Concealed Dangers

On my blog I’ve written about my travels and the places I dive more than anything else. Occasionally I write about other subjects as well. Today I’d like to shed a little light on a problem that has been around for years, and yet it appears that there are many people who are still unaware of it. At the end here I will share my own personal experience.

Braided hoses are popular for a variety of reasons. They’re very flexible and resistant to cuts due to their layered construction. When I saw them for the first time 10 years ago, I remember thinking, “What a great idea”!

2009 was the year I switched to a backplate and wing and started diving with a long hose. I bought new regulators that year and opted for Miflex hoses. When I bought them originally I was planning a trip which involved a lot of wreck diving (Coron, Philippines). Jagged metal, especially in ships that were sunk in battle, is always a potential hazard. Braided hoses seemed the most sensible choice at the time. That layered construction in addition to the protection it gives can, as it turns out, also hide potential hazards.

The issue I’m writing about was first brought to my attention by a blog article written by my friend Andy Davis.  He’d written about a problem with braided hoses which resulted in an emergency air-sharing ascent. Nylon Braided Regulator Hose Diving Emergency

His investigation indicated the problem was likely “polymorphic crystallization”.   After reading it I very understandably became concerned! Was this an isolated incident, or a real cause for alarm? The red flag was up though and I started doing more research on the issue.  I discovered that what had happened was not an isolated incident.   DAN (Divers Alert Network) had become aware of the problem and began investigating it also (referring to Andy’s blog post in their article).  They found that at least one hose manufacturer and a shop that serviced equipment in a busy diving area had also reported the problem. How was it that I’d not heard about this? Not just me but others as well! DAN’s investigation came to the same conclusion that Andy had several months earlier, that the issue was polymorphic crystallization. Alert Diver-Invisible Crystals

Polymorphic crystallization is a chemical process.  It results from a heating/cooling cycle.   According to DAN, all of the reports of problems came from tropical areas. 

The current theory is that repeated cyclical heating and cooling of the hose lining promotes this form of crystallization in materials either unsuitable for this application or affected by certain chemicals or bacteria. The sun heats the hose, then the flow of breathing gas cools down the internal surface of the hose again. This process recurs with each dive, and the crystals grow and accumulate over time. Enough crystals eventually form to encroach on the gas flow, or they migrate toward the second-stage regulator, resulting in significant failure of the breathing device.-Alert Diver “Invisible Crystals” Q1 Winter 2017

Now for my personal experience… I had not noticed any external issues with the hoses. No cuts, no bulges, no chafe marks. Everything seemed normal. They both seemed to breath okay. Although, having regs that are both high-performance regs (Dive Rite Hurricanes) and that could be adjusted to make breathing easier probably helped hide that there was a problem. I wouldn’t have noticed an increase in work of breathing. I would have just adjusted them to make them easier to breathe from. In hindsight the hoses were 10 years old, but hoses aren’t serviced, they’re generally replaced when they show signs of wear. Mine didn’t have any apparent problems other than they seemed (beforehand) to have held up exceptionally well for their age.

I’ve been pretty busy with my move and getting settled. I stopped in at Guam-Micronesian Islands Scuba Wholesale early last week to say hi to my friend Jim Pinson. Jim is the local Dive Rite dealer. I mentioned I was going to replace my hoses because I’d heard there could be problems.  He’d also heard this and suggested we cut the hoses open to see what we would find.  I’d had the same thought and agreed.   After replacing the hoses we cut them open to see what we would discover.

The hoses I replaced were a 24″ hose and an 84″ hose (I have a typical backplate and wing setup with a long hose as my primary and secondary worn on a necklace). Both hoses have manufactures marks and the year they were manufactured (2008). I purchased them just under 10 years ago in 2009. Although I own more than one regulator set, these were used quite often and had probably at least 400 dives on them.

The first hose we inspected was the 24 inch.  When we cut it open, no issues were found.  The hose was in perfect condition! I thought to myself, “Well, better safe than sorry”.

The second hose we inspected was the 84 inch.  This one was a completely different story!  The end had obvious polymorphic crystallization that could be seen. There was still a space in the middle for air to flow through the hose, but the crystallization process had resulted in a much smaller diameter! This is where having high-performance regs enter the picture. A lower performance regulator would likely have given me some indication. When we split the hose open there was a “significant” amount of material inside the hose. It was fortunate that this material did not enter and clog my 2nd stage during a dive!

I contacted DAN and made a report. Jim also contacted his braided hose distributor and they asked to see the hoses. He asked my permission to send them and of course I said yes. I’m sure they will be making inquiries to the manufacturer. I’m curious what insights they will come up with. I will definitely keep everyone posted. I suspect that they will dismiss this as a problem because of the age of the hoses.

