Key Largo Memorial Day Trip

Thursday May 27th saw thirty divers from Indian Valley Scuba descending upon quiet Key Largo, FL for a long weekend of diving and controlled mayhem.  Our group’s origins included PA, CA and FL. The weekend weather looks superb, sea conditions are perfect, and the recipe is just right for a great trip for all!

Quite a few of us got in early enough on Thursday to start off the trip with a night dive, including myself and Rich Peterson, fresh in from our deep diving in the Dry Tortugas. Along with Abbie & Bri Pagliaro, Mike Conn, Frank Gabriel and Erle Petrie, we headed out to the wreck of the Benwood, leaving the dock at 7:00 p.m. Night dives from many dive operators range from twilight dives to “rush hour” dives, and you end up out of the water before the sun has even fully set.  Well the IVS gang is clearly not afraid of the dark, and the folks at Amoray Dive Resort leave the dock extra late for us so we are entering black water after sunset to begin our dives.  And the effort paid off – we saw several octopus, turtles, hundreds of sleeping parrotfish, lobster galore, crabs a’plenty, tube feeding anemones, basket stars out and feeding, and all the other critters that make for a fun night dive experience.

Friday morning our group split up, with Frank and I, along with Sue Douglass, heading over to Jules Undersea Lodge with Randee, Kerri & Joe Bates, Rebecca Dyke, and John Herbach for our first two open water checkout dives. Conditions were good, water was warm, and the morning went well.  Meanwhile the rest of the gang headed out to Molasses Reef for a couple of great dives.

Lunch was quick, as usual, and the boat was loaded with Nitrox and fresh tanks as we headed back out to explore the Speigel Grove and the Benwood.  IVS-South Instructor Dave Hartman and Houston-based Instructor Michelle Winkel joined us for the afternoon, and we enjoyed a good dive under less-than-stellar conditions on the Spiegel, with three teams exploring the wreck from different levels and different directions.  Kudos to Don Yowell on his gas consumption improvement!  Good big deep wreck initiation dives for Jim DiQuattro, Richard & Francine Black, Marvin Dyke, Frank, Erle, and repeat visits to the Keys greatest wreck for Dave & Sandy Herbert, Kim & Michel Naucodie, Mike & Lin Gusenko, and Mike Betz.  

The second dive was a visit to the fishiest wreck in the Keys, the Benwood.  After a colorful briefing, we headed in and enjoy nearly an hour of bottom time, constantly surrounded by the full spectrum of tropical fish colors and flavors.  Our OW students had a great dive and everyone returned to the boat with smiles and stories to tell. 

Friday night found us at IVS’s Key Largo Training Center, aka the Hartman Estate, where we enjoyed a splendid offering of pizza, wings, brewskies, and blender-prepared fruity concoctions of all sorts and flavors.  Following that, we ended the evening with a session at Sharkeys, the most local of the local taverns, where we finished the evening with stories, observations and fun.

Saturday morning was even more perfect weather-wise than Friday was, with bright blue skies and not even a hint of a breeze.  Divemaster Bill Zyskowski and Miami-based IVS divers Tamy & Camillo Romano joined us for the day on & in the water.  The inshore weather conditions didn’t change when we hit the open ocean, and the seas were flat, viz was great, and the morning yielded two super dives on French Reef for the IVS crew.  Sightings included turtles, large morays, lobsters, eagle rays, and the usual cast of tropical characters.  Water temp was a balmy 82 and viz was 100 feet or greater.  No surge, no waves, nothing to deter from great diving.

A quick lunch (as usual) and an on-time afternoon departure (not as usual!) had us back out at the Spiegel Grove for a 3:00 entry.  All our new Open Water divers joined us on this traditional graduation dive, getting their first combo Wreck/Deep/Nitrox dive in to start their Advanced Open Water training.  As might be expected, everyone came up smiling from wet ear to wet ear, with lots of good stories and experiences to share with the others.  A second dive to the Benwood for some relaxing fun finished the afternoon off, and we came back in to prepare for our night dive.    

We splashed at the Benwood at 8:30 p.m., already night and dark, and enjoyed  a great 60 minute dive there.  While we were under we noticed a bit if current picking up, and by the time we started heading up it was obvious something was going on as our boat was not where we left it on the mooring; rather it was turned around completely.  A storm front had moved in, whipped the sea into a bit of a frenzy, making it a howling-wind white-capped swim back to the very bouncy boat – pretty cool!  And, on the surface, we then had to deal with a visiting Sea snakes (where he came from no one knows!). The dive was great though, with more turtles, octo’s , rays, and all the other great critters we know and love.

