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… 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!!

Manatee Madness – Crystal River, here we come!

And so it begins, the 2012 Indian Valley Scuba season of diving!!  We’re starting the year off in traditional fashion with a trip to wrestle, er, observe the manatees who are enjoying the warm waters of central Florida, along with visiting some of the rivers and springs there also.  These lovable critters congregate each winter in the warm-ish waters of the natural springs located in this area while waiting for the ocean to warm back up.  Come spring they head off to cruise the seas, returning once again late in the year, when the temperatures start to fall, to their winter homes in Florida.  Kinda like a lot of our more senior friends and neighbors, eh?

Our kick-off trip roster includes Tom Brennan, Mairead and JJ Twohig, John Jones, and the Beaver brothers, Keith and Craig.  Yours truly had the honor of leading this crew on a fun, laid back adventure offering a great variety of diving not typically seen on most IVS trips.  Our base of operations will be the Best Western Hotel and Resort in Crystal River, FL, conveniently located in the middle of all the cool diving we plan to enjoy!  Sitting right on the banks of the Crystal River, we are literally on top of some of the greatest concentrations of manatees to be found in the Sunshine State.

Now some factoids on the focal animal of our trip, the manatee:  Manatees (family Trichechidae, genus Trichechus) are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae, representing three of the four living species in the order Sirenia: the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), and the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis). They measure up to 13 feet long, weigh as much as 1,300 pounds,and have paddle-like flippers, complete with toe nails like th. The name manatí comes from the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean, meaning “breast”.  Yes, your guess is as good as mine on that name origin, but who are we to argue with the facts?

But first, we need to get there, and this is usually where all the fun begins!  Mairead and her dad, enjoying a bit of spring break from her studies at Slippery Rock University, enjoyed a leisurely drive down, visiting all sorts of neat places along the way.  The Beavers also drove, as this is the starting point of their adventure, heading from here to Key West, then on to visit Amoray Dive Center in Key Largo, before heading back to reality and the colder temps of the north.  John flew into Tampa, and my plans were to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight out of Philadelphia and have now-Florida resident Tom Brennan pick me up at Orlando airport and head west to meet the others.  Seems everyone was on time with their travel plans, well, almost everyone, as I called Tom in the morning and said he could wait a little to pick me up, instead of 1:30 it’s gonna be 3:00 now.  “No problem”, he says, “I have plenty of work to do here at home today”.  Bad idea to share that info Tom!  So, as one might imagine, the next call from me to Tom is “Make it 4:30”, followed by the “Make it 6:15 – that’s my final answer and I’m sticking to it!” call.  So, finally, Tom gets a chance to get caught up on work, and I finally arrive in the Land of Mickey to begin our fun.

Arrival in uneventful, and cannot even comment on the state of security along my journey (cause I think they are watching me!).  But I arrive unscathed, un-probed, and not too manhandled, to find Tom awaiting me outside baggage claim.  Great start to this trip; let’s hope it keeps on coming!

The hotel is pretty darn nice, and the location is superb.  Check-in is good, everyone’s happy with their rooms, and the first night is a winner!  We agree to gather at breakfast at eight to head over to Adventure Dive Center for our first day of fun – a manatee swim in Three Sisters Spring, a dive in Kings Spring, and then an afternoon of drift diving down the scenic Rainbow River.  We checked into the dive center, completed all our necessary paperwork, and watched the mandatory Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission video on manatee interaction.  From there we walked across the street (almost as convenient as diving at Amoray!) to the boat and loaded our gear for the morning.

Now yes, we are in Florida, but you sure would not know it from the chilly 50 degree air this morning, accompanied by a pretty nice breeze.  Brrrrr!  Well it’s a short ride across the bay to Three Sisters, and there are a few boats there already this morning.  We slip into the 72 degree water silently, armed only with snorkels, as the state has recently decided scuba diving is a no-no around manatees.  The good news is that the spring is literally overflowing with manatees, of all sizes and flavors, lots of moms & babies, sleeping, cruising around, checking us out, doing all the fun things that manatees enjoy doing.  The spring’s average depth is about four feet, with a few holes that drop down to nearly 20 ft.  The water is amazingly clear, and the manatees are amazingly active this morning, swimming around, checking us out, rolling over for us to tickle their bellies, and clearly not intimidated by our presence.  One big one takes a strange sort of liking to me, and comes in for one tickling session after another.  At one point she (he?) swims up, wraps a flipper around my arm, pulls me close, and puts its big lovable head in the crook of my arm, just sitting there like a puppy, as I gently scratch its head…kinda like something out of a Jurassic Park love scene.  Yes, strange animal interaction, but it was good for me, and left me thinking afterwards ….why do I suddenly have this urge for a cigarette?

OK, ok…enough of those thoughts!!   Finally, after about an hour and a half with the animals, we swim back out to boat where Captain Ned awaits, and we climb back aboard.  The breeze has picked up and my oh my, it is nippy now!  Sitting there shivering in our wetsuits, we make a unanimous decision to pass on the scuba dive in Kings Spring, and head back to the dock to warm up.  Yes, I passed on a dive…..but trust me…when the total temperature of the air and water combined is less than 120 degrees, you can do the math…..we were cold!!

Back on shore, we got out of our wet things and enjoyed a nice lunch at ‘Taste of Philly’, the most authentic cheesesteak source in the south.  Owned by a couple of ex-Philadelphians, the place is properly decorated with all the correct sports team logos (Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, 76’ers) and the accent by the staff is genuine south Philly.  Good food, good people, and we’re properly warmed up for the afternoons activities as we pile back into the cars and drive north to Rainbow River.  There, we meet Dave Middlestadt, the other owner of Adventure Dive Center, and we launch the boat for a drift dive down this scenic river.

