Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pearls of Buoyancy

As our local season winds down, we are taking quick day trips to dive.  Surprisingly, at Pearl Lake, the vis has been great, as long as you are the first diver to any given attraction.

If you’ve had the chance to dive local lakes throughout the dive season here, you know that the visibility is best at the beginning of the season because the long winter and snow cover on the lakes causes the algae to die off.  As the season progresses, with days lengthening and the temperature rising, the algae in the lakes blooms until sometime at the end of July or the beginning of August, there is a distinct green cast to the water and the visibility decreases to 5-10ft.  Heading into the fall, the algae starts to die down again and the visibility improves, so generally divers can expect improved visibility in September and October.  Divers cannot, of course, do much about the inherent properties of the bodies of water that they dive in. However, they do have the ability to preserve visibility while they are diving by staying off the bottom and being careful not to disturb the thin layer of silt and algae that covers the sunken items.  Unfortunately, some divers never learn to control their buoyancy.

This last weekend is a case in point.   We parked on the west side of Pearl Lake by the digger.  There was only one other group of diving students parked near us and we shared the training platform.  The visibility was great, 20+ ft. or so.  On the last of the training dives, I wanted to do a little tour that would include exploration of the airplane, just a short swim to the south.  I thought it would be great since neither our group nor the other group of students had gone down there.  After completing their final skills to earn their certification, my students followed Mike in the direction of the plane.  Since my divers had just shown their good neutral buoyancy, I was sure that they would not be disturbing the visibility. 

I swam along behind my divers, observing their technique, when suddenly, there was a huge, dense cloud of sediment billowing in front of us.  Then I spotted one wing of the plane.  What the heck?  To my dismay, I realized that two other divers had not only beaten us to the plane, but they were apparently unfamiliar with the concept of neutral buoyancy.  They were literally dragging themselves along the surface of the plane, eventually all but obscuring it from view!  Mike and I quickly beat a retreat from this mess, as there was nothing to be seen there anyway!

Buoyancy is one of the most important skills a diver must have and yet there are so many divers who never bother to practice and perfect it.  It is something that requires work to achieve and to make part of how you dive, but once you can float through the water without waving your arms around or bouncing off the bottom of the lake, you will have a completely different diving experience.  It is when you are floating, moving effortlessly, that you truly feel the peace and freedom that makes diving such a wonderful sport.  It is when you can hover inches from the top of a wreck or silty lake bottom that you feel the power of your control over the elements and your own body. It is when you are neutrally buoyant you finally feel most like a resident of the underwater realm rather than a visitor.

So again I am on my soapbox.  Work on your buoyancy on every dive!  Take the Peak Performance Buoyancy course or participate in the buoyancy workshop we offer each winter.  Become one with the water, not an underwater “Pig Pen.”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Entry Safety

Last weekend we were down in Kankakee and as I watched divers enter the water, I was surprised that so many of them just do not know how to make a proper giant stride entry!

Now if you remember from your open water course, to execute this entry, you first complete your pre-dive safety check with your buddy.  Then, you step to the edge of the dock or boat swim platform.  You add a little air to your BC, secure your console with your left hand and your mask and reg in your right.  You quickly check that the water below you is clear, then look at the horizon and step off.  The key here is to STEP. It drives me completely bonkers when I see a diver hop off the dock!

The dangerous difference between step and hop is this: When you hop, you are briefly in the air, touching neither the dock/boat nor the water.  Now in the case of the boat entry, the danger is that the boat will move under you in that instant that you are aloft and you, or most likely your tank, will come crashing onto the deck, causing damage to your gear and the boat, as well as physical harm to you. You are not safe hopping from a dock, either.  If you are not really stretching that leg out, you may come down on the edge of the dock.  Again, the risk of harm to gear and person is great.

I ask myself, “How can I explain this better?”  Ok, Monty Python fans, remember the ministry of silly walks? Imagine making an exaggerated step into the water, looking straight ahead, clutching your console on the left and holding your right hand over your face, against the mask and regulator. Catholics, think if yourself genuflecting into the water, but instead of moving your leg backwards, you step forward.  Think of your bending knee hitting the water before the foot at the end of it.  How about Captain May I?   Captain, may I take one giant step off this dock?  Hopefully you are getting the picture.
...and now for some completely different entry techiniques.
Once the diver is in the water, I observed that divers either make the “OK” sign immediately upon bobbing to the surface,(how do they know yet if they are OK?) or they do not signal at all.  It should go like this: The diver strides into the water.  He continues to hold on to his mask and reg while he briefly submerges and then bobs to the surface.  While continuing to hold his mask with his right hand, with his left hand, he checks that the mask strap is still in place, and repositions it is needed.  He then briefly checks that everything feels alright and decides if he is OK to start his dive. He then signals to the surface support person “OK.”

This may seem like the ramblings of a crusty old dive-Nazi instructor, and I guess there are days that I may resemble one, but there is a reason why the skill is taught in a specific fashion.  It is for the safety of the diver!  I believe that most divers are careful about assembling their gear, checking their air, and planning their dive, but they forget that their dive can end before it starts if they don’t enter the water safely.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

OCTO Neglect

Hey you, over here! I’m the yellow one, your OCTO.  OCTO’s seem to get a back seat when people wash out their gear after diving. I see this often, even with experienced divers. Yesterday a diver bought in his regulator to be looked at because it was suddenly leaking and wouldn’t stop. After a quick inspection of the exterior of the regulators and hoses I opened up the OCTO. Ewwww!  Gross! Nasty! Inside the OCTO there was sand and muck in addition to a deposit of phlegm-like slime growing.   I shuddered at the thought that someone might have to put this in their mouth. It would be like sucking on a moldy piece of cheese.

