Sunday, November 30, 2014

Shedd Aquarium

What can a diver do during the dry times? In past blogs, I’ve suggested some dive-themed movies or pool courses, but I have another suggestion: Visit the Shedd Aquarium!

Mike and I and our friends Jerry and Sheryl took the train from Libertyville to Chicago and then caught a taxi to the Shedd. When we arrived, at approximately 11am, a long line of eager fish-lovers stretched down the stairs. The guys gallantly offered to stand in the queue while Sheryl and I sheltered in the slightly less frigid vestibule. In all, the wait was about an hour. You can spare yourself this agony by either arriving early, like when the Shedd opens at 9am, or purchasing your tickets online and going right up to the “will call” booth upon your arrival.

In any case, the wait was well worth it. Before we even got to any aquariums, we were in awe of the architecture. Everywhere we looked, high and low, there were ocean creatures incorporated into the fixtures or trim. It would be fun just to go through and try to find each fish, crab lobster or other marine thing hidden around the building!

As we toured the various areas, we all agreed that it would be great to be able to place a recliner in front of some of the aquariums and just watch the fish swim by. We were lucky to catch the trainers feeding the beluga whales, and the reaction of the huge Asian carp to the divers going into their aquarium to clean. I could walk around the Caribbean Reef display for hours just watching the fish, rays and sharks patrol the 360 degree display. It was a great way to spend a Saturday!

Here are a few of my photos and videos. Obviously, I loved the Jellies exhibit and I am truly grateful to Walgreens for sponsoring it! Next time you are jonesing for the ocean, lake or river, think of the Shedd.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


I’m amazed at the number of people who tell me they would never scuba dive because they are afraid of sharks.  These are often the same people who tell me about their trip to Alaska and how wonderful it was to see bears and moose up close. I wonder if they would feel the same if Discovery channel had “Bear Week” or “Moose Week”?

I recall how disappointed I was when we dived a particular spot in Hawaii specifically in the hope that we would see hammerheads and saw none. However, we were rewarded on a later dive when we swam almost the entire time with a dozen or more white tips.  It was fantastic!  The sharks just swam along and not one so much as buzzed us or paid us any mind at all.  My sons, when they were new divers, could not wait to see their first shark!  I would say that most seasoned divers would agree that a shark sighting would be the highlight of any dive.  Sharks are so cool to watch as they slip through the water, so majestic and powerful.  Experience (and science) tells us that sharks are not patrolling the dive sites looking for tasty neoprene wrapped divers to eat!  

To that point, I came across this video on this very topic.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I like it!

If you tuned in last week, you read about my least favorite diver behaviors.  I really hate being negative, though, and truly, I have no beef with 95% of divers I come in contact with. In fact there are many characteristics that I find very appealing in my fellow divers.

Courtesy:  Well, duh!  It is so nice to be around divers who take pains to arrive in plenty of time for boat departure.  They ask permission of the captain prior to boarding the dive boat, then board and quietly, assemble their kit and stow the rest of it out of everyone’s way. These divers are sensitive to the needs of others, such as families that want to be seated next to each other, and are willing to move if needed. They do not monopolize the divemaster, nitro analyzer or wash out tank.

Abiders: These divers go with the flow.  They are likely the ones whose air lasts the longest because they take things as they come without getting mad or stressed.  They look for the silver lining in all situations. They don’t grumble about the weather, the vis, the other divers.  Rather, they gravitate to the fun people and quietly avoid the Debbie Downer types.

Fun lovers:  These should not be confused with pranksters or people who take nothing seriously.  Fun lovers arrive at the dive site with a smile on their faces.  They find positives in every situation and their enthusiasm is contagious.  Case in point: Our Appleton contingent who instigated the “I say scuba, you say dive” chant.  While it is admittedly goofy, when you join in on the chant you can’t help but smile.

Team Players: These are those helpful folks who are quick to share their defog or help decipher a new dive camera.  We have been lucky enough to have some Team Players on a dive event with us who actually went so far as to help change a tire! Team players want everyone to have fun and work to make sure it happens. Team players are valuable assets to the dive group who have much to share, but are careful to not to assault people with unsolicited advice. Since they understand that there is no lone ranger on a team, Team Players are not only helpful, but are willing to take help from others.

Environmentalists: These divers know the limitations of their skills.  They do not insist on attempting to hover 2 inches from the coral to get a look at something or take a photo.  They take care to touch neither the flora nor fauna underwater.  They do not smoke and toss their butts into the ocean.  They are careful to police the boat or dive site for stray refuse and take it away where it will not pollute.

Researchers: As someone who plans a lot of dive excursions, it is great to when participants do a little research on their own and offer some suggestions as to what dive sites we should hit, what other activities are available, or where there is a good spot to get pizza. The ability to propose a variety of ideas takes the pressure off of me and likely leads to a more satisfying excursion for everyone involved.

What qualities do you like to see in a fellow diver? Who made a trip particularly fun for you and how did they do it? I would be glad to hear from you!  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pet Peeves

Ok, as many of you know, I have been sitting here dry, recovering from my shoulder surgery.  In an effort to pass the time, I have been looking at other scuba blogs and I seem to notice a reoccurring theme: Annoying Diver Behaviors.  I’m sure we all have our “favorites,” and the following are mine.

