30 December 2013

Luis and I dive the Big Coral Knoll

     When I pull up the NOAA coastal forecast on the internet, I tend to forget that the forecast is aimed at big ships and that "coastal" is up to 3 miles out.  The predictions are usually much worse than the weather off our little stretch of beach, and they have been particularly discouraging lately.  I have been spending a lot of time with Ms. Gillian, so I have not been inclined to dash off to the beach for almost a week.  Luis wants to get in the water, however, and I oblige.

       We meet at Tower 17 and take our time gearing up.  The surf is not inviting.  We get in easily enough, however, even with cameras, and swim out towards the blocks.  the water is extremely choppy, so before we even get to the swim buoy, we decide to descend.  Unfortunately, visibility over the sand is terrible and I am lost most of the way out.  Twenty minutes into the dive, I recognize the Green Mountainous Coral just SW of the Perpendicular Rocks, and  finally know where I am.  We head for the Perpendicular Rocks and then to the Knoll.

I get this shot of a Spotted Goatfish just before spotting the Green Mountainous Coral.
 There was a small school of Sergeant Majors on the South edge of the Knoll and I got this shot of one of those fellows.
 Not long after, I came upon this Foureye Butterflyfish.
As we were rounding the SE corner of the Knoll, I got this shot of a Redband Parrotfish.  It sort of looks like he is smiling for the camera.
There are numerous patches of this Brown Encrusting Octopus Sponge around the Knoll and this one looked especially tangled up to me, so I got a shot.
This is the first Red-lipped Blenny I have seen.  Took me a while to identify it, but I'm pretty certain now that it is a Red-lipped Blenny.
 I got this shot of a Sand Diver just as we left the Knoll heading out to the English Garden area.
 Spotted this Scrawled Filefish on the North side of the Knoll as we returned from the English Garden.
 I first spotted this eel in the Perpendicular Rocks as we located the Knoll.  He had been tucked into the rocks, however and I couldn't get a good shot.  On the way back to the beach, we went by the Perpendicular Rocks again and he was out.  I think he is a Goldentail Moray Eel, but I am used to seeing Goldentails with much finer spots.  Humann and DeLoach show a picture of a Goldentail from Dominica, however, that looks very much like this little fellow.  

     Luis and I made it back to the beach and managed to walk up the soft sand without falling on our cameras.  The dive was a full two hours and while the water is getting cooler, it is not miserable yet.  

24 December 2013

Solo Dive on the Big Coral Knoll

Very little wind on the beach this morning and no surf to speak of.  I got in about 7:45 am and swam out to the blocks.  I could easily see the bottom and descended right on the blocks.  Spotted this little Blue Goby as I got onto the reef heading up the gun sight to the Cigar Rock.

I spent some time at the Cigar Rock looking for smaller life to photograph.  I spotted a juvenile Queen Angelfish but he stayed in the rock and I could not get a good shot.  I swam up to the Gray Mid-way Rock and turned North towards the Perpendicular Rocks, where I got this shot of a Bluestriped Grunt.

 I got this shot of a Blue Tang just past the Swept Rock as I was heading onto the Knoll.

Found a Hawksbill Sea Turtle on the North side of the Knoll and swam with him for several minutes.

Found this not so little crab in the rocks just South of the Knoll.  Tried to coax him out for a better shot, but this was as good as I could get.
This little Sharpnose Puffer was also just South of the Knoll in some rocks.  I like the eyeliner she wears.  Whenever I see a woman with made up eyes and smile and think of these little puffers.

This Rock Hind has taken up residence on the South East corner of the Knoll.  She's very shy, but we are getting to know one another some.

On the way back down the reef and almost to the blocks, I spotted a pair of these Round Scad.

Nice dive.  Little over two hours in water still in the mid to high 70's, but you can tell that winter is coming.

23 December 2013

Me and the Mk ii dive the Big Coral Knoll

Windy with rough surf, but not bad on the reef.  Visibility was poor with lots of particles in the water, but I took my Mk ii and got some shots.  Swam out to the blocks to descend.  Couldn't see the bottom, but found the blocks once I got there.  Then missed all the other landmarks in the bad visibility.

Ended up at the Perpendicular Rocks, where I got a shot of a juvenile Queen Angelfish.

