Formula H2O Racing – Round II – IVS doubles down!

And so it begins……back from our recent Andrea Doria mis-adventure, diver Mark Hughes hails once again from Flagstaff, Arizona to get another heapin’ helping of the IVS kool-aid. This time our mission is a mixed one…what started out as a simple technical trip to dive some deep wrecks off Key West has now morphed into all that and more. Turns out the the second Wreck Racing League sanctioned Formula H2O scooter race is planned for this very weekend also. What’s a dive team to do? Short IVS answer: All of it!!

IVS Team leader and Wreck Racing League board member Dave Valaika, just arriving back from his recent Lady Gaga concert experience, learned of the timing of the new event, and immediately contacted Mark and asked if he wanted to combine our planned tech trip with some competitive scooter racing and the reply was solid YES! OK, that sealed the deal, so no it was time to go to the strategy room and figure out how we can better our times in the first event, where Joyce Kichman and Dave finished 6th and 4th respectively. We had come into that event like babes in the proverbial woods, using stock scooters, wearing standard fins, wearing a BCD…we had no idea what to expect. Well we do now! So, hmmm….thinking, thinking…… you know, if we rafted the scooters together, streamlined the driver a bit more, and had a little more time for practice, we might be able to kick butt here! Our strategy is simple – do whatever it takes to end up in the winners circle!! OK, enough said, let’s get to work.

So out come the cocktail napkins and the pencils, sketches fly off the paper and before you know it, we have a design, to take two Hollis scooters, plus a small breathing tank, and build a frame that ties them nicely together in a tight, streamlined package. All we need to do is build it now, and for that, Mark arrives a day early in Harleysville.

Now let’s get this straight here….Mark is actually having dental work done this week in Fort Lauderdale, but he jumps on an airplane, flies to Philadelphia, and ends up in Harleysville, where, after all is said and done, we’ll depart from and drive to…you guess it…Fort Lauderdale. “Huh”, you ask? Crazy? Yes….Very much us? YES! So he flies in late Tuesday evening, and gets a good nights rest in the dorm to prepare for the build.

Wednesday a.m. dawns bright and blue in the center of the scuba diving universe, and we kick it off with a design meeting at the shop. Once we go over the plans, tweak the design a bit, verify dimensions and create a bill of material, Mark is off and running to Home Depot and a few other local supply houses to gather our parts and raw materials. He finally arrives back at shop with his shopping list completed, and here’s where it gets a little crazy (if you don’t think it is already). Mark walks in the front door and stops in his tracks when he spots Bob Szalburski, who is in getting some O2 fills for the upcoming St. Lawrence Seaway trip. Well hell’s bells, Bob & Mark both attended an advanced wreck training class taught by Richie Kohler at Conch Republic Divers in June. What an amazingly small world we live it, and it’s even smaller for the IVS diving community! Bob from Wilkes Barre, Mark from Flagstaff, re-uniting right here at IVS in Harleysville!

By the time he has gotten back the shop is abuzz with activity, with several customers being taken care of, and our Discover Scuba Diving team just returning from working with the troubled youth at New Life School, where we conduct several DSD’s each year to help promote positive activities and a way to channel a lot of energy in a productive direction for the young men who attend this alternative educational facility. Today’s team was led by IVS-instructor Carlie Adams, and included Felix Gryn, Bill Bobwicz, Kyle Rosenberger, Chris Rich, Steve Holak, and Joyce Kichman. It’s a great opportunity to give back to the community and hopefully help to turn the lives of these young men towards a good direction.

At the same time, the classroom has morphed into a surgical suite, with Beverly nearly on her back and foot up on the table where Brian is drawing on his professional training as a Physician’s Assistant while he studies a classic PBT injury – that’s Post-Bonaire Trip! Now we all know the Loggins’ like to put their personal signature on some of our trips with lower appendage trauma; anyone who saw the pictures from Butch’s lacerations on the Australia trip will concur. But today we are looking at a potential imbedded sea urchin spine in Bev’s heel, and Brian laments that he is lacking the tools to properly perform an exploratory procedure. Well gosh, who might be able to help here? Hmmm, how about we turn to IVS’s Emergency First Response Instructor Trainer himself, Dave? Fresh off conducting an instructor level class this past weekend, I whip out my, er, medical kit and lo and behold, there is a complete set of surgical knives there for Brian! Well with tools in hand, the procedure moves along smoothly, and before you know it, Bev is minus one urchin spine, the wound site has been drained and cleaned, she is bandaged and put back on the line, what a good soldier she is! Nice work Brian!

So Mark manages to carve out a small bit of real estate for the scooter project build, and starts to gather the tools needed – radiac chop saw, power drills, hammers, files, wrenches, t-squares, socket sets, saw horses and more. The service area suddenly takes on a different persona, more along the lines of “Orange County Chopper” meets “Jacques Cousteau”. Mark plays Paul Jr, the son, while Dave takes on the role of Paul Sr, making sure that Jr. understands what we’re building here today! Complete with colorful language, and the occasional thrown tool and slammed door, the set is perfect.

Eight long hours later, Mark announces the birth of little Hollis II, siamese DPV twins joined at the housings. They are beautiful, and we hope to have the birthing photos up on the gallery soon. Yes, we cleaned the mom up first – why do people put those sort of pictures there? Sorry, I digressed. In any case, they weighed 106 pounds at birth, and measured 29″ long, with a beautiful ebony finish – how’d that happen?? The lab results have not come back on the gender verification as it appears there are no outward indicators to guide our judgment. They were listed on the birth certificate as Baby H-1 and H-2 for now to avoid any psychological trauma later should our early parental intuition be mistaken. They are quickly taken from the parents, photographed, and loaded into the truck for safe transport to their first ocean visit.

Now time to start mixing some gas for our first planned dives, the USS Wilkes Barre, a former naval cruiser sunk in 240 ft, and either the USS Curb, a naval tug sitting at 180 ft, or the USAFS Vandenberg, on the bottom with a max depth of 145 ft. We plan to dive the Wilkes twice, back to back, with a minimal surface interval, so even with an aggressive deco schedule, the Curb might be pushing it for our O2 limits. So we opt for the Vandenberg. Gases will be Trimix for the first 2 dives, 18% O@ and 41% Helium, with 50% and 100% O2 for the deco gases. Dive three will be on nitrox, so we go with 27% to allow us to play safely all the way down the sand. So six sets of doubles and a dozen stage bottles are filled, and this is just for our first day of diving? What is it with Mark? Every single time I dive with him we end up looking like a major gas storage facility as we load up the truck.

OK, tank filling and gas blending done, it’s 11;00 p.m. now, so maybe it’s time for Dave to pack. I toss gear into a couple of bags until I hit the 40 pound mark, and that’s usually enough stuff to go diving. I am going to have to start taking this more seriously soon! Just kidding, we have everything we need so we jump in the shower (separately, thank you), rinse off and finally, at the bewitching hour of midnight, begin the 23 hour, 1,400 mile journey to our first stop in this weekend’s adventure, Key West. Our boat will be beckoning us first thing Friday morning, so there is no time to waste. We climb aboard, fire up the truckster, and motor on down the road. I take first shift, letting Mark unwind after his busy and productive day, and he curls up on the seat for a little shuteye. I get us nearly to Delaware but Mark is restless, so i true Tom Sawyer fashion, I “let” him drive (how’s that for reverse psychology?) and I start writing the blog. Cool.

So we get started and I decide to catch a little sleep before my driving shift comes up. I have such a hard time falling asleep in strange places – NOT – so I am zonked out completely in a heartbeat. My peaceful slumber continues as the miles click on by and I am enjoying sweet thoughts of wet and wonderfully wild things to come, when suddenly I am jolted awake by a very bright light in my face! Mark is rolling down his window, the truck is no longer moving, and there is a cacophony of flashing red and blue lights all around – not a good thing! I am stretched out, reclining in the front seat, I can barely see the eyes of Trooper ‘Napoleon’ standing alongside the truck and reaching up to get Mark’s paperwork. I lean up and say “what’s up” and he shoots me a very stern look – weird for sure!

He has Mark’s license now and he is pointing out, with great prejudice, how things are done differently here in Maryland than they might be done in Mark’s home state of Arizona. Not sure the relevance, but maybe his mom abandoned him early on and moved out there or something. In any case, I also think they don’t think they allow sphincters to dress in cop uniforms and run around in Arizona either. So I am listening to him, and I squirm around trying to get a better view. Now, have you ever wondered what might happen if Sergeant Carter from the Gomer Pyle Show were to marry Tammy Faye Baker, and they had a child – this would be him, standing alongside the truck right now.

He is accusing Mark of traveling at 84 mph in a 65 zone, and he somehow measured this as Mark approached his cruiser, which was also traveling southbound, from behind. Now, most of you don’t know Mark, but you do know Ray, so you know how an old guy drives. There is no way Mark does 85 anything, and I know from a few road trips already with him that this is pretty solid. So my BS meter is way up in the yellow as the diatribe continues from our little trooper. He finishes, at the same time the spit stops flying out of his mouth (yes, I know, gross) and goes back to his patrol car with our paperwork. Mark and I chat about the lunacy of the moment, but defer from greater action cause there is no way this is going to get any better with any input from us.

So after a bit, he returns, and starts reading off what he has ticketed Mark for, including driving with our fog lights on. At this I say “you’ve got to be kidding” and his head spins towards me, like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, and he shouts out “You will NOT interrupt me!”. I want to ask, if I did, would he lose his place and have to start over? But I deferred, as difficult as that was for me, I felt it the best way to avoid being fitted in a lovely new orange jumpsuit this evening. So he finishes, Mark ends up a few hundred dollars poorer for the experience, and both of us are in need of a hug. We shake our heads in disbelief, and I note that here’s a guy who, when he retires from the State Police, has a clear second career opportunity with the TSA. [Bet you thought they wouldn’t get mentioned here!].

I drift back asleep, somewhat scarred from the trauma, but manage to drift back into dreamland. Morning beckons and the sunlight is streaming in, as ‘wild man’ Mark announces it is time to change drivers. So we stop, fuel up, and switch positions, and as I drive us across the border into North Carolina I glance at the GPS and what does it say? 999 miles to go – well doesn’t that inspire a drinking & driving song about lots of Coors Light on the wall! Well I stop myself from singing, letting my buddy rest, as I quietly listen to some classic tunes such as 1966’s ‘Happy Happy Summer Days’ by Ronnie Dove, and ‘Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie’, the 1967 release from Jay & the Techniques, who just happen to hail from the Lehigh Valley – how cool is that?

