CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “Scuba diving”

It Was a Good Day to Dive

Beth and I have been jointly dealing with difficult circumstances affecting our lives for quite a while. Little spots of joy here and there, but gloom and woe for the most part.

But yesterday. Yesterday was the best day we have had in a very long time. We talk frequently about our individual and joint love of scuba diving, and how we are really taken with the sport. In addition to other factors (and at least partly because of them) this year has been rough for diving, and I think we have less than a dozen dives each for the year. That is a pretty low number for us. In comparison, I had twenty-nine dives at this time last year.

Earlier this year, we had scheduled the only dive vacation we will be able to take in 2014, and were looking forward to the trip to North Carolina to dive with Olympus Dive Center in Morehead City (http://www.olympusdiving.com/). We first dived there last July, and really anticipated going back this year. All of the dives are shipwrecks, with several being sunk in World War II. I think two of those ships were sunk by German U-boats, and one actually is a U-boat (the U-352) sunk by a Coast Guard Cutter. Nearly all of the Olympus dives are around one-hundred feet deep, and in preparation this year, Beth and I felt we needed to get in a few dives beforehand. We planned to dive several times the week before we were to leave, but a kidney stone sidelined me. Beth buddied up with other divers, and got a couple in, so at least she was a bit prepared. Also in preparation, we had chartered a two-tank dive on Lake Erie just a few days before the North Carolina trip, but Lake Erie waves forced the Captain to call the dive (good call on his part). We travelled to North Carolina, and had a great time, but the previously chartered Lake Erie dives had not been realized. Yesterday was the makeup date.

We chartered with Lake Erie Adventure Charters, under Capt. Pete Schaefer (http://scubaerie.com/page/charters) and his crewman, Michael Moulton. They make a good team, running charters on Lake Erie through most of the summer. In addition to being able seamen, both are also NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) Divemasters, certified through Diver’s World in Erie, PA (http://scubaerie.com/). Beth and I have known them for several years, and we share a deep and abiding love for the underwater world.

Matt Mead is a NAUI Instructor for Diver’s World, and Beth and I are NAUI Training Assistants that work with Matt, and Tuesday night we finished up the latest basic Scuba Diver class at Diver’s World. Regarding the charter, what this meant was that there was no way any of the three of us could get to bed early, (Matt was assigned to work the charter by Diver’s World) and so we three found ourselves somewhat deprived of sleep for the planned Wednesday charter. No worries, that’s what coffee is for. And coffee up I did.

Earlier weather reports were not promising, but the day turned out to be very pleasant, if a bit cool. Having loaded up the car on Tuesday, Beth and I staggered out of bed and got breakfast, coffee, and about a gallon of water (remember the kidney stones I mentioned earlier? Water is my friend, both to prevent the stupid little calcium oxalate rocks that plague me, and to hydrate from scuba) to go. We jumped in the car and got on the road around 7:00 AM, arrived at Lampe Marina in Erie, PA and downloaded the car. Five of us were there for the charter; myself, Beth, Matt Mead, Steve W., and Tom K. After we met up with Capt. Pete, we all loaded our gear on Pete’s boat, the For Pete’s Sake, and got on the lake, heading for the day’s diving.

As with many lake and ocean dives, weather and water conditions are often deciding factors on what sites and wrecks one can dive. Yesterday, the conditions were great, so we headed out to dive the Dean Richmond and the Indiana, both extremely cool (but relatively deep) wrecks.

Although an Advanced Diver Certification gives the basic knowledge needed for recreational deep diving, I would personally recommend that folks interested in deep diving also seek a NAUI Deep Specialty certification. Honestly, the “danger factor” isn’t that much greater at depth, but the skill set and knowledge gained from a Deep Specialty certification are invaluable. And although the deep wrecks off the North Carolina coast are in relatively warm water (in the mid-70 degrees), Lake Erie wrecks are not. Understanding how to dive deep, and how to anticipate the diving conditions and equipment needed can make all the difference in the world.

We arrived at the first dive site of the day, and assembled our gear as quickly as we could. In cold waters, Beth wears a “semi-dry” 7mm wetsuit with attached hood, 7 mm gloves, wool socks and 7mm boots. I wear a 7mm one-piece wetsuit, 7mm core warmer (front zip, sleeveless, covers from mid-thigh up) with attached hood, 7mm gloves, wool socks, and 7mm boots. This effectively gives me 14 mm of neoprene over my trunk, and believe me, this is highly welcome in cold water. After getting into our thermal protection, we finished gearing up and got into the water. Swimming to the anchor line, we vented the air from our buoyancy compensators and dropped under the water.

