Off to Bonaire!

And so it begins, our biggest trip of the year (so far) with 44 divers heading to the enchanted isle of Bonaire for a week of fun, great diving and good times.  To help ensure the island and the diving will meet the standards and expectations of the IVS’ers Ray Graff, Amir Stark and I made the sacrifice and headed down a week early, sort of a scouting party if you will.  We gathered at the shop this morning at 3:30 a.m. to begin our journey.  As might be expected I was not fully packed at that moment, ok, to be honest, I had just started!  But heck, set a couple of big Pelican cases  on the floor, and toss in dive gear and a few changes of underwear, and we’re ready!  Oh yeah, don’t forget sweeping every paper and unfinished project off my desk too.  Thank goodness for that five bag, 70 pounds per bag limit that Delta imposes on me, or I’d take even more!

Amir drives us down to Philadelphia International, we park, and shuttle to the terminal.  Beautiful start, no traffic, no rush, and none of that trademark adrenalin rush that I like to kick most trips off with! Bags are checked before you know it we’re on board and winging our way towards Atlanta, our interim stop on the way to Bonaire.  To be honest, the reason we’re going down a week before the rest of the gang is to spend a week on an IAHD-Americas mission, working with our friends from Eels on Wheels and the Gridiron Heroes organization, taking a group of young men, who suffered debilitating spinal injuries while playing high school football, and introducing them to the sport of scuba diving.  You can read about our work with this group on the IAHD-Americas blog by clicking here! [link to be added soon!]

So our flight out of Philadelphia is uneventful and we landed in Atlanta.  With some time to kill between flights, we opted to visit the Delta Crown Room and enjoy some complimentary libations and breakfast treats.  As we sat down, we noticed the fellow sitting across from us was wearing a TDI polo shirt.  Well of course we can’t let that pass, so we engage in conversation, only to discover we are talking to Fleming Elleboe, the chairman of International Training, parent company of SDI, TDI, and ERDI.  Amazingly small world indeed.  So we spend the next hour enjoying some great discussion regarding diver training, the advantages and disadvantages of E-Learning and other techniques.  It was great to compare PADI’s methods to SDI’s and hear some insight from the top!  Finally it was time to board, so we bid adieu and headed to our Bonaire flight.

The views as we pass over the islands is beautiful with azur-hued waters and dark reefs calling our names.  We land and pass quickly through immigration, then the wait for the bags begin.  Here’s the vision:  big airplane, tiny baggage wagon!  So many trips later we are reunited with our bags, and then pass through the doors into Bonaire (yes, there is no inspection at all.  Bring what you want!).  We stroll outside and there are a bunch of stake body trucks being piled high with luggage, and we’re thinking ugh!  But no, our private driver holds up a sign, and the three of us pile into our own nicely appointed air-conditioned van and head over to the Divi Flamingo, our base of operations for week #1 of our adventure.

Timing is key, because as we are completing our check in process (three clerks, three of us, perfect) those stake bodies pull in and the circus begins.  Whew!  Beating that crowd by 5 minutes made all the difference in the world!  We are out of there, and on our way to our rooms.  We put our stuff away and head down to the dive shop to meet with the operations manager Serge, and to get our Park Pass and the official lecture, which qualifies as our check-out dives.  “This is reef, this is sand – know the difference!”.  Got it, we pass the test, pay our $25 and get our annual pass.  Off the list!

And while we are there the afternoon boats are coming in so we meet Chad Dietrich who is the head of the Eels on Wheels organization, our focus for the next seven days.  They have a large group, including us there are 50 people, mostly medical folks from a number of hospitals in the Austin area, but also about nine handicapped divers.  They represent a wide array of adaptive scuba challenges, including Spina Bifida, Down’s Syndrome, Spinal Injuries, Polio, and Fragile X Syndrome.   Right from the get-go we sense this will be a great group to work with, and they have a long history of group trips and visits to Bonaire to draw upon.

Our stays here are all-inclusive, so our first meal is a Saturday night BBQ, Bonaire-style.  Good chance to mingle a bit and get to know some of the folks.  Not quite as outgoing as an IVS crowd, but we’ll work on breaking down barriers and getting to know them all.  After dinner it’s time to get the gear wet, so Amir, Ray & I head down to the dive dock for our first dive.  What’s that PADI rule about diving in a new place?  Oh yeah, lead it off with a night dive!  So dive we must!

We splash, and it is black already.  There is a huge hatching of small krill-like critters in the top 3 ft of the water column, and I watch as Amir and Ray giant stride into their midst and are chewed up like an old cow crossing the Amazon River to attract the piranhas.   Now that the critters were busy I splashed, negative, and dropped right to the bottom, escaping the hungry hordes at the onset of the dive.  We had a really nice dive, viz is probably 200 plus feet, came upon a sleeping turtle, eels, sleeping parrotfish, the usual suspects, and tarpon.  Not little tarpon, huge tarpon.  You know how sometimes you come down to the kitchen at night, stumble through the dark, and open the refrigerator door, to be awarded with that light showing all the good stuff to eat?  Well that is exactly what we were to the tarpon, their little refrigerator lights, shining on the reef fish and showing the tarpon what was on the menu for tonight.  Overall a great dive, max depth 80 ft, 55 minutes of bottom time, and as we headed back in we hoped against hope that the krill-like critters had retired for the night.  Well, nice thought, but no!  As we approached the stairs leading up from the water, we made sure we had our fins off, and were ready to move quickly, cause the little carnivores were all over us as we passed through the top of the water column.   Good news is they just bite a little, no scar, no itch, so it is OK.

Sunday morning came with an early thunderstorm as we awoke, then a bright sky following.  It promised to be passing, though, as the dark clouds from the east were coming across the island towards us. We boarded the boat for a 2-tank trip over to Klein Bonaire, a small uninhabited island about a half mile off the resort.   We did a couple of great dives there, working with the group and assisting where asked as we got to know the folks on the trip.  Conditions were spectacular, cannot say any more, no current, great viz, super-healthy reefs, just that conspicuous lack of fish in the 6 to 12 inch range….think the locals are fishing in the park?

Back for a nice lunch, and out for a 1-tank afternoon dive, again to a site off Klein Bonaire.  This time Ray and I are on a different boat, and we work with three disabled divers, Joe, Kirin and Eric.  Joe suffered a spinal injury after a massive fall while climbing a frozen peak in Northern California, losing his grip and sliding several hundred feet before a tree broke his fall, and his back.  Kirin moved to the U.S. 12 years ago, and suffers from polio.  Finally we have Eric, here with his family, and born with Spina Bifida.  Three very inspirational divers really having a great time with our group.  We enjoy a great afternoon dive, with some frogfish on this one – man, are they tough to spot! Back at the dock, we plan a night dive for the group before dinner.  We splash again around 7’ish, and enjoy a nice night dive on Calabas Reef, the house dive site.  Just a great dive, but a big gaggle of folks to manage, making it at times a bit crowded on the reef.  Dinner was at the Chibi Chibi Restaurant, and we enjoyed some fine food and a few Polar beers as we relished in the days activities.

Monday came and it was indeed a nice day, again an early morning rainstorm as we awoke, but once that was out of the way, it was clear and bright all day.  We did a 2-tank morning dive, first off Klein Bonaire, then they attempted to bring us off the main island, but the viz sucked so we headed back to the smaller island.  More frogfish, and great conditions.  At the very end of the dive I am at around 400 psi and what do I come up upon?  A full-grown Lionfish!   So, lionfish whisperer that I am, I coax him into coming a little closer, and we move under a coral head that allows for ample room for me to work while minimizing his escape options.  Bad news, around 250 psi now, but he mission must be accomplished!  So I work him, and he is bigger than the plastic bag I have brought, so I go to Plan B – the lift bag!  I unfurl the bag, and am this close to working him into the opening, but now the breathing is getting a tad difficult.  Can I back off?  No, must get it done, so I abandon a bit of caution, draw one last good breath, and reach out with bare hand to strongly encourage him to enter the bag.  He has other thoughts, hesitates, turns and nails me twice on my left hand – DANG!   Does that hurt!  Good news is the blood is flowing, hopefully washing away as much of the toxins as possible!  For me, wounded, out of air, frustrated, it is time to surface –  but like the governor says, “I’ll be back”.

