This is the second installment of my series on choosing equipment. I’m writing this series more for the beginning diver. As always I recommend that checking with your instructor is a good idea (they may not agree with all my ideas 😉 ). You’ll find that the retail staff at your local dive shop can also be a great help when purchasing dive gear. Having some information to start with though can help provide a basis for discussion. The first installment, if you missed it, was on “Choosing a Mask”. This time I’m going to write about snorkels.
When I was 12 I purchased my first set of really good quality snorkeling equipment from Copeland’s in Corpus Christi, Texas. (in case y’all were wondering that would have been in 1970 😉 ). Copeland’s was the first dive shop I ever went in. My father was working in Corpus Christi and I was visiting him for the summer. When I saw the dive shop I begged him to stop. (I’d already became enamored of diving from watching Sea Hunt re-runs and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on TV). I walked out with a set of ScubaPro snorkeling equipment 🙂 The snorkel, of course, was the simple J type. With a little practice, it did the job quite well and it would actually be a few decades before I used any other type!
A snorkel is a required piece of equipment in the open water course. Below I’ll write about the two primary types of snorkels I believe are appropriate for scuba diving, and what I personally use. First I will discuss some of the reasons that having a snorkel is a good idea.
Here on Guam we are very fortunate to have many quality dive sites that can be dived from shore. It’s easier to find your descent point (the place you want to begin your dive) with your face in the water. That means breathing from a snorkel or your regulator. Although air consumption at the surface is minimal, that doesn’t mean that a diver doesn’t want to save all of their air for the actual dive!
Anyone who dives from a boat will likely find themselves at some point, coming up a distance away from the boat… not always by choice 🙂 If seas are choppy or rough then keeping your mask on your face to avoid water in your eyes and something in your mouth to breathe with is a good idea! A snorkel in these conditions comes in handy while waiting for the boat to pick you up.
Lastly, you may end up surfacing away from the boat or your exit point and have a long surface swim back.
In my opinion (some might not agree) for scuba diving the choices are really between the traditional “J” type snorkels or the “Semi-dry” snorkels. A dry snorkel is great for snorkeling, but not so much for scuba diving (or even freediving) in my opinion. They generally work quite well at keeping water out. But, since it doesn’t allow water in, the snorkel is filled with air and therefore is buoyant underwater. This may pull the mask away from your face breaking the seal. They normally use some type of valve to keep water out and this is another failure point (If you purchase one of these types spend the money for quality). The mechanism at the top of the snorkel that keeps water out also makes the snorkel a bit more top heavy. Some people swear by them for snorkeling and if by “snorkeling” you mean floating on the surface and observing what’s below, I can understand that. Again, just my opinion, but I don’t like them for scuba diving.
For those reasons, I consider either the traditional J style or a semi-dry type to be the best choice. For both of these snorkels, you want to look for a comfortable mouthpiece made from silicone. Tubes can be from half an inch to an inch in diameter. The largest diameter is easier to breathe from but can be harder to clear. I personally own one of each type.
The traditional “J” snorkel, is basically just a tube in the shape of a J. These are the simplest design and what we all used when I first started snorkeling in the early 70’s. There have been a few improvements, mainly in areas like materials and comfort of the mouthpiece, but the basic idea remains unchanged. This is still the type preferred by many free divers and spearfishermen. They are very simple but require a certain amount of skill and practice to use. Swallowing seawater is no fun! Water can splash into the top and the water has to be blown out using your own lung power. There are two methods which are both taught in your Open Water course. There are both rigid and flexible types.
One innovation of this old design is materials. I have an Aqualung Nautilus Travel Snorkel made from soft silicone which rolls up, has it’s own case, and easily fits in a pocket. No purge valve or splash guard. This is the snorkel that’s normally attached to my mask these days when I’m teaching and shore diving in Guam. I saw this one in the shop after I came to Guam. I liked the compactness of it when it was rolled up so much that I bought it!
The “Semi-dry” snorkel has a splash guard at the top which helps keep water out at the surface in the event of a wave or splash. This normally is accomplished in the form of slits or vents to divert water that splashes over the top. They don’t keep water out when fully submerged though so you will still have to clear it at the surface before using it. A purge valve at the bottom for water to drain out makes this easier. There is an area for the water to collect below the mouthpiece and a one-way valve there. Although this makes them much easier to purge, some would argue it’s a potential failure point. This is less of an issue for a snorkel than a mask in my opinion just due to the way a snorkel is utilized. I will say that I’ve had mine for years and it still works fine. The area between the mouthpiece and the tube that sticks out above your head is corrugated and flexible so that the mouthpiece will hang out of the way when the snorkel is not in use.
I’ve owned an Oceanic Pocket Snorkel for years. This one folds up and has a band to secure it. It’s not as compact at the Nautilus, but it still fits easily in a BCD or thigh pocket.
I really like both these snorkels. The semi-dry is definitely easier to purge and this is likely a factor to consider for a new scuba diver. The J type is normally less expensive if you purchase a traditional one. One like mine made from soft silicone so it can roll up is a bit more expensive.
I consider a snorkel to be an important piece of safety equipment. In a real emergency, in choppy seas, and with an empty tank and no boat in sight a snorkel could make all the difference. Although it’s never happened to me, it has happened to other people, so I think of it like insurance. Even when I take mine off my mask (for example when I’m diving in an overhead environment like a wreck penetration), I have a snorkel in one of my pockets if there is even a remote possibility of need.
If you have ever been swimming in the ocean and felt a burning pain somewhere on your exposed skin, there is a good chance that you were just stung by a jellyfish! Some species are quite small and your first inkling that they are there is when you are stung! In Guam (and other parts of the world as well) jellyfish can be a threat to swimmers, scuba divers, and other water sports enthusiasts. Encounters with most jellyfish fall somewhere between mild discomfort to excruciating pain. In a handful of species even death may occur.
“Jellyfish” is the common name associated with the medusa phase of the sub-phylum Medusozoa which make up the majority of the species within the phylum of Cnidaria. There are four classes which include Scyphozoa, Cubozoa, Hydrozoa, and Staurozoa. Most jellyfish are free swimming marine animals with a shape like a bell or upside down bowl with trailing tentacles. The tentacles are armed with stingers called nematocysts that they use to capture prey and/or as a defensive mechanism. It’s thought that interaction with chemicals on the skin is what causes the nematocysts to fire and inject venom.
Another member of the phylum Cnidaria, the Physalia utriculus, also known as the Indo-Pacific Man-of-War, is also spotted in Guam waters (and of course, throughout the Indo-Pacific region). It has a smaller float than the Portugese Man-of-War and only a single tentacle. The Physalia utriculus is not a true jellyfish, but a siphonophore. It is made up of medusoid and polypoid zooids. These are tiny animals that are connected to each other and perform the same functions as organs or tissues do in multicelluar organisms. A gas sac keeps it afloat and it is at the mercy of wind, waves, and current. They look like a small blue bubble floating in the water. Just remember that long tentacle hanging beneath it will sting you!
In Guam, box jellyfish seem to gather approximately 9 days after a full moon. This likely has an association with the reproductive cycle. Although not of the deadly variety, they still can pack a painful sting. These jellyfish are normally 3-6 inches long, with a four-sided, transparent bell. They have four tentacles, one on each corner of the bell.
Washed up man-of-war and box jellyfish under moist conditions can still sting for weeks, so keep an eye out when walking on the beach. As a scuba diver, my primary protection is to minimize exposed skin by wearing a dive skin and hood if I am expecting them in the water. Most divers wear a rash guard as a minimum.
For first aid, use something to scrape any parts of the tentacle that have stuck to the skin off or use tweezers if you have them. Do this carefully as they can still sting! The usual advice is to rinse liberally with saltwater. Vinegar if you have it may help. Soaking in very hot water (no more than a 113F) can help break down the toxin. Soak for at least 30-45 minutes. An analgesic like aspirin can help with pain and a hydro-cortisone cream or oral antihistamines can help with itching and swelling.
