Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Quick Look at Meds and Diving

I am one of those lucky people who do not have allergies and rarely has a cold, so I am not generally up on the latest and greatest over the counter (OTC) remedies for sufferers.  However, this is a frequently asked question, so with the help of Divers Alert Network, I hope to shed a little light on this.

I have heard more than one diver complain recently about their allergies, especially in the spring.  In an allergy sufferer, an allergen, such as pollen, is inhaled in through the nose, causing the mast cells to release histamine.  Histamine release causes a lot of fluids to be produced, resulting in runny nose, tearing eyes, congestion and sneezing, all in an effort to flush that invader out of the body.  The bad thing is that once one allergen particle is flushed out, surely another will enter, reigniting the cycle.  

Antihistamines are readily available over the counter, but it is important to remember that even OTC medications have unwanted side effects.  Side effects of antihistamines include drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision and increased heart rate.  Increased heart rate can result in greater excitability in a diver, in some cases increasing the risk of panic.  Drowsiness can be particularly troublesome for divers, since it can be heightened by nitrogen narcosis. If you are someone who experiences drowsiness when taking antihistamines, you may have better luck with a non-sedating agent, such as Claritin or Allegra.  

If OTC antihistamines become ineffective in mitigating the symptoms, some doctors prescribe inhaled steroids.  This medication, sprayed up the nose, acts locally and therefore does not have the troublesome side effects of medications that act systemically.  The down side, however, is that it takes several days of treatment for them to work, so it requires some preplanning if a diver intends to use them on a dive trip.

Sinus congestion and its accompanying discomfort when diving can be the body’s response to a cold.  In an effort to get as much of the body’s infection fighting tools, such as antibodies,and white blood cells, to the site of assault, blood vessels dilate, essentially opening the flood gates so all of our body’s helpers can stream to the site of the infection on a river of fluids.  The result is a gunked up head.  

Decongestants containing sympathomimetic agents, such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), cause the blood vessels in the nose to shrink, thus closing the flood gates and relieving symptoms.  However, they can also increase heart rate and blood pressure.  Again, the danger with increased blood pressure and heart rate can make a diver feel “jittery” and less able to deal with problems underwater without panic.   These types of medication should be taken 30 minutes before diving, and care should be taken to assure that the formulation chosen will act for the full duration of the dive(s).  Alternatively, there are nose sprays that are very effective in opening sinus passages that will not cause the jitteriness, but as they cannot be used for more than 3 days in a row, they may not be the solution if a diver is experiencing symptoms while on a dive trip.  

It may be necessary to take some medications to save a dive or dive vacation, but caution should be exercised when using them.  Ideally, a diver should try a medication and monitor the side effects on dry land before attempting to try it while diving. Even if no side effects are noted during the trial, still remain alert to them on any dive, as the effect of diving on the way medications react in the body are not fully understood.  It is also important to investigate any possible interactions between OTC meds and prescriptions taken.  For more information, check the Divers Alert Network website, your local pharmacist, or your physician for the best up to date advice.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Tidbit About the Tibbetts

Greetings Blog readers!

You have probably been wondering when I am ever going to get around to telling all about our Cayman Brac adventure, but alas, there is so much to tell, that I will have to share in segments.  Today I want to talk about the MV Captain Keith Tibbetts.
Just as Stingray City is the “must dive” on Grand Cayman, the Tibbetts is the “must dive” on the Brac.  In fact even, if divers are staying on Little Cayman, they will likely take a day to come over to the Brac to dive this famous wreck.  

The Tibbetts, or Russian Frigate 356, began its life as part of Cuba’s Cold War fleet.  In 1996, the Cayman Islands purchased it with the intention of scuttling it to create an artificial reef. The ship was renamed for local politician and diver, Keith Tibbetts.  Originally the ship was sunk upright in 90ft. of water, but a storm in 2004 broke the ship in two, leaving the bow listing at approximately a 45 degree angle, and the midsection a debris field.  It lies about 200 yards off shore in front of the Buccaneer’s landmark, bbut most divers reach it by boat, attaching to one of the two moorings.

As you swim toward the wreck, garden eels seem to be coaxing you to come near, their heads bending like hundreds of fingers gesturing, “This way, this way!”   The Tibbetts, an impressive 330 ft long, seems to materialize out of the water as you approach; a ghost of its former self.  As a relatively new wreck, it is not yet fully encrusted with corals and sponges, but the process is surely under way.  Home to over 100 species of marine life, you may catch a glimpse of a goliath grouper, moray eel or other large critters on this wreck.  I found an approximately 5ft long barracuda chilling in the debris field, blending in perfectly with all the gray metal wreckage. Overwhelmed by the massiveness of this wreck, it would be easy to miss the little stuff, such as juvenile drums or secretary bennies, living here, but divers are well advised to stay on the lookout for both big and little creatures. If you are into dive caching, bring a trinket to leave and take something from the box hidden in the wreck.  (I can’t tell you where it is, the hunt is half the fun!)

