Choosing Fins and Booties

I know it’s been a few months since I posted…. I’m going to finish up here and then in my next post I’ll write about what I’ve been doing πŸ™‚

As I’ve mentioned in my earlier blog posts on choosing equipment, I’m writing these pieces mainly for those who are new to diving. They reflect my opinion and experience. I always suggest that you seek advice from your instructor as they may have a different and maybe a better way than I do πŸ™‚

TYPES

Fins are basically divided up into two types… full foot, that you put on like a slip-on shoe, and open heel fins with straps. There are several variations of these two types.Β There are bladed fins with different materials to channel the water when kicking. Those may be stiff or flexible, or somewhere in between. There are versions of the standard blade fin that are split, and another version which has vents to channel water. There are shorter fins designed for snorkeling and very long fins used in free-diving.

FULL-FOOT

Full-foot fins tend to be lighter in weight. Many are designed for snorkeling so make sure the ones you choose are heavy enough to do the job. Short and very lightweight fins that are adequate for snorkeling will not provide enough thrust for scuba diving. Some divers prefer full-foot fins when diving from a boat or a sandy beach in tropical water. These fins are worn with bare feet or thin socks. In areas where the water is colder they would not be suitable as booties would be required for warmth. Booties are also a requirement for many beach entries especially across rocks or coral. I have a few friends who use free diving fins (a whole different animal from standard snorkeling fins) when boat diving and swear by them.Β Freediving fins have a larger surface area which gives them more thrust. This larger surface area is the result of being much longer giving them a “snap” as the diver kicks which generates even more power.

A good quality full-foot fin will have a solid, rigid sole which is more efficient in transferring energy from the foot to the blade of the fin.Β A full-foot fin should have enough space to insert your pinky in between your heel and the back of the foot pocket. If you can’t get your pinky in, then the fins are likely too tight. To much space and the fin will be too loose. These type fins will definitely be more slippery in the water and feel looser, so keep that in mind. Make sure there are no spots digging into your foot. Sit on a stool or chair and flex your feet. If your toes are sticking out make sure they’re not squeezed or that the top edge is rubbing. If your feet are prone to cramping or blistering, this may not be the best choice.

Aqualung Express Full-Foot Fin

OPEN HEEL

Most scuba divers use open heel fins with straps that are designed to be worn with booties or boots. These fins are available in a variety of materials and versions. Materials include, monoprene, polyprophlene, thermoplastic, and of course rubber. Some fins will combine these materials. The main variation in design will be blade fins (with a variety of stiffness), split fins, and vented fins. Most new divers (and many experienced ones) stick with the standard blade fin.

Fins can have differences in flexibility. Stiff fins are generally considered superior for frog kicking and maneuverability. They work well for backing up or for maneuvers like the helicopter turn. For a standard flutter kick though, the added resistance can bring on fatigue much quicker for those who are not conditioned for it. A more flexible fin is easier to kick with and is less tiring.

Split fins have a section removed from the center, thus “splitting the fin”. The theory behind split fins is that on the down stroke (the power stroke) the fin creates a “vortex” adding to forward propulsion. On the upstroke, which doesn’t provide as much power anyway, resistance is lowered by allowing water to flow through the split. It’s a popular design for divers who have ankle or knee problems or who cramp easily. Easier kicking can also translate into better air consumption.

The primary con with split fins and very flexible fins, is that they do not provide as much propulsion as the stiffer blade fins. They lack the power in dealing with current that a stiffer fin provides. They are not as effective in frog kicking, backing up, or performing maneuvers like helicopter turns. The stiffer fin is superior for these maneuvers.

A popular fin for tech divers, cave divers, wreck divers, and underwater photographers is a version of the bladed fin sometimes called turtle fins. These fins tend to be a bit shorter and wider than a standard bladed fin. They are stiff and have vents that allow water to pass through reducing drag and increasing efficiency. They require strong legs, especially for the flutter kick. They will move you through the water quickly and efficiently. These fins are much more effective at fighting current than lesser versions. They are superior for maneuverability as well. Versions include the Aqualung Rocket Fin, Apeks RK3, ScubaPro Jet Fin, and OMS Slipstreams.

