Breaking News: Bonaire Invaded by IVS!

What else can you call a blog when 61 IVS’ers come to a quiet island for a week of fun, laughter and great diving?  This is IVS’s biggest trip to date, and what a great one it has turned out to be!  So lets begin…

Team IVS Invades Bonaire

For starters let’s just say I had a feeling that this would be a very different start to one of our trips…I begin my day with an on time departure from Harleysville to allow me to arrive in Bonaire a full two days ahead of the group.  Plenty of time to set up appointments, make dinner reservations, get the dive center squared away, and be ready to greet our arriving IVS’ers when they start coming in at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday.  The only possible hiccup in my plans is the fact that Delta only flies directly to Bonaire on Saturdays, so I’m traveling to Miami today on my favorite airline, then for a third world sort of travel experience, I am switching over to Insel Air to complete my journey, flying first to Curacao, then on to Bonaire.  Sounds simple enough, eh?

To help ensure that all these connections happen, I’ve decided to start off with a 6:45 flight this morning out of Philadelphia.  So, after a busy night of organizing, locating missing gear, shuffling paperwork, washing clothes, and finally packing, I find myself heading down to the airport in what should be plenty of time to park, shuttle to the airport, and make my flight in a leisurely fashion.  Is this to be? Let’s see how the morning unfolds…

Bad sign #1 – traffic is completely stopped on I-476 on my way south.  Should be OK, how long can this last?   Tick, tick, tick…..after a half hour of sitting, finally we start crawling south.  At this point, my safety margin has evaporated, and it is a more customary mad rush to the airport.  In fact, I don’t have time to park now or I will miss the FAA-mandated 45 minute baggage cut-off time before my flight!  Geeez…how did this happen already??

So I throw caution to the winds, and race directly to the curbside check-in to get my bags in.  But oh no, the line outside is too long, and I need to run my bags inside.  Of course there is no parking and certainly no abandoned vehicles without drivers allowed to stop in front of the terminal, but does this deter this man on his mission?  Noooooo!  So I park the truck, turn on the flashers, and drag my bags out and into the terminal.  I leave the tailgate down for that “still unloading” look, just in case I need to fool the parking police.

Well it seems there was quite a bit of bad weather along the east coast last night, causing flight cancellations all over the place, and certainly fouling this mornings travel up a bit.  So my first flight is delayed, but a second flight is available, so the helpful Delta gate agent gets right on the task of moving my reservation around.  Meanwhile, I need to keep running back outside to ensure my truck is still there and not being towed away or blown up like an abandoned bag!

OK, new flight confirmed finally, now time to check the bags.  I have six bags in total, two big Pelican cases that weigh in at 74 and 78 pounds each, plus a big roller duffle, pushing 68 pounds.  Add to that my small Pelican case full of cameras, my backpack, and another bag full of paperwork that somehow keeps following me around on my trips.  The “master plan” is to check them through all the way to Bonaire via Delta as there is no doubt that Insel Air will be bringing out the big cash register for my excess baggage fees.   If Delta tags them all the way to my final destination, then I am home free and Insel Air gets nothing!  I like that!  In between the agent working the computer and asking questions, I keep running back to the front door to check on the truck – it’s still there, flashers going, and no tow truck in front!

But alas, we have a problem here Houston.  It seems that Delta and Insel Air don’t have a ‘cooperative baggage agreement” so the folks at Delta cannot check my bags past Miami.  Man, this sucks, I am thinking, I am going to take a hurting in Miami when I have to check these bags onto the Insel Air flight.

So…now the wheels are turning.  I need a new plan here, and I only have a few hours to hatch a good one.  OK, so I agree to have my bags accompany me to Miami, and head out to park the truck.  Amazing, it has been sitting here for 45 minutes now, and I didn’t even get a ticket, let alone have to fight off a nasty Philadelphia Parking Authority tow truck operator.  Fate is funny today, giving me good signs, bad signs, mixed signs…..the jury is still out on how today will turn out!