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, and the waters are usually relatively warm. At least on the surface. As we followed the anchor line down, I watched the temps; 73 degrees on the surface, 54 degrees in the thermocline, and 41 degrees on the bottom. The thermocline, by the way, is kind of a dividing layer of water, separating the warmer surface waters from the colder bottom waters. The warmer waters are usually pretty cloudy, and visibility (known to divers as “viz”) relatively poor. Yesterday the viz was probably ten to twelve feet or so higher in the water column, which is fairly standard. Beth and I are comfortable and confident in viz like this, so it was hardly even noticeable. But when we entered the thermocline, it caught my attention, and it was pretty neat. The thermocline is often kind of “shimmery,” like looking into the distance on a hot summer day. Plus the water temp takes a sharp downturn.

We dropped through the thermocline into 41 degree water, and it took my breath away. Not because of the water temps, although that was a bit of a wake up, but because of this dive’s first glimpse of the Dean Richmond.

The “Dean” is a 238′ wooden steamer, located about eleven and a half miles off shore, nearly due north of Harborcreek, PA (see its location here on Google Maps). On October 15, 1893, she sank in a bad storm, taking eighteen men and one woman to their watery grave. She rests today, upside down, in 110′ of water. One screw was removed by salvagers in 1983, but the second screw is still attached to the shaft. To Beth and me, the Dean inspires awe each time we visit.

This is our third dive on the Dean, first diving her in 2011, and each time we go back it is the same. When I touch the thick planks, I realize I am touching history. Very few similar ships exist today, and the few that do are usually museums or memorials. To see such a sight, and to touch her is amazing. I have only found a few places that in my experience feel the same.

Have you ever visited Gettysburg? Or perhaps another similar war memorial? Or simply think of a cemetery. For me, visiting underwater wrecks is like standing on hallowed ground. I think of the purpose of the ship. Men and women sailed on her. Cargo was loaded on, in anticipation of profits from the selling at the port of destination. Perhaps folks booked passage, looking for a new life or continued business at the other end. In our dives in the Atlantic Ocean, some of the wrecks were crewed by men caught up in a global struggle, seeking the enemy to sink or destroy. Some are purposely sunk as artificial reefs in an effort to create a man-made habitat for marine life, including corals, fish, and invertebrates. However, in each case, I have the opportunity to physically touch a piece of history that probably 99 percent of the world’s population have no way of ever seeing. As I said, awe-inspiring. I count it as a privilege each and every dive, and it is not one that I take lightly.

We spent about twenty minutes on the Dean, swimming from stern to bow and back. As I do on each wreck dive, I found a convenient spot, and brushed away the algae and muck from one of the thick planks and touched her. Simply touched her. This ship sailed the Great Lakes with hopes and dreams, cargo and people. And those people were lost in a storm in 1893. I thought of the grim determination of those sailors on that cold October Sunday, the desperation, and ultimately the despair and terror as they realized they would never see their homes and families again. I wondered at their stories, what they could tell me of the lives they had led, their triumphs and dreams, their regrets, their loves.

Beth and I returned to the anchor line, and began our ascent. Having descended to about 96′, we stopped at the half-way point at around 45′ for our first safety stop (safety stops are necessary to “off-gas,” allowing accumulated nitrogen to dissipate out of our tissues and blood to prevent the “bends.”). After we hovered for four or five minutes, we again began ascending, stopping for our second safety stop at fifteen feet for 3-5 minutes. At both stops, I thought about the dive, and what an amazing time that was. And I looked at Beth, and just watched her eyes for a while. Those eyes. They captivated me when we met at Behrend College, and they captivate me still.

After our fifteen foot stop, we ascended to the surface, boarded the boat, and shed our gear. Capt. Pete and Mike raised anchor, and we travelled to our second dive site, the Indiana.

The Indiana is a 137′ three-masted wooden sailing ship (technically a barkentine), located just a short distance west of the Dean (see its location here on Google maps). Carrying paving stones from Buffalo, NY, she encountered a storm and sunk in 90′ of water on September 24, 1870. Fortunately, the crew had enough notice that they were able to abandon ship prior to her sinking at 10:00 PM. No hands were lost. She rests right-side up, with her holds open.

After a Surface Interval (also needed to prevent nitrogen-caused injury) of a bit over an hour, Beth and I again geared up, stepped off the dive deck, and into Lake Erie. We swam to the anchor line, repeating our descent of a couple of hours earlier. We again dropped through the thermocline, and onto the Indiana. What a beautiful wreck. I simply cannot describe the beauty of touching such an amazing vessel. Her fore and aft mast heads are still intact, with the masts lying across her decks, or in the sand. We were both a bit saddened at the deterioration evidenced since our last dive on her, probably due to storms and ice. She has collapsed some, and many of the paving stones have broken. But still beautiful. I again cleared the algae and muck from one of her deck planks and just touched her. Rigging was clearly visible, as were belaying pins, deadeyes (block and tackle for raising the sails), and railing. As on the Dean, the viz was astounding, and the dive unbelievable.

