Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wazee Diving? Why Yes! He Was!

Do you ever marvel at the way some people have a talent for repurposing things, like the bath tub that has been transformed into a planter, or the warehouse that is living another existence as a paintball gaming area?  Well, I cannot drive past a large hole without wondering how fun it would be to fill it up with water and dive in it. Thanks to some forward thinking individual,(or happy serendipity), we get to experience that very thing at Wazee Lake in Black River Falls, WI.

From sometime in the mid 1960’s to 1983, about 850,000 tons of taconite pellets were taken from the quarry in Brockway, WI, just east of Black River Falls, to supply steel production operations.  When the steel market crashed, so did the taconite quarry business, causing the Jackson County Mining Company to cease operations at the quarry.  After the heavy equipment was removed, the pumps that relieved the quarry of 800 gallons of water per minute, were turned off and the hole began to fill.  The resulting body of water was named Lake Wazee, “wazee” meaning tall pine in Ho-Chunk language.

Today, Lake Wazee is part of the Jackson County park system’s Wazee Recreation Area, a haven for hikers, ATV enthusiasts, as well as fishermen, swimmers and of course scuba divers.  Lake Wazee, Wisconsin’s deepest lake, with a maximum depth of 355ft, has developed into a great place to scuba dive, with training platforms, underwater forests, a small wreck and several fish cribs to explore. Native fish species include, brown, brook and rainbow trout, bluegill, suckers, walleye, warmouth and smallmouth bass.  The water is exceptionally clear and there are nice shaded set up areas, providing the setting for a great relaxing day of diving.

I am always fantasizing about places I wish could be flooded and used for diving, but I doubt they will ever flood Chicago’s magnificent mile so divers can swim through the stores, so I will be happy with repurposed rock quarries.  Team Manta has an outing planned at Lake Wazee the first weekend in August.  We will drive up on the 2nd and then dive the 3rd and 4th.   I hope you will join us.  New divers are welcome!
Hanging with my Gnome Boyz!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Diver's High

Hello to my blog followers!  I was listening to a story on PBS about runners and how some evolve from someone who is dragging themselves out three times a week to run “because it is good for them” to someone who runs 5K’s, Tough Mudders and triathlons and loves it.  I got to thinking that diving is like that for many people.  They start out taking the course because it was on their bucket list, their partner wanted to do it, or they thought they would like to dive on their vacation, and before they know it, they are diving fanatics, living from dive to dive.

Now, I was hooked on diving from the beginning, but I thought that I would only be doing it in clear, warm saltwater.  After all, what is there to see in a lake?  However, my eyes were opened when I really started to explore the lakes and quarries in my own back yard. I found lots of interesting animals: snails, bass, bluegill, walleye. When I encounter something I cannot identify, I take a photo and do research when I get home.  I found interesting artifacts from abandoned ice houses, logging operations and farms.  I discovered the fun of lifting these found objects and moving them underwater.  I also learned that with the right gear, it is not at all cold! 

Like the athlete who experiences a “runner’s high,” I experience a diver’s high--and I am not talking about narcosis!  I always tell people that I can have the worst day, busy, stressful, frustrating, but once I don my gear and descend a few feet into the water—even pool diving can do it for me—I feel a wonderful calm.  The rhythmic sound of my breathing, bubbles expelled from my reg, racing upward to make their escape at the surface soothes me like a lullaby. On those days when my joints are complaining, the weightlessness of diving relieves the pain.   Under the water, no one can complain to me, crab at me or even talk to me.  It is just me and my bubbles.  Shutting off the talk seems to waken my vision somehow.  I guess that is why I get such a kick out of the strange stuff we find in the lakes!

For some divers, diving a wreck is the equivalent to a runner doing their first road race.  They find themselves curious and excited to do it, but nervous.  Is it too deep?  Will I get stuck inside? Will I get lost?  The boat attaches to the mooring and after the briefing, the divers gear up in preparation to step off into the water.  Your heart is pounding as the wreck slowly comes into view.  You take in the view of the entire ship and then swim in for a closer examination, to discover what secrets the vessel will share.  Before you know it, it is time to ascend once again and you realize that your heart no longer beats with trepidation, but with excitement!  You reach the deck of the boat with a feeling of accomplishment and an eagerness to share your experience with the other divers and plan for you next wreck dive.