899 miles to go now, and I look over at my buddy and he’s curled up and sleeping like a baby in the front seat. He must be dreaming little Officer Napoleon thoughts cause he’s smiling and kicking every now and then. It’s so cute, it’s too good to pass up, but the camera is behind me. So what to do? OK, I wake Mark up, have him retrieve the camera, and then send back to sleep, so I can finally balance the camera across the steering wheel and get the shot I want for the gallery. Mission accomplished!

800 miles to go now, and I look at the odometer, and it reads 66,666 miles – ruh roh, is that an ominous sign or what? I shiver, but it passes. Duly noted though! Finally, 700 miles to go, and thankfully Mark is up, cause it it time for the morning headbanging session as I crank up some Nickleback and Metallica loud enough to feel the soundwaves on your skin. Ah, a road trip with Dave! We enjoy some of the great sound that the 10 speakers put out, running through an array of my favorite rock acts (except Lady Gaga, Mark doesn’t like her stuff). As we approach Savannah we give IVS instructor Randy Rudd a call, but he is offshore today working for NOAA on the research vessel Nancy Foster, so no lunch date available. Sadly, we pass through Savannah with no stops!

So now Mark’s stomach is growling so he feels compelled to stop, and I give him carte blanch to pick his favorite – Dairy Queen! Like a little kid he skips to the counter and orders a triple mocha chocolate chip Blizzard with extra mocha – this boy’s gonna be a little jacked up for the rest of the day! I fish some pickled eggs out of the jar for the ride and we’re about to head out when some commotion catches our eyes – the whole time we have been there a young woman has been perusing the candy aisle, picking up various things and putting them in her purse. Not at all discretely, in fact pretty brazen, and I’m thinking they must have been out of shopping carts, and she’ll just pay for that stuff when she leaves. Well silly me…..this is a crime in the works, and right before our very eyes, she shoves the last of her sugar fix in her back, straightens up, and walks right out the door. Mark and I look at each other in utter amazement – the clerk starts screaming and shouting, other people start running, and we’re thinking it is probably a good time to get this show on the road! Gotta go….buh bye!

With only 500 miles to go now, Mark re-takes the pilot’s seat. Last chance for a power nap for me, and I take it. I awake, and have plenty of texting and email still to go, and sadly, in spite of that DQ caffeine fix, Mark comes up short on stamina in the driver’s seat. OK, I’ll take another shift, but I still have work to do! So Mark attempts to settle in for that last bit of sleep, but as he sees me setting my laptop on the console, tucking my phone into my pants leg, setting my eyeglasses on the dash…clearly yes I will be driving, but that is not the only task going on! Mark’s eyes start to look like a couple of pie plates, wondering how much of that focus is actually on the driving aspect, and his grip on the door handle tightens up. “Relax my friend, it’s all good”, I assure him. In between text messages the phone rings, and it’s Capt. Chris Norwood, the owner of Florida Straits Diving, our operator for tomorrow. ” Here’s the condition update”, he says, “2 to 3 knots of current inshore on the Vandenberg, all the mooring balls are under water”. “Well”, I ask, “what does that mean for the Wilkes Barre and Curb?” “Probably even more current, it will be a real challenge to get on the wreck and get down”, he says, and offers “if you want to cancel the charter for tomorrow it is OK”. I turn to Mark, and ask him his feelings on the conditions. He looks at me, and says “we’re here to dive”. That seals it, if we need our scooters to actually descend against the current, so be it – we’re diving tomorrow. Mark is certifiably crazy, and I am here to keep him out of trouble this weekend. More importantly, Mark will holding onto a $4,000 IVS scooter, and no way are we losing that puppy this weekend! So, plans settled, we motor on, finally arriving for dinner at the Paradise Pub at 9 o’clock pm, exactly 21 hours after we left Harleysville. Our favorite barmaid Antoinette is awaiting, all smiles and hugs for couple of her favorite friends (OK, hugs for me, and I introduce Mark!). Dave Hartman, the face of IVS-South, joins us for dinner, and after some good belly laughs, we retire to Casa Hartman for the night.

Friday morning comes and Chris gives us the call from Key West – current still appears to be ripping but Mark is undeterred, and we prepare for the last 100 miles of our southern journey. We check on the ‘children’ who we left on the chargers for the night in the truck, and it appears that we may be victims of sad case of SIDS – one of our baby’s won’t wake up! Mark is next to her, talking, pleading, touching, nurturing, all to no avail. What could it be? Why us? They looked so good last night. Why is fate so cruel??? I sense his sorry and sadness, and ask him to compose himself and step aside, let daddy take a look here. I examine closely, checking for any sign of life or apparent cause for this sad situation, and as my fingers trace our baby’s wiring, it becomes apparent to me……Mark has hooked up the battery charger to the motor, not to the battery! You can hear me shaking my head and rolling my eyes here, can’t you? I correct the mis-wiring, the charger light shows “happy”, and our baby is back with us. Tragedy resolved. Note to self – when it comes to wiring, Mark is not the sharpest tool in our shed!

A tasty breakfast is enjoyed at one of our favorite local establishments, the Key Largo Conch House, and I’m starting to feel like a ‘kept’ man – Mark buys my breakfast for me! Shaking off those strange feelings, we start down U.S. 1 to Key West together. Wait….is that ominous or what? For the record Steve, Mark is my ‘dive’ partner, not like Bill Z’s partner, OK? Enough said…..the day is picture perfect, not a breeze in the air, the sky is blue, the sea is azure, how absolutely beautiful it is for our ride to Key West. Mark drives, Dave blogs, emails & texts…not a bad combo. Ten miles into our trip, the truck is silent except for the gentle rhythm of tapping figures on my keyboard, when “POW!!” the AC power inverter plugged into the dashboard explodes. The cabin is rapidly filling with smoke and we are ready for the oxygen masks to drop down. I am glad I am sitting in an emergency row and I’m ready to pop open the door and slide out like a disgruntled Jet Blue flight attendant. I manage to fight through the confusion and the screaming passengers – OK, knock it off Mark – and get the device unplugged. Whew! Emergency over…for now!

After that, the rest of the trip is almost anti-climatic, just beautiful views and no traffic at all. We arrive at the marina at 2:00 and as we are turning into the driveway, I spot something hidden down in the grass. Immediately, I am thinking, Bev so loves when I pick things up for her on trips, and so what have I found here? A nice spanking new shopping cart for her! She will love it for sure, and I can cross that bit of sensitivity off my ‘to-do’ list for the weekend – Bev has a gift! And, talk about an instantaneous return on investment – we put our new cart right to use humping our gear down the dock and onto the Lucky Dog, our vessel for this afternoon. Finally loaded, checked and ready to go, we head out at 2:30 p.m. for our first morning dive. Harbor traffic is light, and the views are pretty as we cruise along.

Making 30 knots across a dead calm sea, we arrive onto our first dive site in less than a half hour. The depth finder picks up the huge profile of the Wilkes Barre, rising nearly 100 ft up off the bottom at 240 ft. We drop the grapple, along with 300 ft of line and a 24″ dia. marker ball overt the side. Down, down it goes into the blue as we hopefully catch the wreck. But no, the current isn’t going to cooperate at all. It’s pushing us at over 2 knots already on the surface, and the grapple hook blows clear off the wreck, sailing across the uncharted bottom. Suddenly we see the marker ball drop under, and we know the hook has snagged something, and the strong current is now stretching the line out downstream. We motor over and pick up the ball and try to get the hook to come free. Nope, so it is snagged, so Capt Chris runs the engines forward, away from the direction of the snag, and the hook comes free, at least momentarily. So he begin moving forward, trying to keep the hook sailing above the bottom. All is going well until there’s a loud snap, the boat shudders, and the marker ball floats free to the surface, leaving our 300 ft of line and the grapple down with the fishes.

Well that sort puts the kibosh on the Wilkes dive, and with this current it would be dangerous to attempt to hot drop and find the wreck,in spite of its massive size. So on to Plan B, the Curb, at 180 ft. We head over, locate the wreck, and drop a sand anchor alongside, so Mark and I will scooter over to the wreck once we make it to the bottom. We drop in at 5:30 p.m. for our first morning dive…yeah, yeah…..and need to use our scooters on full power just to make it forward to the anchor line. Wow there is a bit of current here, and other than the anchor line there is no reference at all in the water. Down we go, nothing, nothing, nothing, here is the sand approaching… wreck yet. So I turn and wait for Mark..waiting, waiting….geeesh! Mark is having some difficulty managing his scooter, so not sailing as smoothly for him as hoped. He gets there eventually, and I signal that I am going to run a reel out to see if i can locate the wreck. Mark follows, and sure enough, I find the wreck about 100 ft away, just far enough in the slightly murky and dark water that it would be easy to miss. We tie off, making sure we have our ‘trail of breadcrumbs’ back to the anchor and our boat, and begin to explore the wreck. As we head towards the stern, we are greeted with a huge nurse shark, easily 10 ft in length, returning to the wreck after a busy day doing whatever sharks do all day. I spot a lionfish, but recognizing I am diving at 180 ft on trimix with two stage bottles and a scooter, I wisely decide it would not be cool to get nailed (again) so I pass on attempting to capture him. We turn and ascend slightly towards the deck level at 165 ft, and are immediately surrounded by 3 huge goliath groupers, and I mean huge..we’re talking 8 plus feet in length for the two larger ones, and junior is probably 6 feet long. They are interested enough in us, and clearly not intimidated, so they swim around us and keep circling, checking us out. They are completely surrounded by baitfish, so they are just like a huge cloud of biomass moving with grace through the water. It is truly surreal, and of course a little narcosis goes a long way towards helping achieve that sensation.

We find a nice hole in the side of the wreck and Mark feels the need for penetration, so he starts to poke around inside. I follow him in, get alongside, crank up the scooter, and motion him to follow me if he dares! So, here’s where the story gets complicated, and we’ll give it to you as seen by Mark, as well as Dave.

Mark’s version:
Looking at my gauge, and seeing 900 psi of back gas remaining, I am thinking maybe we should turn the dive here. Let me recall, we had 3,500 to start, Rule of Thirds, turn the dive at 2,300, one-third remaining…yep, that’s it! So ok, you say, I’m at 900 psi so I have kinda missed that 2,300 psi number, and a lot of other ones that followed! But I’m thinking, Dave is leading us in the general direction of home, of course penetration into a new wreck aside, it still was kinda towards home So, I’m in! It’s not a huge wreck, how far can this possibly go? In fact, I can actually see a little light streaming in ahead of Dave from above. So we’re in the engine room, and I realize that hole in the ceiling is waaaaay too small swim through. So I signal to Dave that it’s time (OK, way past time) to turn the dive, and I am outta here! I interpreted Dave’s look as acknowledging my signal, and turned and left the room through a very silted out door, into a even more silted out room after that. Remembering the portholes I spotted on my right as I entered this space, I instinctively moved to the left on exiting and sure enough found the portholes and the opening. Got out, turned around and looked for my buddy behind me, but alas, I was alone. Now I’m at 500 psi, at 180 feet, wonderingi what would be the most appropriate action at this time. I start back in to look for Dave, realize this is insane, remember Dave’s words “Self Rescue is Number One”, and act upon them – I hope he is proud of me! So I re-exit the ship, get up on the deck and start towards the line and see Dave squeezing out the hole, with a little less equipment than we went in with. Everyone is accounted for, it’s time to head towards the reel tie off and find the anchor.