Interesting post-trauma study.  Within five minutes the finger is in intense pain, and blackness is evident at the site of the punctures.  I continue to milk the wound to keep the flushing going on, but some of it is inside for sure. Within 10 minutes it is to the main knuckle, and five minutes later to the wrist.  Dang this hurts, and that is an understatement!  But it’s time to dive, and dive we must!  For the second dive the boat is moored in about 250 ft of water, so we make sure our stuff is clipped on, cause no one is going down to get anything that is dropped!  We splash, and as I head down the extra pressure from depth starts to drive me bonkers!  I move my wrist watch from left to right wrist, that’s better.  Now the dive computer…now the slate……the pain is all consuming on this dive so I head shallow for some relief…..still manage to get my 60 minutes in, and by the time it is over, I am deadened to the pain.  My middle finger, where I was hit (is that a sign?) is twice the thickness of that on my right hand, and stiff as a board (great excuse!).  Back of hand is pretty dang sensitive, but nothing has radiated up any further.  I believe our DAN Medical Experiment du jour has peaked.   It is downhill from here, but the score for the year now stands at Dave 7, Lionfish 1.  We’ll keep that at a one if at all possible!  But the important thing is the conclusion, that another deadly sea creature myth has been debunked.  Meanwhile, Ray & Amir are great working with our divers, readily pitching in to help carry them on and off the boat, and providing great assistance getting into and out of the water.  While Eric is not overly mobile on his dives, Kirin and Joe more than make up for him, swimming circles around us, with nary a fin between them.  An utterly amazing day indeed, for all sorts of reasons.

Back for lunch, and we head out for an afternoon dive south of the resort on the main island, actually passing right by Plaza Resort Bonaire, our digs for next week.  Looks pretty good from the water, and our divemaster Nolli used to work there, speaking pretty good of the resort.  We head down almost to the Salt Pier, and make another nice reef dive, coming upon a young turtle that is very actively eating away and is not bother by us watching at all.  I find a very cooperative basket star and show some of the divers how it is really  one single animal  that is very animated – news to them.  We come back in, and after dinner jump back in the water for a night dive.  We spot morays in three flavors, spotted, sharptail, and finally a chain moray – very cool dive!  Also some diver/reef life interaction, playing with some coral shrimp, urchins and the ever-present hungry tarpon.

Post-dive, we gather at the bar and Ray & Amir enjoy some fine cigars as we have a couple of brews to celebrate the days events.  The conversation runs far and wide, and before you know it, Amir educates Ray and I in Scoville Units, the universal measurement of how hot a hot sauce really is.  Who’d of thunk there was an official scientific scale of “hot” but here you have it!  Amazing indeed!

Tuesday is as pretty a day as Monday, and we get out for a morning drop north of the resort at a site called Small Wall, aptly named for an abrupt drop-off right there at the site.  Nice dive, typical sea life surrounds us.  Second site is south of the resort, and another pleasant dive.  This is like living in southern California, the conditions never change!  No current, great viz, lots of life, and a really nice bunch to dive with.  Joe Murphy and I find a great octo at the end of the dive to cap a really nice undersea visit.  Lunch, then back out for an afternoon drop at Monk’s Haven off Klein Bonaire.  Seahorses, turtles, all good stuff, another great dive.  Back in for some dinner, and we drop in for our customary night dive, spending another hour exploring the reef right in front of the resort.

Another glorious dawn greets our eyes as we awake Wednesday morning, and we check our planners for what we have on the books today…..oh yeah…diving!  So dive we must, and we load our gear on board, help our adaptive divers onto the boat, and head out to a morning 2-tank adventure.  The sites visited are Invisibles and Corporal Mice, and we’re greeted by a small school of curious squid as we drop in.  Two more good dives, we get some good depth on these dives, 100 plus feet, and 2 more hours of bottom time….sweet.  Lunch and a run back to Klein Bonaire, to Leonoros Reef, and more turtles playing, another octopus, and a huge seahorse!  Easily 8 inches overall, really nice and photogenic.  Tonight we have our group photo scheduled, so we gussy up upon our return and head down to the appointed photo location, but alas, no one is there.  What’s that noisy crowd over by the pool, we wonder?  well it’s our group, and looks like they’ve been enjoying some frosty libations and other treats for quite some time now.  Hmmmm… group photo happening here tonight!   So we hang for a bit, but avoid the festivities cause we have a night dive to make!   So we’re sitting there, laughing and sharing stories and jokes, when I notice someone waving from the promenade along the shore.  Hmmmm…I look around….yes they are waving to me!   I look closer, and holy smokes, it’s Tony & Brenda, IVS-Puerto Rico, right here with us!   How cool is that?  We’re 1,951 miles from home, and we’re running into friends.  They have a group of 18 down for the week and are staying next door!  Small, small world indeed!  So hugs and handshakes all around, and they decide to join us on our night dive.  They go for their gear and we suit up and dive.  Amir and I are on the search for a reported sunken sailboat at 140 feet so we head way down the wall, but after 10 minutes of fruitless searching in the dark, we head back up to re-join Ray and the group at 70 feet.   We end up with another 75 minute dive, finding a playful octopus, chain moray, and hunting eels out and about – good dive!

Ho hun…another perfect morning sky starts Thursday off perfectly!   Two more nice morning dives, another good lunch, and our last afternoon boat dive with the Eels to Wheels gang, as they are flying out early Saturday morning, and heaven forbid, they don’t want to dive the day before flying!  In all seriousness, good caution on their part so we make the afternoon dive a good one, at a site called Cliffs right in front of Buddy Dive Resort.  Very nice dive, more of the same great stuff we’ve enjoyed all week long.  We head in and the talk starts about one last night dive, but the group can’t make up their mind on the time, some want 7 and some want 8.  So Ray, Amir and I agree, we can do a 2-tank night dive tonight and dive with them all!  So, we’re hanging around the Divi dive center a bit, and I walk into the shop, and who is standing there?  Frank Fennell, our Epoque camera rep!  Again, what an amazingly small world!  1,951 miles from home, and here’s another friend!  Well of course we get right into a good banter, and before you know it, we are invited to a birthday party tomorrow night, celebrating Captain Don Stewart, the founder of Captain Don’s Habitat, as he celebrates his 85th birthday!   This is going to be a very special treat for Ray, who rarely gets to go to a party for someone older than him!  And to make it even better, Frank brought a couple of demo systems, so he is coming over to Plaza Resort Bonaire Saturday afternoon to conduct an underwater photography / videography workshop for our group!  Does it get any better than that?

So we head to the water for our 7:00 and 8:00 night dive, planning a 2-tank, 120 minute bottom time dive-a-thon.  The sun is setting nicely and we’ve got a great crowd on the dock with us.  We splash and are joined by Paul, one of our Eels wheelchair divers.  Nice dive, lots of action and things to see, and a great last night dive for Paul for the week.  Once we get him back up on the dock, it’s time for our 8:00 dive, so back in we drop!   This one has a smaller crowd, and we really enjoy a great dive.