HEEL STRAPS

Open heel fins should have easy to use heel straps. No one wants to struggle getting fins on and off. This can be an issue making certain entries, especially through surf when you are timing the waves during your entry and when you’ve waded out far enough need to put your fins on quickly. When getting out of the water after a boat dive you want to be able to easily and quickly remove your fins if you are climbing a ladder. Getting your fins off quickly so you can climb out is especially important when conditions are rough.

One choice for the strap is the traditional stainless steel buckle. The flat, rubber strap is adjusted for comfort and to keep the fin on your foot. They are less expensive, but can sometimes be a struggle to get on and off in the water as there is not a lot of “stretch” in the rubber strap. Another possible choice are straps with releasable buckles. I’m familiar with two versions. One allows the buckle to fold back, loosening the strap. The other unbuckles the strap completely.Β Only do this on one side getting out of the water. You don’t want to lose your strap!Β  The last choice I will discuss is a flexible strap that is made from material that will snug your fin around your heel, but can easily stretch to allow easy removal. These straps are made from either stainless steel spring, or rubber bungee cord. I personally use spring straps and prefer them for their toughness and ease of use. Aftermarket spring straps are available for many major brands. I purchased spring straps for my Mares Superchannel Fins while my OMS Slipstreams came with spring straps already installed.

Universal Spring Straps

BOOTIES

Booties or drysuit boots are pretty much a necessity for most shore diving or when diving in colder waters. Booties are typically made of neoprene with with hard rubber soles. Felt bottoms which can offer additional traction when crossing slippery rocks are also available. The best booties for you will depend on conditions. Temperature, shore or boat entries and if shore entries the type of shore. Sand or slippery rocks. Thickness will depend on water temperature and will typically be similar to your wetsuit. Tropical diving is usually 3 mm. For diving in tropical waters from a boat, low top booties will work fine. Many people prefer low tops for warm water diving in general. My personal preference that will meet most conditions here in Guam (and other tropical destinations) is felt bottoms with high tops. Shore entries here are often across slippery rocks or walking across the top of a reef. I like the extra grip of felt bottoms. I like the high tops for the extra protection for my ankles in case I step in a hole. Another thing to look for is good protection on the sides, heel, and top of the foot. A sole that will give protection adequate for the conditions you’re diving in (ie… rocky entry). A rubberized covering of the neoprene around the heel gives protection for the heel strap, and over the toes and the top of the foot will give extra protection for the foot when walking during a shore entry and the top of the foot when it’s inside the foot pocket of the fin. You get what you pay for. Without the extra protection I’ve seen holes worn into booties in less than a year from just normal wear. It generally pays to get quality in the long run.

CONCLUSION

I hope I’ve provided some things to think about when choosing equipment. I’m sure that I’ve missed a few things πŸ™‚Β  Again, as I mentioned in the beginning, I always suggest consulting with your instructor or your local dive shop as well. They very well may have other things to consider that I may have missed. Experienced divers can have strong opinions about equipment and it’s always good to hear their reasoning. Being open to new knowledge is a good thing!

Choosing a Snorkel

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 πŸ˜‰ ). 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 πŸ˜‰ ). 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 Nautilus Travel Snorkel is a traditional design made up of soft silicone. It can be rolled up and put in a pocket making it readily available if needed.

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.

Choosing a Mask

This post is aimed primarily at new divers and will be the first in a series on choosing equipment. It’s always a good idea to discuss equipment choices with your instructor. The retail staff at your local dive shop can be a big help as well. Hopefully this post will provide some things to talk about with them πŸ™‚ I’m going to share some thoughts I have about choosing a mask for diving. What to look for. What kind of choices are out there. Things to think about. Things to be aware of.

