IVS Invades the Land of the Mayans

And so it began…..a simple thought, a small idea…how about a long weekend of diving for a couple of friends say, in Cozumel? Then the word leaked, and the crowd began to grow….our little trip for 12 suddenly became a group of 15, and half of them are our rowdy friends from the DiveNY crowd on ScubaBoard. So much for a quiet weekend on the Riviera Maya!

So there was a certain Mike, who was thinking about joining us on the trip, and he was shopping airfares, and came upon a great fare out of Baltimore……so he relayed that info to a certain Joyce, who wanted in on the savings, and shared the idea of carpooling to Baltimore. So, “git-r-done” sort of guy I am , I bite…and book my ticket out of Baltimore. Well when I pass that up the chain to Mike he says “oh, I found a great fare from Philadelphia so I’m not going out of Baltimore”. What the heck???

None the less, I am committed so Joyce decides to proceed with her purchase, and we’ll be flying out of the city of the Orioles. So Joyce manages to score a room near BWI airport so we won’t have to make an 0h-dark-thirty run in the morning to catch our 7:30 a.m. flight. Obviously this is her first time traveling with me!

Well nice idea, but let’s check how Dave’s personal work calendar is shaping up as we near the date of departure….hmmmmm…not looking good. In fact, that evening, we have a Wednesday night open water class in Boyertown, plus a lifeguard scuba rescue training session, and a Discover Scuba that night. And of course when we teach there, you can’t pass on the delicious steamed clams at the Little Oley Tavern after class! So off to class we go, and our team includes Ray Graff, Joyce and Dave. Class goes well and the lifeguards are thrilled to have real divers to rescue, and then a chance to experience scuba for themselves. Great session! Afterwards it is off to the Little Oley, and a few beers and a couple of dozen clams later, we are back at the shop to unload.

So now it’s 12:30 a.m., and our flight departs at 7:30 from a city that is two hours away….and I have not packed a thing! So Joyce opts for a nap, and I tackle the desk clearing and gear packing that needs to be done. Somehow I again wind up with three huge carry-ons, since we are not only diving, but teaching Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, and Cavern Diver programs this weekend. Finally I am packed and we roll at 3:20 to head to Baltimore. Joyce, nicely rested from her nap, opts to drive so I settle into the passenger seat and close my peepers. OK, well I am just drifting off into serious la la land when crash – crunch – rattle rattle….what the heck is all that, I ask? Well it appeared a deer had attempted, unsuccessfully, to cross the turnpike a short while ago, and his remains were there in our lane. As we plowed through them, a couple of bones managed to penetrate the right front tire, so suddenly it was wop-wop-wop as Joyce pulled over onto the very narrow shoulder to investigate. Yup, sure ‘nuff, that there tire is real flat! So, where’s the jack & tools I ask? Hmmmm…..let’s help Ms J find them for the very first time! We locate and gather the jack, handle, wrench, and spare tire and get to work. Fortunately we have plenty of lighting, since the cavern class requires each diver to have a primary light plus two back-ups, so we are good to go for illumination. Grunt, grunt, the car is jacked, the tire changed, the gear re-loaded, and we are back on our way south, none the worse for the wear, but definitely a little tighter on the clock, and now in serious need of a shower!

So, 5:50 we get to the hotel, check in, and jump into the shower. I make it back downstairs to see the 6:15 shuttle pulling away, so now it’s another 15 minutes of precious time clicking away waiting for the next one. OK, well let’s make use of this time, so we go to the kiosk and I check in for my flight. Joyce tries, but for some reason she can’t get confirmed, so we need to do that at the airport. Finally it arrives, and we board, but we are only the first stop, and we head to two other hotels. 6:48 and we are unloading at the airport, but the shuttles have to unload in the outside lanes, not right in front of the terminal doors. “Joyce, grab a cart”, I say, and I hump my three bags and Joyce’s two more off the van. “Go check in, look at the clock, now it’s 6:54!” She runs inside, and I follow with the cart pile high with bags. “Here, use the First Class line”, I say, and we are only one person away from being taken care of. Make that one long-winded, very chatty person……geeesh!!! So now it is 6:58, and finally it’s our turn, and the agent takes a look at his watch and states the obvious “man, are you cutting it close!”. No kidding! But we manage, and her boarding pass prints out at 6:59, less than one minute from the cut-off. Whew! So we hand over our bags, and head for security – quick, use the express lane, almost there, and a wheelchair pusher excuses herself into the line in front of us. Well this must be lonely person day at the airport, cause she needs to chat, and the very friendly, very chatty older woman in the chair needs to chat with every stinkin’ blue shirted TSA staffer between there and the screening station. Finally on her third attempt through the scanner, I ask if we could possibly pass by, cause our plane has been boarding now for 10 minutes. OK, we get the green light, and grab our bags, and head down the terminal to our gate. One more short line to bypass, and we’re finally on! Atlanta first, then the land of Coz! Time to start relaxing a bit!

Finally we look out and there’s the beautiful emerald–hued sea we knew awaited us.  Our plane came in for a landing and moments after touching down, the skies opened up with a torrential downpour.  Well guess what the Mexicans at the airport don’t have?  You guessed it – raincoats!!  So we had to wait til the rain slowed, and finally the ground crew came back out and we walked down the stairs onto the island.  Bags are unloaded, pass through immigration with no incidents (Csaba is not on this trip!), gather our bags, through customs, and finally we are officially  into the country.  Know how you can tell that? By the throng of salesmen awaiting you as you pass through the doors, peddling everything from time shares to tours to dinner reservations to who knows what.  We run the gauntlet, grab our shuttle passes, and load up for the short ride to Hotel Cozumel, our base of operations for this adventure.  Check in is smooth, and within a few minutes, we are joined by the rest of the crowd, including Brian LaSpino, Deanna Kuik, Mike Parzynski, Tricia Arrington, Grace Crawford, Donna Raleigh, Steve Holak, our Denver connections Joe Benkelman & Ryan Warren, and representing ScubaBoard’s DiveNY group, Sam Aeyung, Lewis Evans, Chris Muller and Pam Schools – a total of 15!

Everyone checked in, dropped their stuff off in the rooms, and boogied across the street where we rented a tank from the on-site dive operator and jumped in on the house “reef” for a warm up dive.  Weighting was checked, and gear too – cause when we start diving tomorrow, it will be all “hot drops” where the boat does not anchor, and we need to be able to get in and get down quickly so as to not disperse the group in the current.  The damage from past hurricanes, most notably Wilma, is evident under the water here, cause there’s the old concrete pier, along with a sunken boat and pieces of the old seawall.  Still, one man’s junk is another creature’s habitat and there was life galore among the debris piles.  Everyone did great , made the necessary weight adjustments for the high salinity of the local water, and we packed our gear in the dockside lockers for the morning dives.  Quick shower and then down to the restaurant for our first Hotel Cozumel meal!

Friday morning and it’s a 6:30 breakfast call for all.  Everyone’s excited about the diving to be had, and we enjoy a nice breakfast buffet then head across the street to the dock.  The gear lockers can’t be more convenient, right alongside the dock, along with huge rinse tile tanks that sorta remind you of the village communal wash tub!  Everyone is getting their gear together, waiting for our boats to come in, when I happen to notice Sam sitting, looking dejected, alongside the dock.  “Sam”, I ask, “what could be the matter?”  With a very sorry face Sam turns to me and says “Remember how I said to you how proud I was that Donna was the organized one?  Well I gave her the gear locker keys last night and she lost them!  We have no gear to dive!”.  My goodness, my reaction was immediate – I was overwhelmed…no, not like you might think, but overwhelmed trying to simultaneously hold back the laughter and try to sort through the hundreds of wry comments that were flying into my head!  Where to start, I thought!  OK..I composed myself, “where did you last see them?”  Donna left them hanging in the locker door”, she said.  Good safe place, I am thinking, yep, she’s the organized one alright!   And to make matters worse, our boats are coming to get us, the local dive shop is not yet open, and except for bathing suits, the girls are gearless.  What a way to start it off!