My understanding now is that the newer braided hoses do not have this issue. They’ve changed the material of the lining to something that is resistant to this chemical process in 2014. There are likely still hoses in use out there though that look great and have no visible issues, yet hiding inside is an accident waiting to happen! 4 years is not that long and these hoses, externally at least, hold up extremely well. I hope you’ll share this post and help get the word out there for the benefit of those who may still be using older hoses.

Over the years I’ve never had anyone say to me, “have you heard there are problems with braided hoses?”. I was unaware of it until I stumbled across the post on Andy’s blog. I’m on the internet quite a bit when I have the opportunity and am always reading on subjects related to diving and yet only just recently did I hear about it! All the more reason I think to continue spreading the word. Having said this I’m sure there are people reading this who have known about it for years and might ask why didn’t I know? The answer is simple… because no one told me!

I’m sure there is some debate about how often a hose should be replaced… At the time that braided hoses were released they were touted to be lighter, stronger, and much more durable than traditional rubber hoses. I’ve seen around the web that 5 years or 500 dives, whichever comes first is a good rule of thumb. It’s a suggestion though, not a rule. Maybe a good one? I’ve also seen opinions that as long as they are cared for they will last much longer. Hoses wear out but how long does it take? On an online forum I looked at when I was researching this article, someone claimed to have been using their hoses for 20 years… maybe an exaggeration?

When my regs were serviced in 2014 (after being in storage for 4 years) and again in 2016, the technician didn’t suggest I replace the hoses, even though the manufacture date of 2008 is clearly visible. The hoses still appeared to be in good shape (externally they still appeared to be in good shape when we cut them open to). Neither time did anyone at the shops where I had the service done mention any problems with polymorphic crystallization. This is just another indication to me that there are still a lot of people who might be unaware of this issue. I think a lot of people don’t pay to much attention to hoses. They replace them when they notice a problem. All the more reason to let people know that there might be a hidden problem that is not readily apparent!

My hoses had probably over 400 total dives. The shorter hose was pristine when we examined it. No problems. Why was one hose fine, but the other one not? Was it because other than to check that reg for function before each dive, it really wasn’t being used?

When I changed my hoses I went with rubber ones this time. I think I’ll give it a bit of time to see how the new materials hold up.

In the future I’ll be planning to change my hoses on a more of a schedule and not simply based on inspection. Getting complacent can be an easy thing to do for anyone even someone who has dived for a long time. I’m sure I’ll get a bit of criticism for not having already made that a practice and changing my hoses sooner, but I will bet that there are others out there who may have gotten a bit complacent too. They are still using these hoses and better a bit of embarrassment for me than an accident… Better safe than sorry, right?

Thank you to Andy Davis for his efforts to bring attention to this problem and also for his permission to link his original blog article. If you’re looking for world-class technical diving instruction Andy is your guy! Be sure to check out his blog! Scuba Tech Philippines

Moving to Guam

I first thought about living in Guam after I made a dive trip here in December 2007. I was stationed in Japan at the time and I really enjoyed the trip and the diving. When it was time to transfer I tried to get orders to Guam. Unfortunately, I was one month shy of being able to do a full tour and had to return to the United States for my last tour before retirement. I was stationed in San Diego.  I did get to dive in California and Mexico as a result of that so it wasn’t all bad 🙂

Those of you who follow my blog already know my story. How I decided a few years ago to sell everything and just travel full-time. You’ve also read about my visit to Guam and my trip to Chuuk last year.  How I decided to become an instructor 40 years after making my first scuba dive and to move to Guam to teach.

On the night of March 25th I flew out of Manila on a United flight bound for Guam.  Both United and Philippines Airlines have regular flights between Manila and Guam.  I arrived in Guam around 4:30 AM on Monday, March 26th. After passing through Immigration and Customs, I picked up my rental car from Alamo.  I ended up at Denny’s where I had some breakfast, used their wifi, and drank coffee for a couple of hours.  I decided around 7 AM to go for a drive. I still had a couple of hours to kill until I met my real estate agent at 9 AM.   

I decided to see if I could drive around the island since I still had some time. The road traveled along much of the coastline and I was struck by the differences in water conditions. The Marianas Islands, including Guam, Saipan, and Tinian, lie upon the eastern border of the Philippines Sea. I noticed that the seas were relatively calm on the western side of Guam. On the eastern, Pacific Ocean side the waters were quite rough. It also explains why most dive sites are on the western side of the island!

