The Benefits of the PADI National Geo Open Water Course

The standard PADI Open Water class is 4 open water dives over two days after successful completion of classroom and pool work.  Recently, PADI partnered with National Geographic to offer an Open Water Course that focused more time and attention on both a new divers underwater skills and the surrounding eco-system in which the dives take place.  The PADI National Geo Open Water course includes updated course book, classroom content and a stronger emphasis on buoyancy and navigational skills in both the pool and open water dives.  There are 6 open water dives over two days required to complete the PADI National Geo course.  Indian Valley SCUBA is a PADI 5 Star Training Center and offers the PADI National Geo course as a standard part of the introductory curriculum for new divers.  Most of IVS’s new open water students conduct the open water certification dives in the friendly confines of the “Quaribbean of the North” at Dutch Springs in Bethlehem, PA.  Most of IVS’s warm water enthusiasts venture to IVS South in Key Largo, Florida either with an organized IVS trip at Amoray Dive Resort or on their own vacation schedule.

Lora Sigler Feeding Hungry Tarpon at Robbies

Lora Sigler Feeding Hungry Tarpon at Robbies

Wayne and Lora Sigler of Quakertown, PA arrived in Key Largo over a beautiful holiday Easter weekend to complete their open water check out dives for the PADI National Geo Open Water course.  The Siglers are a very nice and active young couple looking to put SCUBA diving in their growing list of adventure activities.  The couple started their Keys adventure on Thursday with an early arrive and a half day of tourist activities in the Upper Keys including a stop at Robbies in Islamorada to feed the school of hungry Tarpon that lurk of the dock of the marina.

Good Friday morning started off with the obligatory stop at Key Largo Undersea Park (KLUP) or more affectionately known to us locals as Jules Undersea Lodge Lagoon.  Jules is in a reality a salty little “pond” created by a vinyl wall blocking off a large elbow of a saltwater canal with a retired underwater lab that now represents the only underwater hotel.  The viz at Jules could be anywhere from 5- 30 feet and the max depth is 25 feet.  Jules is first and foremost a phenomenal shore based training facility for introductory SCUBA diving classes.  There are a couple different platforms at 4 and 6 feet for confined water work and right off the platforms is the depths of Jules lagoon perfect for introductory open water dives complete with multiple down lines and guide ropes for low viz conditions.  What Jules lacks in underwater brilliance is totally offset by convenience and flexibility.  Instructors bring divers to Jules on Friday morning, conducts a refresher of skills and comfort on the shallow platforms and a student’s first open water dive and all flexible surface skills in the calm controlled environment of the lagoon.  After a visit to Jules, open water students are ready to dive the reefs of the National Marine Sanctuary from one of the numerous dive charter boats based in Key Largo.

Training Platform at Jules Lodge Lagoon at Key Largo Undersea Park

Lora and Wayne completed their first dive and flexible surface skills at Jules flawlessly although Lora attempted to circumnavigate the mangrove habitat on her first attempt on surface navigation.  With Jules in the logbooks, the couple and I headed to Florida Keys Dive Center on off Tavernier Creek just south of Key Largo.  The weather was gorgeous, the water temp was a balmy 81 degrees (above average for late April) and winds were a bit brisk which made for some bumpy surface conditions on the shallow reefs of the Sanctuary.  Our first dive off the Big Dipper dive boat was the northeast end of Molasses reef off Key Largo.   MO is an awesome large reef system full of bright orange sponges, purple sea fans and tons of colorful reef fish.  Plus, with depths of 25-35 feet and tons of large sand patches, Mo is perfect for open water certification dives.  The conditions underwater at Mo on Friday afternoon were excellent with 80 feet of blue water viz and no current.   Dive two of the PADI open waters courses is what I call the “working dive” because numerous skills are completed on this dive to allow a student to focus more on comfort underwater on forthcoming dives.  Wayne and Lora completed all skills on dive two which left plenty of time to explore the reef surrounding the boats mooring ball.  Kudos to Lora for keeping her cool after a momentary thought of “why I am doing this” during her first mask clear.  After a few calming breaths while standing up, Lora was back to completing the rest of her skills flawlessly.

Mortar Once held in Giant Pickle Barrels from Pickle Barrel Wreck

Mortar Once held in Giant Pickle Barrels from Pickle Barrel Wreck

The Big Dipper traveled south to Pickles Reef to dive Pickle Barrel Wreck which at 13 feet is not my preferred shallow water reef dive on a windy day.  Surge is no fun underwater especially for new students and the shallower the reef the stronger the surge. Thankfully, there is a sand channel near Pickle Barrel Wreck that goes down to 20 feet which was hidden from the surge and had plenty of open space to complete a few skill on open water cert dive number three.  The rest of the dive was spent admiring the large brain corals in the area and checking out a minnow cave I discovered when team IVS was in town 2 weeks prior.  The highlight of the dive was a school of 100 plus blue tangs munching on the reef like piranha.  We did swim over the spread out remains of the 100 year old Pickle Barrel wreck towards the end of the dive which made it all the more challenging to stay low in the surge with a half empty air tank (almost empty for Wayne!!!).  After two successful reef dives off the Big Dipper, it was back to the dock to sign log books and rest up for a full day of dives on Saturday.

Orion: Sister Dive Boat of the Big Dipper at Florida Keys Dive Center

Orion: Sister Dive Boat of the Big Dipper at Florida Keys Dive Center

Saturday morning started with more beautiful spring weather but still a bit windy.  Due the anticipated bumpy surface conditions, the Capt recommended that the Big Dipper dive boat travel to the deeper reefs of Tavernier.  (Deeper meaning 50 feet versus the traditional 25-35 feet depth on the reefs off Key Largo).    Shallower reefs are always preferred during any open water class but I had faith in Lora and Wayne to handle the deeper reefs and I also preferred to avoid the surge of the shallower reefs.  Our first stop was Crocker which was more like 60 feet to the bottom of the mooring ball instead of 50 feet but who is counting.  While Lora and Wayne processed through their obligatory ear clearing rituals, I checked out the landscape and immediately saw the largest school of Blue Parrotfish that I ever witnessed anywhere in the world.  There had to be 200 plus of these bright turquoise blue fish in a group together swarming over the reef under the dive boat.  Blue Parrotfish are normally seen in groups of two or three and only Midnight Parrotfish regularly travel in large schools when feeding on the reef. Mixed in with the school of Blue Parrotfish were hundreds of Sergeant Majors and Yellowtail Snapper.  I have been diving all over the Caribbean and you just do not see such congregations of reef fish than we have here in the Keys.  To add the excitement at the start of the dive, a 6 foot nurse shark was sitting in a patch of sand on the bottom of the mooring.  What a cool way to start your fourth dive in open water.  After paying our homage to the nurse shark, Lora, Wayne and become one with the school of Blue Parrotfish, Sergeant Majors and Yellowtail Snapper as we headed to a large patch of sand in a bit of shallower water (min depth 50 feet) right under the stern of the Big Dipper dive boat.

After mask removal and hovering skills, the dive was almost over for Wayne who was still breathing like he was running a 50 mile off road race (which he has done before!)  The deeper depths did not work well with Wayne’s breathing patterns but I assured him that he will improve once he convinces his body that SCUBA is not an aerobic activity. It’s all about conditioning the body to breath slow and deep. Lora mastered hovering no problem but decided to take here underwater genie imitation to shallower depths so as Lora was rising slowly and Wayne was signaling for low air (proper hand signal with the fist to the chest) it was time to catch up with levitating Lora and end the dive.  Lora taught me a lesson about instructing because she appeared a bit light on Saturday when her weighting and buoyancy were perfect on Friday.  Lora said she put all her weights into her BCD pockets and she was fine once she was below 10 feet of water.  On the surface, I demonstrated to Lora a proper snorkeler free dive entry which works well for divers in rough surface conditions to quickly get down to a manageable depth.  Lora’s buoyancy was excellent at depth and I am a big believer of using only the optimum weight to maintain neutral buoyancy.  The last thing I wanted to do was put more weight on Lora when she was fine yesterday and totally neutral underwater.  Well, it turns out that Lora probably lost one of her weight pockets on entry before the dive and Lora discovered her missing gear as we were preparing for the afternoon dives.

Adult Spotted Drum on Newfound Reef off Islamorda

Adult Spotted Drum on Newfound Reef off Islamorda

The next dive of the morning was at a special choice of Capt Greg called Newfound because I believe he discovered and named the dive himself.   No mooring ball at this site so divemaster Zach had to set the boat’s anchor.  Really cool dive site with endless reef and large coral heads and plenty of sand for the buoyancy skills of the National Geo section of the open water course.   Lora and Wayne were hovering machines and the extra skill work on buoyancy really paid off in their comfort underwater.  The second part of the dive was surveying the reef and marine life in the area. Plenty to see on this reef including fields of barrel sponges and small group of ballonfish spotted by Wayne (great job Wayne).  The deeper reefs of Tavernier are quite different in topography and corals than the shallow reefs of Key Largo so I always enjoy traveling south on the reef line for a bit of diversity.  Great choices Capt Greg!!

