28 June 2014

Getting Certified as an SDI Solo Diver

I had to give up using the Zuma and the Pony Bottle.  The Zuma is a light weight, easy BCD made for recreational diving. I needed the Oceanic Excursion I used 3 or 4 years ago.  That was a fairly heavy BCD with D-rings to inspire your run-of-the-mill gear baron.  I set it up Friday night, then got to the beach early Saturday morning to make a short test dive to check the system and my weights.  I was heavy.  So I took 2 pounds off, being the recreational diver that I am.  I may have had 2 pound of extra weight just in the redundant knives, slates, whistles and what-not the course required.

I got to Pompano about 7:00 am, and Enzo did not have us on the manifest because I apparently didn't read my email carefully enough to see that Sean had switched from ScubaTyme to Pompano Dive Center.  We were diving on the Sea Siren.  Things started getting busy around 8:30 am, and we got loaded and under way.  Sean checked everyone's gear to be certain we had all of the necessary redundancy the course required.  The boat tied off on the bow section of the United Caribbean.  I got my gear on, but was having doubts about my buoyancy. I'm used to filling my lungs and floating without putting any air the the "inner tube."   I swam to the line and went down, letting go of the line early in the dive to make a delightful free fall descent.

Forest was acting a divemaster, but apparently also taking the course.  Sean had flash cards with various commands or situations that required a skill to handle.  It was a good idea but might have used a larger font. The gear was unwieldy in the water, but manageable.  I hung onto the pony bottle the whole dive so it wouldn't bump against me.  I was heavy and bouncing on the bottom from time to time, but things got better about 2000 psi. I blew through my air, which was not unexpected considering the new/different equipment and, of course, the stress of being evaluated.  We didn't get much done on this first dive.

During the surface interval, a pod of 10-12 dolphins surfed the boat's bow wake.  They spent easily 5 minutes with us as we cruised down to the South of Grouper Bend.  I decided to drop 2 pounds and went back in the water with 4 pounds. Would have been okay if I had dropped 2 more, to 2 pounds.  Surprising how much extra weight I carried.  We got in the water and Sean used the flash cards to put us through our paces.  At the end, we sent up our sausages and reeled them in as we went up. Everyone did fine and we all got certified.

I can understand the need for the redundant and independent air source if you dive deeper than 20-30 feet, though I am a bit ambivalent about any depth more shallow than the depth of your deepest recent controlled emergency swimming ascent. Nonetheless, I'm not sure that I will change the way that I dive of the Fort Lauderdale beach. It's 20 feet deep for 600 yards out and I think that it continues to be reasonable for me to rely on the CESA instead of carrying a pony bottle.  

27 June 2014

Two Solo Dives on the Big Coral Knoll with dancing Blennys and Turtles galore

I really like my Zuma BCD, so I used two luggage straps and some webbing to fashion a harness that would allow me to hang the pony bottle off this harness, which I could wear on top of the Zuma.  Worked just fine in my living room.  I took my harness to the beach this morning, though, and discovered that without the constant pull of gravity the pony bottle got in my way.  A lot.  I benched the pony bottle and took the camera instead.

I swam out to the sea rod and descended, then worked my way slowly East to the rock just North of the blocks. I haven't seen the Peppermint Shrimp since Tuesday and I couldn't find them today.  I went to the blocks to check on the insect, but I didn't find it.  Maybe it wasn't up yet.

I did spot a Sailfin Blenny who was busy celebrating the sunrise and got this picture of him.  Usually they dance for other blennys, but I couldn't see any others around.

I headed East up the gun sight, Irish Thighs, the Cigar Rock but missed the Gray Mid-way Rock and ended up at the Green Mountainous Coral SW of the Perpendicular Rocks.  From there I went by the Swept Rock and onto the Knoll.

Two small Green Turtles and one older Green turtle were hanging out on the Knoll getting cleaned and maybe looking for food.

They were a little timid, but allowed me to get pretty close for some of these shots.

I love the stooped shoulders look this turtle adopts while he waits for a cleaning.

Also found my friend the Rock Hind.  It still runs from me, but the allowable distance is shrinking.

Got back to the beach at 142 minutes sucking the last bit of air from my tank. My RMV was 0.39 ft3/min.

I saw Sue as I was getting out from the first dive.  She wanted to go out, but wasn't eager to race the life guard, so we went in for my second dive together, but went our own ways once we got out of the swimming area.  I went down at the Sea Rod and basically repeated my first dive.

This time I found the insect at the blocks and got some pictures, but they aren't that good.

