Archive for the ‘Diving Experiences’ Category

ImageSidemount scuba is simply an evolved approach to equipment configuration which was developed by cave divers needing precision buoyancy and the ability to dive in unusually tight conditions.  It employs innovation and discipline to produce an arrangement of scuba unlike any the typical diver is accustomed to.

Think of your Scuba back-mount system like a car which has a front mounted engine.  It’s there because that’s where everyone puts it and it’s easy.  It has it’s limitations, but works for 99% of applications.  Sidemount scuba is like mounting your engine in the middle of the car.  It’s more complicated and means having to move some other bits and pieces about to accommodate it, but you do it because it improves weight distribution, performance and manoeuvrability.  It’s also WAY cooler!

ImageI was introduced to Sidemount by Fernando Cañada, Steve Zoni, Steve Bogaerts and Suzy Phipps whilst living and diving in Central America.  This was in the days before the large training organisations recognised a growing trend and when equipment options were a little ‘limited’.  Steve Bogaerts went on to create the ‘Razor’ system to overcome this, and this is the setup I prefer to use.  Initially I was intrigued by the configuration.  I liked the idea of having two tanks with me and the setup looked much more easy to manage than manifold twin-sets (yes, I was also an air hog!) and would mean I could extend my bottom time beyond 40 minutes.  I liked the idea of narrowing your profile and being able to follow Fernando through some of those tighter swim-through’s.  However, I thought it all looked a little cumbersome and unwieldy.  Zoni and Bogaerts both convinced me to start and to stick with it and soon I would be a convert…..

ImageGetting started is hard!  Everything feels so wrong.  There are tanks in the way and it all feels cumbersome.  The harness is too tight and cuts into your neck/hips/crotch* (delete as applicable) and on top of that Bogaerts’ training programme has you practicing buoyancy skills in 3’ of water.  It took me about 5 dives to figure out which parts of the harness and ‘rig’ were the most uncomfortable and then to be able to adjust them to a better position.  Once you have your rig configured…. That’s it you’re hooked!  There is no going back.

On the course you’re taught precision buoyancy skills – holding a position in the water for extended periods of time and trying to get as close to the sand as possible whilst still remaining ‘afloat’ and neutrally buoyant.  Different ways of manoeuvring yourself in the water using both hands and feet, and of course how to deal with emergencies.  Once out in the open water with a comfortable setup you realize that your position in the water is different.  You carry less weight, and less around your hips.  This means you become more ‘feet up’ in the water.  You’re able to hold a stationary hover almost effortlessly and bend and twist around the reefs like never before.  You’ll soon realise that you have increased levels of stability, which is a real boon for the photographers amongst us.  Not only can you hold that hover without needing to ‘touch down’, you’ll also be able to comfortably get under those tight overhangs and catch that Nurse Shark image the others can only dream of.

ImageI’m a complete convert to Sidemount and now teach both the Bogaert’s and PADI Sidemount specialities.  I choose to dive this way almost anytime I’m diving and not teaching.  I am recognised as the only trained Sidemount instructor on the Island of Carriacou and teach all my courses with the same dedication, professionalism and fun as the guys taught me, using my copy of the Razor system.  This means that when you’re thinking of learning Sidemount you’ll be confident that you’re being taught by someone who knows what they’re doing and knows why they’re doing it.

On my rare days off, I can be seen dropping into the Ocean with a single Sidemount tank and bumbling around the cracks and holes around Jack Iron Point or Anse La Roche and trying to get some great photo or video for the shop.

If you want to find out more about diving on Carriacou, you can visit our website at

Or if you are interested in trying Sidemount or learning to dive Sidemount you can find more information at


Neutral BuoyancyNeutral buoyancy: A condition in which a physical body’s density is equal to the density of the fluid in which it is immersed. This offsets the force of gravity that would otherwise cause the object to sink. An object that has neutral buoyancy will neither sink nor rise.