Friday morning it’s a little less hectic on the dock as most of the Eels crowd has quit diving for the week, but we still have Kiran, Paul & Howard with us, so Ray, Amir & I stay plenty busy all morning.  Back for lunch, and the obligatory afternoon dive.  That’ll be our last dive with Divi, as we have to gussie up for our birthday party tonight at Habitat.  We grab a taxi down, and head down the road to the resort.  We get there, and the driver doesn’t have change for our bill in US currency, but we tell him we’ll need a ride back, so what does he say?  “Pay me when I take you back”  When is the last time you ever saw that with an American taxi driver?  We confirm our pick up time, walk inside and boy what a great party!   There’s the birthday boy himself, Captain Don Stewart, looking fine with his wooden peg leg (when do you see one of those anymore?) and surrounded by a flock of pretty girls all evening long.  We run into a bunch of other IVS friends, including Dee Scarr, Wildside Larry and his wonderful wife Janice, and of course Frank Fennell and his daughter Christine, who turns out to be enrolled in law school so she and Amir strike it off immediately with law-talk.  The food is great, and served in a non-stop parade by the staff walking through the crowd with silver platters, each one better than the one before.   The bar is serving up some top shelf drinks, and the steel calypso band is the finishing touch for a truly tropical birthday party.  We end up shutting the place down, and sure enough there is our driver spot on time, and we head back to the Divi.  Bill is settled up and we arrange for him to be back at 5:30 a.m. to pick me up for Part II of our island adventure!  The resort is quiet, so we end up being on the receiving end of some excess beer purchases by our friends, and we gladly accommodate them, knowing full well we’ll find a home for them this coming week.

Saturday morning my 4:30 a.m. alarm jars me out of my slumber, and I finish packing to head down to the Plaza Resort Bonaire and greet our first crowd of arriving guests who are landing on the 5:00 a.m. Continental flight.  This wave includes, Dave West, John & Jody Alcott, Tricia & Jeff Mento, Joseph Cox, Jerry Barrick, Jesica Tyre, and Grace Crawford along with her sons Dylan and Austin, plus her multi-talented mom Georgeanne who decided a week in the islands was too good to pass up! I feel a bit like Ricardo Montelban, welcoming our guests to my island; all I am missing is my little friend Tatoo!  We sort the gear in the lobby, get the bathing suits and dive equipment out, and throw the rest of the bags into storage until the rooms become available.  From there it’s breakfast at the Banana Tree restaurant, and over to Toucan Diving for the orientation briefing on Bonaire diving and the marine park rules.  Paperwork completed, marine park passes in hand, we head to the beach and do our first dive right there in front of the pool, at a site called 18th Palm, which is also the house reef.  Great dive to start it off, everyone looks good, and most of us jump right back in for a second dive!

By the time we’re coming back up the second wave is arriving, so here comes Bev & Butch Loggins, Mike & Lin Gusenko, Lynn & Jim Swartley, Tom Brennan, Jeremy Lindsey, Bryan, Mary, Will & Dan Young, Kim Luisi, Mike & Cathy Parzynski, Tricia Arrington, Jack Sandler, Sue Douglass, Joyce & Charles Kichman, Mike & Teresa Swartley, Tracy Meyers, Roy Scherrer,  Brian Laspino, ……………. Same drill, get checked in, orientation at the dive shop, then let’s get wet!  Most of us are diving with our own gear, but for a few it’s a chance to try out some cool resort-quality rental stuff – Mike P, Tricia A, Mike & Teresa S all had some bags missing to kick off the trip.  Good news is they showed up the next day so no horror stories there.

It’s 10:30 now, and we’re sitting at the bar eating a late dinner, and who finally strolls in?  Katie & David Manninen, who enjoyed a four hour delay in the Curacao airport on their way to Bonaire!  But the spirits are good and the excitement is high, so everyone is ready for the morning!  And the staff at the Banana Tree Restaurant – Patricia, Manuela, & Andrew – are top shelf and make us feel very much at home, not only tonight but all week long!

Sunday morning and our last IVS’er arrives, Mark Sperry from Toledo Ohio – all 44 souls accounted for! And it’s time to get serious with the diving! With such a big group and the convenience of shore diving and setting your own schedule, everyone just heads out in small groups to dive the sites which are located up and down the coast of this beautiful island.  Each condo came with an SUV, so transportation was never an issue.  Some of the favorite dive sites during the week were Margate Bay, Oil Slick, Red Beryl, Vista Blue, and Alice in Wonderland, just to name a few.  The routine is simple – toss some tanks in the back of your SUV, grab the map, and head north, or south, along the coast.  Each dive site is marked by a painted yellow rock along the side of the road, so just pull off the road, gear up, and stroll into the usually calm sea (there were a few exceptions at some of the dive sites to that!).  Entries varied from sandy to rocky, so those hard-soled dive booties paid off in spades!

Every road on the island eventually leads to a dive site, but as some of us know, that eventually can be pretty long sometimes!  Lots of winding roads, minimal correlation between the actual roads and what is printed on the map, and not a single compass in any of the cars made each trip a potential touring adventure!   The good news is that the island is beautiful so no matter where we ended up driving in circles, we enjoyed it.

Sunday also saw Teresa Swartley and Dillon Crawford getting the first of their checkout dives in, and what a way to complete your certification!  Both did great and we want to congratulate them on joining the Indian Valley Scuba family of divers!

There is a another gem of an island here, Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited islet about a half mile offshore of the resort. It too is ringed with fantastic dive sites, so how could we not go there to dive?  So we set up a few boat trips with the on site dive operator, Toucan Diving, and they took good care of us.  OK, first we had to work out the details – here’s how they normally do it:  the afternoon trip is a one tank dive, and they moor the boat at a site.  A divemaster jumps in and leads the group along the reef, 20 to 25 minutes in one direction, then they turn back, and you end up under the boat exploring until you surface.  Alright, while that sounds nice, here’s the way we’re gonna do it, IVS-style:  First, we’ll make it a 2 or 3 tank trip.  Second, we won’t moor the boat except to get everyone in the water and organized to begin our descent.  Third, the DM can follow along as our group leads itself, and finally, we aren’t turning around!  And finally we’ll just dive in one direction, through several dive sites, until we eventually surface and the boat can pick us up there!   Gosh, similar to what they do the other 51 weeks of the year, but with a hint of that signature IVS “deliberatley different” flair!

So we ended up doing a bunch of afternoon boat dives, and on our last, we threw enough tanks onto the boat to have the crew drop us off on the way back to the harbor, and we ended up diving our way home back to the resort for our 3rd tank.  Cool!

One of the highlight dives on the island is the Salt Pier, a commercial pier where they load salt onto bulk carriers headed to ports around the world.  It is owned by Cargill and officially closed to the public, but available for diving if you hire a “guide”.  Let’s think about this…’s in the ocean, and there’s no fence around it – sounds like “we don’t need no stinking guide!”   And so a bunch of us head on down on Wednesday night, figuring what’s the worst that can happen?  And guess what?   We had a fantastic dive, no one was arrested (or thrown out of the country), and Sue & Joyce even nailed a lionfish, smashing the little omnivore with a rock on the reef – way to go girls!  Great dive, octopus, colorful sponges on the legs of the pier, eagle rays in the shallows, just another great one in the logbook for the week!

And speaking of highlights, you can’t just have a week of perfectly calm seas and gentle entries!  So we headed over to the east coast of the island, which is the windward side, and hooked up with East Coast Bonaire Diving, who recently took over the operation from our friend Wildside Larry.  They run a 30 ft Zodiac inflatable boat with a couple of huge Yamaha outboards on the back and visit some of the dive sites outside the harbor.  We gear up at the dock, including getting on board with our BCD’s on and fins in hand, and as we head out through the rollers, masks are on cause the water is coming over the boat!  It’s a wet and wild ride out to the site, and once we arrive, it’s a military style backroll entry, as they captain throws the boat in reverse and we start dropping off the sides of the boat two by two.  Once we’ve gathered on the surface, we descend and have a great dive on the reef.  Unlike the west side of the island, the fish life here is fantastic, and turtles abound.  On one dive we had no less than 11 turtle in our midst – fantastic!  Add some eagle rays, big tarpon, octopus, and a whole bunch of big green moray eels, and you have the recipe for some phenomenal diving.  We do one dive, head back to the harbor for a little surface interval and to change tanks, then back out to do it again!  Great addition to an already great trip.