Miyuki Atsuta from Ellen’s Realty was my agent. Decent low-cost apartments that were currently available it turned out were in short supply.  By Thursday I’d seen everything on the MLS that was relatively close to the area I wanted to live and was within the budget I’d initially chosen. The problem was availability! Everything that was currently available also had people on a waiting list. I had a chance at getting one of these apartments, but no one seemed in a hurry. One complex said there were six people in front of me and they were going down the list and waiting for people to get back to them. Another complex that my agent had submitted an application to before my arrival, we were also still waiting for a decision. He seemed in no hurry and given the demand I could understand why!

I was debating getting on a waiting list and then flying back to the Philippines until an apartment was available. After some thought I decided that I was going to have to increase my budget.  New apartments appeared on the MLS on Thursday.  I picked 4 of them to see on Friday and emailed Miyuki.

After looking at all four apartments I chose one in Asan based on it’s proximity to the dive shop.  It’s literally 2 minutes from Micronesia Divers Association in Piti where I will be teaching.  It’s less than a 15 minute drive to the Navy Base which is important to me as a retired Navy sailor.  Having easy access to the base for shopping, buying fuel, and using base facilities like the gym and swimming pools was important to me.  I’m also near the Navy Hospital where I will be getting medical care. My new apartment is a 500 square foot studio with an ocean view, a swimming pool and a great location! Miyuki did a great job and if you are looking for a place in Guam definitely give her a call!

Micronesia Divers Association Headquarters in Piti on Marine Corps Drive.

On Saturday, I rented a PO Box, paid my deposit for electric and scheduled it to be turned on Monday, then went by the apartment to finish paperwork and pick up my keys. On Monday, April 2nd, one week after I arrived, I moved into my new apartment.

My 2nd week in Guam was busy.  In between looking at apartments, I had been looking at vehicles.  Once I paid my deposits and knew I was staying, I’d found a vehicle at AutoSpot over the previous weekend. My salesperson was Jeri Miyasaki and she took very good care of me. I got a great deal on a 2006 Nissan XTerra. I picked it up on Monday.  Alamo Rental Car gave me a ride back to the auto dealership after I turned in my vehicle and didn’t even charge me!

It’s been a few years now since I’ve owned a vehicle… I needed something with a bit of room to haul dive gear around. 2006 Nissan Xterra.

I’d bought a bed at the Navy Exchange on base over the weekend and I picked it up on Tuesday.  I got that home and set up.  Monday night I’d slept in a beach chair… the bed was much more comfortable!  On Wednesday my high-speed internet, cable, and home phone were hooked up.  I’d gotten my cell phone service on Saturday.  I bundled all of this with GTA.

On Thursday, I went to the Social Security Office and ordered a new social security card.  I’d been told that an original social security card was required to get a drivers license.  I then went to get my business license.  I dropped off a copy of my business license, tax form, and my contract at Micronesia Divers Association.

I picked now to get sick with a pretty bad chest cold.  Obviously I wasn’t going to dive! I spent the weekend and the beginning of my third week in Guam mostly staying home trying to recuperate.  Later in the week I was feeling a bit better and stopped by MDA and bought two new tanks.   I’ll be writing about choosing a scuba tank in an upcoming blog piece.  I also had the chance to talk a bit with Eric McClure, one of the Course Directors, and with Lee Webber, who owns MDA with his wife June.

I’m finishing up my 4th week here now.  I was at the instructors meeting at MDA last Sunday.  I got a chance to get a look at the logistics a bit.  Where the classrooms are, the pool and how to schedule that for training, where to take students for open water shore dives, how to schedule boat dives, and a look at how everything works.  MDA runs a number of promotions to help bring in students and they give a lot of support to their instructors.  One of the reasons I chose them.

I worked on Friday, taking a diver from California who was in Guam on business, diving. The first client of my new business! That was a really enjoyable day! I took him to San Luis Beach and Gab Gab Beach and we had two nice dives.

Weekends at MDA have free beach dives. Anyone can show up and go for a dive. Parker Van Hecke and Kim Harris, long-time instructors at MDA lead the group. The Saturday morning dive this week turned out to be at Dadi Beach on the US Naval Base and was a nice dive. I tagged along and had an enjoyable morning! If you want to get an introduction to Guam dive sites that you can do from shore, this is the way to go. Dives are at 9 AM and 2 PM on Saturdays, and 2 PM on Sunday. Always a good idea to check with the shop ahead of time.

