, and Jason, our other divemaster for the week, was equally caring and professional.  As with all the dive trips we have taken with our kids over the years, it was a wonderful week of shared experiences and quality time as a family, away from the hubbub of daily life.

Boomer just cruising along!
Yes, I often look back nostalgically on that first trip to Cayman Brac, remembering it as one of my favorite spots from early in my diving career.  This week we return to the Brac, as shop owners, trip leaders, and dive instructors, to see if the magic is still here.  Stay tuned.

As always, like this blog on Facebook, share it with a friend and leave a comment! Until next time, Cheers! NOTE: Hello everyone, this is Dylan. I do the posting for the blogs but don't really chime in much. For this one, I wanted to say that while I have dove all over the Caribbean and in some parts of Asia, Cayman Brac remains my favorite place to visit and dive. Vicki and the rest of the staff have always been awesome to dive with and I often mention them when talking about great dive operations. Also, I should state that I have been blessed with a lot of great diving experiences due to the love and support of my parents. I am very grateful to them for that. Happy Easter everyone! Mom and Dad, I hope you have a grand time in Cayman Brac!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Well Regulated

Well, we received a request for another techie blog, so we turn to out resident equipment guy, Mike!

Customers and divers often ask me to how a regulator works and why it’s called a Regulator. The second part of the question is easy. It’s called a regulator because the first stage regulates the pressure from the tank to the 2nd stage. It takes the pressure from a full tank at 3000 PSI to 135-140 PSI in the low pressure hose between the 1st and 2nd stage. This is called the intermediate pressure. Because your respiratory system can only tolerate a differential of about .14 atm/bar you wouldn’t be able to breathe though a hose at 10 ft.   The increased atm/bar would be enough to not allow you to draw in a breath of air. The regulator delivers air at a pressure the same as the pressure of the water surrounding you and continues to increase or decrease the pressure as the exterior water pressure changes around your body. The regulators that we use today are called open circuit regulators.

Scuba regulators are also called demand regulators because they deliver air on demand when you inhale. First stages generally are either a piston or diaphragm design. They both use external ambient water pressure and a spring to open the valve inside the first stage when the pressure on the low pressure side of the 1st stage drops below 135-140 PSI.  In the piston regulator the external water pressure and primarily the spring forces the valve open when the pressure drops on the low pressure side of the regulator. As pressure comes back to the intermediate pressure the piston moves back and closes the valve. The spring does most of the work but if the spring chamber was not open to the water coming and going the chamber would create a vacuum and the valve would not be able to open or close. To set the intermediate pressure on a piston regulator the unit must be disassembled and shims added or removed to get the right spring setting.  

A diaphragm regulator works on the principle of an open circuit system with one major difference. In a piston model, the valve set remains fixed and the valve orifice on the end of the piston moves opening and closing the valve.  On a diaphragm regulator, when the intermediate pressure drops on the low pressure side, the spring pushes on the diaphragm that pushes on a pin that opens the valve by pushing the valve seat away from the valve orifice, opening the valve. As the intermediate pressure returns to the intermediate chamber it pushes the diaphragm in the opposite direction and it closes the valve maintaining 135-140 PSI in the low pressure supply line.

The second stage is the final piece to the SCUBA system. There are a variety of internal designs in the second stage ranging from a simple rocker arm and single spring to a more complicated shuttle valve and multiple spring designs. They all deliver breathing air but the shuttle valve second stages are much easier breathing. (Manta divers only sells the better balanced first stage and shuttle valve second stages regulators. The Atomic Z2, Aqua Lung Legend LX Supreme and Titan LX Supreme are the only regulators that you will find in our rental Fleet). The diagram attached is a rocker arm and spring design. So here’s how they work. The air in the second stage is always equal to the ambient pressure on the outside of the regulator whether you’re at the surface or at depth.  If you closed up the mouth piece on a pressurized second stage and lowered it down to 100Ft depth, all the way down the ambient pressure would push on the diaphragm and the rocker arm would open the valve until the PSI in the second stage equaled the ambient pressure outside of the second stage. When they are equal the valve closes and the pressure is equalized. If you slowly brought the pressurized second stage back to the surface the ambient pressure would become less than the PSI in the second stage and the pressure would equalize by venting though the exhaust valve.