After our night dive a group of us went out to personally inspect the brand new Paradise Pub, and we were not disapppointed!  It is now smoke-free, clean, brighter, and friendly.  Heavily tatted and always interesting barmaid Dawn is gone, but the new management team did a great job.  Lousy new electronic dart board, so we asked management to address that, but otherwise a good evening of fun.  Bri Pagliaro steps up to the line and kicks butt right off the start on the dart board, then falls to the pressure of Mike Conn, who runs a three game streak. Dave Herbert is looking good, but runs a strong second-place’ish performance for the night.  Abbie Pagliaro is off her game tonight, but manages to come up to the line for a bullseye and a 150 point single round, proving once again that even blind squirrels find nuts now and then.  Dave Hartman puts in a disappointing performance for the evening, spending the entire night firmly ensconced in the DFL position. A great time anyway, and we’ll be back.  We wrapped it up and headed back to the resort for some much-needed rest before we start it all over again tomorrow!.

Sunday morning came early, as you might imagine, and it was even more beautiful than the day before.  A slight breeze was blowing, but coming from the north, meaning the ocean was relatively unaffected. We journeyed out to Elbow Reef, to make our first dive on the City of Washington.  As luck would have it, we managed to join in on a Creature Feature dive being run by the folks at Capt. Slates Atlantis Dive Center, so our divers got to enjoy the rush of nurse sharks and goliath groupers coming in for a free meal.  After getting our share of up close and personal shark encounters we got to work doing fish count surveys for REEF.  This is a key part of the IVS PADI/National Geographic Open Water certification, and also a great step towards completing our fish ID specialty and working towards our Advanced Open Water certification.  Our second location was Mike’s Wreck (formerly known as the Tonowanda), and we finished our surveys up there with another 60 minute dive.

After the usual quick lunch we headed back out to do our signature Double-Deep dives for Sunday afternoon.  First stop – the former Coast Guard Cutter USS Duane.  Pretty good surface current due to wind, and it was running completely opposite of the current below the surface.  Fun dive, lots of good photo op’s, big critters, great viz.  Second stop was the Spiegel Grove, where everyone penetrated the wreck to all sorts of levels, including the signature Hartman deep & dark tour through the ship’s innards.  These are the coolest dives for our newest divers, to really get a chance to experience diving on huge intact shipwrecks and also learning how to work in a dive team environment.  All great training and the education never stops!

Monday morning saw lots of hugs and handshakes as most of the group headed back towards the airport, but the “can’t get enough nitrogen” diehards managed to get one last set of dives in on the reefs in the a.m.  Another great trip in the logbooks, and time to plan your next visit to the Keys with IVS!

And the winners of this week’s ADD Awards (All Dives with Dave) are Bri Pagliaro, Mike Gusenko, and Erle Petrie!  Congratulations!

Scouts Discover Scuba with IVS!

Today Indian Valley Scuba had the distinct honor of hosting the first ever Discover Scuba Diving program at the 42nd annual SCOPE Jamboree held in Furlong, PA.  This event, held each year between Boy Scout and Venture units in the Bucks County, PA and Toronto, Canada areas, brings approx 600 scouts and scout leaders together for a three day camping, educational and cultural exchange event. 

Team IVS team (Randy Rudd, Donna Raleigh, Tom Rebbie & Csaba Lorinczy) met at the shop at 7:00AM to carpool up with the IVS truck and trailer to the Boy Scout camp in Furlong.  A quick stop at the local Wawa for some Mountain Dew, to ensure the team would be up to dealing with the flood of teenage boys, and we arrived at the camp just after 8:00AM.  Doug Ellis (our chief organizer) and Steve Clem met the team at the pool, where we parked the trailer for the day. “How is the temp Doug?” we yelled out looking at the outdoor pool. “Don’t know …. Don’t want to know … but it’s COLD” The water was later measured to be 65 degrees. “Anybody has some extra 7 mil neoprene?”  

The Scout leaders greeted us with enthusiasm. “Everybody is so excited that you guys are here, we never had scuba at the camp. Thanks for coming, here are the signed waivers.” And they handed us a stack of 2-inch thick folders with over a hundred signed waivers. We took inventory in the IVS trailer, scratched our heads a bit than shrugged our shoulders … “Not to worry, everything always seems to work our in the end with IVS events”.

 Csaba set up the DSD video system in the cantina, Donna took control of all the waivers, while Steve, Tom and Randy started to assemble dive gear by the pool. Doug coordinated the arriving troops and leaders.  We were somewhat relieved when only 45 kids showed up to watch the Discover Scuba Video. While the scouts watched the video, Donna sorted and confirmed each waiver. Doug had arranged the scouts into groups of 8 and everybody got their time slot when they have to show up at the pool. We had Steve, Doug and Randy dress in full neoprene and take position in the pool, while Donna, Tom and Csaba providing support from the “shore” helping divers in and out and managing equipment.

The first group with 8 Venture girls at 10:15, who had a great Discover Scuba session and were very exited to be in the pool with IVS, didn’t even care about the frigid water temperature. They wanted more. The next session started at 11:00, and continued with eight new divers jumping in every 45 minutes all day long.  Some of the boys and girls loved it, some gave it a try and said “This is just not for me … but I tried.”  Lunch was served in shifts during the sessions to keep the team’s energy up. We were served with a great camp lunch of burgers, hot dog and funnel cake.

