Frank, where are your fins? And more adventures from the Keys!

Heather & Sue with IVS Diver Extraordinaire, ‘Finless’ Frank Gabriel

Aaah, the Florida Keys…we can never get enough of them!  And the last week in July each year is even more special, as Team Indian Valley Scuba enjoys a full week of diving, fun, and food in America’s Caribbean!  This annual adventure is centered around the annual Florida lobster mini-season, a two-day event held each year on the last contiguous Wednesday and Thursday in July.  This is a special spiny lobster hunting season, open only to recreational sports divers and snorkelers, and it’s a great opportunity to catch some of the delicious crustaceans before the commercial season opens in another week or two.

Our “pre-adventure” actually begins on Saturday, when the first of our divers begin to converge on Key Largo.  Hosted by Dave Hartman, one of the faces of IVS-South, the first arrivals included last year’s reigning ‘Lobster Queen’, Bill Zyskowski, Scott Bruce and his dad, Steve Holak, Heather Hiester, ……..and  “Finless” Frank Gabriel (more on that later!).

The Lobster Queen Bill Z and trip leader Steve H

After an overnight stay at Casa Hartman, they headed out in the eye of an impending storm Sunday morning to dive the Spiegel Grove with Chrissie and the gang from Blue Water Divers.  Two great dives exploring this massive wreck from the inside out, and as they motored back to port, the clouds were closing in.  The weather radar was predicting some big storm activity was brewing, so with the afternoon boat cancelled, and the crew enjoyed a nice early dinner at Shipwreck’s Bar & Grille before heading the 110 miles south to Key West for the night.  As it turns out, the storms never materialized, but it made for a nice relaxing start to a marathon week of diving we had planned. Two and a half hours of beautifully scenic driving later, they arrived in Key West, where they were met with the rest of our advance group, quasi-locals Carlie & Leslie Adams, and representing the western side of the IVS family, Jesica Tyre and Berry Smith from Los Angeles.

Monday started off with the group meeting at Sea-Duction, the rebirth of the former SubTropic dive center, now owned by my friend Mike Ange.  Based in North Carolina, Mike has teaching tec classes in the Keys for years, and has experienced much of the same frustration as we have, with a general lack of support and very few dive centers that take technical diving seriously, or can provide the gasses, tank set-ups, and even rebreather support materials that we need to effectively conduct classes and execute tec dives there.  Til now, only Silent World in Key Largo could be counted on for supporting tec programs, and the owner, Chris Brown, is absolutely first class.

So the gang analyzes their nitrox fills and head out for the day, with the plan being two dips on the Vandenburg, and the third on the Cayman Salvor or Joe’s Tug.  Now on IVS trips we have a tradition, and that is, that the boats we use break down at some point.  Just about every trip photo gallery has a shot or two of a captain or mechanic on his knees, head buried somewhere down the engine hatch.  I’m not sure what this black cloud is that sometimes follows us, and it always makes for good stories, but it is, truly, a tradition.  And today was not going to be any different! 

Dave Hartman taking a turn at steering Seaduction’s boat to the Vandenberg

As Sea-Duction’s boat approached the mooring balls on the ‘Vandie’, the crew prepared the boat hook and their lines to tie in.  Approx 100 yards from teh wreck, the captain shouted out “Sh*t..we have a problem here!”  One of the mates jumped down and pulled the engine hatches off, and, true to tradition, buried his head in the engine compartment.  Seems that the steering failed, and the rudder is not responding to the helm.  Hmmmm……not a a good thing!  

So out come the tools, and now all three of them are in the hatch, and lots of colorful language is coming from the crew.  Our guys are enjoying it, and heck, there doesn;t appear to be a lot of surface current, so maybe we can jump in and swim to the wreck!  Well the crew finally figures it out, and via some big-ass wrenches, a lot of sweating, colorful metaphors, and shouting from the helm to the hatch, they are able to man-handle the rudder and guide the boat to the mooring ball.   The crew ties in, and the diving begins! 

Conditions are perfect, and our group enjoys this fantastic 500+ ft. long wreck and all the penetration and exploration it has to offer.  While the plan was to make only twoi dives here, the challenge with the steering makes the decision to stay for a third an easy one, and everyone is happy with that.  Back to port, with the modified steering system in effect, and while the docking proved to be a bit of a challenge, finally all the lines were tied, and it was time to clean up and head down to Duval Street for an evening of good dinner, a variety of hydrating drinks, people watching and sightseeing.