That being said here’s how the open circuit SCUBA regulator system works. (It’s called open circuit because the air is exhausted and not returned to the supply).  As you start your dive with each breath you take it reduces the PSI inside the regulator causing the ambient pressure to push in the on the second stage diaphragm and pushes on the rocker arm opening the valve in the second stage. It only opens the valve enough to deliver ambient pressure and closes the valve when the pressure is equal.  The air delivered to the second stage reduces the intermediate pressure in the low pressure hose and the low pressure chamber in the first stage. When the pressure in the first stage chamber drops below 135-140 PSI the first stage spring pushes on either the piston or the diaphragm opening the first stage valve. When the intermediate pressure returns to 135-140 PSI it pushes back on the spring and closes the valve.  Every time you take a breath the cycle is repeated.

Because your life depends upon your regulator it pays to keep your regulator in top shape. Most manufacturers recommend inspection every other year and rebuild on the off years.  Although you could make your own rebuild kits it highly recommended that you only use the manufacturer’s kits.

By the way, we are looking for guest bloggers to share their diving stories.  Where have been diving lately?  Tell us stories about your training.  Share some trip photos and a report about a dive destination.  The information in the blog must be your own words, and accompanied by a photo or two. Please send it in Word document form to mantadiveshop{at} a yahoo account. (Security against bots. Sorry!)  Just to sweeten the pot, if we post your blog, you will receive a FREE Manta Divers T-shirt!

As always, like us on Facebook, share the blog and/or leave a comment for some feedback. If you have a question for Mike, let us know in a comment! Until next time, cheers!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

An Adventure in Cabo

I get to talk to a lot of people in a day; seasoned divers, new divers, aspiring divers.  I can talk about the courses we offer, the equipment that we sell, what our next trip will be and where we will dive this summer, but the question that always have difficulty answering is, where is my favorite place to dive.   I guess the trouble is that each place has its special charm: a memorable critter sighting, a great dive crew, a fun group of fellow divers.  Some dives are just great simply for the adventure we had while diving it.  That said, I’d like to share one of my real adventures dive with you.

My husband, Mike and I were on a trip, sponsored by a company that he worked for, to Cabo San Lucas Mexico.   Cabo San Lucas, found on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, is known to many as home to former Van Halen member, Sammy Haggar and his nightclub, Cabo Wabo Cantina.  Since it is on the Pacific Ocean, I naturally wanted to see about diving while we were there.

I did a little research and found a dive shop close to the resort we were at and booked a couple of dives with them, but what really piqued my interest was what many websites declared Cabo’s “must dive” place, Cabo Pulmo.  I made arrangements for Mike and I and four other divers on this adventure, and adventure it was

As it was a bit of a drive from our resort, we needed to have ample time to get there, do our dives and return in time for the formal dinner at night.  I arranged for someone from the dive shop to pick us up and deliver us to the site.  Now, one thing to keep in mind, I never met anyone from this shop in person.  I only corresponded via e-mail.  The second thing to know is that while Cabo San Lucas in quite developed, Cabo Pulmo is billed as being like “Old Mexico” and they are not kidding.  Our driver picked us up bright and early and piled our gear into the back of the vehicle.  We sped off into the traffic, often on the wrong side of the road, mind you, and drove and drove until we literally ran out of road.  This lack of pavement did not deter our driver, however and we continued on, trailing a cloud of dust.  As our surroundings became more desert like and remote, I was beginning to worry that we were being hauled out to the wilderness to be robbed.  I could see us now, stripped to our undies, wandering lost and thirsty in the Mexican desert.  Fortunately, everything was on the up and up and we made it to the dive shop safe and sound.

