Diving The Bikini Atoll with Pete Mesley’s Lust 4 Rust – June 2014

Or else crossing Europe, Asia and the Pacific to dive Battleships and Aircraft Carriers with Sharks in Bikini Atoll (Remote Deserted / Uninhabited Islands, Whales, Tokyo Style Ramen, Thermo-Nuclear Weapon Testing Bunkers, Barbecues Gin n’ Tonic, and Extreme Fishing included!)

Prelude

Back in 2004 I found myself (a young and enthusiastic PADI Open Water Diver) reading an article in Encarta Encyclopaedia about scuba diving in the Bikini Atoll. The article described how, despite the multiple atomic weapon tests, the sea (marine life and all) had recovered and how great it was to dive the Wrecks of Operation Crossroads. By the time I finished reading the article I was well impressed and rather sad. As awesome as it sounded it was way too far away for me to have any chance to ever dive it…

Fast Forward to June 2012 when a group of very good friends returned to London after a trip in Bikini (Tools on tour) and their reports made it sound not only as exciting as the encyclopaedia article but even better!!! And of course they were so excited about it that they started planning the return trip to the Bikini Atoll (Tools on Tour 2)!!!

Indeed a couple of months later a “Tools on Tour 2” trip was organised and spaces were going fast. By December 2012 and while on my way to the Red Sea to dive RedTek Dec 2012 I found out that there was only one space available and of course I signed up!!!

You may think that booking a holiday 18 months in advance is excessive BUT bear in mind where the Bikini Atoll is:

Journey to the Bikini Atoll in Marshall IslandsBefore you exclaim: “That is Too far away!!!” consider this:

If you were going to detonate Twenty Three (yes 23) Thermo-Nuclear devices where would you choose to do it?

well, Not in my backyard !!!

Well indeed the Bikini Atoll was chosen specifically because of it’s location

The Bikini Atoll is part of Marshall Islands that are located in central Pacific Ocean. From the UK you can either travel West to the States and go via Honolulu or go East (kinda) via Japan. Bikini is so far away that it makes practically no difference whichever way you choose.

Our outgoing trip was 16,000 km and took 56 hrs to get from Aberdeen to Kwajalein. Had we gone via Orlando it would have been about 60 hrs (for the LHR to KWA leg) and the total distance would be 18,000km. No difference really although I can’t help thinking that I would like to do both next time, ie go one way and come back the other, then maybe I can do my first round trip around the world???!!!

We opted to go via Guam and Japan and the trip went as follows:

Wed 11/06/2014: Day 1 – Outbound Journey

The Aberdeen (ABZ) to Heathrow (LHR) flight was short (645 km) and only about 1.5hrs long. On arrival to LHR I finished my travelling preparations by buying USA dollars, that I would need for the stop in Guam (GUM) and to pay the boat expenses and tips. Mike had been upgraded to Business so we made it to the lounge as he was confident that I would be let in as well. Although I do not understand what made him so confident, indeed I was let into the Business lounge as I was upgraded to business class for the flight to Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) on arrival to the lounge!!! Celebratory Gin Tonics were due as Aileen and Andris joined us.

Having my own bed was an added bonus (no doubt!) but getting to sit next to my diving buddy Andris and spending the whole of the flight talking about diving had and diving planned made the flight feel much sorter.

This was by far the longest single flight (9,614 km – 11 hrs) I have ever flown and strangely enough it didn’t feel that bad 🙂 Another first was the daylight for the whole of the flight!!! We left LHR at 12:00 of Wednesday and arrived in NRT at 09:00 Thursday morning but somehow (see flying over the Arctic) resulted in a long daylight flight. Only down side was the clouds so we couldn’t enjoy the view 😦

Thu 12/06/2014: Day 2 – Outbound Journey

We arrived to Tokyo Narita airport (NRT) at 09:00 in the morning. Annoyingly enough and because we were flying with different airlines we had to collect our baggage, go through immigration and change terminal before we could check-in to our Guam (GUM) flights. Lesson learnt in the future try to book the whole flight with the same airline (if possible).

Staff at the United Airlines check-in was really very helpful and the whole affair was over quickly and we made our way to the NRT business lounge.

Sushi at NRT airport
Sushi at NRT airport

The NRT business lounge left a lot to be desired (food/sushi was pretty boring and drinks options were rather limited) especially when compared to the LHR business lounge but free beer and wifi made it all the better! By that time Nick and Ramo had joined us so the Tools on Tour 2 banter was slowly building up!

Eventually the time came to board our flight to GUM. United Airlines was a new experience! I particularly enjoyed the dramatic music that accompanied the safety briefing (you know the “how to do your lifejacket and safety belt” etc video). The level of the (annoying) soundtrack was increasing all the time up to the end making it almost impossible to listen to the instructions!!! And for some bizarre reason the stewards were just standing still and did not bothered to point to the nearest emergency exit!!! Which made me wonder why did they had to stand altogether…

On arrival to GUM (2,508 km – 04:45 hrs later) we had to go through USA immigration which I wasn’t looking forward to. Surprisingly the whole thing was pretty straight forward and went without a glitch helping us make it to our hotel at a very reasonable time. Getting out of the airport the first thing to notice has Heat & Humidity. Big time. As it was night we couldn’t see an awful lot and although Mike was keen to go out for a wonder he got over it as soon as he stood out of the hotel (and the Air conditioning) and realised that going out was a bad idea!!!

Fri 13/06/2014: Day 3 – Outbound Journey

In the last two days we had completed the greatest part of the route (12,769 km). The remaining (3,315 km) was going to take as much time!!!

After breakfast (US of A sized) we made our way to Guam airport. We were already checked-ina nd went straight to security which took a little longer than expected as they had to search everything!!! Guam airport is not a very interesting place and just as well I had my trusty Kindle with me to keep me company as Mike had to go back out and help David with his dry suit inflation cylinder that wouldn’t go past security unless they removed the valve! Needless to say the rest of the team were at the United Airlines business lounge drinking champaigne! (yes at 08:30 in the morning!)

The rest of the day involved repeat flights. First to Guam, then to Truck then to Pohnpei from there to Kosrae and eventually to Kwajalein Atoll.  Because the plane was landing and passengers embarked / disembarked we had to take our luggage from the overhead lockers so that the “Agents” would inspect it. As I was expecting Agent Smith I was disappointed when the only “Agents” that boarded the plane were the cleaning crew…

hugo-weaving-as-agent-smith-in-the-matrix

Apart from the “Agents” passengers dressed with flower huka hoops on their necks and heads boarded the plane which was, if nothing else, picturesque.

Hawaina Hula - photo courtesy of Alternative Hawai
Hawaian Hula – photo courtesy of Alternative Hawai

The punishment of having to listen to the horrible briefing with the “thriller-like” soundtrack continued until we disembarked the airplane.

Kwajalein airport is on Kwajalein Island of Kwajalein Atoll. As much as Kwajalein Atoll belongs to Marshall Islands the island itself is a United States Army missile base.

“The U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) is home to the Reagan Test Site.   Located in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), 2,100 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, Kwajalein is the world’s largest coral atoll surrounding the world’s largest lagoon.  Eleven of the 100 islands comprising the Atoll are leased by the United States from the RMI government.  Radar, optics, telemetry, and communications equipment on eight islands provide instrumentation for ballistic missile and missile interceptor testing and space operations support.” as the USAKA website reliably informs us 🙂

At this point we had the first and only Heartache of the trip. We were all concerned as to how much (if any) of our diving gear would eventually make it to Bikini after all this travelling, flying, inspection by USA customs and multiple flights. On disembarking from the plane we were casually joking about it when the time came to collect our luggage that had been offloaded from our plane and as it turned out Nick’s rebreather was missing.

At that point we were not quite sure where the rebreather was. The options were: Australia, Alaska or Arkansas (and these are just some of the destinations starting with the letter A!) Considering how far we had flown and the number of changes the unit could have been anywhere in the world!!!

Nick at that point was obviously gutted but held well under pressure (I think if that was me I would have broken down in tears at the prospect of diving OC – although in the end I did end up diving OC – irony!!!).

The best case scenario was that the unit was still onboard our plane and had just taken off to go to Hawaii, Not a bad place for a rebreather to go at all. But no good for Nick. 😦

At that point there was not much we could do other than wait for the plane to come back (Saturday morning) from Hawaii and hope the unit is still aboard.

After the necessary passport etc controls we were escorted to the Jetty where we boarded a United States Army Ferry Boat that took us to the jetty of Ebeye.

Kwajalein to Ebeye USA Army ferry
the ferry that took us from Kwajalein to Ebeye – photo courtesy of http://mikeandlisajean.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/kwajalein-ferry.html

 Loading the kit onto the ferry was fun but after that the journey from Kwajalein to Ebeye is around 15 minutes and is a good opportunity to enjoy the view and get acclimatised to the hot and humid weather 🙂

Actual photo of MV Winward of Indies Trader.
Actual photo of MV Winward of Indies Trader.

The tender of MV Winward was waiting for us and as soon as the ferry left Ebeye to return to Kwajalein they were next to the jetty, we boarded and headed to the boat.

By that time the sun had set and after a great dinner (the first of many) aboard MV Winward, Pete, Simon and the skipper and the  gave us a tour of the boat and a brief so that everyone knew what we will be doing the next couple of days (diving, diving and some more diving!!!). At about that point Pete mentioned that our vessel doesn’t have holding tanks. At the time that went un-noticed but it wouldn’t be long before I understood what that meant 🙂

Sat 14/06/2014: Day 4 – Prince Eugen

While the rest of us were preparing our kit Nick was anxiously looking at the sky waiting for the plane from Hawaii with his rebreather. The plane was sighted on time as expected and a rescue party was dispatched promptly. Along with Nick,  Pete went with a very big bag of tissues – just in case.

Soon after we saw the plane departing the tender appeared and from distance we could see a very aggitaded Nick holding (and lifting above his head!!!) a very big case!!! Success 🙂

I am not sure what was more impressive. That the unit made it to Bikini after all. Or seeing grumpy Nick in a good mood !!!

Prince Eugen
Prince Eugen (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Having had enough of flying and travelling (and now with all of our gear with us) we decided to have a break and go diving instead of starting the 30hr crossing of the Pacific Ocean to Bikini Atoll.

The first dive of the trip was going to be the Prince Eugen a German Heavy Cruiser launched in 1938 of 19,000t displacement and 200m long armed with eight 8 inch guns. For reference and as a comparison the SMS Konig (a battleship scuttled in Scapa Flow) was built in 1911 and of 29,000t was 175m long and had ten 12 inch guns. Prince Eugen along with the Bismark took part in the Battle of the Denmark Strait where she engaged the HMS Hood and the HMS Prince of Wales.

After the end of the War the Eugen was allocated to Operation Crossroads as a target ship. She survived both the Able and the Baker Nuclear Weapon detonations and was taken to Kwajalein for decontamination from radioactive waste. As the decontamination failed she was abandoned in Kwajalein where she eventually capsided and sunk.

Prince Eugen - Topsides
The props of Prince Eugen above the surface today – Photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson

Seeing this topsides it was pretty obvious that this was no regular shake-down dive. Not often we get the chance to dive a 170m Heavy cruiser even less as a first dive of the trip!!! This was awesome and things were only going to get better!!!

Although the props are above the water because of her size (175m) the top of the bows is at 30m of water! and sure enough there is scope for penetration and ferreting 🙂

Prince Eugen - Inside
Inside Prince Eugen – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
Inside the Prince Eugen
Bed inside Prince Eugen – Photo courtesy of Barry Smith

After the dive we were treated to second breakfast and then lunch before we got back in the water for our second dive in the Eugen!!! At the end of the day and having seen enough of the Eugen to really want to go back and penetrate deepen another day we had dinner and our boat started the long sail to Bikini Atoll.

Sun 15/06/2014: Day 5 – Crossing the Pacific

We were lucky with the weather and the sea was flat calm during the crossing to the Bikini Atoll making it far much much easier and enjoyable. I spent most of my time reading my book and enjoying the endless ocean around us. From that point onwards we were outside Mobile phone network coverage zone, no TV no internet. No other vessels at sea or planes. No land in any direction of the horizon! After a brief stop for a quick swim (at that point the chart was showing a mere 5,000m to the sea bed!!!).

Mon 16/06/2014: Day 6 – Diving the Sara

USS Saratoga - Courtesy of Wikipedia
USS Saratoga – Courtesy of Wikipedia

USS Saratoga was an aircraft carrier launched in 1925 of 43,000t and 270m length. After the end of the war she was found to be surplus to requirements and allocated to Operation Crossroads. She was located 2,265 yards away from ground zero of the Able and Baker tests. She survived the Able lightly damaged and sunk after the Baker test.

As she is a very big vessel and there is loads to see both outside, around and inside the wreck the plan was to dive the Sara both times for the first day and then as a second dive on subsequent days.

USS Saratoga Guns - photo courtesy of Barry Smith
USS Saratoga Guns – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
hard hats
USN divers hard hats deep inside the Sara – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
Admiral's desk USS Saratoga - Photo courtesy of Barry Smith
Admiral’s desk USS Saratoga – Photo courtesy of Barry Smith

The beauty of the Sara just as all the other wrecks of Bikini is that unlike wrecks in UK waters that have been battered by storms and souvenir hunters they are intact both on the outside and  the inside.

Tue 17/06/2014: Day 7 – Nagato

The Nagato is one of the biggest battleships ever made. Her 16 inch guns  include her in a very short list of 17 battleships ever made armed with 16″ guns and only 2 more ever built with 18″ guns. But that is not the only reason I wanted to dive the Nagato. The Nagato is a very special wreck because she was the flagship of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and led the 7th of December 1941 attack to Pearl Harbour.

Nagato historical photo
Historical photo Nagato – courtesy of wikipedia

Underwater the guns look equally impressive and she is a massive wreck too!

Nagato Guns
The Giagantic 16″ guns of Nagato – photo Courtesy of Barry Smith
Voice Tubes of Nagato Bridge
Voice Tubes at the Superstructure of Nagato

The Nagato makes for an awesome dive and being 215m there is loads to explore and many reasons to go back again and again and again!!!

Once back on the boat we had the second breakfast and a nap or in my case continue reading my book until the time came to dive the Sara again.

This time the plan was to go and visit the machinery room. Pete guided us (myself and Andris) to the entrance of the machinery room and off we were…

Lathes, Vertical drills and all sorts of serious tools were inside a rather small room 🙂

USS Saratoga machinery room - photo courtesy of Barry Smith
USS Saratoga machinery room – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
Machinery room
Inside the machinery room of the USS Saratoga
Machinery room
Inside the Sara: Machinery room

Loads of toys to look at but pretty tight space and easy to silt out. After diving we resumed our usual activities Gin n Tonic, Beer and reading. Life is good 🙂

sunset
Sunset with Gin n Tonic. Not a bad way to end the day!

Wed 18/06/2014: Day 8 – USS Arkanas

The Arkansas was a battleship laid down at 1910 and served both in the First and Second World Wars. She is 171m long and her main armament was a substantial twelve 12″ guns !!! (6 turrets with 2 guns each).

USS Arkansas
Historical photo of the Arkansas – photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Arkansas survived the Able test but she sunk during the Baker test. The monumental photo below shows the shadow of what used to be the Arkansas which lifted vertically and crashed to the bottom capsized.

Baker Blast Arkansas - photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Baker Blast Arkansas – photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Underwater of course she was equally as impressive!

nick props arkansas
Nick at the props of the Arkansas – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
Arkansas Guns Barry Smith
Gary and one of the Guns of Arkansas – photo courtesy of Barry Smith

Following a 142min dive we decided to surface and go for second breakfast 🙂 That is the second breakfast before lunch and a nap and another dive to the Sara!!! Between dives the fishing rods were out…

fishing between dives - photo courtesy of Aileen Small
fishing between dives – photo courtesy of Aileen Small

and occasionally we would catch fish!!!

surface interval fishing - photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson
surface interval fishing – photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson

Although the fish we caught didn’t always made it to dinner…

looks like someone else had my dinner - photo by Barry Smith
looks like someone else had my dinner – photo by Barry Smith

Brian took us to see even more torpedoes and the planes at the aft end of the Sara.

the Sara planes - photo by Bary Smith
planes at the Sara – photo by Bary Smith
torpedoes at the sara
torpedoes at the Sara – photo by Barry Smith

After a very modest 85 min dive we surfaced for more Gin n’ Tonic, dinner and the sunset 🙂

Bikini Sunsets
Sunsets in Bikini – photo by Mike Ferguson

Brian was very confident that there were Tiger sharks and he was desperate to see / dive with them so he decided to go for a night dive and take Edward with him.

Edward was very confident that there were Tiger sharks and was desperate NOT to see / dive with them so he didn’t really wanted to go for a dive with Brian (or anyone else for that matter)!

In the end Brian convinced Edward and they both reluctantly entered the water. Neither of them had a camera (so no photos) but Edward had a very big stick with him!!!

From the boat waching the diver’s lights was very impressive and could not help notice repeatedly 360 degree turns scanning the surrounding for Sharks. At some point we noticed the two lights separate and wondered if they got separated but considering the great vis it is more likely that Brian wanted to get away from Edwards big stick!!!

Much to Brian’s dissapointment and to Edwards delight there were no Tiger shark sightings…

Thu 19/06/2014: Day 9 – Lamson

After first breakfast the boat moved to the location of todays first dive which was going to be the Lamson.

A 100m long destroyer  located 720 yards away from ground zero of the Able test where she was was sunk.

lamson historical photo
USS Lamson Historical photo – photo courtesy of wikipedia

I like the Lamson because she is upright. and she is very much ship – shape. She is also considerably smaller than the other wrecks (half the length of the Nagato) which makes for easy navigation.

lamson
USS Lamson – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
depth charges lamson
Depth Charges ready to go at the Deck of the Lamson – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
lamson compass
Compass – photo courtesy of Barry Smith

The dive run time was a very sensible 124 minutes after which we headed back for second breakfast and lunch. During the surface interval our cook was preparing lunch lunch we Mango filleting the tuna we caught earlier (fishing) while preparing lunch (sushi). As it turns out. What was left over from the filleting process was disposed by throwing it overboard…

feeding fish
between dives – photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson

The second dive of the day was the Sara. The plan this time was to dive the main line. We jumped in the water and headed to the entry of the main line. The main line is a single passage that effectively crosses the whole length of the aircraft carrier.

bunk beds
bunk beds on cabins branching from the main line – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
galley
Saratoga galley – photo courtesy of Barry Smith
staircase to sickbay
The staircase to the sickbay and the dentists off the Main Line – photo courtesy of Barry Smith

That was a dive I certainly enjoyed. It was a deep penetration inside a wreck that went without a glitch. And what was even better is that if anyone had followed us they wouldn’t be able to tell that we had ever been there. Talk about Trim and Buoyancy control 🙂

Two hours later back on the boat time for beer, Gin n Tonic and relaxing 🙂

post dive relaxing
chilaxin’ after a great day of diving – photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson

After dinner and as it was late enough to do anything else we decided to do a bit of stargazing. As we were in the middle of nowhere and quite close to nothing there was no light pollution and the view was spectacular. My favourite part was seeing for the first time ever the Southern Cross.

the Crux or Southern Cross - photo courtesy of Wikipedia
the Crux or Southern Cross – photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Since Brian and Edward came back safe and in one piece without seeing any Tiger sharks a few more brave (but not as brave as Brian and Edward!) divers went back in the water for a night dive. the rest of us stayed on the boat drinking beer G n’ T end enjoying the spectacular light show of the diver’s torches!!!

Now don’t get me wrong.

I love diving,

I love night diving.

I love Wrecks.

I love diving wrecks.

I love diving wrecks at night

I love sharks

I love diving sharks

Just not convinced about night diving with sharks…

not yet …

Fri 20/06/2014: Day 10 – Anderson

The USS Anderson was a  Simms Class destroyer with a very impressive record. She took part in a number of operations not least of all The Battle of Midway where she recovered 203 men of the by then fatally wounded USS Yorktown. She is 100 m long

USS Anderson
USS Anderson – photo courtesy of wikipedia

Underwater Anderson lies on her Port side relatively intact.

Anderson Guns
One of the 5″ guns of the Anderson – photo by Barry Smith
Uss Arkansas Barry Smith
Gun & Turret of Arkansas – photo by Barry Smith

Sadly this was not a great dive for me as I had to abort mission due to a rebreather failure. On the surface and after a fair bit of troubleshooting it was confirmed that CCR diving was over for me for the remaining of the trip and Open Circuit was the way to go!!!

I spent most of the surface interval cannibalising my rebreather so that I can put together a twinset and continue diving the result was quite impressive.

back to oc
Diving OC – photo by Aileen Smal

As I had to match the dive times of rebreather divers I had to make sure that I had enough gas with me 🙂 As this was my first OC dive after a while I decided to take it easy and buddy up with Aileen who decided she would go CCR diving in a bikini! (and as it turns out we DO have  photos of that!). We went to see the planes and on the way back while looking around the “island” (Aircraft carrier control tower) we found a bugle!

Aileen Diving Bikini in a Bikini - photo by Mike Ferguson
Aileen Diving Bikini in a Bikini – photo by Mike Ferguson

On return to the boat we made our way to Bikini for the first of the two visits to the Bikini Island. We decided to opt for the scenic route rather than take the truck to the “Dive Centre” and so found ourselves walking in an incredible beach …

walk in the beach - photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson
walk in the beach – photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson

The location for the bbq and drinks was the old beach bar by the dive centre. Back in 1998 the island was thought to be safe to live. A dive centre opened and facilities (accommodation and a bar) for the divers too. In 2008 it was decided that the long term exposure to the residual radiation was too high for the residents so the island was abandoned minus a small team of people that are rotated for a period of time so that they can look after the place.

Dive Centre Closed - photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson
Dive Centre Closed – photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson
Dinner - photo courtesy of Aileen Small
Dinner – photo courtesy of Aileen Small

There was a lot of eating and even more (as you would expect from a group of well behaved divers) drinking.

the aftermath - photo courtesy of Aileen Small
the aftermath – photo courtesy of Aileen Small

And we came across new species (well new to us) this Coconut Crab. This one was a small fella (they grow up to 1m!!!) and their claws can crack open coconuts!!! It is considered to be a delicacy and an aphrodisiac (source: wikipedia)

Barry integrating with the local fauna - photo by Pete Mesley
Barry integrating with the local fauna – photo by Pete Mesley

A funny thing too a couple of us decided to take the morning off …

Sat 21/06/2014: Day 11 – Nagato

As the Nagato, due to its enormous size, is a beast of a dive, this time we were dropped off around midships and headed back to the massive props and rudder

Nagato Guns
Nagato 16″ guns lying on the seabed
Nagato Stern
Nagato Props & Rudders – photo courtesy of Pete Mesley

Then once back on the boat (and after second breakfast and lunch!) we wnet back in the water for the second dive of the day the USS Apogon an almost 100m long submarine. I like diving submarines because although there is no scope for penetration they usually are ship shape enough and when intact make for very picturesque dives.

sub swimthrough
swim through a fish soup!!! – photo by Barry Smith
Apogon Bows
USS Apogon Bows – Photo by Barry Smith

Back on the boat for more reading, eating and drinking 🙂

Post dive drinks and chat - photo by Mike Ferguson
Post dive drinks and chat – photo by Mike Ferguson

Sun 22/06/2014: Day 12 – Anderson

The morning dive was a return trip to the Anderson which I didn’t got to see much of last time!