So back down the road I go, and just in case I catch some grief about my three carry-ons, I am thinking a roll of duct tape would be a good idea to be able to tape my paperwork bag onto my camera case, which, according to airline standards, converts the two of them into “one” carry-on.  So gosh, at 6:45 in the morning, you would think that it would be no problem to pick up a roll somewhere near the airport.  But, do you think there’s a hardware store near the airport?  No…not at all.  I drive all the way to Glenolden, stop for a soda at a local Wawa, and there’s a local cop so I ask him for help.  Sure enough, there’s 24-hour Wal-Mart a couple of blocks away, so I head in that direction.  Wait, there’s a 24-hour Walhgreen’s there, so I pull in.  Sure enough, they have duct tape, so my mission is accomplished.  Back in the truck, I head back to park and get to the airport.

My shuttle drops me off at the airport and boy, things have picked up here in terms of human traffic.  Seems that there was quite a bit of bad weather in the region and that caused a lot of flight cancellations, and now the excess strain is showing.  Not cool, I am thinking, as I tip the shuttle driver and jog on up to security.  Holy smokes Batman, the security lines are extending completely out of the enclosed area, even the frequent flyer line.  Not cool, I think, now time is starting to get a wee bit tight here.  I wait patiently, slowly moving forward, watching my watch.  I am thinking, how can a day that started out so relaxed be causing me to have such anxiety now??

Finally I get to the front of the line, and have my ID checked.  Cool, I am thinking, it’s tight, but still very do-able with regards to boarding, which has, by my watch, just started.  It’s not too far to the gate, so I just need to get past this one last hurdle here with the baggage screeners and I am golden.  So, the way the baggage screening machines are laid out, you need to walk almost up to the machine to push your bags in, and then you have to turn and walk about 10 feet over to pass through the metal detector.  Could have been a more efficient layout, I think every time I pass through, but who would listen?  So I have my shoes off, laptop and phone in one bin, backpack, other briefcase, and my camera case on the table.  I push them forward, but the guy in front of me gets real testy when my stuff touches his, and he literally pushes my first bin back towards me.  OK, I am thinking, what is his issue?  Single child?  Mother refused to nurse him?  Never picked for the team in grade school?  Who knows, but there is something for sure, and I don’t need to work on a cure for him today. So, I leave some extra space in front of me, so his items are untouched by mine.

As his bags start onto the belt, I slide mine forward, almost to the belt, not touching his, but clearly onto the roller conveyor. There’s a guy behind me with that ‘frequent traveler’ air about him, and he and I were kibitzing and sharing comments on the state of affairs in TSA Central this morning.  So I glance at him, he acknowledges that he’ll push his things along to ensure mine get through, and I head over to pass through the metal detector.  As I pass through, the belt starts on the conveyor, and suddenly there is a curly-haired female TSA agent standing next to it, and asks, loudly, “Who’s bags are these?”  Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, and I look over, and she says “Sir, you have to push your own bags through the machine”.  “Cut me a friggin’ break”, I am thinking, I am already through the metal detector, so I wave to my friend who was behind me and say out loud, “can you give them a little shove?”

Well that little bit of insolence didn’t sit well with Ms. TSA and she storms along the back of the machine, watching over the monitor screen as my bags pass through.  I am quietly shaking my head, thinking what can she have up her little blue sleeve?  “Sir, is this your bag?” she asks, knowing full well the answer.  I nod, and she says “I have to examine this bag sir”.  “Whatever floats your boat”, I think I said, and with that she picks up my camera case and says “follow me please” as she heads over to the screening table.  I gather my other bags, put my shoes back on, and begin to head over, as I catch her glaring at my, her look expressing her inner rage that I didn’t just race right over there as directed by Her Little Blue Highness.

So I stroll over, and stand alongside the table where she has my bag.  She asks for another agent to help her lift my bag onto the table, and I am wondering, what sort of lackadaisical fitness requirements do they have in place that she couldn’t flip that bag up there?  She’d really be great if called upon to wrestle down a gun-wielding terrorist, that’s for sure.  I suppose she would ask for help with that too.