Dave’s version:
New guy that Mark is, he bites, and follows along – silly man! We make it in through multiple rooms and passageways, finally ending in the engine room, which has only one door in, and a very small hatch overhead that opens to the deck. I am in the room, and notice Mark is signaling frantically, so I turn, with a “what do you need now” look, and he signals that is time to turn the dive, in fact it is way past time to turn the dive. He has been so enthralled with the dive (and perhaps the narcosis) the he somehow failed to pay proper attention to his gas usage and it is high time to skedaddle on out of here. So he turns, perhaps a bit too quickly, and quicker than I just typed that he managed to create such a shit storm of silt that I could not even see the doorway out of the room. Nice, I am thinking, wondering about my buddy selection. OK, it’s supposed to be his learning experience, but how the tables have turned. Like Helen Keller on scuba, I find the doorway he has disappeared into, and as I poke through, the viz becomes even less, if that is possible. No sweat, there is a small hatchway to salvation, so while we all have one day when it will be our time to go, and it is not my day today. So I move to the hatch, and check the dimensions…..OK, time for a little Jenny Craig moment here, need to slim down a bit. Let me unhook my scooter, yep, that fits, pass it through the hole, Now my first stage bottle, now my second. Note to self – they are filled with 50% and 100% oxygen mixes, and putting them back on in the improper order would no doubt have catastrophic results. Almost can fit out now, check my gas supply now, still looking good, so I slip off my backplate, pass my double 100’s out the hatch, keeping a firm grip on my 7 ft hose, and now I think I can fit out the hole! Hands over my head, everything on my svelte form sucked in tight, I am able to squeeze on through the hatch and make it out to the deck – whew! I collect my gear, put my backplate back on and resume normal breathing, and drag the rest of it over to where I figure Mark will be coming out, yep there is a huge cloud of bubbles, looks like an over-breather there for sure! Yep, it is, and he’s in a bit of a hurry, but I ask him to verify that my stages are back on properly, and he does, quickly, as he passes by me in a bit of a hurry. Yep – I like to teach that ‘self rescue is number one’ and here is a perfect example. So I signal him it is time to go and save himself, and I lead him back over the side of the wreck and find the reel line tied off, which Mark had very nicely marked with a nice strobe on our way in.

Mark’s version of the last of the dive and the ascent:
So I get to the reel tie-off on the side of the wreck, check my gauges, 250 psi, this will work, start to untie the reel, then realize it is fouled with the fishing line, realize that my regulator is starting to breathe a tad hard, check my back gas again I am at 130 psi, take one last look at Dave and signal “that’s YOUR reel, and I am outta here!” So I boogey on over to the anchor, and being my ascent, monitoring my gasses all the way.

Dave’s version:
I laid the line, so protocol says that Mark should be responsible to untie the line and feed it to me as I reel it up. He starts, sees that the line is fouled with some monofilament, realizes his not-so-good gas situation, turns to me, signals that this is my problem, as his is bigger, and leaves me. So I untangle the line, make sure nothing else is left behind, and work my way back to the anchor, picking up the strobes and lift bags we have there, and start my ascent. Mark is gone, and I can only hope he is above me somewhere, but my first decompression obligation stop is at 90 feet so I can’t go up to find out. I being my ascent, with a 2 hour deco obligation showing, and figure we’ll talk about it on the surface. With required stops every ten feet it will be a while, but eventually I reconnect with my buddy at 20 feet, and now I know he is safe and sound, and hopefully a lot wiser with regards to his gas planning!

We finally make it back to the surface, and though the use of the oxygen-rich deco gas mixes, our total run time is only 85 minutes. Once on board Mark suggests that perhaps it is time to hydrate, so I take the hint, reach for the blue mountains, and we call off the rest of the dives for the day. Wise move, we’ll hit it again tomorrow!

We stop at the No Name Pub on our way home, only to find that the kitchen just closed. Holy smokes, help us out here! OK, the barmaid makes us up a couple of salads. Mark finds the dollar bill wallpaper interesting to say the least. We enjoy our light snacks and head on back to Key Largo for the night.

Saturday morning the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. – time to get ready to head north to Fort Lauderdale and the Formula H2O Wreck Racing League event. We arrive at the host operator, South Florida Diving Headquarters, at a timely 7:30 for our 8:00 a.m. departure – perfect! Truck is unloaded, gear is set up, waivers signed, and we’re off to sea. More fantastic conditions great us today as we are joined by an ever-expanding cast of who’s who in the scuba industry, including videographer David Ulloa and his lovely companion Dee McHenry, owners of Valeo Films and Undersea Expeditionary Video Services, ABC Sports director Dave Sirak, ‘Father of the Vandenberg’ Joe Weatherby, Sarah Monahan, who is currently producing her own scuba-based adventure series, ‘Going Down’ , Mike Stone from Key West, cave diving expert Mike Ange, and a few others. We’re also joined by Nathan Cruz, a wounded warrior diver who served on a Chinook aircrew in Iraq before being wounded, resulting in a number of injuries. He worked with IAHD-Americas pro Kurt Clifton from Chicago and was able to obtain his diving certification last year – way to go Nathan!

So we’re heading out, and as we pass through the harbor entrance, we enter the zone known as “small world”. There happens to be a group of scooter-racing free divers on board, lean, mean & fit, looking sharp in their skin-tight free diver suits. One of them, an attractive young lady, walks up to me and asks “Are you Dave Valaika?”. Well, it’s tough to dodge that question, and my mental Rolodex is spinning wildly trying to place her. She states the obvious, saying “You don’t remember me, do you?” The blank look in my eyes must be obvious, as she thrusts her hand out to shake mine, announcing “I’m Erin Magee!”. Well it turns out I was instrumental in some early career development for Ms Magee, recommending her to my friends at Florida Keys Dive Center, and then working with her there in booking our group trips. She has blossomed nicely since then, moving right through scuba training to instructing and then on to apnea (breath hold) diving, and currently is the U.S. National record holder in constant balance free diving, with a certified depth of 233 ft. Here’s a little video of her achievement. What a small freakin’ world we do live in!!

We get to our race location, the wreck of the Tracy, an artificial reef sinking right off Pompano Beach, sitting upright in 70 ft of water. The organizers give us a thorough briefing, and the divers splash, heading down with scooters and cameras of all sorts, to the wreck. We’ve got a start / finish set up, some chicane turns, and some great conditions to get some ‘canned’ shots to blend in with the actual race shots tomorrow. Mark seems to be dogging it with his scooter, I am lapping him on the wreck, wondering what he is doing….saving battery power?? Meanwhile, I work with Nathan Cruz, Elizabeth Weatherby, and her daughter Natalie, getting all three of them on scooters (and going faster than Mark!).

So we spend 45 minutes on the wreck and it’s time to head up. The girls signal they are going up, and I start to follow them up the line..there are little Polish voices in my head, telling me something is wrong….finally, I recognize the accent, it’s the Zyskowski brothers, trying to save me from an embarrassing moment – we are on the WRONG LINE!!!! I signal the girls, we MUST go back down, they look confused, I give them the “trust me” signal, and we head on back down to the wreck. Once there, I lead them to the right line, and for today, the mooring ball names will remain unchanged on the Tracy wreck – there will be NO ‘V’ ball.

So we make it back to the boat we started from, and I query Mark about his less than powerful performance with the scooter. Before I say more, there’s an old joke, where a slightly dim-witted fellow buys a chainsaw cause he heard it would help him cut trees down faster. A week later, he brings it back to the dealer, and tells them it is no faster than his old saw and ax. The dealer takes it back to the service area, and sharpens the chain, assuring the customer this will be much better. A week later, he is back, again complaining about the performance of his new chain saw, and again, they re-sharpen the chain and send him on his way. Finally, one week later, he is back, adamant about getting a refund because this chainsaw is no faster than his ax and handsaw, and the dealer says to wait here, we’re going to check it out right now! He calls the service tech up to the counter, and the manager explains that the chainsaw isn’t cutting any faster than the man’s ax and handsaw, and asks the service tech to check everything while the customer waits in the store. The tech takes it back to the service area, pulls the cord and fires up the chainsaw to test it, and suddenly the customer is right up at the counter, asking the manager ‘what’s that sound?”. Well, today’s post-dive debrief with Mark was a parallel to that story, cause when I asked him why he didn’t use high speed, he looked at me and said “there’s more than one speed?”. Again, shaking my head here, and I ask our readers to look back above, where I used the sharp tools and the shed analogy!

So we motor over to our second site, and our training goal for this dive is to get our racer familiar with ALL THREE speeds of his scooter! So we splash, and enjoy a great dive on the Copenhagen, a coal carrier from Philadelphia that sunk here in 1900. Mark shines, traveling in first, second AND third gear on this dive. There may be hope for us tomorrow yet! The dive is nice, nestled against the reef in 12 to 30 ft of water, lots of life, lots of wreckage. Good way to wrap up the day.

We head back in, offload, and travel down the road to the hotel, which is located right on the beach here. We gather around the pool for a good debrief of the days events, and finalize the plans for tomorrows actual race. There are 38 divers registered for the event so it should be a crowded field indeed. Plenty of ‘paint trading’ to look forward to! The rules have been tightened up, so we need to “enter the water” with at least 80 cubic feet of air, and emerge with a MINIMUM of 500 psi on our gauge. OK, our modified scooter system only holds one 40 CF bottle, so we strategize…we’ll sling a second 40 CF bottle, and drop it right at the starting line! Not only with that streamline us, but it will also help ensure that at least one of our tanks has 500 psi left in it – mission accomplished on both counts, and once again, in true IVS style, the ‘RULES’ are re-recognized as merely guidelines!!

And we have a bonus, the folks from the Discovery Channel are here filming our meeting and our pool demo’s for a program in the works. Very cool, adds a nice touch of Hollywood to our day. After all the festivities begin to wane, so does the crowd, and we call it an early night and retire to get ready for the big event!

