Crystal Clear, mostly.

Christmas Tree Cove (#54)

Sunday morning started completely opposite of Saturday. I had been out Saturday night with good friends, a few drinks and fun movie along with a good nights sleep really turned my mood around. The weather was perfect and I had organized two dives off of Palos Verdes to take advantage of the small swell and good visibility. Chris, Daryl and I met at 7:45 at Christmas Tree Cove. My friend Carissa joined us to snorkel since the weather promised good clear water even close to shore.

The plan was to dive Christmas Tree and use it for the mapping project due in the Divemaster class. With the conditions as they were it was going to be cake. We could almost create our maps just by looking down into the water from atop the cliff it was that clear out. So we hiked down with our tanks, back up, then back down with the rest of the gear. Got everything ready and were in the water right at high tide. Just before starting our descent we spotted a Bat Ray chilling on the bottom. The dive went smoothly and I plotted depths and features (like kelp, boulder patches and the large rock wall) while Daryl took note of compass headings and distances. The visibility was fantastic, though there was alot of little things floating around in the water.

Malaga Cove (#55)

After hiking back out of the cove we opted to try a different site for dive #2, purely because the hike in was EXHAUSTING. Driving north around Palos Verdes we headed to Malaga Cove. Again, the low swell made this another fantastic dive. The overall profile here is shallower, and we barely got deeper than 30ft.

Malaga was Horn Shark City. We easily saw more than 15 sharks just relaxing along the bottom. To top that off there were lobsters out enjoying the bright, clear viz, several Sheep Crab walking around, Spanish Shawl nudibranchs all over, a large Shovel-Nose Guitarfish that was pretending to just be sand and at then end (just before I reached the dreaded “memory card full” warning) we saw a huge Bat Ray resting in the shallows.

Falling into my First Interning Day.

I had my first interning experience on Saturday. Here’s how it went:

– Woke up gloomy after an argument with my boss and stressful week. Almost went back to bed and said screw it to the $47 I spent on the boat ticket (half off for my birthday from a friend at ECO). At this point I thought I was just diving, last recreational boat dive for awhile so I figured I’d go.

– Got to the boat, found out I would be interning, felt unprepared but oh well.

– Helped with waivers – discovered this can get a bit hectic with people coming all at once, then the boat people not giving you the main rooster sheet and their waiver until after half the people had already filled out the ECO Dive waiver which means you have to get those people to come back all while making sure everyone is accounted for and all have signed each waiver.

– Got seasick. Second time in my life, puking over the back of the boat is always awesome, but I felt much better afterwards. Once in the water I was golden.

– Had a bit of chaos with the first dive…we were helping with an Advanced class and it was my first time ever diving with Laura (the instructor) so communication was rough. One girl was underweighted and while the other DMC Shane was helping her to get down the gentleman I was trying to get to come closer to the group had a small panic attack and started to ascend. Luckily he was somewhat in control (despite the large frog like swimming) and all ended well.

– On the second dive I successfully led the two divers I was with on their Fish ID dive until the end. We surfaced at :23 minutes, three minutes past the time limit Laura set on the dive, problem was I miscalculated my location and we surfaced much farther from the boat than I thought we were and just inside a high traffic area. Unsure what to do I tried to get the two to swim back with me as quickly as possible, but it was slow going which meant we got behind schedule and there was not enough time for the last dive Laura wanted to get in.

– Over all the day was not bad, but I felt pretty crappy about it. She graded me a 4 (out of 5) overall so I must have done something right. I was able to talk with her on the phone later that night and got my questions answered for the situations I felt I performed poorly and for where I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. After that I felt much better.

It was definitely a learning experience and I felt I learned alot. Its incredible how quickly a plan can change with a larger group of divers once you get under the water. Flexibility is key, and is probably the most important thing I took away from the day. Be ready for anything, and just go with it. Well..that and pay better attention to your compass and don’t surface in a high traffic area, thats bad.

Dive #1 – Blue Caverns

Dive #2 – Ship Rock

Humpback Whales

I totally forgot to mention one of the BEST aspects of the diving last weekend. Rescue Course training was great, finishing with enough time to get in two recreational dives was awesome, but then to put the icing on the cake we ran across a small pod of Humpback Whales swimming along.