Our operator for this trip is Dive with Martin, and we meet Miguel and the crew as they bring two boats for our gang.  We make the introductions, I go over the gear situation with them, and we agree to make our first stop at the dive center to gear the girls up in rental goodies for the morning.  We pile on the boats, 28 ft open pangas, with a fly bridge of sorts for the captain.  They are open construction, with no cabin, so as we head out into the very windy ocean it becomes more than a little wet.  In fact, it is more along the lines of having one of the local firemen standing on the bow and hosing everyone down, non-stop, for the entire ride out to the dive site.  The upside is that the air and water are both in the mid 80’s, so while wearing your mask certainly helps you see on the way out, at least we are not cold.

A quick stop on the ride south to pick up the needed rental gear, and we soon arrive at our first dive site – Palancar Bricks. We brief on the plan then drop in on top of the reef, depth around 40 ft, and head west to the edge of the wall.  From there we drop down to 100 ft and begin to swim through a labyrinth of channels, cuts and passageways through this amazing reef structure.  The current is northward, so we are swept along the edge of the wall, where to our left the depths plummet to 6,000 feet or more.  This is very open water, and very cool! Miguel is leading our group of nine, and the other six are on the second boat, so it’s nice and relaxing without too big a group to manage.  Sadly, we reach the 700 psi point, and we begin the slow ascent to the surface.  At 60 ft Miguel deploys his SMB (surface marker buoy) and passes out enough line from his reel to get it to the surface, where our captain spots in and begins to position the boat to intercept us.  We hang for our safety stop, still sailing along, and finally pop up.  The wind is strong and makes the surface current even stronger, so it’s grab the current line and hang on for dear life as we prepare to reboard.  The plan is to remove your BCD in the water, pass it up, then pull your fins off and climb the ladder.  Well removing the BCD in the current is akin to trying to swim in a washing machine, so it makes for a bit of fun, but we manage.  Back on board there are nothing but huge smiles all around – we have arrived in Cozumel for sure!

Dive #2 is an area known as San Clemente, and it’s a nice reef structure with a depth in the mid 40 foot range. Lots of critters, turtles, eels and a healthy population of reef fish.  Even better, lots of seahorses hanging on for dear life in the current, their tails locked onto some vegetation along the sea floor. It’s truly amazing how well they blend in and you really need to have an eye for them to notice them as you sail along.  Thankfully, Miguel & Roberta, our dive guides for this trip, have the ability to spot these and so many other cool critters for us!  An hour in the water sailing along, and we finally get back on board for the ride back for lunch.

Lunch is served in the waterfront restaurant, sitting right on the beach.  The food is plentiful, and while not 4-star, certainly offers enough variety to appease everyone’s taste and satisfy every appetite.  Our boats return at 1:00 for us and we head back out for the afternoon dives, this time hitting the Santa Rosa Wall and Chankanab Reef.  The wall is dramatic, and the currents are strong, so we sail along just reveling in the beauty of the underwater world here.  Another dive nearly an hour long at 100 ft, and we are thankful for our computers (OK, except Tricia, who’s Suunto is definitely not impressed with our diving habits!).  Miguel is great and Dive with Martin is unlike some of the other operators here, as they actually let us dive our computers rather than some rigid dive plan that has been drilled into them from above – hence our reason for the selection of this operator!  So our surface intervals short, usually around 40 minutes, and we are back in the water faster, for longer bottom times – like it should be!

After our dives we head back to the dock where we have enough time to grab something at the poolside snack bar, hang out  bit, and then saunter on back down to the dock for our night dive.  The group has dwindled a little so it’s Sam, Donna, Brian, Deanna, Joyce, Lewis, Joe, Ryan and myself aboard for the darker version of what we have been doing all day.  A side comment here and a compliment to Deanna – seven weeks ago she decided to try scuba diving, took the class, and now within two weeks, has gone from six drysuit dives at Dutch Springs in 45 degree water for her checkouts, to another half dozen dives so far in Cozumel, with this one being her first night dive.  Talk about variety in diving right out of the gate!

The night dive is great, and Dive with Martin is accommodating with our request for it to truly be a “night dive”, as defined by darkness and no sun.  So many of the operators here promote twilight dives, where by the end of your dive it is finally getting dark, but you never get the full impact of nocturnal activity on the reef.  Again, another reason we have chosen this operator!  We drop in on Paradise Reef and enjoy an hour  of bottom time, being entertained by octopus, lobsters and eels out and about, huge crabs feeding, groupers hunting, and the usual cast of characters that play at night on the reef.  Great dive, great group, and we are thrilled with our first full day of diving here!  Once we get back, we gussie up and drop into the hotel restaurant for a pretty decent buffet and some well-earned cerveza’s!

Saturday morning comes and the wind has not died down at all, in fact it is growing stronger and coming from the southeast.  That makes the Palancar area a little rough to dive, so we opt for the C53 wreck, a former Mexican Navy gunboat sitting in 70 feet of water.  Cleaned and prepared for diving, it offers some great swim thru’s and exploration, and serves as a bit of an oasis for a large variety of sea life.  Some great photo op’s, and as we are heading towards the line, I find, in a sad but true growing IVS tradition, one of the ladies’ weight pouches from her BCD.  What have you started, Lynn Swartley?   It’s OK though, cause Tricia manages to make it to the line, and at least ends up on the boat we started from (unlike Ms Lynn!).

Second dive is Tormentos Reef, and here is probably the strongest current we hit all weekend, as we sail, head over heels, along this beautiful reef.  Lots of large fish everywhere, and a really nice dive, but way too fast to really enjoy how much there is to see here.  We probably cover three miles during this dive, and are nowhere near were we started when we finally reboard after an hour plus on the bottom.  We do manage to capture three lionfish on this dive; part of a local effort to keep this menacing predator under control and avoid decimating the reef fish population as we have witnessed in the Bahamas and other places.  Miguel is packing a ziplock plastic bag, and we heard the little buggers, poisonous fins and all, into the bag for one last swim.  They must feel like the little pigs boarding the trucks in the movie Babe…”oh boy, we’re going for a ride!!  Woo hooo!”  Little do they know….Anyhow, enough of that dark talk……it’s time to head back for lunch and prepare for the afternoon’s dives.

Since the sind has not died down, we decide to not head as far south into the wind, so our first drop will be Punta Tunich, a really nice reef ledge interspersed with beautiful white sandy patches.  Now today is a special day as we are celebrating birthdays for both Joe Benkelman and Joyce Kichman, so as we show up for this afternoon’s dives, our birthday-ers are securely bound in handcuffs and wearing pretty feather boas for us.  In proper DIR tradition, the handcuffs are black, the fur is a uniform 3/4″ thick, and the boas are exactly 48″ long, with the feathers evenly spaced left and right along the center cord.  Our celebrants roll backwards over the gunwale in perfect synchronization, descend to depth, and sail along, side-by-side, showing great form and style.  More than a few photos capture the moment of this special dive, with Joe, the junior celebrating his 45th, while Joyce the senior makes her 50th a very special sort of day with her friends under the sea.  Obviously these two are not into solo diving today!  Now you may be wondering, who would have had handcuffs and boas in their baggage on this trip, and while we won’t mention any names, let us just say that Ms Tricia is full of all sorts of surprises ..wink wink!  

Our second location is back at Chankanab, and we manage to find some more toadfish, and Dave snags two more lionfish, barehanded, off the reef.  Miguel is quick with his plastic bag, and the reef fish are breathing a little easier for our efforts.  The current here is almost non-existent, so the dive is really laid back and everyone is smiling and grinning as we surface from our last daytime open water ocean dive for this weekend, and we head back in for a quick snack and then one last night dive.

Back at the hotel we grab a snack and hydrate a bit at the poolside cabana, then head over for our last night dive.  Our team from Dive with Martin has been great, and tonight we are heading out even later, to make sure our night dive is truly “all night” and no twilight.  Love these guys!  It’s a really laid back dive, minimal current, lots of life, and Donna, Sam, Joyce, Steve and I are greeted with some really cool phosphorescent sea stars, slipper and spiny lobsters walking about, loud toadfish grunting, more octopus play, and Steve playing laser tag, lighting up some unsuspecting reef inhabitants for the marauding groupers to nail…nice, Steve!  You’ll be getting plenty  of hate mail from PETA now!  All in all, another super dive, and we finally head back in.  Hugs and high fives all around to our dive guides, and we saunter over to the hotel to gussie up and finish Joyce’s birthday celebration. 