Lora Sigler Demonstrating Level Buoyancy on Spanish Lady Reef

Lora Sigler Demonstrating Level Buoyancy on Spanish Lady Reef

The afternoon dives on Saturday were on shallower reefs of Spanish Lady and Pete’s Reef.  Spanish Lady is two distinct dive sites in one with a shallow shelf near the boat’s anchor covered in soft corals and Sea Fans and a well defined ledge off the stern of the boat that is more alive with fish and not corals.  The ledge of Pete’s makes a well defined right angle right near where you start your dive but the preferred direction to make the dive is go to the corner and stay to your left and take in all the schools of reef fish and critters.  The first part of the dive for Wayne and Lora was at the bottom of the anchor of the dive boat to conduct the advanced underwater navigation portion of the PADI National Geo course.  Anyone can learn compass skills, but the mark of a good diver underwater is one who uses numerous visual cues to aid in navigation.  For the natural navigation portion of their skills, I taught Wayne and Lora how to use “breadcrumbs,” distinct parts of the reef topography to find their way back to a starting point.  The key element of using “breadcrumbs” underwater is to look back every so often in the direction of your return route to get a feel of the reef landscape looking in the opposite direction from which you started.  Other prominent cues underwater, is the location of the boat, other mooring balls and the direction of sun.  Lora and Wayne both executed a flawless return to the boats anchor after I led each diver on different routes away from the dive boat.  Wayne had a tough route over a flat plateau lacking distinct topography but he smartly used the shadow of the boat to guide us back to the anchor.

Lora had distinct coral heads as “breadcrumbs” on her navigation route and she used these markers to the letter to bring us back to where we started.  After navigation skills, our group headed to the ledge behind the boat for the fun part of the dive and to check out some cool marine life.  I immediately noticed and illustrated to Wayne and Lora that the main reef line followed the direction the boat was sitting.  You could literally do you dive on the ledge, turn around and follow the ledge to the corner and surface and be close to the stern of the boat (if the wind did not shift 180 degrees!!).  Easy navigation tip and the rest of the dive was quite interesting.  The ledge on Spanish lady is very dead but the fish are hanging in bunches of schools all over the reef.  The second part of the dive was the reef survey portion of the PADI course where our team focused on the symbiotic relationship of the fish and critters on Spanish lady.

Growing Staghorn Coral on Pete's Reef off Tavernier

Growing Staghorn Coral on Pete's Reef off Tavernier

The last dive of the day was on Pete’s Reef which I believe I was last on in December 2004.  Pete’s is an elliptical patch reef teaming with pristine brain and star coral which give the reef amazing profile.  The dive is fairly easy because you pick a starting point and just circle the reef and then cross over the middle portions of the reef once you re-mark your starting point. The key here is remembering your starting point.  The dive boat sat over a bed of sea grass and a 50 yard wide sand channel separated the boat from the reef.  The sand channel was wide and expansive so with no visual references besides the sun, I set a compass heading back to the boat once our team was heading in the right direction. (Tip: Turn your body back to the boat to mark any visual clues for your return route and then set your compass heading clearly at the direction of the boat).  I pointed out to Lora and Wayne how I was navigating the reef and my reef marker (big brain coral with unique features) but all this was bonus because they were already certified divers.  The dive on Pete’s Reef was all about fun with underwater photography as we broke out the cameras and housings and had some fun underwater. Wayne and Lora took some fantastic pictures for newbies and are off to fast start on their underwater diving adventures.

Lora and Wayne Celebrating their SCUBA Cert at Snappers Sunday Brunch

A big thank you goes out to Florida Keys Dive Center, Capt Greg and divemaster Zach for taking good care of the IVS training team in difficult surface conditions.  The Siglers completed their PADI National Geopraphic Open Water course and really enjoyed the extra education on buoyancy, navigation and the underwater environment in the Keys.  I could see a definite improvement in dives number 5 and 6 of the course because on skills the students struggled with on early dives they now excelled with just a bit of coaching, adjustments and more time underwater to gain comfort with the surroundings.  Congratulations to Wayne and Lora and please use your cert cards well and come back to the Keys soon.

A Journey to the Sacred Land of the Mayans

Four long, dry days working in the salt mines of Harleysville, and I know it is time for a change.  What to do, what to do, what to do…OK – I got it- let’s go diving!!!  The Mexican Riviera is calling is calling sweetly, so Team IVS packs up and gets ready to head south to the land of the Mayans for nine days of extraordinary diving in the Akumal region.

Our plans are to fly into Cancun a day early to save a bundle on airfare, and then drive south approximately 70 miles to Akumal.  But wait, I am thinking, why wait 70 miles to moisten our gills?  We can start our trip with some diving right in Cancun, then, properly hydrated (no, not in ‘that’ way!), we’ll make the drive further down the road for the balance of the trip.

And actually Cancun has been on the list for some time now to check out as a potential destination for a future Indian Valley Scuba trip.  So we can do some reconnaissance diving and information gathering while we are here, better to serve the needs and desires of the IVS family of divers.  Yes, I know, it is work, but the sacrifice is the least we can do for the folks back home.

And before you all start thinking this Dave Valaika must have some sort of deathwish, marching off into yet another land of banditos and revolutions like my recent jaunt through Egypt, let me assure you that once again, the advertising departments at CNN and FOX News have gone all out to make it appear that Mexico is all but lost to the drug cartels, and no gringo will come out alive if you go there.  Nothing can be further from the truth, and there is nothing of that sort anywhere on the entire Yucatan peninsula, including the tourist-dependent Mayan Riviera.  The biggest fear you need to worry about here is how bad that great new suntan is going to hurt tomorrow, or are you sure that you packed your Pepto-Bismal!  So Americans everywhere, please take notice:  Mexico is open for business! Come visit!

So, my Public Service Announcement out of the way, I dig into my bag of resources, and the best dive operator in Cancun comes to mind, Scuba Cancun, owned and operated by my good friend Thomas Hurtado.  In fact, I had just seen Tom at the Beneath the Sea show and he had given me heck for not getting down there yet, so how fortuitous is this that we’re going to be in the ‘hood’ this very weekend!  We’ll be staying at the Hotel Casa Maya for the night and our plans for tomorrow are two deep reef dives, followed by a special dive in the Cancun Underwater Museum, an undersea art project created by Jason deCaires Taylor. I’ve seen it advertised and talked about for years, and now we’re going to have a chance to check it our up close and personal.

From there, the balance of our week will be spent at Villas de Rosa, a fantastic oceanfront property designed, built and operated by Tony DeRosa. Conveniently located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, it offers easy access to all the major cenote systems that riddle the Quintana Roo area, plus the beautiful reefs of the Caribbean Sea right outside our doors.

So our flight is booked down for 10:15 Friday morning, out of Philadelphia.  Brian LaSpino, a man who’s always up for a thrill, decides to throw caution to the winds and drive down to the airport with me and catch the same flight.  Something tells me he is not a regular reader of the blog, that, or he has some short-term memory issues we might have to address!  But none the less, we book our flights together, and agree to meet at the shop early Friday morning to being our adventure.  We verify the flight departure time, back up the baggage check-in cutoff, add some time for parking and the shuttle, consider the rush hour traffic we’ll be driving in, and then, get this, round up a little for comfort, finally deciding to depart at 7:00 in the morning.

So tell me, what is wrong with this picture?  It is 6:45, and I am sitting on the deck at the dormitory, bags stacked neatly alongside me, reading the paper, and with nothing to do but wait for Brian.  Here I am, tapping my toes, checking my watch…where is Brian!!  I check my pulse, and verify that I’m not dreaming – yes, I am ready, early and ahead of schedule.  Sensing this must be some sort of sign, it’s probably going to snow in Mexico this week.

So I wait and finally around 7:25 Brian comes rolling in, and asks what time I’m really planning on heading to the airport. OK, faith is restored – he really DOES read the blog!!  But there’s no need to build the anxiety this morning, and my plan is to give the adrenalin glands the day off, so I suggest we just climb into the truckster and get on the road.  It’s 7:45 as we pull out of the parking lot.

So ready for the dramatic report from the ride to the airport?  There is none!  This morning is starting off waaay weird, nothing is stressful, traffic is flowing well, speed limit is observed, and parking is readily available.  TSA is, well, the TSA, and we observe some arguments over break times, and I speak out, loudly, saying “Hey, America’s security is at stake here, perhaps we can all focus on our real jobs here”.  That scores me some nasty looks from the boys and girls in blue, and Brian cringes, in anticipation of that less-than-gentle body cavity search that may be in the making.  Alas, nothing comes of it, and we pass through.  First stop is the brand spanking new Delta Crown Room at the Philadelphia airport, a year in the making, and it is a nice relaxing oasis in the hustle and bustle of the airport scene.  We get some complimentary breakfast items there, and before you know it, it’s time to stroll down the terminal and board our flight to Atlanta.

Once we land, it is a bit of a hustle to get across the airport and catch our flight to Cancun.  And as it turns out in the small world department, the flight attendant is a diver, and she and I swap stories and exchange emails with the hopes of diving together somewhere down the road.  Then Daryl sitting next to me wants to learn about diving, and next Michelle and Fred, a couple from Maryland sitting in the row in front of me, turn around and start talking diving.  Turns out they are divers and coming to vacation with their non-diving daughter Nicole, and her equally non-diving boyfriend Brian.  They were concerned about who they were going to dive with here, and as you might imagine, we cleared that concern up right away – they’re coming diving with us!  What a cool sport this is, and to share it with others is all that much better!  Well after another 2 1/2 hours in the air, and we touch down in the Land of the Mayans, Mexico.

Meanwhile, as we work our way through the serpentine line at immigration, Nichole comes up to me and asks how deep she would have to go if she tried diving with me.  Her parents were talking to her, and after listening to “no way” for so many years, they are shocked that she is ready to try it!  So now we’ll be doing a Discover Scuba for her and her boyfriend on Monday too!  Meanwhile Brian has been talking to his seatmate and passing out IVS cards brochures so we’ve got some other interest brewing from the “back of the plane gang” too.  This trip is picking up already and we’re not even wet yet!