We all know the importance of attaining neutral buoyancy when we’re diving, as it allows us to attain that complete weightless feeling, easily control our direction and attitude in the water, move more efficiently and of course conserve our air.  However, attaining a neutrally buoyant position in the water is only half of the art.

In this review I will discuss with you those remaining elements which I consider integral to mastering….

The Art of Buoyancy’.

1)      Visualization: Take a few moments to think about your dive before you get into the water.  Use visualization techniques to relax  Viz and calm your breathing.  Think about how you want to dive and focus on graceful movements.  See yourself in your mind’s eye effortlessly gliding through the water.  Think about being slow and smooth, graceful and efficient with your movements.  This step is more important than many people give it credit for and can take anything from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.  Visualization allows you to step back from the frantic hubbub of activity which can cause stress and tension before a dive and allow you to enter the water in the right frame of mind, relaxed and ready to enjoy the dive. A relaxed and smooth diver will be more efficient in the water, which means they will use less air.

2)      Effective movement: I’ve never seen anyone win a medal or any plaudits for how fast they can dive a site or how quickly they can breathe through their air.  Diving is a fun experience based activity and we want each experience to last as long as we can, to allow us to see and encounter as much as we can.  To help us in this we have to think and act slow.  We want to expend as little energy moving forward as possible.  Use every element to our advantage, drift down current as opposed to swimming back to a fixed boat.  Use light kicks to hold you in a back surge before using a bigger stroke to propel you with a forward surge, but more importantly take the maximum advantage of each kick stroke.  A simple exercise to practice for this is to try to glide between each fin kick and think ‘Kick, kick, gliiiiiiiiiiiide’ if you’re using a flutter type kick.

3)      Efficient fin kicks: Most divers start their life in the water using a form of flutter kick. This type of kick is signified by an up and down movement of the fins.  This form of kick is the Finmost natural to perform for most people, but the easiest to perform inefficiently.  If we want to have forward propulsion in the water we need to try to use the largest and strongest muscle groups in our bodies.  The muscles in our thighs are amazing in that they’re strong, effective and usually have good endurance too – after all, they’re the ones that allow us to stand up and walk!  To make your fin kick efficient you should strive to use the power from your thighs to move forward.

Many experienced divers and dive professionals abandon the flutter kick and move to a wide frog kick.  To complete the frog kick you’re using the big muscles in the back of your thighs (hamstrings) to create a single, double legged power pulse, and then you’re gliding forward as you prepare for the next pulse.  It’s effective from a movement perspective and efficient from an energy angle too.  It takes some practice to get used to, as you’ll initially feel as though you’re going nowhere.  It’s worth persevering though.

4)      Correct weighting: Using the incorrect weight is the number one reason why divers burn air.  Most new divers tend to use too much weight.  I have also seen many divers with hundreds of dives still using too much weight.  Over-weighting has the advantage of allowing a lazy diver to descend really quickly and easily.  But they then need to add a fair bit of air to their BCD from their tank to slow or stop the descent.  Whilst they are diving, they’re lugging around a whole load of lead which is serving no purpose, but they’re making themselves more bulky/less streamlined by having to inflate the BCD to compensate.  However, the most heinous element is still to come.  Most divers wear their lead close to or around their waist.  Carrying too much weight here has the effect of making your hips heavy in the water and giving you the appearance of heavy feet.  At best this makes you very un-hydrodynamic meaning you will expend energy going upwards as well as forwards.  At worst, you’re likely to have low feet and constantly be kicking the coral or marine environment.    To address this issue, perform a buoyancy/weight check whenever you’re diving with new equipment, in a new environment or if it’s been a while since you were last out.  To perform a weight check properly, you should use a tank which has already been used, as this will ensure you’re carrying enough weight at the end of your dive.  You can complete the weight check at the start though.  Get into the water with all of your scuba gear donned.  With you regulator in your mouth hold a full breath (the only time you’ll be told to hold your breath).  Let all of the air out of your BCD whilst holding your breath.  If you have the right weight on you should drop below the water level and rise back up and float with the water at eye level.  Do not kick or skull, but try to remain motionless.  As you exhale fully you should start to slowly descend.  If you’re carrying too much weight, you’ll sink whilst still holding your breath.  If you don’t float at eye level, you should add a couple of pounds.

