Nitrox vs. Air

I spent all of last weekend on Catalina Island diving my brains out at Casino Point. I’m hoping to take the IE at the end of July and one of the requirements of the test is that you have 100 dives under your belt. At 77 with less than a month and a half  to go, I was starting to get nervous. After this weekend, I knocked out 11 of my remaining dives bringing that number down to only 12 left; a much more achievable number of dives.

Now I’ve been Nitrox certified since 2006, but never really had the chance to explore its benefits. Since my certifying dive I’d only used a nitrox mix once, on a pre-work morning dive. I definitely felt much better after that dive, and noticed the absence of the usual 2:00pm crash I typically get after an AM air dive. With this in mind I decided that I wanted to dive the weekend on Nitrox. Not only would it allow us more dives with less nitrogen build up, but in theory we would also feel less wrecked after this serious bout of diving. Upon arriving on Catalina we discovered one small hitch in the perfect nitrox diving plan. The dive site is about a half mile walk from Scuba Luv where you can get your nitrox fills. There is a great little container shack right at Casino Point, but unfortunately they only have air. So we were looking at approximately a 10 minute walk each way whenever we wanted a fill. Dragging a couple tanks on a dolly adds to the annoyance. Now I know, a half mile is really not that bad, but it’s dodging tourists and over a slightly uneven brick surface while clad in your 7mm wetsuit and sloshy booties. We decided to tough it out, and were lucky enough that the lady at Scuba Luv was able to put one of the 2 tanks we rented on the truck that was coming out a little later. This was nice because that morning we were already loaded down with all of our dive gear. We dove all day Saturday, completing 6 dives with Nitrox.

Sunday however, we were feeling a bit lazy, and didn’t want to have to make the trek back and forth from the shop, so we opted to use air and just get tanks from the Catalina Diver Supply container right at the site. The plus side was we now only had a 100 ft walk from our gear. However I was AMAZED at the difference. We did our first dive on nitrox (finishing off half a tank we had left over from the shorter night dive on Saturday), then dove 4 dives on air. After the first two I could easily feel the difference.

So, let me say, the nitrox was worth it. On Saturday, we dove six dives (ranging in length from 23-52 minutes and depths of 25-70ft) and at the end of the day I still felt great. I was tired sure, but mostly that was the fact that I had been up since 4:45 and working on about 5 hours of sleep. The pain really was only having to trek back and forth with tanks. On Sunday, we did five dives (1 on nitrox and 4 on air) and I was tired after two, and just about dead after the 4th on air. I had to take a quick cat nap during our lunch time surface interval (after dive #3) and was having trouble staying awake to make conversation with Richard on the ferry back home. At one point I just told him that I had to shut my eyes or I wouldn’t be able to drive home from Long Beach!

All in all, if I have the opportunity, and am doing more than 1 or 2 dives, I will definitely be using nitrox. Not really for the added bottom time, but purely becasue I felt SO much better at the end of the day, even after just a few dives!

(Note: a full write up of the weekend with photos and video is coming…I just have to find the time to get through all my media!)

A day as the Dive Master

Last weekend I drove down to the Sand Dollar dive boat with much anticipation. I wasn’t heading out to dive as usual, but for my first true training day as Dive Master. I was shadowing the awesome Kendra, who tends to be the usual DM aboard the Sand Dollar and is fantastic at keeping people safe and smiling. The destination that weekend was Santa Barbara Island, known for several sea lion rookeries where the animals are abundant and friendly, allowing divers get up close and personal. I’d not yet had the chance to get out on this trip but had been looking forward to it. If things went well I would even be able to duck under the water for a few minutes.