OCTO neglect is an epidemic.  When servicing regulators, I find, almost across the board, that while the rest of the divers gear, including the  primary regulator, have been impeccably cleaned, the OCTO is in terrible shape. I think that OCTO’s don’t get a lot of attention when cleaning because they are used so infrequently.

 If you’re thinking, “It serves you right if you have to breathe off a moldy octopus if you don’t check your SPG often,” then you’ve probably never been in a situation where you had to use your own alternate.  I did.  I was making a shore entry and was knocked over in the surf. My primary regulator was ripped from my mouth and pinned under a piece of coral.  On my back and submerged by waves, I had no choice but to grab my OCTO and breathe from it.  I was happy that it was clean and functional.
Another reason that an OCTO can be dirtier than the primary is that divers do not always secure their OCTO to their BC, leaving it to drag in the sand, muck, or whatever, collecting dirt.  For $1.50, and a little care when setting up, that problem can be solved.

After giving the OCTO a bath in the sonic tub and spraying it with and oral disinfectant I made an internal adjustment, reassembled and returned to the customer, with a sales pitch for a new OCTO holder.

We all hope that we are never in a situation where we need to use the octopus, but if the situation arises, can you be sure that your alternate will be up to the challenge?  When rinsing out your gear post dive, don’t forget to rinse and care for your OCTO.

Maintenance tip:  Occasionally soak your primary and OCTO overnight in a solution of 1.5 cups of flavored Listerine and 4 cups of water.  The next morning, rinse well and you have minty fresh CLEAN regulators.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Season's End: Who's Counting Anyway

It’s strange how in May the summer days stretch out before me, endless, like a 1000 page diary waiting to be written in, but in September, it feels as though it all passed in the blink of an eye.

I feel like I packed so much into the summer: the Ohio trip, Wazee weekend, and northern Wisconsin, not to mention the trips to Pearl Lake and Haigh Quarry. In all I’ve logged 50 dives this summer, but I have to ask myself, come November, will it be enough?  Will I make it on pool dives until we dive in the clear warm waters of Curacao in January?  Can I live vicariously through National Geographic specials and old Sea Hunt episodes?

We set an aggressive schedule and dived it hard, and yet, I still want to squeeze out a few more dives before the dry season comes. We’re hitting Pearl today and Haigh again next weekend to finish up a Rescue Diver and Night Diver specialty.  I added two more trips to Pearl before they close for the season, and of course open water pumpkin carving on October 5th

I always think, when sitting outside on a particularly beautiful day, that it would be wonderful if only I could scoop up some of that warmth, that sunshine, that feeling of well-being and store it in a jar to take out in the heart of winter.  It’s the same with my dives. Alas, this sort of happy day storage is not possible, so I am stuck simply making as many memories as I can to use a bridge to the next time I can splash into the water, float weightlessly, and blow bubbles.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Six Things To Do When Diving With A Loved One

Well, everyone was too busy to do a last minute trip to Haigh yesterday, so Mike and I went alone.  It was a rare chance for us to play Mr. and Mrs. Recreational Diver for a change.
Well, if it isn't Mr. and Mrs. Recreational Diver!
The place was deserted compared to most weekend days we’ve spent at this popular local dive spot, so we were looking forward to scooting over to the “shallow end.”   This side of Haigh Quarry is one that we generally avoid due to low vis and overcrowding.  Preferring the ease of a walk in entry, many of the bigger dive shops like this side for their classes of 8 or more divers.  However, with the difficulty of watching and properly coaching that many learners, there is bound to be some bottom walking, arm flailing, and panicked trips to the surface in this area. Needless to say, the sights that are usually obscured by silting, and I don’t want to be anywhere near all that confusion!

Mike and I planned our dive: a swim to the Flamingo, through the tunnel, over the archeological site and then over the wall to the shallow end.   Mike, being the great navigator he is, took up his compass and I followed.  This is when I was reminded that thing that makes our relationship work and also presents challenges is, the fact that opposites attract. 

Mike is 6’ tall to my 5’ 2”, most of that difference being in leg length.  Therefore, even in his hobbled state, he can out fin me. What seems to him to be a leisurely pace is, to me, a horse race. Give the task of navigating to a long legged diver, and you have an aerobic workout for those following. 

When navigating, especially in water that has only 6-10ft. visibility, the diver needs to focus on the compass and stay on the chosen bearing, however, if you are diving with a buddy, you must also be careful not to lose her.  Truth be told, I could keep up with Mike and follow him puppy-like around the quarry, but while for him, the focus was on the destination, my interest was in the journey.

 For me, diving is about discovery.   In needed to check out what different fish were living in the shallow end.  I wanted to play with the bowling balls near the platforms.  I like to watch the baby fish dart in and out of the weed cover.  I’m an underwater dawdler and a thorn in the fins of a navigator with a mission.

In the end, I think we both enjoyed our dives, though they were interrupted a few times so we could surface and reunite.  The main thing is that I got to see some really cool fish I had not previously seen at Haigh and we were able to return to our platform and the end of our tour without trial and error. 
So, as it is the first of the month, and I know you faithful blog followers are looking for 6 things, here are 6 things to know about diving with a loved one:

Number 1
Plan your dive together with both offering equal input.

Number 2
Be thoughtful of each other while prepping and donning gear so that you are in the best frame of mind for your dive.

Number 3
Remember that each of you have unique strengths and weaknesses, one picking up when the other falters and vice versa.  You are better together than apart.

Number 4
Be sure that the first comments out of your mouth after your dive are about what you enjoyed about being underwater together.

Number 5
If something went wrong, or your buddy disappointed you in some way, discuss it using kind words.

Number 6
When your day of diving is finished, stop somewhere together and have some ice cream.