Finally we make it to the front, and after the cursory rubber-stamping immigration process we gather our bags and then get to play the baggage rummaging lottery.  Press the button next to the nice man with the latex gloves on, and if you get a green light, you are good to go, but if it comes up red, you can count on everything you packed getting re-arranged as they dig through every nook and cranny in your suitcases.  Thankfully my honkin’ Pelican cases, crammed to the gills, get the green light, and my careful packing earlier this morning won’t be disturbed.  Brian clears also, and we head out to the taxi station.

Of course it would not be Mexico without some negotiation, so our cab fare starts out ‘astronomical’, then after some back & forthness, we negotiate a better rate, get the extra bag fees waived, and the price to take the two of us to our hotel is manageable.  We pile into the shuttle van, and immediately you know you are not in Kansas anymore – there are eight of us in the cab, including a young man from Australia, two girls from Bulgaria, a couple from Germany, and three Americans – a pretty neat international mix right from the start!  Our hotel for the night is the last one on Cancun’s hotel row, so we get to see a lot of nice properties as we drop off the others one by one.

We pull up and are greeted by Tony Smith, one of our other divers on this trip, who flew in earlier today from Philadelphia.  At the front desk we are welcomed by Raymundo the group manager, and we’re quickly set up in some very nice rooms overlooking the pool and the ocean – sweet! A quick dinner and we all head off early to bed to get a good start on our first day of diving tomorrow.  But not without first sharing the view from my room:

Saturday comes and it is an absolutely glorious morning.  We get our gear ready and leave our bags for the hotel to watch while we are diving today.  A short walk across the street and we are standing in Scuba Cancun, our dive operator for today’s activities.  There we meet Tom, the owner, and get the complete nickel tour of his dive center.  It is part of a many-faceted family business empire, and has been operating in Cancun for 31 years now.  It’s the second largest dive operation in eastern Mexico, and judging from the excellent customer service and attitudes we see everywhere, it’s easy to understand why is has been so successful.

Today we’ll be doing three dives, one wreck, one reef, and one visit to the Underwater Museum.  We load our gear on one of their five boats, a nice 65 ft long former crew boat from the oil industry.  These boats are popular at so many dive centers and make great platforms to work from.  All loaded, we get our briefing from Lars, who will be one of our dive guides. Lars is from Switzerland, via Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, so he’s a pretty interesting dive professional.  Pablo will be our other guide,  and we are joined by Herb, a former Texan who currently resides and Indiana and is down here for a little vacation.  There is also a group of locals on board, who will diving with two more guides, plus a videographer, so there’s plenty of staff to go around. The seas are relatively flat and the water is a stunning shade of blue, and we enjoy our thirty minute ride out.

Pulling up to the site of our wreck dive, the current is ripping, so the decision is made to abort the dive and head to a reef location in hope of better conditions.  We head over to Punta Negral, and hot-drop off the boat, knowing this will certainly be a drift dive with the currents.  Down we go to about 60 ft, and the reef is a serious of ridges and drop-offs, not too much vertical, but plenty to look at and covered with fish.  The currents are mixed and confused, and we sail along, working hard to not work hard, enjoying the dive and letting the water take us where it wants to.  Some nice morays, lobster, crabs, smaller fish, barracuda, and all the other typical Caribbean sea life provide a nice visual backdrop for us as we enjoy 50 minutes of bottom time in the 80 degree clear water.

All too soon we must return to the surface and we head over to our second location.  A little off-gassing on board, and sensing the crew might be operating on Mexican time, I decide to speak up and say, “Hey, my computer’s beeping – it’s time to dive again!”  Smart move, Dave, cause that inspires the crew to wrap up siesta time, and we’re back in the water in 30 minutes for dive #2.   Location #2 is a site called Granpin, because it supposedly resembles some sort of anchor, but we see no evidence of this at all.  It is, however, a real pretty dive site, and the current for the most part is much better here, allowing us to enjoy a lot of swim through’s and more pretty reefs.  Once we are done with the site we position ourselves above the reef, and enjoy a high-speed sail across the flats, with current probably approaching 4 knots – very cool to just hang upside down and backwards, enjoying a bit of a psychedelic visual as the sea floor flies by you.

Back to the dock, we enjoy a light lunch from the snack shop as the boat prepares for the afternoon trip.  We’ll be joined by some folks doing a Discover Scuba, and some others in an Open Water certification class, as we head out to a shallow, sandy site where the Underwater Museum is located.  Again, it’s a thirty minute ride out, and we tie up to a mooring above the site.  With the increased pressure on the reefs due to the popularity of diving in the area (not to mention the less-than-stellar buoyancy skills of many of those divers) the local diving community had looked at artificial reef options as a way to expand the diveable areas and reduce the impact to the natural reefs.  At the same time, the art community had an idea about doing something under the sea, and wouldn’t you know it – the two factions got together and hatched the idea for the Underwater Museum.  Funded by both government and private sources, the project moved forward with great efficiency (a rarity considering where it was taking place) and from last fall to today over 400 statues have been placed on the sea floor.  Built on hexagonal concrete bases approx 10 ft square, each contains about six life-size concrete statues of people depicting many aspects of life and careers.  Each block is butted up to the next, so you have a vast field of people standing on the bottom of the ocean – very  surreal indeed!  The sea has evidently approved of the project, and the surfaces are covered with early stages of sponges, some corals, and algae, and serve as homes and hiding places for schools of small fish.  Although the site itself is quite small, it’s still interesting enough for us to spend 70 minutes at 28 ft, examining the artwork, playing in the rocks and rubble that surround it, and observing the other divers and wanna-be divers cavorting in the water alongside us.

Let’s just say that it was pretty clear that these were not Indian Valley Scuba instructors at work here, as we witnessed some excellent breath holds during the regulator recovery and mask removal skills, none of which were caught by the staff.  Gauges dragging, over-weighted students standing and laying on the bottom, I was thankful indeed that we were not on a reef.  The sad news is that these folks will be getting c-cards and now taking these non-skills out to wreak havoc on what we love so much about the sea.  OK, off my soap box now.

Back on board, Brian, always working that mojo, engages one couple who were doing a DSD today and really loved it.  Turns out they live in New Jersey, and before you know it, emails are exchanged, cards are swapped, and Bev can be expecting a call from two new students who want to join the IVS family!  Nice work Brian!!  The trip back to the dock is quiet and scenic, right until we cross paths with a big catamaran out on a booze cruise,a and realize that nearly everyone on board is naked or near naked.  That inspires our captain to turn around and circle the catamaran again, making sure we were not confused over what we saw – yep, drunken naked people!  Pretty funny addition to the afternoon, and we return to Scuba Cancun’s dock to unload and say goodbye’s all around.

Meanwhile Roberto, our driver from Villas de Rosa, has arrived and is waiting to whisk us south to our next destination.  We gather our gear that the hotel has been carefully watching all day, and climb aboard for the ninety minute ride.  Tony DeRosa Sr, the owner of the resort, greet us when we arrive, and they have our room ready for us.  We get our paperwork completed with Tony Jr and his long-term Canadian/Russian squeeze, the lovely Mila, shows us to our condo.  Living large is an understatement for our accommodations this week, as we have a three-bedroom, three-bath condo with a huge deck right on the beach. Big kitchen, dining area, living room, we will certainly not get in each others way here!  We also get to spend a little time with our other two divers, who actually came down a week earlier, and are checking out today, Staci from Lake Tahoe and her daughter.  They had a wonderful week enjoying the cenotes and the reefs here, and can’t say enough about the service and accommodations they enjoyed at the resort.  The kitchen stepped up and took care of their strict vegan diets, and the dive team made it a mom/daughter vacation to remember!  So great to hear!

Dinner is served up to us in our condo, and we call it an early night.  Morning comes and we enjoy a dramatic sunrise, rising from the sea right in front of our east-facing condo; it doesn’t get any better than this!  Plans for today are a couple of cenote dives this morning and a visit to the reef after lunch.  We busy ourselves swapping our gear configurations for the caverns, grab some breakfast, mix up some delicious Divers D\Lyte for the day, and get ready to jump in the van to start this next phase of our adventure!

But wait!  It is a most beautiful day here, and the seas are absolutely flat!  So our host suggests we take advantage of these conditions and do some ocean diving today, since the weather can’t be counted on to be so nice every day.  So we re-configure our gear, haul it the long 40 yards to the beach, and load it in a 24 ft panga (open boat with outboard engine) that they brought up for us.  We get connected with Tito, who will be our personal guide and diving sidekick for the week, and Carlos, who will be our boat driver whenever we go out on the reef.  We load up the tanks, push off, and head out, enjoying some spectacular views as we motor the 15 minutes to our first site.

The boat is a little small, and the gunwales a little low, for getting all geared up on board, so we just inflate our BCD’s and toss our kits overboard, then roll off the boat in mask and fins.  We put on our gear in the water one final group buddy check, and then it’s thumbs down as we drop into the 200 plus feet of visibility  that greets us.  This site is called the canyons and it is appropriate, as the cuts between the vast fields oh healthy coral drop down 20 or 30 feet, making for some really fantastic diving conditions.  Our depth here is 90 ft, and we spend 50 minutes taking in our first taste of Akumal reef diving.  We like it!!