Tuesday morning and time for a leisurely drive back up the Keys to Tavernier, where we have chartered Conch Republic’s boat for a couple of dives this afternoon.  Gary & Brenda, owners of Conch, are there to greet the group and they get off on time, with the first dive on the wreck of the Eagle.  After that our second visit is to Pickles Reef, a nice location that we rarely visit out of Key Largo due  to the distance.   Another good dive in the logbook, and back to the dock they head.  From there it’s a short hop another ten miles up the road to check in at Amoray Dive Resort, our base of operations for the next six days of this adventure! 

Cathy, Maribel, Reinel & Emanuel on the Amoray Diver

Joining the team there are more of the IVS gang, including Steve Zingale, Shaquanasia Morris, Paul, Quinton & Esther Gehman, Ray Graff, Nick Chiarolanza, Jeff Herber, plus joining us from the Tampa Bay area are Marabel Grajales, Reinel Correia, Cathy Levesque, and Emanuel Martinez, and finally the O’Donnell gang, Rob, Jen, Ryan, Alyson & Kristen .  A great team with one focus for tonight – get some rest and be ready to kick butt in the lobster hunting department tomorrow!

The 4 o’clock alarm comes early on Wednesday morning, and the crew slowly shuffles down to load the boat for the first lobster trip.  We’re shoving off at 5:00 a.m., to be in position and geared up to splash at 5:45, the legal start of mini-season in Monroe County. Another member of the team shows up for the boat, Craig Lloyd, who brought his family down for some vacation time while dad gets in some diving & hunting.  His lovely wife and two beautiful daughters are not divers…..yet…but we’ll work on that! 

The hunting starts off a little slow, and the morning boat only produces 13 keeper bugs over three hour-long dives.  Ruh-roh…might be a lot of salad and bread served up at Friday nights lobster dinner!  The team needs to improve on this for sure!!  We’ve got quite a few rookies on board, and a few ringers, like Lobster Queen Bill Z, but we’re missing some of our best, like Bill’s brother John.  And as part of our “rebuilding year”, we also traded a few of last years players down to the minors, but all in all, our team is having a great time!

Ray, Frank & Bill – lobster clearning crew!

After a short siesta it’s time to get serious and get back out on the hunt!  Tanks are loaded, and the 4 o’clock departure heads out, and with a little extra coaching and mentoring, the team more than doubles the morning take.  Way to go..dinner is looking better already!

Wednesday 4:00 a.m. and the activity begins dockside with some new faces showing up, including Sue Douglass, Judy Mullen, and yours truly.  It’s time to kick this lobster hunting into a higher gear!  Out we head for our morning trip and we put another 40 or so in the cooler…now we’re talking!  Back to the dock, and there’s no rest for the weary, as Steve Holak and I head over to Jules Undersea Lodge for a couple of Open Water checkout dives with newcomer Fred Shue, Nick C,Paul & Quinton G, and the O’Donnell tribe – Ryan, Alyson & Kristen.  Conditions are very nice there, and somewhat surreal as there is a whitish cloud hovering a couple of feet off the dark bottom; really makes for a cool visual effect!  Skills completed, the crew heads back to Amoray and we load up for another three-tank final trip out to secure the main course for Friday night’s dinner. By the end of the night the count is 101 bugs in the cooler, so we’re looking good for dinner with our triple-digit production!  After 14 dives over the past to days, the bed feels really good tonight for some reason!   Friday morning dawns as another absolutely beautiful day in Key Largo – blue skies, no wind, flat seas…this trip has truly been gifted as far as conditions go.  Let’s hope we get three more days of it!  John Reider has arrived during the night, so the team is finally complete.  We head out to the reefs for two shallow dives this morning, and our open water students complete all their required skills with flying colors!  I can’t say how proud it makes me to be part of this positive energy and karma that comes from motivated students and a great instructional staff – these guys really rock my world! 

Heather, Judy, Jen, “Finless” Frank, Berry, Jesica & Dave V hamming it up for the camera!

Esther & Paul Gehman on the Amoray Diver

Nick & Scott on the Amoray Diver

And now, with their official recognition as PADI Open Water Divers, our newly minted graduates enjoy their first deep / wreck / adventure dive on the wreck of the Spiegel Grove.  The conditions remain stellar, and it is a perfect way to launch thier next levels of training…gosh..is there a strategy at work here?  Meanwhile, the rest of the crew enjoyed some great dives, and of course Dave Hartman led his signature tour  – “The Belly of the Beast” – through the lowest levels of this massive wreck.  Another great day under and on the sea!