Sunday now, and it’s Showtime! Mark has diligently assembled our dual-DPV sled, with our two Hollis machines bolted together along with his minimal gas supply. We keep the covers on it as we load the boat at 7:00 a.m., adding a bit of suspense to an already energized morning. Dean Vitale is here with his Pegasus thrusters, and he has raised the bar by strapping three of the machines to his tank! The free divers are here too, and they are planning to run the race as a relay, with new ‘drivers’ swimming down to take over the machines in tandem as they circle the wreck – pretty cool. And Mark, sensitive guy that he is, has brought out some chalk to write his girlfriends name on the side of his scooter, so he gets on his knees and writes, in big white letters, “DED”. “Ded”, I ask “isn’t your girlfriend named Deborah?” “Oh geeez”, Mark responds, as he begins to erase that last letter and change it to a ‘B’. Talk about confirming the ‘sharp tool – large shed’ observation above!!

As might be expected, there is plenty of ‘trash talking’ on board the racer boat, with “current champion” Dean Vitale milking his position for all its worth for the last few minutes of his reign (hopefully!). We’ll see how his three Thrusters work to save his title now! Meanwhile, the rules committee is looking closely our scooter and talking about a rule that would limit the amount of non-factory hardware allowed on a scooter. Hmmmmm. Looking at the Pegasus / Indian Valley Scuba competitive machines, Elizabeth Weatherby coins the phrase “Snap-On vs Strap-On”…..nice!

So we arrive on site, ready to go, but we have the Discovery Channel here with us, and in true Hollywood fashion, we have to wait. OK, and wait….and wait! The course is being re-set as the current has changed over night, and some new features have been added. And of course they want to get some good video footage before everyone gets in and trashes the visibility. So we wait…until finally it’s 10:00 and time to roll! So everyone suits up, point-of-view cams are turned on, scooters are lowered into the water, and the racers, photographers, officials and spectators all enter the water. Down to the wreck we head, and everyone takes their position. Going back to those rules/guidelines, one of the disqualifying factors would be if a racer surfaces with less than 500 psi remaining in their tank, so a few have taken to unscrupulous means to beat this. One fellow has his aluminum 80 pumped up to 4,400 psi! In in order for Team IVS to best avoid this, I have “air-hog” Mark enter the water last, and breath off my long hose until he is at the start line, where he switches over to his on-board gas supply. I take my position on the wreck, and the race timer begins the countdown, two minutes, one minute, Go! Go! Go! they are off in a blast of bubbles and silt.

Around and around they go, jostling for position through the curves, blasting down the straight-aways, nailing each other with propwash to slow the competition down, trading paint in the turns – whatever it takes! The recreational scooters are running three laps while the expedition and modified classes are running five. It is major traffic around the wreck as the pack stretches out, and it is obvious from the first lap that David Ollua is blowing everyone away with his Submerge scooter and side mounted 40’s. He is absolutely screaming! Mark is not looking too shabby later as he struggles a bit with his trip but when he gets it pointed right our machine really hums. And the Wreck Racing League has its first pile-up, as someone (name withheld to protect the innocent) passes Marissa and his octo hits one of her props, so she promptly spins and crashes right into the side of the wreck! No emergency personnel or rescue divers needed, she brushes it off, and resumes the race, eventually ending up with a second place finish. When all is said and done, there are a couple of very close finishes that will require video review to confirm.

Finally, it’s all over, and we head back up, exhausted but smiling, another great Wreck Racing League event under on belt! One quick stop for a second relaxing dive on another wreck and we motor back to the marina. A little gussie-up period and we meet for the awards ceremony, where all have gathered for one last celebration and the presentation of awards. Turns out Team IVS has moved up in the standings in a larger field to take 3rd place! Way to go team!

To celebrate, we decide to stop at a local Outback Steakhouse, which happens to be my personal favorite and counters Mark’s Dairy Queen choice earlier. We enjoy a nice dinner, and when the check comes, Keelan our server is asked by Mark to separate the bill, and to help facilitate this, Mark has noted next to each item on the bill #1 or #2, with one being him and two being me. Keelan looks at him a bit askew, says “this is kinda different”, looks at me shaking my head, and figures there’s no support here, they obviously must do things a bit differently in Arizona! We get it sorted out, settle up, and head back south to Key Largo for our last day of diving on a wreck to be determined early tomorrow a.m.

One last night at casa Hartman and we awoke to another beautiful Keys morning. First order of the day is sneaking outside and through the woods to photograph a huge crocodile that is sleeping on the dock. Like Steve Irwin, I slowly creep up on the beast, snapping away with my camera, until my hand is on his tail, and, like the lionfish, I am wondering how fast he might be able to spin around and how likely it might be that as 600 pounds of thrashing crocodile changes position on this floating dock that I might find myself in the water with him…..wisely, I opt to remove my hand and leave the alligator wrestling for another day. And as I make that fateful decision, my phone rings loudly in my pocket, and the croc lifts his head to see what the ruckus is! Whoooops…..backing on up now, the dock is yours, Sir! It’s Antoinette on the phone, and for those of you who frequent the Paradise Pub with us, you’ll recognize her as our favorite beer-maid there. She has been asking me for some time to take her diving, and finally I broke down (yes, sensitive moment) and said I’d take her this weekend while we were there. So she calls and says she is ready, has her mask & fins and is waiting for us to pick her up for the day. So I gather Mark, we pile into the truck, head over to Ms A’s, and finally arrive at Amoray Dive Resort. Now I had taken the time yesterday to call Ms Amy Slate herself and find out what the boat plans were for this morning, and she told me it was a two tank reef dive. Well Mark is still hyped up over getting to dive some big wrecks, and we still have two sets of double 100’s with trimix in them, so I toss out an idea to Amoray – “hey, what do you say about doing a 3 location trip, starting at the Spiegel Grove and then on to a couple of reefs?”. Keep in mind it’s not for me but for Mark – again it’s that sensitive side, yes I’ll do another dive for my buddy. Amazingly, the folks at Amoray agree, and we load up the boat for our three dive excursion! Woo hoo!

We arrive at the Spiegel and from the site of the mooring balls being somewhat submerged I am sensing we have a bit of current to deal with. But, we’re here to dive, so dive we must! We begin to gear up, and as Mark removes his shorts to get into his wetsuit, Antoinette looks over, and turns to me and asks the obvious…..”Is that really a Speedo he’s wearing?” “Yep, that’s my buddy”, I reply. Mr. Sexy and I finish gearing up and we splash in. The current on the surface is bordering on horrendous, so I struggle up the line, hand over hand, until I reach the mooring ball, and realize I am at about 10 ft of depth now, the ball is pulled so far under! The conditions remain consistent all the way down to the wreck, but once there, we are able to hide behind the structure, drop down to deck level, and have a really enjoyable dive penetrating the wreck and touring all over the innards. We surface 50 minutes later, and begin the short journey over the Benwood.

I have given Antoinette the reader’s digest version of the DSD briefing on the way out, so now I quiz her a bit on key points, she assembles her own gear under my watchful eyes, and performs a great first-time pre-dive safety check. I am sensing a ‘natural’ here, and as we giant stride into the water I am thankful the half mile difference from the Spiegel made all the difference in the current – there is none here! So we slip under the clear blue water, and Ms A enjoys a great first dive experience. She ends up seeing stingrays, cleaner shrimp, eels, scorpionfish, lobsters, and the rest of the usual cast of characters. What a fantastic way to get introduced to the sport of scuba diving.

Dive #2 for Antoinette an #3 for the morning is at Christmas Tree Cave, where again the conditions are superb, and our newest diver wanna-be excels again. We turn a corner and she ends up face to face with a nice size Goliath Grouper, and that ices the cake. Back on board, she confesses – “I want to get certified!” Look for her sporting a shiny new IVS cert card in the near future!

Back in town, Mark & I clean up, pack the truck, and head north. Two a.m. and we drop him off in St. Mary, GA, where he is getting his Evo Rebreather certification from Richie Kohler, and I journey the final 1,000 miles to home. Gosh, I miss him already!

But, like crack cocaine, you can’t get enough of the IVS Kool Aid, and Mark calls me as I am driving on Tuesday and tells me to save him a spot as our scooter driver in the next Wreck Racing League event, scheduled for Oct 2 in Key Largo. And the scooters are already back in the machine shop, being modified just a bit more for our next race. Sweet!

Lehigh Valley Sportsfest Discovers Scuba!


This weekend, for the first time in the twelve year history of the Lehigh Valley Sportsfest, participants had the opportunity to discover the magic of scuba diving.  This event, held each year in the Allentown area since 1997, has steadily grown in size and scope, with nearly 10,000 competitors and 100,000 spectators gathering this year at the festival.

This annual festival of sports and games, started with 16 events as the Allentown Sportsfest, and has grown now to over 100 different events, changing it’s name to the Lehigh Valley Sportsfest to more accurately reflect the regional involvmenet.  Indian Valley Scuba, and the International Association for Handicapped Divers, was asked by the Sportsfest founders to bring a Discover Scuba program to this years event.  We set up the IVS rolling DSD show at Cedar Beach Park, a massive pool/park/nature area, right near the center of the city of Allentown. 

On Saturday, they were lined up and waiting as we pulled the truck & trailer into the pool area.  By the end of the afternoon, over 45 divers had been briefed, geared up, and taken on tours, culminating in some basic skills training, paving the way for our next wave of certified divers!  Channel 69 News was there sharing the event with their viewers, and IVS-staffers Mike Gusenko, Ray Graff, Brad Creveling,  Barb White and Dave Valaika had their hands full, running non-stop without a break until finally closing the pool down at 7:00.  After that it was back to the shop, filling tanks, and getting ready for tomorrow!

Sunday was as beautiful a day as Saturday, with even larger crowds, more fun and another 55 divers getting wet and blowing bubbles for the very first time.  Lin Gusenko, Leslie & Carlie Adams, Butch Loggins, and Katie Chin joined the crew today, making it an even more fun event – what a great bunch of folks we had on both sides of the Discover Scuba program today.  By the end of the weekend we had taken over 110 divers in, went through nearly 90 tanks of air, and planted more than our fair share of smiles across the Lehigh Valley.

Look for us to be back next year! 

St. Louis Indian Valley Scuba prepares for Grand Opening!


Indian Valley Scuba’s St. Louis dive center is getting ready for a Memorial Day Grand Opening! 

Charles St. Amant spent the last week in Harleysville working with the staff and getting his final training completed before he and his wife Cherie open their doors at IVS-St. Louis later this month.  Charles worked with Indian Valley Scuba’s IT-guru Csaba Lorinczy putting the final touches on his POS system, completed the design and pre-build of his gas filling & blending system with Bob Stitzinger, and worked through the last details of retail and training inventory with Bev Loggins.  An amazingly busy week, but super productive!

This weekend we find Rich Peterson, Ray Graff, Bob Stitzinger and myself headed west for our 14 hour, 900 mile drive to the Kennerly Street store location.  Our mission: to complete the final build-out and fit-out of the store with Charles & Cherie.  Packed in the trucks with us were the gas compressor, cascade bottles, fill system, retail displays, service tools and retail inventory that in just a few short days will transform an empty storefront into a fully operating dive center, ready to serve the needs of the St. Louis market.