Meanwhile, our birthday boy Joe had decided to sit out our night dive, and he, along with the rest of th crew, had headed over to the Casa Mission restaurant for dinner, drinks, and dancing!  Needless to say, they were a bit ‘lit up’ when we met them in the Hotel Coz bar, and the celebrations and laughter continued into the night.  What a really fun bunch on this trip, like that is a surprise!  Joe ended up behind the bar taking care of us, the staff just took it all in, smiling at the antics of this gringo group.  From there we rolled out to the pool, had a few mas cervezas, and finally called it a night.  Happy Birthday Joe & Joyce!!

Sunday morning came way too early for some, but everyone managed to get up and be in the lobby to catch our 7:30 cab ride down to the ferry station so we could make the 8:00 ferry to the mainland for our day in the cenotes.  We get there, and man, the ferry landing is sure not too busy on a Sunday morning!  We feel like the Gryzwald’s from National Lampoons Vacation,  getting in there early, beating the crowd, and grabbing the first tickets for the 8:00 ferry!  Woo hoo..first in line…this is great….wait, what does sign say?  Next ferry..9:00!!!  My oh my, the crowd starts to get a little ugly as they look at me, wondering why I didn’t allow them one more precious hour of pillowtime this morning.   Let me check and make sure….yep, my confirming email, from earlier this week says “take the 8:00 ferry”.  So I call across the channel to Aquatech Dive Center, our cenote dive operator, and the voice on the other end says “what?  There’s no 8:00 ferry?  When did they change that???”.  Whew….I am vindicated!   So we grab a little nap, and finally board the 9:00 ferry over to Playa del Carmen. 

The ride over is quiet, a little bumpy due to the wind, but as we draw closer we are treated to a school of tuna making dinner out of some baitfish while the sea birds swoop in from above to grab the snacks and leftovers.  Sucks to be them, and sure makes us feel a little better about our position on the food chain!  We tie up , and sure enough, there are our guides there to greet us.  We hump the gear to the waiting vans, and enjoy a half hour ride south to Akumal.  We stop at Aquatech and  get our paperwork squared away, grab some tanks, and head a little further south, to Dos Ojos cenote.  The cenote system runs all through this region, and basically they are solution-formed caves and caverns, which over the past millions of years have been both dry and wet, allowing beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations to form.  Slightly acidic water has cut through the limestone, forming underground rivers & pools.  Where the rock thinned out too much, the roof of the caves collapse, allowing access from the surface to the system.  Diving here is about 180 degrees different from our diving off Cozumel, and a great contrast for the weekend’s adventure.   

Once on site, we get a comprehensive briefing, and our group breaks up into three.  Tommy and Tito will each be leading a small group on cenote tours, while Mike, Joyce, Tricia, Lewis, Sam & Donna will be with me and Lena, as we work to complete the required dives and skills for our Cavern class.  We head in, and enjoy two different excursion dives.  Our first is the Barbie line, aptly named for an early Mayan Barbie doll found in the mouth of an early Mayan plastic alligator about halfway through the tour.  The speleothermic formations are stunning, and you want to just slow down and take it all in, sort of a 3-D visit to a natural art museum.  About 45 minutes later we surface after completing our loop. 

Most of the group heads up for lunch, and our cavern team drops back down for some skill work, working with reels, laying line, making tie-offs, and connecting to the permanent guideline just inside the cave zone.  From there, it’s masks off, and a blind line drill as they make their way back out, with the only reference being the guideline they just ran between their fingers.  Everyone does great, buoyancy is good, stress is managed, and we survive!  Had this been an actual silt-out, loss-of-lights emergency, they would have performed well.    From there we work a little further on buoyancy and air sharing skills, then head up and grab some lunch served up by our guides.

After lunch we head back in for our second tour, this time to the Bat Cave, where halfway along our route, we surface in a pool inside a large cave, and the ceiling is covered with hundreds of bats, hanging around, flying, and just doing bat stuff.  Very cool, and a neat contrast to what lies under the surface.  We dip back in, and finish off another 45 minute tour, surfacing once again at our point of entry.  Very nice.  A few of the group heads back to the hotel early “to pack”  (uh huh!) and the rest take a van back to Aquatech’s beachside bar.  The cavern class stays for a few more skills, and finally I dip down and explore a bit off the side of the main cavern, into a cave area that drops down to about 45 feet and heads back through a series of chambers.  Pretty cool.  Enough of that, let’s pile pack the gear and head back to the Villas DeRosa, the dive center resort.  Joe, Ryan and Grace are already pretty well lubricated by the time we arrive, so what better to do than grab some kayaks and head out into the ocean?  Well at least it made for some great photo ops, and Ryan and Joe made it all the way out past the breakers – nice job men!  Dinner was cooked up right there, and more libations, until finally we were, in true IVS tradition, getting pretty darn close on time to catch the last ferry of the evening back to Cozumel.  Sadly, we said goodbye to our host Tony and his staff, and tooled back up the highway to the ferry landing.  The ride back was pretty quiet and rocky, but we made it, and finally, we had reached the point where everyone’s batteries were dead….off to bed, no time for the poolside bar!  What wimps, eh?  We’ll work on that!

And once again, it’s the Women of IVS who show their stuff and come home with the coveted “A.D.D.” award – All Dives with Dave!  Donna Raleigh, Sam Aeuyung, & Joyce Kichman made all 16 dives over the 3 1/2 days of our adventure – way to go girls!! 

Finally it’s Monday, and for the first time we actually have a chance to go do some shopping and other tourist things!  So a bunch of us jump in a cab, head down to the shopping area, and haggle with the shopkeepers as we score a few bargains on much needed trinkets and chintzy jewelry. More fun, more laughs, more support of the local economy!  What ambassadors we are indeed!  Our shopping needs satiated, we head back to the hotel, pack, check out and head to the airport to catch our respective flights.  Great trip, great group, great destination  – in the words of governor Arnold…. we’ll be back!!

The Ladies of IVS show their stuff at Dutch Springs

This weekend marked our third checkout dive weekend of the season at Dutch Springs. Yes, our third time there already this season, starting right on opening day this year.

So you ask, is Dutch ready to dive already….no friggin’ way – it is 45 degrees in the water! But does that stop our divers from jumping in? Nope!

This weekend’s class was an all-girls outing, with Briana Reinoso, Kaitlyn Ott, Deanna Kuik, and Cathryn Hardin all needing to get those pesky checkout dives completed before they headed to more exotic locations later this month. So they all opted to take the Drysuit class in conjunction with their Open Water program, and they dove dry all weekend long. I am still amazed that they wanted to do this, let alone come out and complete six dives with us, and still ready to go for more!

Saturday was perfect, sunny, warm, calm……very alluring to come and dive into the pretty pond!  We got our three dives and the ladies did nothing short of fantastic.  The drysuit training paid off in spades as they were comfortable on each dive in the mid 40 degree water. Sunday came along and boy what a difference a night can make…….it was raining like a son of a gun, cold, dreary, and overcast, but did that deter our divers?  Well, heck yes, it really sucked!  But we had a job to do, and we did it, getting in not only three more dives, but actually then a fourth dive to explore the wreck known as the Silver Comet.

Another great weekend, lots of smiles, and four new divers welcomed into the IVS family – perfect!

Keys, Keys everywhere…gotta dive ’em all!

It’s high time we visited the Conch Republic once again, and this time we’ll be enjoying the entire 120 miles of the chain.  Our week-long journey started early Monday morning  – well early for the Swartley’s that is!  Geeez Louisse, the were up and running at 3:00 a.m., and had their sleepover guest Csaba Lorinczy moving too! As might be expected, I took a more leisurely approach, deciding my original 8:45 flight was cutting into my chance to get some more work done, so I opted for 10:20, then finally decided to fly out on the 11:30 flight….gosh I love Delta and how they let me be, well, me!

I arrived at the airport with well over 20 minutes to spare before baggage check in was cut off, which in itself is pretty amazing for me!  So I parked and got shuttle over to the airport and walked up to the curbside check-in with my five bags, 3 of them at or close to 70 pounds.  Ruh-roh…none of my “regulars” were at the skycap stand!  This might not be good.  Some of these guys go back years with me, with my favorite being my friend Jackson, who actually took my car and drove it off site to a valet lot twice for me when I was running really, really tight on making a flight.  Left the keys there, took the shuttle back to work, and I picked it up at the lot when I returned.  Talk about service plus!

