MOD 1 – The Dark Side

I have been talking about getting a rebreather for a while now. Probably the first conversations started Kirsty_PaulT_D_Andriswith Paul Toomer and Andris Nestors back in 2008 during a Diving Leisure London Icebreaker in Vobster Quay drinking copious amounts of DOOM BAR and talking Diving!!! It was a bit too early for me at the time to get the rebreather didn’t had the experience and more importantly the money!!!

Time passed and the subject of rebreathers was coming up more frequently primarily on diving trips with Andris Nestors when more often than not I found myself being the minority and quite often the only OC diver on the boat!!! During one of our drive trips one of the regulars on the boat mentioned that he knew of someone who could sell his unit for a very reasonable price. That was the closest I got to buying a rebreather but then unfortunately he decided to keep his unit and I went ahead and did my Trimix course on OC in Malta instead.

The main driver for me getting a rebreather has been Gas Management. Open Circuit (OC) diving gas management on day diving trips is a bit of a fuff but easy to deal with. Most dive centres / filling stations expect at least a day to fill a trimix twinset. They want to have the time to begin the process by filling with Oxygen, then let it settle, add helium (He) and finally top it up with Air. So if I was planning to go diving for the weekend I had to drop off my stuff to get filled at least a couple of days earlier. There is nothing difficult about that but things do not always go to plan. Sometimes the scheduled dive was cancelled then I was left with a mix that was in no way good for next weeks diving and therefor I had to empty my twinset and fill it with another mix. Now considering the price of He no one does that so I would save the mix on my twinset and borrow another to fill with a different mix. Now if that dive got cancelled things got even more complicated because I had to return the borrowed twinset to the rightful owner who was kind enough to let me use it because he (or she) needed it.

So you can see how it gets complicated.

Gas Management & Logistics become further complicated when I was planning sequential mixed gas dives. In that case as I would be diving Saturday and Sunday therefore I had no time to get my cylinders filled even if I could!!! Most of the times I could not get He fills anyway (the boats didn’t had and by the time we got to the marina no dive shop was open to fill cylinders). It all turned out too stresfull and not much fun. There was one certain trip where I ended up borrowing 2 twinsets futher to mine and 4 more stages further to my 2 stages!!! In one word: Ridiculous!!!

To make things worst trying to fill a twinset with rich trimix (so that when I air topped it I could still get a half descent mix) cost a fortune and were not very good mixes to dive on (for example 20/60 – a stupid mix). And of course to add salt to the wounds the rebreather folk would always go on about reminding me how their gas bill was about 1/8 of mine…

It looks like though the time had come for me to go CCR. After an epic weekend of diving which was saved only by Paul Haynes being VERY WELL PREPARED for all eventualities and fed up with OC, while inspiration177on a club night Mike Ferguson exclaimed: “I have a solution to your problem!!!” “I have to units right now and as much as it hurts me it looks like I will have to part with one”!!!. needless to say before the end of the month I had bought the unit, I had booked a course, booked leave and I was ready to go CCR.

Photo of a box standard APD Inspiration CCR (photo courtesy of http://www.aquamaniacs.co.uk/ccr_rebreathers.html)

For an OC diver rebreathers are intimidating. Way too complicated with OC equipment. All sorts of screens flashing, lights blipping here and there and to make things more complicated Cells, Scrubbers and stuff!!! Overwhelmed.

I had booked the course with Paul Haynes a well known CCR diver Instructor Trainer and we decided to go with BSAC primarily because the quality of the student pack was half decent compared to the rest available.

We started the course by going through a lot of theory, history of rebreathers, different types (oxygen rebreathers, SCR, CCR, mCCR, eCCR etc) The theory part of the course involved a fair bit of physiology, dive planning and maintenance etc. Along with the theoretical stuff we had a couple of practical session were we went through the actual unit, took it apart and discussed each and every component. Must admit that after all that I was feeling a lot better about my unit compared to the shear fear that the “Black Box” (well yellow in this case) had inflicted. Understanding what component performs what function and taking into bits to see what it is made of definitely helped A LOT.

All this time Paul Haynes was very patiently answering all sort of stupid questions that I was coming up with!!!