The week is drawing to a close, and as Friday unfolds some of the gang are starting to, heaven forbid, rinse and dry their gear for the trip home.  But a few of us still need more….so off we head!  I end up wrapping the week up diving Vista Blue and Red Beryl with Amir, Brian and Joyce, getting dive #59 and #60 in for the trip!  Two last visits to 100 ft for an hour each….perfect!

Friday night is our last dinner on the island so where better to go than to Maiky’s Shack?  It’s a very local eatery located way out in the sticks, down several dirt roads and way off the beaten path.  Let’s just say they don’t see a lot of gringo faces there!  The dinner is superb, home-style servings of goat, grouper and chicken with plenty of sides and some local treats.  And the best part?  The bill is $15 each – amazing!

Since the group did so many individual trips this week, it made writing this blog a bit challenging.  So I passed around a pad and a pen, and asked everyone to share their comments and highlights for the week, and here’s a summary of what was written:

Joyce Kichman –Wild Side diving was all that and more!  First class!  Plus taking a lionfish off the reef with Sue left me feeling pretty darn good!  Joyce & Sue One, Lionfish Zero!  Plus diving with my son Charles!

Jeremy Lindsey – I came for some great diving and was not disappointed at all!  23 great dives on great reefs and a whole bunch of new friends!

Ray Graff – Two weeks is not enough for this island to see it all!  In the words of General McArthur, “ I shall return!”

Amir Stark – 40+ dives with friends is great but busting Brian’s chops for backrolling into the water with no mask is priceless!  Plus, in spite of Brian’s non-stop housewife-ness, I managed to drop my weights to zero!  Very cool!

Brian LaSpino – Having to hump Amir’s tanks because “his back hurts” was only second to having to wash Amir’s gear cause it smelled so bad!  Basically I played housewife all week!

Mary Young – Learning to really become comfortable navigating was huge!  And multiple visits to the Hilma Hooker wreck made me feel like I owned it!  And completing my Advanced Open Water certification.  Finally, discovering fire coral with my bum was a bit more than I had looked forward to!

Kimberly Luisi

  • Mindset June 26th:  I’m not sure about this, I think the diving people may be crazy!
  • Mindset July 2nd:  When can we go diving again?!?

Dan Young – Having my girlfriend pass the ‘Diver’s Test’ – see Kim L above!

Sue Douglass – 44 great friends, one seahorse, and learning to pay no mind at all to Brian Laspino with his dive site reports!

Lin Gusenko – What a hoot, Girls Rule on the “All Chicks” boat dive!

Jim Swartley – Wild Side diving iced the cake, petting the turtles, eagle rays, eels, and more, plus 44 new friends – fantastic!

Charles Kichman – First dive to 100 ft, turtles, really cool reefs – loved it!

Jerry Barrick – Awesome!  Shore diving, boat diving, all great!  Great place to spend a week (or two or more!)  Lot’s of great restaurants too!

Roy Scherrer – Let’s see, what did we do other than dive, dive, dive?  Oh yes, was fortunate enough to be on the dive when Ray G. tried to re-visit solo diving, and also, thanks to our teams great navigational skills, got to see the interior, exterior, and entire coast of the island of Bonaire!

Jodelle Bryan – This trip was a huge confidence booster for me and my diving.  I dropped a ton of weight, improved my buoyancy skills, and just saw an overall improvement in my diving!   Navigation skills are coming more naturally, and seeing octopus and eagle rays was very cool!  Plus spending my birthday with old and new friends really made this a special week for me!

Will Young – Getting to be back in the water after a year in the Iraqi desert was certainly a treat, and to be able to do it with my friends and family was even better!  Sad there was only one wreck to play on, but I was happy, as long as my brother Dan was in the water there was always a tank valve I could turn off!

Dave West – Getting left alone on a night dive was certainly an adrenalin producer!  Other than that, I experienced some of the best diving ever with some of the best people ever – I am smiling ear to ear!

Jesica Tyre – I am going home with 21 new dives in my logbook, and 56 new bug bites on me too!  This trip was amazing!  Great people, great resort, great food, and fantastic diving!

Joseph Cox – Great diving all week, but the highlight was getting narc’d right out of my mind at 144 ft – what a hoot – thank you Dave!  Thank you more for bringing me home!  And thanks even more for getting my Advanced Open Water done!

Jeff Mento – Met some great people, dove some great reefs, wished I saw more seahorses!  Maybe next year!!

Katie Manninen – Dave & I hit dive # 50 in our logbooks and we are thrilled with that!  Saw baby spotted eagle rays feeding, a monster slipper lobster, and a huge turtle, over 5 ft long!  Plus made some great new friends with Tricia and Jeff Mento!

John Alcott – Some great descents, seems the whole ear issue has passed!  Now to remember to put my regulator in my mouth!  I led a great night dive for instructor Butch L and DM Mike G, including a safe return to the same beach our cars were parked at!

Bryon Young – Just a great week being with everyone, re-uniting with the IVS family, and seeing how comfortable my wife Mary got with the whole diving process.  Fantastic!

Lynn Swartley – Seeing lots of seahorses (one on our first dive!), turtles, lots of cool fish, and celebrating 20 years of being married to the most amazing man, my husband Jim! Wait, he wrote his comments above….where’s anything about being married to me????

Jim Swartley (addendum) – Oh did I mention the part about being married for 20 years to my fantastic wife?

Tom Brennan – Good friends, great location, fantastic diving!  Had a great time with the IVS gang as usual!  And lobsters and turtle sightings – oh my!

Tracy Meyers – Wild Side diving baby!   And spending time with Jesica’s sisters!  The covert night dive on the Salt Pier was a hoot, ranking right up there with losing my entire dive team on the same dive!  And of course, Team IVS – can’t imagine diving without them!

Tricia Arrington – So many firsts, where do I begin?  First time with double aluminum  80’s (and second and third time too!),  first sunrise dive, first time diving with my new baby, the Liquivision!  I think I’m in love with my new backplate system!  Sad that my baggage was late in getting here, but glad it arrived a day later!   My ears got a bit messed up and that cost me a few dives, but I still had the most awesome time!   I absolutely love diving with the IVS family, and apparently the bigger the group, the bigger the fun!

Cathy Parzynski – I came down here as a confirmed non-diver, but that darn Sue Douglass took me diving, twice, and now I am thinking I like the taste of this Kool Aid!

David Manninen – Katie and I experienced our fist shore diving and fell in love with it immediately!   Just another great aspect of this sport we love so much!  Katie and I also dove without each other for the first time ever, and it really showed me what a great dive buddy she is!

Jack Sandler – First sunrise dive, multiple night dives (had only one night dive ever before!) Seeing old IVS dive buddies and making new ones, too many Hooker jokes to remember, and getting some darn good use out of that Nitrox certification!

Teresa Swartley – Getting certified!  And when I was not diving, seeing donkeys, flamingos, iguanas and goats all over the place!  And after seeing all those goats, I didn’t eat any at Maiky’s Shack!  I did 11 dives for the week – woo hoo!

Dylan Crawford – OK, OK, the diving!   Cooler than I thought, and a really great group to hang with!  Got my certification done, thanks Dave!  Mom picks good friends, I guess!

Mark Sperry – I do a lot of dive travel and I can say, there’s not a lot of groups that beat Indian Valley Scuba!  What  blast diving with these guys and they really have their act together!  It made for a really comfortable week of diving adventure!  Great people, great weather, great diving – I’ll be back!