This evening is another one of our celebrated annual events – Lobster Dinner at the Key Largo Conch House restaurant.  We have been doing this for five years now, and the owners of the Conch House spend all day preparing our tails, making various dishes of lobster fritters, lobster bisque, broiled tails, and more.  A great dinner with about forty attendees, including the Lloyd family girls, Michelle from Amoray, and a couple of our local Key Largo friends also.  Great night, great food, great company – Life is Good!

Hartman and Michelle at Conch House

Ray and his ladies at the Conch House, while the rest of us scramble to replace the batteries in our AED….just in case!! With Heather, Sue, Judy & Jesica

The O’Donnell family enjoying a great lobster dinner with Team IVS at the Conch House

Jesica & Judy sharing some ocean-inspired body art with us!

I know we’re sounding like a broken record, but again, we are greeted with perfect conditions on Saturday – truly a picture perfect day as we headed out to Molasses Reef for two nice shallow dives.  And what could make the morning even better?  How about Steve Holak celebrating his 500th dive with Indian Valley Scuba this morning!  OK, or even better?  How about Judy & Jesica modeling full body tatt’s for a boatload of admiring eyes!

The afternoon our plans are to re-visit the Spiegel Grove, then go on to the Benwood in preparation for tonight’s night dive.  The teams prepare and brief for their individual group goals and plans for the dive, and final equipment checks are conducted.  Stage bottles are checked, reels and lift bags verified, computers set.  Each team of divers approaches the bow of the Amoray Diver as a group, so they can enter the water one right after the other, and minimize descent and waiting time, (i.e. burning through precious gas reserves), while waiting for the entire team assemble.   Some groups with more experienced divers have planned some slightly more aggressive tours, while some of the others follow Sue D’s “Lame-Oh” tour agenda, staying outside the wreck and taking in the beauty without the risks of penetration.  Sooo, as the Hartman group heads up for a deep, dark tour, one by one they splash, Dave H going in first, followed by Bill Z, and then Frank G.  Funny, but Frank seems to drop a little deeper under the surface than the others on his entry, as if he had less drag to his body. Hmmmm….as he finally surfaces and begins to kick over to the line to join the others, he does not seem to be making much headway….perhaps because he has NO FINS ON!  Yikes…..perhaps he took that part of Dave’s briefing, about using your hands inside the wreck and not kicking with your fins to stir up silt, a little too literally!    Not to worry Frank, this little faux paus will be a secret just between us…and the entire internet!!  Yes, you know it when the group shouts out almost in unison, “That’ll make the blog!” 

After “Finless Frank’s” entry, the rest of the dive goes well, and everyone else enters the water with ALL their gear on.  Rob O’Donnell completes his ‘very’ Advanced Open Water training with stage bottle drills, running wreck reels and wreck penetration, and even helping Dave V nail a big lionfish.  A great dive, nearly an hour of bottom time with the big tanks most of us are wearing, and finally we head over to the Benwood.  Frank is checked closely by the crew prior to his giant stride, just in case, you know.  The dive here is absolutely magical, from a giant baitball of silverside minnows, to the hungry teams of groupers coordinating feeding attacks, to the huge snook hanging out there, to the cruising nurse sharks over the wreck, just absolutely magical.

The evening  found us back at the site of the Benwood for a true night dive.  The sun had set, and the sea was black; no “twilight” dive for this crew!  Into the ocean we splashed, and down the line we went.  Magical moment #1 – a turtle swims over to us at the bottom of the line and checks us out…you just know this is going to be a great dive!  The best part is that ten year old Kristen O’Donnell is leading us, with no fear or apprehension at all!  And the turtle visits us again during the dive, just cruising with us and allowing the divers to gently touch and stroke its shell, making no attempt to avoid or move away….really cool cooperative animal interaction!

Most of the troops head over to the one of our favorite haunts, the Paradise Pub, for some Cheeseburgers in Paradise, a few pitchers of beer, and a boatload of laughter and story telling that is part of every great IVS trip. Including, of course, the tale of Finless Frank!  And of course, the thing that warms my heart the most……folks planning their next IVS dive trip!!  The stamina and energy of our divers never ceases to amaze me, and half the group stays and closes the bar.  And….they all make it out on the morning boat!

Our last full day of diving is Sunday, and we are not disappointed with the conditions.  More blue skies, more flat seas, and two great reef dives to kick off the morning.  We head back in, grab a bit of lunch, and head out for our ‘graduation dives’, a visit to the Duane and a final tour of the Spiegel Grove.  As we motor south to the site of the Duane, we pass the balls marking her sister ship, the USS Bibb, which is laying on it’s side about 1/4 mile from the Duane.  The balls are absolutely lifeless in the water, with no indication of current at all.  We can’t pass on the chance to dive this wreck, as we rarely get conditions like this when we vsiit it. So, scratch the Duane…. we’re diving the Bibb today!   Of course, no good change in plans goes without some whining, but I step up and help everyone who just listened intently to Dave Hartman’s Duane briefing…. “take everything you just heard, and turn it sideways!”  OK.. briefing done..let’s dive!   

