I flew back to the United States from the Philippines on October 22nd. On the 24th I had an ultrasound on my heart and I met with my cardiologist on October 26th to go over the results of the ultrasound. (For those who may be new to my blog I had a heart attack last year… you can read about my journey back to diving in the archives) I continue to improve and the good news is that my heart function is back within the normal range. I have some minor valve leakage which he is not concerned about. He’s cleared me to start exercising again so maybe I can start dropping some of the weight I’ve gained now!
I’ve decided to go back to work after being “retired” for 3 years. I need to supplement my income a bit to feed my scuba addiction ? (will teaching scuba diving qualify as “work”? ?) I’m in Hawaii now where I’ll be for about 2 1/2 months. (those of you who follow my Facebook page already know I’m here). I’ll be attending my IDC, EFR Instructor, and MSDT courses with Dive Oahu.
The tentative plan after Hawaii (plans are always subject to change) is 2 months in the Philippines. I’m guiding a couple of buddies on a dive trip around the Philippines in February. In April I should be heading to Guam where I’m planning to teach scuba diving and spending at least a year. It’s a good location. Guam is less than 4 hours from one of my favorite dive destinations (Philippines), and part of the world-class diving of Micronesia! What’s not to like?
I had the usual distractions when I was home taking care of business and visiting family and friends so as usual I’m a bit behind but there are no deadlines other than self-imposed ones 😀 My next blog post will be on Anilao, then I have another short one on my second visit to Puerto Galera this year. It’s coming up soon so stay tuned!
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!
I left the Philippines on July 12th for home in Texas. I travel almost constantly now so it’s nice get home from time to time to visit friends and family!
I also planned to dive while I’m in the US of course. It might surprise some people to know that up until a week and a half ago, I’d never dived in my home state of Texas! I decided during this trip home that I needed to rectify that!
I’d often thought about diving the Texas Clipper since I became aware of it as a dive destination a few years ago. Of course as those of you who follow my blog know, I’ve dived almost exclusively in the Philippines the last few years. Now I decided, was a good time to do some diving here in the US.
The Texas Clipper was originally christened the USS Queens (APA-103). A Windsor class attack transport ship named after the the borough of Queens in New York City. She is 473 feet long and over 7000 tons. She served with the US Navy during WW II. She was built and commissioned in 1944. After the war she was sold to American Export Lines in 1948 and renamed Excambion. For the next 11 years she sailed a regular route from New York to ports in the Mediterranean carrying passengers and cargo. In 1959 she was returned to the Maritime Administration under a trade-in program. Consequently she was laid up as a part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet from 1959 to 1965 when she was loaned to the Texas Maritime Academy as a merchant marine officer training ship. She filled this role for the next 30 years. After that she was returned to the National Defense Reserve Fleet and moored in Beaumont, Texas until 2006 when she was transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Artificial Reef Program.
The Texas Clipper was docked at the Port of Brownsville, Texas where $4 million dollars was spent in preparing her for sinking. The ship underwent a cleanup of hazardous materials and openings and modifications were made in order to make it safer for divers and wildlife. Masts and kingposts were cut to meet Coast Guard Clearance requirements and secured to the deck. She was sunk in a 136 feet of water on November 17, 2007, approximately 17 miles northeast of South Padre Island. Unfortunately she tipped over on her side when she contacted the bottom. The shallowest part of the wreck is at 70 feet.
The week after I got home I contacted American Diving in South Padre Island about diving her. They run regular trips on the weekends during the summer. A two tank dive trip is $175. I opted for 32% Nitrox as it’s a very square profile. That was $10 dollars per tank.
From where I stay near Houston to South Padre Island is almost 300 miles and a 6-7 hour drive depending on traffic. I could have flown to many top dive destinations in the Caribbean in much less time than it took to drive there! Yes Texas is big! I booked for July 29th. Because it’s 17 miles out, showtime was 6 AM. This meant going down the day before and getting a hotel room. I opted to stay in Port Isabel, which is just across the bridge from South Padre Island. My brother Benny came along for the ride.