It was…rustic.  In fact, it was not a “shop” so much as a covered gathering place with a kitchen in the corner of a parking lot.  We were greeted enthusiastically and informed that we were in for a treat since I had booked the dive and lunch and they would be making fresh fish tacos for us when we returned.  (Goody)  After the formalities: forms, releases, C-card viewing, were done we were directed to the beach.  The first thing I noticed was that there was no pier and no dive boat, just a skiff beached forlornly on the gravel.  Suddenly, a truck appears from the parking lot and it motors over to the boat and pushes it into the water.  We turn our gear over to the staff, who wade out to the boat and drop it on the deck and assemble it all.  Next, we are instructed to wade in and get into the boat.  Are they taking us out to a bigger boat that is moored somewhere out of site?  No!  This little skiff IS the dive boat.  By now, I’m sure that our fellow divers were vowing that they would not be leaving the dive arranging to me.  

Once we reach the dive site, the divemaster gives the briefing and explains that we will enter the water all together.  We were to sit, two divers on each side of the boat, and on the count of three roll back simultaneously.  The penalty for bad timing could well be the loss of some teeth, so it was important to do this right.  We rolled off and enjoyed a wonderful dive, viewing the only living coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean.  The fish life was abundant and colorful.  The water, a bit cooler than I had anticipated at 75F, made me feel thankful that I tend to “over dress” for my dives because I hate being cold.  Once the group was low on air, it was time to ascend.  At the surface, we were instructed to remove our BC’s so the crew could pull them into the boat and swap out the tanks.  I figured this is where we would be robbed, left to bob, lost, in the Sea of Cortez, but fortunately, that didn’t happen either.  The question, though, was how we would get back into the boat, as there was no ladder.  Well, let me tell you, we JUMPED back into the boat, like a silverhead carp!  Actually we would get ourselves half way in and then the crew would pull us in the rest of the way.  Mike especially, was not amused.

We were on our way to the next site when we heard some barking.  The boat captain excitedly spoke in Spanish to the divemaster and pointed at a sea lion that had just surfaced.  In a few moments, another sea lion surfaced, chomping a flopping fish. The DM excitedly told us to gear up, we were diving here.  As rehearsed earlier, we rolled back in unison and descended beside a large bait ball.    I can only describe the sight as hypnotic; thousands of fishes acting as one giant organism, swirling like a piscine tornado.  As we wondered at the orderly gathering of fish, we were equally impressed with their precision dissipation as they parted ranks to allow a sea lion through, hopefully without one of them ending up as dinner.

We watched this spectacle for some time, and then finally continued exploring the area.  When we once again flopped ourselves into the boat, we could not contain our excitement at what we had witnessed.  It was clear why this was a “must dive” for this area. 

Back at the “shop”, we sipped beers as we talked about the dives while our lunch was prepared.  There was no doubt that the fish would be fresh, as we had to move from our first chosen table to avoid being downwind from the aroma of gutted fish.    The lunch that was served was out of this world, and all in alI, I felt vindicated for my choice of dive site.  After lunch, we drove back to civilization to get ready for our for our company function, bubbling with stories of our day’s adventure. It sure beats the heck out of lazing by the pool!

That is all for this week! Tune in next time for more stories and dive related flim flam! Below is another video of a Sea Lion chasing fish in Cabo. As always, share us, like us and leave a comment for some feedback. Until next time, Cheers!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Tale of Tater: A Dive History

They call me Tater!
Hello again Team Manta!

I’m back again to continue sharing my journey towards becoming a PADI Divemaster.   Previously I mentioned that I was certified a while ago.  Things were different back then in the SCUBA world.  Equipment was way different (perhaps I’ll discuss that some other time) and so were the certifications.  My course was 12+ weeks of 3 hour class/pool time and in addition to basic skills, included discussions of Boyles Law, fitness swims and CPR certification.  Despite the level of training and University credit, my certification was BASIC SCUBA DIVER which meant that I could rent gear and dive on my own, but only in inland lakes or in the ocean with supervision.  PADI now calls that level of training “Scuba Diver” certification, but I wanted the full Open water certification so the first order of business after my refresher course was to bring my certification up to modern standards and become an Open Water Diver.  That was the start of my new SCUBA training.    The checkout dives went fairly smoothly but I did learn I’m not fond of ‘performing skills’ as opposed to just relaxed diving.  I got that completed before my vacation to the Bahamas (Eleuthera) just in case there were any issues recognizing my 30 year old certification.  (Speaking of which, maybe sometime I’ll share why they call me Tater).