After a couple of days of intense theory, practical sessions and dry runs the time came for me to try this thing in the water!!!

Monday 10/09/2012 – Day 1, Stonehaven

The Plan was to start early on Monday 10/09/2012 morning and make the most of the day. Well the early start didn’t really happened because my flight back from London only arrived in Aberdeen around 10:00!!! I had nearly everything ready, loaded the car and off I went to Stonheaven marina where Paul Haynes was already there waiting for me. Setting up my rebreather for the first time in anger it was an interesting experience and it did took a lot longer that I had expected it to!!!

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Aerial photo of Stoneheaven Marina (photo courtesy of https://marinas.com/view/marina/11999_Stonehaven_Harbour_SC)

Fortunately Haynes is a strong believer of Checklists and he had gave me one to follow which I helped things out A LOT. Trying to do the same without it would have been seriously stressful!!!

Eventually sometime early in the afternoon we managed to get in the water and of course took it easy very easy. From a gentle swim in the surface to my first dive at about 3m depth? or maybe less!? Ironically enough during that dive it all felt well because there was no expectation of me to hover so all I had to do was pretty much lay at the sea bed or drag myself at the bottom of the sea. Easy.

The second dive was actually a boat dive. Rod Macdonald was around and was kind enough to take us on the boat around to a cave known to the locals as “Angela’s Crack”!!! We jumped out of the boat into the water outside Angela’s Crack. this time visibility was a bit better but far from great. Haynes deployed a DSMB and I was holding to the line as visibility was less than 2 m !!!

Back at Hayne’s place we took the unit apart, cleaned it and decided to go to the local quarry for Tuesday which would probably be a bit colder but at least we could see each other during the skills and drills!!!

Tuesday 11/09/2012 – Day 2, Boddam Quarry

Tuesday morning we met up at Hayne’s place and after cup of tea I started preparing my rebreather. We then left Stoneheaven and headed North to just outside Boddam where an abandoned, flooded quarry is used for training purposes from local dive schools and all divers who want to brush up their skills.

No surprise there was no one else around which is what we were expecting for a cold Tuesday morning anyway. Once I got ready we entered the water. Having been diving without gloves in Stonehaven I assumed that it would be fine to do the same in the Quarry. I was wrong! The temperature in the quarry being fresh water was substantially lower and very quickly I realised my mistake.

Visibility was half decent and the dive went well executing mask clearing drills, clearing a partly and fully flooded loop, dil flushes and shut downs. Once we had enough of that (and got cold enough) we decided to end the dive. I ascended holding (tight) to the fixed shot line and after 68 minutes we surfaced.

During the surface interval we had lunch and discussed how to further improve on the skills and twick my gear.

The second dive was equally uneventful with more practice on the same skills and more work on my buoyancy. At that point I was well aware of my buoyancy being really very fragile.

By the end of the second dive it was getting late and by the time I got back home I was too cold and tired to want to do anything else so an early night followed. I was quite surprised by how tired I felt I mean in the end of the day all I did was two dives. But I guess the cold weather and the cold water, the trip back and forth to the quarry and the mental stress of trying to perform the skills take their toll.

Wednesday 12/09/2012 – Day 3, Boddam Quarry

The plan for Wednesday was pretty similar. Head out to Paul’s and from there we went off to Boddam. The water in the quarry was cold and I decided to use my KUBI dry gloves. Just before I enter the water the outer ring locking o-ring was dislocated and considering that it only holds the outer ring in place I decided to dive with out it.

It turned out that it wasn’t such a great idea as the dry gloves were leaking and therefore were not that dry after all!!! As if that was not enough I was trying desperately to control my buoyancy exclusively using my dry-suit and I was (most likely) overweighted. This was a pretty bad combination that resulted in me having a rather unpleasant dive struggling to hold buoyancy with loads and loads of gas in my dry suit.

To make things worst my rockboot laces got undone and I was having problems to fin or hold buoyancy. Also with the rockboot displaced more air was moving to the dry suit socks making things even more difficult.