Currently, I have an Advanced Open Water class scheduled for May 2nd and an Open Water class for May 7th.  If you’re in Guam and interested you can sign up through MDA or contact me directly and I’ll take care of you. I’m also available for guiding and can set up private or semi-private lessons for you as well.

2018 has been a pretty good year so far.  I started with dives on New Years Day in Hawaii. I traveled to the Philippines the end of January and stayed until late March. Now I’m in Guam and looking forward to experiencing some great diving here along with introducing new people to the lifestyle I love.  It’s going to be an awesome year!

Back to the Philippines!

I flew out of Honolulu on Tuesday afternoon, January 30th (yes I’m way behind :)). I had spent most of January working on my MSDT (Master Scuba Diver Trainer) program, which certified me to teach an additional 10 specialties. I finished that up on Sunday, January 28th. Monday and Tuesday I ran around taking care of last minute errands. I mailed most of my books and instructional manuals to my friend Jason Cunningham in Guam along with some of my dive gear. I still had plenty of dive gear in the Philippines. I dropped my vehicle off at the same dealer that I purchase it from. I’d arranged for them to sell the vehicle on consignment (much cheaper to buy a vehicle to use for 3 months then sell it, than rent). I got a cab to the airport from the dealership. It was a much shorter flight to Manila than when I fly from Houston! I arrived in the evening on January 31st (after crossing the International Date Line).

On February 4th I met my friends Ron and Dennis from California at the airport. Since we were able to split the cost 3 ways we opted for a van to take us from the airport to Batangas Port (P3300/$65). There we caught the ferry to Puerto Galera.

I’d made the arrangements over a month previously. Dennis had just over 2 weeks. Ron would be in the Philippines for 5 weeks. I would stay until March 25th and then fly to Guam. We planned a week in Puerto Galera and a week in Malapascua. In Puerto Galera we would dive with Frontier and in Malapascua with Evolution.

After arriving in Sabang, we dropped off dive gear at Frontier and then headed to AAA Hotel. I’d had a few days to recover from jet lag. Ron and Dennis had not. Diving could wait until the next day.

I’ve written pretty extensively about Puerto Galera in the past so I will not rehash that now. We had a great week in Puerto Galera! Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I’ve spent a fair amount of time diving Puerto Galera. I’ve made over 80 dives there. We dived a relaxed pace that week completing 13 dives in 6 dive days including multiple dives at a few sites. Dive sites included Sinadigan Wall, Sabang Point, Hole-in-the-Wall and Canyons, Kilima Steps, Alma Jane, Sabang Wrecks, Boulders, West Escarceo, and of course a trip over to Verde Island.

I will mention one particular dive though. We were diving Canyons and got separated. Canyons is often a roller coaster of a dive due to strong currents and that day was no exception! On top of that visibility was probably not more than 30-40 feet as we’d gotten a fair amount of rain that week. I stopped to take a photo and when I looked up the rest of the group was gone! Fortunately we were already close to the end of the dive at this point. I went with the current expecting to catch up with them. I saw bubbles ascending and thought it was them but when I reached them (in the 3rd canyon) and was able to see the divers and not just their bubbles, it turned out not to be them. There’s a ship anchor, a very large one near the 3rd canyon where we normally start our ascent. With current running strong, it’s a good idea to re-group before starting the ascent. Since they were in front of me I expected either to catch them or they would be waiting there. I thought for sure they would be there waiting for me but when I arrived they were nowhere to be seen!

With me bringing up the rear they should have reached this point before me. I decided that someone must be getting low on gas and they had already started their ascent. After hanging on too the anchor long enough to scan the area, I let go and started my ascent. I lost sight of the bottom very quickly and my ascent and safety stop were in the blue. Up and down currents can happen in this area so it’s important to watch your depth.

When I reached the surface I did a 360 scan and there was no one there…nobody…. no boat… nobody… and of course the current was carrying me away from shore! Still, I wasn’t too worried. I was confident I could attract a boat as I had my Dive Alert with me and there is plenty of boat traffic in that area.