Found this red-tipped Bearded Fire Worm. Couldn't figure out at first where it began and where it ended. Looks a bit like it was eating itself.  
Like how crisp the focus is on this Sergeant Major. The red sponge background was a bonus, as well.
 Most of the time these juvenile Blueheads bounce around so erratically that I can't get a picture, but this little guy just hung in the water and let me take his portrait.
This White Grunt was surprised to see anyone in the water, I think.  He just watched me.  
  This little French Grunt spiked himself up, but stayed in place while I got my shot.

After a couple of turns around the Knoll, I headed SW to the beach, where I fought my way through the surf and undertow to get on solid sand without wrecking my camera.  Made it.

20 December 2013

Jamie McOwen's second Open Water dive

     Jamie and Fine did come diving today.  They met me at the apartment and we drove to the beach, geared up and got in.  There was a strong wind out of the SE and moderate surf, but not much current.  The tide was coming in, so I did not try to find the blocks.  Instead, we headed out slightly North of East and ran into the Big Coral Knoll at the 20 minute mark.

     Fine was better weighted for this dive.  Hard to know if she would have been light once she breathed out the bulk of her tank, but she was fine for the hour we were under.

     We spotted a small Green Turtle on the Southern edge of the Knoll, but I misunderstood Fine's signal regarding her air and we turned around with 2000 psi in her and Jamie's tanks.  We headed South to the Fish Camp Rocks, then West to the beach.  I saw a large crab in the sand, but could not get anyone's attention.  Not a bad dive, but not a great dive, either.

     I tried to get Jamie to make a second dive today so we could get the skills out of the way, but Fine was cold and wasn't going to make another dive.  That was that.

19 December 2013

Cameraless Solo Dive on the Big Coral Knoll

     Tried to get Jamie and Fine to come out, but they were beat after yesterday.  Cold, too.  Bottom temperature was 70 degrees yesterday, but only 69 today.  

     There was no current and good visibility.  I worked on my air, but a SAC of .44 ft3/minute was the best I could do.  I went through the gunsight and up to the Gray Mid-way Rock, then over to the Big Coral Knoll, to the English Garden, then back to the Knoll and finally back to the beach.  Nice dive.  No camera.  Bad breathing.  I was light and carrying a rock to stay down.

18 December 2013

Jamie McOwen's first Open Water dive

     Jamie is an athletic young guy who lives with family just up the road from my apartment.  Paul Albert met him at some bar and got my number to give to him.  We have been going over the classroom material and suffered through a couple of pool sessions last week.  His German girlfriend, Fine, is in town and has asked to make this dive with us.

     The ocean was flat, but there was a strong South surface current and an even stronger South current on the bottom.  We struggled, especially Fine, who was underweighted.  Jamie, in contrast, seemed heavy.

     We descended just past the sand bar and then stayed on the bottom as we slowly made our way to the beginning of the reef, where we turned back.  Jamie was at 1500 psi when we turned, but Fine must have been well under that.  She came up well before the beach with 700 psi. I sucked down air way too fast, as well, fighting the current, but I still had almost 2000 psi when we got to the truck.

     We did see a turtle, but no camera means no pictures.  Boo.    

15 December 2013

Luis and I miss the Jacks off the Yankee Clipper

     Still no camera, but I probably would not have taken it on this dive anyway.  Too rough and tumble.

     The current was strong and the water was rough.  Luis and I swam out from the rocks for 15 minutes then went down.  We headed due East to the sand past the shale reef, and then tried swimming South to find the Jacks.  We swam for several minutes with no luck, so we turned and went North.  I think now that we either were not far enough East to find the Jacks or we did not go far enough South.  In any event, we swam North for quite a wile.  I surfaced to see where we were and we were past the catamarans.  We swam East a bit before heading back to the beach.  We found some trenches and holes, but never did see the Jacks.  

12 December 2013

Two Solo Dives on the Yankee Clipper Jacks

     I had filled tanks on Sunday and gotten some very good fills.  I was surprised then on Wednesday when I had geared up to see a psi of 2868.  I was expecting about 3200.  Undaunted, I swam out on the surface for 20 minutes from the rocks and descended.  I headed South for several minutes and then spotted the Jacks. I swam along the length of the Jacks and then back, continuing West to the beach.  Despite the short fill, I logged a two hour and three minute dive.  Warm water.  Okay visibility.  Nice dive time, considering, but just not the same without a camera.