If there is a sign of a severe reaction such as intense pain, difficulty breathing, swallowing, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, numbness then go to the emergency room immediately. Getting stung in the face, around the eyes (more applicable to swimmers than divers), or in the mouth, especially if any of the tentacles get in the mouth causing swelling of the lips and tongue, then see a doctor immediately.
For most jellyfish stings first aid and following up by treating the welts with ice packs (for swelling) and antibiotic cream for infection while they heal should be enough.
Currently in Guam box jellyfish are expected July 8th-11th according to Brent Tibbatts, a fisheries biologist with the Guam Department of Agriculture. Box jellyfish are expected in shallow waters around Merizo, Piti, Tumon, Pago and Talofofo. Expect the Indo-Pacific Man-of-War to be seen on the north and east coast of Guam where prevailing winds and current pushes it onshore. Sightings should be reported to the Department of Agriculture by calling 735-0289 or by email at email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
When I was living in Japan a few of us in the dive club used to always try to dive December 31st and on New Years Day. Finishing out the old year with diving and starting the New Year with diving… perhaps some people can relate 🙂
I did a couple of training dives on December 31st with Brian Mara, one of the Course Directors at Dive Oahu (See my previous blog post). We were finishing up instructor specialties in Self-Reliant and DPV. Although I’d been in Hawaii for 2 months, it was the first time I’d gotten out on Dive Oahu’s boat, Anger Management. Anger Management is a 46 foot, Newton Dive Special. At 16 feet at the beam and with over 500 square feet of deck space there is plenty of room. It uses an open transom design making it very easy to enter and exit the water. There are plenty of snacks, soda’s, water, and hot cocoa or hot tea available to refuel with between dives.
Since I was doing training I’d left my camera behind that day. After we got back to the dock, I mentioned to Brian I would like to do a couple of dives on New Years Day and he told me no problem he’d get me on the boat. Later in the evening I received an email that I was booked for 7 AM. One of the nice things about doing instructor training with Dive Oahu is that we can go out on the boat whenever there is an opening and there usually is. I’d been so wrapped up getting ready for my instructor exam that I’d not taken advantage of this previously.
On New Years Day I was at the dock about 6:45 AM. I dropped off my equipment at the boat, then went and parked my vehicle. We waited for a few people who were running late (they had called) so the boat didn’t get underway until after 7:30. Once everyone arrived there was a final roll call, followed by the boat brief. As we left the harbor I looked to my left and could see the sun peaking up over Diamond Head. It was looking like a beautiful day with just a few clouds in the sky. We arrived at the first dive site about 15 minutes later.
I ended up with Chris Massie who helped out during my IDC while working on his IDC Staff Instructor certification. There were 4 people in our group. He gave a thorough dive brief as we headed to the dive site which was only about 15 minutes away. I’d neglected to inquire what dive site the day before and realized I had the wrong lens for the first dive. We were diving a wreck and I had setup with a 60 mm macro lens so although I got plenty of shots of life around the wreck, I don’t have any wide-angel shots of the wreck itself (Next time 🙂 ).
After reaching the site, one of the divemasters (almost all the divemasters are actually instructors) went over to secure a line to the mooring buoy and check conditions. As it turned out it was near perfect conditions… no current and visibility was 90 feet+! Chris mentioned that there was often at least some current at this site so we felt pretty lucky!
The wreck we were diving is one of the most popular dive sites in the area. The YO-257 was a Yard Oiler of the United States Navy. She saw service in WW II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The 1390 ton vessel is a 174 feet long and 33 feet at the beam. She could carry 200,000 gallons of fuel. She was sold for scrap in 1982 and after being purchased by Atlantis Submarines Hawaii, was reefed in 1989 off the coast of Oahu near Waikiki. The ship rests upright in a 100 feet of water. She was prepared for diving by having many large access holes cut throughout. Her main deck is at 85 feet. The bow section rise abruptly with a small deck at approximately 75 feet.
There is another wreck, the San Pedro, which is near enough that you can do two wrecks in one dive, but we found so much to keep us occupied that we spent the entire dive on the YO. Dive time started at 7:58 AM. My maximum depth was 99 feet as I went to the sand, but then worked my way back up and along the side just below the level of the main deck. The wreck was alive with fish. We spotted a couple of white tip reef sharks, including one inside the wreck itself. We saw a nice size moray eel too (they’re bigger than the ones I’m used to seeing in the Philippines). We also saw a few spotted eagle rays. Those who went over to the San Pedro saw 3 turtles. Because of the depth and being on air before we knew it our computers were telling us to go up. Dive time was 31 minutes. Water temperature was 71 degrees Fahrenheit.
After everyone was back on the boat and roll was called we untied from the mooring and headed over to the second dive site. From here I could see Point Panic. We again tied up to a mooring. Where we tied up was a site called Mid-Pipe. This is the Kewalo Pipe which enters near Point Panic, only here we were much further out. Kewalo Pipe is an old drain pipe that runs south out to sea. A lot of coral has grown up around it.
Our dive started at 9:12 AM. From where we tied up we kicked over to Secret Reef. Lot’s of fish and a turtle. Boxfish, butterflyfish, soldierfish, hawkfish, a nudibranch (Jorunna funebris), all the “usual suspects” 🙂 After checking out Secret Reef we headed back to the pipe and made our way along it back towards the mooring line. There was another huge moray right at the base of the mooring line. Dive time was 42 minutes, visibility was probably 60-70 feet, water temperature was again 71 degrees, and maximum depth was 46 feet. Another nice dive 🙂
Once everyone was back on the boat, roll was again called we untied from the mooring buoy, and headed in. Back at the dock I helped switch out tanks as the boat got ready for the next group. It had been a great morning 🙂
I ended 2017 with a 147 dives. The first 2 dives of 2018 were in the log book! 🙂 All in all it was a great start to the New Year! I’ve a feeling I will do a lot more dives in 2018 🙂
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So to start, even though I visited Anilao back in late September, I got a bit side-tracked. Easy for me to do I know 😀 I’ve been in Hawaii for over 2 months now. This is really late so I’m going to keep it short… besides it’s photo’s I think everyone wants to see anyway 😉
On September 23rd, Bauan Divers Sanctuary very kindly had one of their boats take me across to Anilao. What was a 20 minute boat ride would have likely taken an hour and a half or more. It would have involved a boat ride and a trike ride, followed by a jeepney, shifting to a second jeepney, and finally to another trike to make it to Anilao Scuba Dive Center from Bauan. I was very happy to not have to do that carrying to heavy bags stuffed with electronics, clothes, dive and photo equipment!
I dived with Anilao Scuba Dive Center again. Prices are reasonable and I like the people there. I tend to keep going back when I like a place 🙂
Weather was not the best on the 23rd so I opted to take the day off. Over the next 3 days I completed 9 dives. I started on the 24th with dives at Kirby’s Rock, Coral Garden at Sombrero Island and Matu Rock. On the 25th we dived Secret Garden, Suntree, and El Pinoy. On the 26th Secret Bay, Coral Garden, and Secret Garden again. Water temperature was mid-80’s with visibility averaging 35-40 feet.
Rather than go into detailed descriptions I’m going to publish photo’s instead this time 🙂 I am VERY far behind right now! 🙂 For more information about ASDC and Anilao I’ll refer you to my previous blog posts. Anilao Part OneAnilao Part Two
On the 27th I departed for Puerto Galera. As I did my last trip to Anilao, I opted for a trike to take myself and my bags to the bus terminal, where I caught a bus for the short trip to the port and a ferry to Puerto Galera.
I’ll try to knock out Puerto Galera quickly so I can write a bit more about Hawaii so please stay tuned 🙂
I first met Lourdes and Mark Lowings at last years DRT Show. Surprisingly they still remembered me when I walked by their booth at this years show! It was September 9th and I’d just returned to the Philippines after being home in the US for two months. DRT happened to be taking place the weekend I flew in.