I definitely wasn’t the only one excited for the weekend, the boat was over sold with 31 divers, plus Kendra and I, making 33 on a 30 diver boat. We had assigned bunks, something different than usual on this boat, and one couple assigned to a single bunk that just was not going to work. The scheduled check in time was 9:00pm, so I arrived just before 8:30p. Kendra was not there yet, but the bag area was full, tanks were laden with gear and people were milling around. Luckily I had the shop waivers with me and the boat waivers were already on the table. I greeted several of the people on the boat, then laid out the waivers and started organizing the boat ones that some folks had already signed. The line started forming as everyone came up to sign waivers and get checked in. As I was giving out bunk assignments we had a little chaos because some of the earlier people had put their stuff on bunks since its typically first come first served so we had to wait for them to get back so we could shuffle gear around the bunks. I had half the people checked on before the official 9:00p. Tank space became an issue as we were already full, then had a couple with twin tanks which meant they each took up two spots. Kendra and I put our gear on the floor and were able to get two others to as well. Around 10:00pm I gave my first ever boat briefing; reviewing the rules of the Sand Dollar, where the head is located, how food worked the next day, safety, etc. I was nervous as hell, and stumbed over a few points, but everyone was listening and Kendra  backed me up when I missed something. After that I sat and chatted with various divers while Kendra and I filled in the roster slate. Then I brushed my teeth and was in bed around 12:45a just a few minutes after we started under way.

Sunday morning broke grey and cloudy, another typical California day. We could hear the sea lions barking just on shore and splashing through the water. Luckily it was not an overly anxious crowd and people woke up slowly, eating breakfast before jumping in. This gave Kendra and I some time to go over a few things, and start to suit up. I assisted one diver with a bad tank o-ring, answered as many questions as I could about a site I’d never been to before and then gave a quick safety briefing regarding proper boat exit and entry techniques, gear safety, flow, etc. I ducked and weaved through the divers to the stern and started helping Kendra get everyone into the water. We had the usual surface ballet as people discovered weight issues (these usually occur when people are used to diving in warmer water). One pair stands out, they swam back to boat to request more weight. I gave the guy four pounds, then he tried to descend again; coming back again we asked how much weight he was wearing. His answer, “um…with what you gave me I have 12” Yikes! I quickly grabbed two 5 pounders, giving him 22 total and he was on his way. We had one pair discover she had no weight in after jumping in the water. Her husband was surprised because he filled her weight pockets the night before. We discovered later that she and her son had the same BCD, and dad filled the son’s BC not the wifes. So she was trying to get down with zero weight and the son had close to 40 pounds on. Luckily it didn’t glue him to the bottom and they sorted it all out during the surface interval.

We had a couple divers not used to the colder water and hoping to have a guide for the first dive. This is where I got lucky. Kendra asked if I would take them on a guided dive, of course I said yes! They waited for us to get everyone else in, then as the last few divers were jumping in we geared up and were on our way. Let me tell you, sea lions and little kelp or rocks sure make a dive disorienting. I had to check our location a couple times on the surface a and each time ended up different from where I thought we were. We ran into a small group of sea lions frolicking, as well as several individuals who would zoom by to check you out a few times. Their speed and swirling grace through the water definitely made me, clad in my 7mm wetsuit, scuba gear, hood, gloves and fins, feel big, slow and bulky! Focusing mostly on keeping the group together I only tried to snap a few pictures, and learned just how quick the sea lions were as half my pics are just the flippers in frame!

Once everyone was safely back on board we went through roll call and pulled anchor to head to a new location. We anchored off the twin sisters, two rock outcroppings that pop out of the water off the main island. Capt. George warned that there could be a bit of a current around the sisters and to be careful. I checked divers off with Kendra and we took notice as the first pair to enter the water started slowly drifting towards the rocks. It wasn’t too long after all the divers were out exploring that two tiny black dots popped up between the sisters one arm slowly waving in the air. We waved back to acknowledge that we saw them. The choices were to get in and snorkel out to them, or send the boat out to pick them up. Both divers looked calm and had not panicked so we choose to send out the boat deciding that the current must have been stronger than anticipated and they were merely tired. This became the trend of dive #2, the boat would swing out to pick someone up, and by the time it was back someone else was waving as they drifted away. Gear was left in the boat between pick ups to help speed things along and only several divers made it back to the platform under their own power. It was a hectic and interesting dive, and a great learning experience to see how smoothly Kendra and the boat crew handled what could have been a stressful situation.