“Stand over here in front of me sir”, she says, and I respond “I am fine here, thanks.”  “No sir, I need you over here”, she says, more emphatically this time.  “Is this a TSA rule?”, I ask, and she says “Yes it is, you have to stand here”.  I ask what the definition of “here” is, since there are no feet painted on the floor or box to define the area known as “here”.  I move and ask her  “how’s this” and she says that it’s fine.  So I am looking around, watching the other activities going on, and she says “Sir, you need to watch me while I check your bag”.  “ I NEED to watch you?”, I asked incredulously.  “Why?  You can pilfer whatever you want, it’s OK”, I say to her.  Hmmmm, definitely not what she was seeking this morning, and she says in a stern voice, “We don’t pilfer sir”.  I say “Oh yes, I’m sorry, you’re right, although they did just convict those three Philadelphia TSA agents for stealing things out of passengers bags, eh?  I think that pretty much puts the TSA and pilfering on the same page”. “ She rebutts with “that happens at every job”, and I am shocked at that cavalier response to which I say “maybe that happens at every one of the jobs you’ve worked at, but it certainly does not happen at every job”.

Well you can imagine this discourse is not helping expedite the checking of my bag, and after she has wiped it many, many times, she slides the sample pad into the machine and announces “Sir, we have a positive reading on your bag.”  Man, what a surprise that was, I am thinking.  So now my other bags need to be re-scanned, and I need to be thoroughly patted down.   The “patter” then samples his gloves, and lo and behold, another positive reading, or so he claims.  This is getting less pretty all the time here!  Off with the shoes, off with the belt, more wipe downs, more bag searching (and just possibly pilfering?) and finally they have had enough of me, and I am free to go.  So I skidaddle down to the gate, and as I approach I can see out the window the jetway to my plane being pulled away.  Those bastards, I am thinking, they have won this round, but the fight is far from over!!

So now we’re back on the phone with Delta, and they move me to an afternoon flight out of Philadelphia which will cause me to miss my Insel connection in Miami. Might be a bad thing, might be a good thing…we’ll see. The helpful Delta agent then books me on an American Airlines flight from Miami Curacao, and all I need to do is grab a short island hopper to Bonaire tonight.  I grab lunch, get a little work done, and finally board my first flight of the day!

But wait, there’s more!  The bad weather has come back in, and we are delayed getting out, and delayed further in Atlanta.  At this point we’ll miss the American flight, so Delta puts me up overnight in Miami and rebooks me for the next day.  I still need to think about those overweight bags though, and checking with American, they plan to hit me with excess bag fees and they will not check them to Bonaire, meaning I will have Dutch Antilles Airlines fees too.  Man, back to square one here!

So now the wheels are really turning here…I abandon my bags in Miami, leaving them under the watchful eyes of Delta’s baggage office there.  When they call me Friday morning to say they have my bags, I inform them that I’ve been placed on another flight and I need my bags to be sent to my original final destination.  And guess what?  The answer is YES!  So much for that ‘bags have to travel with the passenger’ nonsense!

But here I am, thinking man this 3-plus-hour flight in coach is going to be painful, so let’s see about an upgrade.  I’m a member of the  American Airlines frequent flyer program with quite a few miles in my account, so I call the airline and go about getting my upgrade to first class in place.  “No problem”, the agent assures me, that will only require the redemption of 15,000 miles from my account for the upgrade.  “No sweat”,  I am thinking, let’s do it.  “OK sir, that will be 15,000 miles plus a $50 fee for the redemption”, he says.  “Hmmm”, I am thinking, “Delta never charges me”.  OK, so I give him the credit card info, and then he says “Alrighty sir, that is done, but because we are redeeming these miles less than seven days before your flight, there is a $100 expediting fee for the redemption”.  “Clearly, we are not flying on Delta here”,  I share with him, as I give him the nod to go ahead and bang this customer one more time.  So, 15,000 miles, plus $50, plus $100 and I am sitting in a big comfortable seat, which my butt needs now from the screwing I just received from America Airlines.  Yep, only 15,000 miles for that upgrade……