When it comes to dive gear in general, what’s most important is fit, comfort, and quality. It pays to buy quality and money spent on that will pay off in the long run. Dive equipment, in general, is built to last and as long as it’s properly cared for and serviced on a regular basis, it will give you years of service.

The first items that someone who is new to scuba diving will purchase are a mask, snorkel, fins and booties. Today we’re going to discuss masks.

Masks have come a long way from the high volume, black rubber, oval-shaped, mask that I started with back in the 70’s, but they all basically still do the same thing… They cover your eyes and nose, providing an air space so that we can see clearly underwater and equalize our ears. A mask is one of your most important purchases as a mask that is uncomfortable or a poor fit can ruin your dive.

Today’s masks come in different designs. You can get single or double lenses, side lenses, black or clear silicone. It should go without saying, but don’t buy a mask made from cheap rubber or PVC with plastic lenses. These are not suitable for scuba diving. 100% Silicone is the material of choice and lenses should be tempered glass. Choose a mask with a wide skirt (the part of the mask that seals against your face). This will create a better seal. Frames are available in a variety of colors.

Volume refers to the size of the airspace within a mask. Some will prefer the increased feeling of openness and greater peripheral vision of a high volume mask. Be aware though that these masks will require more effort to clear, especially when fully flooded. A low volume mask is easier to clear and seal to your face. I recommend staying away from purge valves. Some like them, especially for snorkeling, but I see it as a potential failure point.

Silicone is available in colored (opaque) or clear. Many divers prefer clear silicone (Some people might feel a little claustrophobic I’m told, although I’ve never experienced this myself). Someone who wants more peripheral vision can also opt for a mask with side windows. These are available in both single lens and double lens masks.

Photographers often prefer black silicone based on the theory that blocking light from the sides cuts down on glare and makes it easier to see through the viewfinder of a camera. Clear silicone can discolor over time, especially if stored with rubber. That doesn’t affect using the mask though, just the cosmetics. Both work well so it really boils down to personal preference.

Single lens masks are probably the most common and many people like them. One potential issue is that they generally have a smaller nose pocket, so fit can be an issue. If you feel any pressure at all on your nose when trying on the mask, then a double lens mask could be the solution. Double lens masks have room for a larger nose pocket. You really don’t notice the divider in the middle. No more than the divider in a pair of sunglasses. Your eyes will focus beyond that.

Then we have frameless masks. A single lens is joined directly to the silicone skirt. They are very low volume, lightweight, and flexible. This can be an excellent choice if you can find one that is a good fit.

Let me also mention a bit about coated lenses. Anti-reflective coatings are great for experienced divers. They reduce reflected light and increase transmission… what’s not to like? The problem (especially applicable to students, new divers, and instructors) is that a mirror effect resulting from the coating makes it difficult to see the eyes of the diver wearing the mask. Not being able to see the instructors eyes can be intimidating to students. Not being able to see a students eyes can be problematic for the instructor by making it more difficult to evaluate the students condition.

Now that we’ve discussed different kinds of masks, lets talk about fitting them. When looking at masks, most important is fit and comfort (also true of other gear we will talk about in future blog posts). Choose one that will fit your face and will provide a good seal without the strap. Push the mask against your face creating a vacuum. Make sure that you don’t have any of your hair breaking the seal. If the mask stays in place and no leaks are detected, then it should be a good fit. Without a good fit, the mask will leak!

While trying on the mask, once you’ve determined you have a good seal, then make sure that the mask skirt isn’t digging into your nose and feels comfortable around your upper lip and temples. Also be aware if there are any spots where you feel pressure on your nose or forehead, especially between the eyes. Make sure there is room.

Check that you are able to pinch your nose in order to equalize. If the nose pocket is too big you might have trouble. Now put the mask on fully with the strap. You should get a good fit with minimal strap pressure. Make sure the strap is sitting on crown at the back of your head and not on your ears.