Less than a minute I saw an SMB hit the surface. Knowing that chances are better for a group than someone by themselves to be spotted, I started kicking towards it…. “against” the current I might add 😄 A few minutes later heads started popping up and it was the rest of the group! Unfortunately for me, it was up current from where I was!  It may have just been a hundred yards or so but, they had been at the surface for several minutes before I reached them… did I mention it was against the current? 😀 
We decided that because of the low visibility that I must have passed by them when I went to investigate the bubbles that turned out to be a different group of divers in the 3rd canyon. I’d ascended a bit letting the current carry me and they were hugging the bottom where it was likely a bit slower.I was trying to catch up after all so we could do our ascent together.
Now we’re wondering, where the boat is? I’m sure we’ve drifted well over a mile from shore by this point! We saw a boat quite a distance maybe a mile away. I warned the others that I was going to use my DiveAlert. For those who haven’t heard of them, it’s a device that attaches to your LP inflator hose and then to your BCD inflator. Your BCD works normally, but the DiveAlert can be used as a signalling device. Below the surface it makes a quacking noise. Above it’s an air horn…. a very loud one! They claim it can be heard a mile away and I can attest that it’s true!
After the first blast we could see people on the boat looking but they hadn’t spotted us. A DSMB may seem fairly large and bright, but from a mile away it really isn’t! After the second blast, the boat turned towards us and we were picked up. That was when we discovered they were looking for us! Our boat had developed engine trouble and had to be towed back. They quickly found another boat that could look for us.  Lucky as we could have been out there much longer until a boat came close enough for us to signal! As it was we still drifted a good half hour before we were picked up!

Ron and Dennis flew to Cebu on the 13th. I ended up skipping Malapascua. I was sick and wasn’t going to be able to dive. As it turned out, there were issues with the weather and they were stuck in Maya for 2 days because the ferries weren’t going over to Malapascua Island. I improved a bit then felt I was relapsing. I went to Manila for a few days then went to Medical City Clark to get checked out. I was diagnosed with a bacteriological infection and apparently, my arthritis was acting up in a big way! Antibiotics and a strong pain reliever and I was feeling much better the following week.

Ron and Dennis were finishing up Malapascua at the same time I was getting checked out at Medical City Clark. Dennis headed back to the US and Ron went over to do some diving in Subic Bay.

I caught up with Ron there although I didn’t dive. He told me he’d had a great time diving with Evolution in Malapascua. I wasn’t surprised as I’ve been diving with them for years. We visited the Bureau of Immigration office in Olongapo and extended our visas. After some discussion, we headed back to Puerto Galera.

We arrived back in Puerto Galera on February 28th. It’s high season and the only rooms that were available in our price range was the opposite end of Sabang from Frontier at Reynaldo’s. We really enjoyed Reynaldo’s which had a great view, good service and a good breakfast for a very reasonable cost. We would usually sit on the balcony in the morning and have breakfast. We had a really nice view of Sabang Beach.

The morning view from the top of Reynaldo’s.

We stayed there until the 8th and then transferred to AAA. When we arrived back in Sabang, AAA was fully booked. Reynaldo’s became fully booked on the 8th so we didn’t really have a choice about moving (welcome to the high season… there’s a reason I recommend booking ahead of time this time of year). AAA doesn’t have the view, but then it was also substantially cheaper!

There are some really good restaurants in Puerto Galera. El Galleon Resort, home of Asia Divers, has a great breakfast buffet and we went there a few times. We often had lunch either at Tamarinds, which wasn’t far from the dive shop and had a great view, or at Papa Freds Steakhouse which had some nice lunch specials. For dinner, there was Atlantis Resort which has great food and service and Captain Greggs, which is another restaurant on the beach with a great view. Cheaper and also good was Tina’s Restaurant which was just below Reynaldo’s on the waterfront.

My personal favorite restaurant in Sabang is Vesuvio’s. They have a brick oven and make what I consider to be the best pizza in the Philippines! The restaurant used to be on the main street leading up from the pier but moved late last year. Walk up the street from the pier and turn left at the laundry, just in front of Tropicana Restaurant. Then straight a couple minutes walk at most and you will find it on the left. The kitchen is downstairs and dining is upstairs. Great selection of pizzas and they will make a custom pizza for you if you like. They also have great pasta.

Meat Lovers Pizza from Vesuvios! I love the pizza here! A brick oven is really the ONLY way to make pizza 🙂

We talked about going over to El Nido, but in the end, we opted to stay in Puerto Galera. One thing we had talked about doing that we had not done in February was rent motorbikes. They’re available for 500 pesos a day (around $10 bucks US). We made a visit to Tamaraw Falls and stopped and visited the ATM in Puerto Galera town on the way. The ATM at the bank in Sabang still does not accept debit or credit cards from foreign banks.

Ron left on the 12th but I decided to stay a bit longer not leaving until 18th. I took it easy and did only 11 dives. I ended up with only 24 dives this trip. Ron finished up with 50! Ron also became my first official student as a new scuba instructor. He completed his Advanced Open Water and Nitrox specialty.

As I finish this up I’m in my new apartment in Guam. I arrived on March 26th and I’ll write more about that and my plans here in my next post.