     On Thursday, I slept in and did not get to the beach until about 8:30 am.  I raced to get gear on and get in the water.  I was afraid that the lifeguards might take the towers a little earlier at South Beach, but they didn't.  I had plenty of time and swam on the surface for about 20 minutes before I descended.

     I could not see the Jacks from the surface, but decided I was probably too far North.  I descended and searched and, as I suspected, I found them to the South.  I followed the Jacks East, then heard a boat close by.  I disconnected the flag line and stayed low.  This boat was close.  The noise stopped, so I forgot about it, then swam right under the boat, which had anchored to the North of the Jacks, but was just to the South of them when I encountered it.

     No Nurse Sharks today.  Water seemed colder, though calmer.  Killed time getting off the reef, but forgot about the algae section and barely had enough air to get to the beach.  The dive was two hours and thirty-one minutes.

08 December 2013

Diving the Yankee Clipper with Luis and still without a camera

I met Luis in the South Beach parking lot.  We geared up and hiked across the sand to the beach.  We walked in a bit North of the Life Guard Tower, but well South of the volley ball court.

We descended shortly after getting in, and we swam due East over algae.  for quite a while.  I was watching a school of Porkfish and then saw a small octopus fly by me.  The algae eventually gave way to sand and then some shale and reef.  We kept heading East. but I think we drifted North, too.  Along the way I picked up a small shark sucker who spooked me when he tried to fasten onto my neck.

We found a couple of Euro Jacks by themselves on the shale reef.  Then we found a few more.  Then we found a small pile.  Just as we came to the pile, I came face to face with a small Nurse Shark who came through a Sea Plume just as I approached.  I went down and the nurse shark went over me, but I think both of us were quite startled by the encounter.

Luis and I kept swimming East and found a long stretch of Euro Jacks about 10 feet high.   We swam until we were low on air, but we never did find the end of this wall of Jacks.  I went up and decided we were due East of the fire house, so maybe we can find this again.

Would have been really nice to have a camera.  Lots of nurse sharks.  Lots of fish.  Visibility was not great, but there were pictures there, and I didn't get them.    

07 December 2013

Diving the Big Coral Knoll with Luis and without a camera

    Luis sent me a text that he would be early, so I hustled down to the beach at 7:42 am.  He was already there and waiting next to Tower 17.  We geared up and got in the water.

It was colder than I remembered, but like the swimming pool yesterday with Jamie, I got used to it.

We swam out to the blocks to descend, then went up the gun sight to Irish Thighs and up to the Cigar Rock. Swam a bit South and ended up at the split coral head.  I turned and went to the Perpendicular Rocks while Luis apparently continued heading East towards the Fish Camp Rocks.  When he didn't show up at the Perpendicular Rocks, I went back to where we were last together and he found me there.  We then went to the Fish Camp Rocks and then over to the Big Coral Knoll.

We also swam out to the English Garden, then back to the Knoll and then West just a bit off the Knoll.  We ended up back at the blocks and then swam in.  The dive was two hours and seven minutes.

Without the camera, I was light, but I could control it with my breathing.  I also found that I was more observant without the camera.  When I dive with the camera, I am always looking for a shot.  Without the camera I am looking and seeing things that could develop into a good shot if I would hang back and let them.  Interesting, but I really miss the camera.

29 November 2013

Back in the U S A

     The trip to St Kitts had been hard on equipment.  I flooded the Intova and it is officially dead, dead, dead.  Not a major expense, but not cheap, either.  Wasn't a great camera, but it was handy to take with students or give to students to use and get pictures of them with turtles, moray eels and other sea life.  Suppose I need to replace it, but maybe not right now.

     I didn't take the Canon 5d Mk ii into the water, but I ended up shorting it out playing with the battery pack.  Sad.  I broke two cameras and only got one weeks worth of pictures during a 3 week trip to St. Kitts and Nevis.  I got no pictures of Nevis, which was the fairer of the two islands.

     Dropped the Canon off at the Camera Clinic.  Pete estimates he can repair it for $850.  I bought it new for just under $2,000.  Oh well.  I did order a Mk iii and housing, but I need to learn the camera before I take it into the water.

27 November 2013

Off to St Kitts and Nevis

     I learned that even divers suffering non-neurological decompression hits were well advised to stay out of the water for at least 60 days after suffering DCS, so I went on a 3-week trip to St Kitts to visit Gillian Harper and the Ocean Terrace Inn.  I took snorkel gear with me, but not my diving gear.  I should have stayed out of the water until at least the 22nd of November.