While at home I’d made only 15 dives and was itching to get back in the water. The first week I was back there was a weather system passing by and conditions not the best. I opted to go spend the week at Subic Bay and Olongapo, where I often hang out in between dive trips. I have many friends in the area and it’s a popular place for expats like myself. I arrived in Olongapo the day after DRT ended as I wrote about in my last blog post.
I emailed Lourdes after arriving and negotiated a rate to visit the resort for a week, checking in on Sunday and leaving Saturday. I’d not really expected to dive that week, but towards the end of the week conditions improved and I decided to get a couple days of diving in Subic Bay. I wrote about the diving there in my previous blog piece.
Sunday morning, September 17th, I caught a trike to Victory Terminal in Olongapo. There I caught a bus to Cubao in Manila. From the Victory Terminal in Cubao, I walked a couple of blocks to the DLTB Terminal where I caught a bus to Lemery. I kept in touch with the resort via text messaging and when I arrived in Lemery, there was a driver there to pick me up. From there we had a short drive to meet a boat which was a short 10 minute ride to the resort.
I was a little blown away by the resort to be honest… much nicer than the places I normally stay! I tend to skimp when it comes to accommodations to save more money for diving. Bauan Divers Sanctuary Resort is a very picturesque place, built into the side of a hill it overlooks Balayan Bay. The resort has a total of 32 rooms. 16 suites that will sleep up to 8 people, 6 standard rooms that will sleep up too 5 people, 6 non-aircon backpacker rooms with a cold shower, 2 spa suites, and 1 instructor suite that will sleep 4. There is also a cottage with 4 showers and comfort rooms that will sleep up to 10 people. The resort is obviously very capable of accommodating large groups. There are two pavilions that are ideal for groups. They are complete with rinse tanks and places to hang gear.
When I arrived it turned out that I was the only guest in the resort! A couple of days later a group arrived from China but until then I had the place to myself. I was shown to one of the standard rooms. An absolutely beautiful room. Marble floors, beautifully decorated, and huge! Two king-size beds and one twin bed. What we call a “bathroom” or “restroom” in the US is called a “comfort room” or “CR” in the Philippines. This one had modern fittings and enclosed shower with hot water! (I stay in fan rooms with no hot water quite often to save money so a nice luxury for me 😉 ) There was also a dressing area with plenty of closet space. The resort has wifi throughout. There was a bench on the porch outside the room where you could sit, relax, and watch the sunset if you liked. A very nice room! I got unpacked and put all my batteries on charge.
The restaurant is located in a very nice pavilion complete with a bar. It appeared to be capable of easily seating a 100 people at one time. A great place to sit and watch the sunset. I was really impressed with the food there. Food was amazing and plenty of it! The first couple of days when I was there by myself I was served at the table. Once more people arrived they put out a really nice buffet. Every afternoon after the 3rd dive they would bring a snack and drink down to me. My only complaint initially when it was just me, was they were providing me with too much food! I felt surely I was gaining weight! 😀
Obviously a lot of thought and planning had gone into the resort. Everything from the multiple rinse tanks and racks for hanging gear to showers, to the swimming pool, to where we entered the water, everything was oriented towards the diver. There are two pavilions that are capable of handling different large groups. There are male and female comfort rooms and individual showers. Towels are provided. They have rental equipment and nitrox available.
Unlike in other resorts in the Philippines I’d dived where the emphasis is on boat diving, the focus at Bauan Divers Sanctuary is on shore entry. I knew before I went that I would be shore diving and I was frankly, quite curious about just how good the diving in the sanctuary would be. It turned out I was not prepared!
I’ve been diving the Philippines since 2007 and have logged almost 400 dives there. I have experienced a lot of great diving there. I have to say that Bauan Divers Sanctuary has the best “house reef” of any resort I’ve dived with! A diverse and healthy fish population and nice corals. There are multiple entry points from the resort and different routes making a number of “different” dives possible. Whether we went straight, left, or right. Sometimes we would come back to the entry point, but more often we would exit at a different spot than where we entered. Water temperatures ran around 84F and visibility averaged 40+ feet.
There are wall’s, caves, an island, an underwater pinnacle, sandy areas, and the opportunity to see something new on every dive, all from shore diving from the resort itself. Anthia’s, groupers, damselfish, pipefish, batfish, moray’s, crabs, shrimps, clams, soldierfish, squirrelfish, numerous nudibranch species, trevally, razorfish, trumpetfish, ribbon eels, butterflyfish, peacock mantis shrimp, sea turtles, filefish, hawkfish, even lobster… all the “usual suspects”! I made 3 dives a day for 3 days and never tired of the diving! On the 4th day I did my only boat dives heading south along the coast and doing boat dives in front of Dive and Trek and at Portulano House Reef. After we returned we did a 3rd dive in the sanctuary. I ended up with 12 dives in 4 dive days.
I really enjoyed the 4 days of diving with Bauan Divers Sanctuary Resort. In all I did 12 dives with them. On Friday, September 22nd I took a break and after talking with Lourdes at dinner that night she offered one of the resorts boats to take me across to Anilao. By boat it was less than 30 minutes versus a boat ride, followed by a trike, followed by a jeepney, transfer to another jeepney, then another trike. I was really appreciative of being able to take the direct route! Next morning as promised, I was taken by boat to Anilao.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the photos speak about the diving at Bauan Divers Sanctuary 🙂 I will be back!
Next up I’ll cover my 2nd trip to Anilao this year and second time diving with Anilao Scuba Dive Center so stay tuned! I arrived in Anilao on September 23rd and left on September 27th.
I’m in Hawaii now and trying to get caught up so I can start writing about what I’m currently doing. I still have my visits to Anilao and Puerto Galera to write about. I’ll be here in Hawaii for about 2 1/2 months so stay tuned!
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I checked out of my hotel the next morning after DRT on September 11th and caught a cab to the bus station in Cubao. From there I got on a bus to Olongapo where I caught a jeepney to Barretto. I arrived roughly 4 hours later (traffic has been horrible in Manila) still recovering from jet lag with the 13 hour time difference.
One of the nice things about Subic Bay for people who will be traveling there from out of the country, is how easy it is to reach from Manila. Take a cab from the airport (if you’re flying in) to the Victory Terminal in Cubao. Taxi should be around 300 pesos, give or take depending on traffic and route taken. If they want to negotiate a flat rate keep this in mind. It they take the toll road they will want you to pay the toll and that’s fair as it’s saving time. Sometimes taxi drivers in Manila don’t want to use the meter because they feel they aren’t getting adequately compensated because of the amount of time spent sitting in traffic. I’m not totally unsympathetic to this so take into account when negotiating or tipping. I don’t tip on negotiated rates so if the asking price is within the range I would probably tip anyway, then it’s an easy negotiation. If they know that I know what the meter rate would be it’s easier to get them to come down. Expect roughly 350 with tip plus tolls. I sometimes offer “meter plus 50 pesos” and they will pretty much always agree to that. Just some things to keep in mind while negotiating 🙂
In Cubao, hop a bus to Olongapo (205 pesos). From there you can catch a taxi or trike to where you need to go. Going rate for a trike from Victory Terminal in Olongapo to Barretto is a 150 pesos. I almost always take a trike if I have dive gear with me as it’s just too much trouble in a jeepney 🙂 A taxi/van will be around 350 pesos. So to get from the airport in Manila to Arizona would be about $15 dollars US via public transport. A bit over $20 if you take a van instead of a trike from the terminal in Olongapo. A private van to pick you up is more convenient but expect to pay at least 5000 pesos ($100 bucks). If you’re in a group though the difference may make the convenience worth it 🙂
I stayed at The Coffee Shop Restaurant and Rooftop Hotel a Filipino-owned place whom I’ve mentioned previously here in my blog. The Coffee Shop Restaurant is open 24 hours and serves good Filipino food. I’ve eaten there many a night. They’re also known for their tacos which are huge! A standard room in their Rooftop Hotel is 1095 pesos a night (little less than $22 dollars at the current exchange rate). I consider the rooms to be US standard. Rooms are clean and well-maintained. There is free wi-fi included and the rooms have cable television which include HBO and Cinemax as well news channels from the US, Discovery Channel, History Channel, etc.. I go there sometimes just to relax after I’ve been diving somewhere else in the provinces because the amenities are all there at a reasonable price.