This was my first time seeing humpbacks outside television or movies. They were magnificent. We saw a few from far off, then a few minutes later intersected paths with with two more. One of the two was thoroughly enjoying the day and kept breaching, surging out of the water before plunging back down.

As we passed by, they were swimming around each other slapping their pectoral fins on the surface as they spun around in the water. All in all it was an incredible experience. The sheer size and grace of these creatures is just amazing!

Divemaster Class Day 1

Its 11:00pm at night, but I want to write about how I am feeling right now. I wnat this blog/journal to include my path to SCUBA Instructor, so the emotions tumbling around inside me right now are important to share. Tonight we had our first DM class. Three and a half hours later I feel extremely overwhelmed.

I’m worried about getting the base of knowledge secured in my brain… about mastering the 20 basic SCUBA skills when there are some I don’t even remember doing in my Open Water class back in 2003 (fin pivot?! I had to google that when I was reading the manual to know what it was). I’m worried about being outgoing enough to really talk with the strangers on the dive boats and get their stories, or if I’ll be keen enough to be able to spot possible problems or stress in other divers and I’m worried about being a good assistant and properly anticipating the needs of the instructor I’m assisting. I’m worried about having to help and communicate with a student having a problem underwater when we can’t speak. I’m worried about money… I’ve already spent more money this year on gear than I had budgeted. I’ve bought a new wetsuit, computer and BCD, the BCD was not a planned purchase but a necessary one. Now I’m thinking about all the little accessories I need for a good dive kit and first aid kit and spare gear to be able to assist divers, and floats and flags and insurance costs and dive boat costs, and none of that takes into account the things I also want to buy like new fins to replace my crappy old ones and a rashguard for extra warmth or even some day nicer, new regulators in case my uncle decides to dive again and wants his back. I’m worried about finding the time between work, and exercise and friends to be able to complete everything without going bonkers. In short, I’m worried.

But I’ve felt this before. These butterflies in my stomach are not a new experience. I felt them when I decided to go to Durango, CO for my freshman year of college, to a new place where I knew no one. I felt them when I decided to move back to the desert and try the University of Arizona and then switched my major to Media Arts from Biology. I felt them at EVERY new job I’ve had from waitressing to working in the camera store, working on set and working for Run & Gun currently. I felt them on my dive internship when I had to learn to fill tanks and I was afraid that I was going to make one explode somehow, or when I had to stand in front of a crowd of strangers and give the 20 minute Manta Ray talk or when giving the little intro to dive lessons we taught at the Sheraton pool.

My point is, while I feel overwhelmed right now I know it’s okay. I have been here before many times in many different situations.

Most of this will pass, over time the knowledge base will become second nature, I will learn and master the SCUBA skills and underwater demonstration will come back to me…heck, I did it for 5 weeks in Hawaii and was able to get a bunch of kids to successfully clear their masks underwater, remove, replace and clear their regs, and attain some level of buoyancy, etc so I’m sure I can remember how to complete and then master these skills and then I’ll improve until its second nature like it is with the other Instructors at the shop who can’t help but use the hand signals as they explain or demonstrate to us during class, or even out at the bar! I’ll come out of my shell, I always do, and I always end up making good friends I just have to take that first step. I will acquire gear slowly. I know I feel a rush right now that I have to go out and drop thousands of dollars on all this gear, but I don’t. I can’t and I need to be okay with that. I will gather piece by piece as I can, and take the discounts where they come (like buying Laura’s old dive gear bag vs. getting a new one). If that means putting off the new fins and rashguard that I want and dealing with my old (and slightly cracked fins) for a few more months, then thats what it means.

I can do this, because I want to do this. I know that, it’s just that every now and then I need a little reminder, or a chance to sit back and just share my fears and that is what I’m doing now. Just writing out these fears and the facts that I can face and destroy them is comforting and whether or not anyone ever reads this I know its out there, I was honest with myself and that I will succeed.

Hazards and Dave’s Cove

After successfully finishing our Rescue Diver Course on the boat on Sunday we still had time to fit in TWO recreational dives. Immediately I was thrilled and bummed. Thrilled because it meant I would be reaching DIVE #50 and bummed because not planning on diving I left my camera housing and strobe at home so it would not be a temptation during rescue training. Of course, Murphy’s law would also have it that we ended up with good visibility and two awesome dive sites.