Unfortunately, one of the downsides of diving cold water in wetsuits is that the cold just seeps in and doesn’t dissipate as quickly as one would wish. After diving the Dean, Beth and I chilled faster on the Indiana, and only spent about sixteen minutes on her. Fortunately she is a bit smaller, so we actually made two circuits on her, stern to bow and back twice. We got to the anchor line and did an ascent pretty much identical to our earlier ascent (again those eyes!), and boarded our charter. Side note: it’s amazing how nice 58 degree water feels after just a few minutes in 41 degree water. My hands were kind of numb, and I needed the able assistance of Mike to unhook my pony bottle (a separate, redundant air supply taken on deep dives in the event the diver carrying it or a fellow diver has unwelcome complications with their primary air tank) and gearing down, but elation! What amazing dives. The seven of us stripped off our dive gear (Beth was much more modest than the rest of us, changing in the head while the males just mostly ripped off our wetsuits (or drysuit, as the case might be) without regard to anyone else’s sensibilities, dried off and got into our “regular” clothes.

As Capt. Pete motored back to Lampe, the conversation never stopped, all of us excitedly talking about the day’s dives, and throwing the occasional insult at each other, laughing and loving every minute of the day. Beth and I could not have been more pleased with our time on the For Pete’s Sake, and underwater on the Dean and the Indiana. Best dive day we have had, beginning to end, in a very long time. Camaraderie, excellent weather, and amazing dives. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Special thanks to:  Diver’s World of Erie, PA; Lake Erie Adventure Charters; Erie Wrecks East by Georgann and Michael Wachter.

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I used to LIKE roller coasters.

As usual, life has been difficult. I suppose I should understand that to be the norm, but somehow it often seems to catch me by surprise.

Part of the problem is that ever since I was a little boy, I have recognized fairness as a desired quality. My mother used to tell me that I would come home from school upset when someone suffered some unfairness. And though I tried to train my daughters to not expect life to be fair I didn’t, in the core of me, believe it. I still expect life to be fair, even though I know intellectually that it just ain’t so. Can you spell “conflict?”

I should probably make it clear that I am not complaining here. This is just a list of observations and my experiences.

We have a new President at Edinboro University. And any time there is a change like that, be it a new CEO at a corporation, a new pastor at church, or a new president at an institution of higher education, there are changes made and change should be expected. New priorities, new directions, new expectations both written and just understood. That is not to say that the process is easy. There will always be a state of flux until the water stops sloshing and reaches equilibrium (I have no idea how I could have mixed any more metaphors in this sentence). And easy it has not been.

Although my position is rather large and rather important, I am still middle management. And middle management is always getting pounded. Again, not a complaint. I recognized this fact coming in, and it is just a reality.

So work has been difficult. In addition to my normal (rather hefty plate of) responsibilities, I have had a shift in priorities and expectations. This is never easy for me. I like routine. I am comfortable with having the same tasks and expectations. Example: every morning my wife fixes me a breakfast burrito to eat in the car on the way to work. Variations on that are fine, but I am perfectly content to have the same thing every day.

I went on vacation this year from April 6 through April 15. Beth and I scheduled with our local scuba store to go to Little Cayman for a week of Caribbean diving, sun, and relaxation. Didn’t work out quite like that. Well, I need to clarify that. The diving and the sun were fantastic. Healthy reefs, coral, plenty of beautiful fish. We saw a lot of “old friends,” and a lot of “new friends,” too. I only saw one drum fish, and not one secretary blenny or flamingo tongue slug. However, we saw at least one queen triggerfish on every dive we did! Very cool. The weather was nearly perfect; hot and sunny, every single day. The resort, amazing. Great accommodations. Each of us had our own rooms, so there was no sharing of a suite. Nice. And the food! As I understand it, they have a gourmet chef, so breakfast, lunch and dinner were unbelievable. Two free drinks per day were included as well. Considering that is about my max, and Beth doesn’t drink, they didn’t lose a lot of money on us with that, but it was a great perk. And the company was fantastic. Great people to dive with and hang out with. If you ever want to go to Little Cayman, you could not do better than Little Cayman Beach Resort.

Normally, and this year was no different, I kind of depend on my vacation time to decompress and fill my tank so to speak. However, as great as all of the above was, the vacation did not help. I developed bronchitis just before we left, and was on z-pack until April 9. By evening of the 9th, I had a nasty sinus infection that I just had to push through until we got home. The dive boat we were originally on had a bad leak in the exhaust, and seven of us got violently sick on The first dive of the week on Sunday morning. On the plus side, we set a resort record for number of sick on one trip. Woo! NOT.