Across the street is Arizona International Resort, an Australian-owned operation, which is beachfront on Subic Bay. I’ve spoken with the folks at the Arizona Dive Shop a few times as I have spent a lot of time in the Olongapo area the last couple of years. I eat in the resorts restaurant on a fairly regular basis when I’m in town and would occasionally stop in to chat with the guys in the dive shop. Their Economy Rooms are 1350 pesos a night (cash price) with a Standard Room going for 1550 pesos. About $27 and $31 dollars a night respectively. They do offer package deals if you are diving with them according to their website. If I were coming just to dive I’d look into that. I’ve never stayed at Arizona, as I spend time in Olongapo as much as to relax and catch up on things as to dive. Arizona does have a great reputation, though and my experience with the restaurant, bar operation and dive operations bear that out. I can say it is very convenient to stay at the same place you’re diving speaking from past experience. Since retirement though I try to save money where I can with only the occasional splurge… that leaves more money for diving 🙂
For places to eat and drink I’ve eaten in the Arizona restaurant quite often over the last couple of years when I’ve been in town. Their restaurant is one of the better ones in the area in my opinion. I eat breakfast usually at Arizona are at VFW. VFW is further down the road on the left just across from Crazy Horse Bar and next door to Sit-in-Bull Annex. I usually have dinner at Sit-in-Bull Restaurant on Del Pilar Street which is American-owned and operated and in my opinion the best restaurant in Barretto. If I don’t have dinner at Sit-n-Bull I go to Arizona and occasionally to Shamboli’s, an Italian place also American-owned which is just a few minutes walk from Arizona. For Filipino food Coffee Shop is one of the most popular. For drinks, I like Dynamite Dicks, Two Can, or Sit-n-Bull Annex. Those are the essentially “neighborhood” bars. Score Bar is on the premises at Arizona and has plenty of big screen tv’s. Arizona also has a Floating Bar when it’s not typhoon season and that is a cool place to relax too.
Now about the dive operation…. Arizona is a PADI 5 Star Resort and offers training all the way up to Instructor Development Courses and Specialty Instructor courses. They have a reputation as one of the premier dive operations in the area. I’ve run into people who have dived and taken courses with them over the last couple of years and always heard good things about them. I’d also spoken with Kent Simmonds the dive shop manager a few times. Kent is from Australia and is a very personable guy. Arizona has a strong focus on offering good training. With their great location being on Subic Bay people come from all over for training in Wreck, Deep, and EANx. With such a great reputation I decided I would do a few dives with them myself so I could form my own opinion.
The operation is quite professional with high standards. Their boats all carry oxygen onboard and their boat crews are trained in first aid/CPR and as oxygen providers. They provide hot towels after your dive to wipe your face which is a nice touch and free hot snacks, along with coffee, tea, and water on the boat during surface intervals. They go out twice a day and try to allow guests to choose the dive sites they want to dive on when conditions allow.
I’ve almost always had Filipino dive guides over the years except for a couple of times I dived with the owner of a dive operation which happened I think as much as because they were really busy as anything else. This time my guide was James Sims one of the instructors there. A companionable and down to earth guy who was very knowledgeable about the wrecks and their history. James, who is from England has been an instructor for just a year but has a 100 certifications under his belt already. He calls himself a bit of a “metalhead” and loves diving the wrecks. He did a thorough dive briefing before each dive and was quite familiar with a lot of the history surrounding the wrecks. A lot of the experience for wreck divers I think is the history of the wreck they are diving on so diving with someone who is familiar is a nice plus!
I did 5 dives with Arizona over the course of 2 days September 14th and 15th. Barges, San Quentin, and LST all dives I’ve done multiple times (Barges and San Quentin are two of my favorite dive sites in Subic). They also took me too two dive sites I’d not dived previously, Beer Barrels and the Skyraider wreck which I quite enjoyed.
The first dive on the 14th was Beer Barrels. Beer Barrels is a large structure composed of steel trusses, with large cylinders inside of it. The cylinders reminded someone of beer barrels, hence the name. The structure was alive with life including black and green frogfish, lot’s of scorpionfish, spider crabs, nudibranchs, and even a lobster! There were also the usual suspects, lots of fish life which can always be found around any large underwater structure. It’s a square profile as it sits in approximate 100 feet in open water so we were on 32% nitrox. Our dive started at 3:16 PM and was 38 minutes. My maximum depth was 97 feet. Visibility was maybe 30 feet and water temperature was 83F. This could easily become my new favorite dive site! 🙂 This was my first dive with Arizona and was a great dive! James impressed me with his ability as a spotter also. A really great start 🙂
In addition to Beer Barrels, on September 14th we also dived the Barges near Grande Island. One of my favorite dive sites in Subic Bay it was a floating dock that eventually sank after it was abandoned. The sections of the dock form a rough “T” and sit on a mainly sandy bottom. There is some separation of the sections. One side drops off from roughly 20 feet to around 60 feet. The other drops to over a 100 feet. The wreckage is a haven for a large variety of marine life. When I think about the photos I’ve taken at this site peacock mantis shrimp, nudibranchs, snapper, lionfish, pufferfish, butterflyfish, cardinalfish, all come to mind. I’m absolutely positive I’ve lost track! This dive was very typical of my previous experiences there. We did a 51 minute dive there. Visibility was typical at about 40-45 feet. Water temperature was 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
The first dive on the 15th was the LST. LST’s (Landing Ship Tanks) were a very versatile ship designed for transporting tanks and vehicles. Over a 1000 of them were built in the US during WW II. Many were later converted to use as floating repair ships, hospital ships, troop transports, or floating barracks for accommodations.
This one sits upright on a sandy slope on the eastern side of the bay in 90-118 feet of water. Our dive started at 9:40 AM and was 44 minutes diving with 32% nitrox. Maximum depth was 100 feet and water temperature was 84F. Visibility, as is often the case closer in to the shore was less than 30 feet. As always the wreck was alive with fish. We did a limited penetration and then we roamed around the exterior of the wreck looking for subjects for my camera. An enjoyable dive!
Our second dive on the 15th was the San Quentin, another of my favorites that I’ve written about before. The San Quentin was a Spanish gun boat that was scuttled at the entrance to Subic Bay in 1898 to block the American Navy from entering during the Spanish-American War. Although the ship is largely deteriorated, the stern with it’s rudders, along with the boilers and the bow are all still easily recognizable. It sits in shallow enough water to give good light and the visibility is almost always good. In the past I’ve observed that when other sites within the bay had poor visibility due to weather, San Quentin (along with Barges) was the go too site as it’s almost always good there lying as it does near the entrance to the bay. It’s close by Barges as it’s just to the southeast of Grande Island.
Our dive on San Quentin started at 11:24 AM and lasted for 61 minutes. We were diving 32% nitrox. There was tons of fish swarming around. Quite a few nudibranchs. I spent some time stalking a coral grouper with limited success. I’ve spotted everything from flying gunard’s and blue-spotted ray’s on the sand surrounding the wreck to various species of nudibranchs, and lot’s of sweetlips, jacks, and grunts around the wreck. A very nice dive and as I mentioned one of my favorites in Subic Bay. Water temperature was 85F and visibility was around 40 feet.
The third dive on the 15th was Skyraider. This was another dive site that Arizona took me to that I had not dived previously. The Douglas A-1 Bomber, known as the Skyraider, was used extensively during the Korean War. It was still being used when this one lost power and crashed just off the end of the runway on 27 April 1964.