Tricia Mento – My darling spouse dominating the shore diving with his broken ankle – he could have easily sat out but he is a super trooper (and knows how sitting out a dive would be been capitalized on in the blog!).  Great bunch of supportive divers made it a really great week – thanks guys for humping his gear down 1,000 Steps!  And of course meeting even more really cool people like we do on every IVS trip – this time we partnered with the Manninem’s which just really made traveling the island and diving all over an even bigger blast!  Thank you Sue!

Mike Parzynski – Island touring with Dave (under the guise of finding the dive site!) was a blast. “Keep the ocean on your right, er I mean left”.  Diving doubles & stage bottles and deco diving in these great waters!  Going deep, really deep (151 in not only  a rum!).  The 2-tank and 3-tank boat drift diving was great, and getting dropped off at the beach even greater!  Only negative was the delay in getting my bags to start it off, but all ended on some great notes!

Mike Swartley – Seeing my daughter get certified with Dave was the highlight of the trip, then diving with her as my buddy!   Also the good new friends we made here, the IVS gang is great!

Grace Crawford – #1 the people!   #2 my son Dylan’s certification, diving with him, and seeing his excitement!  And #3 – the most wonderful dives!  One of my favorites was when I went to Alice in Wonderland with Jack S – as soon as we went deown he was making all sorts of signs and signals and I couldn’t figure them out at all.  Finally he wrote on his slate “I’m a dumbass” – I couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of the dive

Mike GusenkoFirst, WHAT AN AWESOME TRIP!!  I think what I liked the most, (and there were many, many things to like about this trip), is that while still maintaining the “Group IVS” feeling there were a lot of opportunities to go out and explore individually (with my favorite Buddy Lin) or with whomever was going to your favorite dive site.  A great chance to meet new people and share great  experiences whether a night, shore, boat, or “wild side” boat dive (which by the way was VERY cool!)

Dave, I’m very impressed!  The one moment in the trip that I will not forget is at Maikis. There we were all settling in for our wonderful goat stew and dinner when you looked around and noticed there was someone missing from our group that may have missed out on the ride over or wasn’t sure of the dinner plans.  Instead of saying “oh well, too bad” you got in your car and drove back to the resort (alone) to find him, in the dark, with maybe a vague idea of how to get back on those dirt roads.  I was thinking of you while we were enjoying our dinner, and was hoping you’d make it back in time to have your share. Glad you did. THAT is what IVS is about!  THAT is why we have that “family” feel about the IVS group.  We look out for one another.

And that’s another point.  We were helping each other constantly on this trip.  Many thanks go to Butch and Jim Swartley and John Alcott for helping Lin get in and out of some tricky entry points. And of course Bev (Lin’s bff!).  She is such a trouper, a great person and good friend.  We were helping Jody and Lin with gear up and down a thousand steps (and it really felt like a thousand when you do it four times for one dive!)  Jody even likes shore diving over boat diving now…well duhhhh, I would too if someone carried my stuff (LOL!  Love ya Jody!).

And one last thing.  Lin and I have gone to Jamaica for the last six years in a row to our favorite “spot”, and we even have a trip on the books for next year.  We had such a good time on this trip, we will probably be eating the $100 deposit when we cancel that trip to make room for an extra trip with IVS (in addition to Bonaire).

Bottom line – what a fantastic trip!   We’ll be back next summer!

Underwater Scooter Racing on the Vandenberg – does it get any cooler than this?

This weekend marks the first running of Wreck Racing League’s underwater scooter competition, behind held above and below the water in Key West, FL.   This inaugural event is behind held to showcase one of the greatest success stories in artificial reefing, the sinking of the USAFS Vandenberg.  Held in conjunction with the Florida Keys Community College Swim Around Key West, and the annual Key West Pridefest Week, this weekend should prove to be a cornucopia of colorful delights for every interest!

Dave traveled south to represent IAHD-Americas, the official adaptive scuba sponsor of the event.  The schedule calls for all-day programs on Friday and Saturday to conduct Discover Adaptive Scuba programs, educate the public, and develop an even greater awareness and support of disabled diving programs everywhere.  I’ll be representing the IVS’s token Y chromosome on this adventure, being joined for the weekend by Stephanie Skelton from Ohio, Sue Douglass from California, and Joyce Kichman from Pennsylvania.

I headed down on Thursday afternoon, and landed in Ft. Lauderdale without incident, already an unusual start for me.  I waited patiently at the airport,  and then the text messages started.  Joyce is still on the ground in Philadelphia, then she is on the ground and delayed further in Orlando……and as I watch the clock move closer to the bewitching hour, I think about that 2 hour drive to Key Largo to pick up gear, followed by 3 more hours to Key West, the final destination for today.  OK, enough, time for action!  Joyce has a car rented at the airport, so I think I’ll go get that, and at least cut that delay out of the evening.  So I hump my 5 bags and 250-plus pounds of gear onto a shuttle bus, off the shuttle bus, to the rental counter, and wait.  There are three agents working, one looks like a managerial type, the second is a go-getter female who appears on top of her corporate game, and the third, well let’s just say he looks like a bit more prone to wheeling and dealing than the other two.  So I graciously allow 3 other folks to pass by me at the front of the line while I waited for my candidate of choice to be free.  He is clearly having a bit of a challenge with the two folks in front of him, and his frustration shows.  Good, this can work in my favor, I think.  Finally, they are gone, and he was free so I headed over.  I lead off with some sugar “man you really handled that well!  I know how frustrating it can be sometimes!”.  He warms immediately, thinking how refreshing it is to have a ‘regular’ customer like me there, little did he know I had not pulled my mask off over my head yet!!    I tell him that my associate has a car rented and I need to pick it up….he looks at me and says “is the rental in your name?”. “No”, I say, ” I had my associate set up the rental for me”.  “Are you listed on the contract?”  “No, but it will be alright”, I assure him.  “Am I going to get in trouble if I let you have this car?”, he asks.  “No, I’ve got you covered”, I tell him, in my best counselor tone of voice.  “Well I’m not sure, we’re not supposed to be doing this”, he drags on.  “Dude, trust me”, I lead with, “it’s all good.  Let’s get this going and let you get out of here at a decent hour tonight”.  Well gosh by golly, playing that ‘get-out-of-work’ card did the trick, and before you know it, my license and credit card were being swiped, I negotiated an even bigger set of wheels, and I was out of there with keys in hand.  Like KC and the Sunshine band say, “That’s the way uh-huh uh-huh we like it!”

I find the car and thankfully Joyce has landed, so I direct her to take the bus and come directly to the rental car garage.  In a flash we are loaded up and getting ready to start heading south.  There is one car in front of us at the exit gate, so we should be out of here in in minute….ok, maybe not this minute, but one soon…ok…what the heck can be going on?  Three people arguing in various versions of poor english, the two folks in the car and the gate girl, and I am wondering how freakin’ complicated it can be to show your license and the contract and get the magic gate to raise.  Wait a minute, I know them…..they are the couple that was in front of me at the counter……obviously the drama follows them everywhere we go!   I wait another respectful 5 minutes, figuring this has to end sometime, and I get 2 or 3 raised hands and shrugged shoulder looks from the attendant so I know progress, if any, is not coming easily.  I get out of my car, and walk slowly to the little shack where all this activity is taking place.  As I near I get a sense of how livid the customers are, arguing among themselves, and yelling at the attendant, who looks at me with those ‘please get me out of here’ eyes.  I approach the couple, ready to suggest that perhaps they can pull off to the side while they get this sorted out, and let the rest of the world get on with their business of showing licenses & contracts, and seeing that gate raise!  Well I don’t quite get that far, as my physical presence obviously tipped the drama scales a bit too far, and with that the woman literally explodes, storms away, nearly impaling herself as she stumbled on the tire shredder, and disappears into the darkness of the night.  The guy, meanwhile, is speechless, and quietly gets back in the car, the gate raises, and he leaves, driving in the complete opposite direction of where the woman had been walking.  Gosh, if I had known all I needed to do was get her to storm away I could have done that 10 minutes ago.  The gate attendant thanks me, I get back in my car, pull forward, ‘swing’ goes the gate, and we’re off.  Geeeeesh!