Soooo, I am diving solo on this one, as is Bill Z, as both of us are carrying Lionfish spears and looking to score.  So let’s just set the stage here…this is a 300 ft long wreck, intact, laying on it’s side.  It’s a former Coast Guard cutter, so it has (1) pointy end (the bow), and (1) not-so-pointy end, with a couple of huge 20 ft diameter propellers and rudders (the stern).  It has exactly two mooring balls on it, one at each end of the wreck.  Just saying…..more on this in a few minutes!  So, as we  drop down to the wreck, the visibility is forever, and I tap Bill and point out how cool the props and rudders look as we approach them.  He sees them, or at least I think he does, and we continue down, hit the side of the wreck and separate to hunt for our quarry.  Nice dive, cool wreck to see and for those of us who have dove the  Duane numerous times, it is very interesting to see the difference between the two identical wrecks in terms of growth, marine life, fish populations, especially that the two are just a little over 1,000 ft from each other.  So….fast forward…..I nail another lionfish, and actually show it to Bill as we pass each other, and finally my 35 minutes at 130 ft max is up….time to ascend and rid the body of a little excess nitrogen.  I’m alone now, so I swim over the props, and grab the morning line, and as I turn towards the surface, I can enjoy the view of all our other divers on the line doing nice deep stops and safety stops.  Well OK, most of our other divers. 

Capt. Rob & Mate Alysa getting ready to toss the coin and figure out which one is going to swim the rescue float out to wayward Bill Z

It seems that when Bill decided to come up, he also headed to the mooring line, and began his ascent.  He was diving with a larger tank than most of the others, so his first clue something was amiss was the fact that no one was already on the line, as he expected to find.  Hmmmm.. well at this point he was committed, too far away from the “proper” end of this wreck , so he completed his ascent, and surfaced 300 ft behind the Amoray Diver…about exactly the length of the Bibb!  So, much to Bill’s chagrine, Capt Rob and the crew unroll the 300 ft. rescue line on the boat and they swim it out to Bill.  You know what is going on inside his head……”Darn it…this is going to make the blog!”  And here it is, proving him right.  It should be noted, that Bill gave it a lot of thought, and has an official story – and he’s sticking to it!  It seems that he set a personal goal of having a mooring ball named in his honor on every wreck that IVS visits!  Move over “Z-Ball” (named after Bill and his brother John on the Spiegel), and the “C-Ball”, named in honor of Csaba Lorinczy on another two-ball wreck on the St. Lawrence Seaway.   

After the laughter finally dies down, we motor over to the Spiegel for one last fantastic tour through the wreck.  Berry Smith wants a little adrenalin rush, so he joins me and we drop right down five decks through hatchways, and spend nearly 30 minutes on a long penetration with nary a bit of outside light (or escape path) until we finally emerge near the stern of the wreck.  Everyone else comes up smiling too, enjoying the fantastic conditions on our favorite underwater funhouse.  Very cool way to wrap up a great week of diving!  Time to rinse gear, get one last night of rest, and head for home to get ready for our next IVS trip!

The end…..for now…we’ll be back!!

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Key Largo – you’re calling our name – again!

The IVS Crew in Key Largo October 2011

The IVS Crew in Key Largo October 2011

 

What is the magic of the sea that continues to draw us back, time and time again, to immerse ourselves in it’s healing embrace?  Is there something mystical about it?  Is it a subliminal return to the place where some say we came from so many millions of years ago?  Or is it the pleasant, muted euphoria that comes with the mind settling state of narcosis that the deep provides us?

Well I don’t know about you, but I’m going with #3 on the list above!  Yeah baby – and it’s time to head down under the waves again!  But this time of the year we’ve got so many fun additions to our normal Key Largo trip, including lobster hunting, and underwater pumpkin carving, to just add to the already great time we enjoy in America’s Caribbean.

Team Indian Valley Scuba head south today for another five wonderful days of splishing and splashing in the azure waters of the third largest natural reef system in the world, along the Florida Keys.  Our destination is Amoray Dive Resort, one of the most pleasant and well run operation in the islands.

My day starts off with in quasi-typical fashion, nothing is packed and I still have to build some PVC pipe frames for our upcoming DEMA show booths.  But wait, what, me worry?  Naaah!  We get the frames knocked out, I pack, sweep all the papers off my desk into my backpack, and actually head to the airport with time to spare!  No adrenalin rush today, that is for sure!