After that we head back to shore to get a second set of tanks, and push right back off for dive #2.  Another short ride, another great dive at a site called The Iglasius (the churches) named for all the dramatic arches and swim-throughs here.  Very, very nice, and Tito is very cool, allowing us to dive our computers and run our own dives, as he just swims along like one of us.  This is going to be a great week!  Finally, 70 minutes later, we surface from the 50 ft deep site, and climb back on board for the lunch run.

Lunch is served up poolside with some delicious butterflied chicken steaks and all the fixing’s – food is NOT going to be an issue here.  The cook is very accommodating, and has all my dietary quirks written down (no onions, no peppers, no guacamole) so he’ll be preparing “near-Mexican” dishes for me this week.   We kick back for a bit after eating, respecting mom’s rule “No scuba diving for 30 minutes after you eat” or something like that.  But soon enough, it’s time to head back out!

This time Tito figures out we are not going to give up easily, and we load two sets of tanks for the afternoon’s dives.  First stop is Dief Reef, similar to the others, and we get 60 minutes at 55 feet in.  Some very friendly turtles here, and Brian work’s on our PETA endorsement with some great critter interaction.

Finally, stop #4 for the day is Akumal Reef, and after a long 30 minutes of surface interval, we head back under for another 70 minutes at 55 feet.  OK, some of us enjoyed 70 minutes, that list being limited to the guy using the Cochran computer!  The NDL’s on the others tended to be a little more conservative, so I waved them all good bye and enjoyed the last part of the dive alone with the fishes! Finally time to head in, and enjoy dinner served up on the beach, with a beautiful moon over the ocean to accompany us.

Sweet!  Monday morning and breakfast is served in our condo dining room – this is living the good life for sure!  This trip might have been a bad idea, cause it sure will be hard to get Brian back into the IVS salt mines next week! Our first order of the day is to get some cenote diving in, so we load the gear in the van and get ready to head down the road.  But wait, no IVS story is complete without a little twist, and here’s this mornings: our van has California plates, and is registered in the US.  Mexicans are not allowed to drive American cars here under the insurance laws.  So go figure, who is our designated driver for the week?  Captain Dave of course!  Look out Mexico!!

So, map in hand, and Brian on board to translate the Spanish instructions, we head down the road to Dos Ojos (two eyes) one of the more famous of the cenote systems that riddle the area.  This is part of an immense underwater aquifer, with passages and channels cut through the limestone substrate millions of years of slightly acidic rainfall, creating a myriad of flooded tunnels to explore, some easily, and some not nearly so easily.  And as the earth has warmed and cooled over time, and the polar caps formed, melted, and then reformed to their current sizes, the sea levels rose and fell accordingly.  So at one point in earth’s timeline, this entire region was under the sea, and the actual ground we walk on here is actually formed of the old skeletal remains of coral reefs from days gone by.  When the water levels dropped to provide the water for the ice caps, the Yucatan rose from the sea.  Years of rainfall helped cut the passages, but it was the millions of years of leaks dripping through the cave ceilings that really added the silent majesty and beauty to the cenotes, creating thousands of stalagtites and stalagmites, some forming floor-to-ceiling columns and others just hanging down from the ceilings or rising up from the cave floors.

Although they have existed for tens of thousands of years, it was only recently that divers began crawling into holes, and down wells, to see what laid below the surface here.  And we are thankful they did!!!  Most of the major cenote systems have been explored to some extent in recent years, and as they have been, steps have been taken to help ensure the safety of divers using them, and the sanctity of these natural aquatic art museums.  Permanent guide lines, also know as “gold lines” due to the diving community standardizing the color, have been put in place along the cave floors, marking a clear path to follow that positively leads back home, to help avoid making a wrong turn and ending up as another pile of bones down some dark passage, as you can often discover during your dives here (although those bones are mostly that of animals, thank you).

So here at Dos Ojos, the site is named for the two areas that open to the surface, which, if viewed from above, are two circles, hence the “two eyes” name.  How those early Mayans got airborne to see that view I have no idea, but we’ll just accept that fact.  There are two major loop routes here, all starting and ending back at the smaller of the two open eyes, with permanent lines tracing a nice long path through the underground cenote systems and back.  There are many side passages and long dead-end tunnels that go off from the main route, but these are considered true caves from a diving perspective, and require significantly higher levels of training and preparedness in order to safely execute dives in these areas.  The cavern portions of the dives are primarily defined as being not further than 200 ft from an area where you can surface, and not having passageways so tight that only one diver can pass through at a time.  Additionally, there is some source of outside light that can be located when you are in the passageways, although the key word there is “some” cause in some areas it is not much at all!

So we brief our team with the overall plan, familiarize them with the site layout and what to expect down below, and walk on down to take a look at the final staging area and cenote entrance.  There are quite a few divers there already, and snorkelers and swimmers enjoying the refreshing, crystal clear water.  Listening to the various conversations taking place around us it is amazing how many different languages and accents you hear – cave diving is truly an international sport and draws folks from many lands, near and far.  All geared up, we do a final equipment check, and head down the path to the entrance.

Two dives are planned here this morning, one on each of the loops. The first route will be around past the “Barbie Line”, named for a jump that leads off to a beautiful cave system. We slip into the water, and perform a bubble check on each other, making sure none of our precious gas is leaking from a hose or fitting, cause there’s no early exits from some of the points on this dive.  All good, we drop down, and enjoy 50 minutes of touring through this beautiful system.  Brian’s new mb-sub cave light truly illuminates our path, and shows off the fantastic structures that draw folks here year after year. Maximum depth is only 26 feet but the distance we cover is non-stop eye-popping geo-art to the max!  Love it!

We come up and while the boys are switching tanks, I enjoy my doubles and get a 20 minute solo dive in down one of the passages, playing with the fish that live there, and checking out the tiny critters that live in the nooks and crannies and under the rocks here.  Finally the men return, and it’s time for dive #2 (or 3, for me).  This time we head down the “bat cave” line, and get another 45 minutes in the deeper portion of the cenote, at 39 feet max.  Great couple of dives to start the day, and we re-load the van and head back, stopping at a local market to pick up some supplies for our condo.

And speaking of hydration as we weren’t, once again we have brought a supply of Divers D\Lyte with us on this trip, to help maintain a healthy balance of hydration, electrolytes and nutrition.  This product, developed by our friend John Dooley, has taken off like a rocket in the scuba diving community, and we are proud to share it with others everywhere we go, planting the seed for future Divers D\Lyte believers across the globe!  In fact, here you can see Tito our dive guide enjoying the product, as well as a smokin’ model quality shot of yours truly with some great product promotion! And, just in case you don’t believe in proper hydration, you can walk around all day like a Michael Jackson look-alike with your pink umbrella – name withheld to protect the innocent, Tony!

OK enough of that scary thought!  Sorry children, it is safe to come out now!   Meanwhile our new friends from our flight, the Banner family, have driven down to Villas de Rosa to dive with us this afternoon.  Fred & Michelle are certified divers, and today their daughter Nikki and her boyfriend Ryan would like to see if diving might be the sport for them.  So, since this is a ‘business trip’ and NOT a ‘vacation’, Brian and I will conduct an open water Discover Scuba Diving for the two of them, along with a refresher for mom & dad.  We get a couple of sets of rental gear together from the local inventory, and head poolside for the first part of our DSD.   Paperwork is, of course, completed, and then we go through Scuba 101 for our two new candidates.  Physics, physiology, equipment, environment, we cover all the key points to help ensure a safe and fun experience in the ocean today.  Brian leads them through their skills in the pool and everyone is looking good.  Lunch is served poolside, and the anticipation builds for our open water fun!

We haul the gear down to the panga on the beach, load up, and pile the bodies in.  A quick briefing before we head out, questions are answered, and we fire up the 60 HP Yamaha outboard.  The wind has picked up a bit so it’s a wet and bumpy ride on out, but the viz is forever as we pass over the reef.  We choose a shallow site, Cabasas Malos (Bad Heads) where the maximum depth is 40 ft, and drop our anchor to try to reduce the surface drift while we get everyone set up.  Gear is tossed overboard, followed by the bodies and, and Brian and I make sure our new divers are all hooked up and looking good.  Regulators in, thumbs down, and we drop below the beautiful blue water to the reef.  No issues on descent, clearing is good, weighting is right on, and we get our buoyancy neutral above the reef.  Big OK’s all around, everyone is smiling, so let’s go see what we can see! The conditions are great for a first open water experience, and there’s plenty of sea life to entertain our newest divers.  We end up spending 45 minutes on this dive, surfacing with plenty of air all around, and pile back into the boat for the ride in.

The ride was a bit more than our friends had counted on, so once we are back at the beach, they make a wise decision to leave it at one dive today, and forego the second trip.  Well the ocean is calling our names, so it’s hugs and handshakes all around, and the three of us pile back in for another go at it!  Dive site is Islas Akumal, and we get another 70 minutes in (OK, I get another 70 minutes in, but those last 20 minutes were a solo dive as my dive buddies have all abandoned me) at a max depth of 55 ft to wrap up another beautiful day of diving in Akumal.

Another excellent dinner served to us in our condo, log books are filled out, photos downloaded, and off to bed to rest up for tomorrow’s activities – ALL cenotes!!

We’ve made an executive decision to not waste time by coming back to the resort for lunch today, and just staying out and enjoying our day of diving.  This lets us enjoy a more leisurely start and we finally get on the road around 10:00 to head south our first stop today, in the Chac Mool area.  Here they have an extensive cenote system, and our first dive will actually be in Kukulkan cenote.