We were up early and arrived just a few minutes before the 6 AM showtime. After the usual paperwork and paying, I was directed to where my tanks were waiting near the dock. Once there I was directed to pick a tank and get it setup. They had a meter ready so I could check the oxygen content which was 31.9%. After my tank was set up I went to work on my camera setup. I have a new Nikon D500 with an Ikelite housing and this would be my first dives with the new camera setup. I decided to just shoot with a single light on top of the housing and leave the strobes. I put all the gear that was going with me on the boat in my boat bag and the rest went in the vehicle. My brother went back to the hotel and would meet me later.
Captain Tim O’Leary who is the President of American Diving gave a very thorough dive briefing. He talked a bit about the history of the wreck, procedures on the boat, and do’s and don’t on the wreck. Those of us who were without buddy’s were buddy’d with someone. I was buddy’d with Mark Park, who like me it turned out lived near Houston. We were both diving Nitrox. There was a big drawing of the wreck on the cyclone fence that ran alongside the staging area to the dock with picnic tables set up in front that Captain Tim referred to during his brief. There were numbers along the fence underneath the sign. Everyone was assigned a number and our tanks which we had setup were placed in order near the number on fence. Once everyone had a number and the gear was in order, the crew moved them onto the boat. We grabbed our bags and went aboard.
We were underway about 7:15 AM. Mark and I initially rode inside. While we were sitting and chatting a crew member passed out breakfast burritos to everyone and they were quite tasty. There was a cooler full of drinks that you could help yourself, but members of the crew circulated around passing out bottles of water. After eating we decided to go up on deck and sat at the bow and chatted while taking in the scenery. There were fishing boats out, both private and commercial and of course there were off-shore oil rigs as well. We arrived on site around 8:45 so about an hour and a half or so.
A divemaster went into the water to check conditions and reported mild current and good visibility! Our tanks and equipment made the ride out strapped on the roof of the crew compartment on the boat. Everything was very organized and we went in numerical order. Theoretically that meant we would get out in numerical order also. When it was our turn we stepped through the rear door of the passenger compartment and descended steps to platform. There we would don our gear with assistance from the crew and then when we were ready just roll forward into the water. There was a trail line running from the stern and a current line from the stern to the mooring line, which we used to descend.
Because there was a bit of current the best way is which ever of the buddy team is ready first, to wait on the trail line, then when both are ready pull yourself hand over hand to the current line and then do the same till reaching the mooring line. Then use the mooring line to pull ourselves down to the wreck. This is the easiest physically and saves energy (and air) for the dive.
My first dive started at 9:11 AM. The water was quite clear. Easily 50-60 feet. Water temperature was a bit cooler than what I’ve been used to in the tropics at 75 degrees Fahrenheit but still no problem since I was wearing a farmer john with a top. The farmer john is a 4th Element Thermocline which is neutrally buoyant. I had just purchased a Sharkskin top which is also neutrally buoyant. They’re each equivalent to about 2.5 mm so I had the equivalent of 5 mm neoprene in the torso area, without the buoyancy. What this means for me is no weight belt! 🙂
We hit the side of the hull at around 70 feet. There were plenty of fish around, spadefish, chub, sergeant-major, grouper, hogfish, schools of jacks, and barracuda as well. Even some tiny damselfish. There is coral growing on the ship. After seeing what the wrecks in Chuuk look like after several decades I can imagine what the Texas Clipper will look like in the future!
There is one area for a limited penetration that used to be the Promenade deck that has many openings out so it’s very safe. Mark and I made our way through and out and made our towards the centerline of the ship, which as mentioned before is laying on it’s side. Maximum depth was 91 feet for this dive. Dive time was 23 minutes. The short dive time wasn’t because of air but because even with Nitrox with such a square profile we run into no-decompression limits. I hit the surface with a 100 bar (roughly 1500 psi). All in all a very nice dive.
At the surface they throw you a line. You remove your fins and they pull you in. Hand your fin’s up, then climb out and they assist you in taking off your gear. They even took my camera and put it in the camera rinse tank for me (yes there is a separate tank and they were very clear during the brief that NOTHING except cameras went in).