After I came down with the sinus infection on Tuesday, I looked at our dive itinerary.  We had signed up to dive the Capt. Keith Tibbetts on Cayman Brac on Thursday. Not wanting to miss that, I opted out of diving all day Wednesday. It was a good decision, as I was able to dive Thursday and Friday, but missing three Caribbean dives was not what I had gone there for.

The return home also proved difficult. On Little Cayman, there was a mix up with our bags that I had to work to fix. The lines at the airport on Grand Cayman were overly and unnecessarily long, and Beth and I barely got through security in time for our flight to Philadelphia. However we got to Philly, and waited a few hours for our connector to Erie. The plane was on time, and boarded on schedule. Unfortunately, Beth and I, along with four of our dive compadres, were refused boarding and had to stay the night in Philly. I have, by the way, sent this on to US Airways as a complaint, and have yet to hear from them. We will see if they are honorable about this or not. Stay tuned.

Because of the issues during vacation, I returned nearly as stressed as when I left. And last week was the “welcome back” from hell. There was an issue at work that happened while I was on vacation, and although I couldn’t have effected a change or a different outcome, I was expected to have taken care of it; I got into a shouting match on the phone with my boss (never a good career enhancer); and a couple other incidents occurred at work that I was expected to handle differently than I did (remember that “flux” I talked about?). There were seriously two or three days last week that I just wasn’t sure I would be employed at the end of the day.

And although work has been hard before throughout my various careers, I have usually had things to fall back on, things to divert me. But now my normal crutches have been taken away.

I love cigars no secret there. However, after my neck surgery (fusion of C5 to C6 and C6 to C7), my surgeon, uh, “disallowed” cigars until the fusion is complete, hopefully by the end of May. Some silliness about carbon dioxide and nicotine inhibiting oxygen absorption and bone growth or something. So cigars are out, and that is difficult. For me, there is something deeply relaxing in enjoying a quality cigar for an hour; relaxing, contemplative, nearly zen. Seriously.

In just the past few years I have discovered microbrew beer. Not the normal nasty American macros, but fine, flavorful micros. Now that is a fine topic for a future blog! For now, suffice it to say that I recognize that I need to be cautious with my new hobby. It would be easy to get lost in the beer, but that is, I am afraid, far too close to the edge for me. So, although relaxing, I have to put well-defined boundaries and limits on my beer consumption. Not always the easiest for me, but necessary.

Further, we have a small group of friends from church that we meet with almost weekly. We call this small group “Small Group.” Pretty clever, huh? And although I will deny it if you tell them, I love this group of people. We have seen each other through some pretty devastating situations, and they could not be more like family to me if we were blood. For various reasons, the past couple of months have been difficult for all of us in that group. No solace there.

Finally, I enjoy the computer game Civilization V. A couple of years ago I purchased a pretty upscale laptop specifically for Civ V, and I can get lost for hours. Beth says I am addicted, but I can quit any time I want. Really. I just choose to play as much as I do. Well, maybe I do kind of like to play it a lot. In any event, my laptop is down, and has been at the computer shop for three weeks, two days, and twelve hours. But who’s counting. No Civ.

I have been left with nothing to fall back on. No crutch, no salve. It feels like there is little but difficulty and hardship. And I wonder if that isn’t exactly where I need to be.

Beth and I were talking this morning, and her observation was that it has been hard for her as well. She didn’t sleep as well as she would have liked last night, and during one of her wakeful times, she said that she wondered just how centered her life has been on God lately. Her conclusion was, “not much.” And she recognizes that she needs to change that situation.

Hmm.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is where Peter is in prison. I think I have said in the past that I like how Paul thinks; his logic, his orderly progression. John, not so much John is, to me, a bit of a goof; circular logic (which is no logic at all in my book), mystical, squishy touchy feely. Ick. But Peter? Oh, he’s the man! Hard charging, hard-headed, willing to leap in without even wondering what such a jump will cost. Peter is 100%. You never have to wonder where you stand with Peter. Peter is me. Up to, and including denying my Christ at critical times. Thank God it isn’t about me, but instead it’s about God’s grace and love.