The Rainbow River is the flowpath for the waters eminating from Rainbow Springs, to the tune of approx 500 million gallons per day.  Yikes, that’s a lot of water!  As a result the river is consistently clear and 74 degrees year round.  We meet at K P Hole State Park, and get a chance to chat with the rangers as we get ready.  Dave launches the boat, we pile aboard, and motor up to the limit of the river, right where the springs begin.  Final gear checks complete, we slip in to enjoy a 90 minute drift dive back towards the launch area.  There’s quite a bit of life in this river, alligator gar, turtles, various species of fish, and plenty of undulating eel grass to cruise by, or in some cases, through!  Today is a chance for John to observe marker buoy handing procedures on a drift dive as he prepares to try his hand at this skill as part of completing his PADI Drift Diver specialty certification.  We enjoy a great dive, and finally it’s time to pull the boat and head home.  Rumor has it that the Beavers have discovered a local Irish pub that we must visit, so we pack the cars and head back to town.

Now I’m thinking that I have been at this place in the past, but once we realize where we’re heading you can throw that memory out the window.  Sure enough, it is a real Irish pub, chock full of real Irish brews, and all the color and pageantry you’d expect in a real Irish pub … located in Crystal River, FL!  But the staff are great, and even I find something I can drink there.  We enjoy sampling a few of the local flavors, and then walk down the street to the Fat Cat restaurant.  This place could have been called the Twilight Zone, in honor of our waitress Savannah, who clearly was overwhelmed with having to serve a table of seven..all by herself!  At first humorous, then not so funny, to finally annoying with nothing coming out in the order it was intended, we managed to have a good time in spite of it all.  With all of today’s activities we call it an early night and head back to our bunks to retire.

Saturday dawns bright and not quite as cool as yesterday, so that is a plus.  Today are plans are to head up to Silver Springs to drift dive down the Silver River, a protected scenic waterway that is untouched by development along it’s entire length.  Typical of a true wilderness area, it has all the stuff you might expect to see in the wild, including monkeys and alligators.  The good news for the divers is that the alligators don’t digest food well in the colder months, so we get to taunt them as we swim by, knowing they are just thinking “Come back in a few months, sucker!”  But first we need to meet the boat and the captain, both of which are supposed to be sitting here awaiting our arrival.  Hmmmm, I am thinking, wonder what’s up with that?  So I call the shop, and suddenly I hear the guitar rifts of Jimmy Page playing in the back of my head to the tune of Robert Plant singing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’ ….  it seems that somehow in yesterday afternoons planning session the deal was I was going to swing by the dive shop this morning for tanks and that would be the signal for the captain to drive the boat over to meet us in Silver Springs.  Yikes….talk about dropping the proverbial ball here!  The upside is that the park where we are is beautiful and it’s a ver nice day, so the rest of the gang gets to enjoy a little early morning leisure while Tom and I high-tail it back to the shop to load some tanks in his car!  

We return and find the crew and the boat all set and ready for us, so finally, we load and get this show on the road!   We head about 4 miles upstream, drop in, and enjoy another very nice drift dive.  John takes the lead with the marker buoy, and quickly comes to grips with the realization that you cannot swim under a downed tree while dragging a surface marker.  He’s a quick study on that concept, and leads us down the river, taking in some very pretty sights along the way.  Finally he and Tom are chilled, so he passes the buoy off to me, cause Mairead still has about 1,500 psi left in her tank and figures we still have some diving to do.  Another walking talking pony bottle in the IVS family; she’ll be a popular choice as a dive buddy on some of our Spiegel Grove adventures!  In fact, as we drift along, I am wondering how long can she possibly last, cause my breaths are becoming increasingly difficult to draw.  Not to worry, we’re in five to ten feet of water, so a rescue scenario is not likely.  Finally, I signal to her, with a slashing sign across my throat, that she has won the longetivity contest!  I check and she still has nearly 1,000 psi to my zero….thank goodness no one will know about this…whooops!  It’s in the blog!  Another great day followed by another great gathering for dinner as Dave & Carl from Adventure Diving join us at Cody’s Roadhouse for some great laughter and good grub too.

Sunday now and it’s time to visit some caverns, so we load up some tanks (not forgetting them a second time!) and drive up to Blue Grotto.  We check in and start to set up on the benches near the cavern entrance.  It’s pretty obvious who the locals are and who’s from the north, as we’re walking around in t-shirts and diving wet, while most of the folks are huddled around campfires, bundled up in boat coats, and diving in drysuits.  Some thin blood in these here parts, I am thinking.  We watch the obligatory video, sign the waivers, and I give everyone the nickel tour of the cavern entrance area.  Suits on, we walk on down to the waters edge and step into the refreshing 73 degree pool.  First matter at hand is a weight check on the platforms, and once everyone is looking pretty good on their buoyancy, we head down into the edge of the cavern area.  In spite of the big buildup in the video presentation, it is a very short dive.  We visit the suspended breathing bell on our way out, and finally surface again near the dock.  With plenty of air left in our tanks, we head back in for the longer tour. past “Peace Rock” and get to venture on the limits of the light zone.  Couple of nice, although short, dives, and we’re ready to head to our next destination, Devils Den.

Conveniently located nearly across the street, Devils Den is a completely different set up, with a friendly laid back staff, nice picnic area, and subterranean cavern entrance.  There is no accessible surface water here, as the diving is within a collapsed dome that lies about 40 feet below the ground.  There’s a hole in the ceiling to allow ambient light to enter, so it is not considered a cave environment.  We unload our gear from the cars and Mairead’s dad JJ rolls into action as our personal valet parker, moving the cars from the loading zone ot the parking area.  Nice!  

It’s about this moment when we feel that we’re not too far from our local quarry, Dutch Springs.  We observe a fellow half-wearing a drysuit having words with the manager, and then she walks over towards us.  You can see by the look in her eyes that there is a “situation” that needs to be addressed.  It seems that the table that we are sitting at, one of fourteen identical tables in the picnic grove, has been ‘reserved’ by a dive shop from North Carolina, and they are upset that we got there before them (yes, at the crack of noon) and started setting up on that particular table.  Truthfully, we are having a hard time containing our laughter over the incident, and we select another table, moving our gear all of about ten feet from the first table.  Friggin’ amazing, but that is part of what makes this sport so colorful….. people like this!

The dives (we do two) at Devils Den are pretty neat, and it is an experience you are not likely to get elsewhere.  We finally wrap it up, and head back, enjoying our final dinner at Crackers Restaurant next to the hotel, with the NFL playoff games on the big screens.  Another wonderful trip in the memory books, with great friends, good diving, and an excellent time for all!  We’ll be back for sure!