Charles has already secured exclusive contracts with three area YMCA’s and class registrations are coming in daily.  The first open water classes will start in early June, and run monthly after that.  Of course each class will have the opportunity to join IVS in Key Largo for their checkouts, or head out for a weekend at Mermet Springs, just a short ride east from the shop.  

So after a thirteen hour ride, we arrive in St. Louis all fired up and ready to go!  Charles opens up and we begin unloading, tanks, compressor, fixtures, furniture and everything else needed to turn an empty space into a dive center!  Rich, Bob, Ray & Dave put in a solid 14 hour day, knocking off just in time to secure some local quality cigars and wines, and gather around the pool for a thorough debriefing!  Meanwhile while the crew relaxed, Keri Stinchcomb spent a few hours in the shop working to restore the luster to the floors and tiles, and her work was shining bright by the end of the night.

Tuesday morning dawns bright & blue for the crew, and after a well-deserved nights rest, we head over to the jobsite early!  Well most of the crew, that is, with slowpoke Rich nursing the post-wine affect from the evening before!  Today IVS-St. Louis Divemaster Mike Landers joined the crew and we kicked butt all day, finishing the compressor installation & gas filling system, building cabinets, desktops, counters, workbenches, storage racks -you name it, it got built today!  By the end of another long day the store was ready to be filled with product, and Charles & Cherie will spend the next week putting the finishing touches on the set up and inventory.  The Harleysville gang packed up their tools and trucks, and made the long journey back east.

We’re all excited about bringing the IVS magic to the St. Louis area, and watching Team IVS grow in the midwest.  The official opening is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, and from there it should be nothing but upward and onward for this latest addition to the IVS family.  

IVS visits the Land Down Under!

Our long-awaited Australian excursion began as Team IVS started gathering in Los Angeles, our kick-off point for the cross-Pacific journey.  With folks from all aover the country joining us on the expedition it made sense to start the trip off from the left coast and just meet at Los Angeles International to board our Qantas flight.  The line was about two and a half hours long and winding, but we felt the effort would be well rewarded, so most of us got in line.  Ray Graff hadn’t arrived yet, being late to get off the Torrey Pines Golf Course, and I have a personal aversion to long lines, so I opted to wait for Ray in the quiet comfort of the Delta Airlines club room, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and cold, free beer, while getting a lot of last minute work done (like updating blog entries!).  Well, the calls from the gang in the Qantas line kept getting more and more urgent, so I finally decided to stroll down to see what the fuss was all about.  Lo and behold, my delaying tactic had paid off, and the airline gods were smiling on me, as there was absolutely no one in line, and the only person to come in behind me was, of course, Ray.  And the only seat they had left for me was a reclining exit row with no seats in front of me, oh OK, I’ll take it! Ray & I headed up to the bar to meet the rest of the group, including Sandy & Dave Herbert, Tom Brennan, Camilo Romano, Bill Zyskowski, Donna Raleigh, Dave West, Sue Douglass, Butch & Bev Loggins, Don Yowell, and Barb Beck.  

We finally boarded for our 11:30 departure (that’s 2:30 a.m. for those of us who came from the east coast) and we took off for the longest leg in our trip – a 15 hour journey to the Land Down Under. Dinner and breakfast, plus free drinks, kept us occupied when we weren’t sound asleep on the flight. The sun came up while we were still over the Pacific, so we got some great views of the reefs and land before touching down in Brisbane. This was actually only an interim stop for us, as we had another two hour flight ahead of us to get up to Cairns. The good news is that we didn’t need to clear customs at this entry, so our bags were transferred to our Cairns flight and we just sauntered on down to gate for another taste of Ozzie great friendly service. In fact, that was the case all the way through customs, and Oz airport security – what a pleasant difference from the usual sour “I hate my job and everyone that comes with it” attitude that is so prevalent in US airports and especially with TSA personnel. Once we landed our coach awaited us and the first less-than-pleasant Australian was driving it. We filled up the bus and still had four of us standing on the curb – he said he has been driving for ten years and never saw any group with so much luggage – we wondered if he had never, in his ten years of bus driving, ever picked up a load of scuba divers!! So we patiently awaited a second coach, and found that the attitude of the first driver must be a job requirement, as the second bloke was as much of a nasty sort as the first. The good news: it’s a very short ride!

Finally through all that, we ended up checking in at the Novotel Hotel, and what a pleasant oasis of Aussie friendliness this place was. From the front desk staff to the pool bar hostesses, everyone was up for customer service, and we immediately took advantage of our first chance to finally relax in over thirty hours of travel. Some pool games, some beverages, some laughter and most importantly, some showers! After a pleasant afternoon we walked a few blocks to the beachfront esplanade, and took in some of the sights and sounds of this very active town. On the way we got a chance to experience another Australian delight, trees full of large flying fox bats right in the middle of town! And I mean large – these guys were the size of crows when they opened up and took off – very cool. Well very cool unless your car was parked under these trees, cause the guana was abundant! Whew! Dinner ended up taking place at Barnacle Bill’s Seafood House, and the owner and staff were just great with filling us in on the real facts about our destination and putting an end to lots of those myths that so many had shared with us. Nothing like getting the straight skinny from someone who isn’t trying to sell you something (other than a great dinner!) Afterwards, we enjoyed some handmade gelati Italian ice cream, and retired to our rooms to get ready for a great start in the morning!

They say this area is ‘Japan’s Florida’ and no where was it more evident than at the breakfast buffet today! More things that I could not name or pronounce or even more telling, know what aisle in the supermaket to find them, should say something of the exotic variety of offerings that greeted us this morning. I think I would starve if I moved there! But thankfully they eat chickens and pigs in the Land of the Rising Sun, so eggs and bacon were available! Whew!

Our shuttles arrived spot on at 11:30 to take us for the very short ride to the marina to board the Spirit of Australia. This 130 ft long 26 passenger vessel with a crew of 11 was to be our home for the next eight days. We pulled up to the boat and were met by Phil & Trina, the owner/managers of the Spirit of Freedom and TUSA Diving. We were introduced to the crew, shown our cabins, given the nickle tour of the boat, and got ready to head right on out. We had two dives scheduled for today and we didn’t want to be late! En-route, after settling in our cabins, we set up our gear, and got our general dive and ship briefings for the week. Very concise, well-delivered and with a taste of Aussie humor, they proved to be both informative and entertaining.

We headed out about 30 miles to our first dive site, at the bottom end of the Great Barrier Reef. Our location was Turtle Bommie, a nice reef that rose right up from the sea floor, starting at about 70 ft and coming nearly to the surface. A great location for our first dives; a chance to shake the bugs out, get properly weighted, and make sure the gear was in order for the week. There was about a 15 knot wind blowing and 5 to 6 foot seas, so the ride out was a bit rough, and some of our travelers were looking a little green already! Not a good sign for the first day of a liveaboard trip! So out came the ginger tablets, Bonine, and various other recipes, and we hoped for the best. A little fresh air, a little vomiting, and things were looking much better overall! Finally we arrived at our destination, and everyone geared up and got ready.

We dropped in and headed over to the reef and within a minute or two we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore! Napolean wrasses, Aussie groupers, cuttlefish, flounder, pygmy seahorses, butterfly fish of all sorts – this clearly was not Key Largo! The first hour long dive in the 81 degree water passed all too quickly, and we headed back to the mother ship for a short surface interval. Don Yowell’s new pony bottle set-up worked perfectly, and Donna Raleigh, Sue Douglass and Ray Graff all had new cameras out to get wet for the first time. After that, it was a twilight dive for round two, with some nice reef sharks, turtles, and more great critter sightings to confirm we had clearly made the right choice for this trip! Back on the boat, it was time for dinner, and then we started our 12 hour overnight journey about 120 miles north up the GBR for start of our “real” diving.

Tuesday morning we woke up to relatively flat seas and a light breeze, and our 6:30 a.m. wake-up call got us up and ready for our first dip of the day. A nice continental breakfast to keep the bellies from growling, and we dropped in to Wonderland, located on the 8th ribbon reef of the GBR system. Here we enjoyed about an hour long pre-breakfast dive. The max depth was about 73 feet, and the reef was teeming with life, large & small. Unbelievable expanses of staghorn coral and hundreds of other varieties made for a great backdrop for all the colorful sealife that greeted us. About 33% of the GBR has been classified as a “Green Zone”, with no-take / no-touch restrictions, and the results of this effort were obvious everywhere you looked. Tons of life, amazingly healthy corals, and everything in between! After an hour or so it was time to head back to the mother ship for our real breakfast.

And what a breakfast spread it was, with something for everyone and lots of it! A nice leisurely second start of the day, and before long it was time to head in for our second dive. This dive was a nice little drift dive on the opposite side of the same site, so we loaded up in the inflatables and motored over to the reef. The teams dropped in like Navy Seals, looking sharp and synchronized as we hit the water and dropped below. Sandy Herbert & Bev Loggins aced their first backroll entries with flying colors! We hit about 110 ft on this dive, breaking the first of many Queensland rules; this one about prohibiting reverse profile diving. Oh well, you know with Indian Valley Scuba that rules=guidelines, so we were OK with the process. Another nice hour long dive, and we drifted back to the boat mooring, making the return to the boat very convenient.

A little snack of fresh fruit served to us on the dive deck, and we went about the task of organizing our gear. The Spirit of Freedom is very well set up for diving, with cubby storage spaces at each diver location, and a tank filling whip system, so all you needed to do after each dive was disconnect your first stage, and the crew would re-fill your tank and you’d be good to go for your next dive. No humping gear anywhere, no need to pack & unpack, just very relaxing and pampered diving for all.

While we off-gased, the boat motored a short distance and we moored at Pixie Gardens, located at the beginning of the 9th ribbon reef. Another great dive, 52 ft deep and 80 minutes of bottom time allowed for many more great animal sightings. Back to the boat, and it was time for lunch, served up piping hot and delicious. While we ate, the boat moved again, and we anchored at Challenger Bay, a little further up the 9th ribbon reef. Our first dive here was great, depth in the seventy foot range and bottom times well in excess of an hour. More cuttle fish, more sharks, lots of larger predator fish, and all the great coral reef environment the Great Barrier Reef is famous for. Back on board, a delicious dinner, followed by our first night dive, still on Challenger Bay. This time we headed in the opposite direction, and the larger fish that seemed so nice during our earlier dive clearly showed their true hunter colors as they used our dive lights to light up their dinner and they nailed the reef inhabitants with frightenly accurate frequency and ferociousness. During one tussle while I was filming away, a reef shark shot straight up between my legs to get in on the dinner frenzy, adding to the excitement. We spent about an hour and a quarter on this sight, and finally headed in for snacks, after diving appertifs and an early bedtime.