The afternoon went fast with full sessions right until late in the day.  A few older scouts enjoyed one-on-ones with our scuba instructors and took advantage of the open dive-slots that were available later in the day.Everybody enjoyed the opportunity to breath under water, no matter how cold it was. Even when all completed their class, the 3 girls from the first session and 2 other boys from the later sessions came back, got back in the pool and just wanted more … more  … more. We know how that is, that’s how we all got into diving. Randy and Steve stayed in the pool a bit longer where the kids starting to do skills of mask flooding, regulator clearing and buoyancy control.

At the end of the day almost 60 scouts from 6 different troops and 2 countries enjoyed scuba on this beautiful Memorial Day Saturday. The Scout leaders thanked us as we packed up all our gear and started to inquire about DSD sessions for other camporees and troop meetings – sounds like the Scuba was a big hit this weekend! 



Dry Tortugas Liveaboard Trip Report

Day 1

Sunday dawned dark and dreary in sleepy Harleysville, PA as our divers headed towards the Philadelphia airport to begin the journey southward.  Today’s destination was Fort Myers, FL, home of the liveaboard Ultimate Getaway ( ) and the starting point for this week’s adventure.

All seemed to be going swimmingly well, with the flights on time, and half our team already on site, having driven down on Saturday with the double tank setups, stage bottles, multiple regulators and all the other goodies that good, safe technical diving demands.  Well, not to digress, but things were looking great, right up to the point where I found myself alone at the Ft. Myers airport; staring at the empty baggage carousel after all the other passengers had claimed their luggage and headed on their merry ways.  Yes, dag-nab it, my friends at Delta had let me down, leaving me stranded and somewhat short on gear and very short on clothing to make it through the next five days on board our dive boat.

“Not to worry”, the smiling baggage claims girl said, “I’m sure they’ll be on the next flight at 7:30”.  OK, well with a boat departure from the dock scheduled for 6:00 that was not the greatest of news.  Let’s make a few calls, get a hold of someone, and see what’s happening at the dock.  As luck would have it, the boat came in an hour late from the last trip, so we had a little leeway in our time schedule.  So Rich Peterson picks me up at the airport and runs me over to the boat, to meet the rest of the divers, including Fantasea Scuba owner Jim Joseph  (, who had organized the charter along with Richie & Carrie Kohler, of Shadow Divers fame ( ).  Greetings, hugs and handshakes for all, and no problem, they are going to be a little late in leaving, so we have time to run back to the airport and pick up my bags on the later flight.

So Rich & I boogie on back to Ft. Myers International, and I patiently wait by the carousel as the crowd of passengers from the later flight start to gather around me.  Yes, this is what it should feel like;  you can the look of anticipation on their faces, thinking as each bag magically appears on the belt, “is that one ours?”, “maybe that one?”, until finally each passenger has been paired up with a matching bag or two and they head off, leaving only me there, alone again!

Well, the confidence in the baggage claim office sags, as they tell me the next flight that my bags MAY be on is at 11:30 that night.  That’s too late to roll the dice and hold the boat at the dock, so we switch to plan B.  What can I possibly be missing that I can’t either borrow on the boat or buy at Walmart?  So off to America’s Superstore we head, grab a cart, race through the aisles, couple of t-shirts, toothpaste, hairbrush, undies, a bathing suit, what else can we need?  Oh yeah, beer!  OK, well you can get it all at Walmart, so we load up the truck and head back over to the boat, with me looking a little like a diving Minnie Pearl with price tags on everything I am wearing.  A quiet cheer erupts from the crowd as we board, and then a quick briefing by the captain, and we push off!  Hurray!

As we head out to sea the talk turns towards anticipation of tomorrows events, thoughts of artifacts to be recovered, fish to be speared, great photo opportunities and everything else that may be encountered.  Gear is inspected, adjustments made, gas is analyzed, cylinders are tied down, and it’s time to review the dive profiles planned for the first dive tomorrow.  Laptop computers are running all over the salon with different profiles and gas mixes being considered for the next day’s dives.

The wreck we are heading towards is the WWII German merchant ship M.S.Rhein.  In December of 1940, the Rhein had sailed east in an attempt to escape from the port of Tampico, MX where she had been hiding since the U.S. Neutrality Act of 1939 had banned all Axis shipping from American waters.  She was in imminent danger of capture by patrolling American warships, when her crew set her afire in an attempt to scuttle the merchant vessel.  As she burned, her crew was picked up by a British destroyer and she was sent to the bottom by a barrage of cannon fire from the warship. 