Another deep dive with a square profile we opted for 28% nitrox. The wreck is intact and sits upright on the bottom in 118 feet of water. The wreck was alive with fish and other marine life. I spotted two different species of grouper, numerous cardinalfish, along with tiny shrimps in the cockpit. Maximum depth was 116 feet and our dive was 27 minutes. Even with nitrox you can only stretch it so long without running into deco 🙂 Water temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit and visibility was only about 20 feet.
Back at the shop the crew took care of washing my dive gear and hanging it up to dry. I let it hang and dry and just picked up my gear later when I came in to settle my bill. I met James later that evening at the Score Bar with a couple of guys who’d just completed their Divemaster training with Arizona for a couple of beers. It was an enjoyable experience and I’m sure I’ll be diving with them again!
On Sunday morning, September 17th, after breakfast at Arizona, I packed and checked out of my hotel. Grabbed a trike and started my journey to Bauan Divers Sanctuary who I’ll be writing about in my next blog post.
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A short update for those who have wondered where I’ve been the last couple of months since I’ve not published anything since August. I’ll also write a little about things that have been going on that I didn’t cover previously.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I flew home to Texas a few months ago on July 12th. After two months at home it was time to travel somewhere that I could dive on a more regular basis (the last couple of years that has been the Philippines, but stay tuned!)… I did only 15 dives during the 2 months I was home, all of them in a 3 week period between July 29th and August 18th… great dives, but still only 15 dives! It was time to go again. In one sense I travel to dive and I dive to travel… it all fit’s together somehow 🙂 After boarding a flight in Houston on September 8th I arrived back in the Philippines on September 9th. (Yes I know I’m back to being over a month behind again!)
Obviously one of the first things I did after I got home in July was to set an appointment with a cardiologist to see where my recovery from my heart attack was. In March I was cleared to dive by my cardiolgist in the Philippines who put me at 80% then. I had both nuclear and treadmill stress tests in July the week after I arrived home and met with my new doctor there to renew my prescriptions. I had a second meeting with my cardiologist on August 10th to go over the results of my tests. He told me (although I already knew this) that the tests indicated that I’d had a massive heart attack with a significant amount of scarring around the top of my heart. He also said that I was lucky to be alive but I should make a full recovery. The tests indicated that my heart function was almost back to normal! I asked him to sign a PADI Medical Statement giving me clearance to dive and he did so.
A quick synopsis of diving while I was home… I started off with a couple of dives on the Texas Clipper, a very nice wreck dive off South Padre Island in Texas. My first time diving in Texas… Although I was born and raised in Texas somehow I’d never dived there! That was July 29th. On August 10th (right after meeting with my Doctor) I headed out to Florida. On the 11th I did two dives on the Oriskany, an Essex-class aircraft carrier and the worlds largest artificial reef. After arriving back at the marina, I loaded up the car and headed east on I-10 and then south on I-75 and the Florida Turnpike. After a night in a hotel along the way, I arrived in Venice, Florida (The Shark Tooth Capitol of the World) on the 12th. I relaxed on the 13th, and did two dives on the 14th coming up with a few fossils and two sharks teeth for my efforts. From Venice I headed south to the Florida Keys and Key Largo for 2 days of diving there and then north to Palm Beach County and two more days of diving. A very nice trip. I arrived back in Texas on August 21st, taking a few moments to view the eclipse along the way while passing through Alabama.
The first week of September I applied online for my certificate of eligibility from the Veterans Administration for educational benefits. This was in preparation to attend training to become a dive instructor (I got certified over 35 years ago… maybe it’s time!). On September 8th (as I mentioned earlier) I caught an EVA Airlines flight back to the Philippines, landing in Manila on September 9th. I caught a couple of hours of the DRT (Dive, Recreation, Travel) Expo that day and was there all day on the 10th. I ended up doing 33 dives between September 14th and October 1st (good to be back!). I dived in Subic Bay with Arizona Dive Resort, at Bauan Divers Sanctuary north of Anilao, with Anilao Scuba Dive Center in Anilao, and with Frontier Scuba in Puerto Galera. I’ll be writing more on these adventures in the next couple of weeks.
My certificate of eligibility for VA Educational Benefits was received the first week of October. After a fairly thorough search and corresponding with a few different dive operations with IDC’s (Instructor Development Course’s), I decided a trip to Hawaii was in my future! 🙂 I’ll be arriving in Hawaii on October 31st. My IDC starts on November 6th. I’ll be doing my training up through MSDT (Master Scuba Diver Trainer) with Dive Oahu, a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Center. By the time I complete my training I should be ready to teach PADI courses up through Divemaster along with Emergency First Response and ten specialities. I’m really looking forward to the training and the opportunity to dive in Hawaii!
Finally, on October 10th I was privileged to attend the finals of the Miss Scuba Philippines pageant as a guest of Lourdes and Mark Lowings, the owners of Bauan Divers Sanctuary and one of the pageants sponsors. Congrats to Cindy Madduma, Miss Scuba International 2015 and the pageant director for this years pageant in the Philippines. Putting something like this together take an enormous amount of time, effort, and dedication! Great job and I know everyone enjoyed the show!
I’ve enjoyed my time in the Philippines as I always do, but I’ll be headed back to Texas on the 22nd for another short break before leaving for Hawaii.
Coming up will be posts on DRT, Subic Bay, Bauan, Anilao, and Puerto Galera so stay tuned!
When I was thinking about making my Florida trip in July, I made a post on Facebook asking for recommended dive ops. I’d been looking at different shark dives and had thought about going to Guadalupe Island in Mexico for the Great White Shark dives. In the end I decided I wasn’t going to be able to afford that nor did I think that a whole week sitting in a cage was something I wanted to really do! I wanted to photograph sharks, but I also wanted to see other things. I wanted variety! In Florida I could dive wrecks, reefs, and see sharks! For those who have been following my blog, I’d done two of the nicest wrecks in Florida (or anywhere for that matter) along with some great reefs with lots of fish. I’d even dived for fossils in Venice. Now it was time for sharks!
For sharks, my friend Jen Nelligan gave a recommendation for Deep Obsession out of Lake Park in Palm Beach County. I contacted them and heard back almost immediately (like within minutes) from Ryan Walton via Facebook and Amber Boutot via email who are the co-owners. I decided to dive with Deep Obsession after seeing how responsive they were and the strong recommendations from people who had dived with them. I booked a three tank trip on the 17th. As it turned out, it was also going to be the height of the 2 month spawning season for goliath groupers!
I might add that Palm Beach County in Florida attracts divers from everywhere. I made trips there whenever I could afford it back in the 80’s when I lived in Orlando. Why here? The Gulf Stream makes it’s closest approach to the US Mainland here. The end result is warm water, nice reefs, plenty of fish, and the chance to see pelagics like sharks. In other words… great diving!
As I mentioned in my last blog post, after diving Key Largo for two days I headed north. I got on the road about 2 PM. I opted to take the back roads, rather than the toll roads. I took my time and made a few stops along the way. By 5:30 PM I was pulling into the parking lot of the strip mall where Deep Obsession has a shop. Unfortunately I’d missed them and they were closed.
I walked in too Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures and Marine Life Art Gallery next door and inquired. I told the woman there I was diving with Deep Obsession the next day. She told me they were already gone for the day but were usually in the shop in the morning around 8 AM preparing to go out. I decided to take a look around the shop since I was there. I saw a very thin pair of gloves that I thought would be ideal for the shark dives. While I was paying I was asked if I had a hotel yet and when I said no she gave me a coupon for a discounted rate at Best Western!
I got back in my car and continued north up US Highway 1 until I reached the Best Western Plus in Palm Beach Gardens. At $75 dollars a night it was the second best rate I’d paid on the trip and turned out to be the nicest room! While checking in I asked for a room close to parking and downstairs because of all my gear and the desk clerk very nicely put me in a 1st floor room closest to the exit to the parking lot.