A Very Special Indian Valley Divers Club Meeting

A Record Turnout at the Indian Valley Divers August Club Meeting

A Record Turnout at the Indian Valley Divers August Club Meeting

Over 70 people turned out for a very special Indian Valley Divers Club Meeting under the Tiki torches on August 9th at Indian Valley SCUBA. The Club meeting included special Guest IVS founding member Sue Douglass who flew in from California to enjoy the company of the IVS family of divers.  IVS co-founder David Valaika announced that Indian Valley SCUBA was this week recognized by PADI of the Americas as one of the first PADI TecRec Diving Centers in the United States. The IVS PADI TecRec Center is offering numerous new courses of different levels just released by PADI for technical and rebreather training including training on the new Poseidon rebreather units.  Read PADI’s Announcement

Introduction of the new full time staff members Avery and Casey Chipka

As if that wasn’t enough great news already, Valaika also announced the formation of Indian Valley Travel, a full-service travel company, located in Harleysville, PA. Indian Valley Travel will serve the complete travel needs of the IVS local and extended community well beyond the extensive list of the dive trips offered by the IVS Travel program. IVS South’s own David Hartman, a certified and seasoned travel agent from Key Largo, will head up the new travel company and plans to split his time between Key Largo and Harleysville, staffing the new Indian Valley Travel desk located on the main campus of Indian Valley SCUBA. Beyond offering traditional travel options in adventure, cruise and dive travel, Indian Valley Travel will focus its core program offering on Sustainable and Accessible Travel. Indian Valley Travel will leverage existing and new partnerships to create value based programs that allow people to travel with a purpose and give back during the vacation. The Indian Valley Travel brand and unique travel programs will be rolled out over the next few months with a soft launch at the Global Abilities Conference in Philadelphia and an official launch at the diving trade show DEMA 2011 in Orlando, Florida where IVT will be exhibiting in the IAHD-Americans booth. While the official launch is being planned, David Hartman and Indian Valley Travel are available now for specific individual group travel requests.

David Hartman explains the creation of Indian Valley Travel..a full service travel company

David Hartman explains the creation of Indian Valley Travel..a full service travel company

Indian Valley SCUBA is working with Indian Valley to offer lengthy long term dive travel schedule from 2012-2014 to both familiar annual locations like Key Largo and North Carolina to first time exotic destinations like Egypt, South Africa, Rotan, Sea of Cortez, Belize, Vanuatu, Fiji and Raja Ampat to name a few. David Hartman and Sue Douglass briefly reviewed some of the highlights of the new comprehensive dive travel schedule and built up excitement among attendees regarding some favorite diving destinations. Handouts of the new Indian Valley SCUBA long term travel schedule were given to attendees and can be downloaded here.

Barbara Beck talks about her work in Key Largo with the Marine Mammal Conservancy to help rescued Pilot Whales

Barbara Beck talks about her volunteer work in Key Largo with the Marine Mammal Conservancy to help rescued Pilot Whales

Sue Douglas took over the speaker’s podium to review the details of Indian Valley SCUBA’s Nov 2012 return trip to the Republic of Palau in Micronesia. The upcoming Palau trip offers three different options for live-aboard and land based diving to fit all travel schedules and budgets. The live-aboard will be 7 nights on a brand new boat on the world famous Siren Fleet of sailing vessels and departs on November 30, 2012. IVS will be the second group to sail and dive Palau on the newest boat in the Siren Fleet-the SY Palau Siren. The second half of the Palau will be spent 7 nights at the Sea Passion resort with 5 days of two tank diving with Sam Tours who IVS used during our Nov 2010 to Palau. Travelers can join David Valaika and Sue Douglass for both weeks in Palau or just dive liveaboard or resort only. Palau Trip Flyer
Bev Loggins wrapped up the meeting with some local announcements on an upcoming Sky Diving trip plus the usual 50/50 and bonus gift raffles. Bill Zyskowski was the big winner of the “to serve prize” for the September Club Meeting

Bill Zyskowski wins the "To Serve" honor for the next Club meeting

Bill Zyskowski wins the “To Serve” honor for the next Club meeting

PADI Instructor Training @ IVS – Key Largo style


Deliberately different, is how we like to think of Indian Valley Scuba and how we operate.  And this weekend is no different, with our Instructor Development Course candidates heading down to warm and sunny Key Largo for thier PADI Instructor Examinations.

Last weekend we had the honor of welcoming Richie Kessler into the instructor ranks, as he survived the chilly waters of Dutch Springs and competed his exams with honors!  Bogden Bachmatiuk joined Richie in our local waters, and they both made us proud.  Way to go men!!

However, the rest of the class decided that a nice, warm water instructor examination sure sounded more alluring than braving the near-icy waters of Dutch, so we headed to Key Largo for this weekend’s exam.  Steve Clem, Bill Zyskowski, and Csaba Lorinczy came down to IVS South, aka the Hartman Estate, to spend the weekend in their little PADI coccoons, ready to break out and hopefully spread their wings as Open Water Scuba Instructors come Sunday afternoon.  Of course I had to come down and assist in this endeavor, and sure, it’s convenient that the Keys Full Moon celebration party is tonite, and a coincidence that the Christmas boat parade is tomorrow, but none of that had anything to do with me being here to cheer the men on and support them in their endeavor.  it’s all business!!

Dave Hartman has rented us a private boat for the weekend, and our plan is to use that to finalize our inventory of lobster-laden dive sites for next season’s lobster mini-season.  But first we needed to make sure the guys were prepared for the start of the instructor exams tomorrow.  Tonight we had our orientation, with introductions, a review of the weekends’ activities, assignments being given out, and a general overview of the goals and expectations for the next 48 hours.  After a brief stop for dinner, the men hit the books, reviewing their assignments and preparing their academic presentations.  It got a little testy at times, with some harsh words as teaching aids were claimed and reference books grabbed.  But after a little while, everyone calmed down, and great stuff started to come out as they practiced their presentations before each other, critiquing and evolving the process with the goals of maxxing out tomorrow with scores in the high 4’s to perfect 5’s.  Finally, time for a break, and some reminiscing about how this whole process has evolved, from learning to dive, advancing through the various levels of certification, and finally getting to the point they’re at today.  Well let’s get this paperwork completed, Dave says, so we spend another two hours wrapping that up!  So as the clock strikes nearly 2:00 a.m., our little butterflies retire to their bunks to rest up for the big two days ahead.  