Different than yesterday’ dives in Dos Ojos, here we have fewer ‘decorations’ as the formations are known as, but another feature which adds some spice to this particular dive – a heavy halocline that permeates most of the route.  A halocline is the technical term for when a layer of fresh water sits on top of a layer of salt water, which, even though the salt water is significantly warmer, the heavier density of the liquid keeps it from rising up on top of the fresh water.  But it is the actual zone between the two liquids that is the coolest, as the two waters are intermixed, creating a layer of liquid with varying refractive properties.  In appearance it is similar to the heat waves that rise off a hot desert or highway in the sun, and the net result is that our eyes cannot focus through the medium, no matter how hard we try.  It’s like someone smeared vaseline on the front of our masks, and you can’t even read your gauges, it is that strong an effect.  Dip your head below it, into the salt water, and the visibility is as clear as above it, in excess of 200 ft or more in most of the caves.  Same when your head is above it too!  But because the caves tend to follow paths that go up and down quite a bit, we pass through or swim through this layer multiple times in the particular cenote, so it is a good test of your confidence as a diver and ability to relax to know to just keep swimming and eventually you’ll be able to see again – very cool (OK, at least to me!!).  Here’s a pretty cool video that shows how this cenote, and the halocline, appears to the divers.

We spend 22 minutes at a maximum depth of 48 ft with our first traverse through the system, then catch our breath and debrief a bit before we head back to where we started, taking another 20 minutes to return to our starting point.

We climb out of the cenote and most of the gang heads back to the van to swap tanks.  I am diving in full cave gear as required by local law to lead these dives, including double tanks, so I just slip into the next cenote, Chac Mool, and hang out and chat with some of the other divers there while awaiting my team’s return.  Finally everyone is back, and we head into this system, which is similar to the first, and enjoy 71 minutes of this silent underwater splendor, with a max depth of 44 ft., before we climb out of the cenote and pile the gear in the van for the next top on our cenote-a-thon experience.

But first, a little more about Brian and his mojo!  While we were first setting up our gear, Brian strikes up a conversation with the gringo’s who are parked next to us. Turns out that Shawn, from Toronto, is an avid photographer, and is using an Olympus camera in an aftermarket housing.  He comments to Brian that he wished Olympus made a housing for his camera, and Brian, says “Did you know that they do make that?”.  Turns out Shawn had been misinformed by his local dive shop, and as a result has been suffering through with a mis-matched housing and camera setup.  Brian speaks with authority, as IVS is the North American distributor for Olympus Underwater Imaging systems, and Brian fields questions from customers on the product line daily.  Well they are waiting for us when we return from our dive, and before you know it, business cards are swapped, and Shawn is writing down his address for us to ship a new housing to him when we return to the states,  Way to go Brian! – he makes me soooo proud!!

The next stop on our hit parade is the Ponderosa Cenote, also known as Jardin de Eden (Garden of Eden), just a few minutes drive from Chac Mool.  Another little gate, another little entrance fee, and we head on in.  This is a very pretty spot, with a huge open swimming area, a high cliff for the kids to jump off of into the water (gotta watch that when diving underneath them!) and a nice dock and ladders for our entries and exits.  We set up and slip into the crystal clear water, and head into the cavern area, under the cliff (avoiding the bodies dropping down from above!).  It is another beautiful site, with a long swim through one portion of the cave system, then through a smaller open cenote, and finally into the entrance to the deeper cave system.  A great dive with 50 minutes of bottom time, max depth 39 ft.

We cruise from there to our last stop on today’s trip, at Tajma Ha cenote.  Often mis-spelled (and misunderstood) as Taj Mahal, the name is really Tajma Ha, with ‘Ha’ being the Mayan word for ‘of the water’.  Sorry to debunk that myth for anyone who wrote Taj Mahal in their logbooks!  OK, enough of the linguistics lesson, on to the dive!  This is probably one of my personal favorites in the Mayan Peninsula cenote system, and once we get it, the rest of the crew quickly agree.  You actually will pass through three separate cenotes as you dive through, with a maximum depth of 47 feet.  Several of the cenotes are not open to the sky, but rather end up in air-filled caverns above the water, filled with beautiful hanging formations, tree roots streaming down, and of course, bats!  Bats everywhere!  Can’t have a good cenote without having a lot of bats, and we are not disappointed here!  Besides the “dry” areas, there is so much to see in this cenote system, with fantastic decorations, huge collapses and piles of rocks, and cross-sections of the geological stratification that has taken place over time as this system was created by nature.  In a word:  Sweet!

That’s enough for today with five dives in four cenotes, and we head back for another great dinner, some debriefing time, and photo downloading from the cameras – look for some great stuff in the gallery – soon!

Wednesday now, and time to get out and explore some more cenotes!!  Today the kitchen staff has packed a lunch for us, so we don’t have to go hungry while out exploring for the day.  We load the gear, the designated driver (me) assumes the position, and we roll.  First stop is the chief’s house in downtown Tulum, where we pay our entrance fee and pick up the key for the gate at Angelita, a unique cenote located in the jungle about 10 kilometers south of town.  This is a different sort of cenote, essentially a shaft cut straight down into the jungle floor, with a maximum depth of 200 ft.  There are a couple of small caverns that go off the sides but nothing of any significant merit for exploring. The thing that makes this spot so special is a layer fo hydrogen sulfide in solution in the water, making a thick, whitish cloud across the entire cenote from approx 95 ft to 110 ft of depth.  As we drop down and approach it the appearance is surreal, with the limbs of trees that hurricanes have tumbled into the cenote sticking up our of the cloud in silent testimony to natures wrath.  The bottom appears solid, but as Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues would say, “that is just an illusion”.   As we approach, we grab our buddy for reference, just as we briefed, and slip silently into the mist, completely disappearing from view  – and each other!  But as predicted, we emerge from the bottom edge and sure enough, we can see, but now this day dive has just turned into a night dive, because zero light is penetrating the layer today!  Lights on, we split up into buddy teams and most begin a slow spiral back up and around the walls of the crater.  Meanwhile, Brian is going for a pinnacle dive here, in the dark, under the cloud, in a cenote – I love this guy’s style!  I take him down to 150 ft and we decide that is deep enough for today, a new personal best for him!  Good job Brian!  Eventually we surface, with 40 minutes of bottom time, and it’s high fives for a great dive for all!

We hump the gear back up the winding path through the jungle, and load the van for our next stop.  As I slip my booties off, Brian, with his medical background, takes a look at my foot and says “Whoa, what do we have going on over here?”.  My right foot, for the last year or so, has been peeling and somewhat reddened from around mid-foot to my toes.  It sheds skin constantly, and worse when I dive, but it never appears to be growing or getting worse, so yes, it is somewhere on my list of things to get checked out, but not quite near the top.  “Here, put that up here on the table”, Brian directs, and he gives me a thorough examination.  His diagnosis:  Trench Foot, or Jungle Rot, as it was coined during the Vietnam War, caused by my foot staying wet so much!  Not sure how we can ever cure this, I am thinking!  But Brian suggest fungicides and we’ll get on that as soon as we get back to Harleysville; no shopping at the Farmacia here!

OK, we close the clinic, pile in the van, and march our jungle-rotten feet to the next cenote – Calebero.  Also known as the Temple of Doom, this cenote has a very small vertical opening with only a ladder to get out.  Getting in is simpler, just a big giant stride and you can’t miss the water!  I know I am sounding like a broken record here, but this place is beautiful!  I need to digress here, and wonder where that term came from – broken record.  Growing up in the days of 45’s and LP’s (albums), if your record was ‘broken’ then there was no way to play it, similar to a CD snapped in half (there, the younger audience can understand it now).  However, if you scratched one of the grooves on the surface in such a way that the needle tracked back over to a groove it had already played, then in fact that short audio snippet would play again, and again, and again.  So why don’t we use the term “sound like a scratched record?” rather than a broken record?  One of life’s great mysteries, I suppose.

Ok, digression over, I am back!  I leave the group for a bit here cause there is a entry into the cave system that is just screaming my name, and I cannot deny the call.  Reel out, tie-off’s made, and I am down the shaft, exploring the dark zone and taking in all this fantastic beauty.  This place is stunning, and you have to see it to understand it (by the way, cavern and cave training classes ARE available at Indian Valley Scuba – OK, got my plug in!). But seriously, this is such a different kind of diving and so much more ‘Zen-like” than anything you’ll ever experience on a reef or a wreck.  OK, OK, enough said, I retrace my steps, collect my reel, and rejoin the group, as we wrap up another great dive with 45 minutes at 58 ft max.  Up the ladder we go, and boy these doubles are a bit of a hump, but I make it out with all my gear, and we head back up the path to load up the van and head down the road to cenote #3.

Well we ‘almost’ loaded the van, cause after the short ride down the road to our next stop, the Carwash cenote, we spread our gear out and Tito, of all people, realizes he is missing his fins and mask.  I am feeling like a mother hen here now, making sure everyone has all their stuff before we move on!!  Geeesh!  No problem, I jump back in the van (as the designated driver, it’s my job!) and haul donkey back up the road to Calabero.  Of course I have to deal with some local jokesters there who knew it was Tito’s gear, and finally I get it and return to the team.  “OK, is everyone ready?”, I ask, and into the drink we go!