USS Anderson props - photo by Barry Smith
USS Anderson props – photo by Barry Smith
The Devil is in the Detail - photo by Barry Smith
The Devil is in the Detail – photo by Barry Smith

Between dives we entertained ourselves with a bit of tombstoning (well more like boatstoning it was) . I failed repeatedly NOT to pinch my nose which above all was rather embarrassing…

Andris's high level entry - photo by Mike Ferguson
Andris’s high level entry – photo by Mike Ferguson

For the second dive we went back to the Sara only that this time Pete let Andris take his scooter so Andris kindly gave us a lift to the airplane that lies at the seabed off the stern with a machine gun lying on top of the “starboard” wing.

Planes around the Sara
Planes lying on the seabed of the Sara – photo courtesy of Barry Smith

Having had a a great time during our last visit to Bikini we decided to do it again and go for another bbq 🙂 This time instead of going for a beach walk we decided to take the tourist bus and go to explore the Island.

Nuclear Bunkers in Bikini - photo by Barry Smith
Nuclear Bunkers in Bikini – photo by Barry Smith
Walking in an abandoned Island in the Pacific - photo by Mike Ferguson
Walking in an abandoned Island in the Pacific – photo by Mike Ferguson
Jurassic Park Island ??? - photo by Barry Smith
Jurassic Park Island ??? – photo by Barry Smith
Bikini by Night! - Photo by Barry Smith
Bikini by Night! – Photo by Barry Smith

Mon 23/06/2014: Day 13 – Nagato

The penultimate day’s diving was going to be a final visit to the battleship Nagato. I made it to the broken part of the stern which further aft from the props and the massive rudders has parted from the wreck and lies on the sea bed.

During the second dive Pete took me to the Dentist’s which is a level below the main line in the sick bay area.

Toothache - photo by Barry Smith
Toothache – photo by Barry Smith

As much as the dive to the dentist’s was awesome I can not say t was my favourite dive. I am still struggling to stay still and in the confined space of a wrecked aircraft carrier that can be problematic. Maybe next time…

Tue 24/06/2014: Day 14 – The Sara

With Barry, DLK and Gary all out in a search and recovery mission to find and bring back Gary’s Go Pro that Gary very carefully dropped the day before myself and Mike got ready and went for a final dive to the Sara.

Once out of the water we started preparations for the long journey back. Washing  and hanging kit to try and some packing.

We were very very lucky with the weather and that welped with the drying of the kit!

Once everything was safely away we waved bye bye to Bikini and started our 30 hour journey back.

Wed 25/06/2014: Day 15 – Sail back to Kwajalein

The sail back could not have been any easier with virtually no wind and the Pacific being flat like a lake. Wale watch at the bridge spotted a few sperm whales but they were too shy and did not care for our company. Simon and Pete juped in the water and went for a long swim but as it looked like they got a little bit closer the wales dived and by the time they surfaced they were well further away.

Shy Sperm Whales - photo by Mike Ferguson
Shy Sperm Whales – photo by Mike Ferguson

On arrival to Kawajalein Atoll and still a way away from Ebeye  we stopped for a swim and a visit to a tropical, deserted, uninhabited island in the middle of thepacific. Not often I find myself standing in an island all alone and all to myself!.

Tropical Islands in the Pacific - Kwajalein Atoll (Marshall Islands)
Tropical Islands in the Pacific – Kwajalein Atoll (Marshall Islands)

At that point we came across the saddest and loneliest Island on the planet! You do not want to find yourself shipwrecked here!!!

lonely island - photo by Mike Ferguson
lonely island – photo by Mike Ferguson

Eventually at the evening we arrived to Ebeye, finished packing had dinner and after a few more drinks we decided to pass the proposed visit to Ebeye and instead went to bed…

Thu 26/06/2014: Day 16 – Fly to Guam

After saying goodbye to Pete who was on a later (much much later as it turned out because it was delayed by a couple of days!) flight we left MV Winward and headed for the jetty in Ebeye where the crew great as ever offloaded our kit and soon we boarded the ferry for the quick journey to Kawajalein. As a military airport the Kawajalein departures lounge is rather basic. Once more security was friendly and efficient and more than happy to deal with a multinational collection of retrobates like us!!!

As time was going by I decided I needed something to quench my thirst and (not sure what posessed me) opted for a Fanta! I do not generally do soft drinks. And that Fanta was not the Fanta I was looking for!

As it turns out (look at wikipedia for the different Fantas distributed in different parts of the world #WTF!) the have a red Fanta. Sweet and horrible. Yikes. Like Big time yikes. Straight to the bin

A little bit dissapointed by my Fanta I opted for an Ice Tea. Now for the whole of the week I have been drinking copious amounts of Aloha Ice Tea. Awesome!

Aloha Ice Tea
Aloha Ice Tea

Strongly recomend it and you can get it from here: http://itoen-usa.com/aloha-maid-natural/

So I went back to the lady at the bar and got an Ice Tea. Now I didn’t ask for a Sweetened Ice Tea because Ice Tea is by definition sweet. If it is not sweet then it is just Cold Tea. And I am not a great fan of Cold Tea.

Well. Ice Tea to the Bin. By that time I was running out of change, patience and I was also getting thirsty!

The last Failed experiment (before giving up and reverting to water) was Hershey’s

Hershey's
Hershey’s

All I am going to say is that if ever you find yourself wanting chocolate and see a Hersey’s in front of you in a vending machine just go for the SPAM

SPAM vending machine
SPAM vending machine

Yes the same vending machine could dispach SPAM as well and although I refused to have SPAM it could not have been much worst that the chocolate…

Eventually we made it to the United Airlines plane and the painful memory of that horrible safety video with the irritating thriller like soundtrack came back. On the plus side we got better fed this time as although we had one less landing and take off (no stop an Pohnpei) we got more ham and mayo sandwiches!!!

On arrival to Guam and considering how Christians the Americans are I was surprised the statue of Goddess of Life outside the airport terminal.

Goddess of Life
Goddess of Life

Pretty crap photo but then again I never claimed to be Helmut Newton and if you want to see an AWESOME!!! photo by Scott Cameron look here: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/19913515

Once I got over my excitement at seeing a Pagan statue at the we made our way back to our hotels for a quick shower and getting ready for drinks.

Apart from Simon and Gary who were already on their way home we met up at the Hard Rock Cafe in Guam for celebratory drinks.

Hard Rock Cafe Guam
Hard Rock Cafe Guam

Having had enough we left to go back to our hotel taking Nick and Ramo with us whom (after a lot of effort) we managed to convince that sleeping in our room would be better than sleeping at the airport!!!

Nick's goodbye card!
Nick’s goodbye card!

Fri 27/06/2014: Day 17 – Guam to Tokyo

Friday morning I had to check-in my luggage again as United Airlines were (a little bit) retarded and did not checked in my luggage directly to Tokyo although they did for almost everyone else in our group…

Guam airport is not a very exciting place having completed the necessary visit to the tourist shop to buy tacky stuff and I found out that the also sell cold tea. Like make tea (you know with a bit of milk) put it in a bottle and then in the freezer #wtf.

Bought some sweetened tea this time( I had learned my lesson) and made my way to the departure gate.

On arrival to Tokyo and after checkiing-in at the hotel we went to for a quick drink at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (yes the famous one from Lost in Translation) where Andris was staying for a drink at the roof bar (yes the famous one from Lost in Translation).

Drinks at the Hayatt in Tokyo
Drinks at the Hayatt in Tokyo

After that (and a brief tour in Andris Mahoosive Room and pretty impressive minibar too!!!

Hayatt Minibar - Yey!!!
Hayatt Minibar – Yey!!!

We headed out for dinner. We decided to opt for Korean. Now that was a cultural experience. Especially as we left Andris (with his limited Japanes) to order

Sake & Bibs!
Sake & Bibs!

Andris did a spectacular job at ordering pretty awesome cuts that we grilled ourselves in our little table-sized grill. All I have to say is that Korean food is Awesome (sake too!)

Sat 28/06/2014: Day 18 – Tokyo

The weather in Tokyo was rather grim and me being, well, me I decided that I do not need an umbrella despite the thick grey / black clouds and the dense fog in the horizon, Aillen was great she came with me to the tube station to show me how to use the Tokyo tube ticket issuing machines and from then onwards it was a doddle. Got the Tube (Marunouchi Line) from Nishinjuku  to Otemachi which is next to the Imperial Palace Gardens.

Tokyo Tube
Tokyo Tube map showing route from Hotel to Imperial Palace Gardens

By the time I got out of the tube station it was torrential rain and as I was umbrella-less I opted to hide in the first Starbucks that I found. Ordering was pretty straight forward despite my limited Japanese 🙂

The amusing part was WiFi. Apparently that Starbucks had free WiFi. All you had to do is register and then you get a confirmation e-mail with your password. Well that didn’t work! Of course as I could not connect I could not get the e-mail with the password. Very very interested to find out what Starbucks management were thinking!!!

After I had my coffee and read a fair bit more of Joseph T. Ward’s Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam which is highly addictive I decided I felt brave enough to go ahead with my visit to the Imperial Palace Gardens. Free entrance was a bonus but it was a bit of a shame that because it was weekend parts were closed and no guided tours were available. None the less I went ahead (see stubborn Greek).

Fujimi-Yagura
Fujimi-Yagura

Named after Mt Fuji which could be seen from here and from where Shogun enjoyed the views of fireworks at Ryogoku and Tokyo bay!!!

Panoramic view of the ponds
Panoramic view of the ponds

After I got thoroughly soaked and had enough of trying to avoid the rain I decided to hide in the tourist shop which much to my delight sold (yes you guessed correct!) Umbrellas!!! Having had my umbrella I went out again to find those faountains!!!

Dancing Waters
Dancing Waters

I was about to give up when Andris insisted that they were only just around the corner from the Palace! Which explained a lot! If the fountains were just around the corner then I would not find them inside the palace gardens (which is where I have been searching!!! (DOH)

trying to get this selfie thingy to work
trying to get this selfie thingy to work

After the short visit to the fountains (fountains stopped as soon as I got the photos!) I headed back to the hotel for a shower and dry clothes. I mean my clothes were dry by now but having been wet and then dry it was all rather unpleasant.

Time for lunch and this was definitely a new experience. Aileen seemed to know what she is doing so I (reluctantly) followed. As it turns out the plan for today was to have Ramen for lunch.

He Boiled for your Sins
He Boiled for your Sins

As a true and believer of the Church of the FSM and devoted to his Noodly Appendage this was an oportunity I could not miss!!!

Now silly me, I was expecting to walk into a restaurant. A waitress to show us to our table. Let us sit and then come to take our order.

Well it looks like things don’t work like that in tokyo noodle/ramen bars instead Aileen headed to the wall with a bizare device.

Order Food Here
Order Food Here

Suppose it was good news. As I don’t speak Japanese, the waitress didn’t speak English and I hadn’t had a clue what was I going to order. So pointed at an icon and ordered.

Apparently I ordered Ramen.

By ordering Ramen this is what I was expecting:

ram_wagamama-NEW-ram - courtesy of Wagamama

 instead this is what I got:

Ramen!
Ramen!

Not only it looked different but it tasted different too! By far the richest soup I have ever had!!!

I have reasons to believe (strong fishy taste) that it was Miso Ramen but I am no Ramen expert…

After that gastronomic experience I decided to have another local delicacy

Green Tea Kit Kat
Green Tea Kit Kat

Another acuired taste. Don’t think I will find it in Aberdeen but that’s no great loss either…

Shinjoku by Night
Shinjoku by Night

Following a short walk through Shinjoku and past the all famous Japan Robot Restaurant we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap before we go out again for drinks and dinner 🙂

Have we got enough whiskey?
Have we got enough whiskey?

A fine collection indeed. Quite clearly that Japanese are into their Whiskey. We had cocktails. Don’t aske me what. the menu was in japanese so I don’t know. It was nice though and I wanted more!!!

Once we had enough drinks and got hungry enough we decided it was time for Sushi!

Sushi - Loads of Sushi
Sushi – Loads of Sushi

Sushi was awesome and no surprises there so definitely enjoyed that!!!

As I had an early start I had to have an early night and I was a bit dissapointed the Shinjoku Robot Restaurant was booked and I wouldn’t get to see it but on the plus side Aileen and Andris had tickets to go on sunday!

Aileen at the Robot Restaurant
Aileen at the Robot Restaurant

Looks awesome and want to go back!!!

Domo Arigato Japan! It was awesome and looking forward to going back!!!

Sun 29/06/2014: Day 19 – Return Journey

Sunday morning I left the hotel and headed to the airport with the Airport limousine. Now before we get all too excited by limousine in Japan they mean Coach. A coach that takes you from the hotel to the airport. Pretty awesome but not quite a limousine!!!

Sadly I was not upgraded to business this time and I had to suffer premium economy. Not bad at all. Did spend the whole of the flight reading James M. Tabor’s Blind Descent a book I can not recommend enough. Caves are scary. Like very seriously scary.

I finally made it back to ‘deen (aka the Granite City) early in the evening and headed home surprisingly relaxed and despite expecting to be tired after the 2 days of flying and travelling I found myself thrilled and with a very very big smile in my face!!!

Diving Kit

All divers in the group were diving rebreathers. Considering that we are talking about deep penetrations at 50+ m I do not think that OC is a good idea. Other than that the water temperature was a balmy 28 deg C so any thin wetsuit will do. Full length and covered as much as possible as the wrecks are as sharp as it gets. you get cut only by looking at them let alone touching them…

Take as many spares / consumables and specialist tools as you need because you will be in the middle of nowhere and if anything brakes you have to fix it yourself and of course a big torch (and a backup one and a spare one) as most of the diving was inside the wrecks.

Budget

Without going in to too much detail I have included a breakdown of costs. Nick’s write-up in CCR Explorers is also excellent reference and includes a good guide to help budgeting and planning with this trip.

Curr Cost Description
USD 179.00 Upgrade Fee – Business Class
USD 79.00 Upgrade Fee – Economy Plus
USD 29.00 Second Checked luggage
USD 174.00 misc
USD 172.05 Guam – Hilton
USD 15.00 Guam taxi – hotel to airport
USD 875.00 Lust 4 Rust – Gas, Lime etc
USD 6,500.00 Lust 4 Rust
YEN 13,117.00 misc
YEN 30,000.00 Taxi from Airport to Tokyo Hilton Hotel
YEN 4,920.00 NRT Baggage Storage
YEN 3,100.00 Tokyo Coach to Airport
GBP 1,320.95 BA LHR-NRT-LHR
GBP 22.92 misc
GBP 165.32 Tokyo – Hilton
GBP 130.72 BA ABZ-LHR-ABZ
GBP 728.90 UA NRT-KWA-NRT

So far I have managed to track expenses to £8,200 so I guess a £9k would be fairly accurate

Epilogue…

I went to Bikini having very high expectations and not only my expectations were met but were repeatedly exceeded!!! Yes there is no doubt the diving was awesome and better than anywhere else I have ever dived before but Bikini is a lot more that that:

  • it is the journey to get there,
  • the company of people
  • the remoteness of the location,
  • the Pacific,
  • Tokyo,
  • Sharks,
  • Whales,
  • Stargazing,
  • The lack of communication with the outside world
  • The remoteness and the uninhabited islands
  • being in a place that less people visit than those that climb the top of mount Everest

made for a unique feeling of adventure that I had not felt before and many many new firsts and personal best.

None of that would have happened without the team that made the Bikini Atoll – June 2014 trip so special

Many thanks to the Tools on Tour 2 team:

  • Paul Toomer
  • Pete Mesley
  • Simon Mitchell
  • Andris Nestors
  • Aileen Small
  • Mike Ferguson
  • David Lau-Kee
  • Barry Smith
  • Andrew Rampton
  • Nick Butcher
  • Gary Linger
  • Brian (Diving Ops Sup)
  • Edward (Bikinian dive guide)
Tools on Tour 2 in bikini - Photo Pete Mesley
Tools on Tour 2 in bikini – Photo by Pete Mesley

Diving the West Coast with DSAC (Miami Vice Style)

or else the Deeside SAC diving trip where 5 cars and 3 boats went out and 4 cars and 2 boats made it back…

The time for the club’s first diving trip of the year had come at last! After a lot of anticipation and even more planning (by Simon) 10 divers were ready to set off from Aberdeen to go to the West Coast for a weekend of RHIB diving. The plan (meticulously prepared by Simon) required a relatively early start after work from Aberdeen, drive to the Oban dive Saturday and Sunday (2 dives each day) and come back late in Sunday evening.

Friday 21/03/2014 – The Journey

The day started with unbelievably good weather. Clear blue skies and sunshine. I loaded the kit to the car and drove to work. On arrival I regretted not having taken my sunglasses with me as it made it difficult for driving and I would so definitely need them for the weekend!

As usual prior to dive trips the day seems to be dragging on forever but at last the clock ticked 14:45 the time to shut down my computer and get out of the office!

Met with Simon at the car park and moved my gear to his car. managed to fit just about everything including rebreather spares, consumables, food and a pineapple!?

Showing Pineapple (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Showing Pineapple (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

After pumping the tires up to the optimum pressure (following Diving officers pre-dive checklist) we started our trip. Although at the South end of the city and right on the perfect spot to start our journey we decided to head North into the city Centre and the Friday afternoon traffic as we had to go to the Bridge of Dee and pick-up Aberdeen Universities RHIB which we were to deliver to OBAN. The traffic turned out to be not as bad as expected and after hitching the boat we started on our trip to the West Coast this time following the Northern route via Fort William.

  • Clear skies.
  • sunshine
  • sunglasses
  • 2 cool blokes
  • in a fast car
  • towing a boat
  • and the Miami Vice soundtrack playing at the background
  • life is good!!!

Aberdeen To Oban - The Snow Route

A couple of stops to check that the boat and the trailer were ok and about 2 hrs before Fort William we noticed the weather changing.

At the same time Si’s fast car Turbo was dying on us. An intermittent fault that resulted in loosing Turbo meant that we were in for a long long trip.Luckily the remedy turned out to be relatively straight forward. Quick stop the car. Turn the engine off. Start again!

As it was getting dark we didn’t really paid much attention to it and continued driving. About 1.5 hrs before Fort William we were inside a blizzard! A couple of inches of snow all around us and more snow falling!!! At about that time I caught myself thinking “doesn’t look like I will be needing those sunglasses now.!” and that was probably the wrong time to realize that I had no jacket!!!

Rather surprised by the change of weather we decided to check on the other divers how they were progressing. I texted Brian who had started earlier that us and shortly after I got a response by Dave (odd I thought). Brian’s car had died. They were stuck in the blizzard waiting for road assistance! OUPS!

tht's what it looked like from inside the car
that’s what it looked like from inside the car

Indeed before long we came across their stranded truck and boat trailer. It was just after the first road assistance truck had arrived and they were loading the truck never to be seen again…

The second road assistance truck hitched the boat and although at that point in time it did not felt very much like Mimi Vice we all continued our eventful trip to Oban.

After a quick stop for dinner Chinese (crystal Palace in Oban) everything looked better and after a short drive we made it to Tralee Bay Holidays and checked in to our Lodge “The Rondo” non the less!!!

Keith and Quentin were also there as Keith had picked up Quentin from the “incident scene” and soon after Mike and Gar arrived and the road assistance truck delivered Brian, Dave and most importantly The boat!!! J

By the time Kathleen, Jenny and Phillipe arrived we were on our 3rd (or fourth) WELL DESERVED drink!!!

 Saturday 22/03/2014 – Diving Day 1

Saturday morning I woke up by the smell of frying bacon which (as am not a morning person) is by far the best way to wake up in the morning!!! Simon and Quentin were already preparing a fry up and after breakfast we started preparing our kit and the boats to launch.

View from the Lodge's Balcony on Saturday Morning
View from the Lodge’s Balcony on Saturday Morning

The weather was on our side for the morning and the launching of the boats but turned soon after we left Tralee Bay and made for a rather unpleasant ride until we got shelter at the Heather Island.

After the dive we moved back to Dunstaffnage marina (www.dunstaffnagemarina.co.uk) where Mike keeps the boat and I spent most of the surface interval in the toilet.

With a hand hair dryer…

drying my undersuit that was soaked as my right hand cuff seals were leaking

The second dive was the SS Breda (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Breda)

Photo courtesy of DIVERnet
Photo courtesy of DIVERnet

SS Breda Photo Courtesy of DIVERnet Wreck Tour 9 (http://www.divernet.com/Wrecks/wreck_tours/159469/wreck_tour_9_the_breda.html)

And also see Rod McDonald’s page on the SS Breda: http://www.rod-macdonald.co.uk/index.php/Scottish-Wrecks/ss-breda.html, or Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Breda

After a light lunch (sandwiches prepared during breakfast) we went in for the second dive of the day.

The dive went to plan with me and Brian diving and surfacing together which was a challenge considering that visibility was really poor. Much to my surprise I could see a halocline in the water which I did not expect as I thought the Breeda was too far from the coast for that but as it turns out she is not! Also my cuff seals held and had a dry and very pleasant dive!!! We even managed to find the shot line and ascent on the same line we descended. I still find it amazing how much your navigation skills improve when you (or Brian in this case) clip a £300 strobe light on the shot light…

the weather conditions had improved significantly and while on the boat waiting to recover divers I found myself thinking this is a good day to be out diving!!!

On returning to the lodges and after a little bit of diver / rebreather fuff myself and Si went to deliver (at a WWII Nuclear Bunker!!!) the Aberdeen University SAC RHIB and afterwards buy more food from the supermarket!!!

Back at the lodges Quentin and Gar had been busy making Dinner. A most excellent Chili con Carne which we washed down with copious amounts of Gar’s Kopparberg kopparbergh cider!!! Steve and Sue had also popped in to say hay and Steve was coming diving with us tomorrow!!!

After dinner we continued drinking and talking diving nonsense until late… (as diver do)

Sunday 23/03/2014 – Diving and the Journey Back

As you probably guesses I woke up by the smell of frying bacon, sausages and breakfast being prepared!!! After a bit of diving / kit / rebreather fuf / TLC

usual rebreather diver pre-dive fuf
usual rebreather diver pre-dive fuf (Photo courtesy of Brian Burnett)

Mike had an accident doing DIY on his boat and decided he wouldn’t dive but was absolutely great helping us launch the boats (apart from when he dropped the yellow boat. No that was not excellent.)

Beautiful - Beautiful Day (photo courtesy of Brian Burnett)
Beautiful – Beautiful Day (photo courtesy of Brian Burnett)
Diving Weather!!! - Photo courtesy of Brian Burnett
Diving Weather!!! – Photo courtesy of Brian Burnett

Eventually we launched all 3 boats as Steve had joined us with his boat and headed out to dive the “Haunted House” which was meant to be a drift dive, had the current made an appearance, but turned out to be shy and those that went in had some fining to do!

Myself and Brian were meant to be on the second wave but as the reports were not exactly promising, awe-inspiring diving we decided to pass.

Heading back we stopped at the Breeda for one more dive. Myself and Brian went in and although visibility had not improved much (or at all) we still enjoyed penetrating the wreck and found the way back (without a £300 strobe attached to the line you will be surprised to hear!). I was delighted I managed that dive as my right hand cuff seal developed a tear earlier that morning so I didn’t thought I was going to go diving until I had a light-bulb moment and decided to use my dry gloves and that worked!!!