So I saunter up to the counter, make eye contact, tip money clearly viewable folded in my hand, and get the check in process started.   Well our friendly skycap must have been suffering from an acute visual problem today, cause the conversation went something like this: “Mr. Valaika, there is a two bag limit, so these extra bags are going to cost you $25 each”.  Well home boy, I might have been born at night, but it wasn’t LAST night!  How about we just hump these bags inside and I’ll deal with it there.  So I walk into the terminal, and who is there to greet me?  My two favorite girls from the Delta Crown Room, which is currently undergoing renovations, so they are working the ticket counter…talk about fate smiling down on David here!  As you might expect what’s a few extra bags and a few extra pounds between friends? Problem solved, let’s head to the gate!

The flights to Atlanta and then on to Fort Lauderdale were uneventful, and I arrived on time.  Grab the bags, and head over to the Car Rental Center, a pretty nice arrangement where all of the major car rental outfits are located in one central complex right at the airport.  Well, almost all, I realize, as I walk inside and look at the marquee for the company  had chosen, based on a smokin’ price on an SUV for the week.  Hmmmm…seems my guys are located waaaay off the airport site.  What to do, what to do….well a little negotiation later, and I am driving off the lot with a bran spanking new Ford Escape with all the options, for less than what i was going to pay.  Amazing how this deal was not even close to available when I booked my reservation on line, but a little quality face time, and perhaps a dash of schmoozing, helped cement the deal.  Fate smiles again….let’s keep this up!

Well while I was traveling Csaba got in a couple of dives with Jim, Jess & DJ Swartley, while Lynn and Hannah did a little shopping.  This is Hannah’s checkout weekend, so we’ll be getting her in the water on Friday.  I arrived after they returned and picked up Csaba for our ride to Key West.  First stop, IVS-South, also known as Dave Hartman’s house, where we picked up our sets of doubles and stage bottles that we keep there for our more adventurous dives…can’t beat this for convenience!  100 miles later, and we are at the Key West Condo, where Matt & Jen Yaroch have already checked in a little earlier.  The team calls it an early night, and gets some rest  in preparation of tomorrow’s adventure.

Wednesday morning came and it looked like it had the makings of a glorious day.  THe sun was shining, the sky was clear, it was in the 80’s….all great except for how hard those flags were flapping on the shrimp boats in the harbor.  That pesky wind thing!  Makes the ocean so much less friendly!  Oh well, we are here to dive, so dive we must!

Todays diving was with Looe Key Dive Center, located at mile marker 27 on the Overseas Highway.  Check in was at 9:00 with a leisurely departure scheduled for 10 a.m.   We all got up and got prepared for the day.  This is where we learned a little more about Jen, specifically the amount of time she likes in the morning to get ready for the day.  Must be that NAUI thing, I don’t know.  We’ll avoid the details, but let’s just say we’ll be making a few adjustments in our timing for tomorrow a.m.!

In any case, we FINALLY loaded into the cars and motored back up Route 1 to Looe Key.  The folks at Looe Key Dive Center are great, and we got through our paperwork and boat loading in short order.  The boat was a bit crowded with a total of 46 divers and snorkelers on board. In addition to the mass of humanity, there was also the captain’s “kitchen”, basically his own personal concession stand where he’ll be cooking up Sloppy Joe’s and hot dogs, selling an array of snack foods, plus offering drinks, including margaritas and beer!  Now this is the way to run a dive boat – the heck with the crowding issue!

The wind was still a little brisk as we headed out on the 48 ft catamaran, and the seas a wee bit angry.  It was a little wet and a lot bouncy getting out and as we approached the dive site, the water was a hue of green that was strikingly similar to some of the folks on board at this point!  We tied up, geared up, and started the dance of working our way, in full gear, on a bouncing boat deck, from the stern, where the crew had all the divers sitting, through the crowd of snorkelers to the bow, where we were tied in.  Not sure about the planning process here, but we managed.  Splish, splash, we dropped in, and started down the line to the Adolphus Busch, a 210 ft long freighter sunk in 1998 as an artificial reef.  Covered with fish and laying nearly perfectly upright on the bottom at 120 ft, this wreck offers a lot of nice penetration opportunities through its length.  As our team approached the wreck, there was our first Goliath Grouper slipping down into a hole on the rear deck.  Camera on, I slipped right in behind him, and caught some video as he played cat and mouse with me through the myriad of piping, valves, fittings and machinery that was in the compartment.  Concern over entanglement issues?  Not when there is some nice video to shoot! I unwrap few hoses and finally extricate myself from the passageway – all good, still breathing.   Got a few nice shots, good way to start the dive!

While Jen & Matt opted for a topsides tour, while Csaba and I went straight through the belly of this wreck, squeezing through the various holes and cut outs, around the engines, in and out of the cargo holds, just exploring it all.  Unfortunately the viz sucked already, and the slightest errant move of your hand or fin inside just raised a cloud of fine silt up, bringing the already poor viz to near zero.  Sure sucks to be in the “second diver” position behind the guy with the camera – sorry Csaba!  Hmmmmm…..what a concept – might promote a camera sale here!  But we’re diving inside a wreck, so as long as we can see our way to the next turn or hole, we are cool with that.  We reached the bow, and then back tracked through the wreck.  Hitting 38 minutes of bottom time at 120 ft on our 28% EAN, my Cochran was still ready to explore, but my buddy’s Galileo said it was time to head up.  OK, what was the rule…follow the ‘least’ or ‘most’ conservative computer?  Hmmmm…….It was OK, so we began a nice 10 minute ascent, clearing the 3 minutes of deco obligation along the way up on my ‘puter, and then waiting until Csaba’s gave us the green light also. Thank goodness he wasn’t diving a Suunto!

However, no good dive trip is complete without some drama, so here’s today’s: unbeknownst to Csaba and I, the captain had already pulled the ladders, and was ready to release from the mooring, sure that no one was still in the water, let alone down diving the wreck.  As he began to call the roll, Matt shouted out “hey, some of us are still diving”!  Ooops – maybe they should wait for the two of us.  Ladders are dropped back down, and sure enough, 15 minutes later the last two pokey divers pop up onto the surface, and Csaba and I swim over to the boat, ignorant of the fact that we were so close to being abandoned at sea!  Ignorance is bliss, and we’re still smiling when Matt shares the story with us.  No harm, no foul…ready to keep on diving!

Back on board, the captain had the grill going full blast, and lunch was being served.  First class indeed, in spite of the near miss on the abandonment thing,  and if the boat had only been a little less crowded, this would have really been great!  But we managed, and the good news is that a lot of the fish feeders managed to refill their bellies in preparation of providing some more topside entertainment.  Cruel, I know, but so fun to watch!

As the number of fish feeders at the rails had increased, it was time to get some of these folks in the water!  We moved the slight distance over to Looe Key Reef, and the waves were literally breaking over this barely submerged island.  We jumped in for our second dive at the site called ‘The Nursery’ while the snorkelers splashed around us, braving the less than ideal conditions.  As one might suspect, the viz sucked, the surge was strong, and the max depth was about 25 ft, so there was no escaping it for us.  We managed to hang for 45 minutes in hopes of spotting something cool, but that was not meant to be today.

Enough of that, we moved the boat about a hundred yards to a site called ‘Shark Alley’.  Conditions here were, amazingly, the same as they were 300 feet away – what a surprise!  But we still dove, and though the snorkelers numbers were waning, some still managed to get in and play.  Another half hour and we had had enough, and called the dive for the day.

It was back on board now when Csaba pointed out a chilling fact to me – on most IVS trips, some of our hardier divers manage to earn the ADD award….that stands for All Dives with Dave.  Well it seems that on this trip, there is the potential for another level of award, and Csaba is in the lead….MDD, or ‘More Dives than Dave’.  Seems his strategy of heading down early with the Swartleys managed to let him get in two dives before I got in town!  Now I am thinking of strategies, maybe a covert night dive or two, to get my numbers back up on this trip!