The Rhein sat undisturbed and forgotten until 1991, when deep diving legend Billy Dean of Key West happened upon her and identified the ship.  They had actually been searching for the wreck of a Panamanian freighter, the Hermis.  Originally they thought they had found the Hermis, until they recovered the ship’s bell from the bridge which proved undoubtedly that the wreck was that of the Rhein.  Since then she has been explored a number of times, but the distance, depth and expense tends to keep the crowds small and few between.  Today she sits upright in 250 feet of water, with her superstructure rising to within 140 ft. of the surface.  The Rhein is 453 ft in length with a 58 ft beam, and displaced 6,049 tons.

Day 2

Morning broke bright and sunny across the near-flat waters of the Gulf of Mexico as we approached the end of our 124 mile, 14 hour run from Ft. Myers.  The seas are less than 2 ft with gentle rollers, not a whitecap in sight.  The sky is bright blue and cloudless, the air temperature a balmy 80 degrees.  A sumptuous breakfast is served up by the crew and the team digs in!

Today our dive plan calls for 25 minutes at 230 feet, followed by 75 minutes of progressive decompression.  Our bottom gas mix will be 15/37 (15% oxygen, 37% helium, 48% nitrogen) with 50% Nitrox for deco and 100% O2 for the final stages.  We’re carrying double 119’s on our back, with two 40 CF stage bottles slung under our arms.  Deco will start at 170 ft and continue all the way to 10 ft where we’ll end up breathing 100% oxygen for a good final “clean-up” of our tissues.  We’ll follow that with a four hour surface interval while we refill the tanks, and then head back down for a second dive with a similar profile.

Finally, the moment we have been waiting for!  The engines slow, the crew activity picks up, lines are readied, and we are finally on-site at the Rhein!  The captain slowly circles the wreck, determing wind & current direction, to best drop his anchor so that our ship will lie directly over the wreck.  A toot of the horn and the clang of anchor chain lets us know we are close to dropping in.  Once the main anchor is set, the crew drops the 80 lb grapple hook and 250 feet of line and it snags the wreck, picture perfect!  Richie & Carrie drop in first and set the hook by tieing it off with an additional line to the wreck, and they signal ‘mission accomplished’ by shooting a lift bag to the surface.  That’s all we need to see and off we go over the side, quick bubble check just under the surface, and then we descend down, down, down. At 160 ft we can make out the wreck, and we hit the deck at 195 ft.  The fish surrounding this wreck are unbelievable in quantity and size, with groupers of all flavors, snappers, jacks, and the usual cast of characters.  The barracdia are sized as one might expect in 250 ft of water – huge!

Rich and I drop over the side of the wreck and begin a slow tour towards the bow, circling it and taking in the mass of this great ship.  Time & nature have not been kind to the Rhein, so many of the hull plates have been torn away or fallen off, revealing the ship’s skeleton and its innards.  Beautiful purple tip anenomes sweep the current for food, and large oysters cover the steel plating, closing their colorful shells as we near.  Two portholes are already hanging fom lift bags as the scavengers among us are busily working away with pry bars and hammers.

Our 25 minutes of bottom time passes all too quickly, and it’s time to begin our slow ascent.  A total of an hour and fifty minutes pass before we re-surface and board the boat, smiling from ear to ear.  Once on board, lunch is served, and the crew gets to work mixing gas and fllling the tanks for our second go-round.

At 6:10 we finally splash for a twilight visit to the wreck.  The fish life is quieting down, the barracuda are starting to stack up above us with their “If anyone is getting eaten tonight it’s not me!” strategy of safety in numbers.  We hit 233 feet as we explore aft of the bridge, and penetrate through a hole under the wreck, passing from port to starboard.  The black grouper abound, and a couple of very sizeable Goliath groupers follow us around to see what we are up to.  The Kohlers locate the ships horn, and have it tied off for an attempted recovery in the morning.  Another porthole comes up, and I locate a ceramic tile from the original cargo – nice find!  Another nice slow ride to the surface, to the amusement of hundreds of bar jacks who constantly buzz us during our deco.

Back on the boat, we break down our gear, and head in for a great dinner prepared by the ship’s cook.  Richie K brings out a bottle of Reisling that was sent to him by a surviving member of a U-boat that he has been in contact with, so we drink a very appropriate toast to the reminder of the Second World War we are diving below.

Day 3

Another fantastic morning at sea after a night of gentle rocking while we slept, and we start to get ready to explore the wreck further.  After breakfast we get to work mixing today’s gas, and prepare to head down, with the plan to travel all the way to the stern of the wreck.

Rich and I splash and head down, all is cool, bubble checks pass, and we swim towards the stern.  We round the stern, check out the rear cargo hold, pass thru the bridge area which is quite collapsed now.  Very nice views, big Jewfish lounging on top of the masts, too bad the camera is in the shop, but none-the-less we enjoy a leisurely 25 minute swim, with a maximum depth of 236 ft.  Ascent is good, but this time we decide to ride the computer up rather than the written plan, and here is where the day turns a bit less than expected.  We end up on the surface about 15 minutes earlier than planned.  Back on board however, Rich and I experience significant pain in our mid-sections and the skin blotches tell the story – skin bends, or epidermal DCS.  Not pretty and definitely painful. 