Two hours later I am pulling into IVS South, aka Dave Hartman’s house, and he has patiently been awaiting my arrival.  I load up the tanks and gear we keep in storage there, plus the two Hollis Expedition Scooters that we had shipped down, then it’s a quick handshake and goodbye, as I continue on down the pike.  Finally, at nearly 4 a.m., I locate the property that my good friend Mike Bullock has offered us for the weekend, gratis, as a token of his appreciation for us coming down to represent IAHD-Americas at the event.  Thank you Mike!  So we hump some gear up, figure out the bedding situation, grab a couple of beds, and enjoy a power nap before the morning dive.

It is amazing how Pavlovian we are, with hearing the buzz of the alarm and knowing it must be time to dive!   Brush the teeth, comb the hair, put on a bathing suit and a tee, and head down to the van.  Our gear is still packed and piled under the scooters and the tanks, so we head over to Subtropic Dive Center and get signed in on the boat.  Quickly dumping the entire contents of the van into the parking lot, we assemble some backplate systems, run through those pesky mental checklists (fins, boots, mask, BCD, regs, etc) and satisfied we are good to go, we board the boat.  Breakfast will have to wait cause it is time to head on out to the Vandenberg.

Dolphins follow us out to the site to start the morning off right.  We moor up, and it is amazing how many boats are here on this wreck, underlining what a true business success story this artificial reef program has been.  All this new diver business, all the hotels, diners, gear and more, completely made possible by the efforts of Joe Weatherby and the Artificial Reefs of the Keys organization.  The seas are flat for the first time in a long time, so we suit up and splash.  We’re moored on the #5 ball, two up from the stern, so we drop down near the stack, hit the deck at 95 feet, and then enjoy a nice 50 minute run, exploring the wreck up one side, to the bow, and then back down the other side.  So much to see, this wreck is utterly amazing, and the fish life it has attracted just blows you away.  As we head back, Joyce points out with excitement at something she sees, and I swim over, to spot a lionfish her eagle eyes picked up on. Well well, this can’t be, I think, as I assess the tools I have at hand to remove this invasive specie from our wreck.  OK, short list, I have nothing with me today, but I can’t leave this job undone, so I ‘man up’, and gently manuever the slippery bugger into a corner where his only choice for escape is up or down.  But to his surprise, one of my hands is above him, while the other blocks his exit below,  so he assumes his best ‘If I flair my poisonous fins out they’ll leave me alone’ posture, and he does it well.  Unfortunately, he is looking into the eyes of the Lionfish Whisperer, as my hands slowly but steadily close in on him, fingers interlocking into a homo sapien cage of death for our little fish-eating boy.  He wiggles one last time, trying to ensure that if he goes, he’s taking me with him, but to no avail, as my hands close tightly, ignoring his toxic spines as I give him one good solid squeezing until ‘pop!’ out shoots his guts……mission accomplished, I tuck the corpse into my pocket and we begin our slow ascent to the surface, stopping to offgas a bit on the way and satisfy a minor deco obligation.

Back on board, everyone wants to get a closer look at my catch, and the amazement, especially among the crew, that you can actually catch a poisonous fish with your hands and survive, is pretty cool to see.  We hang out for a token surface interval, and at the 11th minute I tell Joyce it’s time to gear up and get back in if we are going to get another 50 minutes of run time and be back on the boat when the recreational divers surface.  So we splash at 15, and this time we are heading deeper down (what was that reverse profile thing-y again?) and check out the rudder, where some massive Goliath Groupers have taken up residence.  We’re not disappointed, as two of the behemoths greet us under the ship’s stern.  We spend some time with them, and then, since we are already doing our second dive deeper than the first, I suggest we take in some of the machinery spaces.  Slipping inside the wreck, we are in the rear shaftway, and from there we work our way out and back in to the boiler room, passing below the ductwork that just a few weeks ago Joe Weatherby and I had explored by entering at the smokestacks.  Another great 100 ft dive, and a good 50 minutes of run time with minimal deco, thanks to good gas selection (EAN32) and algorithms by Cochran.

We head back in, knowing we have a busy afternoon of getting the scooters set up and charged, and meeting with the race officials.  But first we need some substance so I ask for a local recommendation and the folks at Subtropic suggest I walk down the road to a new floating Thai restaurant on the water in the marina. Knowing that Thai food is clearly within my culinary comfort zone (NOT!) I toss caution to the wind and we head over.  Four pages of menu and not a single item there not crammed with ‘objectionables’ for me.  Thank goodness the Coors is cold, so slowly I figure out what I might manage, and Joyce and I order. For anyone who remembers the restaurant scene from ‘When Harry met Sally’ you can picture me ordering and modifying some Thai favorites on the menu.  Amazingly, the chef is cooperative, and I actually enjoy my meal, although a purist would probably say that it was not really Thai food after all my modifications.  Whatever!

Anyway, we finish and it’s back to the condo to get the scooters ready.  We uncrate the Hollis units and I am immediately impressed with their solid construction and design.  And the colors go with any DIR outfit – they are flat black! We charge ’em up, and with perfect timing, Sue & Stephanie call from the Key West airport, ready to be picked up.  It’s a short ride over, and in a short bit we are back at the condo, getting everyone squared away.  We head into town and head out for a dinner meeting with Joe Weatherby of ARK, Dave Sirak, the head of ABC sports and a huge backer of the artificial reef program, and some locals who i am getting to know better and better as Key West moves up our list of popular locations to visit.  Dinner is great, and the heads of Formula H2O announce they held a meeting that afternoon to elect a new board member, and that new member turns out to be, well, moi!  How cool!  They also announced that IAHD-Americas will be the exclusive adaptive scuba agency associated with Formula H2O events and the Wreck Racing League, helping to further solidify our growing program in the southeast.  Following the dinner meeting Team IVS heads over to the Conch Farm to celebrate my new position with some toasts and snacks, before heading back to retire for the evening.

But you can’t retire from downtown Key West without a ride up Duval Street, and we head right there.  The crowd is always colorful, but tonight we are in for a special treat, with the Gay Pridefest celebration this week, we’re not at all surprised as we pull up to 801 Bourbon Street and there stretched out across a cross, hands & feet bound spread-eagled, is a bare-assed young man, being flogged for all he’s worth, to our delight and that of the crowd too!   Different strokes for different folks for sure!  I’m not really sure, he could have been kinky, or he could have been just getting into tec diving, with all the straps and clips and rings attached to him!  Our speechless amazement was suddenly interrupted as this 6′ 4′ red haired well endowed beauty with one huge adam’s apple walked up and invited us to see more.  We’ll pass, we agreed, and continued up the street for some homemade ice cream to bring ourselves down from all that excitement we just experienced!

Saturday morning dawned, wait…..let’s make this clear, according to the wild roosters running all over Key West, dawn starts anytime after 2 a.m. and is a continual celebration until the sun actually does come up! None the less, we get up, and the girls head out to Denny’s for breakfast while I get some emails sent, some blogging done, and packed up for the day.  They come back and we head over the the marina, where it’s scooter demo morning.  Problem is the scooters are pretty fast and the water is pretty murky, so it’s tough to really open them up with the fear of crashing right into a piling the whole time!  But fun is had, and some good media coverage starts the event off.