Back at the dock there was a nice ending to the Looe Key experience – when you check back in after your trip, they give you a coupon for a free drink at their Tiki Bar next door, plus they offer you the use of their pool to relax and enjoy a few more hours of your day.  Well what marketing genius is this at work here?  Of course we’ll take the free drinks, and of course, once we are seated at the bar, we’ll order a few more.  Had they not baited us with the free drink, we would have simply gotten in our car and headed back to wherever we came from.  These guys get high marks from me for thinking outside the box, and cross promoting their businesses.  Now my wheels are turning….how do we get some free drink or appetizer coupons from some of our local establishments to further enhance the social aspect of our diving community?  Can you picture the folks from IVS actually heading out to a bar or pub after a class or day of diving?  How cool would that be?  What a concept!!  Stay tuned for updates on this one as we begin to conduct our research!

After some generous support of the local establishment, we head on back to casa IVS-Key West, and freshen up for dinner next door at the Hogfish Bar & Grille.  Talk about convenient, great music, good food, cold drinks – and all about thirty steps from our front door!  Dinner was good, the conversation was great, Jen’s color returned – all good stuff.  Great day overall, and looking forward to tomorrow’s diving on the Vandenberg.

Thursday morning came and we had agreed to talk to Captain Chris at 10 in the morning since the weather looked like it would be improving through the day, so an afternoon trip was in order. Csaba, Jen & Matt headed out for breakfast and some tank filling. And we are being treated to some special entertainment, as the Navy’s Blue Angels are here for an air show this weekend, and are practicing all day and coming in and out of the Naval Air Station Key West which is located practically next door to the condo.  These guys are screaming in low right over the harbor and the docks, flying solo, in formations, all sorts of cool stuff.  This is actually the second time that Team IVS has been treated to an impromptu air show, as we enjoyed the Blue Angels in Pensacola last spring while we were there to dive the Oriskany.  I am suspecting maybe these Navy pilots might be secret IVS groupies!  Very cool!

So we had a pre-dive meeting this morning, to go over the planning for the day, especially things like timing of the boat departure, since it was such a contentious subject yesterday.  We spoke, slowly & clearly, and tried to keep it as mono-syllabic as possible, in deference to our NAUI listener.  The boat is picking us up right at the condo so all we have to do is walk out the front door and climb aboard – sweet!  Our mission for today is a 3-tank journey, with the first two stops being on the Vandenberg, followed by a third location to be determined.  Csaba and the crew headed over to get our tanks filled at Sub Tropic Dive Center, our local support shop for things Key West, and while they were out they enjoyed a sumptious breakfast at IHOP.  Csaba enjoyed the strawberry pancakes, Matt had a big fat omellette PLUS pancakes, while Jenn laid down a base layer of pancakes, sausage and home fries, sure to delight our finned friends in a few hours out at sea! I know, so cruel…yet so true!

The face of IVS South has joined us this morning, as Dave Hartman drove down from the upper Keys to dive the V-berg with us. The weather is laying down, the seas are calming, and the afternoon is looking great! Capt. Chris shows up at 1:30, and we load the boat up right in front of the condo.  It’s a small boat, a 26 ft Glacier Bay catamaran, so rather than struggling with limited space on board, we opt to set up our gear on the dock and don our wetsuits too.  Once everything is set up, we motor through the harbor and in less than 5 minutes we are on the ocean.

Well the winds had subsided a bit, but were still going at about 15 knots out of the south, which meant they had plenty of chances to influence the waves on the sea.  Our six mile run to the Vandenberg was one rough ride to say the least.  We enjoyed some nice sightseeing on the way out, as the Blue Angels continued to wow us with precision maneuvers out over the ocean.  There were also many turtles out too, and a fwe major schools of Portugese men-o-war to pass through, glad we saw them on the ride out and not while we were diving!  As we approached the wreck, there was something floating in the water, almost invisible yet there, and we slowly motored up to investigate.  Well my oh my, it was a free diver in camoflouge, hangin out with his speargun.  No marker, no float, nothing to keep us from accidently running right over his butt – what an idiot!

So after a bit of a heated exchange between our captain and the offender, we tied up to the mooring ball and prepared our descent.  The current was, shall we say, ripping at the surface, so we tied off a granny line to the mooring to assist us as we entered the water.  Not the best conditions but we were here to dive, so dive we must!

Let me take a moment and sing some praise for Miss Jenn.  This was a trip of nothing but firsts for this woman, and she took every single one in perfect stride.  Yesterday was her first wreck dive ever, and her first bout of seasickness.  Today was not only her second wreck dive, but her first back roll off a small boat, first experience with strong currents, first dives over 100 feet, first wreck penetration, and unfortunately, her second session of seasickness.  As noted above, our finned friends loved her!

OK, I digress….so we splashed, and fought hand over hand up the granny to the seriously bouncing mooring ball, trying to avoid a face full of that as we swung our arms around it to grab the line down to the wreck.   The first 25 ft or so of descent was a real kick, with each of us hanging on like flags on a windy day, literally straight out from the mooring line.  What a ride, and you could see the thrill in Jenn’s eyes…ok, well maybe I interpreted it as the look of thrill!  Or disbelief…or terror…but it was a cool look!

Amazingly though, as we dropped closer to the wreck the current became less and less forceful, so we were able to really enjoy the dive at deck level. The viz was probably in excess of 100 ft on this dive, and one of the first things that greeted us was a large turtle swimming by, not more than 10 or 12 feet from us, checking us out and not minding us being there at all.  Great start!  From there we swam up to the bridge, enjoyed penetrating that area, dropped out onto the starboard side deck, worked our way under the dish antenna, and slowly returned to our starting point.  The bio-mass on the wreck was tremendous today, with multiple schools of silverside baitballs all around, hungry schools of amberjack on the prowl, oodles of barracuda, humongous parrot fish, crustaceans, shrimp, the list goes on.

Csaba and Dave H had done their own tour of the wreck while I dove with Jenn and Matt, and after I escorted those two back to the mooring line, I did a bit of touring on my own.  After a nice 45 minute run time with a max depth of 120 feet I surfaced, and the rest of the gang was back on the boat.  So much back that Dave and Csaba had already accumulated 25 minutes of surface interval.  I had to ask them if they intended to actually log that as a dive!  I couldn’t be too harsh on them, as Csaba, ever the supportive one, was somewhat green ala Jenn.  What a team player he is!

So by now, 10 minutes of surface interval had passed, and my Cochran was indicating that it was time to dive again!  And Jenn was not doing well so it was time to get dive #2 under way and minimize the agony for her.  So come on boys, let’s get our gear switched over, get dressed, get in the water……geeesh!  We finally splashed for our second dive, and I had taken on the responsibility to bring Matt back as directed by his bride – oh the pressure!  I asked Matt if he wanted to do something  a little scary on this dive, and before he could answer, you can imagine the response I got from Jenn.  OK, Plan B….

So we headed down and this time toured the stern, coming upon a grouper about 6 ft long there, plus more of everything.  We dropped down into a cargo hatch, and entered one of the decks at 125 ft, taking in the galley, kitchen prep areas, and some storage rooms before heading back topsides.  We hit  few more areas along the deck, and then it was time to head back to the mooring.  There was Csaba and Dave already on the line so our timing was good.  Nice slow descent, some 50% EAN to clean up the tissues a bit, and we finally surfaced after a 40 minute run.   Another good dive in the books.

Now here I took the time for another sensitive moment, thinking of poor Jenn sitting this great dive out up top.  As we headed back across the deck to the mooring, I noticed a nice size conch shell sitting there, intact, sans conch.   What a great souvenier this will make, I thought, let me just sneak up on it and make sure no one is living inside.  Looks good, no hermit crab legs hanging out, no damsel fish hovering, looks like a green light for me.  So, I pick up the shell, give it one good look, smile at my good fortune finding it sitting there, and even take the time to rub off the algae on it.  This will look nice in her house, and should be a nice reminder of her second wreck dive!  Now, where to put it, as I am sure I will need both hands to manage the ascent line and my stage bottle in this current. So I pull the top of my wetsuit out at the neck, and drop the shell in on my chest for safe keeping.   Now as I do that, I am thinking, I DID check that no one was living there inside, right?  Yes, yes, of course I did.