Lunch and a solid nap help things get a bit better, but Rich decides to sit out the second dive.  I splash in after a four hour surface interval, and enjoy a nice dive at 217 ft for 20 minutes.  Now this time I come up with the written deco plan, even adding a few more minutes at the stops above 65 ft, where I am breathing EAN50.  At 20 ft I switch to 100% O2 and hang there an extra 40 minutes, even dropping closer to 30 feet and pushing a ppO2 of 2.0, while flushing all those nasty gases out of my system with the pure oxygen.  I surface after an hour and 50 minutes and feel great. Mission accomplished, successful in-water recompression complete. Note to self:  be more conservative!

Diving for the day is over, the hook is pulled, the engines fire up and we head over to our second location, that Araby Maid.  Dinner is served up and everyone is excited about the next days dives. Richie Kohler holds court in the galley this evening, sharing some videos and stories of diving the Titanic and her sister ship, the Britannica.  Very interesting and informative, to say the least.

Day 4

What a difference a night can make, as we woke up to a rockin’ & rollin’ boat this morning.  Wind is up, some currents are evident, but hey, what can you expect when you are 130 miles out to sea?  Rich & I splashed at 9:45, and dropped in to see the wreck materialize from 130 feet.  The bottom was 213 feet, so we explored the exterior then jumped inside this fairly intact steel-hulled sailing vessel, which sank in 1906 after a collision with another vessel.  Lots of large marine life, the sounds of hammers a’wailing as the scavengers were hard at work trying to claim more portholes for their collections.  After 25 minutes we headed up, and while we were hanging we were treated to a very large turtle swimming by to check us out, then after that a 7 ft Silky shark cruised through and around us on and off for another 20 minutes, very curious about what was hanging in the water.  His approaches were very close, less than 10 ft, so it was at the same time amazing and unnerving.  Very cool.  We spent additional time taking advantage of the 100% O2 at 20 feet to get a good flush of nitrogen from our system. 

After another great lunch and a nap, we headed back in for our final dive of the trip. This time we were searching for souvenirs and trinkets amongst the rubble of the deck, and we ended up with a few nice items.  On the deco we had dolphins playing around us and African Pompano swimming by, curious about the visitors to their world.

Finally, our last great meal, gear is broken down and packed, and the ship starts the 14 hour run back to port.  Great trip overall, we’ll be back!

DUI Demo Days at Dutch Springs

What a great time we enjoyed in Bethlehem as Indian Valley Scuba hosted the DUI Drysuit Demo Days this weekend. Over 250 divers tried one or more of the great DUI drysuits in the less-than-balmy 43 degree Quarribean waters.  The Indian Valley Scuba crew was on site and underwater helping ensure a great and safe time was had by each of the DUI Test Divers.  The weather was perfect after a terrible day of rain on Friday. 

Beverly had our spankin’ new grill fired up and running, and the results were nothing less than expected – great food, great fun, and good friends gathered around the IVS site.  Twenty-seven IVS diving family members participated in this weekend’s events, and it was great to see so many of our friends in and around the water.  

Look for us back on site at Dutch in three weeks when we once again host another dry suit demo weekend, this time bringing out the Whites products for all to try and enjoy! 



Dutch Springs Ice Breaker Weekend

Saturday & Sunday saw us braving the icy cool waters of Dutch Springs in Bethlehem, PA, as we celebrated our annual IVS Ice Breaker Weekend at the quarry.  On board for checkout dives were Brad Landis and Jenna Murray, brave souls that they be!  Brad geared up for the day in a double layer of 7 mm neoprene, while Jenna chose the new Fusion Drysuit from Whites.  One guess who was shivering less!!  We also had Felix Gryn assisting, along with Bill Friedman and Donna Raleigh (also in a Fusion).  Richie Kessler and Dan Macy also joined us for the morning’s dives.

The Saturday checkouts went well, with three nice extended dives including skills and underwater exploration.  Our newest divers performed great, inspite of the 46 degree chill in the water and the breezy overcast day! 

Richie and Dan were preparing for a trip to Olympus Diving in North Carolina this weekend, and Richie was running his new Bonica High Definition Underwater Video System through it’s first test dives.  He got some awesome footage with the system, and we hope to have some posted to the site shortly.  The viz was probably 40 feet this weekend.  All in all, a good Saturday of safe, fun, uneventful diving!