The Space Hog:  There is not a lot of room on a dive boat, so it is imperative that each diver set up his gear and occupy as little space as possible. Assemble your kit placing your gear bag beneath the bench, I place my fins on the top of the bag for quick access. To further decrease my “footprint” on the boat, I like to attach my mask to my BC shoulder strap and wear my boots and wetsuit (pulled up to my waist.)

The Brief Skipper:  Both the boat briefing and the briefing for the dive site contain important information. You may never need to know some of it, like the location of the emergency oxygen or first aid kit, but if an emergency does occur, do you want to be the idiot standing there with your hands in your pockets, unable to help?  The dive briefing includes not only information about the dive site, but also information on entry and exit procedures.  You may be familiar with the site or the dive operation’s procedures, but others may need to hear the entire briefing, so kindly do not prevent them.  While the divemaster is speaking, shut your mouth and at least appear interested in the information.  This is not only the polite thing to do, but you may even pick up on something you hadn’t heard before.

The Dawdler: As mentioned above, it is best to keep your gear in tidy order for the sake of your boat mates, but this is also a strategy to aid you to quickly don your gear after the dive destination is reached. If all of your gear is in one spot you will not be that knucklehead rummaging through his bag for his flashlight while everyone else is waiting in the water.  Wisely use the travel time to get ready to dive.

Mr. First-in-Line: There’s one on every boat.  This diver needs to be the first to board, often without first asking permission from the captain or crew member.  This diver wants to be the first through swim- throughs, but often is not aware of his fins and screws up the vis for everyone who comes after him. This diver wants the first to get a look at anything the divemaster points out and then chases it a way. This diver departs the boat and monopolizes the wash out tubs with his gear.  Scuba diving is not a race.  When confronted with Mr. First-In-Line, I just steer clear and you can bet that I will not be pointing out anything to him until everyone else has seen it.

The Noise Maker:  One of the things I really like about diving is the silence, but occasionally, it is necessary to get the attention of your buddy.  This is where the quackers, shakers and bangers come in, BUT FOR GOODNESS SAKE, if your buddy does not respond after you have signaled to him, do not continue to make noise!  Swim over to them and tap them on the shoulder.  It is possible that they are busy with something they found on their own, or they already saw the thing you are pointing out, or they just cannot hear you. (This last one is what Mike tells me all the time.)  In any case, respect the silence of the activity and restrain yourself.

Mr. Bad Touch:  I am sad to say that photographers, in their pursuit of the perfect shot, are most often guilty of this crime.  The irony is that while this diver appreciates the beauty of the ocean, he is ruining it by touching the coral or finning on seafans each time he goes in to take a photo.  Divers should not touch anything underwater, and should be especially aware of where their fins are.  One way to really work on this is to dive in areas where the bottom is silty or otherwise easily disturbed.  Navigate for 40 kicks in a straight line, maintaining a depth 1-2 ft. from the bottom.   After 40 kicks, slowly turn around.  If you are faced with a cloudy path back, you know that you have some practicing to do.  Given that the waters around here are getting a bit cold, you may not be crazy about trying this out just now, but a good alternative is to participate in a buoyancy clinic.  As luck would have it, Manta Divers has one scheduled for Jan 10 and 11, 2015.  A course like Peak Performance Buoyancy is one that is worth taking more than once, as there are always little hints that can be picked up through guided practice and coaching from your dive instructor.  We all need to continue to work on our buoyancy.  One other note; if the dive professional on your boat should mention that you need to be a little more careful when diving, take it in stride.  Remember that the health of the reefs directly impact the lives and livelihoods of island peoples. 

The know it all. I always feel sorry for my newly certified divers because, once I set them free, they are immediately assaulted with advice from divers with experience who think they can improve on whatever the new diver’s instructor has taught him.  I would never say that diver education is complete when the certification card in earned, but there is something to be said for letting it all sink in and taking some time to apply what you’ve learned without someone trying to set you on another path.  Your advice may be good, sound and valuable, but is it wanted?  On a recent trip, my son was the youngest diver on the dive boat, and since his parents have a dive shop, most of his gear was fairly new.  One of the “senior” divers assumed that he was a new diver and “kindly” took him under his wing to impart his “vast” diving experience.   I would guess that my son has logged many more dives than this guy, but being the respectful person I raised, he nicely listened and then let it all run off his back, but the guy really came across as a boor and a know-it-all.  It is neighborly to help other divers and give opinions and advice, but only if it is wanted.  Before giving advice, ask if the person is open to hearing it.  If they are, they will be most appreciative.  If they are not, then you have just saved yourself some time and bother.

We’ve all had our weak moments when we have been guilty of some of these missteps, but the main thing is to try to avoid being “that diver.”  Diving is fun, you are on vacation.  Don’t’ race, relax and enjoy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Hello Divers!

Recently, a customer stopped in to inquire about purchasing a 120cuft tank for her husband.  She explained that she and her husband were newly certified divers and that her husband consumed his air so much faster than her.  In their travels to area dive shops, they had been advised that he could even up his air time to match hers by getting a bigger tank. While this definitely a solution, it is not the one I would have suggested.
Poor air consumption can be tracked to poor fitness, physical problems or lack of streamlining.  All of these issues need to be addressed to increase a diver’s air time, but once issues are addressed, before I would suggest a bigger tank, I would challenge the diver to address an even bigger cause of poor air consumption: poor buoyancy.
Good buoyancy leads to better air consumption and more comfortable diving.