The gear was left in the skiff as we moved locations for the final dive.  We were at another rookery with a large open and calm dive area. There were sea lions all over, bouncing out of the water and barking from the rocks. There was a bit of a scramble to get all the tanks from the skiff off and filled, but everyone got in pretty quickly. Kendra was able to head out for a quick dive while I kept watch from the boat for the first few people to come back. I helped pull up cameras and fins, checked names and wrote down exit times from the roster as each diver clambered up the ladder. Kendra popped up right by the boat exactly at her 20 minute mark and helped me as more divers popped up. Sadly she didn’t run into a single sea lion, while from the stern I’d watched several dance around the boat! The flow slowed a bit and she told me to jump in and snorkel around to see if I could see any action. I wandered near the kelp and swam around with no luck. As I swam back to the boat though one curious little sea lion swam up and around and I was able to capture a little video as he curiously came up and darted away.

After all the divers were out and roll call was taken the crew pulled anchor and we headed back towards home. I was exhausted from the busy day, and started to fade about half way back (next time, more caffeine!). Kendra told me to go get some sleep and that she’d get me up before we got back so I could help get things organized and do the final announcements. I was out right after crawling into my bunk and got a short nap. As the boat pulled into the harbor I gave the group the final annoucements, thanking them for joining us, upcoming eco events, rental reminders, etc then joined Kendra in saying good bye as people filed off. All that was left was a quick check to gather anything that had been left. We had two pair of guys underwear, a mesh bag and a brand new looking regulator bag (that luckily the diver had labeled, so I dropped it off at the shop for him the next day). Kendra was amazing and split her tips with me since I had spent the whole day working with her. I walked away with a good chunk of change, exhausted after an amazing and eventful day of divemaster training!

Rocking the Island Time

In desperate need to reach that golden 100th dive by July 31st I went out on the morning Island Time with a group of folks from Eco last Sunday. The waters were calm, we hit several great sites off Catalina, and overall had a blast. There was one small hiccup to my day. My wetsuit has a small tear so before leaving to go to New York I dropped it off at the shop to get fixed. Unfortunately its not back yet, so I had rented a wetsuit from the shop for the dives. I tried on one which had a built in hood, but was too small, so I grabbed the next available size up, put it on halfway which let me know it would fit well enough and headed out. What I didn’t realize was that while both suits are made by Bare, the second one I grabbed did not include a hood like the first. So I pulled it out of my bag at Catalina and went, “oh crap!” Luckily Kendra had a vest she let me borrow, which helped keep my core warm, and I managed to suck it up and deal with a cold head. Ironically it reminded me of my first ever California dives. A bit naive, I had no hood and no gloves for that first dive several years ago. It was also on the Island Time off Catalina, and occurred in July, not too far off from this dive.

Despite having to make do with out the hood I had two very nice dives. The first site we hit was called Bird Rock (for friends that join us for the Beer Fest…thats the nasty looking big rock covered in Sea Gull poop outside Two Harbors). It was overall rather shallow and had a great wall to explore. I found a nudibranch I had only seen once so far (Hermissenda). Other than the usual suspects (Garibaldi, Senorita Wrasse, Sheephead, Blacksmith, etc) I also saw a large Giant Kelpfish. Dive #2 was at a small cove between Howlands and another which I didn’t catch the name of. It was around the same depth, no more than about 50 ft deep, as the first dive, and not quite as clear. Lots of kelp and large boulders marked this site. I saw two new Nudi’s,  Macfarlands Chormodorid and the Mushroom Sidegill.

Pool Session

I’m working to finish off my Dive Master certification by the end of June. After getting back from Hawaii, I jumped into the pool on Saturday to assist with Jessica’s second weekend Open Water class. The class went really smoothly and I mainly was in charge of crowd control, keeping the students in line and together (they tend to drift across the pool if you don’t keep tabs on them). I helped Jessica demonstrate mask removal and swimming with no mask, one of the skills the students had to perform. Lou was there with a new toy, the BladeFish which is a new fancy DPV that is compact (really it looks just like my house fan, only without the base!). It was fun to watch him scooting around in the water, but with the noises echoing off the pool walls that thing was LOUD!

Lawrence was also there helping Lou make a video of the new toy, and he put together a little video of the various instructors working with students. Take a look and get an idea of what the SCUBA pool sessions are all about!

Dry Weekend: The Big Apple!