I got my things unpacked and messaged Amber that I’d arrived and would be in the next morning. Then I started setting up my camera gear. Before returning to the US I’d made a decision to upgrade my camera equipment and had starting ordering the week I came back. After a lot of research I opted for the Nikon D500. One issue was expense… which for an underwater photographer is going to be significant no matter what! By sticking with Nikon, it allowed me to use the lenses that I’d made a significant investment in already. I’d also decided to stay with Ikelite. Ikelite without a doubt makes some of the best strobes out there and I have and continue to receive good service from my DS125 and DS160. I also believe Ikelite makes a quality housing which is much less expensive than other systems. Yes I know other systems like Nauticam and Aquatica will go to 330 feet, but I don’t expect to ever dive that deep! The Ikelite is rated to 200 feet well beyond recreational depths so I don’t feel the need to pay for more safety margin I won’t use! I decided that all things considered I would be okay with Ikelite.
The first dives I’d done with the new system were on the Texas Clipper on July 29th. While familiarizing myself with the new camera I opted to use only my Kraken 5000 video light. My dives on the Oriskany in Pensacola and in Key Largo had all been done with just the camera, housing, and video light. I was still exploring exactly what my new Nikon D500 could do. I’d been getting decent results, but decided that now was the time to pull out my strobes. I got everything set up and tested to make sure it was all working. Then I went to sleep.
My alarm went off at 7 AM the next morning, Thursday, August 17th. I got up, grabbed a quick shower and dressed. I walked out to the lobby and got a cup of coffee, then walked over to the next building where breakfast was being served. After a leisurely breakfast I went back to my room and loaded everything in the car and left for the dive shop. I arrived there around 8:30 AM. Amber was there and we got all the usual paperwork out of the way including one that said I wouldn’t sue if a shark ate me… just kidding, it didn’t say that :)) After that I got directions to the boat which it turned out was only a couple blocks away.
I arrived at Lake Park Marina around 8:40 where there was a buzz of activity. The crew was loading the boat and told me to just leave my gear and tanks and they would take care of them. Those of us going out for the day just stayed out of the crews way and they took care of everything. They have a very large cooler with a top on it that was filled with fresh water. This was exclusively for cameras. Something nice to see! Once the boat was loaded I went aboard and started setting up my tank. A thorough brief was given about the boat by Scott, the Captain. We were underway shortly after 9 AM.
It was looking like another beautiful sunny day in Florida and the water was absolutely flat as we left the marina. I stood at the stern and chatted with Derek, one of the crew for the day. There wasn’t much traffic out as we made our way down the intracoastal, under the Blue Heron Bridge, past another marina, and then a left turn to the east and down the channel to the Atlantic Ocean. On the way out Autumn and Derek cut up fish and prepared a milk crate of chum that would be used to lure the sharks to us.
We pushed east towards our first dive site which Scott called Deep Ledge. Possibly because the water there approaches 150 feet deep! Plenty of sharks hang out there and the goal was to attract them up to a depth where we could have a prolonged interaction with them. Not much bottom time at a 150 feet!
Autumn and Tony gave a very thorough brief on the dive. Autumn would work with the sharks and Tony would be the safety diver. Her enthusiasm was contagious. She obviously really loves her job! For the dive we were to be completely covered. Hood, gloves, and no low top booties that would leave the ankles exposed. I’m thinking because light colored skin could be mistaken for a piece of fish and who want’s to feed one of their hands to the sharks? 😉 This would be a bluewater dive. Everyone would enter the water and arrange ourselves around Autumn who would stay with the crate to prevent the sharks from tearing it up to get at the fish scraps! The crate would be suspended from a buoy on the surface at a depth of about 30 feet. We were cautioned not to let our depth drop to low as this could have an affect on the sharks and cause them not to come up.
We were given a warning 15 minutes before arriving at the site so we could start getting ready and everybody started gearing up. When we reached the site and given the word by Scott we started entering the water. I stepped off the dive platform, turned and Derek handed me my camera. Autumn was already doing her thing and we formed a rough circle around her, hovering in the water column. It didn’t take long for the sharks to start showing up! What followed was almost non-stop sharks for the hour! There were bull sharks, silky sharks, and sandbar sharks… sometimes only one and sometimes in two’s, three’s, and fours, but always there were sharks! It really was an amazing experience! I have many friends that do not dive (and some who do) who have communicated a fear of sharks, but I can truthfully say I never felt threatened in any way. The sharks were obviously not interested in us, but in the scraps of fish that Autumn would periodically toss from the crate into the water to the water column. Before we knew it our time was up and it was time to say goodbye to the sharks and surface. The dive started at 10:02 AM and lasted 55 minutes. Average depth was around 30 feet, but I did drop as deep as 46 feet a few times to get shots looking up. Water temperature was 84F and visibility was easily 50-60 feet…. a great dive!
Once on the boat, the crew circulated offering drinks and people chatted about the dive. A discussion ensued about the second dive and it was agreed that combining the next dive with an opportunity to see goliath groupers was something we would all like to do. Captain Scott set a course for the Bonaire.
The Esso Bonaire was a tanker built in Honduras in 1926. It was seized by the US Government when the US Customs Service discovered 55,000 lbs of marijuana aboard. The Economic Council of Palm Beach County purchased it to be sunk as an artificial reef. She was sunk 4 miles E/NE of Jupiter Inlet on 23 July 1989. She’s sitting upright on her keel in 85 feet of water.
The dive was briefed and because of current we planned a negative entry and drift down and into the wreck. This will stand out as one of my best dives! Autumn perched on the stern while we gathered behind her and she was swarmed by goliath groupers, sharks, and clouds of fish! They all wanted what was in the crate of course and she had to be quite firm with them to keep them off. After several minutes we moved off the wreck and made our depth shallower. The goliaths stayed with the wreck but the sharks stayed with us. At one point I counted 7 sharks and they were there for pretty much the entire dive! The action really was fast and furious and the dive was over much too soon! I had sharks swimming close enough to touch and I did! This dive started at 11:45 AM and lasted 58 minutes. Water temperature was again 84F and our maximum depth was 84 feet. Visibility was over 50 feet.
During the surface interval we had a light lunch. Sub sandwiches that were quite good! There were plenty of sodas and water too. The crew was good about encouraging people to stay hydrated.
The last dive of the day was a site called Shark Canyon. Shark Canyon is just a half mile south of Juno Beach Pier. We didn’t chum on this dive and we didn’t need too. What we saw here were mainly Caribbean reef sharks. We also saw some nice corals and plenty of fish. I spotted a very nice size lobster near the beginning of the dive. This was a drift dive and we went with the current. There were places we could drop out of the current and be sheltered by the reef and we made a couple of stops. There were plenty of sharks about and they weren’t shy about approaching either! I really enjoyed this dive as well. We started our dive 1:52 PM and I ended up with a 42 minute dive. Water temperature was 83F for this dive and maximum depth was 82 feet. Visibility was 40-50 feet.
As they’ve done on every boat I’ve dived with in Florida, roll was called after each dive. Nothing was left to chance in that respect! On the way back in I decided that I would stay and dive another day. The diving was that good! Before reaching the dock I went below and changed into dry clothes. When we arrived back at the dock, I took my camera and the crew assured me that they would take care of my gear and have my tanks filled for the next days diving. The next days diving had a departure time of 10 AM and I was asked to be at the shop around 9 AM to do paperwork. I said goodbye and headed to the car.
After getting back to the hotel I showered and rinsed my camera gear again. I put my batteries on charge and then started going through photos as I’d promised a shark photo to my friends and after picking one sent it out to them. I went out to Burger King for dinner later and then headed back to the hotel. I caught up on Facebook and then went to sleep.
I was up about 8 AM. I got dressed and went to breakfast. After breakfast I went back to the room and installed freshly charged batteries to my strobes and camera. Once everything was set up to my satisfaction I put everything in the car and headed to the dive shop. I was there about 9:15. Once I’d finished my paperwork, I headed over to the marina. My gear was on the boat and my tanks had been filled. I was ready for another great day of diving!