We’ve all observed this in action; one diver bicycling along in the water and another flailing his arms like a windmill.  Look for these two to be back on the boat long before the rest of the group.  The quickest exercise for a new diver to do that will give immediate feedback as to their buoyancy is to dive in a horizontal position with arms crossed in front.  If the diver cannot maintain his depth in this position, then some adjustment must be made. 

If they are sinking add air.  Wait a bit for the added air to equilibrate to the surrounding temperature, then reposition: horizontal, arms crossed.  Repeat this process until the diver can maintain the desired depth with minimal movement.  Of course, if the diver is too positive, air should be dumped, but remember that it is possible to dump a small amount of air. After venting a small amount of air, the diver should exhale, then reposition, etc. 

I look at things like getting ankle weights if feet are too buoyant or bigger tanks when air consumption is a problem as masks merely covering the underlying problem. Scuba is like any other skill or hobby.  To be good at it, one needs to practice and continuously learn better technique.  Walter Elliott said, “Perseverance is not a long race: it is many short races one after another.” I think this describes the journey that all of us take to good buoyancy.  We persevere though out fin pivots and hovering exercises in class and then, after earning our certification, we continue on that course to perfection. 

If you want a bit of coaching on your buoyancy, we suggest the Peak Perfomance Buoyancy course, or participation in this winter’s buoyancy clinic.  You may also want to check out this month’s Dive Training magazine and read their pointers for good buoyancy.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Shared Story

I like to share my dive experiences, but I also enjoy passing along stories I hear from other divers.  Ken Welch, someone who was a diver back in the day and who has of late gotten back into the sport, (with remarkable zeal, I might add) shared this experience via e-mail:

Dive Training Magazine states on its cover that “A Diver is Always Learning.”  I had a new experience on my last dive.  I had ascended from diving the bow portion of the Milwaukee Car Ferry. I was performing a safety stop at 15 feet.  There was not much current but a NE wind had increased since we had descended. There was a little pitching on the mooring line.  Unfortunately I was a little positively buoyant so I needed to use the mooring line to assist me in maintaining my depth.  My buddy was also hanging on the line 3’ below me.  All of a sudden upon taking a breath, I had a mouthful of water.  I had a mouthpiece in my mouth and could not immediately figure out what was going on.  I reached up with my right hand and found that there was no second stage attached to my mouthpiece.  I took the mouth piece out and switched to my other regulator. Later that evening I inspected the mouthpiece.  Apparently the cable tie that holds the mouthpiece to the second stage had broken and fallen off.  The mouthpiece still had the impression of the cable tie on its surface.  What is interesting is that this regulator was purchased new in January 2014.  Cable ties used for this application have a breaking strength of at least 50 pounds.  Rather than break I think the cable tie failed at the “tooth” that engages the serrations.  The “tooth” failure may have been assisted by my Miflex second-stage hose rubbing against the “tag” sticking out of the “eye” of the cable tie in the choppy water.  I replaced the cable tie with one obtained from Lowes.  I was unable to reproduce the failure.  I also ordered some Thomas and Betts cable ties that conform to a Mil-Spec.  I suspect that this one of those one in a million types of events, but I have added inspection of the cable tie to my pre-dive inspection.  

Regards, Ken

This experience teaches two lessons. First, when things go pear shaped during a dive, calm heads will prevail.  When faced with a malfunctioning regulator, Ken did what all divers are taught in open water class; Stop, Think and Act.  The first order of business was getting some air.  He switched to his alternate air source. With the immediate issue handled, the dive could continue safely.

Second, Ken investigated the issue and made adjustments to his pre-dive plan and improvements to his equipment to prevent this problem from occurring in future dives.

Yes, a good diver is always learning, from magazine articles, dive instructors, personal experiences and the experiences of others.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lake Michigan Dive

With the short summers we have here in Wisconsin, everyone does their best to make the most of the season.  We at Manta Divers are no exception.

 On Saturday, 6 lucky Team Manta members joined me on two Lake Michigan dives off the catamaran, Mai Tai. I say the participants were lucky, but perhaps quick is a better descriptor.  This dive outing was booked within a week of being posted on our calendar. We left McKinley Marina in Milwaukee at 8am and headed out to the Prinz Willem and the Dredge, two of the lake’s most popular wrecks. The lake was flat as could be, so the 40 minute cruise to the site was particularly enjoyable. I enjoyed sitting on the bow watching the sun climb in the sky, letting the lake breeze blow my hair.

Though the water was exceptionally flat, exceptional underwater visibility was not a guarantee. However, when we got to “The Willie’s” mooring, it looked quite promising.  We all geared up and entered the water, bracing for those first trickles of frigid Lake Michigan to seep into our suits. (That is to say all of us but the drysuit divers!)   After checking that everyone was squared away, we signaled to start the descent. 