Saturday morning dawned bright and early as our candidates headed off to the first day of the examination.  Meanwhile, Hartman and I headed out to pick up our boat for the weekend.  We chose a nice 23 foot center console, with 225 Yamaha horses on board.  After a brief review of the boat’s features, we motored on out and headed through the canal systems to Dave’s house to load our scuba gear.  At 10:30 my cell rings, and Csaba gives me the update – confined water presentations and skill demo’s completed!  Yahoo!  Now they are heading in for the written exam portion.

Dave & I load the boat and head out to sea.  We have a brisk 20 to 25 knot wind coming out of the north, and the ocean is awfully full of white caps and chop.  Our selected site for our first recon mission is Carysfort Light reef, which is about a 9 mile run from Dave’s house.  Let me tell you, it is one loooooong nine miles as we are pounded incessantly heading into the seas.  It’s a wet and rough ride, and the boat & crew are getting a serious workout.  As we near the reef, we can see 5 and 6 foot waves rolling and breaking over the shallow portions of the reef – just the picture you want to see to start your dive!  And with the sea conditions, it is not surprising that we are the only boat on the ocean, in fact, we only passed two boats in the canals on our way out, so it’s awfully lonely out here!  And, while we were heading out, our depth finder decided to take the day off, so now it’s a crap shoot on the depth under us, making the site selection even more diffficult.  We finally choose our first location, and drop the anchor in a sandy clearing just outside the reef.  With the confused wind and seas, the boat is spinning on the anchor, giving us the sinking feeling of being caught in a whirlpool….hmmm, is that a sign??  Well, we didn’t sail this far out to sightsee, so we gear up, roll over, and head on down.  First stop – to inspect the anchor!  Why, you may ask?  Let me share a little story of a dive from my past…..

Some years ago, I was out in my own 23 foor center console, diving alone about 8 miles off the Jersey coast.  That day had a lot of similarities with today, with some strong winds and choppy seas, but I was full of bravado and knew I could prevail against whatever Mother Nature decided to throw me.  Ah, the foolishness of the young man!  On that day, I was alone, so I anchored the boat on a rock pile in about 90 feet of water, headed on down, gave the anchor a quick look, and set off searching for lobster.  It proved to be quite the productive dive, with quite a few bugs in the bag, and finally my doubles were getting a bit low, so I headed back to the anchor.  Well, at least I thought where the anchor was.  So I looked around, pretty darn sure that this was the rock the anchor was set in, but hmmmm, maybe it was that one, …no, maybe that one over there!  Finally, after expanding the search pattern to the limits of the dwindling supplies of gas left in my tanks, I knew it was time to head up and sort things out on the surface.  So I slowly ascended, did my safety stop, and broke the surface, spinning slowly as I did, looking for the boat.  OK, let’s spin again, and find the boat.  Alright, maybe three times is the charm……no…..ok….not so funny now, and my mind starts to run through the possibilities….boat was stolen…boat sunk…..the common denominator being me here, boat not.  I spun around again, and again and again, and it was obvious the seas had picked up from when I first went in, with gentle rollers now in the 5 or 6 ft height range, making my view of the sea around fairly limited.  It was probably on my 12th or so rotation, when finally I was on the crest of a roller, and so was my boat, that I realized what had happened.  As the seas picked up, my anchor must have lifted out of the rocky crevice I left it in, and my boat had slowly drifted away, driven by the wind, but thankfully slowed by the dragging anchor on the sea floor.  Never-the-less, the distance between me and the bobbing boat was close to a mile, so I kicked back, and started the long and tiring swim to my little floating island of salvation.  An hour or so later, I finally was there, at the side of my sturdy vessel, and after an extended rest, I tossed my bag of lobsters on board (yes, I had never let go of my catch – priorities, you know!).  I climbed on board, and vowed to never dive alone again!

Well, here we are today, and although I am not diving alone, technically, with both of us in the water, that sorta makes for the same situation, with no one on board to monitor the boats position.  Oh well, what/s the odds, I ask?  So, that being said, let’s double check that anchor, and sure enough, it is solidly buried in the sand, so we begin our dive.  We circle the entire reef, and my mind keeps flashing back to that day long ago, but I maintain control of that demon, and finally, we return to our starting point, and sure enough, our boat is still there!  Woo-hoo!  Cross that calamity off the list!  After that, we hit a second location, and although we see lots of lobsters, they are all shorts, so our take for the day is zero.

So we start the long and pounding journey back in, and on the way, the cell rings, and the men are reporting in the good news – Team IVS is shining in the instructor examinations.  A few glitches, but we are well on our way to becoming PADI instructors.  I am thrilled, and we decide to celebrate by taking the boys out to see the Christmas boat parade that evening on the bay side in our sturdy little boat.  All the horror stories we have shared over the years with boats breaking down on our trips, this time we are feeling good, in command of our own little vessel, which has performed so well so far!

We get back to Dave’s dock, clean the boat, the guys return from the exam, so we pack the coolers with refreshments and head out to enjoy the parade.  Yes, we heard the warning about operating the boat after dark, but heck, Hartman is a local, so he knows the route through the mangroves!  The wind has died down, so it is flat calm as we head out for the 4 mile run through the mangroves.  It is pitch black out tonite, as the sky is terribly overcast, making navigation a bit of a challenge, but my captaining skills are up to the challenge.  We enjoy the ride, and finally make it to the ocean side of the cut through the island.  The boat has gotten quite the workout today, with lots of serious pounding on the ocean, and our depth finder is still not working, so we are careful in our voyage through the darkness.  As we pass through the cut, Bill is on his phone, struggling with text messaging in the dark, so he moves to a spot near the stern, where he can get a little illumination from our stern light.  Wow, it’s wet back here he says, and as I slow down to turn and look, it goes from wet to about 6 inches of water running across the deck – Holy Smokes, we are sinking!!! 