That complete, it’s time to gussy up and head over to the Key West Bacchanalia at the Hyatt, an all day affair celebrating wine, spirits, the rums of Puerto Rico and the home of the first annual Burger Wars, a competition between the local eateries with the crowd judging the best burgers in Key West.  Formula H2O has a booth there, and IAHD-Americas does as well, as we work to spread the message to the masses.  It is burning hot under the sun, so we break down and send the team out to the local Home Depot to buy a pop-up canopy for us.  Much better, it’s a great of meeting & greeting, passing out info, and generally good times, all while surrounded by some great drinks being mixed up and some fantastic burgers being passed out!

Evening comes and it’s a pre-race mandatory meeting for the racers, the captains, the organizers and members of the media.  The meeting is held at Pat Croce’s restaurant, and for some of us it was like a trip home!  Pat Croce was the former owner of the 76’ers and a fixture in the Philadelphia sports scene, so his restaurant clearly has a Philly flavor to it.  Once the details of the race are gone over, the maps passed out, positioning and timing, then it’s on to trash-talking, the question of whether ‘trading paint’ Nascar-style is against the rules, whether full body contact is permitted, and a few other similar queries show how serious this crowd is taking the quest for the trophy tomorrow.  OK, virtual trophy, but never the less this is one colorful and animated crowd, and as the meeting goes on, you can imagine it getting more colorful and more animated!   Lot’s of fun, and a huge lightning storm provides some great impromptu fireworks to wrap up the evening.  Tomorrow will be a blast!

Sunday morning we got our first chance to run some time trials with the scooters, and also for Sue to get her very first dives in on the wreck.  And it’s another perfect day, with flat seas, clear skies, dolphins chasing us, 100 ft of viz, and zero current.  What a great introduction to the wreck!  We get a couple good dives in, then head back to port for a quick turn-around and the race!  Back at dock, the crowd is waiting, and there is Zach representing team Subtropic with two old Torpedo scooters duct-taped together, Team Pink from with single Pegasus thrusters, Weatherby with an old ScubaDawg, a couple of SeaDoo’s, and our Hollis Expeditions.  Plus we’ve got a boatload of local newspaper and media types there to cover the event.  We head out and meeting up with four other boats on the wreck, and we moor in a big daisy chain.  And there’s a last minute entry, as the U.S. Army Special Forces boat pulls up, and they slip a diver into the race too!  On the Salty Dog there’s Chris Norwood with another Pegasus, and Dean Vitale, president of the Pegasus Thrusters, with dual units custom-mounted on his tanks.

As we begin to gear up for the race I notice I am not the only one who brought a special race rig to wear – bare backplate and 40 cf tank, no gauges, just a single second stage, and nothing else to create any drag on my sleek form in the water.  There’s a guy wearing an old horsecollar and a bailout bottle, a coupe more 30’s and 40’s – gotta love this!   We head down, and I am breathing off my double 100’s as I have my 40 cf set up clippe don, as well as my scooter.  My teammate Joyce is wearing a conventional single tank, and Sue is there to join the cheering crowd and egg us on to (hopefully) victory!

We gather on top of the wheelhouse, and the racers line up at the rail.  Natalie Weatherby, Joe’s niece, positions herself in front of us, like Olivia Newton John in Grease, but instead of waving her hankerfchief, she swings a 5 pound sledge hammer down onto the railing and kicks off the race with a resounding ‘bang!’ And the racers explode off the line, jockeying for position as we head past the dish antenna and near the first turn.  Yes, there’s more than incidental contact, but we push off and manager to swing through the first turn, then the second, heading back towards the wheelhouse for lap #1.  Two more turns there, the line is spreading our a bit, and we head back towards the stern for the final two turns.  My speed is down a bit due to the drag of the video cam strapped to the top of my scooter, but that careful and strategic placement of the IVS decal just across the bottom of the camera’s field of vision made the sting of being further back in the pack that much easier to take!

We rounded the last turn and made a bee line back to where Natalie was waving the checkered flag.  I finished 4th overall, and Joyce 6th, out of quite a field of racers.  The adrenalin rush was great, not only from the whole racing aspect, but also from the fact that I had no gauge on my bottle, so every breath could have been that last one!  And for those who know what an adrenalin-holic I am, it made the race that much more of a rush!!!  Thankfully the cylinder outlasted the race, so for the next one I am thinking of going down to a 30 or 23 CF size!

Post-race we enjoyed the wreck and got in another less-manic second dive before heading back for the post-race dinner meeting and awards ceremony. Held at one of our local favorites, the Hogfish Bar & Grille, we gathered for telecast interviews, photo op’s, back-slapping and all sorts of fun and laughter.  Pictures were downloaded and shared, and everyone went home with new friends and great memories.

Monday morning and it was time to head out, so Steph caught the first cab at 5:30, Joyce and I got on the road at 6:00, and Sue enjoyed a leisurely morning, not needing to catch her Key West flight until 10.  Good planning on her part.  So as I drove up to Key Largo to drop off gear & ship scooters home, I notice a tire warning light on the dash.  Well yes, you know it, in what is rapidly becoming a Kichman tradition we had a flat tire!   So I pull into the lot of the Hampton Inn in Islamorada, and I found myself, just like in the Verizon commercials, smack dab in the middle of the “Dead Zone”.  Zero bars on both my and Joyce’s phones.  I need this like a hole in the head!  Thankfully the desk clerk is more than cooperative and the rental agency dispatches a service truck to come and change the tire.  An hour and a half later, we are on the road, and we make our stops and even make our flights with time to spare, as I found myself still trying to recover from my PTS Syndrome  – that’s that’s Post Tire Stress Syndrome!   That aside, it was a great weekend, and as I board my plane, I get a text message from Joe – our videos are all over CNN and ABC news and they already have requests from Key Largo and Fort Lauderdale for us to come and run races there!   Very cool!!

So, you’re wondering, other than that rental car fiasco in the beginning and then the Kichman-ized tire, where’s the drama that usually accompanies Dave on his travels?   Well, seems we saved the best for last.  After my text from Joe, we power down the electronic devices, pass our drink cups to the flight attendants, and taxi on out to the runway.  We move up slowly in line until we are number two in the queue, and then the pilot makes an announcement – we have to head back to the gate because they forgot to put an unaccompanied minor on board that was connecting to an international flight!   Holy smokes batman….how can you lose an unaccompanied minor?    Who was in charge of this kid?  Did they just forget her sitting at the gate back there, and didn’t notice that giant orange “Unaccompanied Minor” sticker stapled to her shirt?  I gotta believe someone needs to find themselves suddenly unemployed over this, but the crew takes it with a grain of salt, and we start to pull out of line.  Whooops….wait a minute, the pilot comes back on the intercom….false alarm..she didn’t miss our flight, she missed another one!  Whew..that makes it all better!  Let’s go home!

IVS invades the Great White North – again!

With the recent memory of the Philadelphia Flyers man-handling of the Montreal Canadians, what better time for  a border incursion than now?  Team IVS took advantage of the distraction to insert eight of our team members into the home of the second best team in the Eastern Division.  Mike Parzynski, Rich Peterson. John Glodowski, Kris Gosling, Roger Patton, Joyce & Charles Kichman, and I headed northward to dive some of the deeper wrecks in the St. Lawrence and complete some technical training for the team.

Our mission is to complete 7 dives over the next two days, ranging from 90 to 180 ft in depth.  All dives will be made wearing doubles and multiple deco bottles, along with drysuits, and the plans are for staged decompression all weekend long.  The team is ready and all academics have been completed so it’s finally time to get wet!

The truck is loaded, 14 sets of double 100’s, fourteen 40 cu. ft. stage bottles, and all the technical paraphernalia that goes along with that.  Plus clothing and everything else that we need for a weekend in the Great White North.  Rich headed up with John, Kris & Roger went up earlier today, and Mike, myself and the Kichman’s rode up in the truck Friday evening.  The ride was uneventful, and the border crossing was strangely quiet, almost surreal.  Our passports were swiped, and after some good banter with the border guards about how the hockey season in America was still going on after the Canadian teams have hung up their skates, we were in!

