Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Tale of Tater: End of the Year

Now that the year has wound down it's time for me to reflect on the past year of diving.  It was a great year for me going all the way back to January.   One of the top highlights that come to mind last January was seeing several Bull Sharks while diving in Playa Del Carmen.  I particularly remember trying to follow one as best I could in the fairly decent current to get pictures.  What made it memorable was watching as he slowly turned and started a pass in my direction, at which point I decided to not to keep swimming towards it.  Not really scared but thinking OK, that's close enough!  I'll just go with the current now.  

The next giant thrill for me was going to Cayman Brac with Team Manta in late March.  I can't really say enough about that trip.  The food, view, climate, boats etc. were all amazing.  Visibility was fantastic!  Three dives a day and each one had some great photo ops, a creature not seen before and fantastic color and scenery.

Those trips in January and March/April gave me something to look forward to through the long dry winter.  They also carried me on into spring when the Manta Summer Schedule kicked in.  Early trips to Pearl Lake to get back in the water are always good.  

Then it was off to Ohio for the Manta Trip to Gilboa Quarry. 

Then there was the dive marathon at Lake Wazee ending with a Night dive.  Another trip to Three Lakes Wisconsin and Finding the mysterious Ghost Anchor of Butternut Lake.   I could go on and on since I was able to get in 62 dives this year.  Nearly all of them were very good in some way. 

I reached some milestones along the way including my Night Diver Specialty, my 100th dive, Master Scuba Diver card, and completed my open water requirements to become a PADI Divemaster.  

After all that diving and those trips, there was one more thing that stood out to me this year.  New friends and new dive buddies.  My regular dive buddy Josh.O  and I always have a good time and dive well together but this year was a bit of a good news/bad news situation.  The bad news was that this year he had a bit of trouble finding time to dive whereas I dove double what I did last year.  The good news was that meant lots of new dive buddies.  In some cases I dove with people I had never met before the day of the dive.  In other cases, people I met with Manta on other dive outings became my dive buddy on a subsequent dive.  In some cases, students or recently certified divers were with me.  I won't mention you all by name, but I wrote this blog to THANK YOU for diving with me.  Of course a big thank you goes out to Mike and Lisa for making it all possible.  I had a blast and it was a pleasure meeting, hanging out and diving with you!  I can’t wait for next year!!   If by some chance you are reading this and haven’t been on a Manta Dive Outing come and join in next year!

Before I sign off, I want to toss out a teaser for a future blog.  So after all that fun and all those dives how do you keep track of it all?  Of course with your log book, but pen and paper??  C’mon man that’s so 1990’s!!  Time to geek out with some dive log software.  Next time I will do a review of a couple of products that I have been playing with.  Got to find some way to get through a 3-4 month surface interval!!



PS  If you are interested in joining Manta Divers on the trip or want to put in some input, stop by the shop on 8 February 2014 at 3 pm for the yearly planning meeting. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wait, they found what?

They what? They found a second Stonehenge in 40 ft. of water in Lake Michigan?  That’s what Mark Holley a professor of underwater Archaeology  at Northwestern Michigan College thinks he found in Lake Michigan’s Traverse Bay. In 2007 archeologists were using special sonar to look for a series of pre-civil war boats that were sunk in the area.  They found the boats as well as a pier, an old buggy and some junk cars.  The archeologists something more  interesting than they bargained for  on the bottom. They found a series of  upright stones arranged in a Stonehenge-like manner. The sonar also picked up a number of other rock patterns including a large rock that appears to have  prehistoric carving of a mastodon on it. Divers were sent down to investigate and photograph.

The boulder with the carving is  3 .5 to 4 ft. high and 5 ft. long.  Photos show a surface with numerous fissures, some may be natural while others are of human origin.  Viewed together,  they look like the outlines of a mastodon-like back, hump ,head ,trunk, tusk, ear and legs.  “We couldn’t believe what we were looking at” Said Greg MacMaster, president of the underwater preserve council. Specialists that have been shown pictures of the  boulder  with the markings want more evidence before they confirm that its an ancient petroglyph. The experts want to actually see it, unfortunately experts in petroglyphs generally don’t dive so that’s a bit of a problem.  If this is real it could be as much as 10000 years old. It could prove that both humans and mastodons roamed the upper Midwest  at that time.  Maybe we need to get petroglyph experts into a dive class and the take them on a road trip to dive the boulder with the carving. What’s next pyramids in Lake Winnebago?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Has This Ever Happened To You?

Has it ever happened to you? You tell someone that you’re a SCUBA diver and the next thing they ask is “Where is your favorite dive spot?” This happens to me all the time. There are other variations like,  “Where’s the best wreck dive or the best shark dive or the best corral?” If you’ve only been to one dive destination, the answer is easy but if you’ve dived many places, it gets difficult to identify the best.  Best is also an opinion with a lot of variables. 

For example, if you asked me what wreck dive is my favorite, I don’t know how I would choose. Would I say is my favorite it would be the Tibbets in Cayman Brac? Or is it the C-58 in Cancun or Hilma Hooker in Bonaire or the remains and anchor from ship that broke up in the 1600’s in Bonaire. There are a lot of wrecks that come to mind but it’s almost impossible to say that one was the best or a favorite because they all have so much to see. I’ve dived these wrecks numerous times and each time I see something I missed on a previous dive.