Everything from the day before pretty much repeated itself. Autumn and Tony were leading the dives. They were both very professional in their briefs as they’d been the day before. The first dive of the morning was North Double Ledges. The dive started at 10:26 AM. This was another drift dive. As in the previous day, there were loads of tropical fish. Only a couple of sharks, but that was to be expected almost as the day before had focused on sharks so they took us to sites where we would see the maximum number. I was diving air and my maximum depth was 85 feet. Sooner than I would have liked my computer was telling me it was time to surface. Most of the group was on nitrox, but as I was thinking about sending up my SMB I noticed one of the other divers in the group pulling his out. I did my ascent with him and his friend. Dive time was 37 minutes.
The second dive was at a site called The Corridors. Tony did a very thorough dive brief. This was another drift dive. In “The Corridors”, there are four wrecks and two rock piles so there was plenty to see. How much we got to see was going to depend on air and our computers.
This dive starts about a mile northeast of Lake Worth Inlet. The first wreck is the Mitzpah. She’s an old Greek luxury liner sitting in 86 feet of water. She was cleaned up for diving and has had all the doors and hatches removed and cleaned up for diving before being sunk as an artificial reef way back in 1968 making it the oldest artificial reef in Palm Beach County. We found several goliath groupers there. I managed to fight the current long enough to get some photos then drifted along the bottom to the end of the wreck and up to the deck. There were plenty of fish, but I was ready to go as I was watching my no-deco limit approach. I’d spent most of the time allotted for this wreck photographing the goliath groupers.
After a few minutes we started towards the second wreck in the lineup, the PC-1174, and old patrol craft. It’s heavily deteriorated and I spent almost no time there as by then my computer was starting to flash at me to go up. I grabbed a couple of shots and drifted as I started to go up. Nearby is an old rock pile.
I saw the next wreck, the Amarilys, as I drifted by. I looked down and saw another goliath grouper. This is a 441 foot long banana freighter that was blown ashore in a hurricane in 1965. The upper deck and helm were removed, but the lower deck, including the engines is still there. It was towed to the present site in 1968 and sunk in 85 feet of water as an artificial reef. Beyond that was is a sunken barge and then a pile of old concrete. I would have liked to explore it, but it was time to go up.
I sent up my SMB and after completing my safety stop surfaced. Captain Scott was nearby and came over to pick me up. My dive started at 12:16 PM and lasted 38 minutes. Water temperature was 84F and maximum depth was 85 feet once again. I estimated visibility at 50 feet plus.
Once back at the dock the crew unloaded my gear for me and I stowed it in my car. Then met a few of the other divers for a late lunch.
On Saturday morning I headed to Ft Myers to visit an old friend and his family. After spending the night I left Sunday afternoon, stopping in Orlando to have dinner with my step-son. From there I drove to Tallahassee where I stopped for the night. I got home to Texas late on Monday night.
After surviving Hurricane Harvey over the weekend I’m in the planning stages now for my next dive trip. I’m expecting to return to Dauin where my friend Mark Gormley, from Australia is very close to completion of a new dive resort. Beachfront at the Marine Sanctuary… It doesn’t get better than that! Stay tuned!
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After leaving Venice on Monday, August 14th I was still debating where I would go next. I stopped and got something to eat at Burger King (no breakfast or lunch) and thought about it. After checking Google Maps, I decided that Key Largo was doable and got back on the road. A little after 9 PM I was there!
Why do divers travel from all over the world to visit Key Largo? Key Largo caters to divers in a big way and this has been going on for decades! John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established back in 1963, making it the worlds first underwater park! It covers approximately 70 nautical square miles. With the addition of the adjacent Florida Key’s National Marine Sanctuary, established in 1990, this protected area now covers approximately 178 nautical square miles! It is approximately 25 miles in length and extends 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Within it’s boundaries are mangrove swamps, seagrass beds, and of course coral reefs. I did my first trip to Key Largo back in 1983 and am always happy to visit!
On the way there I did a search on Agoda and found that about the cheapest room I was going to find was $99 bucks a night. I stopped at one place that didn’t come up on Agoda, but they wanted $105 a night plus tax for an RV! I asked about Wi-Fi and was told that there were hotspots around the property but not inside the accommodations. That actually made a bit of sense, since they’re accommodations seemed to be cabins and RV’s, but still I felt a bit steep for what I was getting. I opted to keep looking.
The next place I tried was one of the ones that had come up on Agoda. Key Largo Inn was $99 bucks a night and breakfast was included. There was a pool (that I ended up not using) and nice rooms with wi-fi. While talking with the owner I mentioned I was there for diving and he told me they had a dive shop across the street. I made the decision to stay and checked in. With tax the room came too $111.38 a night (a little steeper than I normally pay in the Philippines to be sure!). I unloaded my gear and then after a quick shower, I worked on finishing up my previous blog post on diving in Venice.
The next morning (Tuesday, August 15th) I was up about 8 AM. I wandered over to the bar/restaurant where they had plenty of fresh pastries, fruit, yogurt, and coffee. I got myself a muffin and a cup of coffee. After I finished eating I walked across the street with my coffee to Scuba-Fun Dive Center. There I met Dan who initially told me that it was to late to dive that morning. After about 5 minutes of conversation and discovering that I had my own equipment and was experienced he asked me to give him a minute and let him make a phone call. He ended up being able to get me on the boat with Horizon Divers for a 2 tank trip out to dive the Spiegel Grove! Since that was the dive I most wanted to make I was very happy!
I ran back across the street, poked my head into the office to let them know I’d be staying an extra day, and then went to my room and grabbed my gear. Everyone was already on the boat when I rolled into the parking lot at the marina about 20 minutes later. I’d made it with about 5 minutes to spare!
The boat was the Pisces with Bruce as the Captain. There was a quick brief and the boat got underway for the Spiegel Grove. I started setting up my gear as the boat pulled away from the dock.
The USS Spiegel Grove (LSD-32) was a Thomaston-class dock landing ship constructed by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was laid down on 7 September 1954, launched on 10 November 1955, and commissioned on 8 June 1956. She spent the greatest part of her active service participating in amphibious exercises as part of the US 2nd and 6th Fleets. She made two goodwill tours to Africa carrying tons of supplies. In May 1962 she was one of the ships supporting Scott Carpenter’s Mercury-Atlas 7 space flight. The Spiegel Grove’s nickname was “Top Dog” and as I’ve seen in many Navy ships this was incorporated into a ships logo that can still be seen emblazoned into the ships deck in one of the passageways. In 1974 she participated in the evacuation of American citizens from Cyprus and performed this service again in 1976 in the evacuation of Lebanon.
USS Spiegel Grove was decommissioned on 2 October 1989 and her name struck from the Navy list on 13 December 1989.
She was then transferred to the United States Maritime Administration and the James River Reserve Fleet near Ft. Eustis, Virginia. On 13 June 2001, the Spiegel Grove was transferred to the State of Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Largo, Florida. The ship was to be sunk near Key Largo as part of the artificial reefs program. After delays due to red tape and financial problems in preparing her to be sunk, she was finally moved from Virginia to Florida in May 2002. $1 million dollars was spent on preparation.
On 17 May 2002 she sank prematurely and ended up with her stern resting on the bottom and her bow sticking out of the water! To make matters worse, she was upside down! Over a 2 day period, 10-11 June 2002, and at an additional cost of $250 thousand dollars, the Resolve Marine Group got her rolled over on her starboard side and laying on the bottom. She was opened to divers on 26 June 2002. At 510 feet long and 84 feet at the beam, the Spiegel Grove was the largest ship ever to be reefed at the time of her sinking (bigger ships have been reefed since). The Spiegel Grove proved to be enormously popular with scuba divers performing an average of 50,000 dives a year on her the first two years! Just 3 years later after Hurricane Dennis passed by in July 2005, divers were surprised to find that the storm at righted the ship and she was now sitting on her keel!
The Spiegel Grove is located 6 miles off Key Largo on Dixie Shoal in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. She sits in a 134 feet of water with her top deck at 60 feet. This is considered an advanced dive due to the currents. Every time I’ve dived it there has been strong current there and this is considered pretty normal due to the location. Not a dive that you want to be fumbling around on. A diver really should be comfortable in the water to make this dive.