Watched a Hogfish pick up a small hermit crab, shell and all, and race off to enjoy his spoils. He would stop and shake his head violently, trying to dislodge the crab from the shell, but he was out of sight before that issue got resolved.

Made several circles of the Knoll.  Tried to play with a little turtle, but he was confused and took off.

On the way back to the beach, I spotted a Southern Atlantic Stingray and got several going away shots. Still, it was exciting.

Took way too many photos. Ended up a 132 minute dive and a 0.35 ft3/min RMV.

26 June 2014

Two Solo Dives on the Big Coral Knoll: Baby Squid!

I have been flirting with the idea of getting Solo certified.  PADI calls it a self-reliant distinctive specialty, kind of like when they pretend that recreational divers don't decompress during their ascent or say that a mandatory safety stop isn't a decompression stop. Problem is that no one has been offering the PADI course, not even Pavon.  Some question about whether you can avoid liability since PADI has made the buddy system the foundation of its open water course.  The reality is, of course, that the buddy system is broken. Even when I dive with others, I tend to wander off with my camera and few buddies have the patience to hang around.  Many wouldn't know when I was in trouble or what to do if they did recognize I was having a problem.  Seems like I'm often solo diving, even in a group. Of course most weekdays I don't have buddies except for students and DAN's accident statistics demonstrate that diving with students is considerably more dangerous than diving alone. All of which is to say I signed up to take an SDI Solo Diving certification course from Sean Meadows out of World of Scuba in Boca Raton.

Tuesday night I was attending a class in Boca Raton in connection with that course. I  picked up a pony bottle I'm borrowing from a friend and want to spend some time with it before we have our dives Saturday morning.  I was up late and couldn't get up Wednesday morning to dive. Spent some time trying to hook the pony up to my Zuma, but there just isn't enough Zuma there. I didn't have much time to fuss with the gear when I got to the beach, so I decided to take the camera and just enjoy the first dive and deal with the gear issue during my surface interval.

I swam out to the sea rod and descended.  I was setting up my gear and noticed two little quarter inch specs in the water that weren't moving with the rest of the sea weed.  I looked closer and they were baby squid.

I was shooting macro, but could have used a +6 diopter and a supermacro set up. There were four babies all together. They couldn't move very fast, but it was easy to lose sight of them.

I stayed with them for quite a while and quite a few photographs.

When I left them, I made my way slowly to the rock just North of the blocks.

Found this Yellowline Arrow Crab there and go this shot.

From the blocks, I went up the gun sight and up to the Gray Mid-Way Rock, then North to the Perpendicular Rocks, where I got this shot of a Bluestriped Grunt.
 When I got to the Knoll, I spotted these two French Grunts fighting over something.

I did take my finger spool and new $26 SMB.  I played with the SMB and sent it up a few times to gauge how much air I could put in it, but I can't say that I earned any new respect for the device.

Total dive time was 141 minutes; RMV was .39 ft3/min.

My surface interval was 50 minutes, but I needed to get in the water and outside the swim buoys before the Life Guard got to the Tower.  I had brought a suitcase strap and tried to hook the pony bottle up to the Zuma using that strap, but it was beyond me. Probably have to go with the Oceanic BCD, that's a gear barons delight with D-rings everywhere. I hadn't brought that, however, so I just took the camera and shot pictures on the second dive, too. Lots of pictures.  Too many pictures.  Gotta set limits.

Got this picture of a Juvenile Cottonwick at the rectangular Rock just North of the Blocks.


 This Rock Hind loves to sit on top of the larger rock and sun itself while keeping watch.
 This Yellow Jack came bombing through just inches off the coral on top of the Knoll

This White Speckled Hermit Crab had a perfect little home just off the Knoll.

Spotted this Gulf Flounder on the sand on the way back to the beach.  Could easily have missed it.

Nice dive.  Dive time was 160 minutes with an RMV of .35 ft3/min.

Still need to work out a harness for the pony bottle and should make one or two dives before Saturday morning. Hate to embarrass myself in front of the class.

24 June 2014

Two Solo Dives on the Ledge of Turtles

Geared up and swam out to the Rock Pile to descend. Headed off at 120 degrees and started up the reef. Found  an octopus who had two shells clasped tightly to him  

I reached in to touch one of the shells and he squirted me with water. Took some pictures and headed on up the reef.

Spotted a rectangular bit of coral in the distance that might have been on the Ledge, but I decided not to go for it.  A few minutes later I spotted the round brain coral I knew to be SW of Turtle Rock, so I swam up there and then to the Ledge.