Dive #1: Hazards, was FULL of life. There was color everywhere you looked across the varied terrain. The site its self was interesting, made up of various terrain like large boulders, and one huge overhang that was great to explore. The seabed was just littered with sea stars ranging in size from huge 2 ft diameter knobby stars, and all the way down to tiny little white sea stars the size of a dime. There were also more Spanish Shawl nudibranch hanging on these rocks that I have ever seen anywhere. The site was alive with color but surprising seemed devoid of fish. I learned quickly that the fish were there…they were just extremely sneaky. They all seemed to be clinging to rocks and hiding in crevices to avoid detection and often I wouldn’t see one until I was just about on top of it! Since we started after our rescue training I didn’t have a full tank and ended up running a bit low on air, a big no-no in the dive world. But with my buddy right next to me and aware of the situation I took the risk and completed our full safety stop.

Dive Log

Dave’s Cove: This dive was another great one. More great life and interesting features. The shore here is just a cliff that plunges into the ocean only about 15ft before the sea floor, but there were lots of overhangs and almost tubes that you could swim through…or attempt to. I managed to get stuck in one and had to back out. Granted by stuck I mean that the space was too small and I bumped the edges to much to try actually getting through. The whole swim through was probably all of 3 feet long so I never really was worried or felt like I was in danger. Again, no camera, but we swam around and had a nice relaxing dive.

Dive Log

Rescue Diver

I’m going to start with a warning: THIS WILL BE A VERY LONG POST. Below is a video by Eco Dive owner Ron who was out with us at the beach and on the boat so you get an idea of what our days were like.

(coming soon…its not on YouTube yet and I can’t embed from Facebook!)

The PADI Rescue Diver Course is unlike any other dive course/ certification that I’ve taken so far. The first couple certifications you get in SCUBA involved reading a manual, watching a video, taking a test then going diving. There were skills to learn of course, but they were pretty simple and the bulk of the training was fun and relaxing.

Well Rescue has all those elements except the last few. The skills were challenging, there was very little diving and it was anything but relaxing. Other than all of that though it was the best training experience I have had so far. Tuesday we met for EFR (Emergency First Responder) and CPR training. Pretty straightforward, we watched a video, took a test and practiced the skills at the dive shop. Wednesday and Thursday nights were the classroom portion of the Rescue course, another (awesome) video, final exam and review of procedures and skills that would be practiced in the ocean and pool over the weekend. We were warned:

This will not be an easy weekend. Prepare to get your butt kicked and work really hard. Also, don’t plan on doing any actual diving.

With that in mind we left the dive shop late Thursday night. Our weekend schedule was meeting at 7:30am at Vet’s Park in Redondo Beach then moving to the pool at 1:00pm on Saturday. Sunday we had to drive up to Santa Barbara to head out to the Channel Islands on the boat, Conception.

This is where we lucked out. Saturday morning arrived and we met at the beach to find the usual swell basically non-existent. The water was lazily washing on shore then back out, sometimes without even a breaking wave. When waves did hit, they were light and at most, knee high. A major bonus, this meant that while working on rescue scenarios, exits and carries we would not also be battling powerful waves. Our instructor, Jessica, briefed us on the morning; we’d be suited up with snorkel gear and practicing shore based individual rescues. It sounds easy enough, but like most things, it was easier said than done.

First we started with carries, there are three main types, and a fourth “when all else fails” version. The three that are specified are the Packstrap (think of the person as a giant backpack with their arms as the straps), Fireman’s (victim slung over shoulders) and Saddleback (where you sling the person across your lower back). The last type of carry is very awkward and is pretty much impossible unless you are a burly woodsman carrying a tiny very thin girl out of the water, so we didn’t actually practice that one. Starting with the over the shoulder, the three girls in the class buddied together to take turns trying to throw each other over our shoulders. It was hard stuff, but we all got through it, and shuffled out of the water with one another on our shoulders. It wouldn’t have been as difficult if we were say… dry and not holding extra water in our 7mm thick wetsuits with booties, gloves and hoods….but its cold in California so thats how it goes.