I guess it’s about keeping it interesting, pushing a boundary, growth.  That is the wonderful thing about diving.  There are so many specialty courses, UW sign language, photography, night diving, drift diving, to name a few, that expand skills and knowledge.   There are so many bodies of water to explore, fresh, salt, clear, not so clear, foreign and domestic.  In short that world, 70% water is out there to explore.  So many places to “get high!”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Neal Skrenes gives the Brac Report

This week's blog is brought to you by Neal Skrenes!
Neal Skrenes: Gentleman, Scholar, and Diver Extraordinaire! 

March 30th 2013 eleven of us began our journey from Kenosha at the ungodly hour of 2:30 a.m. with a limo ride to Chicago O’Hare airport. Check-in was at 4 a.m.; the usual lines, waiting, document- and baggage-checking that dive travelers have come to expect were all part of the morning. Our route was Chicago to Atlanta, where we met up with four more of our group, then on to Grand Cayman, where the final two members of Team Manta flew with us on a Twin engine DeHaviland DHC-6 "Otter" - our ride to Cayman Brac.

Cayman Brac is the smallest of the three islands that make up The Caymans; Grand Cayman & Little Cayman are the other two. It is about 12 miles long, with an average width of one mile.

Its terrain is the most prominent of the three Cayman Islands due to "The Bluff", a large central limestone outcrop rising steadily along the length of the island up to 140' above sea level at the eastern end. The island is named after this prominent feature; "brac" is a Gaelic name for a bluff.

From the new airport we were transferred to Cayman Brac Reef Resort - our home way from home for the next week - and checked in. The rooms were very modern, having been renovated in 2009 courtesy of Hurricane Paloma. The island was hard hit in November of '08 when 90% of homes lost their roofs, and the original Cayman Brac Resort was demolished. It was the last existing hotel on the island and as a result the island was closed to tourism for almost two years.

After dropping off dive bags and blue jeans in our rooms, we proceeded to the dive shop to show dive certification cards, fill out forms, put some Nitrox in tanks for Sunday's diving and learn more about the diving operation before dinner.

The resort is very well laid out for diving visitors. The rooms are of a shotgun design with a porch that faces the pool area; many also have a view of the Ocean. Next to the pool is the bar/game area. It's also where they host a weekly outdoor movie, crab races, a trivia contest and barbecue.

You can also tour a Bat Cave.  You know, you think that it would be better hidden....
Dinner was in a dining hall and very upscale compared to some all-inclusive resorts that are more like Dive Camp. In addition to a regular chef who organized a delicious breakfast buffet starting at 7 a.m., cold cereal, fruit, breads, meats, hot eggs on buffet for breakfast, or, if you had time you could have omelet to order. There was plenty of juice, coffee & tea and cold water on the tables. Lunch and Dinner worked the same way - a buffet that varied every day with a special choice of meat sliced to order. Mario, their excellent pastry chef, was busy so there were always three different choices for dessert. Mario was such a hit with Team Manta that we organized an impromptu serenade extolling his virtues the last night we were there. You can check it out here.

The dive shop personnel collected our gear from outside our rooms on Sunday morning and brought it to our assigned boat for the week, Big Sister, where BJ & Brett switched off as captain & dive master; these two young men were outstanding hard workers. They provided what they called valet diving: You put on your skins, mask and fins at the back of the boat, they brought your gear and placed it on your back, so all you had to do was fall into the water. I had knee surgery a few years ago and choppy seas are always my concern when getting back on a boat. Bret and BJ were happy to hoist my gear out of the water so all I had to do was climb up the ladder. The most strenuous thing those of us using Nitrox had to do all week was to ensure that each day we had three tanks for which we had checked and marked the mixes.