So what is that scratching I am feeling as I move up the ascent line?  I am sure it is just he edge of the shell against my skin, so I wiggle the shell a little through my wetsuit, make some adjustments, twist a little, there, I am sure the scratching has stopped.  Nice slow ascent, man is that scratching again?  Nah, just ust be some sand in my wetsuit, cause now it is my stomach that is itchy.  I give it a rub through the suit, there, better now.  Move up to the next stop in my ascent, man is that itching on my side now? Nah, it is psychological I am sure..let me give it a good firm rub through the suit…there, all better.

I surface now, swim up to the boat, quick check for stinging jellyfish, all clear, so let’s get the fins off and work our way to the ladder.  Man the current is strong, so the focus is on that.  Fins off, hand them up to the captain, get the stage bottle off, pass that up, ok, one, two , I am up the ladder and on the boat.  There is poor Jenn looking green, but I have just the thing to make her smile!  I reach into my wetsuit and pull out my shell for her, and hand her the souvenier.  She smiles, then says “oh my god, what is that in there?”.  Well gosh it is a bristle worm, hmmmmmmm.  We shake it out onto the dec, being careful to avoid touching it’s stinging bristles located all along each side of his body.  Now I am thinking, has that itching, burning sensation returned?  Well yes, in fact it has…I gotta get out of this wetsuit!!!    Slip out of the backplate, help me unzip, let’s pull this thing down…..what’s that red welt trail heading down my chest and belly?  Why it’s the track of the second bristle worm that lived in the conch shell, and he was less than impressed with my decision to relocate his home.  Help me get the rest of this suit off, dang that is burning, and man those welts are big!  I am grimacing, hoping Jenn will eventually like her new shell! Making notes to myself to review this decision in greater detail, once the burning has stopped!

Well the seas had not laid down at all, and we opted to blow off the third dive and get back to port with our team.  Once we tied up we enjoyed a few brewskies dockside with our captain, and then loaded the gear into our cars.  Jenn & Matt are spending the weekend (and their anniversary) in Key West, Dave H is heading home, and Csaba and I are driving back up to Key Largo to join the rest of the gang for a weekend of diving, Amoray style.  But before we could get there, we had one last stop, on Big Pine Key – the No Name Pub, highly recommended by Joyce Kichman from her days residing in Key West.  Not easy to find, but great when you do, it was hopping!  The food was great, the drinks cold, and the staff was a lot of fun to be with. Another great place in the Keys on our list!

Friday morning at Amoray, and we are reunited with the Swartley gang, plus Cindy Eisenhauer, Brian Montague, Larry Gilligan and Barb Hill (White) have joined us for the weekend.  Unfortunately there will be a slight delay this morning, as the Amoray Diver had developed some sort of fuel problem yesterday, but the mechanic is here, and soon enough the engines are purring like kittens.  Barb, Hannah and I are heading over to Jules Lagoon for Hannah’s first couple of dives, and the rest of the gang are going to brave the ocean.  There is still a bit of a breeze going but nothing to sweat about – the day should be good!  We’ll be reporting back on that in a few!

Barb, Hannah and I headed over to Jules to get Ms H’s certification process going, while the rest of the gang headed out to the reefs.  We had a great morning, and even though Hannah was a bit anxious over the whole thing, it worked out well.  The conditions at Jules were near perfect.  We were the only folks there, the visibility was the best it has even been – well over 20 feet, and the water was clear!  We had a couple of nice dives, completed a bunch of skills, and I even got quite a few photos since the viz was so good.  Meanwhile the remainder of Team IVS enjoyed visits to South South Ledges and Mike’s Wreck for a great morning.

Hannah, Barb & I enjoyed lunch at Hobo’s to celebrate a good morning, then we headed back to meet up with the group for the afternoon dive.  Our first stop was the Spiegel Grove, followed by the Benwood.  Let’s talk about this Spiegel dive….

We had a couple of groups set up, with Dave Hartman taking Barb W on a wild and wooly interior tour.  Csaba hooked up with DJ & Jim Swartley for a “mild” tour. And finally, since Sue could not make this trip, I was nominated to lead the “Lame-O” tour (yes, spelled by holding your fingers in the shape of an ‘L’ on your forehead).   My group consisted of Jess, Lynn, Cindy, Larry and a Wes (not one of ours!).

First, to add to the excitement, the moorings we desired on the wreck were all taken, so we opted to tie into one of the upcurrent stern balls and I jumped in with a granny line, and swam it back and across to the port crane ball, where the Florida Keys Dive Center boat was hooked in.  My group splashed, and one by one they worked their way across the line, battling the current, and finally all SIX of us were gathered and ready to descend.  We started down, keeping a fairly tight formation on the line, and we reached the crane.  It only took a couple of minutes for the last two guys to finally arrive, while of course we were burning pressure gas.  OK, let’s get this party started!

So we drop to the deck, and begin our way forward, exactly as we briefed.  Jess was my buddy, Lynn & Cindy were coupled, and finally Larry and new guy Wes were bringing up the rear.  We got to the superstructure and I took role, only to find we were now FOUR.  Geez friggi’ Louise, how can you lose two people in a straight swim no more than 50 yards long?  OK, I turn back, and find Larry, who has lost his partner.  I give him the official WTF sign, and he shakes his head, not sure where Wes has gone.  So, I gather the group and we being our way back. Larry re-appears, still alone, but Csaba materializes, so I write on my slate that i have lost two already, and he understands, and knows where they might be found.  I pass responsibility for them to him, and turn to continue the tour with the ladies.  So, now that we are down to approx 2,000 psi, I opt to not penetrate forward, but to cross the wreck to the starboard side.  Well there is a hole there i the deck, about 8 feet square, that you could drive your car through, so I figure, what can go wrong here?  I signal the girls we are going in, it is only a one room penetration, in the roof, out the back – sounds simple, eh?  Jess follows me, then Cindy, finally Lynn.  Remember – this hole is at least 8 feet square!

So, out pops Jess, then Cindy, and Lynn, so we are good to go, and head towards the starboard rail to the crane, where I intend to cross over the port side and to our mooring line.  I turn, there is Jess & Cindy, right where they should be, but now the count is THREE, and where on earth is Lynn?  So, I scan the area, and she is a little above us, and I signal in in uncertain terms to get down here – now!  My signals fall upon deaf ears (eyes?) cause Lynn is just drifting off into the blue……..my goodness gracious, what else can go wrong here?

So, like the 7th Cavalry, who appears but Csaba, who has taken my last two lost souls to the line, and I pass Cindy and Jess off to him, so I can head out in search of the Lynn-ster.  I swim all the way forward, and she is nowhere to be found.  I am thinking, how could she have had such good buoyancy control just moments ago and then decided to do an Un-CESA, sailing to the surface without regard to anything we have worked so hard to instill in her!  So, I do a little forensic diving, and sure enough, there is one of her weight pouches laying in the one little room we had gone through. I am thinking, as I look at the hole as big as the opening in roof of the old Dallas Cowboys stadium that we entered, how could you get caught up and lose your weights here?  Oh well, let’s go find Lynn.  So, heading back to our mooring line, it’s a quick ascent up, thank goodness I am packing a 50% Nitrox mix in my stage bottle to help compensate for the lack of appropriate safety stops.  I pass by Csaba and the girls on the line, on my mission.  I am thinking the worst – who is going to cover the store when Bev is diving with us?  And who will head up the Dive In Fest committee?   This woman is irreplaceable – we need to find Lynn!

So I surface and scan about, and who’s bright pink BCD do I see way over there on the Island Ventures boat?  Hmmmmm….can’t be too many of those out here.   I swim over to recover our little lost soul, and thank Ann and the Island Ventures crew for allowing Lynn the chance to to rest and catch her breath on their vessel.  Oh the shame….how will I extract repayment from Lynn for this faux paux?

Finally I have my entire group of SIX back on board and we can move to our next location, the Benwood.  Jess is my bud, along with Barb.  I pass Lynn off to her husband, and inform her that it would be healthy for her to breath down my bottle of EAN50 on her ascent, so I tell her halfway through the dive I will be passing it to her.  The girls and I splash, and it is a great dive.  So much to see, huge trumpet fish, lobsters, lizard fish, scorpion fish, Peterson’ shrimp, black grouper, file fish, fire clams, nassau grouper, sea pearls, Christmas tree worms, crabs, spotted morays…this place is hopping with fish and marine life!