We check to see if the bilge pump is on, but it is too deep to get down and confirm.  We think “need to find a dock”, and start to look towards the Marriott Resort or the Sundowners docks….no, this water is really starting to rise, so scrap that dock plan, we need help!   Trying to pick up speed to avoid the Titanic-remake, it’s challenge with all the darkened boats in the bay making all sorts of targets for us to steer around.  The anxiety picks up and bit and the boat is getting hard to steer as we sit lower and lower in tthe water.  Well, the boating gods were smiling on us, and who is the next boat we can make out in the darkness??  SeaTow, the boat rescue people!   “Hey, we are taking on water” we say, and they pass us a small bilge pump and a battery to pump it out.  No, this isn’t going to work, this boat is going to end up on the bottom, so we’d prefer a shallow bottom at that!   We pick up the pace, and the boat is really wallowing in the water now, as we are standing knee deep in water on the deck.  Finally, the motor is too deep, and it stalls, and we are dead in the water.  Quickly, we pass a tow line to the SeaTow boat, and they drag us the last couple of hundred yards to the beach at the Caribbean Club, where we sink gracefully in 2 feet of water just off the beach, to the delight of the cheering crowd of hundreds of juiced-up partiers!  The SeaTow boat pulls up tight to us, and we break out the big 2 inch gas powered pump, and as we are passing lines and hoses back and forth, I look up and who is crewing the SeaTow boat but our own Captain Anna from this years lobster trip!  What a small world it is in Key Largo. 

Finally, we we pump enough water out to realize we must have been torpedoed or something cause the inflow is like a small fire hydrant.  The boat is light enough now that we are able to enlist the help of some of those on shore, and we drag it half onto the beach.  I get down and inspect the hull, and it appears that it has split open on a joint for about 5 feet of the waterline – no wonder we are taking on water!   I can stick my hand in right through the crack!  No doubt the day of pounding on the ocean was a bit too much of a test for our little craft, and thank goodness that this took this long to open up, or we’d have been in deep doo-doo!  So our crew slogs ashore, McArthur-style, and we trudge through the Caribbean Club, leaving our vessel.  We grab a cab, head down the road to grab a pizza dinner, and call it a night!  Enough excitement, but at least we did get to see the parade!

It’s Sunday morning now, and I head to the Jules Undersea Lodge for the final part of the exam with the guys.  The PADI examiner has requested my help to move things along and get everyone done this weekend.  Seems a lot of the other candidates have a hard time understanding the concept of “brief” being a key part of the briefing, and they are waxing on way too much to maintain their audience’s attention.  This is so important, and something we preach AND practice at IVS – it’s not about the talking, it’s all about the doing!  So today’s activities are the open water teaching presentations along with the rescue workshop, and I take care of the rescue aspect while the examiner takes the two teams underwater for their presentations.  Finally, the debriefings are given, and congratulations all around as we welcome a total of ten candidates into the society of PADI instructors! Way to go men!  


Dutching it – again!

What a perfect weekend for the IVS gang to enjoy at Dutch Springs!  Beautiful sunny weather, humidity just right, and the conditions at our favorite local watery hole were excellent!  Head Instructor Butch Loggins, assisted by Instructor Ray Graff, treated our newest divers to another great seven dive checkout weekend – yes, that’s 7, and yes that’s about double what everyone else does.  Would you expect anything different from IVS?

This weekend, in addition to all the regularly scheduled fun, we also brought along our Aeris Compumasks for everyone to demo.  This is a great product, allowing divers to operate thier instrumentation in a truly hands-free mode, with the in-mask lighted display showing depth, time, tank pressure, and more – essentially all the data that you would see on the Atmos AI dive computer, without the heed to pick the device up to see it.  Absolutely perfect for photographers and night divers, it reduces the task loading by bringing all the key information you need and want right up to your eyes.  And, it’s fully Nitrox programmable, and downloadable to your desktop computer via a cable.  Interested in trying one?  We have demo units in stock at the shop – just ask and we’ll hook you up! 

And from a gastronomical point of view, we welcomed Bev Loggins back on the grill, bringing her special flare for making a simple BBQ weekend all that much more for our group.  The grill was ‘a-smoking, as the burgers, dogs, sausages and steaks were prepared to everyne’s delight.  Plus the spread of munchies, snacks, fixin’s, salads and desserts are an IVS trademark at Dutch Springs.  

We want to welcome our newest PADI National Geographic Open Water divers, Rebecca Moore, Linda Malloy, Jamie Winchester, and Brad Creveling into the Indian Valley Scuba family. They completed their Open Water certification, Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty, and the National Geographic Specialty programs this weekend.  Way to go guys!

Rounding out Team IVS this weekend were DM’s Frank Gabriel, Bill Zyskowski, Csaba Lorinzcy, and DM candidate Chris Rich, along with …………………..

My PADI Course Director Training

In an unending quest to develop Indian Valley Scuba into the finest dive center in the Northeast, your own Dave Valaika finally has entered PADI’s highest level training program, the Course Director Training Course.  This comprehensive two week program, conducted once annually at two locations, Newport Beach CA and Malaysia, brings some of the most qualified PADI Master Instructors from around the globe together to help develop them into Course Directors, able to go forth and train the next generation of PADI instructors.  For me personally, this has been 33 years of diving in the making, and I’m thrilled to have been accepted into the program. 

My journey started on an auspicious note, as I landed at John Wayne airport in Orange County, CA.  My flights from Philadelphia through Atlanta were uneventful, and even on-time, not always something to be expected anymore.  I wandered on down to the baggage carousel, feeling pretty good so far, and waited for my bags to arrive….and I waited…and I waited.  Three bags sent, only one arrives with me….so much for the uneventful travel!  The good news is that my friends at Delta have confirmed that my bags are indeed traveling westward, but they opted for a different flight than me.  They should arrive on the Delta flight due in at 10:49 p.m that evening, which is exactly 11 minutes before the mandated 11 o’clock curfew on arriving flights kicks in and they shut the lights off at the airport!  So, praying for a strong tail wind and no weather delays in-route, I waited paitently for my errant bags to re-unite with their rightful owner.