The strap is there to keep the mask from being dislodged. Water pressure should be more than enough to seal the mask against your face if it’s a good fit. Tightening the strap to fix a leaking mask normally backfires and just makes the leak worse as a too-tight strap can distort the skirt!

Your mask will come with a silicone strap. You can replace this strap with a neoprene slap strap or cover that will fit over the silicone strap. You’ll find this to be more comfortable and it will virtually eliminate pulled hair.

Caring for your mask is important. Here are a few tips.

Once you’ve purchased your mask before using it the first time you will need to clean it. Agents used during the manufacturing process end up create a thin film on the lens of the mask. This causes it to fog quite easily. A paste toothpaste or liquid scrub can work. There are also products like Sea Buff, that are sold at most dive shops that will do the trick. Be sure to treat both the inside and outside of the mask lens. It may take more than one application. An old tip was to burn the film off. This is not recommended by manufactures.Β  Applying a lighter to the glass of a new mask to remove the film has been linked to weakening the lens, causing it to shatter. Using a lighter will void any warranty on the mask. Follow manufactures recommendations when it comes to cleaning.

Hold on to the mask box that your mask comes in. Rinse your mask in fresh water after use. Remember that bugs love silicone so once it’s dry put it away in its box! Keep it out of direct sunlight as much as possible. When it comes to defog a product like Sea Gold goes a long way. Some people use a solution of baby shampoo and a lot of the “old-timers” still just use spit πŸ˜‰

I hope these tips will help you find the perfect mask! Everyone has a unique face, so take your time and try on several masks. It will be time well spent.

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! I went with the current expecting to catch up with them. At one point I spied bubbles but it turned out to be another group.

Under normal circumstances when separated you would search for a minute and then surface. With the current ripping it wasn’t normal circumstances! I moved towards our normal exit point as I felt it was my best chance of locating the group. I reasoned that searching would be difficult due to the conditions and it would be best to surface in the area where the boat would expect us. Our guide knew that I was familiar with the site and I did not think he would leave the other 3 divers to look for me given the conditions. The most logical course was to head to the ascent point.

There is an old anchor embedded in the coral where we normally end the dive at. Once I made it there, I waited for a minute and when no one showed up I decided that possibly they had already surfaced and started my ascent. The safety stop is in the blue and the current was still running strong. When I surfaced there was no one to be seen around me. Then I saw a DSMB pop-up. Unfortunately for me, it was up current from where I was! I started kicking towards it. It was only a couple hundred yards but…. did I mention it was against the current? πŸ˜€ A few minutes later heads started popping up and it was the rest of the group. I’d made it to the exit point ahead of them. I was aching from fighting the surface swim back (sometimes my body reminds me that I’m almost 60!).

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 πŸ™‚

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.

Diving on New Years Day

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ ).

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” πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

I ended 2017 with a 147 dives. The first 2 dives of 2018 were in the log book! πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

I hope everyone enjoys my blog πŸ™‚ If you do, why not take the time to subscribe so you never miss a post? Just hit the button at the top of the page. It will only take a few moments πŸ™‚

Until next time!

On Becoming a Scuba Instructor

When I originally travelled to the Philippines in October 2015 I planned to travel around the country for maybe 6 months and then move on to other parts of Asia for maybe another 6 months. After that I had a tentative plan to move to Guam and use it as a base to dive Micronesia. “Life” as they say, doesn’t always work out as planned πŸ™‚

I ended up spending 18 of the next 24 months in the Philippines. I would complete over 230 dives in those 18 months (at present I’ve made around 400 dives in the Philippines). I visited and dived in Moalboal, Subic Bay, Boracay, Malapascua Island, Puerto Galera, El Nido, Dauin, Apo Island, Panglao Island, Cabilao Island, Bauan, and Anilao. A few of these places I visited multiple times (read about many of them here on my blog). Along the way I made a lot of great memories! πŸ™‚

During my time in the Philippines in addition to the occasional trip home I had the opportunity to travel to one of my dream destinations. In June 2017 I traveled to the world-famous Chuuk Lagoon! (read about it here on my blog) I booked my trip to Chuuk through Micronesia Divers Association, based in Guam. To reach Chuuk, I needed to travel through Guam and it seemed a good time to check things out and find out if moving there was something I still wanted to do.