Now here we have raised the bar on our team and their roles in the cenote diving.  There is no permanent line here, so I will be having Brian and Tony run the line for us this morning. We go over the proper tie-off techniques, selection of appropriate tie-off’s, routing of the line, proper tensioning, housekeeping and neatness, and team communications.  Buoyancy control is emphasized, as is situational awareness and keeping a cool head while working in the cavern.  And last but not least, I encourage them to actually look up and see how beautiful it is in there, which is an easy thing to overlook with all the other tasks at hand!  So we head in, Brian in the lead, Tito pointing the way, and we make our first tie-off’s.  On to the very important secondary tie-off, and then in we head, Brian laying line, Tony keeping it neat, and me just trailing along and observing the team at work.  Soon enough we run out of line on the primary reel, and Brian motions “what to do?”.  I hand him a finger spool, he ties it in, and we get another 150 feet along.  Again, out of line, but wait, we have another spool!  So another 150 feet down the line we go, before finally being completely out of line.  Here we are in a ballroom, so we leave the line to explore, knowing we can keep the end of our line in sight at all times.  Once done, we return to the line, and the team begins the job of reeling it all back in, spool after spool, until we are finally out of the cave and into open water.  Great work team!!  And a great dive to boot, with 60 minutes of bottom time and a maximum depth of 51 ft.

Finally, it is time for cenote #4 of the day, and we’ll wrap it up at Grand Cenote, or the “White Cenote” as it is known, since all the underwater formations are bright white here.  Another popular swimming hole, we walk through along the docks with our gear, answering questions as we go, and slip into the water through a crowd of young people enjoying this beautiful sunny day.  Down we go, and this cave has a long traverse line that passes around the system, almost 270 degrees around the main opening, with several passage ways off to the cave system to explore as we dive along.  There are over 56,000 feet of surveyed passages in this cenote system, so you could certainly spend a bit of time here exploring the various nooks and crannies below.  We get another hour of bottom time in at 50 ft, and finally head back up and back to the van to call it a day.  Poor Tito has not worked this hard in a long time, he confides to us, so we decide to cut him a break tomorrow and do some reef diving instead.

Morning comes and poor Brian is not feeling so well from all this abuse we have been putting his body through all week, so he opts to sit out the morning dives.  Looking at the stack of paperwork that I have hauled from my office to Mexico with me, I decide that a day of catching up on work and being Brian’s nurse would be a better investment of my time than the reef, so I pack Tony a lunch and send him off in the panga with Tito to do some diving.  I start on my paperwork, but then some little voice in the back of my head, starting out as a whisper, is not screaming at the top of it’s little lungs “Hey, you are missing a dive!”   Yes, you heard it, I nearly passed on a couple of dives!

Enough of that momentary lapse of reason, Brian will be fine and now owes me big time for me almost missing those dives!  We toss the gear in the panga and head out into some bigger waves than we have seen all week. It’s a wetter than usual ride out, but we make it, and our first location is Hogfish Reef.  Another nice 80 foot dive, with less-than-stellar visibility, no doubt due to the wave action above.  We get to play with a really big turtle here at this site, so that added a nice touch to the murky dive.  Still we manage to get 50 minutes in and head back for a second tank.

As we load the boat in the surf for dive #2, we realize it is sitting a little lower in the water, and each wave splashing against it is getting closer and closer to coming over the sides.  Wait a minute, it IS sitting lower – shoot, the boat is sinking!!  Seems the battery for the bilge pump has died, and we are not putting the ocean back on the outside of the boat where it belongs!  We bail, jump on board, pull the hull plug on the way out, and salvage the day!  And anyone who knows me knows that sinking boats and Dave V go hand in hand!  Oh well, enough of that bad memory, next you’ll start talking about leaning navigational markers in the Keys…Anyhows, we head out, and this time it’s Adventuras Reef, another nice one, and another 50 minutes at 50 feet in the logbook.  Plus our first shark sighting here, a nice nurse shark under an overhang.

We come back in for lunch and to check on our patient, and he is still not looking so good, we we decide it is best for him to sit out the afternoon dives.  Being in the land of the Mayans, we respect that older cultures way of thinking, and for this decision, I actually draw upon another native American culture, the Eskimos.  They knew they needed to keep the tribe moving for the benefit of the majority, so when one member became ill, or too old to keep up, they left them behind, for the polar bears to enjoy.  Well Brian, keep a sharp eye out for polar barracudas!! Tony and I discuss the splitting up of Brian’s gear as we walk down to the boat for the afternoon dives, and I make it clear I have first dibbs on his new Atomic T2X regulator!

Rather than fighting the surf again, we moved the boat down the street to where it is protected by a small breakwater, and we load up for out two afternoon dives.  First stop is Morgan Reef, 55 ft deep, and we get 60 minutes in here, with the highlight being a motorcycle sitting in the sand that provided some photo opportunities.  Second location was Los Quebralo, 57 feet deep, where we logged another 55 minutes of bottom time.  Viz sorta sucks at this point, so glad it was the fourth and final dive of the day!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, poor Brian has not been feeling well at all.  So as fate would have it, as I return with the van from this afternoon’s dive, there is someone parking in my spot, and I ask him to move so we can unload the tanks. Well funny thing is, he’s wearing a stethoscope, which I think is kinda odd, but hey, I am the stranger in a strange land here, so who am I to judge.  Well then he asks me if I know where room #204 is, and I say “Of course I do, that’s my room!”.  Wait a minute here!  This doctor is coming to see my Brian!!  Brian was not feeling well this morning, thought his tail bone might have bruised from some bouncing on the boat or my driving in the van (ha!).

Brian also suspected he may have something else, butt (pun intended) more on that later

So it turns out that my new friend and visitor is none of than Dr Cabelero (yes, Dr. Cowboy) who came from the Akumal clinic (yes they still make house calls here) to see Brian here in our room.  Turns out Brian has an abscess on, as Forrest Gump would say, “on his buttocks”, that has flared up and needs to be treated here.  So they took him away to spend the night in the Akumal clinic and put him on IV antibiotics for the night with the hope to be able to lance his derriere tomorrow to drain the abscess and then pack it with dressing for the trip home.  They would prefer he stays on the IV for a few more days, but, acting as Brian’s advocate in his weakened state, I told them we have to fly home on Saturday, so they can have him til the morning, butt (ha ha) then we need him back!  And suddenly for some reason I am thinking about that Atomic regulator again…

And if you’re wondering, no, I’ve got no pictures of it (Brian was too shy)!

But wait, breaking news here!  Brian just skyped me, and it turns out that he has a bigger pain in his ass than they suspected and it’s too big to operate on here in the little Akumal clinic, plus the risk of it involving other anatomical parts is too great for them to get out the power tools and cut into him here.  Should they err in their navigation, and get too close to any other parts of his intestinal tract, they would risk creating a shitstorm (pun intended) of problems for our boy, so they are taking him to the bigger hospital in Playa del Carmen for the night and intend to “go in” tomorrow. It’s a somber dinner for Tony and I tonight, worrying about our partner and his ass!

Friday morning comes and the seas have laid down a bit, and we head out to a site called Meke Maze.  This is a deeper site, at 115 ft, but we are rewarded with great visibility and healthy corals, so the shorter dive time is worth it!  We end up with a 45 minute dive, and return to our waiting panga for a 30-minute surface interval.  We motor over to our last reef location for the week, Chaemuiel Reef, and get our final 60 minutes of salt water bottom time in with the depth around 57 ft.

Back in I check on our patient, and he is still intact, and has not left any parts of himself here as a sacrifice to the Mayan Gods.  It’s getting kinda late in the day for surgery, I point out, and he agrees, considering our travel plans tomorrow.  Heck, I’ve got a clean dive knife, if we need to do any lancing I’m there for him!  Brian shudders at the thought and assures me he’ll be OK to make it home to see a real doctor there. OK, just wanted to offer!  A little home surgery makes for some great blog fodder!!

But while I am talking to Brian and making sure things are all good for the travel home, he realizes that he has a 10 a.m. flight, while Tony and I are flying out after 3 in the afternoon.  Now he needs a special ride to the airport, and can’t consider joining us in our ride to the Tulum ruins.  He’s flying on Delta, like me, so I suggest he give my friends at the Medallion desk a call, explain his predicament, express the fact that he is not sure when they will discharge him from the hospital, and see if they can do anything for him.  So he calls them up on Skype, using a video call, and there he is laying in his hospital bed, with his IV line in, and looking at the agent with his best puppy dog eyes on.  She looks up my record, sees we are connecting on the second part of our flight, from Atlanta to Philadelphia, and then goes ahead and says “Let me see what I can do”.  Well by the time this phone call is done, not only has she moved Brian from his morning flight to my afternoon flight, but she has upgraded his sorry (and swollen) ass to first class on both flights!  Holy Smokes, I need to remember this approach when my upgrades are not looking good!  Now he is my seatmate all the way back home!

OK, sensitive moment complete, it’s time to go diving!  Tony, Tito and I pile in the van and head down the road to Dream Gate cenote, a bit of a more primitive site.  We head about a mile into the jungle, stop at a small shack to pay our entrance, and then travel about two more miles down a trail cut in the jungle, without improvements, to the actual cenote.  There’s no swimming area here, as the cenote lies about 20 ft below the ground, and can only be accessed at two points, both involving ladders!  At one of the ladders there is a hoist to lower tanks down, and at the other, everything is on our back as we crawl in.

The extra effort is worth it, as the Dream Gate Cenote is a phenomenally beautiful cave system with a very unique twist:  Mayan human sacrifice victims, still swimming today where they were entombed hundreds of years ago!  Over 40 skeletal remains join us on this very poignant dive today.  Here’s a little video of what we saw today!