This is a composite of three pictures of the view of Basseterre, from Gillian's unit at the Ocean Terrace Inn.

 This is the view from the Bay Road back towards the Cenotaph and the Ocean Terrace Inn. The following are pictures of some of the more interesting buildings along the Bay Road, which is really Basseterre's harbor.

I was well advised to stick to the Bay Road and not venture the two blocks up to Irish Town, which was apparently the domain of Bad Boys and a place where tourists were likely to be accosted.  Too bad.

This picture is an open air fish market just South of the Bus and Ferry Terminals.

This picture is of the Clock in the large traffic circle called the Circus, which is the town center of Basseterre.

This London phone booth sits just behind the clock and can be seen in the previous picture.  It speaks to the Island's British heritage.

This is the National Museum, which separates the Circus from Port Zante.  If you walk through the opening you will be on the road to the Port.

During the 3 weeks I was on the island, there was almost always one cruise ship in port and frequently two.  The oft cited population of St Kitts is only 35,000 people, so two cruise ships bringing 2-3 thousand tourists, each, is a noteworthy event.

The Port is filled with T-shirt shops as well as duty-free shops selling primarily liquor, but also jewelry and some camera equipment.

At one end of the Port, there are booths reserved for local craftsmen to sell their goods.

   Below is another composite picture.  This one is a picture of the Ocean Terrace Inn taken from the breakwater visible in the composite picture at the beginning of this post.  The hotel is not a monolithic chain hotel, but was constructed in stages and is made up of several clusters of rooms sprawling over 3 acres. There are plenty of stairs but the gorgeous landscaping and spectacular views are worth the effort.  See the website for more information (oceanterraceinn.com) or check them out on facebook (Ocean Terrace Inn on facebook).

I was impressed enough with the two islands to list The Bridge @ Cordova Crew Hotel for sale.  If you are interested in buying a 20-room hotel on two city lots just off SE 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale, let me know.

02 November 2013

First time Back with the Camera

I was running late and Luis was already at the beach when I arrived.  Leo came a few minutes later.  We geared up and got in, though the visibility was not as good as we had hoped.  The ocean was relatively calm, but there was still a lot of sand in the water. Visibility was only about 10 ft. We swam out looking for the concrete blocks but did not find them.  I think we swam out  too far.

  I did spot Irish Thighs, though, and got on track.  Ended up well North of the Gray Mid-way Rock, but we recognized the Green Mountainous Coral of the Fish Camp Rocks and then swam to the Perpendicular Rocks, the Swept Rock and the Knoll.

 Found the Twospot Cardinalfish pictured above on the NW slope of the Knoll.  The Balloonfish was in the middle of the Knoll on the South edge.  The Lantern Bass to the left was on the North edge of the Knoll by the large rocks.

  The Shapnose Puffer below was also near the large rocks on the Northern edge of the Knoll.

We made a side trip to the English Garden, where I found the Juvenile Foureye Butterfulyfish below, as well as the Ocean Surgeonfish to the right and below.

Saw the Hawksbill pictured below on the North edge of the Knoll as we swam back from the English Garden.   Luis spotted an eel hiding in a hole on the Knoll with a little crab.  I blew through my air, though, and I brought everyone back early.

 It was a pleasant if short dive and it felt really good to be out on the reef with my camera.  I've missed this.

I had not intended to make a second dive, but Leo was up for it and Luis went along, so I did as well.  I thought about it, but decided not to take my camera along on this dive, either.  Visibility was poor and although I might have gotten some shots, there weren't many.

 This time, we swam out to the blocks before descending and had a good run up the gun sight and to the Cigar Rock.  Went a little South past the Cigar Rock, but found the split coral head and made the turn towards the Bubble Rocks and the Perpendicular Rocks.  From there we went easily to the Big Coral Knoll and even went to the English Garden.  Then it was back to the beach.
I was doing much better on my air for this dive.  Got a little over two hours of bottom time on the Knoll, which was just fine with me.