Another bright beautiful Australian morning greeted us this fine Wednesday, and we rolled out of bed at 6:30 once again for our pre-breakfast dive. Today we started at Pixie’s Pinnacle, another location off Ribbon Reef #9. We dropped in, and enjoyed more of the great life we have started to become accustomed to here on the great Barrier Reef. We had sharks cruising all around us, and all the small reef inhabitants coming out of their coral bunkers after the night. The pinnacle is just that, a straight column of coral and rock rising straight up from the ocean bottom at 115 ft to about 3 ft from the surface. Sheer walls added to the dramatic effect you would expect from such a site. Great dive and a great way to start the day.

Back to the boat it was time for breakfast and the crew once again served up a good one. Time for a little early morning sunning on the upper deck, while we motored a little further up the reef to the area known as the cod hole. This area supports a huge population of Potato Cod (that’s Australian for spotted grouper) and we could see them under the boat as we prepared to dive. The site starts at another very high reef structure, coming to within 3 or 4 ft of the surface, and from there it drops down in a series of steps to 40, 70 and 105 ft deep. Very nice layout for easy cruising up and down the reef. We had giant clams of all colors and sizes, and although I tried to get Dave West to stick his head in one, Siegfried & Roy style, he decided it was not his day to risk beheading. In fact, Dave had a bigger plan for today – he snuck up on a school of diagonal banded sweetlips, at first startling them, but the more he hung around them, he carefully studied their habits, until he finally turned his head into the current and hung motionless with them. The school filled in right around him, and you knew the moment was complete – they had truly accepted him as one of their own. For his efforts and achievement, David will always be known in our group as David “sweetlips” West. Make sure you call him by that next time you are in the shop!

Our next dive was at the same location, and it was a potato cod feeding dive. Although this event is a bit of a highlight on this trip, our group, who have collectively attended more than enough Slate’s Creature Features and chumsicle shark feeds in the Bahamas, the feeding of the cod (which of course are really groupers, but don’t tell the Aussies) was somewhat anticlimatic. Nevertheless, after some entertainment, we swam off and enjoyed the reef, finding 3 or 4 sharks, lots more groupers, more giant clams, some sting rays, and more. This is some very nice diving for sure!

Back on the boat, another meal, and another dive briefing. This time we moved up one reef to Dynamite Pass, on Ribbon Reef #10. The incoming tide was just starting to peak, and we ran up the reef in the inflatables for another hot drop. Three, two, one, go! and we were out of the boats and down to 100 ft. The current was absolutely head over heels ripping here, and we sailed right along for the first twenty minutes of the dive. Finally the current slowed, and we got to poke about and see so much more of what we came for. Lots more sharks, great coral formations, fellow divers, even a manta ray – all the stuff we love to see under the sea! Finally back to the mother ship, but alas, no dive tonight, as we need to sail to Lizard Island for the morning to rendevous with some new passengers and to let a few off, who had chosen to only take half the week-long trip.

Tonight’s dinner was a barbecue on the upper deck, with lots of great food, laughter, and Australian wine. After a few drinks and some de-gassing, the talk turned to how so many of us listened to so many well-meaning but mis-informed experts who warned us of how many things live in the ocean here with the sole purpose to kill or maim us. From toxic cone shells, to Steve Irwin’s stingrays, to deadly box jellyfish, sharks, and the lethal blue ring octopus, the odds of our group coming back home intact were not with us. Knock on wood, we are still healthy and kicking at this point! Only four days left if they are going to get us!

For the first time in four days we get a chance to set foot on land today as we take a little tour of Lizard Island. Pretty cool little resort island at the top of the Great Barrier Reef, some high-end resorts and really nice boats moored in the harbor, plus a little airstrip. While we were there six of our fellow passengers left the boat, while ten new ones came aboard. You can book this trip either northbound (like the past 3 days) or southbound (like the next 4 days). Not ones to let waters go un-dived, we managed to talk the crew into letting us do a drop right here in the harbor, and we enjoyed a nice little reef structure with a lot of cool little critters. It was the first time they had ever let a group dive during this “switch-over” morning, but is it a surprise that the first ones to do it were IVS divers? Nice dive, saw some coral munching Crown of Thorns starfish, and the usual cast of characters. Once the new folks were on board, we headed south again to the GBR, and did two nice dives on a site known as the Monolith. Lots of good photo op’s, including a large turtle that loved being filmed so much he crashed right into me with the video camera. Also enjoyed some other animal interaction, with a large trigger fish who felt compelled to bite something, and we got him biting the camera lens, and my fins, multiple times! All good! That night as dinner was served the crew came down and gave us the bad news – we had a 130 mile voyage across open water to complete tonight, and the key word there was ‘open’. Depths would average 1,000 meters, and at times exceed 1,800 meters – that’s well over a mile deep! Needless to say, the serious seasickness pills were distributed, not only to the passengers but to the crew too! This was big water for sure, and the wind action made the crossing very “nautical”. Waves hitting the bow and spray flying over the boat, and Bev and Sue standing on the bridge just daring Neptune to bring it on! It was a rocking-n-rolling night in our bunks for sure, but by morning we had arrived, unharmed, and ready to dive Osprey Reef, smack dab in the northern corner of the Coral Sea.

It’s Friday now, and our 6:30 wake-up call to dive came nice and early. After the rough night of sailing, our weary group assembled on the dive deck for our morning briefing. Our first site for today was called Around the Bend, and it was a nice wall dive with about 1,000 ft of depth down the face of the reef. Very lively site, lots of sea life, octopus, spotted and green moray eels, and sharks. We dove this site twice, both times as drift dives from the inflatables and back to the boat. On our second dive we were treated to a nice size manta ray, cruising right through our group – very cool!

Back in for lunch and a bit of re-positioning of the boat, and we jumped back in to the reef at a site called The Gap, aptly named because it was a cut through the fringe reef through which huge tidal flows passed to the lagoon within the center of Osprey Reef. Lots of fish of all varieties, hundreds of giant clams, some great swim thru’s and caves, and super healthy coral. Very nice!

Now we headed over to another site known as the Admiralty, named after the manufacturer of an anchor that was trapped in one of the swim thru’s on the reef – a boat must have dropped it and to their surprise, it managed to fall through a hole in the reef and got itself lodged in the cavern underneath. Sucked for them, cool for us. Neat site, lots of sharks, octo’s, and the rest. We stayed here for our night dive, and enjoyed another hour under the sea, this time with some great video footage of a four foot long very aggressive snake eel cruising about, turning to attack me not once, but twice, with blinding speed and accuracy! That, plus sharks, bumphead parrots, and marauding jacks feeding under the lights of the boat. And while we were diving, Butch Loggins managed to slice his foot wide open on a broken wine glass on the sun deck, and ended up spread out on the wheel house floor while the captain attended to his wound. It was stitches or crazy glue, and Butch opted for the latter, so we’ll see in the morning how well his treatment will hold up! Lots of great photo opportunities there, as you can imagine, by the always sensitive IVS gang.

Saturday morning dawned bright and blue, with no hint of the drama that was about to unfold. We briefed for our first dive, a drift along the east wall at the top end of Osprey Reef, at a point called North Horn. This was to be a wall dive, and the official current report from the crew was a brisk flow from the planned dive site towards the boat. Good plan, so far at least. So a portion of Team IVS geared up and loaded into tenders #3 & 4, and headed out to our drop point. Our immediate group included Bill Zyskowski, Dave West, Barb Beck, Donna Raleigh, Don Yowell, Ray Graff, and myself. Ominously, the driver of our boat observed the bubbles from the group just before us and noted that they (the bubbles) appeared to be heading in the wrong direction. Hmmm…was that a sign? So we got to our drop point, and it was 3-2-1-GO! and off into the sea we went. Except that as we fell, we noticed the wall passing before us, in the WRONG direction. Hmmmmm…was that another sign? So, OK, maybe it’s us, so let’s put some muscle into our fin kicks and make this a great dive. OK, maybe a little more muscle. OK, maybe evey single stinkin’ bit of muscle we have……wait….is this another sign? Finally, after twenty minutes of struggling and advancing perhaps 100 yards towards the boat, we opted to call the dive, head up for our safety stop, and go to the surface for a pick up. So that we did, and we hit the surface as a team, looking good and coordinated. Out come the big 8 ft DAN safety sausages, and we get them inflated, and start to look in the direction of the Spirit of Freedom for our inflatables to come pick us up. Wait, is that another sausage from another group over there? And another over there? Hmmmm…..I am thinking these are definitely signs! So we wait, figuring the crew has spotted us and will be over shortly. Surely they cannot miss this many big bright orange sausages on the open sea. Well, if perhaps anyone was looking, they probably wouldn’t. But, it seems that the safety watch doesn’t really start to look seriously until about 40 minutes into the dive, at which point we had been on the surface over twenty minutes and drifting quickly across the Coral Sea. The depth under our fins was about 3,000 feet now, and we were graced with a few of our dark gray friends circling below us as we waited…and waited. Our humor was good, lots of laughter, seven of us holding together and drifting across the south Pacific. “Take a look at the boat, do you see the tenders?” “No?” Hmmmmm…..definately a sign, and not a good one. We start to consider videotaping messages to friends and family, then decide to wait, and talk about how the movie rights will somehow make this all worth it! We drop our weights and watch them drop down into the bottomless abyss. Gee it’s dark down there…….we think. Staying close, checking that each of us are OK, sharing some air as the surface waves are consistently breaking over our heads. “See the tenders yet?” “No!” Hmmmm……we start thinking about the book, Barb Beck suggests the first title ‘ Hour one, day one’. The sun is hot overhead, and we think about dehydration…just kidding, at least for now, we are still cracking jokes and laughing in spite of the sharks, and the 3,000 feet of water, and the fact that the boat is getting smaller and smaller as it starts to slip over the horizon. Finally, someone spots a tender, an hour and 15 minutes after we first surfaced and inflated our sausages. There clearly was a disconnect among the crew between being assigned to watch for divers and actually watching for divers. It was fairly obvious that no one was looking for us, or we could not possibly have drifted that far off the reef into the open sea. In the end, we survived, made it back to the boat, and all grew stronger from the experience, but clearly it made us watch the crew with a bit more detail to see how they were going to man the tenders and pay a wee bit more attention to us.