After a surface interval it was time for the second dive and the previous procedures just repeated themselves. The second dive started at 10:44 AM. More of the same, except this time we went forward towards the bow of the ship. We had one spearfisherman on the boat with us and he speared a lionfish near the beginning of the dive. For my friends on the SE Asia side of the world, lionfish or a real problem in the Caribbean. They are not native to the this side of the world and they can wipe out native species on a reef very quickly. Many programs have been formulated to try and keep them in check including actively spearing them. Lionfish, it turns out, is actually quite tasty! This was another nice dive. Maximum depth this time was 87 feet and the dive was 24 minutes. I again had half a tank when I hit the surface.
Back at the dock there were rinse tanks set up for us to rinse our gear. We said our goodbyes to new friends and exchanged email addresses. My brother was waiting. We loaded my gear into his vehicle and stopped by the shop to buy a souvenir shirt before heading home. All in all an enjoyable experience. I’m sure I’ll do this dive again!
So surprisingly I’m all caught up now! Tomorrow morning I have a doctors appointment and then I’ll be headed to Florida. On Friday I’ll be diving the USS Oriskany sunk off Pensacola so stay tuned. I’m going to work harder on staying caught up now… I hope!
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We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts for a short announcement… 🙂
Just got home to Texas yesterday…. I was gone 7 1/2 months this time. To sum up (for those who are new and aren’t following my blog yet 😉 ), I missed over 3 month’s of diving because of the heart attack in November, but have made up for it a bit after I was cleared to dive again in March.
This trip I made 91 dives between March 10th (my cardiologist cleared me to dive on the 8th) and June 26th. In the Philippines I did 80 dives split between Puerto Galera, Subic Bay, Moalboal, Malapascua Island (I went there twice), Leyte, Panglao Island (Bohol), Dauin/Dumaguete, Apo Island, Anilao, and El Nido. I also made a side trip to Micronesia where I dived Chuuk Lagoon, making 21 dives in 5 days there.
As I mentioned you can read about a lot of this here in my blog. I’m working on Chuuk now and will write about El Nido after that. I have a few things to take care of while I’m home but I will be getting back to writing again in the next couple of days (someday I’m going to catch up my blog ?).
Although I was cleared to dive back in March, my cardiologist did caution me I wasn’t completely recovered (even though I’d met the standard set by DAN to dive)….. but she also said that she’d never had a patient recover as much as I had in such a short period 🙂 (so thanks to all my friends and family who thought good thoughts and said prayers for me!).
I’ll be meeting with a cardiologist here in the US next week. I’m expecting more tests and hopefully he’s going to OK me to continue diving. I have no reason at this point not to believe that will be case, but I’m being cautious 🙂
I hope to do some diving here in Texas and if that happens I’ll be writing about that of course. Also as soon as my doctor here confirms that I’m still okay to dive I plan to schedule my IDC and finally become an instructor (after being certified over 35 years ago and being a Divemaster for almost 8 years maybe it’s about time? 🙂 ).
If all goes as planned I expect to be returning to the Philippines in September. I’ve made many friends in the Philippines over the last 10 years that I’ve been diving there. I originally met many of them through the Philippine Paradise Divers sub-forum at https://www.scubaboard.com/ Recently a few of us were chatting about the fact that although we’d known each other for years, and met in person several times since meeting online, we’d yet to dive together! The group used to get together when members from other countries would show up in the Philippines. Sometimes DOR’s (Dive-O-Rama’s) would be organized. We’re tentatively planning now to put something together for mid-September. Stay tuned as I will do a blog post on that. If you are in the Philippines or think you might like to attend message me. I know they are having some discussions about where to have it now. Anilao is the easiest for most, but there are other destinations that are being discussed also. When we start nailing it down I will let everyone know. We’d like to do it the first weekend that I’m back in the Philippines. I have a tentative plan to fly back around September 12th, but that will be dependent on my cardiologist, when I do my IDC, and of course when I can get a good deal on airfare.
