Posts Tagged ‘underwater’

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 www.deeferdiving.com

Or if you are interested in trying Sidemount or learning to dive Sidemount you can find more information at http://www.deeferdiving.com/carriacoupadicourses.html

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Its April the 1st, and I’m sitting on the beach reflecting on the day that’s just past.  This is no April fool, but it has been a great Monday.

Snow in the UK on April 1st 2013

Snow in the UK on April 1st 2013

The first thing that I reflect upon, being that I am originally from the UK, is that on this April 1st there is widespread snow at home.  Temperatures are sub-zero and all of my friends are asking ‘when is winter going to end?’.   In Carriacou, by contrast, the day had clear blue skies and a calm turquoise blue sea.  The temperature was a good 28 degrees centigrade and there was a cooling breeze blowing in from the North.  A typical day on this tiny Caribbean Island, and pretty damn perfect (if you ask me).

Although it was a public holiday today, we opened the dive shop as usual at 8am and started to prepare for today’s dives.  We had a booking from a small group of first year veterinary students from St George’s University in Grenada. The group was a mixture of fairly experienced Advanced Open Water divers and a couple of newly certified’s with only 4 dives to their names.  So this Monday morning started like many other Monday mornings….

With the boat loaded with tanks, equipment and divers we headed out.  Did I mention that the sea was calm and blue?  It was a short trip out of Hillsborough to one of my favourite dive sites – ‘Whirlpool’.  Now I didn’t name the dive site, else I would never have called it ‘Whirlpool’, but its one of my favourites because its like 4 dives in 1, and consistently very good.  As we moored up I gave the briefing and let our little group in for what we had planned….

John D Wacka @ Whirlpool

The dive commenced with a gentle decent onto the coral  garden and then dropping down the wall to 18 meters (60ft).  The wall was alive with marine life, lobsters, shrimps, schools of chub and chromis, creole wrasse and trumpet fish.  The soft coral swayed slowly in the current.  Its a pretty wall, vibrant with colours and protected from the strong northerly currents by Mabouya island.  The fish love it, which means the divers love it.

After a few minutes, from out of the blue, a gloomy shape starts to form.  At first just a dark flirtation, before it draws in more substance and structure.  As we get closer the shape morphs into one of the wrecks that lie off our shores.  The wreck here is the John D Wacka, a small tugboat which was deliberately sunk a an artificial reef in 1998.  It was badly beaten up by Hurricane Lennie in 1999 and now lies at 24m (75ft).  Its a great nursery for Sargeant Majors, small mouth grunts and tomtates, and is a wonderful experience for the newly certified divers (as we hover above it at 18m).

We leave the wreck and head back to the wall, making our way  swiftly to a shallower depth.  We continue to marvel in nature’s structures as we look at tall and broad hard coral towers, mini cities to a myriad of marine creatures.  Ahead there is a small sandy channel which I lead the group into.  I turn to see the look of amazement in the divers faces as we move into a large patch of volcanic bubbles.  These bubbles are what gives ‘whirlpool’ its name and change this dive from a nice one, to a great one!  The bubbles are a vent from the nearby Kick-em Jenny volcano, and give us the impression of diving through a champagne glass.  The sulphur rich bubbles attract Jacks and Mackerels which swim around us in a frenetic pattern, darting this way and that around us.

220px-Spotted_Eagle_Ray_(Aetobatus_narinari)2

Spotted Eagle Ray @ Mabouya

With air getting low, we made the turn and started to head back towards the boat.  The return was quite a simple affair, keeping close to the huge boulders which make up the ‘Boulder Garden’ and skirting the sand channels.  We saw a lobster colony with perhaps 8 or 9 small lobsters crowding under a single rocky crag, trunk fish and a huge porcupine fish (staring at us as though in shocked bewilderment).  As we crested the final rise before hitting the mooring we witnessed the most beautiful sight of the morning.  Ahead, no more than 2m away, was a fully grown spotted eagle ray, gliding effortlessly down the channel.  It saw us approach and instead of fleeing into the blue it completed a hard banking maneuver to the left and wheeled around to pass us again.  Checking out the curious group with the bubbles.

Excitedly we returned to the boat with many ‘wow’s’ and ‘did you see’s?’ and a group of very enthralled divers.  Seeing the sights of the dive, but more importantly seeing the faces of the divers at the end is what makes this job the best one in the world and reminds me that I love my Monday mornings in this office!

If you’re interested in diving with us, or would like to learn to dive, come and check out our diving options at http://www.deeferdiving.com/carriacoudiving.html

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!