As the clock ticked slowly towards the curfew, the skilled pilots managed to touch ‘wheels down’ spot on at 10:49, saving the day and bringing my bags and all materials I needed for my coursework to me.  A quick (second) wait at the carousel, and I had my bags.  Now for some much needed rest and start of a busy two weeks.

Day 1

The first official day of the program started off great, with much anticipation for each individual as well as the group as a whole.  Years of planning and preparation had led each of the candidates to this moment, and it was obvious at first glance what a qualified and prepared group this was!  We started off with a general orientation, some in-dpth personal introductions, and a chance to meet and mingle with the other 37 candidates selected for this year’s program.  Over 140 PADI  Master Instructors worldwide applied for this course, and the final selection was based on a scoring system that included teaching experience, number of PADI certifications issued, continuing education, and most importantly, the submission of a personal business plan outlining how each candidate will best go forward and promote the PADI program in their local area.  It’s a very diverse group here, with only 9 Americans among the 38 candidates.  The U.K. has a large contingent, and there are a number of Canadians also, plus folks from places such as Brazil, Spain, Sweden, Dubai, Egypt, U.A.E., Malayasia, Korea and more..….a very international group overall.  And as a result there are a number of translators in the room also, so any given presentation is being simuoultaneously listened to and spoken again in a multitude of languages for the non-English speaking candidates.  I even found myself having to translate for my new friend Rob Mills – he only speaks Canadian!  Thank goodness I have so much language training with Jim Cormier, Tom Brennan and our other regular gang of IVS Canucks!

The group was divided into six teams, and parts of the program wil involve some friendly competition between the teams.  The groups were assigned by color, and one of our first team assignments was to select a name for our unit.  As the red team, we couldn’t come up with anything more creative than the “Red Bulls”, hoping the name inspires to ‘give us wings’ to fly through the next two weeks of PADI course director boot camp!

A long first day indeed, but full of very informative presentations and group discussions as the PADI team set the tone and pace for our program.  It is very exciting to be here and to be part of such a unique group!

Finally the time arrived for us to take a break from all the great input and board a bus to go visit Mecca of scuba diving, PADI World Headquarters in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA.  We journeyed down the highway, entertained by the less-than-stellar jokes of PADI examiner John Land, as he tried to inspire others to take the microphone and share some of our humor.  Unfortunately the rules were that the jokes had to be clean, non-discriminatory, politically safe, non-religious…you get the picture – that rules out every single joke in my repetoire!

Finally we arrived at PADI HQ, and our first stop was a photo session along the PADI pool.  Then a thorough tour of the PADI facility, where we got the chance to meet so many of the folks who support our programs and take care of our needs every day – very cool to finally put faces to the voices on the phone and to the emails!

We ended with a tour of Founders Hall, virtually a museum within PADI, chock full of diving and PADI history, displays and memorabilia.  And they opened the PADI private tavern for us, serving libations of all flavors and putting out a great spread of food for all to enjoy.  Many of the PADI luminaries joined us, and I had the chance to enjoy some excellent conversations with PADI Chairman Brian Cronin, CEO Drew Richardson, Director of Worldwide Training Johnny Wetzstein, and host of others.  The drinks and relaxed setting had the intended affect on the class, and before you know it everyone was enjoying themselves and chatting and sharing stories.  Good thinking on PADI’s part, and a great way to foster bonding within the group.  Finally, it was time to surface, and we boarded the bus and returned to our hotel for the night.

Day 2

Our second day started off with four non-stop hours of us learning all about the pyschology of evaluation and counseling of instructor candidates – some deep stuff indeed.  Lots of role play back and forth – oh fun! 

We followed that exciting morning up with our Prescriptive Teaching workshop, where we broke into small teams and worked together to help develop our prescriptive teaching assignments which we will present to the group tomorrow.  My particular assignment is to review an incorrect answer from the Project Aware course, about diving “Aware”.  A perfect opportunity for me to wax on about Zen and the art of scuba diving – “be the ray!”  By mid-afternoon we were ready for something new and different, and that’s exactly what we got as we transitioned to the pool for our skill circuit review.  Here we worked in our teams, going from station to station, and performing demonstration-quality examples of standard diving skills that we teach all the time in our classes.  The Davester was on a roll, scoring an average of 4.9 points per skill out of a possible 5.0, when we came to the combination weight belt removal followed by underwater BCD removal skill set.  As most know, I wear a backplate & wing system, and with such a setup, I never need to wear any weights.  Well, never is a relative term, and when you are performing your skills for this program, you will be wearing a weight belt!  So, I threw one on, and we submerged for our team to perform the two skills.  Weight belt off & on – no problem, and I added another 4 or 5 points to my evaluation score.  Now, the BCD removal – well let me tell you, your BCD comes off a whole lot easier if you don’t have your crotch strap tangled up in your weight belt!  Dang! There went my perfect day, and my fun-loving Red Bulls team gave me the moniker of “Do it again Dave” – nice bunch, eh?   Enough on that, but rest assured we’ll be revisiting that particular skill later this week!! 

Following the skill circuit, we then went on to a Confined Water Evaluation Workshop, watching and scoring the PADI Examiners as they conducted pool teaching presentations for us to grade, and then to compare our scores.  Finally, after about four non-stop hours in the pool we called it quits for the night, and went to work on our presentation assignments for tomorrow. 

Day 3

Today’s focus was clearly followed the Marine Corps philosphy, where they “break them down and build them back up as Marines”.  Each of us came to this program with a fair degree of confidence in our ability to listen and watch presentations given, and to accurately score them based on the PADI evaluation process.  Well, scratch that! Our entire morning was spent listening to five different knowledge review presentations given by PADI Examiners.  Each presentation was carefully scripted to challenge the candidates ability to carefully evaluate the content, delivery, effectiveness and accuracy of the presentation.  And challenge us they did – it was utterly amazing to see the range of scores and interpretations of what the different candidates saw or perceived from the presentations.  Obviously we need some work here!!

Following that self-esteem busting morning, we then spent half the afternoon working on the preparation of our IDC academic presentations, which we’ll be giving in a day or two.  Learning all the in’s and out’s of the preferred PADI system, we were able to make significant team and individual progress on our assigned topics.  The key difference here is changing our mindset from presenting to diving students, to working with instructor candidates.  