Sunday’s diving started out on a different sort of note.  As our group prepped on the platform on the peninsula side, the morning quiet was interrupted by calls for help from across the pond.  Sure enough, there was a diver there waving frantically and calling for assistance.  The Dutch Springs staff jumped right into action, heading across in an inflatable to assist.  However, because they had to row the inflatable, it took about seven minutes to get across, and the diver was very difficult to get into the boat due to his size and the fact that there was only one staff member aboard.  It was close to 12 minutes before they were able to get the diver into the boat and begin rescue breaths.  That’s a very long time for a non-breathing victim to have to wait.  A motorized watercraft of any sort would certainly have expedited the rescue and allowed a second staff member to be on board to render assistance.  Perhaps Dutch might consider this?? 

The victim was brought to shore looking very, very blue, but local EMS personnel were there to take over and whisk him off to St. Luke’s Medical Center.  Our understanding from the local news reports later that evening is that he recovered – great news for all involved!!!  Also a great reason to think about how valuable your own Rescue Diver and First Aid skills can be when you have to wait for assistance.

After that unsettling start, everyone regrouped, and we made three good dives, completing all our open water skills, fine tuning our bouyancy, navigating like pro’s, and completing our National Geographic Fish ID projects.  Congrats to Brad and Jenna!  

While we were enjoying our surface interval between dives 2 & 3, we watched another instructor working with a student on reel use and wreck penetration.  The student did a great job running line from fence post to fence post – not sure how well this directly applies to the underwater environment, but better than nothing I suppose.  As we geared up for dive #3 we were joined on the platform by the two of them, so we ended up following them to see how it all worked underwater.  Well, as you might suspect from reading this, it was quite the educational experience for our two newest divers to witness the macrame project that took place at 60 feet, as the student managed to wrap himself completely in his own line, then, while struggling with that, turned and knocked his own mask off with his stage bottle, then struggled for the surface – what a mess!  The good news is that the instructor finally responded, got him calmed down, got his mask back, untied him, and went on.  Very good example of why things might be better learned in little steps to build confidence.   

After that the rest of our dive was thankfully anti-climatic, and we wrapped the day up enjoying the late afternoon sunshine while completing our log books.  We’ll be back at Dutch the weekend of May 17-18 diving, barbecuing, and running the DUI Drysuit Demo days, so we hope to see lots of familiar smiling faces there! 

Oriskany Dive Trip Report – April ’08

Day 1 – After driving 17 hours down through an overnight teeming rainstorm, our first morning in Pensacola starts off to a very interesting and auspicious start! Csaba Lorinczy, Steve Clem, Jennifer Vasinda and I got to the [name withheld to protect the innocent] dive shop at 7 am, when they opened for us, only to find we could not quite leave yet because our tanks could not be topped off ’cause the guy with the key to the compressor was not in yet. Geeeez! OK, so we hang out a bit, chat with the staff, and finally the “keymaster” shows up about an hour later, and so we topped off and left for the boat, about 7 miles away.

A short ride later, we find the marina, and we pull up to the boat, a beautiful 36 foot Newton dive boat, big, roomy and fast. As we walk up we get what has now become the traditional Oriskany “don’t unload your gear yet, we are having problems with the boat” speech. As it turns out, the new engine in the very nice boat was giving them some grief, and they were waiting for a call back regarding a needed part. Well, efficient souls that we are, we got to enjoy a great Blue Angels practice very close and overhead for he next hour or so, while the calls went back and forth about the needed engine part. Finally it was determined that the part was not coming today, so we shifted to Plan B, where the captain and/or the shop found us another boat for the day.

So now it’s back to the shop, for some more waiting time, to allow the new captain to get ready and to get his boat in the water. “So”, the shop says, “this is a much smaller boat and we are getting a much later start and the captain wants to know if we can do just one longer tech dive rather than the two we had signed up for”. Of course the answer is a diplomatic but emphatic “NO”, so we head on down, meet the new captain and load the smaller (25 foot) boat. Finally we are heading out onto perfect seas, get to watch helicopter landing practices take place on a small carrier on the way out, and finally arrive at our destination.

Finally it is time for the first dive, and as we begin to get geared up, we discover a few problems. First, our 100% Oxygen tank that we planned to use on our final deco stop was completely empty. Not sure what happened to the “please fill this with 100% O2” part of the morning’s discussion, but oh well. Not sure why, perhaps the valve had been knocked in the truck on the drive over to the marina, or maybe it was never filled, but never the less, we have no O2. We adjust the computer-generated dive plan on the fly, and start to finish the gear up. One of our divers then discovers a free flowing regulator, so out comes the tools and we switch it out with one of the now unneeded O2 regs. After all the technical details of getting the team to finish dressing, adjusting, and tweaking are worked out, the dive finally gets underway, and we enjoy a great 160 foot trimix dive (21/35 blend) for 30 minutes, followed by 47 minutes of ascent and deco on 50% Nitrox.