26 October 2013

Back in the Water

     No pictures.  The visibility was very poor, but I needed to get back in the water after suffering a DCS hit on the 22nd of September.  Luis and Leo accompanied me. We met on the beach at 8:30 am and got in the water about an hour later.  We waded through the surf, swam a little past the swim buoy and then descended.  visibility was a little less than 3 feet over the sand.  We headed East and eventually ran into the Fish Camp Rocks, though I did not recognize them at first.  From there we swam over to the Big Coral Knoll then past the Swept Rock to the Perpendicular Rocks and back to the beach.  It was a 93 minute dive at a maximum depth of 22 feet.  Average dept was just over 18 feet and my SAC rate was .48 ft3/min.  But I made the dive without incident, even though I could not make my planned stop at 10 feet because of the surf and surge.  I'm back.

22 September 2013

Decompression Sickness

     My last dive was on Sunday, 22 September 2013. Gary Smith and three other divers from Ontario, Canada, were down for a long weekend.  They arrived on Friday morning and we made a shore dive that afternoon.

     Saturday morning we dove the Ancient Mariner and a shallow reef with Scubatyme out of Pompano Beach.  We stayed with Scubatyme and dove the Sea Emperor and a shallow reef that afternoon, with a short underwater trip to the United Caribbean.

Wheel house on the Tortuga
     On Sunday, we first dove the wreck of the Tortuga with Ted Gawronski of Adventure Scuba Diving out of  North Miami.  The wreck was sunk in April, 1995 for the movie "Fair Game," which I have never seen.  The wreck is a 165 foot' freighter that sits in 110 feet of water and with its deck at about 90 feet.  The final scene of the movie is the actual sinking of the ship, as supervised by the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources (DERM).

     I found an anchor with about 100 yards of good line.  I coiled the line and thought about taking the anchor and line back to the boat, but then decided against it since I was also carrying the big camera and did not want to use my BCD as a lift bag.  So I left the anchor next to the wreck with the line nicely coiled next to it.  Pity.

We had a little over an hour surface interval and  then dove the Wall, which was the grown over trench left after digging in the sand for a beach re-nourishment project years ago.  At Ted's direction, the Captain anchored the boat  in 50 feet of water and about 100 years from the Wall.  I considered passing on the dive as I had not slept well the night before and was extremely tired and dehydrated.  I changed my mind as I watched the other divers get in.  I wanted to see the Wall for myself.

     I swam the 50 yards or so to the Wall and then swam over the edge and let myself sink down to a small outcropping at maybe 90 feet.  I got some good pictures of Creole Wrasse, as there were several schools that came by.
I got a nice shot of a Yellow Jack
 and a Graysby,

as well as the fish to the right, which I did not recognize.  Fifteen minutes into the dive, I found myself at 99 feet, for which the NDL is 20 minutes, so I headed back to the outcropping and then went up to the top of the Wall at 50 feet and swam back to the anchor line.  I kept my rate of ascent at about 30 ft per minute and stopped at 10 feet to clear a 1 minute deco obligation my computer showed before I surfaced.

     I swam to the stern of the boat and climbed aboard, walked to my seat and got out of my gear.  I felt tired, but good.  I dried off and was joking with the other divers when someone handed me a snack bar.  I took a bite of the sticky sweet bar and started to pass out.  I sat down, then I lay down and then I was out.

     I came to at the dock.  I thought I had some food issue or maybe was hyperglyciemic. It really did not occur to me that I had decompression sickness. I was breathing O2 and had been given an IV saline drip. By the time we got to Aventura Hospital, I felt pretty good.  I never did experience any pain, stiffness, nausea, or dizziness.  I really had no symptoms at all except that I could not walk a straight line. I was ready to leave.  My white cell count was high, however, and my blood pressure was erratic.

     The doctor was a younger guy who really was doing a great job with a difficult patient. He convinced me to transfer to Mercy for evaluation by Dr. Montoya. It was late when I got there, however, and I did not see Dr. Montoya until the next morning.

     All of my various scans were clear, but I was treated in the chamber anyway, and it helped. It helped a lot. So I got scheduled in and treated with a total of six chamber rides over 5 days. Three days into the treatments, Dr. Montoya used an X-ray to find two small lesions in my cerebellum. Apparently, I got hit sometime within the previous 12 months, as well, and I do remember a couple of weeks in August of 2012 during which I had some balance problems which then cleared themselves.

     I left the hospital Wednesday night, but drove myself back both Thursday and Friday for additional chamber treatments.  I was doing much better.

     I was shocked to see the amount I was charged for the treatments I received.  The total was about $50,000, of which the chamber treatments were only $16,000.  I am so glad I had insurance.