We have a great dive, 50 minutes at 42 feet, and could have enjoyed it longer, but the boat needed to get home.    Once back on shore it was time for blog updates, and then we headed over to casa Hartman for an evening of mixed drinks, good video, and great commeradie.  From there most of us headed to the Paradise Pub for burgers, and Dave H brought the house down with his rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way during the karaoke contest.  Job well done!

Saturday now, and what a most beautiful day.  Sky is clear and blue, winds are gone,temperature is perfet – exactly like IVS ordered!  Hannah picked our first location today, Key Largo Dry Rocks, also known as Christ of the Abyss.  Viz was great, no waves, current or surge, just a beautiful dive.   Second location was North North Dry Rocks where the great conditions continued.  Lots of critters, crabs, nudibranchs, lobster, the usual cast of characters.  Clear sky overhead and a very sunny day mad for super natural lighting for underwater photography.

Back for lunch and a quick turnaround, and we headed out for the Spiegel Grove.  Only one boat was on the wreck, so we had our pick of the mooring balls.  My group today was the 60% of the Swartley family that can be classified as adventurous – DJ, Jess & Jim.  Our plan was to keep it shallow and work the upper decks with some penetration and that is exactly what we did, keeping it around 70 ft.  A very large Goliath Grouper was laying on the deck, allowing us to approach quite closely to check him out.  Jess spotted a few large sea cucumbers, some big bristle worms, and a crab.  Great dive, and we hit the mooring line just as Jess dropped below 1,000 psi, so the three of them headed up.  Csaba had just finished his deep adventure dive with Brian, so he hooked up with me and took the lead on a little extended tour for the two of  us.  As we finished our tour and approached the mooring line he was 4 minutes into deco on his Galileo, while I still had 8 minutes of no deco bottom time available on my Cochran.  At that moment who swims by but Hartman, so gosh, let’s go on part three of this dive adventure! Csaba opts out since his computer is already not happy, and Dave and I head back inside, deeper, to play and explore.  I still have 1,500 psi in my 120, so I am good for gas.  We end up with 47 minutes of bottom time at 110 feet, and start up the line to satisfy our mild deco obligations.  I clear at 15 feet and Dave clears three minutes later, so we are good to go – 60 minute run times on the wreck!

From there it’s a short hike to the Benwood, and most splash right away when we get there.  Cindy has to complete her Rescue Diver open water scenarios, so we enlist DJ and Jim to help out while Barb offers to provide in-water observation.  Cindy was wiped from the surface tow and took more than a few minutes to recover, but we managed to get her back in the water for a half hour therapy dive.  Let’s just say that I didn’t have the heart at that moment to share with her that I felt we needed to repeat this exercise again tomorrow!  The dive ws very nice, with a huge green moray for us in the anchor locker, and the usual cast of characters across the wreck.

The wind had been picking up and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees on our ride back in, but we are hopeful that the boat will be running back out for our night dive!  Well as it turns out, NOAA is late in posting the evening weather conditions & forecast, so we decide to throw caution to the winds and sail.  Our choice is a good one, because while the wind is brisk, blowing at maybe 15 knots, it is coming from the northeast, so the seas are more than manageable.  We arrive on site well after dark, as a night dive should be!  My immediate team consists of Jim & DJK Swartley, and we splash on in for our dive.  As soon as we hit the wreck, into the forward anchor locker we go, to see how if our moray is still there.  Well gosh, it’s a little crowded in there as we slip in through the steel, not only with our moray but also with a large turtle who had checked into the room for the night.  Let’s jst say it was a little tight as the turtle was swimming was swimming around us, the moray pondering whether to bite or not, and DJ and I right in the middle of the tight quarters – cool!  Got a few nice pics’s there, and time to explore the rest of the wreck.  All sorts of nice activity about, all the large parrot fish in for the night, crabs eating, lobsters exploring, basket stars out in all their splendor, big puffers hanging under the structure….just a great dive!  Our group manages 64 minutes of sight-filled bottom time and finally it is time to head back up.  We motor back to the resort, and the fatigue must be setting in, as only Csaba, Larry and I manage to make it to the Paradise Pub for the customary post-night dive cheeseburger.

Sunday morning brings up more of the same great stuff, clear skies, balmy temperatures, and no wind – just like we ordered!  Time to head out and Csaba suggested we visit some of the less often visited reefs off Tavernier, namely Pickles Reef and Snapper Ledge – so we did!  We arrived at Pickles first, and had a great dive, very healthy reef structure, lots of life, some nurse sharks, large morays, I even got some nudibranch mating photos – woo hoo!  Second drop was Snapper, and wow were the fish in abundance here.  Utterly amazing how many fish can congregate in such an area, the clouds of snappers, grunts, and goatfish were thick!  This is a really nice reef, and we are thankful to Csaba for the suggestion this morning!  The weather stayed perfect, the sun kept shining, you could not ask for a nicer day on the ocean.

After lunch it was time for our signature double deep trip, visiting the Duane and then the Spiegel Grove again.  Our first drop was the Duane, and the mooring balls were limp in the water as we approached….who knows, might indicate no current below, or might just be a tease to get us into the water!  Hartman led a tour with Barb & Larry, while I took DJ, Jess & Jim with me.  Csaba reached out to another diver who he had befriended, and offered to be his guide & mentor on this site….what was Csaba thinking?  Clearly a  case of “not one of ours”, after various issues gearing up, he jumped in, promptly lost his weight belt and light, got fouled in the granny line, argued with the crew about their desire to have him re-board and get set back up, telling them all he needed to do was shove more weights in his BCD pockets, which, thankfully, they would not allow.  By the time he go back on he was spent, and then accosted the captain regarding the cost for the nitrox which he was now not using.  Whew!!  Good choice Csaba…….NOT.

Meanwhile, the rest of us enjoyed a great tour on this wreck, circumnavigating the entire ship, managing the 3 knot current well, great teamwork and communication skills, just a great dive.  After I sent my crew back up, I drifted off the stern to the sand to see if I could find the lost weight belt, but all I found was two HUGE Goliath Groupers checking me out way behind the ship.  I figured the belt was a lost cause so I took some pictures, shot some video, and worked my way back across the sand at 124 ft to the wreck and up to the mooring line.  Nice 40 minutes of bottom time, minimal deco obligation, thank you Cochran!

Our second location was the Spiegel Grove, for our final dive of the weekend.  Teams remained the same, except Csaba’s new friend sat this one out, so he hung with the Hartman ‘Belly of the Beast” tour.  Our team did great, with DJ leading the descent, and the Swartley family just shining in all departments with communication, navigation and situational awareness throughout this dive.  Made me feel like a proud papa!  I basically followed them along, and once they were ready to go back up I made sure they found the ascent line.  After that I still had a few tissue groups that needed nitrogen, so I dropped down into the well deck, swam it all the way to the stern, dropped down the ramp, swam under past the props, crossed back over and swam the starboard deck back to the superstructure.  Another nice 40 minutes at 134 ft, and again, my Cochran kept me out of trouble, with an 8 minute deco obligation.  I joined Csaba on the line, and he had a little more time to hang as his Galileo is a tad more conservative than my computer.  All good, great hang, great dive, great way to wrap it up.

Once back at the dock we headed over to Rib Daddy’s for dinner.  There were about 14 of us there, including C. Lee from the Amoray front office, and Bob our mate all weekend.  Dinner was great, the conversation greater, lots of laughter and fun all around.  No one left hungry, that is for sure!  Awards were handed out, with Jim Swartley, Larry Gilligan, and Barb White earning the coveted ADD (All Dives with Dave) award.  There was also one other award handed out, one that we hope does not repeat in the near future – the MDD (More Dives than Dave) recognition given to Csaba, who managed to get in 20 this weekend, versus Dave’s piddly 18 dives.  Trust me, this won’t happen again!!!!

Monday and the crew headed home, with a few staying another day to relax after a super weekend of diving and playing in the Keys.  We’ll be back soon!

Planet Pterodactyl celebrates BTS

News from the Planet Pterodactyl website blog!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Great Dive Show!