Anticipation was high despite energy levels being low we we stumbled off our fairly sleepless, red-eye flight from Phoenix to New York at 6:00am on Saturday morning. My mother, sister and I had departed hot and dry Phoenix, Arizona after my brothers highschool graduation for a whirlwind trip of sight-seeing, shopping, museum hopping and more walking than you might think you could cram into four fast days.

I quickly fell into the roll of navigator as I began reading signs to lead us to the AirTrain that would connect us to the New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station in New York. From there we hopped on the E Line subway uptown to our hotel. New York was hot like Phoenix, with a minor difference of major humidity. We emerged from the subway onto Lexington where many vendors were setting up for a Saturday street fair. Apparently fairs like these rotate around the city throughout the summer allowing vendors from all over to bring their merchandise to different people in new areas of the city. After depositing our bags at the hotel (waaayyyy to early to check in, which was probably good or we would have gone up and not come out until that evening!) we decided to meander through the fair to see what all was being offered. After walking several blocks down and back up, we headed west towards Radio City, Rockefeller Plaza (where apparently they were filming a live action mixed with animation Smurfs movie… ugh). We wandered around with the final destination in mind being The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). This was Lauren’s pick, as a graphic designer and art major, she’s very interested in the modern art scene. I was just excited to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night which is currently at the MOMA. We passed by performance artist Marina Abromovic, who had been sitting still in a chair for a month at the museum (8-5) while volunteers from the crowd sat across from her for as long as they like. I don’t really get most performance art, and honestly to me it seemed pretty lame. As a side note however, we read an article on the train back to the airport a few days later that on her final day of the installation a man attempted to vomit on her and a woman stripped naked in front of her, yet she kept her stone composure and completed her final hours.

The MOMA had some interesting art, including a chandelier made of exploded dishes, one of my favorites. We wandered slowly up and up through the exhibits until the top where an exhibit for Ms. Abromovic was on display. It was a mix of pictures and video of past performances as well as live recreations of some performances by other artists. One such piece that I must mention was an exploration of space, where two naked people (a man and a woman) stood apart from each other in a small space leaving about a foot between them. The viewers were instructed to walk between the two people as a way to get to the next part of the exhibit. My mom, sis and I all looked doubtfully at each other and teased about going through, but no one took the first step until I just went for it. So yeah, I went to New York and walked between two naked folks. All I could think, was “gee, I wonder if her nipples and his penis get rubbed raw at all from the multitudes of people brushing past in clothes and with purses, etc.”

Around two in the afternoon we were definitely feeling the lack of sleep from the red eye flight, so we headed back to the hotel, got checked into our room, dropped our bags and crashed for about two hours before getting up, showering and dressing for dinner and a Broadway show. We walked down to Carmines in Times Square knowing it was unlikely that we would get a table as we were running late and the wait was upwards of an hour. However we lucked out with a spot at the bar, and enjoyed a glass of wine and a delicious Italian meal before heading off through Times Square to see Promises Promises starring Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hays. The show is based off the movie The Apartment, set in the 1960’s. The story surrounds a young employee of an insurance company who is in love with a girl who works in the cafeteria who happens to be in love with his boss. Hoping to move up the ladder he gets talked into allowing some of the higher ups use his apartment for their trysts with younger cute girls. Hilarity and drama are both to be found, and the best scene was the opener after intermission when Sean Hays character is drunk in a seedy bar on Christmas. I’d definitely recommend it!

We wandered a bit after the show, getting back to the hotel around midnight. Slept like a rock and we were up and going again the next morning. We went over to the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral for morning mass (no, we’re not Catholic, but my Mom really wanted to experience that church and it is famous after all). Sneaking out during communion (we couldn’t take it anyways… the Catholics and their rules…) we headed up towards Central Park. I loved Central Park. Its huge and green and feels so much cleaner than the rest of the city we had seen so far. While its still crowded, mostly with trees, it was far less poplulated than all the streets around town. We walked along, trying to follow the map in my hands, but mostly just wandering down different paths. We rested at the Bethesda Fountain (under construction…) before moving over to Strawberry Fields and the Imagine mosaic that memorializes John Lennon. After wards we popped out of the park for lunch, then walked up to the Museum of Natural History. It was already about 1:00pm, so we had to pick and choose what to see in the museum. The main attraction was the new special exhibit, “Race to the end of the Earth” which highlighted the daring challenge between Amundsen and Scott to be the first to reach the South Pole. I found it fascinating to see the different levels in preparation, the different choices each man made for his team and how those choice played out in the harsh environment.