It is imperative in Lake Michigan that divers descend with at least an eye on the mooring line. The thing is that there may be a mild current and even if a diver thinks that he is descending straight down, he may not.  It is exceedingly easy to miss the wreck all together, and not be able to find it at depth.  Therefore, we made our descent along the mooring line and soon were at 70 ft. looking at the stern of the Prinz Willem.  We could see almost to midship from that vantage point, so we all knew we were in for a treat.  We toured around the 258ft ship, now encrusted in mussels and algea. With such great water clarity, divers were better able to get a sense of the majesty of this ill-fated vessel.   As the wetsuiters got cold, and others came to the end of their air, the group ascended and ended the dive.
Photo by Scott Durban

We sat around the charter boat discussing the dive and rehydrating while Captain Rick ferried us to our next site, the Dredge No. 6.  At the Dredge’s mooring, we could see the top of out of the “spuds” for this upside down wreck, portending another clear water dive.  Again we jumped in, checked that everyone was ready and started our descent.  The Dredge is one of my favorite dives, with its inverted position, all the spools and rope hanging underneath, and the huge dredge shovel. On past dives on the Dredge, I had to piece together in my mind what the whole thing looked like from small 10ft.snapshots, but on Saturday, we could almost see it in its entirety. So cool!

We will definitely make some dates to do this again next year, but believe me when I say to get your money in ASAP once the dates are announced, or you will be missing out again!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Good Divers are Always Learning

Good divers are always learning.  This is what is printed on the front of every Dive Training magazine, and exactly what we did one our recent trip to Mermet Springs in southern Illinois.

Even if you are a very experienced diver, any change in equipment or environment presents a chance to expand your scuba knowledge and experience. Within the Mermet group, Jerry and Anthony had new BC’s, Sheryl was working on mastering her drysuit skills, and Tater was diving in a drysuit for the very first time.  In addition, Mermet Springs was new to all of us.

The first thing we did once we parked our trailer was get an orientation to the dive park with Mermet Springs’ owner, Glen Faith. This dive quarry is very well thought out. The covered pavilion that was reserved for us was equipped an overhead fan, electricity and two gear tables with bungies for securing our gear.  Each training platform is marked with a large white buoy, and each sunken attraction is marked with an orange buoy.  Each buoy has a notation on it indicating what is below it and at what depth.  In addition, under the water, all the attractions are connected with ropes that have tags indicating what the next thing is and how deep.  It is impossible to get lost! The main dock, which was just steps from our pavilion, was even handicapped accessible with a lift for getting in and out of the water. With that information, we felt ready to hit the water.

With all the new equipment, the first order of business was to do a weight check.  It is obvious that a new or different wetsuit or drysuit will require a weight check, but even a change in BC can effect the amount of weight required and its distribution.  After fine tuning our weights, we were ready to go.  We decided to spend a little time on a training platform to give everyone time to hover, check trim, and generally become familiar with the location of all their dumps, buttons and hoses.

After the underwater check, we took off for a tour.  Mermet is unique in many ways, but one really surprising thing is that they have music piped in underwater.  This makes it nice to swim around with something other than your breathing to listen to.  The underwater speakers also have a less frivolous purpose as well; they serve as a diver recall system when needed to reunite dive buddies. So, we swam along listening to classic rock, looking at all the fun stuff. Our divers with new equipment played with their buoyancy.

Tater commented that at times he felt like he did when he was a brand new diver. If you are used to being highly competent underwater, it is a bit humbling to suddenly return to that awkward “newbie” state.  However, there are definite rewards to be reaped by challenging oneself and learning something new. 

Yes, new divers long to get themselves to a state of true comfort and confidence underwater, but once that comfort level is achieved, if they really want to be good divers, they will find the next thing to challenge and educate them.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hey Blogsters!

Hey Blogsters!

I was snooping around on Scuba Board, an online forum for divers, and stumbled upon a quote that really struck a chord with me. It stated, ”When training a new diver, success is not them earning open water certification, success is seeing them dive next year.” I wholeheartedly agree! If you have been reading the blog, or were trained by Mike and me, you know we are constantly pushing local diving, dive travel and divers gearing themselves so they can dive when they want. We are not doing this to make money, but rather to truly ignite in our divers a passion for this sport and to see that enthusiasm reflected in the faces of our former students. 

I have had my share of students who signed up for class just to dive on a trip, or to keep their buddy or girlfriend company, or for some other reason other than their own passion. My job then is not just to inform them about diving, but ignite in them a passion for the sport. In the classroom, I try my best to get them excited about diving and dive travel.  I impress on them the importance of staying in “scuba shape,” and diving frequently.  For their open water certification dives, I go a step further. Rather than take them to a murky water hole that is closer and more convenient for us, we make an event that includes our students as well as certified divers out for experience and fun. These spots may be a little farther away, but because they are more of an underwater park, with interesting stuff sunk in them, (not to mention water that is clear enough to make viewing these things possible) they make a more enjoyable experience for the newest  divers.  By certifying the divers at one of our “events” the newcomer also sees how experience can be gained by diving with a group of people who are helpful and work as a team. If we’ve done our job well, we will make divers for life.

We always are happy when newly certified divers decide to come along on either our local or tropical dive trips and we love sharing the experience with them. Even if they are not diving with us, I still like to hear that they are diving somewhere with someone.  Nothing makes me happier than to hear dive adventure stories from former students. In fact, I am constantly on the lookout for guest bloggers, or for fresh photos for the shop’s FB page, and will happily publish your story.  True adventure stories are the best to whet the diving appetite of other divers!