Gar and Quentin went in as soon as we were back on the boat but managed to miss the wreck.

  • They managed to miss the wreck that Simon found.
  • Although they saw Simon heading to the wreck.
  • They thought they shouldn’t follow him. They new better.
  • So they dived lobster posts instead…

Divers sometimes make me wonder…

Back to the Lodges we recovered the boats and after tidying up we started our trip back to Aberdeen. Not before long we had to stop because the trailer had no breaks. Luckily we were close to Steve’s place who kindly offered help, tools and a jack! In the meantime while Simon and Steve were working to fix the trailer brakes I was enjoying a nice cup of tea in the sunshine. Am good like that!

Eventually we decided to leave the garden and the sunshine and start driving back home. The trip was generally uneventful minus a few stops for the Turbo to recover and the trailer bearings that were heating up. After the customary stop at the Comrie Fish and Chip Shop (http://www.comrie.org.uk/business-directory/2790/the-comrie-fish-and-chip-shop/) (courtesy of Mr BJB/Carlos) we continued to the boat shed were a rather tired Dave had been waiting for the last couple of hours!!!

We offloaded the kit from the boat and Simon’s car (including the pineapple) and headed home. Washing kit would have to wait for tomorrow…

Many Many thanks go to:

  • Simon for organizing the trip (and bringing a pineapple along in a diving weekend)
  • Carlos (BJB) for being a great dive buddy
  • Quentin and Gar (not many people manage to miss the most dived, permanently buoyed, wreck in the West Coast!!!)
  • Keith, Dave, Kathleen, Phil, Jenny and Mike for making it a great weekend
  • Steve and Sue for all their help and company

Looking forward to see you and dive with you all soon

Dimitris

Diving scapa flow with Aberdeen Watersports out of MV Valkyrie

Last time I was diving Scapa Flow it was August 2009 and of course as much as I had promised to return that didn’t happened until November 2013. This time though it was much much easier! 🙂

Scapa 2009 Trip

Unlike last time I had not had to endure the endless drive from London to Scrabster but only travel from Aberdeen to Scrabster and from there take the ferry to the Orkneys!

A small panic with batteries aside and the usual madness of packing CCR diving gear for a weeklong trip on Thursday evening everything went to plan. On Friday I finished with work early and went back home to finalize preparations. Steve arrived after a very long drive from London and since the common consensus was Breakfast at McDs we decided to skip the pub (very much unlike us!) and have an early night (even more unlike us!) since the alarm was set for about 04:30!!!

Saturday 2 November 2013 – The trip to Scapa

Well before the first rays of light showed in the sky we started loading the car, which obviously contained already a significant amount of kit, and set off to meet the rest of the team at the Backsburn roundabout from where we would form a convoy to drive to Scrabster.

We arrived at the known junk food restaurant first and proceeded to place orders. Much to Steve’s disappointment the IT system had gone down and they had to reboot the system before they could not take any orders. In the meantime the team started to gather and more and more, just woken up, divers started to appear. A couple more attempts to order the much needed now breakfast were met with the same response “System is down. Waiting to reboot” and at about that time we noticed A LOT of smoke coming from the galley and a few panicked people running around! At that point we had already been there for more than half an hour and if anything was coming that would be  a fire engine than our breakfast!!!

Disappointed and hungry we started our journey with an EPIC MacDonalds FAIL. Fortunately just before Elgin, Steve spotted the “Golden Gates” and stopped for a high quality (not) breakfast prepared by the greatest junk food producing establishment in the world!!!

I was compensated for that traumatic experience though at Scrabster, where on arrival we had tea, bacon baps and cakes at Scrabster’s Cups tea room. Cakes were great and I was rather upset that I had to leave before I got to try ALL cakes in the menu!!! 

Steve was really excited about this Cafe!

At about that time the whole of the group had made it to the North Link Ferries Terminal in Scrabster and we were ready to start boarding.

Boarding can be done in two ways

  1. Straightforward: drive the car to the ferry. Get out of the car and walk up to the bar
  2. Fuffing: Offload the car. Load the trolley. Take the trolley to the ferry. Walk up to the bar.

Steve opted for option i) as option ii) did not seem pleasant or fun.

Aboard the MV HAMNAVOE and after the necessary introductions the whole team assembled for a first drink!

The Scapa Nov 2013 crew: Steve, Cam, Chris (the drinking one), Chris (the one with loads of hair), Ian, Paul, Angela, Don, Mike, Alison (without lube on her hair), Bjorn & of course me!!!,

 The trip was short and on arrival to Scrabster we boarded MV Valkyrie which would be home to us for the following week!

MV Valkyrie (photo courtesy of MV Valkyrie)

Once on the boat and having got our cabins Hazel showed us around and briefed us on how things would work for the rest of the week. The briefing included facilities, food, gas, time schedules and other stuff to ensure that everyone knew what was going on and what the expectations / requirements were.

Highlight of the briefing was the clear “No Take” policy of MV Valkyrie that I am particularly fond of. Sadly I have been aboard diving vessels where the skipper, not only did not explicitly discouraged looting of wrecks but, effectively promoted it! Salvaging anything that could identify the wreck is acceptable provided that the formal procedure is followed, for further details read the MCA guidelines on the subject here and there. Salvaging anything else after that so that it can be sold to recover the diving trip costs is a pathetic, pikey attitude unfortunately very common amongst certain diving communities.

Of course there are divers that recover “pretty” things to fill their garage, garden shed or even living room and although this is not as bad as salvaging wrecks to sell them (see pikey) it still deprives future divers from enjoying their dives, apart from the fact that it is usually illegal and stealing along with looting which are not agreeable activities in my books.

Skippers have a role to play and they should be promoting responsible diving as in the end the only one hurt will be themselves. No one wants to dive a barren broken-up featureless wreck. Features like bells, compass, lights, telegraphs etc make a dive interesting, removing them makes for boring dives. I am aware of divers that will avoid booking with certain skippers because they won’t allow them to bring up “spidge” but for how long are they going to be able to sustain that?

With the briefing out of the way we started loading our kit on the boat. That proved to be a bit of a challenge, as the boat was quite low or to be more precise the tide was low!!! Kit was lowered into the boat either by hand, rope or just thrown down (had a couple of near misses there!!!) and apart from a rubbish bag (which was recovered) we didn’t drop anything else!!!

 Once everything was sorted, and after a fair bit of dive kit fuffing (a theme that would continue throughout the week) we made our way to the Ferry Inn for a couple of drinks and dinner. Apparently the scallops portions left a few divers hungry but generally the dinner was great and so fed and watered we made our way to the boat in very very heavy rain!!!

To be continued…

Sunday 3 Nov 2013 – Day 1 of Diving

The weather forecast was never favourable for this week and by last night’s rain we knew that it was going to be an ugly Sunday morning. None the less we were all excited and determined to go diving. Hazel was quite confident that we would manage a dive. So at 8o clock we cast the ropes and headed out of port. Howling winds and a very wet deck by the sea splash / spray and continuous rain made even the bravest of us to realize that this was not a diving day!!! more like a “I think I want to go back to bed please” day but we pushed forward…

 Shortly after leaving the harbour Helen called us at the lounge for the first of many excellent dive briefings. The first dive was going to be a shake-down dive to make sure that all was working before we go ahead diving more adventurous stuff later in the week.

Once on site Rob informed us that it was too exposed

Video Of Scapa Exotic Weather

and we would make our way to the F2 which is more sheltered and our only chance to dive today.

On arrival to the F2 & the YC21 Barge the conditions were, not exactly tropical, but  safe to dive and as we were already kitted up we decided to go for the first dive of the trip.

F2 Briefing Sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)

A video of the F2 dive by  Chris Smith can be found  here.  As this was a shallow wreck I decided not to take my 100m long reel. The down side of that was that I was too light, as my reel makes part of my “integrated weight system”.

🙂 “Hindsight is the Superpower I would love to have most!” 🙂

Back on the boat and before we even got out of our kit Rob announced that the conditions were too bad for another dive today and we would head back to post. A decision that was welcomed by everyone as a few green faces had started to appear!!!

Helen had prepared Lunch (Soup, Rolls, Meats, Cheese & Salad) and by the time we made it back to port the weather was getting better. It turns out that not many diving boats made it out on Sunday altogether!

 After a bit more of fuffing and a look around the local diving shops Scapa Scuba and Dive Scapa Flow‎ (which would make a theme for the rest of the week) we returned to Hazel to get fed again!

 Dinners on the Valkyrie are epic. Really. Our dinner tonight was made up of: Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese, Shepherds Pie & Strawberries & Cream for dessert!!! yammy!!! And the quantities could only compare to being at home AND being fed by mum!!! AWESOME!

After dinner we retired to the lounge / saloon to watch Star Trek. Not the most social activity I hear you say? Well maybe, but if you had what we had for dinner you wouldn’t be able to do an awful lot more!!!

Monday 4 November 2013 – Day 2 of Diving

After breakfast we left port to dive the SMS Brummer. 30 min prior to reaching the dive site Helen summoned us to the lounge for the diving briefing which included a sketch of the wreck and detailed instructions as to how to descent, all the interesting features available for us to see and how not to miss The Guns. Halfway during the briefing I found myself thinking “I really want to dive this wreck and see all these awesome features, Masts, capstans, bathtubs, Guns, the bridge, Guns, The battle bridge and did I say Guns?”.

SMS Brummer (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

For a virtual 3D dive on the SMS Brummer visit Scapa Flow Wrecks and see SMS Brummer.

On surfacing Rob was waiting for us to refill cylinders (for the gas guzzling twinsets – NOT ME! 🙂 and with cups of tea and coffee. Soon lunch was ready and we proceeded to the galley for an epic Fry-up. 

By the time we finished lunch Helen was preparing the briefing for the next dive! 

SMS Karlshrue briefing sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)

Chris’s Smith SMS Karlshrue Video here and for a virtual 3D dive on the SMS Karlshrue visit Scapa Flow Wrecks and here. 

Alternatively if you want more information on the SMS Karlshrue or indeed any other of the Scapa Flow wrecks you can get Rod McDonalds excellent book Dive Scapa Flow.

Odd features at either quarter of the Stern (potentially mine laying chutes) looked intriguing but sadly my knowledge of WWI warship Naval Architecture is rather limited so could not possibly comment…

After the dive and while Rob was filling cylinders we set course to the port of Stromness.  On arrival and after a bit of fuffing about with diving kit we made our way to Julia’s Café for another round of cakes (as if we weren’t getting enough food aboard the MV Valkyrie!?). While enjoying our Mocha with Marshmallows and other unhealthy chocolaty stuff we bumped onto the Deeside SAC divers that were visiting Scapa at the same time with us! Brian, Mike, Simon, Gar et al were all in Scapa diving on the Club’s annual pilgrimage to Scapa Flow organized traditionally by Lorne.

Right on time we headed back to get fed by Helen who had prepared: Sweet Potato Soup, Chicken Curry & Pineapple Upside Down Cake for dessert!!!

 Although watching films was entertaining enough we decided to give Cards Against Humanity a chance as it seemed amusing enough and we were advised that it a suitably offensive cards game to play.

 Sadly the US version of the game didn’t prove to be as offensive or amusing as expected although I am sure that the UK version would make up for it!!!

Subsequently we progressed to play “The Hat Game” a kind of cards game (probably conceived by Steve altogether) and by that time the combined effect of alcohol (which surely one has to have to accompany such team activities) and comments about “Charismatic Leaders” and “Comic Heroes – see Mumm-Ra” led a couple of non-Political Correct but thoroughly entertaining miming games!!!

I am pretty sure I am NOT going to be playing the “Hat Game” in any family gatherings that is for sure!!!

To be continued…

Tuesday 5 November 2013 – Day 3 of Diving

The time to start diving the “more” exciting wrecks of Scapa had come! Today the weather was better and the first dive of the day was going to be the SMS Krownprinz Wilhelm.

Photo of the SMS Krownprinz Wilhelm (courtesy of Wikipedia)

 For a virtual 3D dive on the SMS Krownprinz Wilhelm visit Scapa Flow Wrecks and here. Apart from being the massive wreck of a battleship the Krownprinz was the only of the Koning class Battleships to take part in the Battle of Jutland and escaped without damage!

Back on the boat Rob was filling cylinders and Helen was filling divers with Burger, Chips & Salad!!! (No. Before you ask. No. There was no demand for salad!)

The afternoon dive was a quite unique dive. Submarine  UB 116 was the last submarine to be sunk at the Great War. She was lost with all hands on deck when a whole minefield was detonated around her! 😮 Sadly further salvage efforts and an (unsuccessful) attempt to make safe of her 10 remaining torpedoes resulted in a wreck site that looks nothing like a submarine. For further info on the story of the UB116 see the UBoat Net and Wikipedia’s entry on UB-116 here.

After that and back on port we gathered in the galley for Helen had prepared for us Garlic Bread, Lasagne & Apple Crumble (Growing fat at this point!!!)

Once more having had a great dinner we retired to the lounge to have a quiet drink and relax for the remaining of the night. Relaxing didn’t really last very long because SPACE TEAM was introduced and quickly got loads of dedicated fans. SPACE TEAM is a mobile phone game and as it works on any smart phone quite quickly it spread amongst all (well almost) all members of the crew. Won’t go into the details other than it is addictive and it definitely is a team game!!!

SPACE TEAM Video

Wednesday 6 November 2013 – Day 4 of Diving

The first dive on Wednesday was the   SMS MARKGRAF another Konig class battleship and sister ship to the SMS Krownprinz Wilhelm we dived yesterday. Interestingly enough the SMS MARKGRAF is named after  the royal family of Baden (see Wikipedia here). The SMS Baden was was the largest and most powerfully armed battleship built by the Imperial Navy (see Wikipedia here). Sadly the Baden lies at the Hurd’s deep at about 170 to 180 msw which is slightly outside recreational diving limits 😉 And if the depth is not enough to put divers off it is also worth mentioning that (due to the depth) it was considered to be an appropriate location for damping Chemical and radioactive waste from mid 40s to mid 70s…

For more info on diving the SMS Baden you can read Mark Ellyat’s excellent book Gladiator of the Deep.

Having seen guns of all sizes and dimensions we decided to get back to Helen for Chilli Con Carne!!! Awesome diving and awesome food!!!

Diving the V83 as the second dive of the day had to be a shallow dive (in-line with good PADI diving practices – Avoiding reverse profiles) we are good like that 😉 The V83 was a Torpedo boat destroyer that was used by Ernest Cox of Cox & Danks Shipbreaking Co. to salvage the High Seas Fleet. There is an excellent book about the story of Ernest Cox called The Man Who Bought A Navy and I strongly recommend reading it to all divers and engineers!!!

V83 briefing sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)

Not a dive I enjoyed as I was having buoyancy issues and poor communication issues.

At some point I pulled out my reel so that we could reel out to the Concordia Boiler unfortunately (poor communication) Steve thinking that I was preparing to deploy my DSMB for ascent he started to prepare his DSMB for deployment and ascent!!! Luckily neither of us was having a ball on that dive so it didn’t really spoiled anyone’s dive! On the plus side we managed to see the Gun and the officers quarters! You can see Chris’s Smith V83 Video of the dive here .

On arrival to port we decided to break the common theme of fuffing about with diving kit and killing time until dinner and decided to pay a visit to the Highland Park distillery a rather dangerous activity as divers are known to be partial to alcohol…

The highland park distillery is located near Kirkwall in a very impressive complex of traditional buildings. Sadly by the time we got there it was too late to join for the last distillery tour but we had plenty of time to look around the fine collection of bottles and invest in some quality whiskey.

I could not resist buying a bottle of HP 15 yo whiskey and a bottle of DRAKKAR to take to Greece and drink celebrating meeting with my brother after 2 years!!!

 We had to make sure we are back in time for dinner as we did not want to upset Hazel (nor miss dinner)!!! so quickly we finished with all whiskey purchases and after a quick stop by LIDL (to buy cheap booze) we headed back to the boat where Hazel had prepared for us Chorizo & Mushroom Quiche, Stuffed Chicken & Banoffee Pie!!!

 And after that in a rather sluggish – slow motion style (see eating loads of great food above) we made our way to the pub for a couple of drinks…

To be continued…

Thursday 7 November 2013 – Day 5 of Diving

With the weather looking good we left port to dive the SMS Dresden II a Coln class light cruiser that was commissioned late on the war and din not see any action. Although during the dive briefing Helen pointed out at the Shield with the Dresden crest at the starboard Bow I managed to miss it during the dive and needless to say I was quite disappointed about it, but I suppose that makes for a good excuse to go back no???

Guns, The Armoured Control and the bathtub at the Officers Quarters made for a very enjoyable dive and as by now we were getting the hang of it Ascents Descents and DSMB deployments were getting better and better.

SMS Dresden II briefing sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)

Back on the boat and after the customary cup of tea the team now addicted to SPACE TEAM and having set up a WiFi network on the boat returned to the popular activity of screaming and shouting to each other!!!! The only break came when Helen sounded the Bell and we moved to the galley for Sausage Pasta Bake. During lunch the conversation was around the many different chilli sauces that Helen had collected that rated from regular Tabasco to Hot – Super Hot – Stupidly Hot and Dangerously Hot!!! Some of them even came with warning labels:

“Not to come to direct contact with the skin!!!” OMFG!!!

 Of course you would think that everyone would stay clear of the particular Uber-Hot ones rather than go on and smear it all over their faces, but hey we are talking about divers here!!!

The second dive of the day was SMS Coln II a sister ship of the Dresden II that we dived that morning. Along with her sister came too late in the war to get to see any action. Although sister ship to the Dresden II it is impressive to note the differences between warships based on the same design but built on different shipyards. Sometimes it feels like Designs are like a pirate code “more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules” which is a bit disturbing for engineers like me…

SMS Coln II briefing sketch showing features and orientation (courtesy of MV Valkyrie)

You can see Chris’s Smith SMS Coln II Video of the dive here

For dinner Helen had prepared Red Onion & Cheese Puffs, Stew and Chocolate Cheesecake!!!

After dinner and as folk was lying in their cabins a certain known mischievous diver thought that it would be funny to replicate the known scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean where Jack Sparrow is trying to Rock the Boat!

Friday 8 November 2013 – Last of Diving / Return

The last day of the trip is always a bit depressing. I had a great time and did not really wanted to think about leaving or going back sadly the boat was booked by another group of divers after us 😦

The first dive would be the same with the last one the SMS Coln II. It is really amazing how the more you dive the better you get and more comfortable you feel. Closing to the end of the week the dives feel so much easier and more fun!

 After Lunch (Jacket Potatoes) I started with tidying up staff and helping other divers getting kitted up for the last dive of the trip. I was not too keen to dive the F2 again and Steve’s dry suit was leaking so opted not to dive that get wet again. Once every one was back on the boat the deck was full of activity and divers packing loads and loads of diving gear (where did all that came from???)

By the time we had finished packing it was time to load the car and the trailer that the rest of the team would use to transfer their stuff on the ferry on Saturday morning. Surprisingly(?) we managed to finish loading right in time for dinner: Stuffed Peppers, Chicken & Brocolli Pie and THE BEST Sticky Toffee Pudding I HAVE EVER HAD. No seriously. It was awesome 🙂 And a real struggle not to go for more!!!

After the dinner we loaded the car and waved bye bye to the team starting our trip to Kirkwall.

Boarding the Ferry at Kirkwall was seamless but a bit all over the shop. We were directed to an empty car park and told to wait there. Time for boarding came and passed but we were still there waiting. No one was around to give any instructions or information. About half an hour after the scheduled departure time, the woman from the kiosk cam and signalled to all the cars to start boarding.

Once started, boarding was straight forward and quick. We soon found ourselves checking-in and got our cabin and fall asleep.

Saturday 9 November 2013 – Back in Aberdeen

Scapa 2013 Return Trip

The trip was good and did not woke up until the ferry was entering Aberdeen. Awesome! Has to be my favourite way of travelling!!!Sleep at departure. Wake up at Destination!!!

Google maps extract showing (about) the 2013 journey

Epilogue

What a great trip! This Scapa was expected to be a great and it did deliver. The weather, the wrecks, the boat, the food and the team were all excellent and could not have asked for more, really really looking forward to 2019 to go back!!!

A great trip and looking forward to go back!!!

Many thanks to:

  • Steve for being a great dive buddy
  • Cam for organizing the trip
  • Hazel, for being a great skipper and her absolutely 1st class dive briefings
  • Helen an awesome Cook
  • Rob, the always helpful Crew!
  • Alison (with lube on her hair), Paul, Angela, Donald, Michael, Christopher S, Chris P, Ian & Bjorn for being great buddies!

Croatia 2013 with Diving Leisure London and Krnica Dive

A gastronomic Orgy of Head-banging and Black DSMBs!

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Croatia 2013!!!

After last year’s Diving Leisure London ‘s EPIC trip to Croatia (read more about it on Jen’s blog here) Alex arranged “The Return of DLL to Croatia” trip and having read and heard all about “The Legend of Mike Coopey” I was amongst to first to sign up!

As usual, the days prior to the trip were anything between frantic and manic. Going diving with SLB Freestyle the weekend before the Wednesday I was flying did not help, nor that the display of one (of the two) handsets of my rebreather died that very weekend!!!

At that point I have to thank Ambient Pressure Diving for their phenomenal Customer Service!!!
I called (in a state of panic) Zoe Monday morning and told her what happened. Tuesday evening, while packing and just before my Wedensday morning flight I got a knock on the door and there it was!!! A Loan Lid!!! Yey!!! – Super Happy!!!

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APD Inspiration – Loan Lid arrived at the 11th hour!

So all sorted and I am making my way to the airport for my flight to Amsterdam. Check-in was almost smooth apart from KLM’s issue with extra luggage. I had bought extra luggage allowance on-line but it looks like their on-line system is not that clever and it does not automatically link the excess luggage with the ticket. Just annoying having to wait at the checking while they sorted it out. Other than that all went well and after a short flight (and some disappointing “snacks”) I was in Amsterdam. A very quick connection flight (hardly enough time to go from my arrival gate to the departure gate) and more crappy snacks and I was in Venice!!!

While waiting patiently for the rest of the group to arrive from London (direct flight – nice!) I thought I should go and get something to eat as the KLM snacks left a lot to be desired! I ordered a “brioche” which was OK although the staff at the counter was between rude and stupid.

After that went back to my seat and patiently waited until I spoted a bloke wearing a SANTI t-shirt and I though “what are the chances?”

So I approached Tony and of course he was the man Maurizio from Krnica Dive had sent to collect us from the airport! So Tony had just drove 4hrs from Croatia to Venice via Slovenia just to collect us!!! How good is that?
And he was about to do drive for 4 more hours back to take us to Croatia!!!Venice to CroaVenice_Croatiatia (quite a journey) photo courtesy of Google Maps (thanks google!)After 4 hours of driving and a few passport checks Tony was asking us if we wanted to stop somewhere to eat. Our response was: “Nah we would rather go to Krnica” and eat there (if possible) and after a quick call Tony replied “yes that is OK Maurizio has asked the bar to stay open and wait for us”

Now. I would like us to stop and reflect on this for a second. HOW COOL IS THAT?
I mean the bar stayed open for us!!! – Thanks Maurizio!!! and Thanks KUM!!! Now Wikipedia reliably informs us that Kum is Serbo Croatian stands for best-man or Godfather (if you go for the slavic etymology) or Sand if you opt for the turkish one. Your Call. Either way Pizza was AWESOME!!!