Mission accomplished (assuming bags actually make it) and I jet off to Curacao with only my carry-on’s.  Small world story here…as I am boarding the plane in Curacao I notice a guy looking at my IVS polo shirt.  The one I have chosen for today’s adventure is a fitting one, as it says IVS-St. Louis, a poignant reminder that not all decisions that look good on paper end up as good ones!  He catches my eye and says “Wowe, we’ve got an Indian Valley Scuba in Pennsylvania too!  I chuckle, realize he had been reading the shirt, and find out he is none other than Jeff Linowski,  an IVS customer and fellow PADI instructor, from Chester.  He’s here with one student for the week too, and plans on doing some diving with our gang while he’s here.  Cool.  Amazing small world it always proves to be!

So finally I am making my way to the lovely island of Bonaire at 8:45 Friday evening.  Still ahead of schedule, sort of, but at least I am here!  Tom Brennan has flown in this evening too, as has Mark & Natasha Souder, so we commiserate with dinner and drinks at the resort, re-uniting with our favorite waiter Andrew who remembers us all from last year.  Andrew informs us we are the biggest group that Plaza Resort has hosted this year, and I smile and tell him “wait til next year!”  We finally call it a night, getting a few hours of sleep before greeting the gang in the morning.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the gang on the Continental flight from Newark has chartered a bus to haul them up from the shop to the airport.  Great plan, or so it seems, until the bus is loaded, and the rear bumper is literally dragging the ground with the pile of dive gear that was all loaded in the back few rows of seats.  Too little time to get another bus, so a few of the group get off, fill two vans with luggage, and the merry caravan gets on it’s way to north Jersey. Nothing like a little supplemental drama to help add character to an already great trip!

Well four-thirty comes way too early, and we get up to meet the first wave, including Mike & Cathy Parzynski, Donna Raleigh, Roy & Laurie Scherrer, Ray Graff with his daughter Caitlin and her boyfriend Nick Tingly, Lynn & James Swartley along with their recent high school graduate daughter Jess, Jody Bryan & John Alcott, Rob & Jen O’Donnell, Drew & Vanessa Myers, Mike & Teresa Swartley, Brad Creveling,  Brian LaSpino & Deanna Kuik, Diane DeFeo & Albert Cugno, Misty Pileggi, Catherine Stevenson, Scott Bruce, Herb & Sheldon DuBois, Amir Stark, Morris Kligger and his daughter Rachel, Tom Rebbie & Penny Kospiah, Keith and Craig Beaver, and the Bennett’s – Phil, Becky, Steve & Mike.

On the 5:30 a.m. flight we get to greet some of our longer distance travelers, Jesica & Sheril Tyre, and Berry Smith from California, along with Stephanie Skelton and Meredith Bernardo from Ohio.  Steph and Mere are traveling light like me, although not by plan, as their baggage has been lost, so their clothes and bags will hopefully be delivered tomorrow!  Mere is not a happy girl at all!!

Orientations at Toucan Diving begin in shifts since our group is significantly larger than the briefing room.  First group at 8, second at 9, another at 11, then 2, and finally the last one will be at 4 for those arriving on this afternoon’s Delta flight.  Dive shop manager Alexander, along with staffers George, Sherman & Erika, do their typical great job with getting everyone signed up and set up for the weeks diving.  It is truly a pleasure to work with such professionals as these folks and the rest of the staff at Toucan Diving.

The first briefing is barely over and the ‘clank, clank’ of tanks being loaded in our rentals SUV’s can be heard as our divers get ready to log their first dives.  First car in line is Jim, Lynn, Jody & John, piling in two tanks each for a ride to the southern sites.  Amir & Brad are waiting patiently in their car for the first one to move so they can start loading tanks too.  Man, these guys love to dive!!