We finished that up, then had to somewhat rush through the dinosaurs, ocean room and others as the museum closed. It was fantastic, and I probably could have spent three days exploring it all, but we had too much on our agenda to come back. We paused for a drink at the Plaza Hotel, feeling posh as we lounged in the opulence. After stopping back at the hotel to freshen up and change clothes, we hopped back on the subway down to Chelsea to meet one of Lauren’s friends, Liz, for dinner. After dinner we walked along the Highline; a new park attraction that was created out of an abandoned elevated train track in stead of tearing it down. The path is landscaped with native plants, and set with low lighting. Walking just above the city provided nice views and a cool breeze, it was calm and relaxing after a busy day rushing around. Following our stroll along that we headed to Magnolia Bakery, a famous cupcakery (its where Michelle Obama visited with her daughters, oh my!) We grabbed some sweets and walked down to the water where the four of us sat on a bench looking out across the Hudson and enjoyed dessert.

Once again, we were home after midnight, slept like the dead, and awoke Monday morning for another jam-packed day. We got up and went down to Canal Street, in search of the “designer purse.” As we walked along the street we were approached by person after person, mostly of Asian descent asking if we were looking for handbags, watches, sunglasses, all in whispered tones. We had a goal, a store just off Canal on Mulberry that was recommended by a friend of my Mom’s. We poked around, saw somethings we like but were hesitant to buy right away so on we went. We continued down Mulberry into Little Italy, which seemed like Italian restaurant after Italian restaurant after… you get the idea. Popped into a few more stores, even got “invited” into the back room of one, where the kept the good stuff… all real assured the man… no copy. (yeah right). Mom and Lou each got a purse, but I decided to go back to our first stop for a cute little teal bag, that the guy says is “Dolce and Gabbana”… whatever. We then walked further up Canal heading towards the ocean to make our 2:00pm boat tour. I thought we could walk, but upon realizing I had the wrong address in my phone, we hailed our first New York taxi and sped up to the right place.

Now we weren’t going for your typical three hour cruise. My mom had found THE BEAST. This was a 30 minute speedboat tour that whipped you along the Hudson, paused at the Statue of Liberty for pictures, then sped you back up to the dock. Let me tell you, it was AWESOME. The spray from the boat was getting everyone wet, and if you managed to stay dry, the tour guide helped you out with a super-soaker or water balloon. His commentary was hilarious, the music was pumping and the cool wind whipping around us felt great after the hot morning shopping. After our trip we walked down to the Chelsea Brewery for lunch followed by an exploration of the Chelsea area, including the famous Chelsea Market. We jumped on the train down to the Ground Zero area as the sun was starting set, then walked a little ways into Battery Park city, but never quite made it down to Battery Park. Our energy levels were dropping, so we grabbed a train back uptown, hoping to grab a small bite of dinner at the Serendipity 3 cafe and indulge ourselves with one of their famous Frozen Hot Chocolates. Again, another long wait, which we didn’t have the desire for, so I grabbed a pack to make at home, and we headed back towards a little pizza joint we had passed on the way. This was definitely the smart choice. Splitting a delicious pizza with a glass of wine made the perfect ending to our last full day in the city. We walked back to the hotel and were in bed before midnight this time.

Tuesday morning we packed, checked out of the hotel the hurried out to check a few more things off our list. The impressive Macy’s window displays (under going construction…the black cloth drapped in them read, bummer), followed by a hot dog from Gray’s Papaya (at about 10am, yup) before jumping on the subway down to Greenwich Village where we found the small letterpress store my sister wanted to visit. After that we found a wine store and picked up a bottle, followed by a grocer where we got a baguette, goat cheese, pesto spread, sliced turkey and grapes then walked over to Washington Square Park by NYU for a lovely and relaxed final lunch in New York. After this there was a bit more walking, then subway again, picking up our bags, more subway, train to New Jersey (where we almost missed our stop at the airport), then the flight back home.

