Sunday, February 16, 2014

New PADI Skills

If you are not a dive professional, you probably did not hear that PADI, one of the world’s biggest dive training organizations, has revamped the open water course.  In fact, you probably wonder why you should care about it, and why I would bother to bring it up in a blog for already certified divers. I have to admit that I was grumbling quite a bit as I read about the added skills, but upon further reflection, I see the value in real world diving, not just for the inexperienced person.  So I’m sharing highlights of these “new” skills, in a two part blog, in the hope that if you, as a diver, are not proficient in them, this will give you something to practice this summer.

The first thing they added was emergency weight drop. In this exercise, the student, while at the surface, drops her weight pockets to experience the increase in positive buoyancy.  It first, I thought this was a complete “duh.” Who doesn’t know that if they drop their weights, even with no air in their BC, they will rapidly become positively buoyant? Well, there is no teacher like experience.  I tried it on a couple of recent students, setting up the scenario: You surface out of air, help is not near, and you are exhausted, feeling panic rise.  I instructed, in that situation, that their best course of action would be to drop your weights. I reminded them that we talked about this extensively in the classroom and they of course understood that they would instantly be bobbing much higher in the water after this. To my surprise, after they dropped their weights they commented in surprise, “Boy I had no idea this would make that big of a difference”.  I believe that this exercise made an impression that will stay with those divers and will better cement the option of dropping weights in an emergency. They are less likely to be victims because they did not avail themselves of this simple solution for buoyancy.

Another additional skill is responding to a loose cylinder.  Again, I thought all divers will undoubtedly have this happen to them or their dive buddy at some point in their diving careers, but this is something a diver can figure out on his own.  However, the pointers that an experienced instructor can give students on how to remedy this situation, as well as actually doing it underwater, can go a long way towards instilling confidence in the divers’ own readiness to dive away from the careful eye of the instructor.  The only thing I wish they would have thought of, would be adding the sign language used to communicate the problem and solution.  I plan to add that to my course, though.

Lastly for this blog, I will share the air supply awareness skill.  Students are required to know their air pressure, without looking at their gauges, within 200psi when the instructor asks them. How many divers think they can do that?  Have you ever been surprised at the amount of air you have in your tank? The point of this skill, obviously is to ingrain a habit in the diver of looking at their gauges and being constantly aware of where they at with their air. It is often the case that once a diver is certified, he becomes lax, knowing that he will not have to “do tricks” for anyone.  This is where it can get dangerous. The diver starts having fun, looking here and there at all the life around them, enjoying the freedom of the underwater environment, until suddenly he remembers his gauges and he may find himself low on air and far from his exit point. Hopefully, this new batch of divers will have developed a healthy habit of monitoring their air closely and they can enjoy all the things the underwater world has to offer without lapsing into carelessness.  It is in ever diver’s interest that the sport maintains its exceptional safety record.

Next week I will share a few more additions to the PADI open water program, and hopefully, even if you are an experienced diver I can draw attention to a few skills you have forgotten about, or will find reason to work on.

P.S. Don’t forget to check the web calendar and make plans to join Team Manta this summer!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014 Summer Adventures

Well blog readers, with the help of several Team Manta members, we have come up with some exciting events for the summer.  In addition to our usual trips to Haigh Quarry and Pearl Lake, this year we are planning some new adventures.

First, we plan to team up with the Nature Conservancy and UW La Crosse professor Tim Gerber to help remove Eurasian Milfoil from Lake Lulu in Mukwonago.  Anyone who fishes or lives on inland lakes has heard of Eurasian milfoil and is familiar with the threat this invasive species poses to our greatest natural resource.   From a purely self-serving view point, it is in the interest of all divers to do our part to help in the removal of these plants.  In addition, we, as divers, are uniquely skilled to do this kind of work. If you are interested in joining this effort, plan to join us June 14 at Lake Lulu.  We will be given an informal, onsite orientation to the problem and our role in the solution.  We will then hit the water and do our part for the environment.  Manta Divers will supply tanks and air, but prior registration is required.  Check out the video here.

For those of you who don’t have the time (or funds) for a week long tropical dive vacation should consider a Team Manta road trip as a way to get in a bunch of dives and enjoy the dive lifestyle.  This year’s road trip in to southern IL to Mermet Springs. This dive location is a 8.5 acre spring-fed lake, with depths ranging from 15-120ft.  Features include a Boeing 727 airplane from the movie U.S. Marshals, a 45,000lb.coal car, a submarine, Ford pickup truck, Bruce the shark and Cherokee and Cessna airplanes. We plan to start our adventure Friday morning, July 18, driving to Vienna, IL.  As with many adventures, the journey is as fun as the destination, so get ready for a fun drive and many laughs as we caravan south. We will dive Mermet Springs the 19th and 20th and head home on the 21st.  Check out the video here.