Five minutes later we pulled into Caigers, our home base for the operation.  We’ve been coming here for years and it was always nice, but dated.  Well this past winter Mark the owner made some serious investments in time and dollars (well OK, they’re Canadian dollars) and renovated the rooms and the lodge, adding a brand new bar & lounge upstairs overlooking the river.  We got there and the parking lot was absolutely jammed, and the music and laughter coming from above led us to the bar.  We got in and found the rest of the gang who had arrived earlier, and Mark introduced us to his new partner.  Let’s just say we were impressed with all we saw, and how popular it was with the local crowd!  Smart business move on their part, and we’re glad to be here.

We got up Saturday morning to a bright and clear day on the river.  Wayne Green, owner of Thousand Island Pleasure Diving, met us and introduced us to our crew for the day.  Being the only charter of the day got us on the biggest fastest boat, and with all our tanks and gear, we were happy about that!  Everyone had a nice chance to enjoy a relaxed breakfast, a nice change from the usual hectic morning routine on many of our trips.  We set up and finally headed out to our first location, the  Kinghorn, an old wooden freighter that sits at 90 ft in Canadian waters.  We splashed and enjoyed a nice warm up dive here, with decent viz, water temps in the mid 60’s,  and manageable current at depth.  This is a nice wreck, sitting fairly intact and upright, the damage to the bow obvious where it hit the shoals.  Locals have decorated it with an array of misc bottles and lawn ornaments, making it a unique dive experience for sure.  We had a 30 minute run time here, no need to get any more nitrogen in our tissues than necessary cause we had plenty of that scheduled for later today!

After that we headed over to Boldt Island, where US Customs and Immigration have a point of entry located.  A very pretty place, the island is home to a huge fanciful castle built in the 1800’s.  As we pull up to the dock we enjoy watching the river traffic, including a number of beautifully restored old Chris Craft boats from the mid 20th century era.  Amazingly, America lets us in, and after matching up our smiling mugs with our passports, they give us the big virtual green light to go forth and play.  Back onto the boat we pile, and our next stop is the Keystorm, a steel-hulled freighter that met it’s demise when it veered off course and raked it’s bow across the unforgiving rocks in the shallows.  The depth here is 118 ft at the stern while the bow sits in 20 ft of water, so you get a sense of how dramatic the drop-offs are on the river bottom.  This is a nice wreck for penetration and everyone enjoys a good dive here, under the constant watchful eye of the millions of Belgian Gobies that cover the bottom of the river.  Another half hour here and it’s time to get some lunch!  We motor over to Alexandria Bay, and tie up at the public dock.  There’s a  great barbecue place here on the water, so we walk over and have a great lunch while we de-gas.  Finally it’s time to re-board and move onto our first real deep wreck of the weekend, the Vickery, a three masted schooner that hit the rocks trying to enter port at night on the US side.  The bow sits in in 40 feet of water, while the tops of the masts and the crows nests are angled downward towards the center of the river, allowing us to get to 145 feet of depth before we run out of ship.  This is a good wreck to drop the stage bottles on the deck before we hit the deeper parts and everyone does great in that regard.

The plan now is to head back and re-visit the Kinghorn but we opt to return to the dock and consider coming back out later to make that a night dive.   Unfortunately, when we get back to the dock, there is some a bit of a problem, and due to some unforeseen circumstances, I need to head back to Harleysville, putting a bit of a damper on the rest of the weekend.  So we modify our plans, and I pack up and get on down the road.

Well it turns out that I didn’t miss much as Sunday morning dawned dark & crappy, pouring cold rain down on our divers.  The temperature had dropped about 30 degrees overnight and the morning dives were not quite as enjoyable as the previous days were.  It’s tough when you need to go back to the room to change your drysuit undergarments before the dive, and they ended up suiting up in the rooms before coming back out and boarding the boat.  Some of the team decided to call it after the first sodden dive, and finally only the hardiest remained, with Roger and Kris completing some nice deeper wall dives and exploring an unidentified barge on the Canadian side.

We’ll be back in August to pick up where we left off and get our deeper dives in!

More to come……..

Indian Valley Scuba at Lansdale Day

This blog entry by: Tom Rebbie, IVS Diver

At 07:00 hours Saturday morning I arrive to set up the Mobile IVS Information Booth for Lansdale Day on Main Street.

After receiving instructions on where to set up, I drop anchor on Main Street near the SEPTA Rail Road crossing, the carpet, the canopy, the table, the chairs, the IVS information back drop and placing all the IVS information out as instructed by Bev, I’m ready to meet and greet the public, but there is one more thing, ahhhhh yes, my First Mate for the day, IVS’s Diver Dave.

At 08:00 IVS Keith Beaver pulls up with IVS’s 20 foot tall inflatable Scuba Diver Dave. Out of the truck Diver Dave comes and set in to place. Keith runs a 200 foot extension cord to the nearest outlet and we bring life to Diver Dave.

Lansdale Day starts up and I’m joined by a couple of lovely ladies from IVS Judy Jaskiewicz, Trisha Arrington, my daughter Janine (a non-diver) and a friend Vickie (also a non-diver). As the day moves along, we meet and greet any and all who have questions about diving from such as Lansdale’s Police Chief, a local Judge, other vendors, old divers and wanna-be divers as well the general public. We held a steady course and sailed though the morning.

Most questions were the standard such as, how old do you have to be to be certified, is there an age limit that you’re too old to dive, how tall is Diver Dave, where is the IVS shop, what dive trips is the shop running, what do you do if you have to go to the bathroom when your under water, can I renew my certification with IVS, how deep have you been, where do you dive around here, when are the dive courses given, and where are they given and the one question that was asked the most, what are you giving away free?

We do our best to answer everyone’s questions and if we could not give them an answer, we ask them to call Bev in the IVS shop on Monday morning.
The afternoon is much of the same only, it’s getting hotter and I yearn to be in the cool waters of the Caribbean. In time, all of my IVS lovely ladies have to move on to deal with family and friends and other commitments.

I’m alone on the Bridge of the Mobile IVS Information Booth, navigating my booth though a sea of souls passing me by with painted faces, balloons, water ice, funnel cake, hot dogs, French fries and the one food I long for, hot waffles and ice cream.

As the shadows grow long and the sky grows gray the temperature starts to drop becoming a cooler Main Street. The winds start picking up and the discarded papers blow about like flying fish on the high seas. The trees are rocking and vendors canopies start up-rooting and flying across Main Street landing on other vendors canopies or just tumbling down the street.

I look to Diver Dave and see he has become a 20 foot tall disco dancing machine, an image flashes in my mind, that of Diver Dave flying off only to be snagged by the SEPTA High Voltage Lines there on Main Street. And I think of the look on Dave’s face as he is sitting back to relax after a day of diving the St. Laurence Seaway, tuning in to CNN only to see, “Today’s top story, a 20 foot tall Scuba Diver was caught in power lines, all of the Eastern Sea Board is without power.”

At 3:15 PM I feel Diver Dave’s time has come, so I pull Diver Dave’s plug and grab hold of his main support straps and Diver Dave collapses face first in my arms. He is safe.

At 3:30 PM I see Keith in his truck slowly making his way to the IVS Mobile Information Booth where other vendors had abandoned Main Street. We load Diver Dave and all of the IVS equipment and we set sail from Main Street. It was a good IVS day.

Again, I thank everyone who helped out, Judy, Trisha, Janine, Vickie and Keith for their support and of course, Diver Dave who was the biggest Scuba Diver on Lansdale’s Main Street in a long time.

Be safe, have fun,