I head down to the airport to hopefully pick up my bags, along with the last of our arrivals on the Delta flight.  But first, small world story #2…I am early to the airport (go figure) so I head into the lounge to grab a brew and wait for the plane to arrive.  As I order my beer, I hear “Hey, Dave Valaika” from across the room and I turn to see James, the DM from Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, standing there with his dad.  The two of them were here on vacation last week, and as fate would have it, they were flying home on the Delta plane that was about to land.  We’ll be diving with James at Amoray in less than four weeks from now.  Small, small, world. OK, back to picking up the rest of the crew, which includes our official group leader Sue Douglass, Rachel McGril (another long distance traveler, coming in from Cuba), Joe Cox, Michele Highley and her sons Palmer & Ranier, photo-pro Bob Hahn, Tony Smith, Neil Spaulding from Colorado, Kevin Carre, and Morris, Niki and Rachel Kligger.  Amazingly my bags have survived their ordeal and were the first ones off the plane, so we are, in the words of 70’s sensations Peaches and Herb, re-united and it feels so good!

Back to the resort and we get through our fifth and final orientation of the day, and I can just about narrate that video by heart!  Everyone is excited, and in fact some of our earliest arrivals already have 3 and 4 dives under their belts!  Busy boy that I have been, I finally get my first dive of the dive of the day in, a night dive off the beach at the resort, and nail my first lionfish of the week here.  By nighttime of day one the dive count is up to five already for our most intrepid divers, including Steve, Amir, Joe, and Brad. Wow!

Sunday begins another beautiful sunny day in the land known as ‘Diver’s Paradise’ and some of our guys are in the water at 6:00 a.m. already!  It won’t be surprising to see some with over 40 logged dives on this trip – we’ll update that count later this week!  Breakfast at the Banana Tree Restaurant is delicious and more than ample, so we get a good filling there before we start our day.  Our open water checkout dives begin this morning and we’ve got Morris, Palmer, Berry & Cathy P ready for their briefing and first dives.  Rachel is joining us also for some DSD dives with Steve H.  Sue administers the pre-dive briefing, and we gear up and head into the water.  Weighting is checked, some adjustments made, and our group gets under and enjoys two good initial skills dives on the house reef, known as 18 Palm.  Lots of life here, and beautiful healthy corals and sponges of all sorts too.  I find myself thinking about the home team who are at Dutch Springs this weekend with another big group of check out dives scheduled, and hoping they are experiencing equally great conditions, albeit with slightly less coral, and water temps a little lower than the 85 degrees we are enjoying here.

Bob Hahn is starting his two-day underwater digital photography program today also, so his group is in the classroom and getting their cameras ready. They will end up getting in three dives and shooting a few hundred photos today before returning to the class and learning how to optimize those images using Adobe Photoshop. Bob’s class is truly the way to go to really improve your skills in capturing some fantastic images of what we see and enjoy so much under the sea.

The first of our boat dives begin this afternoon, and with the size of our group, Toucan Diving has dedicated four boats to handle us.  We head over to Klein Bonaire, and the first thing on our list is Seahorses, so we drop in at Rockpile and do a nice, long one-way dive towards westward along the island.  Sure enough, there is a huge seahorse there, and Sherman our guide points it out to us.  It must be 7 or 8 inches long, a really nice one, and he’s not shy at all about us taking pictures – very cool.  And Ranier gets a treat as Erika snorkels with him while we are diving, so everyone gets wet on this trip!

Toucan Diving is great to work with, and we have arranged for all our boat dives to be done in “drift fashion”, rather than the typical local way of the boat anchoring and you dive away from the boat then turn and cover the same reef as you swim back to the boat.  In our case, we don’t moor, and we don’t turn around, as the boat follows our bubbles and meets us further along the reef for our pickup.  Much more fun and we get to see so much more of the reef this way too.