Trim5)      Trim: OK, so you’ve done the weight check and you know you’re now carrying the right  weight, but look, you’re still ‘hips down’ in the water.  This is because you’re probably still carrying all of the weight around your hips.  The hip bone is the heaviest in the body, and so by sticking additional weight in the area will undoubtedly make your hips sink.  You need to start to think about weight distribution to try to make you as flat in the water as possible.  What this will probably entail is trying to move some weight higher up your body.  This sounds reasonable, in order to stop our hips from sinking take some of the weight from there and put it higher up.  It’s not that easy to complete though.  I mean, can you just wear a weight belt under your armpits? Maybe, but it sure won’t be comfortable.  Many modern BCD’s have trim weight pockets on the back, up near the tank cam-band.  If you have them, use them to more evenly distribute your weight.  If you don’t, it might be an idea to look at investing in a couple of small pockets that will fit onto the cam-band.  Start by going for a 40/60 split of weight in your trim pockets and weight belt and seeing if you’re head down or hips down when you’re diving.  Adjust as necessary until you attain that perfect, comfortable, horizontal position.

Practicing and mastering these techniques will start to yield immediate results.  You’ll expend less energy fighting the water, you’ll burn less air thus enabling you to dive for longer and enjoy your dives more by being less tired.  Consider focusing on your buoyancy by taking part in a PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty course and improving your diving today.

If you want to find out more about PADI cources in Carriacou, you can visit our website at

Or if you are interested in becoming a dive guide and instructor yourself, you can find more information at

My name is Alex. I’m a biologist. I’ve wanted to be a diver since I was 8 years old when I was rummaging in the basement one day and uncovered a mildewy copy of a book by Hans Hass. Hans Hass is famous as a pioneer of under water colour photography. Sharks, stingrays, morays and giant mussels filled every page, and from that moment I was hooked!

One of the books that captured my imagination

One of the books that captured my imagination

So when people now ask me, “Why Carriacou?”, my answer is the same – from the first dive, I just loved this place – like that 8 year old back then, I was hooked! You see, I’m a dive guide and instructor now – after years of half-hearted office careers, I have finally come full circle, and I’m that person now that I wanted to be when I was a child. I love Carriacou – it’s homely and cozy and quiet – and I love sharing its treasures with people. Carriacou is like what the Caribbean used to be like years and years ago, both above and below the surface.

Above the surface you will find relaxed life, small shops and bars, a few hotels and restaurants, nothing of the overblown scale on some other Caribbean islands. Carriacou doesn’t go in for tourism or glitziness big style – fewer than a couple of thousand tourists find their way here each year, and only a fraction of them are divers. There are no cattle boats here. Don’t let that mislead you though – under water is pandemonium!

These small fish are a regular sight on the reef

These small fish are a regular sight on the reef

As you drop below the surface, aquatic life proliferates everywhere you look. A thousand creole wrasse make their way busily along the reef – a ribbon of blue purple fish swimming three abreast. I’m guiding the dive, so I stop to let them past. As we’re in their element I feel that they have right of way here. The adult creole wrasse are followed by a disordered school of pale blue juveniles, all mixed up with some hundred or so brown chromis that have decided to come along for the ride. These guys are what I call the usual suspects – they are everywhere on the reef, like a huge flock of small greyish brown birds, busying themselves picking minuscule fragments out of the water.

Then there are the tomtates and the smallmouth grunts bunching together, and, as a school of redfin parrotfish passes, it makes such a beautiful picture, I turn to my guest divers, with a gesture that says, “Look – look all around you! Isn’t that beautiful!” It’s hard to signal something like this – I settle for a sweeping gesture, which leaves me hovering, arms wide, but I think my meaning must have got through, because both my divers stop, look and nod enthusiastically.

The chain moray is one of the most beautiful of the moray eels!