After dinner and before going back to the apartment for sleep we had a quick chat with Maurizio about diving as he was not exactly looking forward to go diving with my YBOD!!!

Thursday

9358_3139028491367_1680584037_nMaurizio came to take us to the dive shop where we started preparing our gear. Needless to say Maurizio was ready for us!

Twinsets ready to go diving @ Krinca Dive!

pre_dive_checksPre-dive checks

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The first dive of the trip was SS LinaMyself at the bows of Lina – Photo courtesy of Maurizio Grbac

The Lina sunk when she hit the shore and although her bows lie at 25m depth the stern is at around 50m (similar to our Rondo!)

During the surface interval Maurizio prepared (a light snack) for us – A HUMONGUS plate of pasta – before we head out for the second dive of the day, which, was a reef dive.

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Photo of nearly eveyone in the group – photo courtesy of Joules Claro

Once back ashore and after the mandatory ice cream a quick shower and off for dinner at the Agriturizmo Restaurant. A well impressive dinner with mostly locally sourced ingredients! I lost count of how many courses we had but one thing is for sure. It was awesome and there was A LOT of it!!!

agrotourismoMore awesome food at the Agriturizmo!!!

Friday

After a breakfast of local VERY LONG SAUSAGES, Cheese and bread (how Continenatl) Back at the dive centre and we are preparing our kit for todays dives

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Analysing Gases and Marking Cylinders (and there was a lot of them!!!) – Photo courtesy of Jules Claro

Finally we made it to the marina and we were waiting for our boat to take us to dive “The Baron Gautsch”

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Have we got enough gas?  – Photo courtesy of Jules Claro

As you can see from the above photo all was peaceful and quiet. Until the Germans arrived! But this is a story for DLK to tell…

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Baron Gautsch historical photo – photo courtesy of Krnica Dive

Diving the Baron Gautsch

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After the dive the ride back involved a lot of sleeping!

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A diver’s life can be really very hard…

Back on the beach for an ice cream but no time for a shower as Maurizio had already started preparing his Humongus BBQ for all of us diving with Krnica Dive!

krnica_dive_bbq1Krnica Dive BBQ!!! – Photo courtesy of Jules Claro

And there were quite a few of us! Free drinks – courtesy of Ghost Fishing (a brilliant non-profit organisation) who had just completed a project of cleaning up Argo were definitely appreciated!!!

Please do have a look at Ghost Fishing web page here and their facebook page here

Saturday
After a hearty breakfast of local salami, cheese, bread and local sweet and savoury pastys we headed back to the dive centre to analyse more gases, mark cylinders and eventually DIVE the ARGO!!!

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analysing my 14/53 diluent – Photo courtesy of Jules Claro

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Argo historical photo (photo courtesy of Krnica Dive)

Argo was on her way from Venice to Rijeka when on the 22nd of January 1948 she ran into a WWII, leftover, mine. She now lies in two pieces at 50m depth. Eleven, out of twelve, crewmembers lost their life. Source Krnica Dive

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Divers on the Bows and Stern of the Argo!

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Alex having a light snack between dives!

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Stern of the Argo – photo courtesy of Jules Claro

After two excellent dives (one on the bows and one on the stern section we made our way back to the dive centre and Krnica.

For dinner we went back to KUM for more of the good stuff!

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The gang seconds before the “Boy Band” pose

Food was absolutely awesome so we opted for the “no holds barred” approach and between us we ordered almost everything in the menu

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Have we got enough food there?

Pizza, salads, chips, starters all. Lost count of how much food we had that night. What I do know is that we ate it because it was awesome (not because we were hungry!!!!)

Sunday

The plan for Sunday was quite exciting as the plan was to dive two wercks!!!

The cargo Italian cargo steam ship SS Luana and the Cesare Rossarol an Italian Light Explorer and both were sunk when hit mines.

rossarol3Historical photo if the Cesare Rossarol – photo courtesy of Krnica Dive

Both now lie at a depth of around 50m

954862_3136715593546_226348489_n DLK doing his thing!

1014274_3136719913654_1529757544_nFerreting around

The time between dives was spent primarily sleeping! or eating!

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oh yes and other challenging activities like chillaxin and sunbathing!!!

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Sunday was great not only because had two great dives but also because I sucessfully tested my brand new APD Black DSMB. As the following photos show BLACK DSMBs ARE THE WAY FORWARD!!!

photoAPD Black DSMB successfully passing Sea Trials

I will not dwell on that as I am planning to add another “Testing Dive Gear” section on my blog and this subject will be discussed extensively there…

Once more without any intention of breaking the tradition, Ice Cream and Beers followed before we head out for more Pizza KUM!

1001330_3139028851376_301612025_nPost dive drinkies!!!

As you can imagine the same scenes of carnage were repeated! Only difference? This time I got an ice cream too!!!

 

Monday

Monday was a bonus day. The plan was to go out and do a bit of sightseeing but as none of as was in anyway interested in anything else other than diving (well food and drinking maybe) we decided to dive SS Vis.

Maurizio drove us to the marina where Jules banged her head on the boat as hard as she could. Blood and pain ensued but there was no discussion about missing a dive so with the help of plaster, duct tape and a hood (primarily to hide the duct tape rather than the cold) we all jumped in the water.

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Jules Diving the Vis – Note hood to hide the “impact” damage!

Once back onshore we went to the local tavern for lunch and of course it was excellent (as expected)

Back at the villa the washing of the kit was leisurly and it involved drinking beer in the swiming pool!!!

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Once all the gear was washed and left lying around Maurizio came and we started our way to the Gallerion Museum. Gallerion is more of a private collection of a very enthusiastic local diver and historian and only recently has been moved to this new location so that it can actually be presented to the public. Our guide very enthusiastic and passionate both about history, diving and his collection went through the wars of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Great War and the Second World War and how these had resulted in loads and loads of wrecks in the waters of the Adriatic.

After the very informative tour and a quick beer we headed to Konoba Morgan, a local restaurant with excellent food and great view where I had:

  • Prosecco
  • Cheese and Salami platter
  • awesome local beef
  • Desert

And after all that great food it was time to head back to our appartment for our last night in Croatia. Much to my dissapointment I was running out of cash and as there was no cash machine around we had to abort the call for one last drink at KUM (probably for better – judging from last year’s antic’s!!!!).

On tuesday morning Maurizio came to see as off as Tony started the long drive back to Italy and the Marco Polo International Airport.

As expected unfortunately for Tony there was not much talking going on on the way back!!!

971448_3139043811750_720291505_nA very quiet ride back!

What a great great holiday! I was gutted to have to go so soon and I am going to miss the excellent food, the ice cream, the nice weather, the diving hey I will even miss Maurizio!!!

Hopefully not for long as I am looking forward to go back to Croatia and dive with Krnica Dive again (sooner than later!)

many thanks to:

  • Alex for organizing the trip
  • Dave, Jules, Steve, James for make it fun
  • Chris for buddying up with me and my YBOD
  • and of course to Maurizio and all of the staff at Krnica Dive who made their best to look after us during that great week

Thanks to all and looking forward to see you all.

SLB Freestyle Weekend in Lochaline

So here I am, back in the office after a trip on the West Coast of Scotland only a week after the last one but this time with a different company!

Usually work gets in the way and spoils the fun. So when I first heard about this trip and much to my disappointment, I could not go because of work. Work circumstances changed and I was free to go diving only that by that time (as luck would have it) the trip was fully booked!

Luckily (for me) a space came up on the Wednesday and as I was on the reserve list I was only too happy to oblige:)

The trip was organised by Gar a good friend who, apart from being an avid rebreather diver and great source of information regarding rebreathers, has a long experience of organising successful diving trips.

The plan was to meet Friday afternoon at the local Dive shop awl_logoAberdeen Watersports Limited (or you can find them at their facebook page) to sort out hire kit and last minute fills. Once all (and there was quite a lot of it) the kit was loaded on the van the minibus and the van started on a convoy our long journey to Lochaline!

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Michael (well part of) next to our van loaded with 4 twinsets, 6 rebreathers and an assortment of single cylinders, stages, weights, toolboxes and most importantly Cider!!!

After a few hours of listening to hard rock and heavy metal we made it to the ferry, much to Michael’s delight who was sitting between me and Greg and had to listen to our nonsensical discussions about recreational rebreathers, bail-outs, Decompression algorithms etc etc!!!

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Divers stretching their legs while waiting for the ferry (photo courtesy of Laure Mora)

Our group waiting for the Corran – Ardgour ferry and not long after that we made it to the Lochaline Dive Centre where after the usual mad rush to sort out diving kit we had a great curry prepared by Annabel and the girls!!!

Saturday morning after a hearty breakfast our boat the “Sound Diver” arrived and we started loading the our gear on the boat.

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Loading the kit to the boat (photo courtesy of Laure Mora)

The first dive was “The Rondo” a wreck I really wanted to dive after I read about it at Rod Macdonald’sInto The Abyss” and is quite unique because it is vertical!!!

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Illustration courtesy of Max Ellis (see Wreck Tour 35 Divernet)

After the dive we went to picturesque Tobermoray for our surface interval, before the second dive of the day “The Hispania“. Alan (our skipper) got the slack water spot on and we got in the water with minimal current.

After a successful days diving we were happy and all of us looking forward to return to the Dive Centre where we knew that Annabel had prepared a roast for the (very) hungry divers – us that is!!!

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Gar preparing his unit (Photo courtesy of Laure Mora)

After the dinner Annabel gave us a presentation on the SMART project she is leading, an initiative to sink a decommissioned Royal Navy Cumberland Class Destroyer in the Sound of Mull to create an artificial reef in order to help sustain the local biodiversity and boost the local economy.

Sunday morning and after a good night’s sleep (for those of us far far away from Paul’s room and his snoring) we headed out to dive the “SS Thesis“. A bit of me running late, a current running fast and the end result was a very quick (2 min) dive!!! Oh well these things do happen! As the weather was turning for the worst I was only to happy to be returning to the Dive Centre for a fully Loaded Scottish Breakfast and back to diving!!!

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The weather on Sunday was at least changeable! (photos courtesy of Michael Allan)

After the breakfast we headed out to dive the “Shuna” the last dive of our trip before we start our long journey back to Aberdeen.

On the way back conditions deteriorated so he decided to leave the Boat to the hands of an expert!

Laure attempts to create a new wreck in the Sound of Mull

Laure in charge! (photo courtesy of Michael Allan)

The journy back would have been uneventful if I had tied up my unit (properly)!!! Instead:

IMG_1271Repeat 100x: I will remember to tie down my gear!

embarrassing… (photo courtesy of Michael Allan)

A few hours later a van loaded with diving gear and a mini bus full of sleepy divers returned back to Aberdeen Watersports Limited having had a great weekend of eating, drinking and some diving too!!!

Simon has prepared a really cool video of our trip and you can see Simon’s Video of the Trip here an Michaels Video here

Overall it was a great trip that I very much enjoyed! The unit behaved fantastically, my diving wasn’t too bad (he says!) food was great and company too and I got to dive 3 wrecks of the list that I have compiled while reading Rod Macdonald’s books!!! Yey!!!

So many thanks to:

  • Gar for organising the trip and the driving
  • Greg for the driving
  • Michael for tolerating Rammstein and my conversations on CCR with Greg
  • Annabel for the excellent food
  • Alan our skipper
  • Michael, Laure and Simon for photos and the video

and everyone else that made it a successful diving trip

RedTek December 2012 – Diving The Red Sea with Diving Matrix

Disclaimer: As much as I tried to keep this post shorter than the Mexico one (see here) it is still long enough, if anything too long, and to make things worst it is quite technical with technical scuba diving terminology used throughout. I can only apologise but as other posts have covered the fun part of redtec trips and the excellent service by Blue O two I decided to go for something more hardcore (and less touristy) on this post. For more information of RedTec and Blue O two read “I are Diver“‘s blog which is much shorter and funnier too!!! On the plus side if you choose to go ahead and read this post you will get the chance to read about me getting into trouble again and again!!! So redtec December 2012!!! Following last redtec’s phenomenal success (read more about it on I Are Diver’s excellent blog)

Paul Toomer from Diving Matrix decided to organise another redtec. Somehow I missed the announcement and I only picked it up in September when I was visiting London to celebrate my mates Maxim’s wedding! As the conversation was around diving I found out about the trip and most importantly that a group of very good friends had already signed up for it! David and Aidan (who were also on the last redtec) and Aileen as well. At the time my diving buddy Andris was contemplating joining. Having had a few drinks it was very easy for me to declare that if Andris decided to go I would go as well. There has not been known a single case in the history of mankind where Andris has said no to a diving trip ever in his life, he agreed and so did I!!! As soon as I was back in Aberdeen all the paperwork was done and we were good to go! Good to go…

Well not quite…

You see back in August I did something really very stupid. I bought a rebreather. For those of you who do not know what a rebreather is I will just say that it is one more diving related shiny toy. In particular mine is not shiny but bright yellow!!!

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Photo of a “Box Standard” APD Inspiration rebreather (photo courtesy of Ambient Pressure Diving) Now them things rebreathers are known to be really very clever but on the downside they are not forgiving. They have a reputation for killing divers 😦 This reputation is rather unfair because most accidents are attributed to human error rather than equipment failure but the reality is that they require special training. When I signed up for the trip I had bought the rebreather and I had planned and booked a course.

Sadly due to work commitments and other unforeseen circumstances (helicopter reliability issues, bad weather, leaking dry suits a flue etc) I did not managed to finish my course on time (see MOD1 blog post). This was pretty bad because I did not want to go to the Red Sea and dive open circuit. I mean I have done that before and it is very cool and great fun but I had a new toy and I wanted to go out and play with my rebreather!!!

A panic call to Mr Toomer and all was good. Toomer agreed to take over the course from my instructor and help me finish it off with him in the Red Sea!!!

Fast forward a couple of months to the much anticipated 6th of December. I finished work and my and my rebreather got the plane to Gatwick. The usual panic of trying to fit 50kg+ of diving gear into a 40kg allowance made for a stressful couple of nights before but in the end everything was distributed nicely amongst two hold luggage bags and one hand luggage. The Morning of the 7th we made our way to Gatwick to meet Paul, David, Aidan, Myself, Roger, John, Valerie and Andy, (all members of the last redtec), Sam, Andy, Aileen, Arthour, David and Julius. Sadly Andris could not make it because of work commitments. After a short flight to Hurghada we arrived at the airport where Blue O Two reps were waiting for us and got us to the marina by coach. Easy. Efficient, Trouble Free, Nice – Just the way I like it!!! blue_melody

Our boat: Blue Melody (photo courtesy of Blue O two)

As soon as we arrived at the marina the mad panic of loading the boat started and with only a quick break for dinner most of the equipment was set up and we were on our way… …to the local shisha bar (surely when in Egypt!!!!) After a few (well it was probably more than just a few) drinks and shisha accompanied by susbstantial amounts of local Lupin Beans we made our way back to the boat to get some sleep before we start our journey.

Day 1 – Saturday 08/12/2012

It was almost mid day by the time preparations were completed, coastguard checked our documents and we were ready to set sail for Poseidon Reef for our check dive and skill circuit. Last time I was on a redtec I watched those on the skill circuit for about five minutes, laughed at them and left for a 1 hour long solo dive around the reef. Bliss! This time I was one of those in a course and as a matter of fact I was about to do two courses!!! To start with I was going to finish off my MOD 1. Luckily all I had to do was a DSMB deployment and a bail-out for 20m. During this dive I did practiced these skills and also high and low ppO2 drills, shutdown drills, bailouts and running the unit on manual. Fun Fun Fun!!! – NOT

After the check out dive we made our way Abu Nuhas to dive Giannis D, a very atmospheric wreck lying at 21m of water making it an excellent dive for the first day. Because of our late departure we arrived at the site near dusk and pretty much it was a night dive as soon as we descended.

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Getting ready to splash (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)

The dingy was there to pick us up in pitch darkness which made it feel like some great adventure but in reality it was not! Back on the boat and for food and to meet the rest of the group, which was made up of Jim Dowling who was with us on the last redtec and it was great to see again, Dinky a JJ instructor with a Mohican and loads of tattoos, Marko a professional diver, reporter, author and photographer and Analeesa flying all the way from South Africa!!!

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Our guides / instructors Jim and Dinky (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)

Day 2 Sunday 09/12/2012

The plan for the second day was to dive the iconic wreck of Thistlegorm, and probably the most famous wreck in the Red Sea. As we were ready to jump in the water for the first dive, the hose feeding my Oxygen Manual Addition Valve (MAV) pulled out the steel fitting of the valve leaving me with not only a leak in the loop but a spectacular free flow of O2!!! Having fully opened the oxygen cylinder was probably not such a great idea as it took me ages to close it and lost substantial amount of oxygen. Luckily the fitting had just become loose rather than shred the valve and quickly I fitted it back and joined the rest of the team for the dive!!!

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SS Thistlegorm stern gun (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)

In order to complete my MOD 1 course I was budded up with Paul for the first dive. Having been into the holds with the motorbikes and trucks we made our way back and Paul signalled me to bail out, ie get off the loop, grab my bail out cylinder regulator stick it in my mouth and ascent as I would normally do on open circuit. Having successfully completed my bail out ascent we surfaced and went straight up to the sun deck for some sunbathing!!! Nice 🙂 For the second dive I budded up with Jim Dowling and Analeesa. This time Jim decided to go out and investigate the debris field, the steam engines either side of the wreck and the bows anchor, which was massive and very much anchor admiralty shaped.

Day 3 Monday 10/12/2012

Last time we were in the area we decided that there is not much point in diving the wreck and ventured to dive the reef instead. Some say our guide got lost, others say that The Lara actually moved from its last known location. You can choose whichever version you like, but the result was that I didn’t got to dive The Lara.

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Myself, Marko and Aidan at the mast of The Lata (photo courtesy of Artur Gorka)

We all splashed together and Jim guided us to the wreck. At the mast and myself, Marko and Analeesa hovered happily taking photos while the others descended below us. Getting borred at 45m I popped down to 50m which on was not such a great idea especially considering that I had not switched my set point to high (1.3). Quickly I moved up to 45m and joined the rest of my team before anyone noticed 🙂

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Myself behind a coral (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

The rest of the dive was uneventful with the current taking us by the reef and deco at the little cove at the north end of the reef.

Day 4 Tuesday 11/12/2012 Tuesday

Back in Thomas Canyon. I really enjoyed diving Thomas Canyon last time and I was looking forward to dive it again. Being a canyon the entry is hard to locate and to make sure we didn’t miss it we decided to jump in the water all together and follow Jim (this is a plan that worked well last time too!).

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Myself in Thomas Canyon (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

The dingy took us from the boat to the entry point and we started our descent following Jim. As soon as we saw the canyon below us we split to buddy pairs as per the plan some to stay shallow, some go deep and a few others to go seriously deep!!! Jim hovered at the entrance of the canyon before the first arch to watch (like a hawk) those about to break their depth limits or fail their rebreathers!

Myself and Marko spent most of the time under the first arch taking photos and while we were approaching the second arc we bumped into a group of divers that had turned their dive and were heading out of the canyon. As we were not allowed more than 15 min of deco it was almost a good time to turn our dive. Jim had already got to the group of divers that had turned because of a failed rebreather and a rather unexpected bailout failure but that is someone else’s story to tell… We, for our part, followed on the way up and once on the reef I decided to let the current take us and do a drift dive as the situation seemed to be under control and enough rescuers were involved.

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Sam ascending by the wall (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

Our second dive was uneventful with me and Marko staying by the first arch to take more photos as agreed. When we had enough we turned the dive and headed to the reef without going as far as the second arch or indeed the deep end of the canyon. This time on the reef we headed the opposite way to a known shark observatory and we did spotted a Reef shark (most likely) lying and enjoying his time quietly. Not impressed by our approach he moved away from the annoying intruders.

Day 5 Wednesday 12/12/2012

Crossing the straights of Tiran has never been fun and this time it wasn’t easy although it did seemed to me that it was better than last time. Maybe the drinks and shisha combination had something to do with it or maybe not! Yes Paul found out that the crew had a shisha on the boat (brought for their own amusement) and he got them to make us a shisha every night 🙂 That was definitely an added bonus to the last trip and I believe that Blue O two should make shishas mandatory equipment on all Blue O two boats!!!

Once safely on anchorage we all went to bed exhausted and excited about diving the Rosalind Moller the next day. For both dives I budded up with Marko and Toomer as I was going to complete my ART course for my rebreather. The wreck was absolutely full of life and we were diving surrounded by fish. I found it hard to believe how often I lost contact with my buddies because of the wall of fish!!! The dives went to plan and we managed to get some stunning photos over the iconic broken funnel and the galley illuminated by the skylights, the glasses of which were still in place!!!

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Stunning photo of the Rosalind Moller galley with the sky light glass still in place (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

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Dave Lau Kee behind (A lot of) fish on the Rosalind Moller (photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

As everyone was excited with todays dive it was decided to spend the night moored on Rosalin Moller and dive her again the morning after.

Day 6 Thursday 13/12/2012

The captain wanted to leave the wreck by 09:00 the latest so not being a morning person and being limited to 15 minutes of deco me and Marco agreed to be ready to jump in the water for 07:50. The rest of the group which was allowed to do longer dives got up much much earlier for the 3 hr plus runtime dives!!!

Apart from a minor incident (me diving with my O2 reg partly fitted, ie: pretty serious O2 leak).  The dive was more of a photo session with Marko the photographer and me a “wanna be” photo model with very poor buoyancy skills!!!

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Me at the stern or the Rosalind Moller (Photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

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Hovering over the iconic funnel (Photo courtesy of Marko Wramen)

When our Time To Surface (TTS) reached the agreed 15 minutes we made our way back to the shot line and started our ascent. On our way to the shot line I heard a distinct noise the one I had heard before when a High Pressure hose fails and I was immediately looking around me for the familiar Jacuzzi effect that it creates. Surprisingly there was nothing to be seen. Arriving to the shot line I could see that the winch we had attached the end of the shot line was being lifted and then dropped again. That was a sign that conditions topsides had deteriorated and we were in for a rough ride!!! As we were ascending we noticed a couple of things: a. folk at the 6m were hanging to the shot line for dear life b. On our descent there was a bow line and a stern line to the shot line now there was only one and a lot of broken line, which explained the loud noise! The stern line had snapped!!!

After 15 minutes of holding to the shot line and being tossed around by the current that was changing directions and banging against other divers me and Marko signalled to each other that it was time to surface. On the way up I realised that we were going up the bows shot line but decide to keep going, thinking that a surface swim to the stern under a rocking boat was less dangerous that a swim under the boat on my unit in very strong current which could result in over excersion and potentially carbon dioxide poisoning. Finally we made it back to the boat and after the customary hot chocolate I started to wash and take my kit apart to dry. A rather unpleasant process as it signifies the end of the holiday and the beginning of the return trip to home. Back at the marina I got my kit out of the boat and along with Paul, David and Aileen we made our way to the hotel where I hang my stuff to dry, had a long shower and headed out to meet the rest of the team for dinner and end of trip shenanigans!!! We started drinking at our local shisha bar and we soon made our way to the new Hurghada Marina and the PAPAS Bar where se had dinner. Not a life changing experience but hearty divers food.