There isn’t favorite or best place for sharks, coral, turtles or rays either, since the creatures you see on a dive is completely up to chance.  I’ve done organized shark diving in Roatan where they fed chum to the sharks. Amazing as that was, I find that it is particularly thrilling to see sharks by chance, just cruising through the reef.  I have been lucky enough to see magnificent sharks of many varieties in the Hawaiian Islands and in just about all the islands I’ve been to in the Caribbean, without having to lure them in. Diving with a shark anywhere is experience that I never get tired of.

Coral and sponges can vary in character from one island to another. Cayman Brac used to have the biggest Stag Horn coral that I ever saw until the hurricane took most of it out, but is still has some of the biggest barrel sponges I’ve seen. The Brain corals seem to be the biggest in the Bay Islands of Honduras, and they are enhanced with a riot of colorful sponges and tunicates. Whatever the reason that the coral varies from Island to Island it’s a reason to dive all the Islands. So many islands, so little time. 

There is such diversity of life in the ocean you can dive the same island over and over and always see something new each time. So when people ask me where the best place to SCUBA dive is I answer “under water”.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Six Highlights of the 2013 Diving Season

Here are the six highlights of the 2013 diving season

Number 1: Bonaire

Dived our brains out and loved it! In January, we returned to one of my favorite spots, Bonaire.  Though we did several boat dives that allowed us to explore the more remote reefs, we saved plenty of time to experience what Bonaire is known: for their shore diving. Shore diving can be challenging in terms of dive planning since divers must prepare for an entry and exit in what can be high surf, but the trade-off is the freedom of diving on your schedule where you want to dive. It also affords the chance to take photos without having to worry about holding anyone up.  As long as your dive buddy is in agreement, you can go as fast or slow as you want.

Number 2: Cayman Brac 

One of the few dive destinations where the diving was almost overshadowed by the fantastic food!  Team Manta spent a week on the island of Cayman Brac in April, 2013.  We negotiated an exceptional deal with three dives per day and all the gourmet food we could eat three times a day! We visited some of the best loved sites around the Brac, such as Preacher’s Barge, Tarpon Reef and of course the MV Keith Tibbetts.  We also took a jaunt over to Little Cayman and did two dives in the famed Bloody Bay marine park. As always, the group was comprised of divers of all experience levels, looking for fun and laughs underwater!

Number 3: Ohio Trout!  

We thought we would try something new and dive in some other states’ quarries. Our caravan travelled to the Toledo area in Ohio and dived the Whitestar and Gilboa quarries.  At Whitestar, we met some people from area diveshops who were amazed that we would travel so far to dive their quarries. Apparently, not many dive shops are as into road trips as Manta Divers is. Divers can test their navigation skills on one of the many “scuba trails” mapped out at Whitestar, or just explore and discover by serendipity. Gilboa was one of the clearest diving quarries I have been in.  I stood on the entry deck and could see the training platform at 20 ft, a sunken car and the tail piece of the Grumman Gulfstream airplane! It was so easy to find all the items of interest since the water is so clear!  The most remarkable thing though was the sheer numbers of fish!  The trout literally swarmed you when you went to the bus.  This is apparently a favorite spot to feed the fish. We had a lot of laughs and enjoyed cooking out on site.

Number 4: Lake Wazee

We enjoyed Wazee on a beautiful weekend in which the lake was nearly deserted. The water was clear as could be and we were able to squeeze in a couple of night dives

Number 5: Northern WI

Mook’s blown tire adventure, finding the ghost anchor: In August, we travelled to Northern Wisconsin to dive Butternut Lake.  Our mission was to locate the Ghost Anchor”  If you’ve not been following the blogs and tip reports, you don’t know about Mike’s obsession with finding this anchor that a couple of divers had spotted on previous dive trips, but had eluded rediscovery, but I get ahead of myself!  We loaded up headed for the north woods in a caravan. The journey there, alas, was not destined to be a smooth one.  Round about Oshkosh, we heard what sounded like an explosion.  Mike glanced at his rear view mirror in time to see pieces of tire and our trailer fender fly off into the air.  Pulling over, we saw that we had a blowout.  This whole team jumped into action, helping Mike to put on the spare, but we were bummed out that this would delay the progress of our journey.  However, in true team Manta fashion, we made the best of it and had the tires changed at the Fleet Farm in Grand Chute. If you are unfamiliar, this is a giant store, often referred to as the “Man Mall,” so we had fun shopping around as we waited. Soon we were on our way.  The diving was great and we had fun exploring the more remote parts of the lake from our rented pontoon boat.  We even took a sunset cruise around Butternut lake. The highlight, of course was finding the “Ghost Anchor.” That accomplished, we plan to find the “Popeye Anchor” this year.  This is reported to be in another part of the lake, so we will have more fun searching and diving!

Number 6: Certifying students Lots of classes , Rescuedivers, Divemasters, using FFM to teach

Of course, we had a busy year teaching numerous classes for divers of all levels.  As a new part of my teaching, I added the full face mask to my open water repertoire.  With me in the Full face mask, and the students with comms on their masks, I am able to talk to the student for better coaching and explaining.  This makes it easier to make sure the student knows what to do and understands any corrections given.  Other teaching highlights included Tater (a.k.a. Scott Duban) earning his Divemaster certification, (We are looking forward to his valuable assistance with classed this coming year.) and  Sarah Barrett, who took Advanced open water and Rescue diver from us, going on to an instructor training course in FL. We look forward to relating her stories to you in future blogs.

Join us on at the shop Feb. 8 at 3pm for our summer 2014 planning meeting.  Don’t get left out of the fun!