Meanwhile the captain has been grilling hot dogs for us in our absence so lunch is timely and good, and we spend an hour surface interval yacking and having fun, with a huge turtle surfacing next to the boat and entertaining us for a while. Then we are off to our second dive, 156 deep, 25 minutes at depth, 48-minute total run time, and an uneventful completion and re-entry to the boat. Finally, we head in, beautiful weather, cold beers for all, including the crew, and the day ends nicely. At the dock the captain even runs out and gets more beer for us all to enjoy, and then asks if we want to dive with him again tomorrow as the bigger boat is still down. Sure, we say, and we head to the shop to get our tanks filled for the next day. Gosh, he sure seems like a nice guy……more on that later in the report!

Now we are back at the dive shop with our tanks, still half-full of expensive helium trimix fills. Can you top these off? Well of course not, we have to drain them completely because the local technical dive center we are dealing with does not have a booster pump and does not have full helium tanks and so can only fill our tanks with helium first – fairly unusual for a pro dive center that specializes in tech diving….hmmmm. Then we get into talking about our fills for tomorrow and what time they will get done, so we agree to a later start tomorrow, to allow them time to complete the fills.

But to top it off, while we are getting our tanks filled, some other testosterone-filled yo-yo who did not bother to introduce himself joined out general group, and as we started to head out, we confirmed time for the morning, and the captain reminded us to remember that the seas would be a little more than today, so we said no problem, we traveled all the way here and no little wave action was going to stand in the way. So Mr. Nobody (maybe the shop owner??) says “we’ll call the shot on whether the boat goes out in the morning”. Who really needed this guy’s opinion???

So, IVS readers… do you think this will start out in the morning, will the boat go?? Stay tuned…..

Oriskany Diving – Day 2

Dawn breaks and all appears well in sunny Pensacola, but appearances can be deceiving. The group convenes and heads over to the Waffle House for a good belly-filling pre-dive breakfast. Then we truck over to the dive shop to pick up our filled tanks in preparation of heading over to the boat for another good day of diving. That’s when the drama begins…..

First, our captain from yesterday (remember the “he seems like a nice guy?”) is there, with the look of someone that needs to talk on his face. Well the look was accurate; as he starts to talk about what kind of money he normally gets for this type of diving, how much less he got because of the deal IVS had worked out with the other boat, and how we don’t have a divemaster today. And of course no one at the local dive center, who we set this entire trip up with, has anything to say; in fact they ignore us to the point of us starting to feel we are all wearing our secret Harry Potter “cloaks of invisibility”. Not looking good at all.

Well, it’s not Dave’s first time in a situation like this, so first, he thinks, let’s check out options. Cell phone call to the first captain, to check the status on the engine repair part. Sure enough, it was flown in overnight (that part of the story was true and accurate) but it actually flew into Mobile, Alabama (that part of the story was somehow overlooked with that “they’ll fly the part in” talk we were given yesterday). Well the dealer there needs to do something with the part, and then drive it down here, so the bottom line is maybe 1 or 2 o’clock before he is running. Not a boat that is heading out today. So it’s back to the group, and checking the feelings on throwing in a few extra bucks per person to negotiate our way out of this “hostage divers held captive at the dock” situation. OK, $100 will make it all better, so we begrudgingly agree to toss in an extra $25 each for today. Captain #2 accepts it, and first problem of the day is solved. And that lack of divemaster issue – well it went away with the extra $100 too.

Now let’s see how our tanks are doing. The six sets of doubles are still hooked up to the fill station, and the pressure gauge on the wall reads 3,500 psi. That sounds like a good start, so we ask “Hello, does anyone know if these are done?” “Hello? Hello?” Something is mumbled, so we think the most prudent thing to do is to analyze the tanks ourselves. So out comes the IVS trimix analyzer, and we test the tanks. The mix asked for was 21% oxygen, 35% helium, and the balance (44%) nitrogen. All six sets test out at 28% oxygen, 21% helium, 51% nitrogen. Our dive plan today is to a depth of 180 feet. That puts our partial pressure of oxygen at 1.82 ata. Now that sure sounds like a recipe for a “shaking all over while we convulse violently and spit out our regulators and drown sort of day” Hmmm……

So we ask, “hey, what’s up with the tanks?”, “what do you mean”, is the reply, then quickly “we had some problems with the helium, we don’t have enough tank pressure, and we have more coming over from the supplier right now”. “Well, I say, these tanks are filled completely, and if we dove them, we would all die from oxygen toxicity, no question about it”. “Is your tank filler a certified gas blender?” I ask. ”Of course!” is the reply. Yeah, right. I guess he was going to somehow ask some of the oxygen molecules to begin an orderly exit from the tanks, while he magically got the 2,200 psi helium supply to push its way into the 3,500 psi tanks. Maybe it’s me, but I have a hard time with that math. On top of that, I’d be dead, and so would my fellow divers. So, since the physics cannot be denied, and these folks don’t believe in gas blending software, the tanks are then opened and drained completely, once again wasting all the money in helium and oxygen that we left in there from before and the additional gas that was added by the local dive center last night. These guys apparently can only start from zero when they are filling.