We end up with a couple of nice dives here, and I get a third one in, for a total bottom time of one hour and 50 minutes in this very special place.  Way to wrap it up!!

Back at the resort, we get good news – the authorities are releasing Brian tonight!  He calls for a ride and all the vans are locked up, so I suggest he grabs a cab from the hospital.  He does so, and confirms that his string of bad luck is not over – the cabbie has his wife and sick kid with him, and they stop several times on the way for the wife to open the door and let the kid vomit.  Nice!  Meanwhile poor Tony and I are pacing nervously, worrying about our Brian!  Finally he arrives, safe & sound, and it’s hugs all around as the team reunites!  We rinse all our gear together and spread it out on our patio to dry overnight in the arid air and constant breeze.

So on Saturday morning we’ve got some time before we need to head to the airport, and so our plan is to immerse ourselves in one last bit of Mayan culture, and that’s a visit to the Tulum ruins!  Our plan is to borrow one of the resorts vans, and head south to check out this rich site located on a towering precipice along the shoreline.  But allow me to digress yet again…Tito, who has been taking such great care of us all week, decides to wash the van for us to drive.  Only yesterday in fact we were talking weather patterns and precipitation in the area, and Tito pointed out that the official annual “rainy season” is September to November, when they might get rain once a week, and in some years, none at all.  So here we are in April, and that month does not fall in the rainy-ish period.  But, Tito did wash the van, and guess what?  Just like at home, the same phenomenom holds true – wash your car and it rains!  SO today, perhaps in the first time in Mayan history, it is pouring!  Amazing!  But does that deter us?  No!

We head down the rainy road and arrive in Tulum at the site of the ruins, which is quite the carnival with souvenir shops, trinket dealers, authentic actors doing authentic Mayan stuff, and everything else you would expect at a world class ruins site.  We buy our $2.00 tram tickets, and head up to the actual Tulum historical site.  We head in and let me just share – it truly takes your breath away to stand here and imagine this site 1,000 years ago, back in it’s heyday, with all sorts of village and religious activity taking place, the market trading, the seaport, and the hustle and bustle of a major gateway to Mexico and the Mayan civilization.  Very cool indeed!

We spend a couple of hours taking it all in, and then it’s time to head back, re-connect with Brian, grab our bags, and have Roberto drive us up to the Cancun airport for our flights home.  What a most wonderful week this has been, with thirty great dives, a dozen different cenotes, and more good stories and experiences than we deserve!  A most hearty recommendation for Scuba Cancun and Villas de Rosa – both first class operators in a first class diving destination!  Like the Governator says, “We’ll be back”.

But hold on, there’s more, from the ‘Team IVS Dives the Globe‘ department!  I get a text from Bill Zyskowski, who most know as the honorary poster child for the “Z-Ball” on the Spiegel Grove wreck in Key Largo.  Bill is diving today with our friend Randy on the Emerald dive boat out of Jupiter, and he is just gushing with his dive report.  Turns out they had a fantastic day there, with TWO hammerhead sharks, a big 14 ft bull shark, and a few others cruising with the divers and putting on a great show.  Bill was hunting lionfish today, and nailed five in total.  But not without cost, as one of his victims managed to return the favor, and nailed Bill good with his toxic venom before heading off to fishy heaven.  Bill reports a lot of swelling and pain, but once I shared Brian’s swelling and pain with him, he just said “Never mind!”

Hold on, there’s even more!   So Brian and I arrive at the Philadelphia airport and between waiting for our bags and then catching a shuttle to the off-site parking lot, it ends up being after 2 a.m. when we finally get back in the shop.  Brian jumps in his car for the short ride home, and between the shop and his house, he can’t resist getting turning on the mojo and getting one more comment for the blog.  Here it is, in Brian’s words:

By the way, I have one more final piece for your blog on this trip.  On my way home from IVS that night, I get pulled over at 2:15am for “making an erratic left turn” whatever that means.  The cop takes the usual license, registration and proof of insurance and goes back to his car. After about 20 minutes, he comes back and asks me if I have been drinking.  Naturally, I tell him “no” and he counters with, “are you sure?”  At this point I tell him I have been traveling all back returning from Mexico and I turn on my internal car light to show him my suitcases and he sees my IVS shirt.  He comments on it and how he always wanted to try SCUBA.  I briefly tell him about my trip (sans my buttock story) and I give him my card and invite him on a DSD.  He thanks me and lets me off with a warning!  I say “thank you and I will see you at the shop!”

Thanks for enjoying our story with us, and we’re sticking to it!  Stay tuned for our next adventure coming soon!

IVS Invades the Keys – again!

This blog report brought to you by Butch Loggins and Dave Hartman!

April showers bring May flowers….well not quite the saying we use in Key Largo. It’s more like April sunshine brings more divers. No wait for the weary as a group of eager divers from Indian Valley SCUBA in Harlyesville, PA invaded Key Largo for another weekend of serious diving just 30 days after the last IVS group was in town. A few changes from the normal IVS schedule were on the menu for the April 1-4th weekend trip. First, the entire group including the advanced divers went to Jules Lodge Lagoon (known as Key Largo Undersea Park or KLUP) on Friday morning. Second, all shallow reef dives on Saturday to give the newbie divers some more casual dives. Third, Amoray Dive Resort had a wedding on Sunday afternoon so the double wreck dive of Duane Spiegel (and his other brother Duane) was moved to Conch Republic Divers 10 plus miles south on Tavernier Creek. Fourth, NO David Valaika who was off chasing fish in the Maldives. Let’s count-this is David V’s third IVS Key Largo weekend in a row without Big Dave. The Keys will never be the same!! I love the usual IVS weekend routine but a little change is the spice of life.

Barb, Scott and Cindy at Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort

Barb, Scott and Cindy at Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort

I was the host and lead for the Dec 2010 and Feb 2011 but was glad to pass over the reigns of the IVS group to Butch Loggins, IVS Senior Instructor and recent student of the”how to dive after heart surgery” PADI Distinctive Speciality. Butch wrote course so we expected him to pass with flying colors. Butch was joined by some very familar faces of Mike Gusenko, Cindy Montague Eisenhauer, Barbara Hill, Robert Scott Bruce and Larry Gilligan along with divers in training Robert’s son Frank and Cindy’s boyfriend Jim Gullo. After a productive visit to Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort, the IVS group boarded the Amoray Diver to check out the what was happening on the wreck of the naval ship LSD-32 Spiegel Grove.

The IVS Group Boards the Amoray Diver

The IVS Group Boards the Amoray Diver

The conditions on Friday afternoon were a bit windy but the wind was blowing from the West (which is quite rare in the Keys) which meant only slight chop on the open ocean. There was a slight trend of murky water rolling throughout the Keys thanks to extreme low tides and the Gulf Stream flowing 5 miles off the reef line. 70-100 foot viz with turquoise blue water is quite common when diving the wrecks and reefs of the Keys but NOT today. The group experienced some excellent dives despite the “Dutch” like conditions on the Spiegel and French Reef although some divers had more of an experience than others on French Reef (more later). First, the Spiegel was a murky 10-15 feet of viz which is close to the worst I ever experienced on the Grove in my 300+ dives over 7 years of living in Key Largo. But who needs viz when you have 4 floors of a superstruture to explore of a 510 foot naval ship. Butch’s group followed the commerative Sue Douglass candy ass tour and all had a good time checking out the detail of the top decks of the superstructure. I took the experienced divers on a brand new version of my infamous Ultimate Spiegel Tour with a hint of my exclusive “Nooks and Crannies” Tour. The dive included stops in the Anchor Winch Room, Main Galley, Snoopy and his closet and the Machine Shop. Mike G. stuck around for EMTH (Extra Magic Time with Hartman) to see the White Board in the Ship’s Power Monitoring Room (complete with names of sailors who served on the Spiegel’s last mission) and electrical supply closets on the navigation level. EMTH means let’s freestyle in the wreck and find new stuff by checking out deadend closets and rooms.

Anchor Winch Room of the Spiegel Grove LSD-32

Anchor Winch Room of the Spiegel Grove LSD-32

There is so much detail on the Spiegel that I find something new on almost every dive. The unique part about my Spiegel tour on this dive was the route. The ship felt brand new to the divers even though all have been on numerous of my Spiegel tours. A recent IVS assisted “alternation” to the Spiegel last July (thanks for the help Frank Gabriel and John Z.) created an opening to forward section of the well deck which allows divers to go from the bow section of the Spiegel and enter the well deck without having to go all the way around to the aft section of the superstructure. Now the once forgotton Anchor Winch Room below the main deck of the bow is now a major part of all my standard “Ultimate Spiegel Tours.”

French Reef was quite an interesting dive on Friday afternoon. Very rarely do I get in the water and not see the bottom on a reef in Key Largo. I descended to the reef with my camera ready to take pictures for the IVS blog and Facebook posts but was alarmed to see about 15-20 feet of viz on the reef bottom. Butch was taking 10 year old Frank on his first 0pen ocean dive so I thought it wise to recommend to Butch to take the mooring line to the bottom of the reef and then stay close. Butch decided on a free descent and to swim toward the mooring line. Instead I found Butch, Scott and Frank swimming toward Cuba along the reef line. After some nifty navigation, I marked the mooring ball and pointed Butch and Co and the right direction. Once Butch’s team found the bottom of the mooring ball (which does not move…..navigation tip here folks!!) I then pulled out my camera and motioned to Butch that he was back under his own leadership and my duty was back to taking underwater pictures. I must say, for murky dive, we witnessed some awesome marine life: Southern Stingray, Spiny Lobster and very aggressive Green Moray Eel (see below).