Dive #2 today was scheduled to be a more relaxing, laid back dive – a shark feed! Into the drink we went, lined up with our backs to the wall of a natural cutout in the reef at about 45 ft. As with most animal behavior modification programs, the sharks clearly knew what was going on, and had started to gather in great numbers. Mostly gray and white tip reefs, plus a few silver tips, along with a solitary hammerhead, all came early to get a good seat for the feed. The setup for this feed was kinda unique, the crew hooked a pulley system up to a spot on the bottom, then ran the line up to the surface where they attached it to a trash can full of tuna heads strung together. Then over the side with the trash can, the diver holding the end of the line thru the pulley swims like hell, and the can comes down into our midst. A second crew member pulls the release on the can’s lid, and shazam! it’s shark feed frenzy all around! Big and small sharks, and the ever-so-aggressive groupers, piling in the fray, grabbing whatever they can get or steal from each other, snapping at each other to make room – kinda like a Michael Vick home video of his puppy training! Ten minutes later, there were no tuna parts to be found, and life returned to normal on the reef, with the sharks going about their daily routines and the smaller fish breathing a sigh of relief that this human-induced insanity was over, at least for today. And, unlike dive #1, we all made it back to the boat this time!

The boat makes a move while we enjoy lunch, and we find ourselves at a site known as Silver City. This was a nice protected side of Osprey Reef, with minimal current and nice relaxing conditions as the wall rose to about 8 ft from the surface and dropped down to ledges at 100 ft or so before dropping off into the abyss. Did two nice dives here, just great reef conditions.

Sunday now, and during the night we have sailed during the night back down the GBR to Ribbon Reef #3. We are moored at another pinnacle known as Steve’s Bommie, and it is just a coral covered rock that rises straight up from the bottom to within about 15 feet of the surface. Lots of fish life surround it, and we had some curious octopus, leafy scorpionfish, and some large Australian Stonefish out to photograph. Two very nice dives.

In for lunch, and as we are sailing towards our second site for today, suddenly we are thinking our very own John Scott must have snuck on board, cause it’s “man overboard!” Actually no, it is an unannounced crew training drill, and based on our earlier experience, we estimate they’ll start looking in earnest in about an hour. But much to our surprise, the crew is right on it, and they toss the throw ring, launch the tender, keep the eyes on the victim, and bring her back alive. Well done!

After a short sail we are moored at our next location, a site named Grumpy’s, named after a quite large Potato Cod that lays claim to the area. For those of you familiar with our Key Largo diving, this fellow was much like Bruiser from the City of Washington. Large, intimidating, friendly and not shy at all! Nice dive, more clown anenome fish, beautiful corals, etc.

Now we motor a short ways to our final mooring for the week. Our last dive, plus a nice bonus dusk dive added by the captain to offset the morning dive fiasco from yesterday, are scheduled for this spot, known as Flair Point, also on Ribbon Reef #3. This was a nice sloping site, with a good flat top reef at 6 ft of depth, dropping off to about 60 ft at the bottom. Lots of life, very healthy, major fish population. Nice!

Finally we pull anchor for the last time, and we head back to port to end the first phase of this journey. Bill Zyskowski, Donna Raleigh, and Tom Brennan are heading back to the America, and the rest of us are heading into the outback!

Well our first full day on land, and clearly not one to relax! A 6:30 breakfast call, and we are up, bags are pulled up from our rooms, we get a quick brekky as they say here, and it’s time for photos and final goodbye’s and hugs to the crew. Then onto the 7:30 shuttle bus, and back to our Cairns hotel for the day, except this is only to drop our bags off at this time. As soon as we unload the trailer, and put our bags into the hands of the bellman for the day, it’s time to board our 8:30 shuttle bus to the Sweetwater Train Station for our big day planned in Karunda! We arrive in good order, and get our tickets for the day, and have a chance to relax and have a little snack before our adventure begins. Soon we hear the toot of the whistle and we know it’s time to head to the platform and great ready to board. The train is pretty cool, probably about 75 years old, very nicely maintained, with two diesel engines and a dozen passenger cars behind.

Everyone boards, finds their seats, and we begin the hour and fifteen minute ride up to the village of Karunda. The scenery is majestic as we travel along, through sugar cane fields and small towns. We begin to climb, and the view changes as we leave civilization and truck upward and onward towards the rainforest. Amazing vistas, terrifying drop-offs, fifteen tunnels and twice that many bridges hundreds of feet over gorges, this is quite a ride. We pass the site of a the largest field hospital from World War II, and head up to an intermediate stop at a beautiful waterfall. Very cool indeed. We get out, stretch our legs a bit, snap a few hundred photos, then re-board to complete our journey. We arrive at the Karunda rail station and a few of us (no names mentioned) head immediately into the local pub for a pint or two to start the day! The rest begin the tour of the town, a really cool little tourist town in the middle of the rainforest. Lots of cool shops, neat things to buy, our chance to support the local economy, and we do well at that! Finally it’s time to board our next bus and head over to the Rainforest Field Station, and so we do. Once there, we are treated to a really well done tour of some of the cool creatures of the area, including kangaroos, wallaby’s, wombats, koala bears, alligators, crocodiles and lizards, to name a few. Nice nature park, really well informed ranger staff, lots learned. Then we board a restored WWII amphibious DUCK and head for a tour through the rain forest, including a little cruise on the lake where we get to see what made these DUCK’s famous – the ability to turn into a boat! Once we are done this tour, we have a little time for Dave W and Ray G to try their hand at boomerang throwing (key word: TRY) and it’s time to jump back on the bus and head to the Skyrail station. Here we board the Skyrail, a ski-type cable gondola system that runs right over the rainforest for almost 20 miles – very cool indeed! We stop a few times along the way to sneak in some last minute rainforest walks, and finally we are at the base. There, we board our last bus, for a quick ride back to the hotel and some more cold ones! Whew – what a light day – it was almost easier doing five dives a day!

It’s Tuesday morning here now, and we have said our goodbyes to Bill Z, Donna R and Tom B who caught a 3:30 a.m. shuttle to the airport and an early flight back to America. The rest of us catch a leisurely 9:30 shuttle over to the Cairns airport for our flight to the interior middle of the continent at Alice Springs. Two and a half hours in the air, and we can’t see the reef at all – not a good sign for a dive trip! Oh well, can’t travel all the way to the land down under and not see a bit of the rest of the country, so we suck it up and look forward to seeing a bit of the interior. Landing in Alice Springs, one of the dryest places on earth, we find ourselves smack in the middle of a thunderstorm, and as a result the airport shuts us down on the runway, unable to begin unloading. Get this – it has not rained here for nearly two years – yes, two years, and today it decides to break that dry streak with a hellacious downpour, complete with booming thunder and bolts of lightning. Here we thought we have done our planning and completed our pre-trip worries about all the things that can kill or maim us here – sea snakes, blue-ring octo’s, box jellyfish, aggressive triggerfish, sharks of all sorts, deadly land snakes, kangaroos crashing through the windshield, being allowed to drift away unnoticed across the Coral Sea [recent addition to the list] …….but now we need to add getting hit by lightning to that list! Geeesh! So our gang patiently awaits a break in the weather so we can deplane. And patiently wait……and wait……..finally, we get the word that it’s OK to go. Wooo hooo!

So we start disembarking, and as everyone stands and grabs their carry-on’s, I turn off my computer, figuring we’re heading out. Hah! April Fools, Aussie style. Another bolt of lightning, and it’s “cancel that OK to deplane”. Everyone gumbles, we head back to our seats, I open the computer and re-visit the blogging. So, where was I..oh yeah, we patiently await the opportunity to disembark…..and await…..OK we get the word again, and without a moment’s hesistation, we are off and running towards the terminal!

Once inside, we gather our luggage and connect with a shuttle for a little tour through town and to our hotel. They have a river that runs through town, and once a year, it flows – and guess what? Today was that day for this year! It flowed, so much in fact that our roadway across at one point was underwater and we needed to detour to a higher bridge. Hmmm, we’re thinking, we might get a wreck dive in here! We finally arrived, safe and sound, at the Alice Springs Resort, and unpacked a little bit for our short stay here. Alice Springs is really the launch point for our motorcoach tour across the outback to Ayers Rock, so we’re only here for the evening, just a chance to relax, get a local dinner, and rest up for tomorrow’s activities.

Well that rainstorm event was quite the major news here, and they are closing bridges across the river left and right! Our hotel is located right on the banks of the River Todd, and the water is lapping at the parking lot. Pretty cool, even more so when you hear that the river has not flowed this way since the 90’s or even earlier. Neat to be part of a historic event!

We headed into town for dinner, walking across one of the still-open bridges, and ended up at Bojangles, one of the first bars in the world to add an internet presence and video cams to the place. Pretty cool knowing your antics are up there in the big information superhighway for all to see. Really helped us tone it down a bit – NOT!  Finally, it was time for bed and an ungodly early 4:30 a.m. rise tomorrow for our cross country motorcoach ride. 

We got up and loaded our bus at 5:30 in the a.m for a scheduled 5 hour bus ride to Ayers Rock. True to form, our driver shows up and it is clear he has been cut from the same cloth as our earlier bus drivers [colorful but inappropriate comment deleted here to maintain the ‘G’ rating!] Never the less, our bags are finally loaded, and we begin the journey to the center of the Red Continent, as it is called. We’re not five minutes into our journey when we need to slam on the brakes and avoid a kangaroo jumping across the road – you know we’re not in Kansas anymore!

Well let’s just say that 5 hours later, we were in agreement that our driver Leo was a little over the top. Mindless trivial drivel about facts and myths Australian left us longing for silence throughout the bus. Sure, there was some good stuff, but the far-less-than-good stuff more than compensated for it. We had some nice photo stops, saw some big wide open country, and got to Ayers Rock Resort in one piece. Oh the joy of getting here. Oh the sorrow upon finding out that Leo is our designated bus driver for tonights sunset tour to see the sun fall on Ayers Rock. Another 4 hours of blue-hair bus tour experience, and some of us, starting with me, are ready to blow a gasket. We ended up enjoying a nice sunset experience on a big rock in the middle of a large continent – need I say more?

Upon disembarking the bus, we learn that Leo is our driver for the sunrise experience, and guess what? Eleven hands went up for the vote of NO to this continued torture. So shift to Plan B – let’s rent some cars and do Australia’s outback on our own! I get on-line, reserve us a couple of 4-wheel drives with huge kangaroo deflector bars in front, and we go to bed, planning our morning events.