The second carry seemed like it wouldn’t be that bad either, but I actually found it more difficult. I was carrying Elizabeth is who a little larger than I am. I got her on my back easily enough and began trudging out of the surf. It was fine until I got past the waist deep water and was now supporting most of her weight. My thick neoprene gloves didn’t allow me to keep a strong grip, and she started slipping. As I got more out of the water I hit the infamous “Redondo Lip” that I had forgotten about and down we went. Knowing I would not be able to get her up on my back again I flipped her over and began to try and drag her up the beach holding her wrists (the “if all else fails type of carry). Again, I was foiled by my gloves and my grip kept slipping! Not being able to do it alone I called for help and Carolyn helped me get her out of the water far enough to resume CPR. Not the best rescue, so I just hope if I’m ever in a real situation I can quickly remove my gloves (if alone) or that there will be people able to help me get the victim out of the water. After that we practiced the rest of the rescue on shore from getting the victim on the body board, administering emergency oxygen, defibrilating with an AED and preparing to move them for the EMS as needed. After a busy morning we broke for lunch.

That afternoon we met at the pool for more scenario practice. We practiced approaching both tired and panicked divers, and I felt good when as a panicked diver I was able to lunge at and catch classmate James who got just a little too close. He reacted perfectly though by deflating his BCD and sinking into the water where a panicked diver absolutely does not want to be. We practiced bringing an unresponsive diver up from the bottom, and discovered its not that easy to actually get their dead weight up off the bottom. We practiced assisting from “shore or a boat” ie: the pool side, which included lifeguard exits…another skill I was not so great at. The lifeguard exit involves getting the person’s arm up out of the water, then holding onto them while climbing onto the deck (most likely still with flippers on) then grabbing both arms and pulling them out of the water. I was pretty successful on my first try, but had alot of trouble on round two, when I could not get my victim’s (classmate Sebastian) body to flip over so that I could get his arms up on the deck properly. I did eventually but only with his head in the water which breifly was not supposed to happen…so much for airway protection on that one! Finally we ended the pool sessions by rotating through a circuit of a real rescue scenario…starting with pulling someone off the bottom and ending with EMS arriving. Our group was able to get into a good rhythm and at the end of the day we felt confident about completing that same circuit out on the boat the next day.

Saturday night most everyone met up in Santa Barbara and spent the night on the boat. The next morning the plan was to run through “unresponsive diver at the surface” scenario several times while rotating through the roles. I was able to act as victim, rescuer, AED operation, and airway control (the breath portion during CPR). We worked smoothly and efficiently even when faced with a problem like the fact that the boat had a swim step a half a foot underwater then the regular platform and finally stairs that we had to get the limp victim up before being able to begin CPR or finish out the exercise. We discovered it was not that difficult to be able to lift the person up the stairs and straight onto the body board.

Just a little bit after we had finished this circuit and were being debriefed by Jessica there was a real emergency. Just off the boat a diver surfaced and just floated face down in the water… something was wrong. Stunned at first, our group then sprung into action and was able to bring the diver back into the boat quickly and start the CPR process. Of course, as we quickly figured out this was all staged as a way to catch us off guard and really get the feeling of a true rescue.

The day ended with a quick search pattern for missing divers, and we still had enough time to get two enjoyable dives just for fun! All in all this was the most exciting and worthwhile class I have taken and I really recommend it to every diver out there. There is just so much that can happen while diving, and there are many details that are important during a rescue that having the skills to be able to handle an emergency situation is crucial when seconds count.

The Rescue "Team" after a busy weekend of training we got to enjoy a nice relaxing recreational dive!

Exhaustion…

Wow, this weekend was AMAZING. To quickly recap: we finished the Rescue Diver Course with beach and pool on Saturday and were out on a boat at Santa Cruz Island on Sunday. We were so organized that we had enough time to also get two “fun” dives in after finishing on Sunday. On the way back from the trip we saw humpback whales, and then I dropped my cell phone into the harbor. I’ve been trying to finish up my required reading for the Dive Master course which I have to have done by TOMORROW night…eek. So, I don’t have time for an actual post on the weekend’s activities and the awesomeness (yes real word) of the Rescue Dive Course, but it will come. In case anyone checks this looking for such a review, here’s a video from Ron (the owner of ECO dive) about the Night at the Santa Monica Aquarium from a few weeks ago. Enjoy!