I’d been asked before I left the dive shop if I wanted to hire a guide and I’d said no, they could just buddy me with someone on the boat. As I was getting my gear setup I met DJ Hall who was my buddy for the morning and it turned out was also an instructor for Horizon Scuba. We turned out to have quite a bit in common as we’d both served in the United States Navy at the same time. We had both been Petty Officer First Classes, and both served our share of sea duty which gave us plenty to talk about! DJ also, it turned out, teaches tech diving and we chatted about that a bit as well since I’m thinking about taking a course at some point. He’d gotten a call and asked if he wanted to go dive the Spiegel Grove and he said of course he said yes! That worked out pretty well that there were openings and we both got to dive 🙂
Once we arrived at the site, the boat was tied off to a mooring buoy and lines were rigged. As with other boats I’ve dived with where we were off-shore with current, a trail line consisting of about 50 feet of line with a float on the end was attached to the stern of the boat. From the stern to the mooring line a tag line was run. The idea is to pull yourself hand over hand along the line saving your energy for dive. We did a giant stride off the dive platform and then followed the lines down to the wreck.
Our first dive started at 9:48 AM. I was diving 28% nitrox. Once we had pulled our way down to the wreck, we were able to use the wreck itself to block the current. I have to say that I never get tired of diving this wreck. There are tons of fish and it’s a very picturesque wreck as well. We planned to explore the outside of the wreck on this first dive and we made our way around the upper deck. I had told DJ before the dive that I would just follow him as photos are more interesting with a diver in the picture. He ended up being a pretty good underwater model! We stopped to take photos of the flag of course and DJ obligingly threw a salute to the flag for me. Rather than using my strobes, I’d opted to use a single video light for photography on this dive.
One of the things that really strikes me about this dive is the huge numbers of fish around the wreck. That we were in a marine sanctuary was quite obvious! There were big schools of grey snapper. I also spotted grouper, angelfish, and of course, barracuda. There were many of “the usual suspects” as I call them as well, including butterflyfish, squirrelfish, grunts, and damselfish. Jacks out in open water, and the occasional school of jacks.
Much of the outer ship is becoming encrusted with coral. It’s a really beautiful dive! We explored the outer hull and towards the end of the dive did one limited penetration into the area where he mess deck used to be. The metal pedestals for the tables are still there along with the salad bar! Before I knew it my computer started yelling at me to come up. The maximum depth on this first dive was 100 feet. Water temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit. Visibility was easily 50-60 feet. Dive time was 37 minutes. I was back on the boat with about 900 psi. Even with nitrox the computer will normally determine the length of the dive!
During the surface interval I tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible… a sun worshipper I’m not! As we approached one hour we started gearing up. The second dive started at 10:26 AM, exactly 61 minutes after the previous dive had ended. I was diving 28% nitrox again. During this dive we made our way along the superstructure towards the bow. There we made a penetration into one of the forward machine spaces. Down and through and then back out. We then made a penetration down some of the main passageways in the superstructure where I spotted the ship logo I mentioned earlier, on the deck. There were plenty of fish in the dark of the compartments wherever I shined my light. Maximum depth on this dive ended up being 99 feet with water temperature and visibility the same as the first dive. Total dive time was 41 minutes.
After returning to the dock I was able to rinse my equipment there and hang it up in a portable building that Horizon has set up near the dock. The made diving with them very convenient! After stowing my gear away I made the rounds. I stopped at the dive shop and picked up a t-shirt and a couple of books. Later I stopped by the drugstore and picked up a few odds and ends, including some snacks and some drinking water. I also bought myself a Panama Jack hat as I’d decided I was getting a bit to much sun! After that I saw a homemade ice cream shop and decided I needed ice cream 🙂 I am on vacation after all 😉
I went by Scuba-Fun and settled my bill since I planned to leave the next day after my dives. The rate for 2 wreck dives including tanks and weights is $85.00. There was a $12.00 per tank charge added on for nitrox. The reef dives were $80.00 for two dives including tanks and weights. The State of Florida has to get their money too so the total came to $203.18.
I also went by Divers Direct, a dive store chain in Florida with a huge selection of gear. I couldn’t resist a t-shirt featuring Florida Keys wrecks 🙂 Dinner that night was at The Fish House, which is a local favorite. They feature fresh-caught local seafood which is quite good!
On Wednesday, August 16th after a good nights sleep I was up in time to pack the car and grab some breakfast at the hotel. My plan was to check out of the hotel before going to dive and then leave after that for the drive north. I was due to be at the dock at 8:30 AM. I was a few minutes early and got my gear sorted out first. I was on Pisces again with Bruce as the Captain. I wanted to do a couple of reef dives. The first dive we went out to dive Key Largo Dry Rocks where the Christ of the Abyss statue is placed.
Christ of the Abyss is a bronze statue. Guido Galletti, an Italian sculpted the original which was placed in the Mediterranean Sea on 22 August 1954. It was placed near the spot where Dario Gonzatti died in 1947. He was the first Italian to use scuba. A second statue cast from the same mold was placed in the waters near Grenada on 22 October 1961. The statue at Key Largo was also cast from the original mold and was a gift to the Underwater Society of America in 1962. On 25 August 1965 it was placed in 25 feet of water at Dry Rocks in the John Pennekamp State Park. The statue itself is over 8 feet tall and weighs approximately 572 lbs. It is attached to a concrete base that weighs 9 tons!
There are several permanent buoys here for boats to tie up too. The reef in this area is shaped like fingers and a diver can follow the bottom along the “indentations” between “fingers”. In one of these indentations is found the statue which is quite popular with snorkelers and divers. One thing you don’t want to do is touch the statue as it’s now completely covered with fire coral! The corals are in great shape!
For this morning I was buddied with a father and son who were on vacation. The dive started at 9:28 AM and would last 59 minutes. We were all told that we should be back on the boat with 500 psi or 1 hour whichever came first. Visibility was not quite as good as on the Spiegel Grove the day before and it was a bit warmer, but the water is quite shallow here. My maximum depth was just 28 feet and water temperature was 86F. Visibility was probably about 40 feet. As you would expect in an underwater park that has been around for over 50 years, there were plenty of fish! Lots of reef fish including parrotfish of various varieties, angelfish, butterflyfish, hogfish, and groupers. Sweepers and damselfish, plenty of grunts, and of course barracuda everywhere.
After seeing the statue, which was swarmed by people (divers and snorkelers), we checked out other areas of the reef. As time started to count down I ran a compass course back to where the boat was and made sure my buddies stayed within sight. When we got back to the area of the boat they went up and I stayed down a bit longer while they were getting onboard, then I surfaced. I still had 1300 psi.
We traveled a fairly short distance and tied up to another mooring buoy. This site was North Dry Rocks. We started getting ready to dive pretty much as soon as we got there. With such shallow depths, no-deco limits really weren’t an issue. Our second dive started at 10:43 AM. This dive was very much like the first dive and lots of fish. Similar reef system, but a bit of current this time. Maximum depth for this dive was 29 feet, it was again 86F and lasted 55 minutes. I came back from this dive with almost 1500 psi.
That was it for Key Largo. Once back at the dock I washed my gear and packed it in the car. I took advantage of the outdoor shower there to give myself a good rinse and changed into dry clothes for the trip north. I stopped at Buzzard’s Roost and grabbed some lunch (a chicken caesar salad… I have to eat healthy sometimes!) , then headed out. It had been a great couple of days in Key Largo, but the sharks were waiting for me on the Atlantic side of Florida off Palm Beach County and I was ready for them!
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In my next blog post I’ll be writing about my visit to Palm Beach County, Florida where I dived with Deep Obsession. You’ll get to hear about my experience diving with sharks in open water (without a cage), and goliath grouper (at 8 feet and over 700 lbs they could swallow a diver whole I think!). Stay tuned!