I just certified two new divers today, and in a week, they are off to Jamaica for diving.  I can’t wait to hear how their dives were and I sincerely hope to see them dive with us a few more times this summer.  That’s how I’ll know if I did a good job.

 (P.S. A big sarcastic “Thanks a bunch”, to Tater for getting me on Scuba Board.  Now I’m really behind!!)   

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stories from the Repair Bench

Picture #1
It’s always sad when divers bring me gear that can’t be fixed or repaired, not because it got to be too old but because of improper care.  It’s also expensive. Take the diver whose dive computer gave up the ghost prematurely.  It didn’t have to happen. After close examination it was obvious that the diver’s air integrated computer with quick release  had not been properly rinsed after diving. ( see picture 1) Note the salt build up on the threads, O-ring and the bayonet quick release. It was obvious that without proper rinsing the salt dried the O-ring allowing salt and moisture to get into the computer.  End of computer.  You should always thoroughly rinse your gear at the end of every dive day. If you have done repetitive dive over many days it’s always a good idea to soak your gear overnight after washing it with recommended shampoos. This is true in fresh or salt water. While the aforementioned computer was the victim of salt water , fresh water can be just as harmful. Improperly rinsing in fresh water grows harmful bacteria. Check out picture #2. This diver regularly “Dipped” his regulator after diving to rinse it. That green stuff in and around the mouthpiece is mold. I didn’t take pictures of the interior but they were just as bad. It could have been avoided by flushing the inside of the regulator with clean water.
Picture #2

There are a lot of divers out there doing their best to keep repair technicians busy.  I was recently talking to another technician from the Chicago area and we were both sharing equipment horror stories. At one point he got out a box of little baggies containing things that they had found in regulators over the years. There was sand, gravel, hair, shells and plant to name a few. The best was the regulator that a diver brought with the complaint that it that tasted funny. No matter what tank he put it on the air had a horrible taste. My friend held up the baggie t contained the cause of the bad taste. It was a frog the got up into the regulator and after passing on dried to the inside of the regulator box. GROSS!  Remember, take care of your gear and above all, rinse all frogs out of it!


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fighting the Invaders

Well, never let it be said that Manta Divers does not come up with some really different activities for divers. If you follow the blog at all, you will recall that yesterday was our day for picking weeds underwater.  We did and it was a wonderful day.

We left the shop at 7AM and headed out to Troy, WI and the Nature Conservancy’s area on Lake Lulu.  While we were setting up our gear, Mike and Southeastern Wisconsin Land Steward, Jerry Ziegler, set the dive flags to mark off the area where we would be working to carefully remove invasive Eurasian Water Milfoil (EWM). 

With the dive flags set and our scuba kits assembled, we boarded the pontoon boat and headed out.  Surface support included Jerry, Mike, Kathryn and Jerry’s intern, Elizabeth.  Their job was to keep an eye on the divers, look for any stray EWM, exchange full collection bags for empty ones, and make sure that boaters obeyed the law and stayed 100ft from our dive flags.
Photo by Kathryn Elliott
Meanwhile, underwater, Sheryl, Chris, Brandon, Ken, Tater and I were diving in teams with one person carrying a mesh collection bag, and the other diver picking milfoil.  We were to find the offending plants and carefully pull them out, trying to get the roots as well as the rest of the plant. When we had our mesh bag full, we called for Elizabeth and she paddled out in the canoe to take our full bag and give us a fresh one to fill. 
At first, it was slow going, with only occasional small plants being found. I thought to myself, ”Wow, they really are winning this battle!” I was wrong, though, because as we continued to sweep the lake bottom, we were coming across large patches of the plant.  When we found the patches, both divers would pick, roll the long branches up in a bundle and place it in the bag.  You can guess what happened as soon as we started to pull up the plants.  Good thing for us, we would pick as long as we could, then move to another, clearer spot, pick there and then return to the previous spot.  Usually, the sediment cleared up enough that once again, we could see more plants to pick and our buddy.

Meeting the other dive teams at the surface, we would excitedly state that we “found the mother lode” and show off our bags.  We all enjoyed finding the big patches and clearing out so much milfoil. Jerry was really impressed with the amount of weeds we removed, and was so excited to have volunteers with our skills.  We were able to remove so much more than the snorkelers he has had help in the past because we could stay down for 30-40 minutes at a crack.
Photo by Kathryn Elliott
We dove for a couple of hours then broke for lunch, Mike cooking brats and hot dogs, and the rest of us sharing fruit, chips and other snacks.  Fortified and rested, we then swapped our tanks for fresh ones and hit the water again. 

It was a great day, fun and productive.  The only negative thing was a run in with some boaters who did not know that they were to stay 100ft from our flags and who, when informed of the law, expressed great displeasure that we had the audacity to take their spot in the lake.  The irony, of course is that we would not be doing this clean up if it weren’t for then I the first place.  They bring their boats through the river channel into Lake Lulu from another lake that has a EWM problem so severe that they have to use chemicals to control it. The EWM gets wound around their props and when they reverse them in Lake Lulu, the plants are deposited in the water where they float to the bottom, root themselves and start a new patch.
Photo by Kathryn Elliott

There are self-absorbed idiots everywhere, but fortunately, there are more people who are on board with trying to stem the spread of these invaders, who participate in these clean-ups and have fun doing it! 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Neal Skrenes: Six things to know about Dive & Travel Insurance

Neal Skrenes
After a recent event that caused the cancellation of a dive trip three years in the planning, Mike and Lisa asked me to write about my experience with dive and travel insurance. So here are six things I think you should know about dive and travel insurance.