Today we have a couple of folks who are not feeling so well on the boat, so rather than staying out for our second dive and having them feeling any worse, we opt to head back to the main island and enjoy a “hot drop” north of the resort, and we dive our way along the reef, ending up surfacing in front of the resort itself.  Meanwhile the boat heads in to get the ‘greener’ ones unloaded and feeling better with a non-moving surface under their feet.

Sunday night and most of us enjoy yet another night dive, with a bunch of us heading down to the Salt Pier to sneak in (without required guide or permit) and we have a great dive, with Eagle Rays swooping around us, lots of turtles, octopus, squid, plenty of fish life and more.  Another lionfish meets his maker tonight too.  Great night dive and just the perfect way to work up a good thirst for a visit to the Coconut Crash Beach Bar for a little late night round of snacks, hydrating beverages, and laughter.

Monday and our divers again are off and running all over the island, starting at the crack of dawn.  The earliest enjoyed a sunrise dive on the Hilma Hooker wreck, followed by a second dive before breakfast – you have to love this passion that so many of us have for diving!  Our open water students are back at it, and we complete all our skills off the beach with a couple of great dives there.  Diane DeFeo, our IAHD-Americas certified diver on this trip, also enjoys her longest and deepest dive to date, and it’s wonderful to work with her and share our love of diving.

Afternoon and it’s boat time again, and we’re ready to head out to see some more turtles over at Klein Bonaire.  We first drop in at ‘Just a Nice Dive’ and sure enough, there are turtles all around.  We do another nice drift dive, and see about 8 turtles during the course of the journey, along with squid, big puffers, and plenty of other great critters.  We surface, swap tanks, motor along for about a 30 minute surface interval, and we’re back under water, repeating the fun.  From there we head back towards the main island, and the boat drops us off in front of Richard’s Restaurant for our third boat dive, where again we swim along the reef and end up at the resort.  I manage to nail 4 more lionfish on this jaunt, doing my part to keep the population in check!  And the spotted eels well fed, as they love to take the lionfish off my spear.  Very cool.

Tonight we have a boat night dive, and a lot of first time night-divers aboard, so that is always cool to see folks enjoying their first black-water experience.  It’s a good dive, lots to see, another lionfish goes to the great big reef in the sky, and everyone comes back just gushing with all the cool things they saw.  Great dive!

Tuesday and it’s more great diving all over the island. Some of the group made the drive up to the northwest coast and experienced some of the more challenging entries & exits there. The reef right in front of the resort, called 18 Palms, is always popular and is visited daily. We’ve got two really nice seahorses hanging out there, one black and one orange, and they are a delight to photograph and observe. The boats run out and we get three more dives in on them today, checking out some frogfish at one site, and finally doing our signature drift dive back to the resort with our third tank off the boat. We love the way Toucan Diving treats us and allows us to get three dives in on every boat trip – thank you Alexander! For tonight’s entertainment we have a beach BBQ complete with the Silver Bullet band, a local troop with lots of drums, steel drums, and rhythm to entertain us non-stop while we enjoy a sumptious feast right on the beach under a most beautiful night sky. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Mike Parzynski also chimed in on the Hilma Hooker:

It seems I cannot stay away from the Hilma Hooker when on Bonaire. The first dive was with Herb and Sheldon. It was prefaced with Jody and John just getting out of the water. Jody proudly announces “Alcott got 99 feet, but I got 100.” So, to honor the Valaika tradition of taking a challenge, I dug a hole under the bow and hit 101. Take that!

The second trip to the Hilma Hooker was a double dip with Donna. It was her first time, so I was gentle with her. We swam out towards the in-shore buoy and then dropped down and slid down the reef. Take a route around the bow we were greeted by nice bit tarpon hanging out in the holds. Into hold one, through one of the doors into hold two and come out by the rear of the ship. A quick look at gauges, turned on our lights and into the engine room we go. Of course, with camera in one hand, light in the other, I felt like a bull in a china shop. We did bounce around a little, but had a great dive. Easy penetration and not too tight. Back up the beautiful reef and surface right at the entry point.