Finally the moment we had been waiting for, our chance to make our first public academic Knowledge Review presentations to the class.  Lots of nervous energy filled the room, but each of us proceeded to present our topic to the class, with an examiner and a fellow candidate performing the evaluation while we spoke.  Each of us took our turn at the gallows, er, I mean podium, and proceeded to make our presentations to the group.  Other than the usual little hiccups, it really showed how much the candidates had prepared and how uniquely qualified each was to become a PADI Course Director.  I was even able to maintain my stellar 4.9 out of 5.0 point average for this portion of the program.  The evaluators felt I was just a little short on one area of my presentation – ready for this?  I didn’t SELL hard enough!  For a guy who could sell ice cubes to eskimos, this was clearly not an area I focused on in preparing my presentation.  Oh well, live & learn, I guess I’ll have to work on my selling techniques!

Day 4

As the candidates filed into the meeting hall today, the group was treated to a outstanding display of Team Red Bulls solidarity, with each member of the team wearing the official team color.  Go Team Red!!

Today’s topic du jour was marketing, and how we could most effectively market and sell instructor level training programs and beyond.  Tons of great ideas and information shared, lots of interactions and discussion among the candidates, notes being furiously taken all around the room, indicative of just how much good information was being gleaned from this session. Keeping things light, the folks from PADI, led by VP James Morgan, kept the teams competing against each other with trivia contests, diving knowledge questions, and of course, the dreaded ‘Gong’ each time the break timer went to zero. 

For the afternoon we enjoyed a great session, led by eMarketing Executive Amy Warren, that covered electronic marketing, e-learning, and the web.  The information superhighway, as some of us like to call it, is truly one of the most under-tapped and under-appreciated assets we have available to use in our businesses.  Amy shared with us an extensive list of valuable tips and tricks to help energize our website activity and usage, and to bring the full power of the web to bear for us to use in our business growth.  Fantastic session overall, and the Red Bulls scored heavily in the bonus points with lots of interaction and participation from our team.  PADI’s Linda Van Velsan handed out stars as awards for group participation, and my name tag had a bit of a “Mr. T” look to it with all the glitter and bling from the stars that were awarded to yours truly, the Quiet One.  At the end of the session the I ended up tied for second and Team Red Bulls ended up in first place with 23 stars awarded.  Go team!!

One of the most interesting and personally rewarding moments of the day came when the discussion turned towards how dive shops and Course Directors can best utilize the power of the internet to connect with current and future clients – and the example PADI used was Indian Valley Scuba’s website, and specifically, Dave’s Dive (b)Log – where we are blogging this entire course real-time!  How cool was that?  Good thing I was not shopping for hats this afternoon, as I am sure I could not find one big enough to fit!! 

Finally it was time to “transition to the pool”, as they like to say in PADI-land, and to give our first Confined Water presentations to the group.  I had a particularly difficult skill to teach – Cramp Removal.  Hours and hours were spent in the preparation of my presentation, with lots of thoughts given to potential problems and how the designated ‘students’ could try to trick me up on this.

First up on the agenda was a Rescue Workshop, where we got to watch the PADI Pro’s show us how to effectively conduct a Rescue Workshop for IDC instructor candidates.  PADI’s Supervisor of Instructor Development Alan Jan, and Examiner Neil Fishburne from the PADI UK office, gave us hands-on training, tips & techniques on how to do it right!  After that we had a chance to practice it amongst ourselves, and Team Red is looking good, dare I say.  Finally, it was time for our first Confined Water teaching presentations, and each candidate got a chance to show their mettle to the group.  First a thorough briefing, then a demonstration, followed by working with the students (each of whom was assigned a problem) and finishing with a de-briefing.  By this time, I must admit my Kor-English is getting pretty darn good, and I am actually starting to understand ahead of Ju Ju Hyun Lee as she interprets for our two Korean speaking team members, Duck Koo Han from Phuket, Thailand, and Hyun Joon Kim from the Philippines.  Sharon Ainsworth from Womersley, England speaks a close-enough form of English for me (lord knows what those people did to our language over there!), and finally Joanna Mikutowicz from Honolulu and I are spot on with our lingo.   Maintaining my consisten upper mediocre scores for the week, my presentation earned me another ‘perfectly near the top but not quite’ 4.8 out of 5.0 and my evaluation alongside the PADI examiner’s control score scored well, matching 4 of 5 scores and only differing by one point on the final one.  Woo hooo!

Day 5

Saturday dawns, but there is no rest for this dedicated (and weary) group.  Our exciting topic this morning was Instructor Development Standards.  This riveting discussion, led by Alan Jan, covered one of the most challenging aspects of running Instructor Development Courses – the dreaded paperwork monster! We reviewed all the forms associated with Instructor Development and all it’s components, paying special attention to all the “T’s” to cross and “i’s” to dot to ensure the files are properly papered and the applications are complete at all levels.  We covered Con-Ed, Staff Instruction, Specialty Instructors, Crossovers, Status Updates… get the idea.  Lots and lots of details.  After that invigorating session, we then had the chance to step up the inter-team competition with a little version of PADI Bonus Knowledge Rounds, with points awarded for correct team answers, ranging from 1 to 500 points, based on a very scientific scoring basis – NOT! Penalties were also assessed for answering wrong, answering too quick, whining over scores, or whatever else inspired Alan to head to the big white board and adjust the scores. 

After lunch, we enjoyed quite the surprise when we were introduced to PADI’s latest product, the new eRDP – Multi Level version!  This little puppy replaces the current eRDP AND the never-easy-to-master Wheel RDP.  It allows calculator type operation for planning and calculating dives, including multi-level dives.  Very Cool product and one we’ll intergrate into our PADI Multilevel diver class immediately.

Finally, if that wasn’t enough, Project AWARE Director Jenny Miller Garmendia, assisted by Ania Budziak, spent most of the afternoon enlightening our group about the latest and greatest from Project AWARE, and shared tips on how we can incorporate this program into our instruction, and how to best encourage the next generation of instructors (which we should be responsible for producing!) to embrace Project AWARE and support it on every level, most importantly with diver education and participation. 

Our day wrapped up with another round of Knowledge Review presentations, and a general question & answer session regarding PADI contacts, setting up IDC’s and a host of other topics.  