1. Be aware that Dive Medical Insurance and Travel Insurance are not the same thing, and that many Health Insurance Policies may not cover diving-related injuries or expenses.

I am a firm believer in Diving Medical Insurance and have been a member of DAN¹s Master/Premium diver policy since I first became aware of them in 1988. Other divers belong to other programs; having coverage is more important than which program you choose.

Something that not even all DAN members know, or understand, is that basic DAN insurance IS NOT TRAVEL INSURANCE, per se.

While it¹s true that DAN membership also includes a form of travel interruption and cancellation insurance, in order for DAN¹s medical evacuation policy to take effect, you must be ill enough to require evacuation to make a claim. DAN trip cancellation coverage only covers the DIVING-RELATED portion of your trip.

For example, if you booked a flight/room/diving trip to Bonaire and come down with a cold or ear infection, only your dive trips on the boat would be covered by DAN . . . because, according to DAN, you can still sit on the beach with a cold.

2. All dive accident policies require care to be first prescribed by a medical professional, documented in an itemized bill, reported to the insurer in a timely manner and other important details. You¹ll need to follow your policy rules to ensure coverage, not always an easy task in remote areas.  Sick as I was, I knew I¹d need proof that I had seen a doctor or visited an emergency room, so I asked for and obtained copies of the doctor¹s notes and the bill for services and medications. I also planned to see my own doctor as soon as I arrived home.

I think the main thing that confuses some divers about DAN is that the trip cancellation/interruption insurance included with DAN Preferred is that it applies only to diving-related cancellations:

"This benefit pays for the losses described below that an Insured Person incurs for a trip canceled up to the time and date of departure for a Sickness or Injury that would substantially impair his or her ability to dive. "

But it's not general-purpose travel insurance; it doesn't do anything for you if a hurricane wipes out your trip, someone dies, there are travel delays, lost baggage, etc.

3. As I began traveling to exotic destinations, I realized I needed coverage over my trip costs. Fortunately, DAN also realized this and offers "travel insurance² packages through its website.

Note that cancellation insurance must often be purchased and paid for within a specified number of days from the date that the trip¹s first deposit is due to be paid.

4. You aren't likely to need trip cancellation insurance if you're just getting into the car and driving 50 miles to the beach (or quarry). However, if you¹re planning a major dive trip that requires paying out a good deal of money and flight time, it¹s something to consider and I hope my advice is helpful.

5. What Good Travel Insurance Covers:
Cancellation - You become ill and need to cancel your trip
Missed Departure - A road traffic accident or some other delay causes you to miss your flight
Vacation Abandonment - Airport strikes cause you to abandon your trip altogether. (Cancellation is the one of the more common reasons people claim on their travel insurance policy); In my opinion, it's bad enough not being able to go on your trip, without the added blow of losing the money that you've shelled out, too.
Medical Expenses - You need to go to hospital, this can be very expensive should you need surgery. Medical expenses can be incredibly high in foreign countries; this is perhaps the most important reason for buying travel insurance, and consequently is the most claimed against. Do no underestimate how expensive medical bills can be!
Baggage - Your bags get lost or delayed in transit and you need to purchase new clothes to wear
Curtailment - There's an emergency at home and you need to go home, cutting your trip short

6. Points to Consider When Buying Coverage:
A common mistake is leaving travel insurance until the last
Minute. The best time to purchase your policy is as soon as you have booked and paid for your holiday. By doing so, you¹re saving money should you need to cancel your trip or if a strike is announced that disrupts your travel plans and you need to make alternative arrangements.

Lost Equipment Coverage generally covers only diving equipment that is worn on the diver's person that is "cut loose" and is lost or damaged as a result of a Covered Diving Accident.  For full coverage of lost diving equipment you should have separate sports gear coverage added to your home or renters insurance policy.

In my case I was glad to have purchased both DAN Medical Insurance and DAN Travel Insurance - though I missed out on some long anticipated diving I received adequate compensation so that I did not lose most of my non-refundable trip expenses.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

I got my GOES card

It’s not a card issued by AARP that confirms my ability to GO. On recent trips out of the country, Lisa and I noticed the Global Entry lines.  There were few people in them and the ones that went into those lines moved through them in quick fashion.  A friend who travels for his job told us we had to get the GOES card and it would truly be worth the $100 you pay for the application. After nearly missing a connection at the Miami airport due to excessive slow moving lines, we decided to do it.

GOES is the acronym for GLOBAL ONLINE ENROLLMENT SYSTEM.  Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. There is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify for the program. Participants may enter the United States by using automated kiosks located at selected airports. To get a GOES card, you have to agree to divulge a lot of personal information.  Face it: this information is already available to the government, so as someone with no terrorist links or desire to conduct international illegal business, I don’t have a problem laying it out for them.  You go to the Global entry website,  ( and register.  After your application is submitted and your check clears, you will get a letter directing you to make an appointment for an interview. At the interview, you will be photo graphed and your fingerprints are recorded.  The officer will question you about where you travel, what your occupation is, and if you have any outstanding criminal charges.  Assuming you answer to the officer’s satisfaction and everything checks out, you will be mailed an ID card in a protective sleeve to carry with you when you travel. (The protective sleeve shields the RFID chip in the card so your information can’t be accessed.)