The chain moray is one of the most beautiful of the moray eels!

As we carry on along the reef wall, one of the divers stops, then bangs on her tank. She has found a chain moray – it’s black with yellow chain-like markings – one of the most beautiful of the moray eels! As we approach it withdraws into its hole in the reef, but as we wait patiently the head reappears, mouth opening and closing. This is not a sign of aggression, but simply the way the eel breathes.

As I look around, I see that the eel shares its portion of the reef with others: a cleaning goby perches on one side of the eel’s retreat, and I can see two red banded coral shrimp and a tiny tiny Pederson shrimp nearby – a macro village. A little bit further on I spot the waving antennae of a lobster. I bang my tank to get my divers’ attention and waggle two fingers above my forehead. As we come closer we realise that we have found a lobster family – we count one, two, three… eight lobsters, all different sizes, from a giant granddaddy to a juvenile less that 4 inches long. We pass on from the lobsters and I see a flash of blue – there it is again… a queen triggerfish, turning and posing. These beautiful fish look like they are the work of an artist.

At this point, I feel a tug on my fin. One of my divers has reached half a tank – it’s time to turn around and make our way back to the boat. I lead the turn and ascend to a shallower depth.

At 10 meters (33 feet) we are near the reef top now, and new vistas open up: ferns, dotted here and there with flamingo tongues, small princess and stoplight parrotfish.

The distinctive shape of the tail of the nurse shark means that they can be easy to spot!

The distinctive shape of the tail of the nurse shark means that they can be easy to spot!

Visibility is good today, and some way away I can see a large porcupine fish rapidly retreating. I turn back and scan the reef beneath me – now, here is a familiar shape!

Before the thought has fully formed in my mind, I’m already banging on my tank: the shape that has caught my attention is the tail of a nurse shark, asleep in a crevice in the reef. Nurse sharks can grow up to 10 feet long, and this one’s a big guy – no worries though, because these sharks don’t have any teeth – their diet consists mostly of crustaceans. I can tell everybody is really excited by the shark – lots of bubbles are swirling away above us!
At this point I check my divers’ air one last time – 60 bar, not bad. I see a familiar expanse of finger coral stretching away like rolling hills and I know we’re not far from the mooring. I look up to the surface and see the reassuring shape of our boat. I turn to my divers and signal for a safety stop – I see a moment of resignation on their eyes, but hey, even the best dives have to end! We have been in the water for 55 minutes averaging around 15 meters (50 feet) in depth.

Finger coral stretching away like rolling hills

Finger coral stretching away like rolling hills

As we come up everybody is really excited.

“Did you see the shark?”

“How many lobsters??!”

“Oh my God, that was awesome!!!”

Everyone goes a little bit quiet at this point, as if only just realising that this was the last dive, and tomorrow afternoon they will be flying home. Still, by the time we get back to the dive centre, plans are already being made to come back, and we say “See you next year!” when we say goodbye. After they’ve left I sit down to log my dive, looking out at the sunlight glinting on the sparkling blue sea, and I think just how much I love my job!

I ♥ diving!

I ♥ diving!

If you want to find out more about diving on Carriacou, you can visit our website at

Or if you are interested in becoming a dive guide and instructor yourself, you can find more information at

Jaws, Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, oh and Finding Nemo.  All of them emotive portrayals which have shaped my views of the perils of the undersea environment.  I have never been more certain of any single thing in my life: I’m gonna get eaten!

I was recently vacationing on the Caribbean Island of Carriacou, a delightful tiny island at the southern end of the Grenadines chain of islands and quite unlike any place I’ve ever been to before.  This peaceful, quiet place is like a throwback to how the Caribbean must have been before mass commercialisation and cheap package holidays, before 5 star resorts and large shopping malls which have made many islands completely ubiquitous.  Instead it has small hotels and guest houses which have no pretence about them at all, family run eateries which cater for the locals and the occasional tourists.  Oh and of course there is the mile after mile of white sandy beaches, intimate coves and that azure blue Caribbean Sea.  It was on this trip that I was convinced by my travelling partner to try Scuba Diving.  Ironically, I’m not sure why I said Yes as the prospect scared the bejeezus out of me!