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This time unlike last time the place was really very busy and there was a stage hinting that we were going to get live music too!!! It was more down to my bad taste of music rather than the alcohol in me but I enjoyed the and was well pleased with how busy this place was. Sadly the program came to an end and despite all of my efforts I could not get Toomer and company to join me to PAPAS Beach Club Instead we headed to the cafe next door for one last shisha before making our way back to the hotel. Photo of the team before we head to the bar for some serious drinking!

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Day 7 Friday 14/12/2012

I woke up well late and not looking too rosy after all that drinking and sisha. I headed down to the restaurant for breakfast which left a lot to be desired. The rest of the day was spent around the swimming pool until the time came to get back on the coach to take us to the airport and eventually back to Aberdeen.

Diving Cenotes in Mexico with Diving Leisure London

Alex from Diving Leisure London first mentioned that he would organise a trip to Mexico early last year and immediately I was interested not only because I had never been to the other side of the pond, ever before, but also because I had read so much about cave diving and seen so many photos of friends who had been there and they all looked AWESOME!!!! Diving in warm tropical waters with endless visibility was also a great incentive and most important of all I would be going with old friends that I have dived before and I knew that we would have a great time diving and drinking together!!!! So when the trip details were announced it took me all about 4 seconds (maybe less) to decide to join the greatest diving trip I have ever been!!!

The rest were easy I called Alex who was organising the trip and said: Mexico. Am in!” soon after that Tim had booked his flights and without much thinking I booked tickets on the same flight. Surely it is better to fly with company than fly alone no?

The downside to that was that BA charges more than Virgin for excess gear but that wasn’t really such a big deal as it turned out.

Booking the flights with BA was a bit tricky in the sense that it wasn’t as straight forward as an idiot like me would like it to be. You have to buy excess luggage for the outbound and the return trip separately. Apart from the obvious (you get to pay twice for it) I do not exactly see the point I mean do people often travel with more baggage on the way out rather than the return? or vice versa??? I always thought that it was a good sign to come back with all your luggage!!!

And also you can not print out your return journey boarding pass until 24 hours before the flight which is a bit of a nuisance as access to internet and printing facilities while on holidays is usually limited.

Following from that I had to book my flights down to Landan from beautiful and exotic Aberdeen. Once more good old EasyJet as sadly flybe does not fly to Gatwick anymore and the BA flights were more expensive. Or so I thought because by the time I added hold luggage and excess luggage the Easyjet tickets were nothing like a budget flight!!!

Finally the hotel. Again the main criteria was price and proximity to the airport. The Ramada would do. It was going to be only for a night so not too fussed about it.

Finally November arrived and all sorts of things were happening. A lot of excitement about my forthcoming Mexico trip, my MOD 1 course, loads of offshore trips for work being moved around and about and to throw a spanner in the works a helicopter heading to an oil platform in the North Sea had to perform an emergency landing in the sea resulting in the whole fleet of choppers being landed causing further disruption!!! Nice.

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Bond chopper Ditching (guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/10/helicopter-ditches-north-sea-oil-workers)

The original plan was that by November:
I would have completed my MOD 1 course and therefore I would be able to take my new Yellow Box (YBOD) to Mexico with me so that I can clock some time on it and practice.
The plan was also that Aileen would come along and bring her JJ so that there would be 2 rebreather divers on the trip.
And finally the plan was that I would meet up with Mike to give me his spare Alibox so that I can transfer my rebreather in a more convenient case than the original yellow box.

Well that was the plan

On the 8th on November 1 day before I fly to London the situation is as follows:

  • I have not finished my MOD 1 course (because of work, helicopters ditching to the sea, bad work planning etc etc etc)
  • Aileen can not come to the trip because of work reasons
  • Mike can not bring me the Alibox because he if working offshore

Now out of all of the above the only serious issue was that since I had not completed my course and if anything went wrong in Mexico I would have to pay for it as my insurance (DAN) would (most likely) refuse to cover me as I would have been diving outside of my qualification range. Less important was the probability of the dive centre in Mexico asking to see my qualifications prior to letting me dive.

At that point I decided that the universe was trying to tell me something and as much of a stubborn Greek I am, I decided to listen and play nicely…

So Friday evening finished with work and went home. I had completed most of my packing so it was just a case of getting everything together, locking up the house and off we go to MEXICO!!!

Shortly after that (Aberdeen is really a very small place) I found myself trying to check-in. That went fairly smoothly especially considering that amongst my dive gear was a 0.6 lt dry suit inflation cylinder fully charged and a number of CO2 cartridges used for DSMB deployment. I was kindly asked to empty the cylinder and it was all go!!!

The flight to Gatwick and the rest of the night were suitably uneventful with the only interesting bit my excitement about going to Mexico!!!

Check-in with BA was equally seamless apart from one BA employee who trying to be too helpful and insisted in me checking in using one of these machines while I was the next one in the queue and in fact no one else was around!!! But all that was details and I couldn’t care any less because I was really on my way to Mexico!!!!

A couple of hours later on my way to the gate I spotted the plane. The first reaction was: “We will need a bigger plane!!!” No way we are crossing the Atlantic on this one!!!! surely not!!! but then looking at the engines…
Well I don’t know much about planes but they looked BIG like pretty BIG so I thought surely they know what they doing…

While waiting at the gate I was growing increasingly concerned as I had not seen anyone else from the group until Steve appeared and shortly afterwards Jakub and Sal followed by Tim!!! A sign of relief and the final announcement was made at last we were boarding on the plane to MEXICO!!!!!

Boarding on the plane I was quite jealous of the business class passengers and their little cubicles but to be fair having booked a seat on the aisle of the emergency exit I could hardly complain about leg room!!!! slight downside was the grumpy middle-aged couple sitting next to me drinking wine all the time and actually when the bar run out of wine they swapped it with whiskey as you do…

The flight was easy and pleasant minor exception was a bit of turbulence over the Bermudas (interesting…). At last I found enough time to finish off Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion” which was a great anticlimax after all that I had heard about it. Too much time wasted trying to answer silly arguments of various religious apologists which was completely unnecessary. And memes. What was that about the memes???. I will stop at this point because this post is not about religion and it is highly unlikely that I can say anything more without offending (a lot of) religious people so back to Jet engines!!!

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BA 777 (courtesy of BA)

So the 777 has indeed absolutely HUMONGUS – MASSIVE jet engines apparently larger than small airplanes!!! The noise they made!!! I did enjoyed reading that the 777 can actually climb on one of them and one of them can hold a 747 on the air!!!! No there was no discussion about fuel economy on the article I was reading, although apparently it is more fuel efficient than a 747?!

After almost 9 hours the bar closed (much to the couple that was sittng next to me dissapointment) and we were informed that it was time to get ready for landing. Sitting on the aisle has a slight disadvantage. View is not great!!! So I couldn’t really see anything until we were inside the airport and nearly over the runway. The view was amazing!!! I could see the jungle!!! Now I am sure that Cancun is a great city but the airport is a fair way out and it is surrounded by jungle!!!

By that point everyone in the plane was growing increasingly animated as at last we had made it to MEXICO!!!

The excitement of the arrival came to an end pretty quickly when we were greeted by the longest queue ever to go past immigration!!! And of course since we were not in the UK any more o(r in Europe altogether) the word queue is used in the very very wide sense of meaning it was more like like loads of people waiting. There was no order. At all. Apparently there were not enough immigration officials working that day for the completely (unexpected???) arrival of what must have been about 3 big flights !!!

So two hours later after a lot of pushing, squeezing, clapping hands and shouting we made it past immigration!!! Needless to say at the whole time I was thinking: “Boy do I love Europe and Schengen”!!! At the same time Steve being a bit more practical than me was observing the immigration officials and the apparently antiquated software that (according to Steve) didn’t know how to use…
To immigration officials credit I will say that yes there was definitely not enough of them as there was at least twice as many unmanned desks as manned and also they didn’t looked very familiar with the software. Further to that a number of passengers had not filled in their little immigration cards which was not so helpful and in-spite all that they were friendly and smiling.

Rather tired at this point we managed to get our gear together and head outside of the airport. The first feeling was: “WOW its hot here!!!” luckily the dive centre (Phocea Mexico) had sent a van to pick us up and soon the driver was helping us load our gear at the back of the van and off we went!!!

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The logo of Phocea Mexico – The dive centre we were diving with (photo courtecy of Phocea Mexico)

Playa del Carmen is a sort drive (about half an hour) from Cancun International Airport. Because by that time it was already dark there was not much that we could see during the trip although much to my excitement I did managed to spot a few 18-wheelers!!! Geek. I know. But I have always been a fan of Optimus Prime and you do not get 18-Wheelers in the UK so I was very very excited !!!

On arrival at Playa Del Carmen we went straight to the Hotel Plaza – one of the two hotels our group was staying at to meet Alex, Jen, Amelia, Bruce and Chantal who had arrived there before us. The Plaza is just opposite the dive centre which makes life easy and I like easy!!!

Myself and Tim were sharing a room at the Maya Bric Hotel (sounds very Yucatan like!!!). Bruce and Steve another and Adam with Chris were the third group of boys in our hotel. Amelia, Yakub and Sal also stayed on the same hotel with us and the rest at the Plaza.

As soon as we checked into our hotel we got changed to flip flops and off to Zenzi beach bar to find the rest of the crew for a few celebratory drinks and to declare that the diving holiday had officially begun!!!

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The Beach! (photo courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)

A few drinks (SOL and Corona) afterwards we were ready to go to bed for some much needed sleep especially as the plan for the week was ready and it called for a 07:45 meet on Sunday Morning!!! (which came as a surprise to me. Surely in a religious country like that folk go to the church first on a Sunday morning and then diving right????)

Sunday 11 November 2012 – Day 1

Although the Alarm was set for 06:30 both myself and Tim were awake well before 06:00. Jet Lag, Heat or the music from the bars outside may have had something to do with it!!! Yes Playa Del Carmen being a tourist destination (of a more mature clientele admittedly – it is not Paceville) has loads and loads of bars that play live music every night. Which is in a way what I had imagined of New Orleans and it is really awesome (unless you want to get some sleep). Then it is not that awesome. Having said that I sleep like a brick and things like that do not bother me at all!!!

As expected 07:15 we were all at the Plaza Hotel having breakfast. No we are not in continental Europe or in the UK so breakfast is NOT a fry up (just as well). The breakfast options were: Fruits or Eggs. Fruits meant a plate with fruits and a yogurt. Eggs meant a plate of fruits with eggs and a slice of ham. Tea, coffee, orange juice and toast made for the rest.

It was a pleasant change and certainly made for the most healthy breakfast ever on any known diving holiday (bacon baps being the norm).

At 07:45 well fed and watered we headed to the dive centre. Not long to go just across the road!!! Easy – Nice!!!

Didier (the bloke who runs the show at Phocea) was ready for us. Boxes were already labelled with our names and grouped together as we were the “London” group. So I became known as Dimitris London, Tim as Tim London, Steve was Steve London and I think you got the point…
All very very efficient and impressive.
The guys at the shop the helped us to unpack our gear, place it in the boxes and made inventories of our kit (efficient!!!)
Once all was sorted we placed our kit in mesh bags (mine because of the dry suit, the dry suit inflation bottle and the 5 sets of regs stayed in the box) and loaded the trucks (big, serious, American pickup trucks) and off we went to the jungle!!!

Now to start with that felt a bit bizarre. I mean the hotel was right next to the dive centre which was right next to the beach! So where are we going? Actually a boat dive was planned for Sunday but because of bad weather (winds) it was decided to postpone the boat dive and go to the Cenotes instead!!!! BIG YEYYYYY!!!!!!!!

After a short drive (mostly on the motorway) surrounded by pretty thick vegetation and the occasional school-bus-invaded-by-monkeys sculptures we made it to the cenotes. We took the exit and a dirt track to the jungle. Pretty well organised with paths, welfare facilities and a small cafe which, sadly, was closed because it was Sunday (and people go to the church on Sundays, not work, apparently – odd but picturesque).

The dive guides rallied us around them and we headed off to the cenotes for our briefing. By that point I will have to admit that I was lost for words. The jungle was amazing and beautiful and I have no words to describe how I felt on my way to see and dives cenotes for which I had read so much about and I have been wanting to dive for that long!!!

We took a concrete staircase down to the entrance of Chac Mool cenote. The scenery was magic and we were all surprised by how ridicilusly clear the waters were. No I have never seen anything like that ever before!!! And I dare say neither anyone else amongst our group. Awe was the only word I can think of trying to describe how I felt. And it was only going to get better!!!

Having seen the entrance to the first cenote and discussed the awkward entry method which we were going to perform and the best way I can describe it would be something like a reversed giant stride entry??? We then headed to the entrance of Kukulan cenote. This caused me a bit of concern as I could clearly see the rocks being covered by a dark something (potentially slimy and slippery) and I could not really see the water and the last thing I wanted to do was want to walk over slippery rocks.

Suddenly someone from our group stepped in what I thought was the void to cool his feet and the whole thing became alive!!! I was looking at the surface of the water all that time and I hadn’t realised that there was water there!!! It was so clear and calm I completely missed the water!!! (that does not usually happen in UK diving – that is my excuse anyway!!!)

By that time my twinset had arrived. My twinset had to be picked up from the feeling station.

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The Phocea Mexico filling station !!! (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)

Along with the twinset came the food. Cheese and ham sandwiches courtesy of the dive centre!!! (talking about service!!!)

By that time it was pretty evident to myself and everyone else that I was not going to be diving on a dry suit. The water temperature was about 25 deg C which is actually a couple of degrees higher than the Air temperature in my office!!!

So the old trusty Mares shortie came out. This is probably my oldest bit of kit dating back to 2004 but it doesn’t get much use and even less in recent years see tek diving and diving in the North Sea. My 2.5 mm Mares shortie is unfortunately incompatible with these!!!

But I was more than happy to have it with me and even happier to fit in it!!!

Geared up and ready to go we were split in groups of 4 divers per guide. The guide was full cave trained divemaster in full cave gear. The rest of us were happy recreational divers without a concern in the world!!!

Our group went to Chac Mool cenote for our first dive. The not so elegant entrance in the water was followed by a not flattering at all tsunami that caused concern for the survival of the local fauna and flora but soon was forgotten about as we were all seriously excited about diving the Cenotes!!!

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myself getting ready to enter the water and the tsunami that followed (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)

A quick weight check, torches on and off we went! The guide was first and the rest of us followed in single file. I was the last of our group.

The first thing to notice was visibility. It was just phenomenal. Could not tell how far i could see. But it was far. As far as the eye could see. Never before had I dived in such clear waters. The other thing that was immediately obvious was temperature. About 26 deg C at the coldest parts of the cave!!! That was ridiculous my shortie was more than enough!!! No way I was diving in a dry suit in this!!!

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Diving cenotes (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)

And that was when the fun started. Before we entered we were told that although this is fresh water this cenote is linked to the sea and fresh and sea water mix and they create very strange effects. Indeed not before long the endless visibility was gone and I was in a blur. A bit of the thing you feel when you lose your specs or your contact lens. Bizzare. But the there were points where you could see the water separating and mixing!!! On occasions you could even avoid the blur by keeping yourself in just fresh or just sea water!!!

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Stalactite and Stalagmite formations inside the Cenotes (photos courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)

The guide took us further inside the cave to the point where the sea and fresh water were mixing and the halocline was clearly visible. He then took each one of us by the hand and using his torch he illuminated the separation zone!!! I wish I had photos of that!!! Because it is very hard to describe how it feels to see the separation of water from water and this surface illuminated across the cave!!!

Although not really cave diving Sheck Exley’s rule of the thirds applies to Cavern diving and soon it was time to turn the dive and head back. The journey out was not any least impressive because coming out of the cavern and looking at the green-ish surface of water with the shadows of the trees leaves so clear and roots and tree branches all around was something firstly unreal and secondly AWESOME!!!

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Cavern Entry / Exit (courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)

At that point I was loving it properly and I was really pleased to have made all this effort to come here. It was well worth it and it was more impressive than I had imagined it to be!!!

Fourty minutes after we went on we surfaced and head back to the trucks for our lunch and our surface interval (had to fizz-off a bit before we go back in!!!).

That was just as well because after the early start the healthy but rather light breakfast we were all starving. Cheese and Ham baguettes was todays option kidly provided by our dive club (how nice is that now!!!). Much to mine and Bruce’s pleasure Adam (being Adam) decided that he wouldn’t have any as the sandwiches had Ham and he doesn’t like Ham (No Adam is not Muslim) So myself and Bruce shared half of it and it was really nice too. At the same time Jakub was having a Cheese and Extra ham baguette as Sal didn’t like her ham either but being more practical than Adam just removed the ham and had the rest of it – At that point Adam realised his mistake but it was too late .

Having being fed and watered (water and soft drinks courtesy of the dive centre) the single cylinder divers replaced their cylinders and got ready to hit the water once again. I use the term hit the water because this is exactly what we did with this reversed giant stride entry!!! This time our dive guide was feeling a bit more adventurous took us further deep into the cavern and after diving through a narrow passage we found ourselves inside a cave. The only light was our torches and if you looked back you could see the narrow opening through which we came through. Again we went through the halocline and there it was!!! Stalactites and Stalagmites formations were visible at last !!! And more to that the well known NACD signs with the Grim reaper there at the cave entry!!!

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The NACD, NSS, CDS, PADI- STOP Sign

I have been waiting for a long time to make it to a cave and there I was at last. At a cave entrance past beyond I couldn’t go not in this gear. Not without further Cave training. Not this time…

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A cave diver wannabe! (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)

Again following the rule of the thirds we headed back and eventually surfaced after 40 minutes of awesomeness!!! diving the cenotes had definitely exceeded my expectations and I had gone with very high expectations. Needless to say I was a very very happy bunny by the end of the first day !!!

Later back in the hotel we agreed to have a well earned siesta (when in Mexico you have to do as the Mexican do!!!) and reconvene again to the local beach bar called Zenzi and go somewhere nice for food.

After a few drinks at Zenzi listening to a band playing live 70’s and 80’s rock amongst others we decided to head to the recommended bar / restaurant Fusion located opn the beach just a short walk from Zenzi. Apparently this is quite a famous bar / restaurant in the area, advertised in the telly and al,l and came highly recommended on local guides and our dive centre.

Very soon after our arrival a very long table was organised for all of us including myself, Alex, Jen, Chantal, Amelia, Adam F, Chris, Tim, Adam, Abbey and Amelia. Drinks were ordered mostly local beers and cocktails. The food was Nachos, Tacos, Tortillas, burritos and other folklore stuff as well as more mainstream stuff like steaks, burgers etc. Having had a burger last night at Zenzi I decided to go for Fusion Buritos and very nice it was too!

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Night Out @ Fusion (Courtesy of Jen Griffin)

Once more because of the early start and the early start of the following day we decided to be sensible and call it a day early. Heading back to the Mayan Brick made one (obligatory) stop at Aldo (Italian Gelato) for a double Ferrerro Roche in a chocolate cone!!! Mucho Mucho Nice!!!

Monday 12 November 2012 – Day 2

The beginning of Monday did not found all of us in high spirits half of the crew had a pretty unpleasant night having been hit by “Montezuma’s Wrath” still the weather was awesome and we were in a really really cool place so everyone put on their happy and dmiley faces on and tried to get on with diving.

After the breakfast we went to the dive centre where our gear was already out of the boxes and packed nicely in mesh bags!!! (talking about efficiency)!!! Our guides then asked us to come and have a look at the mesh bags to make sure that everything we needed was included and nothing had been left behind. Once we finished checking we were instructed to head to the local ferry port, a short walking distance from the dive centre. Seeing that all of our kit was left at the dive centre at that point myself, as well as the rest of us, were quite intrigued as to how our kit is going to find its way to Conzumel, which is where we were going!!!

Our curiosity was answered shortly when much to our bemusement we saw an army of pedal powered tricycles (!!!) arriving and our gear getting loaded by the very efficient baggage handlers!!! riding a tricycle loaded with gear uphill is not much fun so we left them behind us climbing the uphill and pushing the tricycles up. Shortly we were overtaken and by the time we got to the ferry port our luggage was already there and the little army of tricycles had dispersed.

After a bit of manual handling (primarily by our dive guides) and our gear wasloaded on the boat. As soon as we all boarded the common consensus was OUT!!! The sea was a bit choppy not much but enough to upset people susceptible to sea sickness and all those feeling the “Wrath of Montezuma”. The half hour long trip (felt like an eternity for a number of our crew members) but it was otherwise pleasant for the rest of us (ie: those that were not sick – repeatedly!!!).

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Alex and Jen suffering from “Montezuma’s Wrath” on the ferry to Conzumel (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)

On arrival at Conzumel we hired taxis to take us from the ferry port to the local small boat marina where our dive boat was moored. Our dive boat for the day was spacious and well equipped (well it had a toilet). I would take my chance and say that it was an ex fishing boat turned dive boat but don’t quote me.

For those suffering with the after effects of “Montezuma’s Wrath” the prospect of spending a day on a boat wasn’t great but all of us were excited to be diving in beautiful, warm tropical waters with endless visibility.

A number of divers from our group were tek trained so I had kind of assumed that there would be a fair bit of tek diving on this trip and as such I had brought only tek diving gear with me. In all honesty I have no recreational dive gear anyway so didn’t really had much choise anyway. Part of this tek gear is my wing. I am using a DiveRite Superwing. This is a ridicilusly big wing the production of which has sieged nowdays and it as a matter of fact nearly all manufacturers have stopped making silly big wings (around 100 lb lift force). Why I have one? That is a long story and a pretty boring one so we will leave it there for now. The reality was I had a wing with me that was not made to be dived with single cilynders. And this is why I had asked for a twinset for the whole of the week.

While boarding I did noticed that there was no twinset on the boat. Alarmed by that I informed our guide who very quickly came back to me that there are no twinsets in Conzumel. Something had gone wrong. Bah

The rest of the group were getting kitted up when I was settling with the idea of a no dive day. I mean why not. It was a beautiful day and I could easily spend the day on the boat…

That is when our dive guide came to me with two weight belts!!! I could see where he was going with this but that was a BAD idea!!! Seriously BAD idea. For two reasons

A. My wing does not like single cylinders. It is too big for them. It folds and makes it impossible to damp air.
B. Weight belts CAN NOT support the weight of a cylinder on a wing. They do not fit well enough. The whole thing could fall apart anytime!!!

And most important of all IT LOOKS STUPID!!!

For those of you that know me I do not have to say that these arguments were purely academic and NO CHANCE IN HELL I was going to miss out in a dive even if I had to DIY the whole rig!!!

So there we go I am ready to jump in the water with a cylinder very loosely attached to my equipment and therefore all of my equipment very loosely attached to me!!! This could come apart any second now!!!

After a very very cautious giant stride entry, where our DIY rig held together, we started our descent and then our gentle drift dive over the reef. Quite clearly the whole thing was very loose and I could feel the cylinder at an oblique angle to myself but as the dive was relatively easy the whole thing felt under control.

I will admit that I definitely FELT the LOVE during this dive when loads of my buddies tried hard to re tighten the wightbelts and bring this “thing” back to shape but in-spite their best efforts I still ended up diving most of the time with a cylinder dropped on me and resting on my back rather than attached to the rest of my gear!!! It was a shallow dive (we stayed at a max of 25 m?) but considering that the seabed was dozens of meters below and the state of my gear this does count as one of the wildest dives I have EVER completed!!!