Initially it looked like maybe Guam was going to be a bit expensive for me. The prices on everything were a bit shocking at first. It makes sense when you consider how almost everything is imported… but still! I thought maybe I could afford to live there, but there wouldn’t be a lot left over to travel as much as I like. I was going to have to think some more.

During the week I was in Chuuk I had several conversations with Jason Cunningham and Greg Snell who both worked as part-time instructors at MDA. I eventually approached Eric McClure, who is the Course Director there, who told me “no problem” if I wanted to contract with them to teach. He understood that I would do my IDC somewhere else as their program wasn’t yet approved by the Veterans Administration. I’m fortunate to have educational benefits that I earned through my military service to pay for the course. Eric is retired from the US Air Force and understood that I would want to use those benefits. By the time I left Guam I certainly had a lot of food for thought!

The truth is that for a whole lot of reasons, I’d always said that I wasn’t that interested in becoming an instructor. I just wanted to dive! I think part of my concern was that I never wanted to reach a point where I would stop enjoying diving. I was worried that if it became a “job”, that some of the fun would go out of it for me.

I let all this percolate in my brain when I went back to the Philippines. In the end I decided that life is what we make of it. As much as I enjoyed scuba diving, why not share that with others? I decided that I could teach part-time and make enough money to live in Guam while still being able to travel and dive regularly. In July I went home to Texas and while there started to do a serious search for a place to do my IDC (Instructor Development Course). I corresponded with or spoke to people in Florida, Texas, and Hawaii.

I also did some diving of course, making a weekend trip to South Texas to dive the Texas Clipper, and another trip out to Florida. I made a decision in late August to do My IDC in Hawaii. I had a couple of months to kill while I waited for the IDC to start in November, so why not go diving πŸ™‚ On September 8th I flew back to the Philippines. I flew home again the last week of October for a week. Then flew to Hawaii. I arrived in Hawaii on October 31st.Β I initially stayed at a hostel. By the end of the week I’d found a studio apartment in Waikiki and purchased a used vehicle to drive for the 3 months I planned to be in Hawaii. I reasoned that I could sell the vehicle when I left and recoup some of my money at least and this would be much cheaper than renting a vehicle. Renting from one of the “Rent-a-Wreck” places was going to cost me over $2K! I bought a used 95 Toyota RAV4 for $1200 with the opportunity to recoup all, or at least a good chunk of it. Much better! My IDC officially started on November 6th.

The IDC I eventually chose was with Dive Oahu which is based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham. Training was primarily with Course Director Scott Wilson with assistance from Course Director Brian Mara and Master Instructor Joshua Childress. Chris Massie who was doing his IDC Staff course was a big help also.Β Unsurprisingly, since I’d done my Divemaster in 2009 and had never worked as a Divemaster I was pretty rusty πŸ™‚ Obviously not when it came to diving, but when it came to “demonstration” quality skills (trust me it’s a LOT different than just doing it) I definitely needed to brush up! I also was quite rusty on Dive Theory so I spent a lot of time over the next several weeks reviewing that.

One thing I discovered the first night in the pool was in spite of what people might think… it gets COLD in Hawaii! With temperatures in the 70’s in the evening, after 4 hours in the water I discovered I did not have enough exposure protection! For a typical 1 hour dive I would have been fine, but water is a very good conductor of heat and I was shivering long before the end of the first pool session! I’d brought what I normally wear for diving in the tropics/semi-tropics. This gave me the equivalent of 2 1/2 mm from the waist down, my arms, shoulders and upper chest, and 5mm for remainder of my torso. After another 4 hour pool session and an open water training dive that approached 5 hours in the water I decided enough was enough! Less than a week after starting my course I bought a 5mm wetsuit. After the next pool session I was more than happy I did as it proved to be more than adequate πŸ™‚

Over the next 5 1/2 weeks we drilled and practiced in the pool, in open water, and in the classroom. We did classroom work in dive theory which included physics, physiology, dive equipment, decompression theory, diving environment, and dive skills. In the pool we learned not only how to demonstrate and teach, but also how to catch problems and mitigate risks when teaching students underwater.