And, one of our divers nitrox tanks are filled wrong, cause the fill technician had a hard time understanding the difference between a low pressure and a high pressure tank. Go figure, maybe, just maybe, that’s why all those numbers are stamped in the tank top! So instead of adjusting the mix, they “need” to drain the tanks completely and start fresh (Again, I guess that partial pressure blending concept is not practiced in Pensacola).

At least our EAN 50% deco bottles are right as is our 100% O2 hang bottle. Of course, we checked each one of these ourselves. Not a good sense of trust here with the shop personnel.

So now we wait while all the tanks that we brought over last night and that were filled last night and that caused us to delay this morning while the weather deteriorates are being refilled.

Morning fade into mid-day, various local boats are cancelling due to weather, and our group is losing the desire to go out and get beat up. Some decide to sit out the day, so of course now the financial accounting no longer works for the captain, and we decide this might be a perfect day to visit the naval base and naval air museum here in town. Enough said about diving today. The good news is that our tanks are finally full, and with the right blends this time!

After an afternoon of tooling about and enjoying the sights and sounds of Pensacola, the phone finally rings with the word from the captain of our first boat. “Gimme the good news”, I shout excitedly into the phone. “I’ve got no good news”, comes the somber reply, as he relates how the repairs to the engine did not go as planned, and he is down for another week or two.

The curse of the Oriskany continues!

Never ones to waste full tanks, and knowing that there will be no Oriskany in our plans tomorrow, we decide to plan a visit to one of Florida’s natural springs and caverns. So off to dinner we go, with laptops and mapquest and all the other tools needed to plan the alternate dive day.

Oriskany (not!) Diving – Day 3

With a revised dive plan clearly in hand, Team IVS awoke early, checked out of our hotel, and headed 90 miles east to Ponce de Leon, FL. Our destination was Vortex Springs, a site we have not yet visited, and one which certainly seemed worth checking out! We arrived on site around 9 a.m., got signed in, spent close to an hour with the very customer friendly staff in the dive shop, and finally headed out to get our first dive in. Vortex Springs is quite the gem as it has fantastic visibility, depths from zero to 160 ft, and open water, cavern, and full cave environments for everyone to enjoy! The fish life is great too, with Shadow Bass, American Eels, Koi, Bluegills and all the other usual characters to be found.

Our first dive was to familiarize ourselves with the site, and we enjoyed a great open water / cavern dive experience, with depths to almost 60 feet. We also worked on frog kick techniques for the cave environment, as well as buoyancy control and some fine-tuning on our weighting. After that, it was time to plan some limited penetration into the cave, and so we worked with the team to understand how to lay and use lines and reels, line arrows, jump & gap reels, and some of the finer techniques of avoiding silt-outs and maintaining team communications.

So off we went on our second dive, with some of the team deciding to remain in the cavern zone while the rest of us began the penetration. We managed about 300 ft of penetration into the black-as-night cave zone, passing the Grim Reaper signs, the Stop Signs, and ended with a max. depth of 100 feet when we reached the locked gate preventing us from further penetration. Some underwater discussion in a submerged bell ended in laughter as the high helium mix we were using caused all of us to sound like a bunch of diving Donald Ducks! We reached the turnaround point, using the rule of thirds on gas consumption, and headed back out to join up with the rest of the team. Another good, safe and fun dive under our belts.

Back on land, out comes the gourmet lunch fest that Steve’s wife Dena had prepared for us, and with Jennifer’s RV serving as our field kitchen, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of home made soup, chili, spaghetti, sausage and meatballs. Team IVS sure knows how important a happy tummy is to diving! After lunch, we enjoyed a nap in the sun at waterside, just another perfect chapter in a perfect day.

So now it’s time to step it up a notch – let’s get the key to the underwater gate and see what lies beyond! With key in hand, we enter the water, and begin our descent again, through the cavern, through the first cave system, and to the gate at 100 feet. Escorted by eels, blind fish of several varieties, darkness, and the never-ending splendor of the submerged cave system, we were ready to see where this sub-aquatic path might lead us. Checking gas supplies, reconfirming the deco plan, we unlocked the gate, secured the lock to avoid being locked in, and began our penetration. We explored an additional 500 feet of the cave system, through some minor restrictions (read: scraping and clawing through but making it with all gear intact) and finally reached a major restriction at 156 ft depth, which coincided with being close enough to our turn-pressure to call the dive there and start to head back out. Through the restrictions, past the variety of sights and critters that dwelled there, closing and locking the gate, and finally emerging back into daylight – what a great dive!

Back on shore, the quiet is broken by the sound of the brewskies being opened, and the team enjoyed a round of fine Pedrone cigars while toasting a great upturn in what could have been a very disappointing dive trip. Moments like these really show the character of IVS divers and the ‘git’r done’ attitude when it comes to making the best of every dive opportunity that comes our way.

Count on a visit to Vortex Springs to be part of next year’s Oriskany dive plans!