The dive was pleasant with swim-throughs and a fair bit of life, little reef creatures, corals, lobsters, crabs and barracudas. Maybe someone with a greater interest in this “Marine Life” thing could tell you more about it. I can not.

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specimens of marine life (photo courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)

Surfacing from the first dive we swapped cylinders and much to my enjoyment the dive guide came and asked me if I am happy to dive with a BCD to which my response was “Yes!!!” Of course I am happy to dive with a BCD but have we got one? Apparently we had a few spare on the boat but because the dive guide had assumed that I wanted to dive on my Wing (on a single cylinder without cambands -ekk-???) he had not mentioned it earlier!!!! Well having sorted out the kit I was looking forward to lunch (you see I have my priorities right!!!!)

As soon as we surfaced the crew had started preparing lunch. A very big table was assembled and loads of cheese, bread, ham, jalapenos, mayo, salads etc were brought forward for each one of us to make his / her own sandwiches!!!! Now I am known to be partial to sandwiches so I loved the idea.

After one of the nicest surface intervals ever. I mean life doesn’t get much better than lying on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea under the Caribbean Sun!!! We got geared up for our second dive.

Once more in full recreational gear (something that hasn’t happened in a long long time) I did enjoyed another easy drift dive by the reef watching all sorts of stuff moving happily about (all sorts of stuff included: Crabs, Lobsters, Flatfish, other fish and some different fish).

And about 40 minutes later we surfaced having dived a pretty scenic dive.

For those of you interested on the gruesome details of the first dive I will say that yes you guessed correctly I was diving on a single cylinder with my left post regulator fitted. So I had a BC inflator, a SPG and a second stage. No I had no octopus or AAS. HARDCORE! (in all honesty had no time or tools to mess around with regs).

Once back in the marina we followed the reverse route to get back to Playa Del Carmen. By that time we were too tired so didn’t even noticed the army of tricycle riders taking our diving gear back to the dive centre.

With the majority of the team exhausted as the combined effect of an early start, a day on a boat (3 boats to be accurate), sea sickness and the “Wrath of Montezuma” a quiet night ensued with me following my regular diet of beer and ice cream….

Tuesday 13 November 2012 – Day 3

The morning of Tuesday found us all rather humbled! It was the effect of “Montezuma’s Wrath” on the whole of the team taking it’s toll. Now having said that and to the best of my knowledge believe it was only Adam who lost a day’s diving and Maybe Chris? the rest perseveired and I believe that although the whole experience may not have been great they all enjoyed the diving (outside of the water it was probably not so great).

Luckily for everyone this time we were going to dive the Jardines. A drift dive on a local reef a small boat ride out of the very beach outside the dive centre and our favourite Zenzi bar. Once more things were very very easy. Get kitted up at the dive centre. BCD, MASK, FINS and regs and a short walk to the boat where the cylinders were already loaded for us!!! Nice

A short ride out and jump in the water. Being a reef dive the gentle current took us at a very relaxed cruising speed over the reef where I have to admit I was quite impressed with all the little and I am talking about proper tiny beasties hidden in shells, crevices etc. I usually tend to miss things like that in favour of big chunks of rusted and heavily corroded steel plates of shipwrecks!!!! And I did found myself surprised at how much less equipment one needs to go dive and ended up wondering why do I take all that cr@p with me when I go diving??? I quickly got over it and deployed my DSMB (cause I am fun like that!!!!)

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More marine life (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)

The boats being smaller offered less facilities so if anyone was desperate to go to the loo he had too options. The sea. Or Hold it. In the same manner food was less impressive but as I am a great fan of biscuits when the guide came up with a box of biscuits for each diver I was a very very happy bunny!!!

With everyone concerned since the source of “Montezuma’s Wrath” had not been established yet (and as a matter of fact to this very day) we decided to play safe and go to “100% Natural” or so. A restaurant that advertised that they offered only local natural and therefore healthy stuff. By that point I was not feeling great and I opted for a “safe” and dry ham and Chihuahua cheese toasted sandwich. Rest assured they do not milk chiwawas to make that cheese. The cheese is named after the location where it was first produced (apparently by Mennonite communities). Now it could have well been cheese made by a chiwawa cause there was none on my toastie!!! And a number of fellow divers around me could testify the same!!! So not massively impressed with my toasted cheese and ham sandwich!!! Apparently the rest of the stuff were really good and every one else was happy (probably that is further evidence to prove that I wasn’t feeling great). The fresh juices / smoothies were also very colourful and tasted excellent!!!

Wednesday 14 November 2012 – Day 4

Wednesday morning everyone was recovering well and all were really very excited about today’s diving. Because we were only diving in the afternoon we had a late start and that was the only late start of the trip. None of us managed to sleep until late but it was not before 08:00 we got out and went for breakfast. This time we decided to try the breakfast at ZENZI. It was definitely more appealing to the eye (aesthetically) but not much different and because I wanted something less healthy I went to trusty Starbucks!!!

The plan for today said BULL SHARKS!!! Now I am always a bit reluctant to get excited with things like that because on numerous occasions I have been out to see Whale Sharks, Hammerheads etc and they were not there. And one should not be disappointed by that because in all honesty how do you set up a date with sharks???

From personal experience I can confirm getting a date with a girl is hard hard work and more often than not they don’t show up in the end so how could I expect the sharks to be there???

Still the guides from our diving centre seemed very confident. They had seen them a couple of days back and then again yesterday. Sharks were around no doubt.

We got kitted up and our guide arrived for the briefing. Diving with sharks apparently is a bit of tricky business and we had to be told about the rules

  • We dive all together as one group, ie we all jump from the boat at the same time. Meet and form a group at the surface and we all descent together. No one goes first no one last. We stay together.
  • the dive time would be a maximum of 40 min
  • During the time of the dive we do not swim we stay still with our knees on the sand.
  • During the dive we do not move our hands randomly and try to stay calm.

The purpose of these simple rules was our own safety but most importantly to keep the sharks around. In the end of the day we are intruding in their territory. If we start moving about and around they will get pissed off with us being a nuisance and they will go away!!!!

The same goes for the “keep your hands together and close to you” rule although there is more to it than just that. Aparently idiots have been out there feeding the sharks. So when the sharks see hands moving they think “Oh Food!!! Yammy” and go for your hand. Can not blame the sharks for that. I only blame the retards that went out to feed the sharks.

Having had our briefing purposely pitched to scare the hell out of us we headed to the boat even more excited than any other time. Rightly so we were about to dive with an Apex Predator of the oceans. A creature well older than mankind and potentially far much more intelligent than many of our fellow compatriots!

We boarded the dive centre boats which I have to say I was well impressed with not only because it is very cool for a dive centre to have it’s own dive boats but also because of their relationship with Sea Shepherd were painted all black and had a big Sea Shephard Jolly Roger logo on them!!! How Cool is that? (more points scored for Phocea Dive Centre there!!!) If you do not know who Sea Shepphard is or what I am talking about I would urge you go and have a look at Sea Shephard. They are a marine conservation society and they do great great job to protect whales, sharks and dolphins without hesitating putting their own lives at risk. They are worth your contribution and they definitely need it!

The ride out was pretty easy and short. As soon as we got to the Bull Shark hunting grounds the boat crew helped divers to get ready and jump in the water. Backward roll entry was the preffered method. Our guides were already in the water and armed with long sticks (do not ask me how much use is that against a 3 m Bull Shark!!!).

Having jumped almost last from the boat I was amongst the last to reach the cluster of divers on the surface. As I was approaching Alex and Steve shouted to me: “Dimitirs, Have you Looked Down???” casually and without a lot of thought I replied “No” and immediately put my head in the water to look!!!!

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Bull sharks below us (photo courtecy of Andrew Forsyth – Left, Steve Barham – Right)

Yes 7 of them were down there circling around us at the bottom of the sea!!! That was an exciting moment I will agree.

Once we all signalled OK we started our descent. Easy and slow. It seemed that for that time the sharks disappeared. This is not surprising as they obviously do not like to be disturbed by unwelcomed intruders!!!

Soon after we settled at the sea bed they made a re-appearence and at any time at least 5 or 6 could be seen circling around us. They are impressive. They were moving quickly less than an inch above the seabed and yet they did not stir the sand at all. If you hadn’t seen them you wouldn’t know they were there.

Loads of remoras were around swimming either on the side of the sharks or freely around them which was interesting to see. Now I am sure that if I had more information about these Bull Sharks like where have they been 15 years ago, what have they seen, how do they hunt etc I may have found them more interesting but I will admit that the novelty of watching them going round and round quickly worn off. At the same time I will admit that I was abit concerned I mean I do not often find myself amongst beasts the bigger than me so probably that didn’t helped and I was more than happy to see the guide calling the dive at about 30 or 35 min because folk were running low on air.

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During the dive Steve got the opportunity to practice his Pipe Smoking immitation (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)

Back on the boat a lot of excitement for what we had just seen and a bit of a disappointment by how well behaved the sharks were!!! Surely it should have been more fun if they had attacked Adam B!!!!

Back on the beach we dropped off our dive gear at the shop and went for a quick drink before we retire to our rooms for the customary now siesta before we reconvene for our evening drinks and dinner. During that time I spotted that the dive centre next door was advertising a night dive and thinking that it would be cool to do one I asked Alex how does he feel about me going to talk to the dive centre next door (from the one we were diving with) and register us for the night dive. The folk at the dive centre next door were very friendly and accommodating and confirmed that they have at least three spaces for a night dive. Having got the ok from Alex and the dive centre next door I went to Didier (the guy who was running the Phocea, the dive centre we were diving with) to tell him what we were planning to do. Didier was OK with us diving with the other guys but thought that it would be useful to confirm to me why they do not do night dives. The night dive would take place by the beach. The same beach we had dived this morning to see the sharks. Quite clearly the sharks would be there during the night too. Sharks are known to hunt in the hours of darkness.

I shouldn’t have to say that at that very point I said right. Got that. Went to the other dive centre, while holding a bottle of Corona, and said: Apparently we decided to stay in the pub and have a couple of drinks rather than go diving (with sharks that are hunting . Us for food!!!). No I didn’t said that last bit but that was what we were all thinking!!!

And that is how we didn’t got to do a night dive (with sharks). And just as well me thinks.

The rest of the evening was uneventful with the boys going out for a couple of drinks and dinner and the girls (along with Adam B and Chris) going for their Mayan Spa experience. They got to do some rituals, sit in a Sauna, Blow a Shell and have a very traditional Mayan dinner (see photo below). Some of them came back excited. Others not so excited. You will have to find them and ask them about that experience though cause at the same time I was at the pub having a beer and I haven’t got a clue what they really got up to!!!!

Thursday 15 November 2012 – Day 5

The plan for the day was definitely exciting. Wreck Diving!!! We were going to dive the C-55. C55, also known as Barrera, and is located in the Bahia des Mujeres (bay of Women). She was a cargo ship that the Mexican government acquired, added a gun at the bows and called it a warship (minesweeper?). Clearly not a very good one!!! But don’t tell em that. When the Mexican navy had enough of this magnificent warship (can not imagine anyone to excited about it) they decided to sink it as an artificial reef (much to everyone’s delight and the sailor’s in particular). So C-55 lies at a depth of about 35m (more or less) sitting proud and in very good condition.

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The gun of C-55, I couldn’t resist! (photo courtesy of Steve Barham)

Mini buses took us from the dive centre to the beach where our boats loaded with cylinders were waiting for us. We were told that we had two boats so we would split in the two boats. The small one and the big one. My twinset was on the small boat so I was going to the small boat!!!

Heading to the beach I got quite confused because both boats were identical. Apparently the big boat was big because it would take more divers than the small boat which was actually the same size but would take less dives. Go figure.

A permament shot is in place and our boats used that as a mooring. The shot line took us straight to the bows and the gun which was in good condition but failed to impress. Heading aft on the outside of the starboard side just after midships Bruce, who was infront of me, spotted some 3 Eagle rays flying over our heads and crossing our paths at 90 degrees. The size of Eagle Rays varies from 20 inches to 30 ft!!! These were pretty big with what looked to me like a good 2m + wing span!!! They are definitely impressive and seeing them over us made it even more spectacular and probably the highlight of the dive. Once we made it to the stern we penetrated the canapé and headed to the superstructure all the way until we came out of the bridge and on to the gun. Good opportunity for a few silly photos and it was time to head back up.

INSERT PHOTO ME AND THE GUN

During the surface interval we had cookies and soft drinks (again courtesy of the dive centre) before we got ready for our second dive. During the second dive Marcus (our guide) was feeling more brave and took us straight in the ships engine and machinery room. Usually I get very excited by engine and machinery rooms and this one was a bit of a disappointment. I do not recall having dived any other engine room so well lit, bright and with so many exits available. the complete lack of wreckage (cables hanging, collapsed structures etc) made it a bit too easy and comfortable as it was it made me feel like I am in Disneyland (not that I have ever been there) but I think you get what I mean.

On the way back Steve spotted a Lion fish and he pointed to me. Lion Fish have invaded Caribean waters recently and they are a real menace to the local marine life. They have a detrimental effect on the native population and for that reason they are hunted. Apparently they make good soup. So having every right to remove this alien invader I pulled out the only sharp object I had with me.

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An easy-cut trilobite cutting tool (photo courtesy of http://eezycut.com/)

and embarrassed enough I put it back in cause I wasn’t going to kill a lion fish with that one was I????

Great cutting instruments as they are they are not meant for hunting lion fish. Curse Tek diving that took my trusty “John Rambo” style knife from me!!!

back in the beach we got changed and waited for hours for the second boat which for some mysterious reason was taking it’s time to return…

Having seen Eagle Rays for the first time in my life was really very exciting and they are pretty amazing which only made worst that tomorrow was the last day of our diving holiday :(.

The evening with the spirits quite high as we had all recovered from “Montezuma’s Wrath” we decided to play safe and head to the local Italian restaurant. Quite a busy and popular place and by the sounds of it pizzas were great. Out of all the available pizzas on the menu the Micky Mouse” pizza caught my eye and having sausages and chips definitely was going to be my choise.

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Me and my “Mickey Mouse Pizza” Not so excited after I tasted it!!! (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)

Yes it actually looked better than it tasted. But I didn’t got much sympathy as apparently it was my fault for going for a pizza with chips topping. I still believe that it is a brilliant idea and it was merely the preparation that failed for as a concept it is as good as a Donner Kebab pizza!!!

Friday 16 November 2012 – Day 6

Sadly the last day of my holiday was hereand soon I would have to wave bye bye to  30 deg C air temperature, 26 deg C water temperature, 30 m viz plus nice Italian Gelato, Caves, Sharks and Cenotes but not yet. Not just yet!!!

For the last diving day of our trip we headed back to the cenotes, well different cenotes this time. As per the norm we met up for breakfast and after that the guides asked us to check our kit which was already packed in mesh bags and off we went. Because of the regulations governing cave and cavern diving there has to be one guide and four students. So although the whole of the group would dive at the same location we pretty much operated as individual groups. As soon as a group was ready the we would load our truck and go. Minor exception to that was food. One would pick up the food for all.

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Entrance / Exit of Casa cenote – Awesome!!! (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)

Past the picturesque school-bus-invaded-by-monkeys sculptures and Chilly Willies, a notorious strip club in the area famous for all sorts of things other than exotic dances establishment!!!! We made a quick stop to pick up food (cheese and ham sandwiches) and off we went to Casa cenote. This one in a way it was a very special cenote in the sense that the overhead environment was the roots of the mangroves so it wasn’t rock but wood, the body of the trees!!!

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myself diving under the mangroves (photo courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)

This cenote was just by the beach so again the water was a mix of fresh and sea water and because of its proximity to the sea there were plenty of fish and a small alligator in the fresh part (much to my disappointment I didn’t got to see the ‘gator). The dive was a bit of a pain as the maximum depth was about 6m with most of it being an average of about 4m, my 100lb lift force wing and doubles were really not made for that kind of diving!!! Still it was absolutely awesome to get the chance to dive under trees!!! In places like that you could come up against anything from Tiger to Bull Sharks and Aligators. Sadly (or not) we didn’t got any of that and an hour later we surfaced pretty happy and having done a very interesting albeit shallow dive.

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Team photo at the entry / exit of Casa cenote (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)

Due to some doubts about the correlation between the cheese and ham sandwiches and “Montezuma’s Wrath” there was a general concensuss to postpone lunch till later. After the dive we loaded the trucks and headed to the next Cenote.

Once there and after the briefing again the subject of food came in the conversation but it was again postponed to after the dive. Steve’s impression of the smell around the location where lunch was prepared did not help!!!

Casa Rosa cenote was pretty spectacular. Pretty much in the jungle with a cave separating two bodies of water and then numerous caves starting from them. Once more we would leave the caves to experienced and cave trained divers and limit ourselves to the cavern zone.

We got kitted up and made our way to the water which was a chilled 25 deg C and by far the coldest of the whole trip. Having said that I have never seen 25 deg C water temperature in the UK. Not even in swimming pools!!! The dive was pretty awesome with the guide having to lay a line from the cavern entrance to the fixed line installed further in under the overhead environment to the second body of water where sea water was mixing with fresh water and the water temperature was jumping from 25 to 28 deg C instantaneously!!!

Again I found myself stupefied by the effects of the halocline. Diving in fresh water above sea water is something unique. I could see perfectly clear the rock formations around me to the extend that if it wasn’t for my bubbles I wouldn’t know that I was in water and then seeing below me a diver in water is a very bizarre feeling and I understand that I am failing to describe. But in all honesty that is how it felt. Like I was flying on air and at any point I could take my reg out of my mouth and breathe and that exactly below me I could see a diver in the water.

My thought at that point was: “this could mess up people’s minds badly”

Again after about 40 minutes of awesomeness we had to surface and end our last Cenote dive for the trip. One thing is for sure that was not the last Cenote Dive. I will be going back!!!

Eventually hunger took the best of us and in-spite all concerns and reservations when the guid asked: “lunch” the answer came as a massive hungry “YEEES!!!” and everyone hit the cheese and ham baguettes relentlessly!!! Well not everyone. I decided to leave it for another time and Steve decided to abstain too.

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The stunning surrounding of our last cenote dive for this trip (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)

Once we had dinner and much to our disappointment we had to say goodbye to the caverns (for this trip) and head back to the dive shop.

On arrival back to the dive shop and having hardly got our kit from the truck Didier informed us that we were ready to go for our boat dive. this came a bit a surprise but there wasn’t time for any thinking. We got our gear ready and under “heavy” rain we headed to the boat. Another very very bizarre feeling. Do not remember raining while getting kitted up and being so happy about it!!!  It was actually quite pleasant !!! The joys of diving in a wet suit!!!

The boat was pretty much ready and we (myself, Tim, Jakub, Sal and Licilda) were the last to board. The dive site was the local reef just a couple of minutes away from the beach so by the time we got our cylinders fitted we were already there. Diving with a group of very new divers (probably their first sea dive ever) involved a high amount of fuff and about fifteen minutes after they jumped off the boat they managed to descent. Because our guide was assisting them we had to wait until they managed to submerge and get themselves sorted.

Once all that was done we begun our dive. Once more a pleasant drift dive. I must admit that I came to like these dives!!! (ha! surprised are we???) Yes it was pretty cool just sitting there (well hovering) and leave the current do all the hard work. Loads and loads of tiny little beasties in the reef to be seen but I wouldn’t have a clue what were they or to identify them. Pretty none the less.

At the end of the dive our guide sent up his DSMB and I followed promptly with a pathetic a attempt to orally inflate a full size (not a single breath one) DSMB at 10 m depth!!! I hope that no one saw that, but I doubt it!!!

This third dive of the day was the last for the trip. Well all good things come to an end and we had to get back and find the rest of the group for celebratory drinks!!!

Sure enough the rest of the crew were already at Zenzi beach bar relaxing and drinking a few more Coronas!!!

Having had three dives but most importantly because we were all of us getting accustomed to this “siesta” concept we decided to break go and have a shower, nap and meet for dinner and drinks later in the evening.

A couple of hours later we met up outside the Plaza and headed out to find somewhere to eat. Jen had spotted a promising Steak house and surely you can not go wrong with a stake!!!

The restaurant was almost ready for us as the table they had reserved for us was 2 seats sort!!! But other than that they did a great job managing a crew of 15 hungry divers!!! They came up with a sample plate showing us all the cuts and managed to deliver all steaks and Bruce’s ribs at the same time!!!

The steak was really good and we did accompany it with the restaurant’s proposed special (ridicilusly strong) local brew  so quickly we moved back to Coronas!!! Being in Mexico of course we had to have Tequila with our dinner and contrary to the common (and Bruce’s) misconception  we enjoyed sipping it slowly rather than doing shots (which was too early for that anyway!!!)

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Bruce challenging the local (Mexican) to a Tequila “drink you under the table” competition. Luckily the Mexican new better (photo courtesy of Amelia Whittaker)

Well fed after by far the best dinner of the trip we reluctantly made our way out to the high street were all bars were. I say reluctantly but probably it was only me who was reluctant as everyone else was geared up for KARAOKE. This is exactly why I was reluctant to go!!! Restaurant = Safe, KARAOKE = TROUBLE.  After a fair bit of exploring the group ended up at one of the many local bars as sadly (?!) KARAOKE is not that popular around that part of the world and it looks like we failed to find the only KARAOKE bar in the vicinity!!!!

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the Karaoke bar we (sadly) failed to locate in time (photo courtesy of Jen Griffin)

Saturday

The last day is always painful the feeling of a holiday that had just finished and the long journey back to cold and wet didn’t really made my day. Still we went out for a last minute shopping. After buying a fridge magnet for home we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the Plaza where a mini-bus was waiting to take us to the Airport. The journey to the airport was smooth without any unexpected surprises as well as check in and security were far much more civilised than on the way in. Security guards were intrigued by the bizarre solid block things (regulators) on my rucksack and Tim’s traditional chilli sauce which he did bought to take back to the UK and sadly didn’t made it past security checks!!!

The flight was again uneventful with a bit of turbulence above Vermudas. Much to my disappointment I could not get any sleep so decided to see a film. By the time I finished watching Battleship, The Dark Knight Rises and Abraham Linkoln the Vampire Hunter we were nearly there. As this is not a film review blog I will only say that the best part about Battleship was “Waiting for The Funeral” by Band of Horses during the end titles and they could do away with the rest of it!!!

Finally Sunday morning myself and my 29.5 kg kit bag arrived in London Gatwick. With my flight to Aberdeen at 18:00 in the evening I had plenty of time to kill but having stayed up all night by early afternoon I was falling asleep!!! A tour around my old neighbourhood (Clapham junction) helped to keep me awake and eventually at about 22:30 or so I made it back home. I was feeling sleepy, cold and tired not a happy bunny at all and I only wanted to be teleported back to Mexico!!!

Overall I will say that it was probably the most anticipated diving trip so far. I have been waiting for it for months and I had really high expectations and not only I was not disappointed but I was well impressed. Yes Playa Del Carmen is good for tourists but the diving was phenomenal. The Cenotes were awesome and more impressive that I had ever imagined. No descriptions that I have read do them justice. Some photos capture the beauty but you have to go and see for yourself!!! No doubt I will be going back…

Many Thanks to Alex and Jen from Diving Leisure London for organising it

Many thanks to Didier from Phocea Mexico for looking after us and of course

Many thanks to my diving buddies Tim, Steve, Bruce, Adam F, Adam B, Chris, Jakub, Sal, Amelia, Chantal and Lucinda for making it an excellent holiday!!!