We get up, enjoy a leisurely brekky, and Ray and I head out to get the cars. The process is a tad slow – they are still using carbon paper here in this corner of Oz – but finally we arrive back at the resort with a couple of rides. It’s not a good sign when Ray gets in his truck on the left side, and realizes it might be a challenge to drive with no steering wheel – this is a “wrong side of the road” country! OK, re-organize a bit, climb in the right side, pick up the group, and we head out to Ulura Park, home of Olgas Rocks and Ayers Rock, and the Aboriginal Cultural Center. We start our tour at the center, and it’s pretty neat to learn of the history and stories of the tribes as passed down over time. Then it’s time to head out and begin our climb on Ayers Rock! Ten of us show up at the base, 4 bail immediately, six of us start up, three more drop out, finally another, until it’s only Dave West and Ray Graff heading up. But Dave can’t keep up with the AARP Poster Boy, and he drops back, leaving Ray on his own, to climb completely up this rock to the top – way to go Ray! The others, in the meantime, have decided to do some level-grade hiking around the base, and we spend the morning seeing a bit of what the Northern Territories of Australia are made of. Finally it’s time to return, and as we start to load up into our vehicles, two young folks approach us, seeking a ride. Turns out they were on Leo’s sunrise express and felt compelled to bail, taking the risk of being alone in the middle of the desert over continuing the ride with the South African turned Australian madman! We gladly gave them a ride, and in the course, found out they went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and now live in New York City – 10,000 miles from home, and we bump into neighbors – amazing!

A quick return to the hotel, a refreshing dip in the pool, some even more refreshing pints at bar, and we’re ready to head out to the highly recommended ‘Sounds of Silence’ dinner experience under the stars in the desert. Yes, another bus ride, but this one turns out to be quite the treat, with a very knowledgeble astronomer there along with three high powered telescopes so everyone had a chance to learn a bit about the solar system, with a southern-hemisphere twist! Not too late a night, and we got back in time for some rest before our sunrise 4×4 journey to the desert in the morning.

5:30 a.m. found the hardened core of IVS sunrise worshippers gathered in the lobby, and we piled into one of the jeeps with our own little continental breakfast feast, and headed out to see the majesty of rising sun and how it paints Ayers Rock and the Olgas with a rainbow of colors and shades as it brightens the day. Very cool to see, we’re glad we went, and all was going well until our own Dave West violated the sacred Aboriginal grounds by tossing his half-eaten muffin into the spinefix grass. Barb Beck wasted no time in straightening this young man out (captured on video, none the less), and we dutifully gathered the crumbs from Dave’s errant act and restored the desert to it’s original state. Whew!

Back to hotel and it was time to freshen up and pack for the 3-hour plane ride to Sydney, our final stop on this adventure. Another (yes) short bus ride to the airport, and another opportunity to see just how friendly and efficient an airline can really be, with the folks at Qantas checking us in and the no-nonsense (and no TSA) security at the airport. This is the way it should be run, that is for sure! our flight down is uneventful, and finally we can see some ocean from the windows – my gills are flapping with excitement! We land, and meet up with our shuttle driver, who has obviously been cloned from the same laboratory petri dish solution as our earlier drivers – this is something that Australia needs to work on, friendly & courteous shuttle drivers!  The van is woefully undersized for our group and large collection of cargo, but we manage, packing the folks in the van in layers between layers of bags and suitcases.  Once we’re all piled in, we start to head out and the cries from the back come for some air conditioning, to which the driver replies – “oh, that just broke this morning!”  Oh well, we head off to the Menzies Hotel in downtown Sydney, enjoying a steamier ride than expected, but never-the-less, it beats walking.  We arrive at the hotel, unload the crew & bags, and freshen up for an evening on the town.  What an exciting city Sidney is!  We enjoyed drinks & dinner and the sights before retiring for the evening.

Saturday morning our group splits up and heads out in different directions to take in the town, and Dave West, Butch Loggins and I head over to Dive Centre Manly to do some southern Oz diving in search of weedy Sea Dragons, a very unique sort of seahorse that only lives in this area.  We get to the shop, an amazingly busy place this morning, meet the owner RIchard, get our gear together and some tanks thrown on the van, and head over to the dive site, a beach entry known as Shellys.  Well everyone knows the reputation IVS has for finding boats that like to break down, so we figure we’re safe today on a shore dive.  Well, as odds would have it, since we don’t have a boat to break, the dive centre’s van decides to blow a head gasket as we’re approaching Shellys Beach.  Who’d have thunk, eh?  Oh well, we laugh, pile out of the van, and haul our gear the last few blocks to the dive site.  Once there, we enjoy winds gusting to about 45 miles per hour, and a nice brisk 59 degree ocean temperature – we’re definately not in the Coral Sea any more!  Still, the site, is great, with lush kelp beds, playful octopus, large fish, and Wobegon sharks, called swimming carpets for thier unique body coloration and fringes that make them cryptic in the kelp forests of southern Australia.  Cold, windy, but still a neat dive.

After that exhilirating experience, we head back to the dive shop, say our goodbyes and meet some of the gang at the Sydney Harbor ferry station, where we enjoy a scenic ride back across the water to our hotel.  Perfect blue skies and pretty views all around, make this a photographers delight.  One more night on the town, and we head out in the morning for the airport for the trip home.

We’ve a fourteen hour ride to look forward to, but thanks to a little Qantas computer glitch, our flight was canceled and then rebooked on another flight, making for major confusion at the airport. Still, spirits are high as we board, figuring the worst is behind us, but little did we know we’d get to add another four hours to the enjoyment of our comfy airline seats as they load, then unload the entire baggage hold, pulling bags off and putting others on, to finally match the passenger list with the checked bags.  What a SNAFU for sure!  But finally, we are off, and we have a chance to review some of the travel statistics for the trip – 7 airplane rides, 42 hours in the air, 30 dives, 2 oceans, and 22, 600 miles covered during our adventure!  Wow!

Camp Wonderfun Discovers Scuba Again!


Another repeat visit, this time to our little friends at Camp Wonderfun at the Harleysville Learning Center, with a special emphasis on their Learning about the Undersea World Week.  Team IVS brought out all the big guns, with Bev Loggins, Chris Rich, Mike Gusenko, Maureen Gribb, Steve Clem, Jim Cormier and Ray Graff sharing our love of the ocean with over 60 campers!   What a great way to reinforce what they had spent the week learning about, with Bev making sure we had plenty of great “touch and see” items, including sharks teeth, sea turtle shells, urchins, conch shells and more.  After an enthralling session in the classroom, we moved out to the pool, and spent the next two hours in the water, teaching the 7 & under crowd how to snorkel, while the 8 & up bunch enjoyed a Discover Scuba Diving session with our instructors.

This was our second visit this year to Camp Wonderfun, and we look to come back next season.  Would you like Team IVS to come to your school or camp program?  Just call us at the shop!

DSD comes to New Life School

Another day, another batch of new scuba enthusiasts!  Today we visited the New Life School in Schwenksville, PA for our third annual Discover Scuba Diving program.  This alternative school for youths age 12-19 is one of our favorite stops on the DSD tour, where we get to help turn a lot of energy in a positive direction.  Director Dan Novak tells us this is one of the most looked-forward to events of the summer season for the young men enrolled in the schools’s program.  Team IVS included Csaba Lorinczy, Steve Clem, Ray Graff, Maureen Gribb, Chris Rich & Tom Brennan, bringing a lot of collective experience into the mix to provide a great experience for the young men.

Phase one is a classroom session, with the students viewing the PADI Discover Scuba Diving video, followed with a detailed gear discussion and Q&A session.  Then, it’s off to the pool, for gear fitting and a snorkeling session to get everyone comfortable.  Finally, the scuba units are put on, and the class gets a great session of diving, learning some basic scuba skills, and most importantly, having FUN!

Want to join in our our DSD activities? Call Bev at the shop and see where the IVS Scuba Tour Bus is scheduled to travel to next!  Be part of the team and share what we  love so much with others.

Wheels2Water & IAHD – Perfect!

Switching hats, i met today with the founders of a Huntington Beach, CA based organization dedicated to helpig spinal injury victims enjoy adventure sports.  Five years ago, brothers Robert & Travis Tremble started the organization with the support from the southern California surf community.

BSA Troop 141 Discovers Scuba!

Hatfield, PA’s Boy Scout Troop 141 Discovered Scuba Diving tonight at the North Penn YMCA with Indian Valley Scuba!  Richie Kessler led a star-studded cast of IVS luminairies as we introduced the magic and wonder of scuba diving to yet another group of young persons from the area – this time the young men and adult leaders of Troop 141, located in Hatfield, PA.

Another great event, and as usual all sorts of training activities taking place in the pool, with Dry Suit classes, Open Water classes, and some Advanced Open Water work taking place simultaneously!  Team IVS sure knows how to choreograph pool time!

Let us know when your group wants to try diving, and we’ll be glad to bring our show to you!

Camp Wonderfun Discovers Scuba!

The Harleysville Learning Center’s summer camp program, Camp Wonderfun, was treated today to some very special visitors as the Indian Valley Scuba Traveling Discover Scuba Show came to town!  Bev Loggins, Ray Graff, Chris Rich & Mike Gusenko brought a truckload of gear and information about the oceans, the critters that live in it, and how we love to dive there!  Project AWARE, PADI’s environmental awareness & education arm, provided videos, handouts, coloring books and all sorts of goodies for the 40 students and 8 teachers to take home and remember their day by.  We also brought some of our very own display items, including the shell of a green sea turtle discovered off of Key Largo, Sand Tiger Shark teeth that Dave gathered during his diving days at the NJ State Aquarium and other items from the seas.  After the interactive classroom presentation and equipment lecture, the participants headed to the pool and suited up for a real scuba dive with their teachers!  Camp Director Lisa Keene said “We never imagined how much fun this could be!  We not only learned a lot about the ocean realm, but we actually got a chance to experience real scuba diving!”.  At the end of the day it was big smiles and hugs all around, and they already asked us to come back again.  

And if a morning of Discover Scuba Diving wasn’t enough, we had a second DSD session tonight at our regularly scheduled Indian Valley Family YMCA Open Water class.  More future divers, more happy faces, more empty tanks…..this is what it’s all about!

Discover Scuba Diving a hit every time!

There is nothing quite like the adventure and excitement of taking that first breath underwater, and there is no better place to enjoy it than with the FREE Discover Scuba Diving programs offered by Indian Valley Scuba!  Our DSD crew was busy this weekend, starting off with Boy Scout Troop #214 from Telford, PA.  Twelve scouts spent almost two hours underwater with the IVS gang, and there was nothing but smiles and empty tanks at the end!  Troop leader Cindy Buckingham exclaimed “What a great time!  The scouts loved every minute of it!”. The event was held at the North Penn YMCA in Lansdale. 

If that was enough, we headed right back out to the Hatfield Aquatic Club again, for our third DSD in as many weeks.  Forty eight participants had a chance to get wet and deep with us during the program.  Once again we were mobbed by the crowd as they lined up to try the magic of scuba diving in this premier pool setting. Coach KB really sets her club apart from the others by offering innovative and exciting programs for the members, and Indian Valley Scuba is proud to be part of the HAC team!

Big thanks to the iVS team – Bev & Butch Loggins, Rich Kessler, Felix Gryn, Tom Brennan, Cassandra Rich, Bill Zyskowski, Jenna Murray & Chris Rich for making these wonderful events possible and for providing a night to remember for the participants!