Diving is often compared to driving a car and while not a perfect analogy, I think it is a decent comparison in several ways.  Driving isn’t terribly difficult once you get the hang of it, BUT if you make a mistake at the wrong time, drive in conditions above your skill level, or think you are more capable than you really are, you can get yourself injured or killed.  You need experience to go along with the training.  If you want to drive a race car or a fire truck you need more training and more experience.  I view SCUBA the same way, getting certified only means you can dive, it doesn’t make you good at it.  If you want to dive deep, night dive or dive in conditions that aren’t ideal, you need more knowledge and experience.  When I went to the Bahamas’ I knew I loved the diving, but also that I had a lot to learn.  

The following dive season I signed up for AOW.  This course gets you a bit more exposure to different types of dives/skills. It is intended to give you exposure to skills and perhaps get you interested in particular types of diving but it also gives you a chance to learn more, get in some practice and still be under the supervision of an instructor while you expand your skills.  I liked the fact that you are pushing into new things, but only a little at a time.  My dive buddy and I did Navigation skills at Lake Andrea, Wreck and Deep dives at Pearl Lake and Peak Performance Buoyancy dives.  We chose those dives because we wanted to stick to dives we thought would not only interest us but also to make us better divers.  They were all fun too.  Mike and Lisa do a good job of combining real training with having fun.  OK, maybe the weeds in Lake Andrea weren’t a blast, but I had fun anyway.

One of the nicer aspects of the AOW dives is that they count as the first dive towards a specialty certification if you choose to pursue it.  As I described already, I had pretty much made up my mind which dives and specialties I wanted to pursue so it was sort of a ‘no brainer’ to combine the AOW with the specialties I was interested in.  That summer I pretty much did one specialty each month.   Some of the specialties overlapped a bit but I did what, at the time, felt like a lot of training.

Peak Performance Buoyancy:  In my opinion, this is one of the more important specialties for two reasons.  First, just about everything you do in diving is related to, improved by, or more enjoyable because of good buoyancy skills.  Air consumption, wreck diving, cave diving, reef diving, quarry diving and photography are all dramatically affected by buoyancy.  The second reason is that it is something that divers work on their entire careers.  Not many think their own buoyancy is perfect and many more think that other divers buoyancy is definitely not perfect.  Taking the class will not automatically give you skills, but it will help a lot and it will give you tools that you can work on while you are on just about every dive you ever do.

Search and Recovery:  This specialty for me was one of the most enjoyable specialties.  Part of that was the class itself.  As divers we have all seen/read about recovery operations in the news.  Unfortunately they are usually associated with finding accident victims.  Another facet that is not so depressing is finding lost items such as rings, car keys or (sometimes ghost) boat anchors.  The search involves different strategies, skills and drills.  The recovery involves still other skills and equipment such as knot tying and lift bags.

Knot exactly what he expected....
Tater doing some lifting.  Odd choice of gym......
I can say that doing work underwater is way more fun than working on shore.  I can also tell you that diving with a specific purpose is different than just touring around.  Our particular class was made special by the location, the group we were with, and the things we found to recover.  

I also have taken some winter ‘non diving’ classes for specialties in Nitrox and the Equipment Specialist as well as a previously unmentioned Emergency First Responder course.  All good courses but not a lot I can add to give you a feel for what they were like.  OK I could, but this is already getting long winded and I want to spend some words on one more specialty.  
One of the most important specialties I took over that summer was Rescue Diver.  Rescue Diver is probably one of the best PADI classes in terms of making divers more complete.  You learn the rescue skills and practice in water rescue skills, but it is more than just a class on how to rescue divers.  It is a class on being prepared and knowing what to do before you need to know.  Yes it is challenging and you will definitely work, you may even get a gulp of water during some drills, but there is a big payoff.  As mentioned in the driving vs. diving analogy, accidents can and do happen.  The reward for taking the Rescue Diver Specialty is being more aware of potential problems, more observant of other divers, more aware of what has to happen and knowing how to take leadership if events thrust you into that role.  It is a specialty that I hope I never have to use to its full extent, but that I do use to some extent every time I dive.  I’m still a noob, but less of a noob after this course.  This course also happens to be a requirement before you can move on to Divemaster or Master Scuba Diver. 