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Group photo (courtesy of Jen Griffin)

Fun Diving with Diving Matrix in Malta – May 2011

Day 0: Back to Malta – 20/05/2011

Took the day off work and very leisurly started sorting out my diving equipment. As much as it is really very easy for me to fly from Gatwick because it is only a short direct trip away I booked my flightsfrom Heathrow instead. I checked – in and proceeded to the Departure Lounge Bar where I ordered a drink while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Sure enough not before long Maxim, Clare, Tom, Paul, Hayden and Clarissa arrived and we boarded the plane very excited!!!

We arrived late at night and checked in at the Alexandra as our apartment was not available until the next day. Of course once we dropped off our stuff we headed straight to Huggins for a Welcome / Start of the Dive Trip pint of CISK as the tradition requires!!!

Day 1: Um El Faroud – 21/05/2011

In the morning refurbishment works started and the drilling, hammering and other demolition related works commenced as well waking me up well before my alarm or my liking! Likily we were scheduled to stay in the Alexandra for only one night because our apartment was not yet available so we had already checked out and we were delighted to go and not have to deal with this for the rest of our trip!!!

Paul Toomer arrived as agreed with the Diving Matrix Warrior and loaded our gear to take it to the Diving Matrix Malta – Tek-Lab. Once there Tom, Clare, Volker and Carl started their IANTD Advanced Recreational Trimix (ART) Course with Maxim tagging along while myself and Hayden sorted out our kit and Clarissa gave us a lift to Hayden’s parents who were kind enough to give Hayden their car to carry us and our diving gear around !!!

Myself and Hayden then left Clarissa to visit friends and family and went to Zurrieq to dive my favourite wreck “The Faroud” a dive that I was going to repeat again and again on that trip and I loved it more each time!!!

Our dive was pretty easy with Hayden leading and me following as a tourist (my favourite!!!) We went It is pretty awesome to dive with a local that knows the dive sites so well because I am not sure I could navigate to it or back!!! And the last thing I wanted was to start swimming to Libya!!!

Having completed our dive we headed back very happily to Huggins for a Cheeky Half before we went back to Diving Matrix and meet the others. Once back at Diving Matrix our Landlord arrived and took us to the apartment that we had hired for our trip. Although we were not exactly sure where it was and the drive there seemed endless partly due to the traffic and partly due to one way systems we were delighted to find out that our apartment was a VERY spacious 3 bedroom flat with a MASSIVE living room, kitchen and three well sized rooms. The bedrooms had a few spare folding beds (so we could accommodate even more if we wanted to) and the living room was overlooking the bay! One of the bedrooms even had an en-suite bathroom with a Jacuzzi and to top it up it was only a couple of minutes walk away from Huggins and Divewise. In one word: Awesome!!!

Once we got sorted, selected rooms and all we headed (where else) back to Huggins for dinner and of course more drinks!!!

Day 2: P29 – 22/05/2011

In the morning we met up with Adam, who arrived late last night, at Diving Matrix and with the rest of the group that was going to Chikawa for their skill circuit and since the weather was not great and pretty much every other dive site was blown out we decided to tag along. The plan was to dive in two different groups. One group would be Paul Toomer and his IANTD ART students and the other group would be the fun divers, myself and Adam, Clarissa and Hayden. As expected without any drills or any theory our group was ready to jump in the water well ahead of Paul’s group and so we went in the water. The plan was basic and simple. The four of us myself and Adam, Hayden and Clarissa would dive as two buddy pairs. Hayden would lead in the way in and take us to the wreck but because Clarissa was in a single cylinder they would turn their dive according to Clarissa’s gas. Myself and Adam being on twinsets and a stage each we would stay in the wreck a bit longer and then make our way back. As expected everything went to plan…

…Later Paul surfaced and we made our way back to Diving Matrix, the apartment and eventually the pub…

Day 3: Um El Faroud – 23/05/2011

The bad weather limited our selection of dive sites and having had enough excitement the day before we decided to play safe and go back to Zurieq and dive the Faroud. This time the composition of the team would be pretty much the same with the addition of Matt. Matt arrived the night before and he was scheduled to do the IANTD Normoxic course that Paul Toomer had programmed to start as soon as the IANTD ART course finished, until then Matt was going to fun dive with the rest of us.

Having learnt a lot from the last dive we split again into groups with Hayden and Clarissa one buddy pair and myself, Adam and Matt another. The plan was simple we would all go in together and Hayden would navigate. Their turn point would depend on Clarissa’s gas as she was on a single cylinder. The rest of us would stay a bit longer and make our way back when the first of us hit 100 bar. To avoid any incidents we discussed the positioning of the wreck, bearings and distance from the reef and Hayden even made a nice sketch on my wet notes (just tin case…). Once we were all ready we jumped in the water and headed out. This time Paul’s team was not far behind with them getting kitted up with us and splashing in at about the same time.

All went to plan and all four of us followed Hayden to the Faroud. On arrival we went over the propeller and under the hull as it is my favourite part of the wreck and at that point I looked back and I could see a diver so I thought that it mush have been another group of divers coming…

On the Port side of the wreck we found our entry point and as discussed during planning we were ready to penetrate. Only that at this point I noticed a couple of odd thing’s happening:

  1. Matt was refusing to enter the wreck
  2. The diver that I saw earlier had made it to the wreck and he was diving with Diving Matrix stickers on his stage bottles

Both of these came as a surprise because:

  1. We went through the bit of the penetration a number of times during the planning of our dive and
  2. Paul was not meant to be taking his student’s to the Faroud today. The plan was that they would stay at the shallows to complete their skill circuit.

At that point I was getting a bit annoyed because things were not exactly going to plan although clearly there was no cause for concern. If I could see a Paul’s student that meant that Paul was around an Matt was experienced enough to cope with being left outside the wreck for a bit while the rest of us went in for a quick peak!!!

Having said that I decided that we were not going to do any deep penetration and I would just stick outside the wreck and have fun so that I can keep an eye on Matt (not because I doubted his skills or competence but because I do not like leaving people alone!) and also see if I can find Paul. By doing so I realise that the newly arrived diver had joined our team and buddied up with us and Paul was nowhere to be seen!!! That was alarming and altogether wrong in many different levels. By that time we had reached the superstructure facing the bows when I begun to realise what was going on and I didn’t like it. This guy had ended up alone in the wreck with us and probably Paul and the rest of the group were looking for him!!! Luckily at that time I saw Hayden and Clarissa coming to tell me that they were about to head out and leave us and of course at that point I was thinking “Nah, We are not staying we are coming out with you guys”. So I signalled to Hayden who looked a bit perplexed by the increase in our numbers and Adam that we were going out with Hayden NOW!!! To make things more entertaining The other two Matt and the Guest Star diver had engaged into a conversation about their dive plan and where they should ascent and for how long without paying any attention to my signals which seems amusing now but not at the time…

Eventually I grabbed them and signalled to follow me which they did. Within seconds and before we even left the boat behind us I saw Paul coming towards my group at Mach 5!!! I doo not think I have ever seen a diver moving so fast underwater and I do not think I have seen any one more ungry underwater!!! Didn’t had time to do much but I knew what was going on so I moved out of Paul’s way and pointed towards the back and left. There would be fireworks!!!

Having left our guest behind we made our way back to the shore and out of the water. The minor issue with the miscommunication regarding the penetration of the wreck was soon forgotten since the guest diver incident dominated the conversation.

Paul and all of his students surfaced soon afterwards and we left Paul to have a chat with his student while the rest of us went for lunch!!!

Apparently the poor guy jumped in the water saw our group heading to sea at a distance and thinking that it is his group he started fining frantically to catch up with us!!! By the time he caught up with us he had figured out his mistake but it was too late because he was at the wreck with us and missing from Paul’s group!!!

Having sorted all of that out they went in for another dive while we enjoyed the sun shine in Zurieq.

Later in the evening we met at the pub and gave the poor guy even more grief for his incident and Paul a few drinks to get over and celebrate the near miss he had that day…

Day 4: Um El Faroud – 24/05/2011

The weather held and it was not great for diving in any other spot apart from Zurieq and the Faroud. As I said this is one of my favourite dives and besides the last dive on that wasn’t exactly what I was after so I was delighted to hear that we were going back there!!! This time Richard who just arrived in Malta, joined us and after loading all our equipment in to his big VERY YELLOW van we headed to Zurieq. We were all of us looking to an easy fun dive and diving on air with a 50% NOx stage meant that we could dive off our computers!!!. Richard lead that dive and after a small detour took us to the Faroud on the Port side and after we swam under the hull and over the propeller we headed to the bows following the starboard side of the wreck. We then moved back to the inside of the wreck from the breach and went straight into the engine room where we staged off and proceeded further down to the machinery room. That was a new experience because I have never had to stage off to get anywhere that narrow before and as expected the clipped together stages were not too keen to stay down!!! Torches came in handy and we decided to leave the corridors at the sided of the wreck for another visit!!!

Having had a great dive we headed back to Sliem to find the others end eventually the pub to wait for Alex who was arriving that night.

Day 5: Karwella – 25/05/2011

As much as we wanted to stay up wand wait for Alex at the pub that didn’t happened because he had to go to bed early for a good night’s sleep before the ART students qualifying dive. The decision was made to dive the Gozo wrecks so it would be either Cominoland or the Karwella but that was a decision to be made when we got there as both were at the same place.

We met up with Alex in the morning and we all went to Diving Matrix Tek-Lab together. Loaded all our kit and headed off to the Cirkawwa to get the Gozo ferry.

Once in Gozo the wrecks are well sign posted soon we were at the dive site and we were preparing our equipment. This time Richard, myself, Alex and Adam would dive as one group and Paul with his IANTD ART students, Maxim and Matt as another. Karwella is a purposely sunk ferry that used to carry passengers between Malta and Gozo. It is one of my favourite wrecks because unlike all other wrecks this one being a passenger ferry feels a lot more familiar. There are wide staircases, restaurant rooms and because it is in such a good condition offers loads of opportunities for penetration. The maximum depth of 40 m meant that we didn’t really needed Trimix for this dive and as soon as we calculated gas consumptions and turn around points we were good to dive off our computers.

Everything went to plan and we made it back to the surface along with the qualified now ART divers!!! Drinks and Dinner at Huggins as the Standard Operating Procedure dictates followed with shisha to celebrate!!!

Later that evening the rest of Diving Leisure London crew descended to Malta and many familiar faces and a few new ones!

Day 6: P29 & Rozy – 26/05/2011

With Paul having started his IANTD Normixic course, Alex taking Diving Leisure London diving with Divewise Malta we (myself, Hayden, Richard and Adam) decided to head to Cirkawwa and dive the wrecks in style! Usually single cylinder divers manage a pretty short dive on either the P29 ot the Rozy so we figured that having a twinset and a stage we had more than enough gas do dive both wrecks in one go!!! Again Hayden took the lead as he was the one who could navigate from the Rozy to the P29 and the rest of us follwed!!! The dive was pretty cool because it was the first time that I dived the Rozy not on a single cylinder and I had plenty of gas to look around. Then when we thought we had enough and only after a well sized conger eel prevented us from going further in we set out to find the P29. Hayden’s navigation got us there and back to the shore having done an excellent and most importantly trouble free dive!!!

Day 7: HMS Stubborn – 27/05/2011

With the Normoxic course divers preparing for their big dive we planned to dive the HMS Stubborn a submarine that was purposely sank after it suffered substantial damage in WWII for allied forces to practice in the use of ASDIC. The Stubborn is a dive I wanted to do for a long time so much not only because I like diving submarines but also because he did tried diving her in the past and failed quite a few times!!! This time we were diving of Danny’s boat Diversity. We were picked up by Danny at the jetty close to St Juian’s Bay and headed out to our dive site. We would dive as two teams Paul’s course team and Myself, Adam and Hayden. My team went in first and jumped in the sea. The conditions in the surface were pretty good but nothing prepared us for the conditions under the surface!!! Visibility was endless We started following the shot line to the wreck but I quickly dropped off it because not only there was no current at all but also I could see the whole of the submarine below me!!! It felt as if I was in a swimming pool !!! Albeit a big swimming pool but still a big big swimming pool with a real sized submarine in it!!! We descended to the stern and from there followed the wreck to the bows and back to the coning tower. Having reached our bottom time reluctantly we decided to begin our ascent. At that point again a few things happened!!!

  1. Paul had made it to the bottom with his students and
  2. at the same time Hayden’s high pressure hose (the feed to the submersible pressure gauge – spg) burst

That was an interesting development as it effectively meant that we would have to find a way around potentially a lost gas scenario

Luckily Paul decided to swap his bailout cylinders with Haydens and with a small delay Hayden started his ascent. During all this time myself and Adam stayed a bit further up trying to follow our plan and Hayden was about 6 meters below us following his trimix computer. We met again at 6 meters and we left him to finish his deco along with Paul’s group of students that had caught up with them.

An absolutely awesome dive that I really loved although I was not particularly impressed with the Miflex High Pressure hose burst which resulted in my team getting separated.

On return to the marina I got Paul to let me have a go at his JJ CCR and so we jumped back in the water for one quiet bubble less dive.

Day 8: Le Polynesien – 28/05/2011

The big day for the IANTD Normoxic course students finally arrived after a lot of classroom theory lessons, skill circuits, dry runs and all the time came for their 60 m qualifying dive! Just like the year before it was decided to dive the Polynesia as it is an awesome wreck and it is nearly impossible to manage and dive all of it in one Open Circuit dive!

Having sorted out gasses and kit we headed out to Marsa Scala to rendez-vous with Danny that would take us to the wreck with his boat Diversity. We were warned that the trip out would be a bit choppy and it was which is rather unusual for diving in Malta. Having said that it was choppy for Maltese standards I would be ecstatic if I got to dive in these conditions once a year in the UK!!!

Danny found the wreck using his GPS and then dropped the shot line which almost immediately disappeared under the boat!!! All efforts to remove the buoy by moving the boat proved fruitless and Paul decided he would go in, dive under the boat find out what is wrong with it and sort it out! Paul jumped in the water and then started to fin to the stern of the boat. We were watching him finning frantically but to no avail!!! We started dragging Paul to the stern and with a lot of effort he made it there and dived under the boat. A few minutes later we saw the buoy popping up and moved over to help Paul climb back up the ladder. In the mean time the buoy was moving further and further away from the boat really very fast!!! Of course the buoy wasn’t going anywhere it is just that the current was so strong that the boat ended up 0.5 mile away from the buoy in no time!!!

Once ready we decided to go in as two groups again. Me and Adam and Paul and his students. We jumped in the water and made every effort to make it to the buoy and grab the line. The current was fearsome and it was obvious that it was going to be a challenging dive. We exchange signals with Adam and confirmed that we were good to go. The decent was painful with both of us having to pull down the shot line to beat the current and meet our 15 m / min descent rate which we managed to keep with a lot of effort. Once on the bottom I assumed the lead and started heading towards the bows until I started noticing Adam getting stresses. I think that our fight against the strong current and to meet our 15 m / minute had him a bit to exerted and stressed. Noticing obvious signs of distress started to ask him if he was OK and he signalled back that he was not. So immediately we turned around and started heading for the shot line. Approaching the shot line I got very excited for two reasons firstly because we had found the shot line and our ascent was imminent and secondly because Paul had made it to the bottom of the shot line so he could also help if Adam got into difficulties. Of course by that point Adam had caught up his breath and was again happy and relaxed. None the less we decided to abort the dive and continue our ascent.

In the mean time Paul and his students were trying really hard to untangle the buoy’s led weight which was so badly tangled to the wreckage that there was no chance to pull it up by the boat and actually it was just as well because if it was not that badly tangled to the wreck it would have never stayed attached to it when all of us were pulling down to descent. Although me and Adam were a bit up we felt that the shot line was made loose from the wreckage because it immediately escaped our grasp and we had to fin hard to catch it again. Once got hold of the shot line again the rest of the ascent was uneventful and apart from making sure that we held the shot line tight (but like really very tight) all went to plan until the 6 m stop when the second group caught up with us and it got a bit crowded!!! John lines were deployed and soon we left them finishing their deco in peace! On the surface the strong current was still present and Danny had to do his best to pick us up against the howling current.

Having got everyone back on the boat we headed back to Marsa Scala and the nearby restaurant for lunch with the very rude and not funny waiter who as his custom is managed to offend everyone including Danny!!!

Although we did went to Huggins for a cheeky half that night we decided to be a bit more brave and try the Brazilian restaurant called “Do Brazil” in the Hilton Marina which proved very very popular with the fanatically carnivorous Diving Leisure London crew who probably had enough of Huggins delicatessen cuisine!!!

Day 9: Last Dive – 29/05/2011

The last dive of our trip had to be the Faroud! The few remaining divers including myself and Tom went back with Richard to Zurieq for a fun dive on my favourite wreck! It was probably Tom’s first fun dive with a twinset on  and he enjoyed it as much as the rest of us although I did not penetrated deep in the machinery room because my torch was playing up I had a great dive and it was the perfect round up for this awesome trip!!!

Back at Paceville and after we went for a pizza at an Italian restaurant tha came highly recommended to us by our very own Fran we returned to Huggings for a night of festivities according to the DLL Malta protocol which ensured that we had copious amounts of alcohol until the early hours of the morning (04:00) and in spite Carl’s efforts we did managed to have a shisha or two!!!

Day 10: The End – 30/05/2011

The next morning was painful as expected with a massive hungover none the less we were back at Huggins for a breakfast although myself I opted for Mr Maxim’s pies an old tradition that I refuse to brake!!! We prepared our stuff and prepared the flat for our departure (removed bedding for cleaning, moving beds to their original position etc). After a short visit to Divewise for DLL divers to collect their equipment we went back to Huggins until the time came to go back to our apartment load our stuff in the truck and go to the airport. The rest went according to plan and late that night I was back in London having had a great holiday with awesome diving Many thanks to Diving Matrix, Diving Leisure London, Divewise Malta and of course Huggins!!!

British Channel Diving – July 2011

Most of the times I say I like diving, people get a bit confused especially if they know I live in London and they have a vague understanding of Geography (London is nowhere near the coast!!!) and usually they get even more perplexed when I say that I really really like diving in the UK and that the channel is my favourite diving destination!!!

I do love wreck diving and diving in the British Channel gives me access to loads of wrecks that sunk for all sorts of different reasons, naval disasters, collisions, bad weather and a number of wars (including but not limited to WWI and WWII) making the Channel the ideal diving destination.

Indeed conditions are not always great. The tides create strong currents allowing for only short windows of diving during the tide change (slack water) and the clouds absorb sunlight making an 11:00 in the morning dive a night dive!!! Of course if you are unfortunate enough to dive a wreck on the 18-30 m range you could well get hit by a plankton boom that will reduce visibility to 50 cm? sometimes less and because of the above (currents, bad weather, shipping) the wrecks on the 18-30 m range are well battered and mostly collapsed to the seabed or on the way to it!

BUT

If you decide to dive deeper than 30 m then things change you get wrecks that are more intact, and you are out of the plankton boom! so it may be dark but visibility will be great and you do have access to really nice big wrecks 🙂 YEYYY!!!!

This is why I decided to take this years summer diving holiday in the UK and book myself for 5 consecutive days of diving in the Channel.  The plan was simple. Nigel Ingram from Aqua Elevation chartered Steve Johnson’s 36 ft catamaran Channel Diver for a trip to Dieppe (Wednesday-Friday), further to that Saturday I, Andris and Matt were booked to dive the Aristos with David Ronnan’s Our W and Sunday Andris was booked to dive the Duke of Buccleugh out of Littlehamptonon with Graham Norton’s LittleHampton Aquanaut and there was a space available (for me!).  All and all 5 dive of diving 3 in France, 2 in the UK with 3 different dive boats! Awesome!!!

The trip was a logistical challenge because of the consecutive deep dives and the fact that we had no access to get Trimix fills and limited access to Nitrox fills. In order to work around this we had to carry with us everything!!! So once more I had to beg borrow and steal twin sets and stage bottles from everyone I knew and I am grateful to all those (including Alex and Maxim ) that helped or offered to help with this.

Having sorted out the logistics Andris I met and started our drive to Eastbourne the day before. We got to Eastbourne in time and once we checked in at the Alexandra we headed out for a drink and dinner (how civilised!).

Day 1: Eastbourne – Dieppe

The next morning pretty early (hence the decision to go down to Eastbourne the night before) we checked out of our hotel and headed to the Eastbourne Sovereign Harbour to meet Nigel and the rest of the team. We boarded the boat and after the customary cup of tea we headed out to cross the channel. Needless to say I was very excited about that because I always wanted to cross the channel by boat and even more by a diving boat!!!

On French waters we dived an unknown mark in relatively shallow waters and I was impressed by how well preserved the wreck was very well preserved and visibility was great!!! I definitely did not expect that 🙂 I also did not expect my brand new dry suit to leak that bad and I came up from that dive completely and absolutely soaked. NOT NICE!!! 😦

The first dive was also eventful because I managed to do every mistake in the book and a few new ones! before jumping in the water I did not attached my left post regulator to my neck with the bungee chord and I left it loose somewhere behind me (oups) as if that was not enough I cracked open my twinset valves and jammed them open. Now none of that would have been a problem if I had not had a massive free flow from my left post as soon as I jumped in the water!!! By not having the backup regulator in my mouth I could not tell what was free flowing and because it was my first dive with a dry suit inflation bottle I assumed that that was it! so tried to isolate that but that of course did not helped!!! Then I focused on my stages but again nothing!!! Last I realised what had happened and I am desperately trying to isolate my left post but the valves are jammed open and there is nothing I can do about it!!! Needless to say all this time precious and pretty expensive gas is simply blown away… Eventually having moved away enough from the shot line the skipper picked me up and isolated my left post on the boat. Sadly my buddy had descended to 6 meters and was waiting for me there all this time which is something that we had never done before!!! On the boat I was quite annoyed with myself for being such a Muppet but I did not wanted to miss the dive so with the problem resolved I asked Steve to give it another go and drop me off. I went back in the water and it all went well! I even found my buddy waiting around the bottom of the shot line and continued the dive together!!!

Having finished with the dive we continued our journey to Dieppe and eventually made it to the marina and checked-in to Hotel De La Plage that Nigel had booked us in. The receptionist was pleasant enough (albeit french) and she even took my soaked undersuit to dry which was awesome!!!

A quick walk around the city to get supplies for the next days diving rather than cultural or tourist purposes !!! Drinks and dinner at a local restaurant followed and I must say I was not impressed with dinner but that was primarily down to the fact that we ended up in a very touristy place !!!

Day 2: Dive out of Dieppe

The second day of the trip we did two dives one more Unknown wreck and the Dafodil. Once more the wrecks were in very good condition allowing for loads of penetration!!! Nigel’s hand made chocker worked miracles with my dry suit’s neck seal and although the leakage was substantially minimised I still decided to hand in my undersuit to the good receptionist to tumble dry!!!

On return to the marina we went for a few drinks and dinner at a different place but the result was pretty much equally disappointing. It would have been great if we had a lonely planet or a local to suggest a non touristy place to go for dinner 😦

Day 3: Dieppe to Eastbourne

The last day of the trip we checked out of the hotel and headed to the marina for our last dive and the return journey home. A quick stop to a bakery on the way to the marina to get supplies (nice nice cheese and ham baguette and other goodies)!!! The weather had turned and sea did not looked particularly appealing! None the less it is not like we had an option and we headed out to the channel!