Again and under not so favourable conditions I did managed to complete partial and full flooded loop clearing, and practice on a number of scenarios like high and low ppO2, lost electronics and bail out. By setting the set point to 0.7 I had to maintain set point to 1.0 my manually adding O2 which was fun!!! Suppose this is how it feels to dive an mCCR?

One of the most enjoying parts of the dive was when Haynes asked me to perform a mask clearing mid water. In theory this should be a doddle. nothing challenging in performing a mask clearing for an experienced diver like me eh? Well it turned out to be not that easy. So I got the signal to perform a mask clearing and off I went. Now partly because of my contact lenses, partly because of the cold water I do close my eyes when mask clearing. So I closed my eyes. Flooded my mask. Cleared the mask and opened my eyes. No one was around and I was struggling to breath!!! What happened??? I immediately reached for my manual inflation valve and added dil to the loop. Panic over now I can breath. Still where is Haynes??? Yes you guessed well J I looked up and Haynes was still hovering a few meters above me just where he was when I had closed my eyes before I flood my mask!! It didn’t took me long to pick up what happened. With my mask flooded I blew air (hard) to clear it. Too hard actually so on one hand yes I did cleared the mask but on the other hand I pretty much blew substantial loop volume too. my buoyancy reduced I descended and of course I had less volume in the loop to breathe and this is why I was out of breath!!! Lesson learned I will remember that next time I have to do a mask clearing.

After 71 minutes of fun and games I grub holded the shot line rope and started my ascent!

During the surface interval I made a couple of knots at the end of the rockboot laces so that even if they got undone in the future they would be easy to redo again underwater. And needless to say I did tied them up. Really Well. Sadly because of the problem oring I ended up loosing my KUBI dry glove outer ring altogether which was rather annoying.

The second dive was better in the sense that the rockboots stayed in place (kinda) and I was mentally prepared for the dry gloves leaking so it was not a great surprise!!!. Managed to get a few more skills and decided to call it after 50 minutes because it felt like the water was getting even colder!!!

An unpleasant surprise was Haynes brand new pick up truck would not start as the battery was flat!!! Assistance was called and that allowed us further time to search for my missing dry glove ring but with no luck. Assistance arrived and the battery was revived! On the way back a quick stop to Aberdeen Watersports (AWL) to get cylinders filled for Thursday and then back home. because with the whole thing we were running late Haynes did invited to join him for a curry but I was cold and tired and wanted to go home. Come to think about it a curry would have been better J

Thursday 13/09/2012 – Day 4, Rosehearty

The plan for Thursday was very ambitious. We would go to Rosehearty to dive the open sea. Rosehearty is a small village further up north from Aberdeen. Very picturesque as it turned out!!!.

Again we met up at Hayne’s place in Stonehaven, had a cup of tea, loaded the truck and off we went to Rosehearty. The weather was pretty bad and it didn’t look like any diving was going to be happening but Haynes was positive Rosehearty will be fine. Once we made it to the lighthouse by the beach and although the view was stunning and the sea nearly flat calm a dreadful feeling of gloom and despair took over. The entry to the water was a long walk over sharp, uneven and pretty uninviting rocks. I have never been good at walking at uneven surfaces let alone climbing over rocks like that in full diving gear, CCR and a stage!!! That was not going to be fun.

What I mean by “never been good” is NEVER like 15 years old going on holidays with my parents and grandparents to the remotest of places and I would always be the last to make it there. Maybe because I am tall and my centre of gravity is higher, maybe because I am inherently unbalanced (both mentally and physically) maybe because I was born clumsy. Don’t know. But I am not good at this.

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Photos of Rosehearty beach (photos courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahara13/)

The left photo is the actual entry point the right should give you an idea of what it was like climbing to the entry point

Back to the present and my Rosehearty dive. Haynes took his stage to the entry point and I followed very very slowly and carefully. made it there and back without incidents. We got kitted up and made our way to the entry point. It was a long an painful trip that I did not enjoy. Much to my surprise I only had minute slips but didn’t made it to trip and fall!!! At last at the entry. Giant stride entry and off we go!