So I ask Donna if she wants to hit a different spot and with a gleam in her eye, she says, “I want to do that one again!” So, off gas a bit, change out the tanks and back in the water to the Hilma Hooker. This time we head straight to the stern, do a nice swim through a passageway and then into the rear cargo hold. There is a door….. let’s take a look. Okay, it is the engine room, there is a set of stairs, there is ambient light…. No problem, into the ship once again. Of course, it gets a little tight for me considering I have a slung 40, but a little wiggling and we have a great trip though with some awesome pictures on the way. Then it is up to the superstructure where Donna drops in and looks into a few of the rooms, doing recon for her second week on this lovely island with the DiveNY crowd.

Wednesday and we have no boat dives scheduled, so the SUV’s are busy running up and down the coast, loaded with IVS divers and tanks, ready to splash at a moment’s notice. There are so many wonderful sites here to choose from that it is difficult trying to decide which ones to go to next! We have some Advanced Open Water training to do today, so Sue takes her group over to the Hilma Hooker, a wreck sunk in 100 ft of water off the edge of the reef. Here they complete a Deep Adventure Dive, followed by a Wreck Adventure Dive, and everyone does great. The huge tarpon that hang under this 300 ft long wreck are amazing and not in the least intimidated by the presence of divers, so you can really observe these big fish just chillin’ and watching you as you swim along. Pretty cool!

Wednesday afternoon and while some are diving, it’s ‘back to school’ time for Jesica, Berry & Sheril, as they take their Enriched Air Nitrox exams and pass with flying colors – way to go team! Now they are officially qualified to breath the gas they’ve been breathing since Sunday – whew!  And great news from the airport on Stephanie & Meredith’s bags, which have still not shown up.  Turns out they have arrived today!  The girls are smiling big time at the thought of at least having everything they packed for the second half of the week.  They head over to the airport but can’t get their bags because no one is on duty at the Continental Airlines office until 11 this evening.  Geeesh!!  So back they go at 11, and lo and behold, there are some bags there for Ms Skelton!  That would be Ms Rosemary Skelton, from San Antonio, Texas…..not Stephanie Skelton from Cleveland, Ohio.  How can they screw up something as simple as this?  And is Rosemary wondering why her bags are on vacation in Bonaire and not home with her?  And more so, where are Steph and Mere’s bags??

Well the disappointment was short-lived, cause there was another call from the airline in the morning – the bags have arrived in Bonaire!!  Woo-hoo!  So back to the airport go Stephanie & Meredith, and guess what?  They are looking at the same wrong bags they saw last night!!  Seems no one talks to anyone else at the airport here, and the morning crew was not aware these were the wrong bags, so essentially another day is lost in the baggage search.  And people wonder why I fly Delta…

More Thursday stories here…including the second Salt Pier night dive…18 lionfish..

Mike Parzynski also added:

The last dive of the trip I got to spend with newly certified diver Cathy Parzynski. I couldn’t be happier. We go to “The Rock”, an awesome unmarked sight just south of The Invisibles. After we get to depth, and turn north, Cathy takes my hand. At first I think to myself “Is this a Bev and Butch dive?” but she explains after that through the week of getting certified she’s been so focused on her instructor she hasn’t really seen the amazing underwater beauty. It was such a great feeling watching the wonder in her eyes as she pointed out things that were new and exciting It is also amazing when I point to a large French Angel, she gives back the eel sign and points to a small Chain Moray swimming through the coral She’s already spotting things I’m missing. That is the greatest memory I could possibly take home from this awesome trip!

It was a great experience diving with my wife for the first time. Already I’m trying to find a quick trip opportunity to get her back in the water.

More to come here….