After the Dive-O-Rama I will be going to Dauin near Dumaguete for a few weeks to do some photography for my friend Mark Gormley. He is opening a new dive resort right on the beach in front of the Dauin Marine Sanctuary! Can’t ask for a better location than that! I’ll be writing about it in my blog so stay tuned for that. I’m pretty excited at the opportunity to really explore Dauin in depth!
After Dauin I’ll be leaving the Philippines again and headed to Guam where I expect to spend at least a year. Guam has decent scuba diving itself and I plan to teach scuba diving while I’m there (the reason I’m going to do my IDC while I’m home). I decided a bit of extra income to supplement my retirement will allow me to do more trips. My other reason for going there is a simple one… one of the biggest drawback to diving Micronesia for most people is cost of airfare. I plan to take advantage of the money I will save in airfare, by living 7,000 miles closer, along with the extra income available to me for teaching, to make multiple dive trips around Micronesia! So stay tuned for more stories of underwater adventures!
We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog 🙂 Next up will be diving the world famous Chuuk Lagoon!
I had an unexpected family issue come up and flew back to the US last week. My brother flew with me and we’re home in Texas now. Nothing life-threatening, just something that required our attention. Like brothers in other families I suspect, we get along pretty well except for the occasional times we want to kill each other 🙂 Most of the time though he’s one of my favorite people to hang out with 😉
This trip instead of renting a car like I did the last time I came home in May I opted to take my Harley Davidson out of storage and ride it instead. Probably should have done that last time :)) It’s been in storage for over a year. It ended up needing a new battery. The battery on a V-Rod is a pain to replace as we had to remove the air-breather to get to it, but my brother and I got it done. Then I had to purchase insurance, get it inspected, and re-register the bike. In all I probably spent about $220 bucks, but still a lot cheaper than renting a car for a month or longer!
I expect to be here about 4-6 weeks all together. During my last week in Puerto Galera my Hollis DG-03 Dive Computer malfunctioned. It didn’t want to surface from a dive! I understand not wanting to come up, but unlike my dive computer I don’t have a choice when the air in my tank runs low :)) The computer was locking up at 3 feet. I managed to get it to clear a few times, but it kept doing it again so I broke down and borrowed a dive computer from Rick.
I contacted the folks at Hollis this week and explained the problem and it’s been sent back to the factory for service. Since it’s less than two years old it will be covered under warranty so my only expense was postage to the factory. Surprisingly, they expect only a 10 day turnaround so I’m quite happy about that!
My Dive Rite RG-3500 regulators happened to be due for service also. With over a 100 dives in the Philippines in the last year, it seemed like a good time to get that taken care of as well. I’ve owned these regulators since 2009 and although they’ve been discontinued, they continue to give me good service! My setup consists of a RG3500 1st Stage and two RG-3500 2nd Stages. I use miflex hoses, with my primary on a 5 foot hose and my secondary on a short hose I wear on a necklace. I’ll be dropping them off at Sea Sports Scuba in Cypress, Texas which is about a half hour from where I’m staying with family while I’m in Texas. They estimated about a 2 week turnaround. Parts have to be ordered.
I dive an Oxycheq Mach V Extreme Wing on a Dive Rite SS back plate. This is basically a wreck diving setup. I’m Wreck and Cavern certified and was thinking at the time I bought the gear that I might get into Tech Diving. I’ve since chosen not too as I don’t think it’s something I would do often enough to justify the expense. Who knows though, I still might do it at some point. In the meantime, it’s still a good setup for the limited penetrations I do and I like the streamlined feel of it 🙂
The bladder developed a leak which I noticed in Puerto Galera. The wing is over 7 years old with 100’s of dives on it. I initially thought about replacing the bladder as the best option, but instead I’m going to try patching it with AquaSeal. The bladder isn’t ripped or torn (difficult to do with the Extreme Wing because of the Armored Extreme Explorer Fabric used for the outer shell) It’s very tough and was a big reason why I chose the this particular wing. It’s just a pinhole leak so it should be fine I think with AquaSeal.
No reason not to take care of some diving related stuff while I’m here 🙂 I’m hoping to be out of here and on my way back to the Philippines by the 1st week of November. I’ll keep you all posted!