Ok, that’s it for the Tater Dive history rehash.  Next time I’m going to discuss my personal decision to head down the path of Divemaster training.  From reading on-line forums, I’m far from the only one who has had a personal debate on what to do.  Yes I am.  No I’m not.   You already know the result, but I will share my decision making thoughts in case someone else is thinking about it.  And if no one cares about my thoughts, for blogging about it maybe Lisa will cut me some slack on scoring all those DM skills we have to do.     Right Lisa? ….  Lisa?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Six Things you need to know so you are not “that guy” on the dive boat

If you’ve done any amount of boat diving, you have probably run into “that guy.”  The one no one wants to be buddied up with, the one that everyone is annoyed with, the one who never seems to beable to follow the dive briefing and procedures.  Boat diving has its own set of rules of etiquette that are so much simpler than Miss Manners guide to high tea, so there is no excuse for you to be “that guy.”

#1: Ask permission of the crew before boarding the boat.  

Dive boats can get crowded with everyone milling around and the crew will appreciate being able to get all of their prep work done without having to climb over everyone’s bags, be interrupted with questions and generally have their pre-dive flow disrupted.

#2: Once your gear is assembled, stow all of your other belongings out of the way to leave room for others.  

The best way to avoid losing some small but essential item is to keep your gear organized and in your bag, rather than have it strewn throughout the boat.  Clip your mask to your BC, tuck your fins under the bench where your gear is.  Put on your wetsuit just up to your waist so you will not overheat on the way to the site, but still be able to easily pull it on the rest of the way when the time comes.  Since they have a funny way of separating from each other, put your booties on.  This will have the added bonus of making you a little safer moving about on the slippery deck.

#3: Do not rinse your mask in the camera tank.  

Defog belongs on masks, but it can be bad if it gets on sensitive camera gear.  The photographers in your group will be tempted to cut your air hose underwater, Sea Hunt style if they end up with a big blog of defog in the middle of all of their pictures.  If there is a designated mask bucket, use it to rinse your mask, but if there is not, it is okay to apply the defog to your mask and then scoop some water out of the camera bucket to rinse your mask.

#4: Listen to the dive briefing 

Even if you have dived with this operation or at this site many times and feel as though you could give the briefing, still stop and listen.  At the very least, stop and gaze in the direction of the DM with your mouth shut as the briefing is given because others need want to hear what is being said.  In addition, procedures may have changed, and you may end up being the one who doesn’t know what to do in case of emergency instead of the seasoned diver who is really a help in a clinch.

#5: When it is time to gear up, gear up.  

Do not dawdle around trying to be the last one in.  Turn on your air, rinse out your mask and get ready to step off.  While it can vary depending on the conditions or the process followed by the dive operation, it is preferable that you enter around the same time as your buddy, however, if this is impossible, then enter without him and wait at the surface, or a few feet under the boat, if staying at the surface is not advisable.  Just be sure that you and your buddy have agreed on where you will meet.

#6: Respect the limits for depth and time set out by the dive leader

You may more air left in your tank when the time is up, but you still should ascend when you get the signal.  The crew may be trying to get you back to the resort in time for lunch, or wanting to allow enough time to get an adequate surface interval.  If you decide to go deeper than your dive leader has planned, you may risk being on your own if anything goes wrong.  For example, if the dive was planned to 100ft and you decide to dive to 120ft, your divemaster may not be able to go down and get you if you are narced or you have any other problem, especially if he is using nitrox and that deep a dive puts him in danger of oxygen toxicity.
So many dive sites are inaccessible except by boat and dive operations like to have their dive boats filled as close to capacity as possible, but observing a few rules of boat etiquette can go a long way towards making the excursion enjoyable for all.  In addition, you will never be referred to as “that guy.”

Stay tuned next week for another installment of Tater’s Journey towards Divemaster. As always, please share this blog, leave us a comment or follow us. Until next week, cheers!

Reminder!  Manta Divers is adding another Buoyancy Clinic at the Rec Plex on March 9 at 8am.  Call to reserve your spot.