Once you receive and activate the card, you can add that ID number to airline reservations to mark your travel documents to indicate that you are a trusted traveler.  This really smooth’s the road through the airport! Once check in luggage is dropped off, GOES participants proceed to the shorter Global Entry line to TSA check in.  In that line, GOES ID holders do not have to take off their belts and shoes, and the search is less invasive.  A word to the wise, though, if, like me, you have artificially parts that set off the metal detector; tell the office right away.  They will then direct you to the front of the line for the millimeter scanner.  If you say nothing and set off the metal detector, they have no choice but to perform the usual pat down.
At major international airports, they now have kiosks for reading the traveler’s passport.  GOES participants have a special expedited line for this as well.  Once your passport is scanned, it will print out a “receipt” that shows your photo on it.  If there is an “X” over your photo, then you will have to talk to the immigration officer.  For a non-GOES traveler, this is another line to wait in, but for the GOES traveler, you will be put at the head of the line again and bypass all the waiting.  This is a really good thing if you are someone who has difficulty standing for a length of time, as this pass cuts through all that and keeps you moving along.
On our recent trip to Utila Lisa  and I both traveled with our new GOES cards and it relieved much travel stress by allowing us to navigate the customs lines so quickly.

On our way back into the country and to our connecting flight, we were also among the first people to get to the baggage claim and back though TSA check in.  (If only they had GOES for luggage!) Getting our GOES card cost $100 but was a small investment towards  more enjoyable travel.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tales of Tater: Dive Software Test

One of the first things we learn as divers is to fill out our log books.  It's important to keep track of the number and details of your dives especially as you progress with more advanced training.  I log each one of my dives and include notes, sites dive buddies etc.  The technical portions of the dives are copied off of our dive computers.  Items such as depth, time, dive time, surface interval etc.

With modern dive computers comes the ability to communicate from computer to computer.   Now we can download the information stored in the computer to a PC.  What`s the point of that?   Well actually there are several. I dislike the process using my thumbs to navigate through the menu on the dive computer.  I would rather let the computers do that.  I also dislike writing down all the technical details mentioned earlier.  It isn't terrible but I prefer to do it all at once when I feel like it rather than right after a dive.  I also like the ability to tie pictures that I've taken on a dive to the specific log off that dive.  It makes them both more interesting together.  Finally the biggest reason to do that is that I am a dive geek, in mathematical terms; Diver + Geek = Dive Geek = Tater. 

After spending some time on the Google machine to investigate, I found one of the packages that sounded the best was called Dive Log 5.0., the problem with it was the cost; roughly $50.  As any tightfisted engineer would know, you just don't plunk down some cash based on the marketing of a product.  But a good manufacturer will understand that and let you try it.  I downloaded the free demo and started to play with it.  I was not completely sold (Manta and/or my wife will enthusiastically confirm that I don't buy anything quickly)

$50 is a lot more money than my log book refills!! On the other hand since I don't have any quarry fees, motel stays or dive refreshments to buy until summer, $50 for a onetime fee doesn't see too terrible.  In a weak moment I pulled the trigger and ordered it.

One of the features I like the best about the software is the ability to connect my dive computer to the laptop and just download the most recent dives. I simply connect the cable from my Suunto Vyper to the PC using the provided USB interface cable, go to the download menu in Dive log 5.0 and press the button.  Dives are automatically added to the end of the existing dive log.  You can then edit anything about the log entry including the dive number.  This is a real must for several reasons.  First if you are like me you may want to enter a bunch of dives from before you got the dive computer.  Second, I don't consider every dive that my computer logs to be a separate dive.  Sometimes we just surface to adjust gear, get our bearings, help a student etc..  I often combine dives after they are downloaded.   I can take what the computer calls 3 separate dives of 3 minutes, 10 minutes and 15 minutes respectively and just modify the log into 1 dive of 28 minutes.  If I take my dive computer into a Manta Pool Session it gets logged as a dive and I can just delete that one. 

The details that are downloaded to a log will vary according you your dive computer.  A dive computer such as the Atomic Cobalt provides a lot more information that does my Suunto Vyper, but I have the ability to add to or overwrite any information that is downloaded.

Once you have the dive information logged in correctly you can really start to use the software as you like.  I always like to add a few notes to each log just as you would in a logbook version such as what fish you saw, who your dive buddy was, visibility etc.  There are a lot of built in information in the software that you can use such as dive buddies (which it keeps track of so you can just pick names or groups on subsequent dives),  Tank Pressure, etc.  You would sort of expect that in an electronic log and it is all there.  In addition, there are categories of dives that you can use such as Night Dive, Deep Dive, Teaching, Leading, etc.   These items are also tracked for other uses. But wait, there's more!!

One fun little tool is that you can use maps to track the location of your dives.  Not just say 'Pearl Lake' but you can attach an actual map location to it as you might with Google maps. This information is also stored and can be selected on future dives.