Friday and a few of us are scrambling to get a few last dives in before the obligatory off-gassing before flying time begins.  Seems Amir is leading the pack with 29 this morning, and he gets two more in for an even 31.  Will there be a MDTD Award tonight, for completing “More Dives Than Dave”?  I am thinking not, as I get two more in the morning on the ‘wild side’ with Bonaire East Coast Diving, and head back to the resort for three final dives off the beach to get my count up to 31 also!  Whew!! And Stephanie, our Cadiallac-winning veteran of “The Price Is Right” fame, hears that call again…”Stephanie Skelton, come on down”…to the airport that is.  Seems their bags have again arrived…we’ll see!  So the girls drive over, and again, there is no one from Continental to open the baggage office for them to get their bags, but they manage to convince the airport security guard to go into the back room and take photographs of the bags with Meredith’s phone, and they are able to verify that they are indeed their bags.  They make plans to come back at 11 that night, just in time to be in physical possession of their missing bags for about 5 hours before they leave again on the 6 a.m. flight!  While the mystery of how can bags be lost for an entire week will never be solved, at least they have them.  And care to know the most insulting part of this circus?  Stephanie is a Continental employee, and Meredith’s father is a Continental pilot.  This airline really knows how to take care of their own people….NOT!

More to come…Maiky’s Snack, last morning, departures…!

Tech Diving the Florida Keys

A tale of deep, dark adventure for sure!  Following on the heels of the Memorial Day trip, Brian Hubler is staying down to complete his Trimix certification with me this week.  So we’ve got some exciting dives planned – first the Spiegel Grove to do some technical warm-ups and skills reviews, followed by a trip out to the Northern Lights off Key Largo, then finally a celebration dive on the USS Curb in Key West.

Well fate, and the weather, has decided to not be so kind to us, and the fantastic days, quiet seas and calm breezes that we have enjoyed for the last week are officially…Over!  It is blowing now, but dive we must, so we head out on Monday to do a single extended technical dive on the Spiegel with Chris Brown and the folks at Silent Dive.  We opt to do this dive on nitrox with some 100% O2 to clean up at the end of the dive, and head out into bouncy seas and gray skies.  The current above the wreck is ripping, and the mooring balls are a bit awash, so we know we’re in for a bit of a thrill on today’s dive.

The IVS Boys at the No Name Pub

The IVS Boys at the No Name Pub

Well with the start pictured above, you can only imagine the rest of this story!  No, not like that…just three good divers planning and executing a day full of really nice dives!  We boarded Robert Trosser’s boat, FINZ, and headed out into a beautiful day on the ocean!  Swordfish were jumping, dolphins were playing with our wake, just everything you imagine when you think of great days at sea.
Stop # 1 was the USS Curb, a former naval salvage tug sitting perfectly upright in 190 ft of water.  For some reason Rob was unable to get a fix on it, even though we saw it on the depth finder, jumping up from the bottom profile.  So Rob dropped in overboard, and we dragged him a bit to where the underwater mooring should be, but he came up dry.  We repeated the exercise a second, and then a third time, and finally said “screw it, that’s not going to work”.  So we ran over the marks on the depthfinder again, threw the hook, and then drifted back in the current until we hopefully snagged the wreck.  Well we drifted, and drifted, and drifted, and finally, we snagged something!  At this point I said the heck with it, whatever we grabbed, we’re going diving!
So we geared up and in we went, Dave with a big fat 120 of air on his back, and Mark & I with some Helium in our double 100’s.  We were all slinging stage bottles, a 100% O2 and a 50% O2, both forty cubic foot cylinders.  Should be more than enough gas…..more on that later!
Dropping into the beautiful clear warm water, we saw nothing but anchor line going forward from the FINZ.  So we followed it, and followed it, and followed it…..holy smokes, how much anchor line does he carry??   We followed it some more, and some more…..and our depth was still less than 50 feet!!  What the heck, I am thinking, as we followed it..some more!  Finally, something is materializing out of the mist….what the heck is that I am thinking??   Lo and behold, as I get closer, I see what it is:
Yes, the anchor had snagged the underwater mooring, and we were in fact tied into the Curb!  Cool!  So another 150 feet of line, and sure enough, there we were, on the wreck!
More to come!