The focus of the IDC is really on teaching and in every classroom session, pool session, and open water session we would be given assignments to teach. Scott and Brian proved to be tough graders and after every presentation we would receive constructive criticism and feedback on ways to improve. They would always start off with what we did well, but we knew the rest was coming πŸ™‚ The result was constant improvement as we moved through the course. I have to say that it was work. Some of it I enjoyed, but not all it was fun πŸ™‚ In the end though, it would payoff!

Classroom and Pool sessions were held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam which I could make in 20-25 minutes depending on traffic. If I left too late it could take an hour or more during rush hour! Open water training was conducted either at Kaka’ako Beach Park (known locally as Point Panic) which is near Waikiki, or Kahe Point Beach Park, (locally called Electric Beach because of it’s proximity to a power plant). Since I’m staying in Waikiki Point Panic is quite convenient for me. Electric Beach takes about 35 minutes for me to drive too from Waikiki (early morning no traffic)

The first 3 weeks are actually the PADI Assistant Instructor course. We finished this up on November 26th. In addition to Assistant Instructor we were also certified as Peak Performance Buoyancy Instructors, Project Aware Instructors, and as AWARE Coral Conservation Specialty Instructors.

The Open Water Scuba Instructor portion started on November 27th and was officially over on December 15th. Our Instructor Exam took place over two days, December 16th and 17th. All the hard work paid off in the end. Preparation is key in many things and passing the PADI Instructor Exam is no exception.

The exam was held at a local high school which also had a swimming pool for the pool/confined water portion of the exam. The classroom had a number of tables with two chairs at each. Brian Phillips, one of my classmates in the IDC and I sat together. Scott Wilson our Course Director was there also to assist, along with Course Directors from other dive operations. Course Directors were not directly involved with their own students though. Ross Neil, the examiner from PADI, gave a briefing on how the exam would proceed over the next 2 days. First would be written tests on PADI Standards and Practices. Then another written test on Dive Theory. After finishing the written exams, we would have a break to prepare knowledge presentations. The “classroom” part of teaching. This would be followed by another break while we got ready to teach our confined water/pool assignment. We also had to demonstrate skills. That would be the first day. The second day we would meet at E-Beach where we would teach open water skills and perform rescue skills for grade.

I think one of the things that candidates stress over is that they don’t know what they are going to be required to teach until the day of the exam. You have to literally be prepared to teach anything that your certification qualifies you to teach! Preparation really is key when it comes to passing the exam. When we received our assignments Brian and I looked at each other, chuckled and said “no problem”! In the end all the preparation we’d received from our instructors at Dive Oahu paid off! We all pretty much breezed through the I.E. πŸ™‚

After completing the I.E. we completed Emergency First Response (CPR/First Aid) Instructor (a requirement for OWSI), and Care for Children w/AED Instructor with Brian Mara as the primary instructor with assistance from Scott.
PADI approved these along with my OWSI on December 21st.

The week between Christmas and New Years I worked with Brian Mara to complete requirements to be certified as an instructor in PADI specialties Digital Underwater Photographer, Project Aware Dive Against Debris, Self-Reliant Diver, DPV (Dive Propulsion Vehicles), and Equipment Specialist.Β Four of these courses required dives and I completed these over 2 days, December 30th and 31st

Obviously, I wanted to be able to teach underwater photography πŸ™‚ That was a natural specialty for me to choose to teach. There is some controversy about diving solo, but underwater photographers often feel like they’re diving solo anyway! Why not learn to do it safely. Hence, Self-Reliant. Project Aware is an organization that is doing great work in promoting protection of our marine environment. One of their projects is “Dive Against Debris” and it’s a very concrete way that we as divers can help improve our environment. DPV just looked like it would be fun (it was) and there are some practical applications in using them I found.