Hello again! The Beneath The Sea dive show in Seacaucus, NJ on March 26-28 was terrific. On all previous shows that I attended, I always had my own booth. However, this time I was invited to exhibit from the booth of Indian Valley Scuba, 601 Yoder Rd., Harleysville, PA (215) 256-6000. IVS is an Authorized Dealer of Critical Aspect Inc. dive equipment. I had met the owner David Valaika, his store manager Beverly Loggins and one of their sales people John Glodowski previously. Now this occasion gave me the opportunity to meet many of their other employees. And I have to say that IVS is very much the “family” that they describe themselves as. What a great bunch of people! The “corporate culture” of IVS certainly starts from the top with the very personable and outgoing personalities of those who run IVS. In the picture you can see the giant inflatable diver at the IVS booth…the highest thing in the convention center. As promised, I conducted a raffle during the show to win a Pterodactyl. Many tickets were sold with the winner being Collen Finkle of MD. I highly encourage all to visit IVS if possible and also their web site… www.scubagearplus.com. You can purchase a Pterodactyl from their site at a great price with free shipping. Also available is The Mega Buckle. Talk to you later!

My Apple Experience – a non-diving post

Let me be right upfront here – I am a PC guy.  There, I said it, and I feel better already! 

Now with that out of the way, let me share my story ….. In 1984 I bought my first desktop micro-computer, an IBM PC XT, complete with not only an 8086 chip, but upgraded with an 8087 math co-processor.  Let me just say we were overwhelmed with the lightning fast speeds and the ability to crunch numbers faster than anyone would ever need to!   The operating system was PC-DOS, and Bill Gates, founder of Seattle Computer Products (predecessor to software behometh Microsoft), was only in business for a year at the time.   Our basic storage device was a 5 1/4″ floppy drive which could hold like 256k of data.  Life was good!

So, the euphoria soon passed, and I needed an even faster, bigger machine…yes, I needed it!  Computers are like crack…..there is no going back to the abacus once you have tasted the keyboard lifestyle.  Bigger, faster, more memory, new numbers actually being invented cause no one ever conceived counting as high as a gigabyte or a terabyte…there was no stopping this train.  I think over the course of the past 27 years I have bought, personally and through my businesses, over a hundred computers, and each one promised to be the “Final Solution” in terms of speed, storage, and capabilities….but the addiction continues….

2008 comes along and I decide to move away from those cassettes and get into high definition video and digital file storage for my underwater experiences.  I buy a JVC system and the Everio software, so now I am ready to roll..or so I think.   Two years of frustration in file management, video editing, movie making, and I am banging my head against the wall.  None-the-less, I keep shooting, knowing deep in my heart that there is an answer someplace.  My friends all know that one day, they will actually get to see themselves underwater when I finally produce that video from their trip!   

Remember now, I am a PC guy, and I know that if I keep soldiering on, it will, maybe, hopefully, eventually come…..keep saying that to myself..the answer is around the next bend…

Now I am not one that embraces change real well, and big changes are even harder for me.  I still don’t know where to stand in line at a Starbucks, or how to speak the lingo, or even what they sell there!  But I know I need to do something to get my video production going, so on a lark, I decide to investigate that other brand, and I covertly sneak over to the mall and approach the Apple store. 

I stand outside of the store, in the ‘neutral zone’ for a little while and try to figure out the dynamics there….lots of folks in blue shirts, most of them way too young to be able to help me, I am sure.  Lots of people playing with phones and computers at random desks and tables throughout the store, and something called a “Genius Bar” towards the rear.  Hmmm….ok, I figure I am ready, so I take a deep breath, look around to make sure no one sees me, and head on in. 

So I meander over to the laptop area, and sure enough, one of the blue shirts comes up to help.  Immediately friendly and helpful, she asks what I am trying to accomplish.  Well it seems that Apple does everything I want to do, just about straight out of the box, without me having to add a two page list of options and upgrades as I have had to do with my HP’s, Toshiba’s, Dell’s, and other PC’s.  Within minutes, she has narrowed my options down to one or two computers that will do everything it appears I want to do.  And I want it to do it fast, so she suggests an upgraded memory that they don’t have in the store, but rather than send me off to order it on line, she fires up the screen and walks me through the order right there.  Seems there is no commission structure at Apple, and the number one job for everyone there is to be, get this, helpful! What a friggin’ concept!  For a moment, I feel like I am at Indian Valley Scuba!

She helps me finish my order, and tells me that Apple will keep me posted on the shipment.  Sure, sure, I think, I’ll go home and wait.  I leave, smiling at the experience and treatment, and figure that maybe I might be OK with this whole Apple thing. 

Well guess what awaits me when I get back to the shop?  My confirmation of my order, and the shipping status of each item that I bought (laptop, keypad, 24″ HD monitor, and some One-to-One service agreement).  Heck there are ship dates already there and I know when to expect arrival. And none of the dates were more than a few days out…waaaay different than my most recent Dell order, where we waited weeks for the items to be built and shipped.  This Apple thing sure is different! 

Well I ordered it Thursday, and on Friday, the keyboard shows up.  And, my computer is shipping that same day, from Shanghai, China.  It arrives Tuesday, and the monitor two days later.  Amazingly different than the PC guys…. 

So I have everything now, and I need to head back over to the store to have them do a complimentary transfer of all my data from my HP laptop to the new one.  This is all part of the deal…no need for me to purchase transfer software as I have in the past, no need for me to bang my head trying to figure out why things don’t work right…..this Apple thing sure is different.  But remember, I’m a PC guy!

I check the clock and it is already 8:00 p.m. here in Harleysville, and the store is in King of Prussia, so I grab my stuff and race out the door.  Speeding down the highway, I watch the minutes click away, knowing the store is only open until nine, and of course, you know how store employees are as closing time approaches, starting to dim the lights, half-close the door, whatever it takes to defer any last minute customers.  Will I make it?  My stress level is high as I careen through the mall parking lot, hoping against hope that there will be a spot close to the mall entrance so I won’t have made this run in vain.

This is where the magic really started to occur tonight….there is a spot right in the first row, right where I want to be.  OK..fate is kind.  I park, grab my stuff, and run into the mall to head to the store.  Will they be open?  Will they accommodate me?  I race past the other stores and they are clearly in shut down mode, as it is already 10 minutes before nine.  Finally I get to the Apple store, and it is filled with customers.  Don’t they have clocks in this store?  Hmmmm… I catch my breath, and walk in, not sure where to go with my two computers in hand.  All the blue shirts are busy, so I walk up to the Genius Bar, and watch the hustle and bustle of activity around me.  Like the Starbucks thing, I am not sure where to stand, or what the protocol is, so I just take it all in for a few minute.  Finally a young guy comes out with some product for a fellow standing next to me, so I asked him what to do, and without hesitation, he says, “give me a minute and I’ll help you”.  Amazing.

The magic continues, as he finishes up the other customer, and now, in spite of the fact that is is 8:58, he walks over and asks what he can do for me.  I explain that I am a PC guy, and don’t know the drill here, and he tells me it is OK, he is here to help.  He takes a look at my new Apple and says “Whoa!  This is a smoking machine – I am jealous!”.  That helps assure me that at least I didn’t under buy!  So he walks me over to a work station, and spends the next twenty minutes telling me how the whole customer system works, what the steps are, he makes my first one-to-one appointment for me, takes my computers for the data transfer, and shows me some options with my emails and some other features.  I must admit….I’m a PC guy, but this treatment is melting down my barriers to the whole Apple thing.  The most amazing part?  It is nearly 9:30 now, there are still about four other customers in the store, all being taken care of like me, everyone is smiling, and not a single staffer has looked at their wristwatch to see what time it is.  No sense of urgency to close, they are there to do whatever it takes to make this customer experience a great one. I feel like I am in Disney as the magic happens, but hey, I’m a PC guy…remember? 

I walk out of the store, smiling, and not afraid if someone sees me exiting the Apple store.  Is the magic over yet?  As I leave the mall, I reach into my pocket and pull my keys out.  Suddenly a young lady appears at my side, and says “I think you dropped this” as she hands me a handful of cash that popped out of my pocket  – this is a magical evening!  But remember, I am still a PC guy….. (maybe).