The trip back was well and truly choppy with the kit at the back flying around and particularly twinsets without boots being a nightmare to keep steady. I agree that boots can be a pain primarily because with them one can not use tail waits but I would strongly recomend them to anyone diving in the sea (which tends to be rough more often than not) regardless of what the GUE/DIR/Cave/ Fresh Water diver say!!!

Luckily enough the weather cleared by the point we reached the Barga which was the dive site for the day. Although the conditions looks good my buddy decided he had enough of shallow (ish) dives and the choppy ride over the channel started to take its toll so he decided he would skip this dive. Half hearted I decided to go ahead and see what is down there!!!

And it was a good thing I did!!! the clouds had withdrawn and there was plenty of ambient light and visibility was excellent! The Barga was in pretty good condition but being alone I did not felt too adventurous or brave plus I was missing my buddy so decided not to venture too far from the shot line. To that I had to add the fact that during my descent I spotted an abandoned fishing net with loads of live crabs, fish and lobsters trapped on in and it didn’t felt like abandoning them there so went straight to it and started un-tangling the nearest crab! When I did managed to free him he didn’t seemed too grateful about it (probably deeply concerned that I was trying to free him only to eat him later!) he left without saying thank you!!!

I then moved on to a lobster but he was really badly trapped and I pulled my knife and started to cut the net and although that could have freed the trapped lobster things begun to get scary as the loose ends of the net started pulling me in and I was getting now tangled to them. At that point I decided that that was not so wise and I left the poor lobster to his fate and went out to have  look at the wreck. In the process I found another lobster hiding under some wreckage and managed to grab him but since I had no lifting bag there was not much I could do about him. I did offered the lobster to a fellow diver who just happened to be around but luckily for the lobster the fellow diver had just sent up his lifting bag so reluctantly I left the lobster on the wreck and started my ascent.

Back on the boat I found out that I was not alone in trying to save poor creatures caught in the net but a few others from our group had freed fish, crabs and lobsters. Of course all the others were going back home after this trip so their goodie bags were full of lobsters and big big crabs!!!

Eventually we made it back to Eastbourne and after off loading the boat we headed to our hotel the Premier Inn in Eastbourne for dinner and a good night’s sleep before we go back to Eastbourne for our next UK dive!!!

Day 4:  The Aristos

Bright and early we left our hotel and headed back to the Eastbourne Sovereign Harbour to meet Matt who would join us for the day. We loaded the kit on the boat and headed out. The conditions were great with clear skies and pretty calm sea. On arrival to site we got kitted up and jumped in the water. Now that did not worked very well for me because Andris jumped first and Matt followed with me last. As I was waiting behind Matt my redundant wing bladder inflation hose got trapped in the lift and although I felt that something was wrong I thought “whatever, I am jumping and whatever has jammed it will become free!” Well that was a bad idea!!! because the only thing I managed was to snap my low pressure hose and of course have another free flow!!!

I quickly isolated the right post but that was it. I could not go diving any more. so signalled to Matt and Andris to go ahead and I would go back to the boat. As soon as I got back on the boat Sylvia (the second skipper) was like “you can mend it? are you going back?” so I took my kit off and the remains of the offending hose of my regulator and replaced it with a blank plug and I was like: “Right lets go back in!” Sure enough Sylvia turned the boat around and dropped me off on the shot line. I went down and: “Man was I happy to be there!!!” visibility was awesome!, the wreck was upright and very intact and there were loads of ambient light!!! It was great!!! apart from the fact that I was missing my buddies 😦 Likely I was diving on Andris new computer so I did not had to follow a very long ascent and although I did spent some time looking for Andris and Matt I quickly went up, deployed my DSMB and started my ascent following the profile that Andris OSTC 2N suggested and made it safely back to the boat. Later when the guys came up and were like: “Oh that was an awesome dive!!! to bad you had to miss out :(” I could reply: “Well actually I did not!!!”

After a great day out we headed back to Eastbourne where we off loaded the boat and made our way to Worthing and checked in at Chatsworth hotel! Feeling like we deserved a nice dinner we decided to play safe and have Pizza Express rather than risk any other food since last nights dinner at the pub next to the Premier Inn was not exactly a life changing experience and we were less than impress with our dinner in France!!

Day 5: The Duke of Buccleugh

Early in the morning (before they started serving breakfast) we left the hotel (checked out the night before) and headed to Littlehampton marina to board Graham Norton’s Littlehampton Aquanaut. That was strange as I found myself in a boat being the only open circuit diver surrounded by 5 rebreather divers. Needless to say when the skipper asked “So what is your planned dive time?” I was looking desperately for a place to hide!!! as my 25 min were no match for the 1.5 hours plus that these guys were about to dive!!!

None the less we went out and after the skipper dropped the shot line jumped in the water. Again the weather conditions were great. Loads of ambient light and great visibility. We found the wreck at about 60 m and it was amazing the amount of crockery (plates, vases, ashtrays, glasses and all sorts) was phenomenal!!! This wreck and its cargo were in a great condition 🙂 I was mightly excited and loving it!!! Alas my 25 minutes were up and as agreed I waved Andris bye-bye as he decided to stay down there for a bit longer. Andris stayed around until I deployed my DSMB and I started my ascent.

Back on the boat things had changed. Weather had turned and it was fairly choppy. Luckily because of dry suit and dry glove malfunctions the guys ended up coming up sooner that expected so the long wait was not that long after all 🙂 and it was just as well!!! The trip back was pretty rough and did spent the whole journey back wearing my dry suit as apart from the cabin there was no place to hide from the waves!!!

Eventually we made it back and started our journey back to London. This was an absolutely awesome trip and it definitely counts amongst the best diving trips I had not just in the UK but anywhere in the world!!! The good weather helped but also having my favourite diving buddy around made things even better! I will most definitely be looking forward to more mid-channel diving trips in the future!!!

IANTD Trimix with Diving Matrix in Malta – Sept 2011

Prelude

It has been a while we (myself, Andris, Dave Lau Kee and a few others) have been discussing about diving to 100 m. On one hand it was scary but really exciting on the other there were the logistics How, Who, Where, When and sometimes Why? Although I will admit that the last one was less of an issue!!! We all wanted to do it hopefully to see the mysterious Cargo ship that has yet to be identified and the name still remains a mystery or just for doing it and going where few have gone before…

Day 0 – 09/09/2011

And so we did. Sensibly I decided to take Friday off and sort out my kit. Pack and go to the airport in peace rather than running like mad to the airport after work. I Picked up my dry suit from my dive shop where it was left for minor alterations and took it to another dive shop to get a p-valve fitted (last minute addition). Then leisurly finished off packing and headed to the airport.

Flying with Air Malta is always a good idea and with a sports coupon (which costed nearly nothing) I managed to take with me all of my gear and loads of spares (no good at leaving them home me thinks!!!). The flight was easy and everything went to plan. On arrival to Malta got a taxi that took me straight to the hotel the infamous Alexandra. A bit of A surprise there since the employee that booked my room did not read all of my e-mail and he was not waiting for me until tomorrow! Luckily there was another vacant room and the catastrophe was averted!!! Quickly I went to my room dropped all of my (quite a lot of) stuff and straight to Huggins!!! Now by that time of course it was well late (around 01:00 in the morning) and all I could expect was a quick pint of CISK before I head back to the hotel for a good nights sleep!!!

Now that never happened because as I was getting closer to the pub I could see very familiar faces Paul and Danny were there and by the looks of them they have been there for some time!!! Delighted to see my mates there I order a round of drinks and promptly another and another!!! My memories after this point are rather sketchy and am not sure I remember the details other than that I did made it back to my hotel room for a couple of hours (or less) of sleep!!! A Massive Course was about to begin…

Day 1: Theory – 10/09/2011

Bright and early (a bit too early for my liking)  we met at the Tek-Lab and after the necessary introductions Richard and Michael were the other two divers joining myself, Andris and Dave and once we sorted out the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT issue “Who is going for a Coffee run???” we started with the paperwork and eventually made our way to the theory. Partly the fact that I found myself in a classroom after a VERY long time partly last nights atrocities needles too say I was not feeling too rosy!!!

None the less we made it and and continued with theory and classroom work until lunch when we had to break for the customary lunch at Wagamama!!! That I very much enjoyed and definitely made me feel A LOT better.

Back to the classroom we continued with more theory lessons planning, gas selection, physiology, DCI and a little bit more about DCI since both Andris and Dave have done a lot of reading on the subject and had loads of interesting anecdotes and questions to contribute to the presentation.

Once all the theory part was over we started assembling our gear and of of course started the drill that we would repeat many many many but like many times in the future of loading the Warrior (resident Diving Matrix truck) only to unload it a few minutes later at the filling station 🙂

Having sorted out our kit for the next day we went to Divewise to drop our cylinders for filling. Just for the record a listing of the cylinders

1 twinset

1 travel gas stage

1 lean deco stage

1 rich deco stage

1 suit inflation bottle

PER DIVER

yes 6 bottles per diver now if you are quick with maths and you know it was 5 of us on the course (myself, Andris, Dave, Richard and Michael) that makes for 30 cylinders!!! ha! not only! we should not forget our instructor and his kit so pretty much 35 cylinders!!! Now that is quite a lot I think!!!

Having dropped of the cylinders to the Divewise we were on our way to Huggins for beer and dinner. Of course the prospect of diving the next day and the copious amounts of alcohol consumed the night before meant that we had a quiet and very civilised night!

Day 2: Simulated Deco Dive & Skill Circuit – 11/09/2011

Sunday morning we loaded the truck and headed out to Chikawwa to dive the P29. That was more of a warm up dive and the plan was to have a bit of fun and do a few skills before we go in the water again for one Monster sized Skill Circuit session. After a lot of sweating because of the high temperatures, the dry suits the stairs we had to climb carrying 1 twinset (or one rebreather) and 3 stages (11 lt  each) we managed to get in the water and “help” Andris with his stages!!! An operation that did not run exactly smoothly but we did manage to get under water eventually :).

The dive generally went well without any incidents although because we were running a bit behind schedule with our run time it was more of a “touch and go” dive as we had to turn and go pretty much as soon as we saw the wreck which was a bit unfortunate  but I did not mind it at all as I was having a really really bad time with my kit and I was really looking forward to get out of it asap!!!

For the whole time of the dive I was fighting against my kit! My rig wanted to tilt me to port side and I had to fight for the whole dive to stay upright. NOT FUNNY. Needless to say came out and I was not happy I knew that there was no way I could go to 100 m with kit like that.

That is the point where Paul Toomer took over. And in his typical calm style he started: “Right lets see what  can we do about this!”. We went through the whole of the rig and removed a fair few useless stuff that shouldn’t be there in the first place like a thigh pocket, an air gun, a few random bits of bungee and identified the culprit for my balance issues!!!

Now As soon as I got in the water I could tell that the three stages I was carying with me were the cause for my balance problems but I also knew that I should be able to carry with me a lot more stages (than 3) without any problems so I had to find what was wrong. It turns out that my drastic diet, the new much thinner (changed from a very old neoprene to a membrane) dry suit and the luck of weight retainers behind my waist billie rings resulted in a ridicilusly loose harness with loads of play and sliding d-rings!. Of course Mr Toomer was quick to spot that and during the surface interval I successfully took apart my rig and put it back together from scratch. Sure enough that did the trick and as soon as I went back in the water for the skill Circuit I was a really very Happy Bunny again!!!

During the surface interval and after we managed to sort out kit issues we did breath control drills and Paul demonstrated the effect of stress on our breath control and pattern with a pretty cool drill that had us look a bit retarded as we were spot jogging while wearing our dry suits! but was definitely worth it!!!!

The Skill Circuit was challenging and a lot of fun! We did out of air drills with no mask, no regulator in the mouth and we had to pull and glide to our buddy, we did lost buoyancy drills including: try to maintain depth, ascent and remain in the surface without any buoyancy aids and of course the usual shut downs, dsmb deployments and a lot of stage swapping which was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed (that sound geeky probably but it was fun!!!)

After that we had to race back to drop our cylinders off to get them filled with exotic gases for the first of our big dives.

With the cylinders left for filling we went back to Tek-Lab to plan our dive and then to Huggins for dinner (as you do when in Malta!)

Day 3: 63 m Dive – The Polynesien – 12/09/2011

I really really wanted to do the schnellboot because I had heard so much about it but it was not going to happen this time. We decided to dive the Poly again. Now anyone who has dived the Poly before knows better than complain about it because it is an absolutely stunning wreck standing pretty much upright and quite intact. It is massive  152 m long with loads of entry points for penetration. So I was not exactly gutted to miss the schnellboot instead I was really very excited about it 🙂

We went to Marsa Scala where we met Danny the skipper and the latest addition to the crew of Diversity young Phil. On this trip Hanna girlfriend would join us practising as a support diver for our 100 m dive on her first technical try dive!

We got to the jetty and started kitting up. I decided that I would wear my Arctic as I did not had any other “lighter” undersuit. Not a great Idea but not disastrous either as I had to wait until the very last minute to put my dry suit on but other than that all was good and we quickly found ourselves descending to the wreck. Visibility was great and early we managed to get a good look at a very big part of the boat.

Following the shot line we reached the wreck and started heading towards the stern from the port side of the wreck.

As we were approaching the stern I could clearly see my instructor and my buddies swimming over the propeller and under the hull to the starboard side of the wreck. Obviously at that point I had switched back to the good old recreational diver mode and I could only think: “Jee what is wrong with them? there is LOADS of space to go UNDER the propeller!!!”. I will show them how to do things properly and off I am descending to the seabed and squeezing myself between the seabed and under the propeller blades!!! Of course at that point I am really very excited and terribly pleased with myself. At the same time I can see Paul who is not (at all) impressed with my antics shaking his head in disapproval and with that very familiar “You Muppet” look in his eyes. Of course the reason everyone else went OVER the propeller rather than UNDER the propeller was that the top of the propeller was out TOD (Target Operating Depth) and by going UNDER the propeller I exceeded my TOD and effectively invalidated my dive plan (elementary Dr Watson).

Needless to say I didn’t found out about until on the boat when Paul explained exactly the same but in a more “polite” manner.

OK. UNDERSTOOD. NOT DOING THIS AGAIN!!! EVER.

Apart from that the rest of the dive went smoothly and Hannah on Paul’s twinset Rig jumped in the water in time to meet us at our 21 m stop as planned!!!

On return to Marsa Scala off loaded the boat and headed to the familiar restaurant just round the corner from the marina with the very rude and grumpy waiter who (as expected) offended everyone with his rather odd sense of humour that none of us thought that it was particularly funny or funny at all for that matter which is a bit unfortunate as the food was actually quite nice!

Back to St Julians only to find out that the boat is fully booked and we can not dive the HMS Southwold!!! Bah. That is another wreck that I really wanted to dive and have not dived ever before although I have heard so much about it 😦

And as if that was not enough the island’s Helium (He) supply has been disrupted and our filling station was running out of helium!!!

Trying not to go back to Huggins AGAIN myself, Paul, Andris and Dave  decided to go to Avenue and of course order a Full Rack of Ribs!!!

Day 4: 80 m Dive – Ras – Il – Hobz – 13/09/2011

With the boat fully booked and no Helium for our 80 m dive things looked dire. The issue of the boat could be addressed by going for a shore based dive out of Gozo. Ras-Il-Hobz (which apparently translates to head of the Bread as my Maltese friends informed me!!!) is a popular destination amongst recreational divers because it is a relatively easy dive with a very impressive pinnacle and loads of life. The recreational divers are limited to around 40 m but the pinnacle goes all the way to 100 plus (or minus I should say).

Having solved the dive site issue we had to look at finding some Helium because although I am happy to dive deep air going to 80 m without A LOT of He was not going to happen!

Luckily another dive centre The Strand in St Paul’s Bay had some Helium left so we loaded the truck and went there to get our cylinders filled. Of course while waiting we had breakfast at a lovely cafe by St Paul’s Bay and we started preparing our dive plan.

Eventually we got a call that all our cylinders were filled and we headed back to The Strand and collect our cylinders. Once analysed loaded the truck and headed to the Gozo Ferry.

The drive from the ferry terminal in Gozo to the dive site is very short although not particularly friendly for any car and even less for our heavily loaded Matiz!!! The rather unfortunate hire car that was tasked with carrying me, Andris and Michael around. The steep climbs and descents and the lack of any road made it for a really difficult day for the Matiz compared to Paul’s Warrior that casually drove off road and at twice (or five times) the speed of the Matiz!!!

Once on site (what looked more like the surface of the moon rather than any place in the Earth!!!) we started off loading the truck and preparing our rigs for our biggest dive until that day!!!.

When we got everything ready we got into our suits and quickly went into the water. Due to the excessive heat we decided to have our briefing and our gas and equipment matching in the water to cool us down.

Having completed the gas & equipment matching we started a short surface swim to the edge of the reef to minimise potential disturbances in our descent. The descent felt like a long journey down with what felt like an even longer journey up!!! Paul had warned us that it is very likely that something may happen in this dive and we would have to act accordingly and sure enough on our ascent Paul signalled to Andris that he had a catastrophic failure on his rebreather and he had to bail out. The team worked well with all Open Circuit divers assisting and successfully managing the tasks required to be completed. Richard was responsible for re profiling our dive based on the bail out scenario and the rest of us helping by shuffling stages around and monitoring the incident.

The dive not only was a success but it was also loads of fun! Coming out of it it felt great! 🙂 we had completed a very challenging dive, the deepest dive of our careers so far and we had responded successfully to an incident!!! in one word Success!!!

Under any other circumstances after that we would go to the pub to drink and celebrate the occasion but no not this time we hadn’t finished yet…

We did loaded all the equipment and ourselves into the Warrior and the poor Matiz and headed back to the ferry terminal where as our luck would have it we just missed the ferry!!!

This would not have been a disaster if we were not in a hurry to get back in time to the dive shop (Strand Divers) to get gas fills for the next day!!! And as if that was not enough we found out that the boat which we were planning to book to dive the Cargo ship had broken down and we would not be able to dive the cargo ship which I was really looking forward to dive as apart from the fact that it would make for my first wreck dive at 100 m I also think that there is nothing more exciting than diving a wreck that has not yet been identified!!!

Alas! it was not meant to happen and considering the circumstances and the fact that we would have to get gas fills the next day it was probably just as well. Trying to make it to a boat when you haven’t got cylinders filled is not fun!!!

On the plus side that meant we could have an early night and get ourselves ready for the big day!

A very modest dinner at Huggins and a tuna salad followed. Now as you can imagine my plan for a light dinner did not worked and I had to supplement it with a banana, nutella and nuts creppe from  Chequers. MUCH BETTER!!!

Day 5: 100 m dive!!! – 14/09/2011

As planned we met at Tek Lab and loaded the Warrior wit our diving gear and went to Divewise in St Julians to get our Nitrox cylinders and headed to St Paul’s Bay to get our Trimix fills from Strand Divers. We got there off loaded the cylinders and went back to the cafe to prepare our dive plan. Things were not going to run smoothly and sure enough before we even finished our coffee the phone rang. The Strand had run out of Helium. They had managed to fill only one twinset. Disaster.

That was rather unexpected and stressful. None of us wanted to miss on the 100 m dive and the second dive shop in Malta had just run out of Helium!!! Andris and Dave had booked flights for the next day and Paul was booked to start another PADI Instructor Speciality course so we could not really just postpone the dive untill Helium supply is restored! We had no time!!!

A few (or quite a few I should say) phone calls later Paul is excited we can get Trimix Fills from Malta Aqua. Luckily they were in the same area so it was not long before we loaded / offloaded cylinders once more and we focused on sorting out the dive plan as we know were sure that we would get our gas and we would go diving!!! 🙂

Planning was quite a challenge as we had to match the Open Circuit Profile with Paul’s and Andris CCR profile for the dive and try to avoid Isobaric Counter Diffusion (if possible)! And sure enough we did it. It was a pretty long plan but we had a plan and we had gas too!!! Off to Gozo!!!

Back to Gozo and Ras-Il-Hobs the scenery was now familiar and we knew the site. The Matiz still had a bad time but that did not stopped us from getting where we wanted 🙂 Nothing would :).

Everyone was very excited albeit quite nervous. Got kitted up and in the water for our gas/gear matching same as before. This time we decided to go for a short surface swim and then a shallow dive to get us away from the reef and in position for the long descent.

That worked well and we soon found ourselves switching from our 20/30 that we used for the beginning of the dive to our hypoxic mixture for the bottom part of our dive. From that moment onwards it was a race to descent. A controlled but fast descent was necessary to make it in time to the bottom and ensure that we all hit our target the 100 m!!!

Everything went to plan and we did made it to the bottom although as expected I was running low on gas and when at the bottom was not in any mood to sing OASIS Wonderwall which was the agreed 100 m tune while I could clearly hear Andris singing through his rebreather!!! J

I didn’t managed to do anything while down there. I know people turn around to look at the surface and how far away it looks or look at the contents gauge to see the needle moving but the only thing I was interested in was to get my UEMIS to show 100 m !!! and I did it and it was already time to turn back! At that point we had about an hour of ascent and of course I was focusing to get it right. There was no space for mistakes or errors this was a serious dive and any mistake would be painful at best. We switched to out travelling gas 20/30 and then to the light Nitrox (32%) and at about 40 m we met with a group of recreational single cylinders diving around the pinnacle. To which we must have looked quite exotic carrying 5-6 cylinders each compared to the one they had!!! Only at that point I managed to relax and think yes we made it got still time to mess up but I made it this far and I have been here before again and again. There is no reason to worry now. Relax and enjoy the rest of the dive!!!

The rest of the deco was spent on the shallows playing with fish and exchanging congratulations. As planned Hannah made it in time and Richard and Paul passed some of their stages which made up for a very entertaining sight of a lot of stages diving attached to a massive wing with a tiny diver lost behind them!!!

And then the surface!!! And everyone was excited going on about this and that and you could see excitement in the eyes of Andris, Richard, Michael and Dave and relief at the eyes of Paul who did got us to 100 m and back up again. SAFE.

MANY THANKS Paul.

Needless to say the trip back was full of excitement and as soon as we off loaded the equipment we went back to the hotel to get a shower and get ready to PARTY. And we had all reasons to want to celebrate! We managed to complete a very challenging dive in spite the few minor glitses (running out of Helium and the boat breaking down).

Back at Huggins with Loads of CISK and more CISK, SAMBUCAS and shisha we met the PADI Instructors that had just arrived in the island for the Instructor Speciality Course with Paul and joined in our celebrations 🙂

Epilogue

Needless to say the day after was a very slow and quiet one. I only got out of my hotel room around lunch and having nothing else to do went straight to where I knew I would find friends. The Tek Lab. Luckily that was the time that they were about to go for lunch so we all headed to Wagamama !!! Needless to say after lunch they went back to continue their course and I went back to my hotel room to continue sleeping!!! Of course there could be no diving that day and I did started feeling better later in the evening as I was getting ready to go back to my room and sleep for the night!

The next couple of days went by quietly with Richard, Hannah and Michael showing up and going for fun dives at the Faroud, my first photo session and a BBQ!!!

Sunday much to my disappointment I had to go back to the Luqa Airport and fly back to the UK.

This was a great holiday not only because I did my 100 m (which was pretty cool) but also because I was around my friends and we did it together! The fact that I also made some new friends also helped 😉

Thanks guys looking forward to see you and dive with you again soon