But in this particular Bible story, Peter is in prison. Hopeless. An angel appears to him, and tells Peter to put on his shoes, which Peter does. The angel leads him out of prison, through the doors that the angel has opened, and past the guards to freedom. Now the point of this story for me, is that the angel did what Peter couldn’t; open the gates, shut down the guards. However, he told Peter to do what Peter could. Specifically, “put on your shoes.” I have struggled with that metaphor for a long time. I feel it is incumbent on me to “do what I am able to do,” and depend on God for what I am not able to do. We are all born with abilities and talents. I believe we are to use them to the best that we are able. But where does that stop, and my dependence on God begin? How much am I to “confidently go forth,” and how much am I to “give all to God?” And how do I have “joy in the struggle?”  ‘Cause I gotta tell you, I’m not real joyful right now.

There’s a song out that does a nice job of describing where I am. This is from Tenth Avenue North’s album, “Struggle.”  Please listen to this, it says it perfectly. I’m not stuck, this too shall pass. The day will dawn, the sun shall rise, hope springs eternal. But for now,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUEy8nZvpdM.

I want to go diving!!!!!! (fini)

Being a scuba fanatic and a NAUI certified Training Assistant, I have worked with a few students, and I have talked with a number of new divers at diving club functions (Blue Dolphin Skin Divers of Erie, PA).  One of the things I often say is that as divers in the Erie, PA area, we are privileged to learn to dive here.  I then ask, “And do you know why?”  Always my answer is that we are privileged to learn to dive here because in Erie, the diving sucks!!  And I’m quite serious.  While I would not consider us diving experts, my wife and I are fairly good divers, and have dived in a number of miserable conditions; cold air, cold water, poor (or literally no) visibility, unexpected currents.  And we dive relatively frequently in similar conditions.

At the other end of the spectrum, I know several people who enjoy diving, but are “warm water divers,” many of whom give themselves this designation.  So this is not a slam, but an observation.  Warm water divers enjoy diving, and often plan vacations around diving.  But they do not dive much at home.  At home, the water is usually cold, the visibility poor, the comfort level less than optimal.  Critters aren’t as spectacular or as colorful as in warmer climates.  A thicker wetsuit or even a drysuit is mandatory.  True story: some time ago, a national magazine, as part of an article, sent a professional diver to Erie to take some photographs.  One of our Instructors went with him, and offered several times to dive with him if he desired a guide.  The professional answered rather bruskly, finally telling our Instructor that he was a professional, and could handle it alone, thank you very much.  Our buddy just waited on the boat, and within about five minutes, the professional fairly exploded to the surface, ripped his regulator from his mouth, and yelled, “You people dive in this $#it???”  Yep, that’s right, we do.  And we like it.

And that’s my point with my somewhat crude statement regarding why we are privileged to learn to dive in Erie.  I believe that diving in cold water and poor visibility conditions (such as our area) produces divers of the highest caliber.  When one can dive in poor conditions, dive well and enjoy it, that diver can dive well and enjoy their dives anywhere in the world.  I am not saying that warm water divers are by definition not as good as us “cold water divers.”  Many warm water divers are fantastic divers, and I am not worthy to tighten their fin straps.  But many are not nearly as good as they could be if they dived “cold.”

Our younger daughter dives, and has been certified for a few years now.  However she gets cold while diving in the Caribbean, let alone around here, and absolutely refuses to dive at home in central Pennsylvania.  Beth and I have a doctor friend that dives warm water only.  He’s a weight lifter, body builder, and is in amazing shape.  But Beth and I could dive circles around our daughter and our friend.  We are more comfortable and more confident in the water than either of them, and that is due not only to the number of dives we have in our log book, but very much because of the conditions in which we have dived.

I have written extensively about the one-week mission trip that Beth and I took to the Dominican Republic.  My posts included my difficulties, as well as how God worked on me through that entire experience.  What I did not write about is how that entire time affected my desire for diving.

This past November, Beth and I went to the Caribbean island of Bonaire, and it was perhaps the best vacation we have ever had.  Prior to the vacation, my Mother had recently passed away after a brief illness, and we had a number of other “life issues” we were dealing with at the same time.  For whatever reason, we really needed that vacation, and our time on Bonaire was absolutely fantastic.  We came home refreshed and healed.

But after we got home, the only thing on my mind was that “stupid mission trip” that I had committed to.  I was so focused on going to the D.R., I enjoyed little to nothing between returning from Bonaire and the start of the mission trip.   I didn’t think about diving, and had no desire to even participate in our annual New Year’s Day dive.   This lack of excitement was entirely out of character for me.  I am usually buzzing with anticipation for the next dive, wherever it may be, and I constantly think and read about diving.  Subscribing to three dive periodicals, I usually can’t wait until the next dive magazine comes to the house, at which point I devour the entire thing.  And through this period of time, I barely touched any of the magazines that did come.

And then the time of the mission trip came, Beth and I experienced it, and we came home.  It was an unbelievable trip and as I said, I have written extensively about it.  But my passion for diving didn’t return.  We went to club meetings, and talked with diving friends, but I didn’t feel the “burn” to get wet.