Another fun and/or useful things that the package does is give you the ability to get statistics from the stored dive logs such as how many of a particular type of dive, location of a dive, how many dives with a particular dive buddy,  how much total time under water, number of dives in a location etc.   Nothing like a nice graph to get a geek's heart racing :)

Probably one of my favorite features is the ability to add pictures to the dive log.   I take a fair number of GoPro pictures and while I sometimes make YouTube type videos out of them, I almost as often grab snapshots out of the video.  There is a drawback here that the software does not support video.  I spoke with the developer and he is hoping to add that to future versions but for now it only supports pictures.  You can attach pictures to each dive so that 2 years from now flipping through your log, you can tie the photo to the specific dive and dive log information.  I really enjoy this because I can now take the pictures from say Cayman Brac and directly tie them not only to Cayman Brac, but the specific dive, dive Buddy depth, dive site name etc.   I find that connecting the picture with the dive specifics makes the picture more interesting and also the dive log entry more interesting by tying the memory all together.  (This is especially helpful as I get old, senile and get in more dives)

 But wait!  There's more!!  Aside from the advantages of the software, they have a working relationship with other software vendors for both Android and Mac.   Who cares?  Well there is a big advantage there in my book. 

Many of us have done dive trips to remote tropical locations.  One of the big problems with flying with dive gear is packing. Weight and space for a dive trip are at a premium and can be very expensive if you go over the restriction.   Well one of the things I carry with me on trips is my laptop.  I have an older 15" Dell that I take mostly to use with my GoPro so I can download the video.  Mine weighs a few pounds and is about 2 inches thick.   What if I didn't have to take it?  What if I could use a 7" tablet and download save all of my video files to the tablet or a memory stick?  Well I can.  And now I also have the ability to download my dive computer to my tablet.   Dive Log 5.0 works with an Android application called Divemate USB.   I can load all of my electronic dive logs (minus pictures) onto a cloud application called Dropbox and use it to transfer all of my log information onto my Android tablet

as well as my phone using Divemate.  

It is a separate application but holds all the same information except the pictures (pictures can be added to but are not automatic and I wouldn't waste the memory space).  It is two way sharing in that I can also use Divemate to download new dives from my Vyper directly to my tablet and Divemate will allow me to transfer the information back to my PC and the Dive Log software through the Dropbox.  Oh man Jimmy Ray you gotta be lovin' this!!!

I love the fact that I can use both packages for the same information and each has some advantages.  For example Divemate has a built in feature of combining dives, which I previously mentioned I do manually in Dive Log.  But I much prefer the Dive Log software because of the statistics and generally more comfortable viewing on the larger screen. 

I don't claim this is for everyone and there are a couple of drawbacks.  If you want to log previous dives to catch up to your current dive (which you do not HAVE to do) you either need really good information or it can distort some of the statistics that it produces.  For example if you don't have a detailed record of your tank pressure delta on a given dive or dives, it will be included in your SAC calculations and can throw that off.  

If I lived somewhere I could dive 150-200 dives a year, I might skip all the features and just use it because it was easier but since I generally have several months of the year where all I can do is dream about diving and re-live past dives, I really do like the product and messing around to find all kinds of things such as number of dives at a given depth, temperature, number of dives by month, number of dives with particular dive buddies, training dives, night dives etc. as well as being able to put the right pictures with the right dives. And oh boy, who doesn't like a good graph??    But wait, there's more!!

Call Manta Divers now and get a free air fill with any gear purchase over $200 with one easy payment.  Yes you heard right, that's a $10 savings if you call now.  Operators are standing by.

Photo Credit: All Photos in this blog post are the work of Scott Durban

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Utila Part One

Hey Blog readers!

Did you miss me?  Sorry about the lack of communication.  As you know, we were in Utila over Easter and the internet connection was a bit spotty and, truthfully, I was really too busy diving to write!  I guess that is a good thing.  I did manage to post a couple of videos to Facebook there showing a brilliant red sea horse, the Halliburton wreck and our whale shark encounters.

Utila is one of a few destinations that I never tire of.  It is remote and fairly primitive compared to places like Cozumel or Aruba, but that quality is what draws me there.  I especially love staying at Utila Lodge, an eight room all inclusive resort.  The rooms are literally over the water, so guests can be lulled to sleep each night by the sounds of the ocean.   The food that is prepared there daily is not fancy at all, but is nutritious and well balanced: salads, fresh fruit, barbequed pork, baked fish, shrimp, chicken and other dishes sure to satisfy after a day of diving.  The desserts, though, were a highlight, my favorite, though were the snickerdoodles!  

The weather was fantastic: 87F plus on the land, and 83F in the water.  Kisty Engel, the resort owner, is a friendly, fun person and was a wonderful host to our group. She and her late husband, Jim pioneered diving in Utila, building the island’s first dive resort, first hyperbaric chamber and setting up the first permanent moorings.  We have much to thank them for as this island has some of the most beautiful reefs and marine diversity around.

As I mentioned, our package included three dives per day with two night dives.  Willie, our dive master, was great at spotting critters, such as mushroom scorpionfish, sea horses, arrow blennie, decorator crabs, juvenile spotted drums and tiny hermit crabs. Though dive leaders tend to ignore the sandy areas of the reef, Willie showed us how interesting they can be by spotting tiny hooded sea slugs, pipefish and a northern stargazer on our night dive.  Each dive was better than the last.

I’ll write more about our adventure next time, but in the meanwhile, enjoy this YouTube of day one in Utila.