Finally, we will be exploring two of Lake Michigan’s famous wrecks, the Dredge No. 6 and the Prins Willem.  The Prins Willem, a 258ft Dutch freighter, sunk in Oct. 1954 off the coast of Milwaukee. The top of the wreck lies in 45 ft. of water, and the very bottom is at 85ft. The Dredge, a large crane barge, capsized in high winds on May 23, 1956.  The wreck is at 30ft at the top and 70ft at the bottom. Both of these wrecks are doable, even for newer divers, as long as cold water is not an issue. Advanced open water students can count these as their deep, wreck, and boat dives.  Manta Divers has reserved the catamaran, Mai Tai Saturday, August 2.  Spots are very limited so sign up as soon as possible.

The entire schedule will be posted on the shop website soon, so get your calendars ready and plan to join us for fun and diving.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Six Highlights of the 2014 Trip to Curacao

As many of you know, Team Manta recently returned from Curacao, an island just north of Venezuela. Here are 6 highlights, in no particular order, of this trip.

Number One: The Diving
Duh, that was the point of the trip, but what I liked about the diving this time is that most of the dives were relatively shallow.  This positively affected the dives in different ways. With the sky’s overcast many of the days, the sun obviously did not penetrate the water as deeply as it does on clear days. Staying shallow allowed us to better see the corals and their true colors. Every diver knows that shallower dives mean longer dives. Even for divers with less than optimal air consumption rates were able to squeeze an hour out of most of the dives. Finally, our newer divers were neither a limiting factor to the group, nor were they left out of the dives everyone else was doing. 

Number Two: New Divers
Speaking of new divers, we brought back four new Team Manta members this trip.  Any of you who have taken a class from me knows that I highly recommend that new divers immediately sign up for one of our week long dive trips as a way to really cement their skills. (Not to mention how much fun they will have!) This trip, we had four people completing their open water dives. In some cases, if I fail to convince students that they need to dive locally with the group, I certify students and they go on their way and I never know if they continued to dive or if they remained at the skill level of a newly certified diver. On this trip I had the opportunity to guide my students through their four open water dives, and then to see them assert more independence, diving with me as a dive buddy, feeling relaxed and comfortable. Eventually, they became comfortable diving with another certified diver as their dive buddy. I am proud of them and know they will continue to dive and enjoy it.

Number Three: The Lionfish Hunt
Our dive operation, Ocean Encounters, has their own answer to the lionfish problem on their reefs.  They spear lionfish on different reefs in rotation.  They count, measure and sex the catch for statistics and submit that information to research on the issue.  The divers on this dive acted as spotters, banging on their tanks when they found a lionfish, and pointing it out for the dive masters, who then speared the invader and put it into a collection tube.  After the dive, we were shown how to filet the fish safely and were given a certificate for a free lionfish meal at the Iguana CafĂ© and they were delicious!  I am proud to say that we dispatched ninety lionfish on that dive.  Sadly, there seems to be an endless supply of them throughout the Caribbean.

Number Four: The Night Dive
Night diving is a must on any dive trip.  This one was a real delight.  All the divers were able to stay spread apart so all of us could see things without being finned in the head. There was plenty for all of us to see, too.  Lobsters strutted boldly along the corals.  Hunting octopuses, seemingly undisturbed by our lights, performed their color and shape changing tricks for us.  Tiny red shrimps peeked out from formations.  We hired a videographer from Turtle and Ray Productions to document the dive.  You can see this here.

Number Five: The Ostrich Farm
If you go to Curacao, be sure to make time to venture out to the Ostrich Farm.  This is a unique operation is which nothing is wasted.  The ostrich meat is sold to restaurants, eggs used in baking and breakfasts. Crocodiles ate the waste from the butchering.  Goats ate the weeds out of the aloe fields. The pigs ate the scraps from the restaurant. It was really impressive. We took a guided tour and learned a lot about the animals, and even got to feed them. 

Number Six: The Restaurants
Mike and I ate in a lot, but when we ventured out, it was memorable.  Augusto’s, located adjacent to Lions Dive, where we were staying and Ocean Encounters, the dive operation, was a convenient spot to get a quick and relatively inexpensive lunch. They served good burgers, veggie or chicken sandwiches and pasta.  Our traveling companions talked us out of our culinary comfort zones, convincing us to try Indian food at Bollywood restaurant.  Unsure what all the dishes were, we had our friends, Sean and Karen Bellinger order several dishes to share.  This was a good way to experience a new cuisine and each dish was wonderful! If you are into Argentinian style beef, try El Gaucho, a nice restaurant the overlooks Willemstad. Don’t count on Argentinian beef, though.  The beef served is US Black Angus.  Finally, do not miss Zambezi at the Ostrich farm.  They will even transport you to and from the restaurant, so you can feel free to try their special cocktails or imbibe a wonderful South African wine with dinner.  Everything they make is great, and of course the ostrich steaks are fresh! Oh, and dessert! Yum.

If you want more information about our trip, check these videos and the trip report on our website.