I have dived this wreck now six times, and it remains both exciting and surprising.  I am looking forward to my next visit to see it again and to commune with its unique inhabitants.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Tale of Tater: Why be a Dive Master?

I’m Baaack.  You can all get off the edge of your seats now, the wait is over.  OK so it’s not that exciting, but as far as I’m concerned anything SCUBA is of some interest.
This time I will discuss how I came to the decision to become a DMC.  There are many reasons, both for and against; I won’t be able to cover them all.  I know that I am not the only one who considered it with some skepticism.  I have a lot of fun diving, have a great dive buddy and we always seem to have fun just diving.  I don’t really have a great desire to schlepp tanks around and, don’t figure I can make a living as a DM.  For the life of me, I can’t see any logic in paying for the right to be slave labor on some evenings and weekends. (no offense to anyone who might be into that sort of thing!!)

I had a lot of fun in all of my classes but due to nature of the class it seemed like all of the students in my Rescue Diver class at least considered the possibility of doing Divemaster or Master Scuba Diver.  I had always wanted to take courses to become a better diver.  Deep, Navigation, Night, Search and Recovery, Rescue….Hmmm  Pretty much sums up the requirements for Master Scuba Diver.  I don’t think taking those courses makes one a “MASTER” Scuba diver, but it does give you a good bag of tools to use for diving.  I guess without really knowing it, I had made up my mind on becoming a ‘Master Scuba Diver’ pretty early on.  I’m already pretty close to being qualified and have one more class planned for spring/summer.
So what about Divemaster??  What turned around my skepticism?   Do I really want to teach/lead?  I waited 30 years to get back into diving; I really just want to enjoy it.  Being an engineer (Mike & Lisa LOVE engineer student divers!! Just ask…and ask….and ask) I just had to analyze the pros/cons.  

  • Not the cheapest course you can take with all the books and videos etc.
  • Much more than a book test and a few dives.
  • More difficult requirements
  • Added Responsibility
  • Not really wanting to (help)teach
  • Time consuming with an already busy life
  • Summers are too short and my wife doesn’t dive
  • To what end?

This wasn’t an easy decision to make black and white.  As I said, I was pretty skeptical at first but a few factors not directly related to SCUBA were eating at me.  I had always wanted to go back to school to get my Masters Degree.  I tried several times to take courses but it seemed like every time I did, my job would force me to travel.  Now that I am older, I can’t justify the cost vs. payback on my going back to school.  I don’t want to have the same thing happen to SCUBA.  I didn’t want to find myself in 10 years looking back and wishing I had done it.   I had for years considered a part time job just to get out and socialize with people that weren’t all dorky engineers.  Maybe this was a way to do that.
Being a geeky engineer, all of those side thoughts had to be set aside so I could stick to relevant issues to make a decision.  I still had to finish weighing the pros/cons.  Fortunately humans have an amazing ability to twist statistics,  bend facts and rationalize items into what seems like logic, in order to conclude that which they hope to be true, regardless of reality. (definition of politician)

  • A good investment in myself physically and mentally.
  • Much more than a book test and a few dives.
  • More challenging requirements
  • Additional Diving Responsibility
  • Learning better skills by preparing to demonstrate/(help) teach
  • Spending more time doing one of my favorite things
  • My wife doesn’t dive
  • I will have done it.

For me there was one other item that was really important to me.  I couldn’t stand the thought of not diving from October to the end of May.   As a DM(C) I get to at least get it the pool on a regular basis.   Every time I help in the pool, I get just a little practice in on my buoyancy, my demonstration skills, finning, and of course Schlepping.  In the summer I expect to get in a few extra dives helping with some students.  
Before I close here I have to fast forward just a tad.  It wouldn’t be fair to for me to not confess that while I did not look forward to it specifically, I have really enjoyed spending some time with some of the Open Water and Discover Scuba students.  Seeing the nerves and shivers turn into smiles and fun is pretty cool.  Not as cool as seeing a shark, but still pretty cool.

The meeting of the Underwater Basket Weavers Guild will now begin.
Ok.  From here on out we get into the DM training stuff.  I can’t wait for those end of chapter tests.  
Later,  Tater

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Six Things: Reasons to Expand Your Dive Horizons

First of all I want to say thanks to all of my faithful blog readers who let me know that they missed my post last week!  That makes me feel so good!  Anyway, this week’s blog has to do with pushing your personal scuba envelope and to expand your expertise.