More to follow…

IVS Invades the Land of the Mayans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ladies of IVS show their stuff at Dutch Springs

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

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

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

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

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

Halcyon visits the Quarribean with IVS!

This weekend found us back at Dutch Springs for a rare back-to-back engagement with our friends from Halcyon Manufacturing.  The mission for this weekend was Halcyon Days Product Demo, and demo the product we did.  Backplate systems, wings of all shapes & sizes, new canister lights, and the rest of the entire line of fine Halcyon products were out and available for test-diving in the getting warmer-by-the-minute waters of Dutch Springs.  We enjoyed the company of the great Halcyon team, with renowned underwater explorer and founder of Halcyon and Global Underwater Explorers, Jarrod Jablonski on hand to answer questions, talk product, and provide a great Saturday evening presentation of some of the projects he and his team have recently been involved with.  Jarrod was supported by Ken Charleston and Sonya Tittle.  We were proud to be a part of the demo and honored to be one of the select delaers chosen to represent the Halcyon line.

And while all that demo’ing was going on, we were diving too!  This weekend found us graduating a new flock of PADI / National Geographic Open Water IVS divers, with Philip ‘Batman’ Nelson, Alberto & Chris Zeledon, John Zyskowski and Mike Gelatej joining the IVS family.  And we saw Lauren Halvorsen and Joe Bates working on Advanced Open Water, and Paul Stanton and Holly Germana completing thier Dry Suit Specialty course.  IVS Instructor Ray Graff was our guest chef this weekend as we gave Bev a couple of days off, and he he did a fine job representing the ‘B’ Team in the kitchen!  He even managed reached deep into his tofu recipe book to grill up some vegen burgers for our guests, Jarrod and Sonya! The great news is that Bev will be back in two weeks, so come back out and compare!  

Lead instructor Butch Loggins was assisted this fine weekend by Ray, DM’s Frank Gabriel & Bill Zyskowski, DM candidates Donna Raleigh, Jenna Murray, and Chris Rich, and the usual cast of supporting characters.  This is one of the most beautiful aspects of how the Indian Valley Scuba crew dives, as a ‘village’, with so much support and guidiance for everyone.  No egos, no BS, no conflicts – truly no one dives alone with IVS!

As usual we were joined by a bevy of friends and fellow diversand their families, and the laughter and fun continued all weekend long!  Be sure to mark your calendar to join us again the weekend of July 25-26 when we’ll be demo’ing the Aeris Compumask HUD display!  See you then!

Fireworks & Bubbles – Happy 4th of July!

It’s America’s birthday, and what better way to spend it than by enjoying the freedom to dive all weekend! So that’s exactly what we did, spending all three days at Dutch Springs!

Friday morning found us enjoying some summer showers as we arrived on site and set up the IVS camp.  Big tent, big grill, big banners – the way we like things here!!  The morning was a very quiet one at Dutch as it seemed most were home enjoying the holiday with family and not diving.  As a result, the viz was 50 plus feet right from the docks, and we took advantage of that all day long, enjoying five dives and completing a lot of Advanced Open Water requirements for Megumi Woltermann & Rob Lunny.  We were joined by Csaba Lorinzcy, Damian Chojnowski, ………..(name others)

Saturday morning dawned and the IVS crowd descended upon Dutch!  We had 13 Open Water Divers completing their checkouts, half a dozen Advanced Open Water, a DSD or two, and some specialty work also.  Lots and lots of organized chaos all day long, highlighted of course with the lovely Beverly’s fine cooking, which included some special wild boar and venison steaks today!  Another five dives on a lovely summer day, and every tank in the truck and trailer went back to the shop empty!  As the day came to an end, the gang helped pitch the cozy little love shack of Bev & Butch, who were spending their first night camping under the stars at Dutch Springs.  Truly worthy of an episode on World’s Funniest Home Videos, the team disregarded all written directions and had the tent assembled in only, oh, four or five tries!   

Sunday brought more of the same hectic activity and even more fun diving than Saturday, and we want to congratulate our newest PADI / National Geographic divers, Scott & Tom McClennen, Ria Lanning, Lauren Halvorsen, Alex, Brian & George Lauderback, Amy Stewart, Angela & Alyssa Tate, Chris Hebdon, and Kellen Thomas.   Also congrat’s to our newest Advanced Open Water Divers, Randee, Joseph & Kerri Bates.  One productive weekend for sure!  We’ll be back next weekend as we demo our line of Halcyon dive gear – look for us on the peninsula side.

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!