One of our Divemasters was going on a dive vacation to San Salvador in February, and asked me to cover for him with a Scuba Diver certification class while he was gone.  My role was to assist the Instructor, mostly in the pool, with the students.  The Instructor was Gene Krahe, who was also the Instructor that taught me in my first certification class.  So I guess that makes him my Scuba Dad.  Kind of fits, he is a lot older than me.  Ahem.

Anyhow, I wasn’t even looking forward to helping with the class.  And that worried me a bit.  As nutty as I had been about diving in the past, I couldn’t even work up excitement about getting in the pool.  As much as I have loved diving, I was worried that I wasn’t all that excited about it now.

Until I got in the pool.  It was so good to get wet again.  It was only a pool, but wow, it felt great!  I enjoyed working with the students, and Gene is easy to work with.  He gives great direction, and really connects with his students, so that was fun.  And the diving!  Feeling so fluid, my movements so easy, it was great!  I remembered how much I loved the sport, and the excitement returned.

And this is how the past few posts got started.  Scuba diving is a great sport, and I love sharing it with Beth.  I love being in the water, I love the joy and challenge that it brings.  We have a trip planned later this summer to Grand Cayman, but right now it is only March.  If  Beth and I want to dive before then, we will have to dive here in Erie, where the diving “sucks.”  We can look forward to typical Erie diving in cold water and low viz.  And I want to go diving!!!  Man, I can’t wait.

I want to go diving!!!!!! (part three)

Beth and I took up diving three years ago and four years ago, respectively. We both love the sport, and have been growing steadily more confident, and skilled as divers. When Beth reacted well to a bad situation (her inflator hose came loose from her buoyancy compensator), I knew she was a diver. Since then, we have been racking up a number of dives in our log books, and gaining experience. We have both taken several courses through Diver’s World in Erie, PA, and have several certifications from NAUI. Beth and I are both Master Divers, having earned that designation this past year.

Our diving has taken us to a number of wonderful spots, and we have seen more amazing things than one can imagine. But our training and much of our diving has been in the Erie, PA area. And I tell many of the students that go through the Scuba Diver course at Diver’s World that we are privileged to learn to dive in Erie. I then ask, “And do you know why? Because the diving in Erie sucks.” And I am quite serious that we are indeed fortunate to learn to dive in Erie, and for the reason that I have given.

Last year Beth and I dived two wrecks; the Indiana and the Dean Richmond. The air temp was toasty, but the water temps were frigid. Beth and I both wore seven millimeter wetsuits, with a seven millimeter core warmer (basically an extra a wetsuit) over our torso and head. We each had maybe twenty to thirty pounds of weight, plus the scuba tank and a thirty cubic foot pony bottle of air for safety and redundancy. The wrecks were both around one hundred feet, give or take fifteen feet. In comparison, in the Caribbean, I usually wear just a swim suit and six pounds of weight. Beth, by the end of the week, will be wearing a three mil wetsuit and a few more pounds than I.

At the wreck(s), we suited up. As I have said before, I hate the heat. So, here I am, suited up in about fourteen millimeters of wetsuit, thirty-ish pounds of weight, and sitting there waiting for Beth. I am sweating like a fiend, and getting a bit, uh, put out. Beth is having some minor difficulties, and is working with the boat captain to get ready. Finally, I tell her I will see her in the water; I have to get in, get wet, and cool down. It is all I can think of. So, over the stern I go. Oops! No reg in my mouth, wetsuit unzipped, no fins. Fortunately I had my BC inflated, or it would have been a very bad moment. ‘Course, my life insurance is always paid up, so Beth would have been ok, but…And that is probably the stupidest thing I have done in my diving career, and I am committed to that being the stupidest thing I ever will do.

When Beth came off the boat, we collected ourselves, got to the anchor line, and dropped down. Visibility was very poor for the first sixty feet down the anchor line, maybe a total of three feet of visibility. We could see each other, and that’s about it. But when we dropped through the thermocline (and into the really cold water), the viz opened up to sixty feet or better. And the wrecks were spectacular! What great dives those were, and I will describe them in detail another time.

Another poor visibility dive we did last year was at Kinzua reservoir, as part of our Master Diver project. When Kinzua dam was constructed and the reservoir filled in the ’60’s, three towns were flooded. The town of Kinzua in PA, Onoville in New York, and Corydon, in PA. Our fellow Master Diver student, Terry Skarzenski, suggested we research Corydon and dive on it to see what we could find. Beth and I loved the idea. We did the research, and planned our dive for a beautiful, sunny and clear day in late summer.