Just hung out on the Ledge getting pictures of fish like this Bicolor Damselfish,

this Townsend angelfish

and my favorite, this Three Spot Damselfish.  I love their eyes.

When I got down to 1000 psi, I headed back down the reef. I stopped to see the octopus, but he wasn't eager to play.  Got to the Rock Pile and waited until I was down to 250 psi to head West to the beach.  Dive time was 130 minutes.

Same dive as the first.  Got in the water before the Life guards came, swam out to the Rock Pile.  Descended. Swam up the reef towards the Ledge.  Stopped to see that the Octopus was fast asleep, then continued to the Ledge.  Spotted the Big Rock and Turtle Rock.  I was North and a bit East of them.  Just hung out with the fish.

 Got this shot of a Bar Jack,
 this nice shot of a Redband Parrotfish grinning away,
 this more dramatic shot of a Yellow Jack in the strobe,
and this shot of a Striped Parrotfish.

Stayed on the Ledge to 1000 psi and then headed back. Held up at the Rock Pile until 300 psi and then headed West to the beach.

23 June 2014

Two Solo Dives on the Big Coral Knoll

I got up at 4:00 am, walked the dog, fed the Betas and made coffee.  By 5:30 I was on the road to the beach and descending at the sea rod by 6:27.  I took some shots of floating sea weed.  In the darkness of early dawn and on the 3 inch screen, they looked stunning.  On the big monitor at home they are pretty bad.  I deleted them all.  Too bad.  I thought I really had something.

I worked my way from the sea rod to the reef and then headed South looking for the blocks.  Found a couple of Green Sea Turtles foraging in the algae.

I also found a large rectangular rock with a number a Arrow Crab and two or three Banded Coral Shrimp.  I got a picture of the shrimp and one of the crabs.  When I got home, I noticed that the Banded Coral Shrimp I photographed had only one banded arm.

Then I noticed that the Arrow Crab I photographed was playing with a banded arm.  Hard to imagine the spindly arrow crab ripping the shrimps arm off, but I don't know how else to explain it.

I also noticed in that set of photographs that I had gotten pictures of a Peppermint Shrimp.  All I saw at the time was the white/silvery "V" in the dark.

I continued South looking for the blocks, but was concerned that I must be lost since I wasn't seeing them or anything familiar.  I was on my way to the surface to see where I was when I spotted the blocks about 10 yards to the South.

From the blocks, I made my customary swim through the gun sight, over Irish Thighs, past the sponge, over the cigar rock and turn North at the Gray Mid-way rock.  On the the Perpendicular Rocks, the Swept Rock and then the Knoll.  Lots of fish out this morning. Young French and White Grunts.  Nice to see the numbers.  I stayed on the Knoll, just drifting.  Got this shot of a Juvenile Creole Wrasse.

Also got this shot of the Rock Hind sunning himself.

At 1200 psi, I headed back to the Gray Mid-way Rock and then West to the beach.  I stopped at the blocks and ran the clock out to 125 minutes, then swam in the next 7 minutes.

I was cramping pretty badly when I got out after the first dive, so I drank one of the sports drinks.  It apparently did some good as I had little trouble with cramps on this second dive. The dive itself was really a repeat of the first dive except I made a few more laps of the Knoll as this dive lasted 10 minutes longer.  On the other hand, 142 minutes is a far cry from 160 minutes, which I what I was shooting for.  Photographed some little shrimp I did not see all that well.  Turned out it was a Peppermint Shrimp and the shot was good.  Got a few more shots of the Rock Hind sunning himself, too.

Found this ambitious White speckled Hermit Crab.
As you can see, this shell is much bigger than he really needs or can carry, for that matter.

22 June 2014

Luis and I make a single dive on the Big Coral Knoll

Luis sent me an email saying he could meet me on the beach at 8:00 am for two dives.  It took a while to actually get in the water, but we swam out to the blocks, went up the gun sight, over Irish Thighs, past the sponge, over the Cigar Rock and up to the Gray Mid-way Rock.  Turned North and went to the Perpendicular Rocks, then the Swept Rock and then the Knoll.

Found the Rock Hind on top of one of the large rocks on the North and got some good shots before it hid in the tipped coral.

Also found a Goldentail Moray Eel on the North slope.

He was a shy fellow and would not come out, so the pictures only hint and what he looks like.

Finally, found a small Green turtle on the sand on the way back to the beach.

He took off swimming as I got my first shot and it wasn't long before he had outrun me.

It was a good dive, but at 131 minutes, it was not as long as I would have hoped.  Luis was unable to stay for a second such dive, so I made only the one dive today.