All in all it was an exhausting vacation, which are usually the best kind. I had a blast and can’t thank my Mom enough for putting the whole thing together. It took me about a day and a half to recover and sift through the almost 500 pictures I took, but life is back to normal, diving and all, and our dance through The Big Apple seems a bit like a dream.

One step closer

Before heading out of town on a whirlwind adventure I was able to sneak in one last dive and check off one more DMC requirement. My final open water internship marker was “leading certified divers.” While I lucked out and was able to brief and lead a small group at a site very familiar to me, I was also doing it at night, which adds some thrill because if you don’t stay close to each other, its easy to get separated in the oppressing darkness.

After gearing up on land I gave my first ever official briefing, stumbling a bit at points, but making sure to hit all the important aspects of diving Vet’s Park at night. We lucked out because the ocean looked as still as a lake, so the usual cautions of careful beach entry were unnecessary. After this we walked down to the beach and away we went.

Vet’s Park is a really easy dive site, in that its all sandy bottom and its typically an out and back site. My goals in leading the group was to not drop below our decided depth, and to resurface just off the stairs so we would not have a far walk out. The visibility was really crappy in the shallower water, but once we dropped below 40 ft things cleared out. Continually looking behind me, I made sure everyone was following as I lead down into the canyon. Immediately on dropping down to around 40ft we encountered a GIANT Sea Hare. This thing was larger than a basketball and by far the largest I’ve ever seen. Making note, I hoped we’d run into it again on return; it would serve as a perfect marker of where the steps were amongst the never changing sand bottom.

We capped our depth around 70ft, and headed south. I kept us a bit shallower at first so that we would run into the “Shrine”, a collection of dumped items that create something different to look at and homes for lots of little sea critters. After exploring around that for a bit we continued on. There was all the usual tiny octopus and sand dabs, etc. I tried to point them out as much as possible, but even then not everyone got to see them.

I think we went the furthest south on this dive then I ever have before mostly due to the fact that I wasn’t diving with my camera or a bunch of shutterbugs. We ran into a patch of weedy growth that I have never seen before. It was great to get to explore that area, I even found a small horn shark nestled in the weeds. This marked our turn around point and we cruised back at a slightly shallower depth. We indeed ran into the sea hare again (and I was sure glad we did, because it felt sooner than I anticipated where the stairs were). After hitting that I began moving everyone shallower hoping to be able to do our safety stop along the bottom, but the visibility deteriorated too quickly. We began our ascent and completed our safety stop mid water. Upon surfacing I was glad to see that we were just north of the stairs. The ocean had picked up a little bit, but over all was still an easy exit. After the dive we debriefed a bit on what we saw, how it went etc. Everyone had a good dive and there were no issues which was fantastic. One more pool session and a day out as back up DM next weekend and I’ll be putting through the DM cert and officially be a “Pro!”

What its all about….

I realize I’ve been quiet for a while with no new posts in the last week or so. Mostly it was because I was out of town on a little trip home to watch my brother graduate from high school followed by a quick jaunt to New York City with my Mom and Sister. It was my first time in the Big Apple and it did not disappoint. (More on that later). I finally got around to finishing my open water portion of interning with a dive where I briefed and lead certified divers. It was a bit nerve wrecking at times (it was a night dive) but mostly I felt comfortable. (again, I’ll go into detail in a full post soon, I promise).

I just wanted to get a quick blurb out there to make sure my 3 readers (who have dutifully been checking even while I was out of town…or maybe its just 1 reader checking 3 times each day) 🙂 that I have not let this little project slide. Each month Eco Dive holds a club meeting, bringing in folks from around Southern California who relate to diving, or ocean health, or something us divers might be interested in. I try to write a little recap here after each meeting, but sadly I was out of town (on an airplane actually) for this months dive club. I was bummed too because it was a gentleman from the California Science Center and the house was packed. So packed in fact that we made the news:

I just wanted to pass along that article since I have no write up for the meeting I missed. Enjoy, and I promise to catch up on my adventures shortly.