Our families arrived at Willow Bay, and surveyed the area. Based on old photos, we compared the topography, and agreed on where we believed the town had likely been located. We did a surface swim out and caught our breaths before dropping down. We knew the conditions were going to be less than perfect, so we had an eight foot buddy line. I was on the left, Terry on the right, Beth in the middle. When we were ready, we popped our regulators in our mouths, and started our descent. And we dropped into the nastiest mud pit I have ever been in. As we were descending I watched upward, and as we hit the ten or fifteen foot mark, the sun disappeared, as if someone had flipped a switch. No exaggeration. I turned on my dive light (all while hanging on to the buddy line, trying to read my gauges, clearing my sinuses, and letting a bit of air into my BC to stay close to neutrally buoyant). I could see absolutely nothing. The only way I knew we had hit the bottom at about thirty-eight feet was because we stopped descending. I could only read my gauges intermittently. I could not see Beth (just four feet away). And I could see absolutely nothing in any direction. We just sat there for five minutes trying to figure out what to do, and then kind of mutually huddled up. We discovered that we could only see each other from about six inches away. Seriously. And that was not real clear. Beth signalled that she would take the lead and follow her compass, and we would keep pace on the buddy line. Every now and then we could feel something on the bottom, maybe a tree stump, or a rock or something. We had thought we might find paved streets, maybe a sidewalk or house foundation, but not a chance. Have you ever been a fog so thick that you literally could not see your hand in front of your face? Or been driving in a snowstorm with absolutely nothing outside your windshield except snow? Now imagine that same visibility while wearing a set of goggles, and a clothes pin on your nose, breathing through your mouth only, wearing spandex that is two sizes too small, with about three atmospheres of pressure surrounding you, all at the same time. That’s kind of what it would feel like, and it is not the most pleasant moment I have experienced.

Beth, however, did a great job. Remember, she has claustrophobia, vision issues (although we got her a mask with prescription lenses), and nearly drowned when she was young. And here she was, taking the lead in the nastiest diving conditions we had seen yet. Unbelievable. And me? Well, let’s just say I’m glad I was in a wetsuit, because I was peeing my pants for about twenty minutes. That was the freakiest, nerviest, nastiest, scariest dive I have ever done. But we got ‘er done. We did about a fifteen minute swim around, and never once saw a single thing. After fifteen minutes, we headed for the surface, slowly, and did our safety stop for three minutes. Beth and I came to the surface together, with no Terry. We looked around, and that was the worst moment I can remember. His wife, Sue, and their kids were on shore waiting for us, and no Terry. I started going though my mind what to do for a lost diver, hoping that he would show up soon. He finally came up a couple of minutes later, and explained that he needed a longer safety stop, so he let go of the buddy line and did his extra time alone. Hey Terry, if you’re reading this, you owe me a new wetsuit. The “water” I produced from the scary dive belongs to me, but the, uh, stains in the back are from you scaring the caca out of me, and they didn’t come out of the neoprene. Don’t ever do that to me again! Collecting ourselves on the surface, we all agreed that none of us had any desire to go back under on the way back to shore, and so did a surface swim back to the beach.

…final episode next time.  Maybe…

I want to go diving!!!!!! (part two)

(Somehow WordPress decided to post this before I was ready, so several people got this post in email form before I was quite finished.  This is the finished version.  Sorry…)

My scuba diving career started about four years ago when our daughter decided on a destination wedding on Grand Cayman.  I have always been fascinated with the idea of scuba, but could not justify it until then.  I took lessons, got certified, and did my first ocean dive off the south shore of Grand Cayman.  It was truly an experience I will never forget.  I was pretty much instantly hooked, and very much wanted to share this amazing sport with my wife.

Like many people, Beth was reluctant to try scuba, and for a number of reasons.  She almost drowned when she was about ten, so she has some water issues;  she is claustrophobic; and she has vision, uh, issues (we used to spend a lot of money on optometrists until I figured out we could do the same thing by cutting the bottoms off of coke bottles.  We save a lot of money that way.  Kidding, Dear).  I guess I was pushing a bit too hard, which I figured out when Beth put her index finger about an inch off my nose and gently said, “Stop pushing me!!!!!!”  Yeah, gently.  I hate living in fear…

But we did go snorkeling every day we were there, and Beth had just as much fun as I did.  After the vacation, we were talked about how cool the snorkeling was, and we got to talking about scuba.  Unprompted by me (see, I can learn) she said, “Well, maybe I could try it.”  I responded with a non-committal, “Yeah, ok.  Whatever you want, Babe.”  Inside I was doing my own version of the Cherokee Victory Dance, but I didn’t see the need to share that with her then.  Plus, I figured I would remain much healthier that way.