Here are a few shots taken for my instructor course for Digital Underwater Photography.

I’m currently working on the Master Scuba Diver Trainer Program which will certify me to teach an additional 10 specialties.Β  These include Boat Diver, Deep Diver, Drift Diver, Emergency Oxygen Provider, Enriched Air Diver, Night Diver, Search and Recovery, Shore, Underwater Navigation, and Wreck Diver.Β  We are scheduled to complete this program on January 28th.

I expect to be very busy the remainder of the month, but I will try to sneak a blog post in here and there when I have time πŸ™‚ Next time I plan to write about one of the great wrecks to dive on here in Hawaii, the YO-257.

Until next time πŸ™‚

Short visit to Puerto Galera

I arrived in Puerto Galera on September 27th and stayed until October 2nd.Β  Β I took my gear and dropped it off at Frontier Scuba. I’ve dived with Frontier my last 3 visits to Puerto Galera now.Β  This trip I stayed at AAA Hotel.Condo.Apartment.Β  I had a small studio and the rate was reasonable. I took the 28th off. I decided to just spend a few days in Puerto Galera as I’d just been there 6 months earlier.

I did 2 dives a day on the 29th, 30th, and October 1st. The first day I dived West Escarceo and Monkey Beach. On the 30th I dived Dungon Beach and Sabang Point. Finally on October 1st I dived West Escarceo once again and finished up with Sabang Wrecks.

As with my previous blog post about my last visit to Anilao, I’m going to add photos here and let them do the “talking” πŸ˜‰ For further information about diving in Puerto Galera I will refer y’all to my earlier blog posts from my previous visits there. Just type “Puerto Galera” in the Search box at the upper right hand corner of the page.

On October 2nd, I left Puerto Galera and headed back to Subic, where I often spend time when I’m not diving. I flew home to Texas October 22nd. After a week at home I flew to Hawaii arriving on October 31st. I started my IDC on November 6th. Those of you who follow me on Facebook may already have seen a few photos πŸ™‚ I’ll be writing a bit about the IDC in my next blog post πŸ™‚

Return to Anilao

So to start, even though I visited Anilao back in late September, I got a bit side-tracked.Β  Easy for me to do I know πŸ˜€ Β  I’ve been in Hawaii for over 2 months now.Β  This is really late so I’m going to keep it short… besides it’s photo’s I think everyone wants to see anyway πŸ˜‰

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. Β  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. Β  Prices are reasonable and I like the people there.Β  I tend to keep going back when I like a place πŸ™‚

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.Β  On the 25th we dived Secret Garden, Suntree, and El Pinoy.Β  On the 26th Secret Bay, Coral Garden, and Secret Garden again.Β  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 πŸ™‚ Β  I am VERY far behind right now! πŸ™‚ For more information about ASDC and Anilao I’ll refer you to my previous blog posts.Β  Β Anilao Part OneΒ Anilao 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 πŸ™‚

Bauan Divers Sanctuary

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 πŸ˜‰ ) 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! πŸ˜€

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 πŸ™‚ 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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Diving Subic Bay with Arizona Dive Resort

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

Giant Frogfish (Antennarius commerson) photographed at Beer Barrels in Subic Bay, Philippines.

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.

Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus) photographed on “The Barges” in Subic Bay, Philippines.

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!

Longfin Batfish (Platax teira) photographed on the the LST wreck in Subic Bay, Philippines.

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.

Hypselodoris tryoni photographed on the wreck of the San Quentin, Subic Bay, Philippines.

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.

Coral grouper near the nose of the Skyraider which is overgrown in places with coral and crinoids.

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 πŸ™‚ Water temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit and visibility was only about 20 feet.

Instruments still clearly visible inside the cockpit of the Douglas A1 Skyraider.

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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