A Green Moral Eel Stands His Ground on French Reef

A Green Moral Eel Stands His Ground on French Reef

I explored a very enjoyable reef ledge while Team Butch did their best impression of a low viz circular search to remain with contact with the mooring ball. Our dive on French was without incident but the other divers in our group had a different experience. There was a moderate current on French Reef and combined with low viz led to a bit of disorienation by a group of IVS experienced divemasters and instructors (who shall remain nameless!!). Let’s just say the Amoray Diver rescue reel with all 150 feet of line was in active use behind the boat throughout most of our time on French Reef. Nice job by Capt John and Divemasters Madision and Joe. Sometimes diving is all about the experience!

World Famous Pina Coladas Served Up at Club Dave

World Famous Pina Coladas Served Up at Club Dave

First day of diving was a bit bumpy and murky but fun was had by all and better conditions were in the forecast for Saturday and Sunday. Friday ended with Pina Coladas and an IVS Barbacue at Club Dave (my house). Team Butch was on their own time schedule in honor of the missing David Valaika but Cindy and Jim arrived early with a tasty flank steak and Larry followed a big bag of fresh shrimp. Barb and Butch then walked in the door with chicken and a whole bunch of sides for round two of eating for the early birds. Thanks to all IVS folks for helping out and bringing serious eats (shrimp, chicken, steak!!!). We all ate lke Kings! Special thanks to Mike G for being the one man clean up crew.

Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks

Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks

The IVS Group returned to the Amoray Diver on Saturday morning for trip to Key Largo Dry Rocks and the famous statute of Christ of the Abyss. Sunk in the 1960’s to honor the creation of John Pennekamp State Park, the striking statute of Jesus Christ with arms stretched to the air draws both divers and snorkelers to the ledge reef of Key Largo Dry Rocks in the waters off Northern Key Largo. After some fond moments of being “touched by Christ,” (the statute is covered in fire coral), the Amoray Diver moved to North Dry Rocks for another round of shallow reef dives. Improved conditions from Friday with calmer seas and clearer viz made for a pleasurable morning of diving. The Amoray Diver headed back to the dock for quick tank change and a bit to eat for the IVS crew before heading out Saturday afternoon for another set of shallow reef dives.

Large Brain Coral Hangs Over a Ledge near Pickle Barrel Wreck

Large Brain Coral Hangs Over a Ledge near Pickle Barrel Wreck

The IVS gang boarded the Amoray Diver Saturday afternoon for a trip to Pickels Reef off Southern Key Largo to dive the sites of Snapper Ledge and Pickle Barrel Wreck. The first stop was Pickel Barrel Wreck, a 100+ year old coral covered shallow spread out wreck in 15 feet of water with deeper reef ledges both north and south of the wreck. The northern reef ledge is covered in thousands of purple sea fans. The southern reef ledge is very pronouced with a sand channel at 20 feet and colorful reef walls on both sides. One wall has large brain coral head hanging over ledge and which may confuse divers by being similar in size and topography to the HUGE brain coral on Snapper Ledge. One joy of diving Key Largo is finding hidden gems tucked away in the area’s nebulous reef system. I found a mutiple chamber shallow cave filled with glass eye minnows between a break in a reef ledge about 50 years from Pickle Barrel Wreck. The cave was so cool-to tight to swimthrough but still a great opportunity for a quick video clip

The next dive was on Snapper Ledge which is one of the fishiest dives anyone in the world. Snapper Ledge never disappoints. A bad day on Snapper Ledge will still have more schools of fish than most reefs anywhere. Grunts, goatfish, snappers frequent this famous ledge and on this day the IVS gang also witnessed a large school Atlantic Spadefish flowing through the water column.

Mike Gusenko Navigates Through French Grunts on Snapper Ledge
Mike Gusenko Navigates Through French Grunts on Snapper Ledge

At one point our group was surrounded by French Grunts while about 100 Atlantic Spadefish blocked our view of other divers. The massive schools of fish were only the beginning as the highlight of the dive came a few minutes later when an 8 foot Green Moray Eel was cruising the reef looking to pick a fight with some fish or somebody. This eel was cruising everywhere and at one point swam up to my camera during a video and only turned back because of his reflection in the lens. An hour on the second dive flew by because the group was chasing and being chased by eels and surrounded by huge schools of reef fish. Overall, an impressive afternoon of diving on the reefs of Key Largo.

The Amoray Diver headed back to dock for another quick turnaround for the traditional Saturday night dive. The Wreck of the Benwood was the “planned” dive site for the night divers but the IVS gang decided to take explore the flat reef and pieces of metal off in the distance from the wreck. A bit of current and low evening viz had the group a bit confused (I am writing this second hand since I was at home watching my alma mater UCONN beat Ketucky in the Men’s Final Four). Another example of conditions where descending down the mooring ball is recommended to miminize errors in navigation. I guess the group did not learn from their dive experience on French Reef on Friday. The April weekend night dive will not go down in the annals of IVS trip history but another learning experience.

Beautiful Elephant Ear Orange Sponges Cover Molasses Reef

Beautiful Elephant Ear Orange Sponges Cover Molasses Reef

Sunday morning came quickly and the Amoray Diver headed to Molasses Reef for two shallow dives. Molasses is a spur and groove reef system with very pronounced spur coral ledges covered with Orange Elephant Ear Sponges and Purple Sea Fans. There are over 30 named mooring balls on Molasses Reef and all are occupied in a busy weekend in Key Largo. Capt John chose Permit Ledges on the southwest edge of the reef for the first dive and North Star in center of Molasses for the second dive. Permit Ledges aquired its name due to the frequent sighting of schools of big round silver Permits who often drift in from deeper water to check out the edge of Molosses. The two dive sites are quite distinct in coral formations and fish sightings despite the mooring balls being only 25-30 yards apart. The IVS gang enjoyed both dives on Molasses Reef and headed back to dock for change in dive shops for the eagerly anticipated after double wreck dives on the Speigel Grove and USCG Duane.

IVS Boards the Conch Republic Diver for an Afternoon Wreck Trek

IVS Boards the Conch Republic Diver for an Afternoon Wreck Trek

The IVS crew took a quick lunch on the road to travel South to Tavernier and Conch Republic Divers for the ever popular Sunday afternoon IVS Wreck Trek-double deep dives on the Spiegel Grove LSD-32 and USCG Duane off Key Largo. Both wrecks had below average viz but NO current which made for spectular relaxing dives. Butch Loggins, Barb Hill, Mike Gustenko and Larry were the “last divers standing” to make the afternoon trip of the group and all did a great job on both wrecks. The IVS crew stayed in one group for both dives including a unique “David Hartman Ulimate Spiegel tour” starting from the starboard crane and traveling through the entire well deck right out the “new forward hatch” to the bow and a circular tour of the Anchor Winch Room. We continued on to tour the ship’s Main Galley, a swipe of Snoopy’s nose, and circular tour around all 5 devices left behind in the Spiegel’s machine shop. The dive ended with a quick in-out tour of the ship’s Radar Room behind the bridge and an easy slow return on top of the superstructure back to the mooring. Viz was again murky around the ship but much clearer inside the Grove. With the Spiegel in the books, the Conch Republic Diver headed southwest to wreck of the USCG Duane: a 327 foot US Coast Guard Cutter that serverd from 1939-1980 and was sunk intentionally of the coast of Key Largo in 1987.

The IVS Crew on the Lookout Post of the Wreck of the USCG Duane
The IVS Crew on the Lookout Post of the Wreck of the USCG Duane

The Duane was the second deep dive of the day which called for a relaxing shallower than normal profile to maximize no deco time. What makes the Duane impressive underwater is that the entire ship is covered in orange cup coral and yellow sponges. Our on the Duane dive included encounters with a local Green Turtle and a HUGE Jewish…all 300 pounds of him hanging out in the base of the ship’s Crows Nest. Congrats to Butch Loggins for completing double deep wreck dives with no symptoms after his heart surgery last year and for completing his PADI Distintive Speciality. Go Butch!

Barb Hill and Mike Gusenko Descend to the Deck of the Duane

Barb Hill and Mike Gusenko Descend to the Deck of the Duane

IVS Weekend Summary

Dive sites: (All boat dives except Sunday afternoon with Amoray Dive Resort)

Friday April 1, 2011: Day 1: Morning-Jules Lodge Lagoon Spa & Resort; Afternoon: Spiegel Grove (#6 ball) and Outer Ledge on French Reef

Saturday April 2, 2011: Day 2: Morning-Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks and North Dry Rocks; Afternoon: Pickle Barrel Wreck and Snapper Ledge

Night Dive: A Plot of Sand Nowhere near the Wreck of the Benwood

Sunday April 3, 2011: Day 3: Molasses Reef: Permit Ledges and North Star; Afternoon-Spiegel Grove LSD-32 (#5 ball) and USCG Duane (Conch Republic Divers)

Divers: Butch Loggins, IVS Group Leader/Instructor, Jim Gullo, Barbara Hill, Cindy Eisenhower, Larry Gilligan, Mike Gusenko, Scott and Frank Bruce and your host David Hartman

The IVS Crew on the Amoray Diver.....What's up with that signpost?

The IVS Crew on the Amoray Diver.....What's up with that signpost?