A well run and well organized Big Sister!
The dive briefings were comprehensive and BJ or Brett would also stop under water and point out small to macroscopic marine life (easy to miss if you're not trained or experienced in finding it). We did three dives a day, except Friday when we did not do an afternoon dive, two before lunch and one after for a total of 18 dives. The water averaged 80F, so 3mm or 5mm suits (for the more cold blooded) were adequate. One morning dive also was a preparation for a night dive on Tarpon Reef so that it would be familiar territory to explore in the dark. Thursday morning we dove the M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts, also known as the former Cuban Navy Koni II Class frigate designated 356. The video is here.

There were lots of land-based activities in the evenings. A ping-pong table was available. One night an excellent fish identification movie shot at the resort by the local videographer previewed underwater sights for which to look. On different days there was a land crab race, trivia contest, bingo. Internet and television were also available. I used the former to keep in touch with my wife, sending her daily trip reports and photographs for her web page. If you'd like to see some of the photos and critters I saw
visit the website.

On Friday some of the team traveled to Little Cayman and did two dives there Penguins Leap & Randy's Gazebo - I elected to skip that trip to stay back wash and dry my gear and relax a bit. After lunch some of us did an island tour visiting some of the historic and scenic parts of the island. We were
hoping to see some wild parrots, but they all must have been hiding that day. Our last night at the resort there was an outdoor barbecue (a weekly occurrence).

Saturday morning we had to rise quite early (4 a.m.) in order to get to the airport in time for the first leg of our trip back home. This was uneventful trip back to Chicago and then home.

It was another trip with a wonderful group of divers - proving yet again Manta Divers are "More fun than regular people". Cayman Brac is a destination to which I would return.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Tale of Tater: Relearning Old Tricks

Hello Team Manta!!  I hope everyone has survived the seemingly never ending winter and is ready to get out and do some diving, I know I am ready!  (Ok no surprise there).   Pearl Lake and Haigh Quarry are open for business!! Probably freaking cold, but open.
Now back to my DM quest. Real life got in the way of our Divemaster training and we had a tough time getting a schedule fixed up for all of us, so with Lisa’s guidance I jumped into working on the DM required 24 skills.  Now as divers you have all done the 24 skills at some point.  Most of the skills we have done at least twice, once in the pool and once in open water.  Some of the skills we do on a regular basis in the course of diving.  Some of the skills may not have been done since certification.  As for me, my dive buddy and I have committed to practicing those skills during the course of each dive season, but in all honesty we usually have more things we want to do on dives, than dives to do them.  Thus the good intentions are not all fulfilled. If only we lived in a year round dive location like Cayman Brac..(Insert longing sigh and Jimmy Buffet music here).
Do you like pina coladas?

When it comes to the 24 dive skills, for certified divers there is nothing particularly difficult about performing them.  Some of the skills such as removing and replacing all gear under water have a few challenges that we may not be used to, but with a little effort they get accomplished.  For new divers, that is not usually the case.  They are in an environment they are not used to with equipment they haven’t used before; doing tasks they have never done before.  That’s where the Scuba Instructor and Divemaster need to be able to slowly, accurately and with added emphasis demonstrate the dive skills.  It is very different to be able to perform the skill vs. be able to carefully demonstrate the skill.  To learn to demonstrate the skills is almost like learning them all over again.  
Take remove and replace the regulator as an example.  We have all done it many times, often for fun or to ham it up for a picture.  When demonstrating for students there is the added emphasis of pointing out that the regulator should point down, the natural instinct is to point the mouthpiece away from you.  Students also frequently need to be reminded to exhale a stream of bubbles any time the regulator is out of their mouth so as to not hold our breath.  Even something that may seem obvious to a certified diver, such as making sure to first put the regulator back in your mouth and then purge the regulator before breathing may be something a new student doesn’t realize in this strange new environment.  I had to learn to stop and dissect every movement for clarity.  I’ve used this skill as an example but the idea applies for each of the 24 dive skills.
Also, it is important to know which way the bubbles are going!
The follow up to re-learning all of those skills is to carefully watch students execute the skills.   Demonstrating is only half of the trick.  The other half is to study the student execution of the skill so as to be able to help students with their difficulty, if they have one.  Lisa having done this many times had some really valuable tips to share on what students may do incorrectly.  For example they sometimes do the regulator recovery sweep by dipping their shoulder on the same side they see the demonstration like a mirror image, which of course is the side away from their regulator.  Another aspect of helping correct a skill is the underwater communication so as to be able to help them with emphasis on what they may have forgotten and to try again to properly execute the skill. Finally, the good part is to let them know that they have in fact done it correctly.