So with a great deal of trepidation we arrived at Deefer Diving in Hillsborough, the main town on the island, and were met by the british couple, Alex and Gary, who run the place.  It was a delightful centre set in wonderful mature gardens just off the beach.  Alex and Gary welcomed us warmly to the place and their delightful trio of dogs (Sheba, Scuba and Deco).

We prepared for our PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience by completing the paperwork and a relatively informative briefing.  I think they could tell I was a little bit apprehensive by the way Gary approached me with his very calm, fun and infectious demeanour.  Our equipment was measured up and loaded into the boat and we headed off on to Sandy Island.  I was more nervous now than that first prom at high school!

At Sandy Island, a small caye just off of the main town, we anchored up and got off the boat.  We were about to do our first under water skills.  We were briefed and I knew what I needed to do.  I knew that with Gary and the team I would be safe and logic told me that all of this works.  As I stood there waist deep in water with all this heavy equipment donned I knew I could not do this.  I mean, they wanted me to go underwater and take out the regulator and throw it over my shoulder!  Are they mad!  The very thing that is providing me with air, the soon to be most precious thing I’ve ever held, and they want me to take it out of my mouth and throw it away.  I could focus on nothing else as we went through the process of getting ready.  At this point I knew it wasn’t the Sharks that were going to eat me, I was simply going to panic and drown.  I could not do this!  I started to hyperventilate and was looking for any excuse as to how to get out of this thing without looking like a complete wuss.  Then it happened!

With a gentle hand on my shoulder I put in my regulator and tentatively took my first breaths under water.  Standing there with just my face in the water, breathing away I started to think ‘Hey, this doesn’t seem so hard’ and step my slow step I was walked through getting down under the water, breathing and….. taking the regulator out of my mouth!

Gary and the team went slowly and took great care to make sure we knew what we were doing next, how it was done and I felt great comfort in knowing that he had a firm grip on the front of my BCD whenever I needed to do anything.  I knew he would keep my safe and protect me [swoon].

In what seemed like no time at all we were piling back onto the boat and heading out for our first ever ‘proper’dive.  How did that happen?  How did I managed to get through that first session?  I’m not quite sure, but what I did know was that I was no longer very nervous.  That had been replaced by a euphoric excitement….. I was going to go diving!

What can I say about the dive?  I guess one word sums it up.  One vowel with two consonants can sum up the emotion that had built up and the excitement that I experienced.  Three little letters encapsulated the release of a lifetime of reservation and convinced me that this was something I needed to do again.  The only thing I could say was WOW!

With some help I experienced almost perfect weightlessness.  I saw an amazing array of tropical fish swimming around me in a three dimensional show of colour and motion.  All set off to the musical sound of distant whales calling to each other.  I have never before felt so in awe of my natural surroundings that I was in sensory over load: I could not take it all in.  I kept hold of Gary the whole way through the dive and he pointed out to me different species of fish.  We some that looked like they had been painted by Picasso, and others which must have inspired the face of ET.  However, in no time at all we were being signalled to come back to the surface.  As anxious and nervous as I had been off the beach at Sandy Island, I did not want to leave this amazing and beautiful place.  Surely we could stay just a few minutes more….

As we got back onto the boat, my face alight with raw emotion, I was breathless and unable to put into words how this experience had made me feel.  Even more amazing was being told that we had been underwater for forty minutes!  There was no way….. Someone must have been playing games with time, as this could not have been more than ten minutes.  Well I guess it’s true, time does fly when you’re having fun.  Not only did I not drown, or get eaten or stung, but I became a convert, an instant addict.  I’d had my first hit of this amazing drug and knew that I would need my next fix soon.  How soon could they sign me up?  Gary and the team laughed heartily as they explained that that’s how it gets us…

I’ve now signed up to complete my PADI Open Water certification course….  Can you believe it?  Me, a scuba diver?  No, me either!