Day 6

Our activities for today and tomorrow center around two optional training programs that PADI offers in conjunction with this years CDTC.  First on the list was the new PADI Emergency Oxygen Provider specialty course.  Taught by DSAT Instructional Designer Bob Wohlers, this just-released specialty certification is being introduced to teach O2 providers specific for the diving community.  It is similar to the DAN O2 Provider Course, but expands a bit on the basic DAN O2 Course, while not quite being equal to the DAN Advanced O2 program.  Look for it soon at Indian Valley Scuba.  Our second half of the day was devoted to the new PADI Digital Underwater Photography specialty course, with Bob being joined by John Land & Karen Boss.  Each of them spent the afternoon sharing techniques for teaching and marketing this program in our Instructor Development programs.   

Day 7

An early start found us gathered at the PADI van at 7:15, in time to head over to catch the Catalina Express high speed catamaran over to Catalina Island, a beautiful little little bump in the Pacific about 30 miles off the coast of Southern California.  Our destination was the lovely hamlet of Avalon, and the Avalon Underwater Park, a marine preserve located at Casino Point on the island.  Our mission today was to demonstrate to Bob Wohler that we had indeed completed our homework assignments from last night and that we were ready to take some good photographs under the water today.  Dive #1 found us working without strobes, using white balance and natural light to bring out the beauty of the aquatic scenery and the divers too!  Nice dive, an hour in the 68 degree water, warm to some of us, and cold to some (including the Swedish contingent who were diving in drysuits – go figure!)  After a short surface interval, we headed back in for dive 2, where we we allowed to use our strobes and given a laundry list of assigned photos to take, using various settings and composition techniques to really work test our photographic prowess.  Hundreds, no maybe thousands of photos taken, and probably a dozen really good ones too!  Ha ha,,,,not the easiest thing, but the park provided us with the perfect setting to attempt to achieve our goals.  And by the end of the day, after some counseling with Bob, we were ready for our next trip into the water with cameras!

Day 8

Back in the classroom after the day of diving, our exciting topic to start the day were Quality Management & Risk Management Workshop.  Led by PADI’s Steve Mortell, this session delved deeply into understanding the intricacies of customer complaints, standards violations and how PADI maintains the organizations standards of quality worldwide.  This was followed by each team presenting their own IDC marketing presentation, where we pitched our virtual dive center to attract a specific target customer.  The results of the past few days efforts were obvious as the teams presented newly-minted websites, email histories with the target customer, and a variety of other great ideas to help others reach out to bring the clients in.  Team Red Bull finished with an honorable mention in this event, with the Blue Marlins (huh?) taking the Blue Ribbon for today.  Lots of fun, lots of creativity – good stuff!

The afternoon led off with Alan Jan conducting an Open Water Evaluation workshop, where we reviewed what the PADI Examiners are looking for in a candidates presentation.  Very helpful info to tailor our own teaching styles around when we get back home.  Finally it was time for each of us to present our second individual IDC level presentation, and present we did!   The Red Team members passed with flying colors, and this is finally off the list!  Some individual counseling wrapped up the day, and we left to get ready for our Open Water work tomorrow, starting with a 5:45 a.m. gathering to board the bus to the ferry.

Day 9

4:30 came early as the alarm roused me from my slumber, and I set about preparing for the days activities. Pack the gear. grab some grub, and board the PADI bus for the ride to the Long Beach ferry terminal.  My antennas were wiggling at the timing of our departure, and sure enough, when we arrived at the not-yet-open ferry terminal at 6:30 for our 8:00 boat.  Hmmmmm…..I was in the Army years ago, and I thought I had finished with this ‘hurry up and wait’ stuff.  Oh well, finally we boarded the high speed catamaran and headed over to Catalina Island to complete the final required presentations and evaluations for thr program.  We disembarked, humped our gear to the waiting truck, and jumped into some taxis for the short ride to the Descantos Beach Club.  The folks at Scuba Luv in Avalon had done their part, and we found tanks, weights, and belts, all neatly arranged on – you guessed it – blue tarps (remember, this is California).  Each team geared up, and we met the Examiner who had been assigned to our group for the day.  Small world, our examiner was John McFadden, who was the PADI Examiner on my original PADI Instructor Examination many years ago. Fate is funny, eh?  My personal assignment for the open water presentation was Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent, or CESA.  This is probably the premier PADI diver skill in both confined and open water, primarily due to the risk of diver injury in the event of an improper execution of the skill.  No pressure, eh? 

Once we got geared up we headed into the water and conducted a descent workshop first, then began our skills.  Everyone marched through, showing great IDC presentation skills.  Finally, it was my turn, and I was able to finally score that perfect 5.0 score that had been eluding me all week long!!  Yeah baby!  Back to the beach for a de-briefing, then lunch.  After a quick snack I grabbed my gear and jogged over to the Casino, where I was able to grab a tank from the kiosk and head in for lone last California dive for the week.  Great dive, octopus galore, big bat ray rooting in the sand, tons of sushi all around.  Great way to cap the day’s activities.

Finally it was time to re-board the ferry and head on back.  Note to PADI staff here – it was VERY uncool for the PADI staff members to enjoy the upgraded First Class lounge for the return trip (as well as this mornings run out) while the rest of us had to grovel amongst the common folk.  It would have been a very powerful positive statement for PADI to have reserved first class tickets for the ride home, as a token of award for a job well done for each of the candidates who as of today have essentially completed the requirements of the program.  Hope PADI reads this and perhaps makes a note for future CDTC’s.  

Day 10

Remedial Course Director training was the planned activity for this morning, as the various candidates with requirements to make up or re-do gathered in the classroom or at the pool.  Everyone did well, and we put the required task list to rest.  Then Johnny Wetzstein led a comprehensive discussion and review on the roles and responsibilities of the PADI Course Director.  Great question & answer session, lots of good points raised.

Finally it was time to let out the deep breath of relief – we passed!  Welcome thirty-eight new PADI Course Directors into the family!  We celebrated that evening with a great dinner, a fun picture & video show of the past two weeks, and awardng of credentials to the candidates.  Mission accomplished! 



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!

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!