I won’t bother going through all of the skills, much too boring, and you get the idea.  From my perspective as a DMC, I am a student studying how to help students.  I do find it gratifying when I can help someone with a skill.  I want them all to have a great experience diving and hopefully come and join Team Manta on some dives.
Clearly these skills and teaching them are a requirement to become a DM but I also think it helps me as a diver to be even more confident and capable of doing those skills in the open water whenever they may be needed.  Not just the skills themselves, but the overall attitude/feeling to stop and think what is happening and then decide how to correct it.   
Having said all of this, I do feel like I can demonstrate the skills, I also feel like I can contribute to student learning.  I don’t feel like I am an expert at it by any means.  This goes back to taking my time.  I look forward to working with more students not only because it is rewarding but also because they will teach me how to be better at it.  When it comes to diving I need to practice, practice, and practice.  

I have an idea.  Let’s Go Diving!!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Six Things to Do When Diving With a New Buddy

It is the beginning of the local dive season, and I am ready to go!  One thing that I hear many times at the shop is, “I’d go diving more often, but I do not have a dive buddy.”  The beauty of diving in a group is that it is easy to hook up with another single diver, or a duo that is willing to add a third person to their team. However, just as you would to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with a rental car, you need to familiarize yourself with a new buddy.  Here are 6 tips to make pairing with a new buddy safe, stress free and enjoyable.

Number 1
Share your dive experience with your buddy.  Have you done a lot of freshwater diving?  Have you dived in this lake before?  Is this your first deep dive or night dive?  Find out those same things from your buddy, too, as a way to assess one another’s skills.  This is not a peeing match, but an ice breaker and valuable information that will aid in your dive planning.

Number 2
Get to know each other’s gear.  It goes without saying that any time a diver rents gear, he should thoroughly inspect it and be intimately aware of all the location of all the dumps, inflators and buckles, but do not forget that you also need to know your buddy’s gear.  Not all set ups are created equal. Different manufacturers have different buckle, weight pocket and deflation designs.  Chances are good that you will never have to dump your buddy’s weight for him, but if you need to, it is best if you already have an idea as to how it can be accomplished.  In addition, pay close attention to the location of your buddy’s alternate air source.
Photo by the amazing Liz Boomer
Check out her website!
Number 3
Plan your dive together.  It is folly to assume that your new buddy will dive the same way your usual buddy dives, or that he is going to follow you like a puppy and be interested in the same things that you are.  Discuss your dive plan, including max depth, length of time, and route you will take.  It will not go well if you want to stay shallow and shoot macro photos and he wants to make an 80ft. dive to penetrate a wreck, so come to a consensus on where you will go and what you will do while there. Good dive planning goes a long way towards making the most of your dives. While you are at it, review hand signals and consider bringing an underwater slate for good communication.

Number 4
Decide how you will dive.  Will you dive next to each other, one leading and one following, one above and one below, or in some other configuration.  This will save you both the bother of looking all over for your buddy.  If you know where your buddy is and he knows where to look for you, then a quick glance to the right or left (or up of down) will ensure that you have not become separated.

Number 5
Review buddy separation scenarios.  Even when you plan carefully separations can occur.  The rule of thumb is to look for your buddy for 1 minute, then slowly ascend (still looking in all directions), perform a safety stop, if required and then continue to the surface.  Hopefully your buddy will be there waiting for you, or will surface in a few moments.

Number 6
Dive your plan! Unless you have a foolproof way to communicate it, do not change plans while under water.  Stick to what you and your buddy have agreed to and save your alternate plan for your next dive.

I hope these simple tips will take the fear out of tagging along on one of Team Manta’s many excursions.  Not only that, meeting new people is one of the great benefits of the sport of diving, so get out there. Go places, Meet people and Do things underwater!