A customer stopped in the shop the other day and we chatted about dive gear, travel bags, equipment we considered essential for diving and other stuff.  As I talked about the upcoming summer schedule and the planned trips to Curacao and Utila, he told me that he always dives in Cozumel.  I asked him why that was and he told me that he was used to it, had found a dive operation that he liked, and always had a good time there, etc. Though these are valid reasons for returning to a dive destination, I reminded him that there are a lot of islands and dive spots out there and he should consider trying something new, but as he said good-bye and left I figured that he will probably never take that suggestion.  Since this conversation has bothered me for the last several weeks, here are my 6 reasons to expand your dive horizons.

#1: See how different dive operations conduct their dives.  
I did a lot of drift diving in Cozumel, Cancun and Grenada, to mention a few places, but each operation had a little different way of doing things.  How do you know that the first place you dove follows the best safety practices?  How do you know if there is an easier way to do one thing or another?  For example, I thought that every dive operation had divers drop off the boat, descend, and then drift along the reef while the boat captain watched the bubbles as they came to the surface.  Now, I always marveled at the ability of the boat to find the divers, but what happens if another group is diving by my group?  Whose bubbles should he follow?  When I went to Grenada, I saw a different way.  There, the divemaster towed a Dive Flag as a surface marker.  In addition, all divers were required to have their own surface marker buoy (SMB) in case they were separated from the group.   This left no doubt for the boat captain as to where the group was.  In addition, as divers became low on air and wanted to ascend, they could do their safety stop next to the dive flag, assuring that they would not be run over by the boat, or that they would surface and the boat would not know where they were.  The fact that each diver had his own SMB gave even more security in case the buddy team somehow was too far from the dive flag to ascend next to it.  

#2: Experience a new kind of diving.
Early in my diving career, I did not do much local diving.  I was intimidated by the low visibility and lacked proper exposure protection.  Today, I see that there is plenty to see in fresh water and regret that I did not do this sort of diving more often.  I also feel that the challenge of lower visibility has made me a better diver and dive leader.   In addition, when I am in an environment where the visibility is great, I am even more comfortable.  You may have tried some night diving or wreck diving in your Advanced Open Water course, but doing these types of dives in a new environment, can really expand your knowledge.   Don’t make these experiences a “one and done” sort of thing.  It take a few dives to really pick up on what it takes to be proficient in a particular type of dive.

#3: Meet new people
I often comment that I have met some of the most interesting people on dive trips, from the mine owner who sells wooly mammoth tusks that he finds when digging in new areas, to the inventor turned underwater photographer.  Not to mention the friends who actually live in our back yard that we first met on some Caribbean island 1500 miles home.  Picking other diver’s brains is a good way to decide where your next dive trip will take you!

#4: Compare different ecosystems
Not all lakes are the same, just as not all reef systems are the same.  In fact, it has been my experience that when coral heads are separated by sand, they often have different fish populations. In fact, it was quite funny on our trip to Cayman Brac to see that the grouper that was following us around one coral head was chased away by the grouper on the next.  I found Honduras to have the most colorful reefs, and Bonaire to have the greatest population of fish.  When we did our northern Wisconsin dives last summer, I found it particularly interesting to see that some lakes had, for example abundant snails, while another had none.  One would have a huge bass population, while the next would have mostly bluegills.

#5: Take in the land sights.
When I am visiting another country, I try my best to have a local take me around to show me what they consider to be the best sites of their town/country.  Both educational and enriching, hearing the political opinion of a local can bring a whole new perspective to my world view.  Keep an eye out for indigenous birds and other wildlife. If the island you are visiting is small, don’t be afraid to rent a vehicle and explore on your own.  It helps, of course to read up on the spot ahead of time and plan your excursion so you can hit at least the high points of the destination.  

#6: Experience the cuisine.
When you take your land excursion, be sure to ask for suggestions as to where to sample some of the local dishes.  One highlight of a trip to Barbados was enjoying an el fresco meal of flying fish and rice and beans, the signature dish of the island.  Each island has its own favorite spices and flavorings that often put an unexpected twist on a familiar food item.

I truly believe that if divers get stuck in the rut of only diving in the familiar spots, they never truly develop as a diver, never pushing their personal envelopes.  They may have many dives logged, but they never challenged themselves to apply their diving knowledge in a new way to a new situation. It is like a person from Europe who vacations in New York year after year and professes to know all about the US.  The knowledge he has is superficial at best.  To be a well-rounded diver, one must get out into the world and dive and experience this wonderful planet!