Immediately things changed. As I said earlier the sea was pretty calm and visibility was phenomenal!!! Never before had I seen anything like that in the UK!!! Bar the grey and cloudy sky that didn’t left much space for light visibility was endless!!! I could have well been diving in Malta, Egypt or Greece (in a cold winter day!!!). The rocks around us made for a pretty nice scenery with loads of crevices and a fair bit of life, crabs lobsters etc. But the viz!!! The viz was something breathtaking especially for UK standards!!!

As much as I was enjoying the dive that much i was growing concerned about my buoyancy, I could dive around and look at things but hovering was just not happening. I was having problems venting air from my suit and although I was OK when moving hovering still was proving to be a challenge. Haynes left me to settle and have an enjoyable trouble free dive for the first part before we could go to skills.

When we tried to do some skills I was struggling to complete them because of my buoyancy. Probably a bad combination of venting air problems, overweight and having to manage the buoyancy of the loop. surprisingly and under these conditions we did managed to complete a 91 minute dive and perform a controlled ascent. Now for this controlled ascent a lot of effort and hard work were required. Me holding to rocks and underwater vegetation (I know not very good for the vegetation) and Haynes taking the lead and forcing me to perform an “Excess air in the dry suit” drill which was something I had not done for more that 4 years and in all honesty I had completely forgotten about…embarrassed.

All’s well that end’s well!!! And we did made it back to the surface after a painful yet immensely enjoyable dive (I am not a masochist) an I myself am still struggling to understand how did I got to enjoy such dive full of problems!!! But the viz was GREAT!!!

After that the painful walk through the rocks took me ages to complete. Haynes in the mean time must have had got changed and had at least a cup of coffee if not two!!! But as I said earlier am not good at this sort of stuff.

A few bruises and cuts more and skills sort (with all this happening we left stuff like DSMB deployments for another time) we made our way back to Aberdeen. this was the last day of leave I had to complete this course because I was flying offshore the day after.

If it wasn’t for the entry I would love to go back to Rosehearty and from what i hear the wreck of the Fram is around there so hopefully I may get to dive again next time we take the boat up there!!!

Wednesday 03/10/2012 – Day 5, Boddam Quarry

The next time that I was available we decided to go to Boddam as the entry / exit to Rosehearty are not really ideal for courses and it is quite a long way to go for a day trip from Aberdeen.

I have been having problems with my dry suits neck seal pretty much since I got my dry suit. It has always been too big and leaking badly. I got it shortened a bit but not enough. For a long period of time I was diving with a bio-seal. This is an additional seal that can be used in cases like that to save a dive. They are not meant to be a permanent feature and I have been diving it as such. Sadly in my last dive, an OC dive to 65m it leaked pretty bad and I had to cut the dive short and ascent because I was freezing and flooding and they are both equally bad.

so when I got back I sent my suit to a local guy that I was told that he is good with repairing suits. He probably was and so far I have no problems with the alteration he did but he didn’t had the suit ready for me when I needed it!!! So I called Haynes and told him that I haven’t got a dry suit and we would have to cancel the dive. Haynes being at AWL at the time came up with a great plan. Lets hire one from AWL!!! I do not believe that you will find many CCR divers diving or training on hired dry suits but my options were limited. I went to AWL tried a few dry suits, selected one and I was ready to go diving!!!

On Wednesday morning again we met up at Haynes place and had a cup of tea prepared the equipment and made our way. On arrival we did our pre dive checks and jumped in the water. Immediately I noticed that there was a slight leak from my hired dry suit’s left cuff seal but decided to go ahead with it anyhow.

During the dive we practised further Bail Out drills, loop clearing, mask clearing, dil flushes, shutdowns, hovering and swimming about which was the easiest.

When we had enough of cold water we surfaced after a nice and slow ascent by the shot line. During the 6m stop I din an O2 flush and 67 min after we entered the water we surfaced and for once I was quite happy with my dive!!!

Sadly and much to Paul’s disappointment I could not do the second dive as I was soaked and really cold so we decided to call it a day and head back to Aberdeen.

Further to that and because of work commitments we didn’t got the time to arrange the final and qualifying dive before I left to go to Egypt for Paul Toomer’s RedTek…

To Be Continued…

Dimitris

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.

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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)

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