Beth started lessons, and I remember the evenings of her first three lessons .  She would call me as she was driving on the way home, crying, and not sure she could “do this.”

I think I should explain at this point how the lessons work.  The certification classes last approximately six weeks, one evening a week.  There is a couple of hours of classroom, followed by an hour or so of pool time.  For the pool session on the first evening, the Instructor and his Trainer Assistant or Divemaster help the students gear up, explain how the equipment works, and get them under water for a bit.  Each session after that builds on the knowledge from the week before.  The way the classes are designed, the students “get wet” from the beginning; there isn’t a theory portion and then a practical portion.  You get both each class.  And another plug for Diver’s World of Erie, PA.  The Instructors are phenomenal, the Divemasters outstanding, and the Trainer Assistants dedicated (disclaimer: I am one of the TA’s).  But if you want quality scuba instruction, you cannot do better than Diver’s World.

So Beth had to deal with her issues from the start, and it wasn’t easy.  Each time she called crying, I would talk with her, and pretty much encourage her to continue, that she should keep going with the lessons, and if she got through the lessons and couldn’t do it, so be it; she had given it her best shot.

I’m not sure which week it was, I think maybe week four, she came home, and looking thoughtful, said, “You know, I had fun tonight.”  Another non-committal, “Good for you” from me.  Another internal Victory Dance.  She toughed it out, and got certified.  I often tell people that she is the poster child for scuba.  There should be a poster with Beth’s photo on it, with the caption that says, “If I can do it, so can you!”  Honestly.  I have been a cop for over thirty years, twenty in the City of Erie.  I was on the SWAT team for thirteen.  I have seen acts of courage and bravery that would make one weep.  But Beth, having no training or background it that kind of thing, gutted out those lessons and got certified.  And that’s the bravest thing I have ever seen in my entire life.  She says that she did it for me, because she knew how much it meant to me.  But it was her effort and determination that got her through.  She is one tough and amazing lady.

And not only did we get certified, we have continued with our scuba education.  We both have our Advanced Certifications, both are Deep Certified, Computer Certified, Rescue Certified, and are both Master Divers, all through NAUI schools.  I am particularly proud of Beth for the Rescue Diver cert.  That is one tough mama of a course, and she did it.  I went a bit further, getting Ice Certified and my Trainer Assistant Cert as well.  I am thinking Beth will get her TA this year maybe, and I am at some point looking at Divemaster and/or Instructor.  Time will tell.

And we found our “together” activity.  Beth and I have had a chance to dive in some truly amazing locations.  Three times in the Caribbean country of Bonaire, the Florida Keys (the Vandenberg is a really cool wreck), the Gulf of Mexico, lakes and quarries all over the place.  And we dive as partners (“buddies” in scuba parlance).

I think it is probably typical for a husband to be protective of his wife, and worry about her in situations like that, and I am no different.  I tended to hover nearby, worried to death for Beth.  Until our second trip to Bonaire.

We were on a typical dive in paradise, enjoying the warm, clear water, seeing really spectacular stuff.  I saw something I wanted to show her, and turned to get her attention.  Only she wasn’t there.  Where is that woman!?  I did a 360 circle, looking all over, up, down, and then I saw her about ten feet above me, streaking like an arrow toward our divemaster.  I thought, “Oh, this isn’t good,” and saw her make contact with him.  He kind of fussed at her buoyancy compensator (BC for short), and I admit to a bit of jealousy for him touching her, but after a minute they turned and slowly started toward the boat.  At that point I caught up with them, and she showed me her inflator hose.

The inflator hose is the part of the BC that one uses to add or release air to the BC from the attached scuba tank.  In that way the diver can adjust their buoyancy, to be as neutrally buoyant in the water as possible.  Using the inflator hose, there are two ways to dump air.  A button on the end lets a bit of air out at a time, and is useful for most needed adjustments.  The second way to release air is to just kind of tug on the hose itself.  There is a larger dump valve on the shoulder of the BC at the point where the inflator hose connects to the BC itself.  In Beth’s case, she had tugged on the inflator hose a bit too strenuously, and the entire inflator hose came disconnected from the BC, making it useless for her.  That’s when she did an underwater sprint to the divemaster.  Needless to say, Beth was a bit nervy over the incident, but at the instant I saw what the situation was, I ceased worrying about her.  I remember thinking, “She’s a diver!”  When we got on the boat, she was a bit shaky, but I asked her if she knew what she had done.  She did not, and I told her that she had done exactly what she should have done.  We are trained that panic will kill a diver, so do not panic.  Stop and take a breath, analyze the situation, and take appropriate action.  Which is exactly what she did.  Upon analysis, she knew that her husband didn’t have the knowledge to help, so she went to the person that could.  Just a year earlier, she would have probably bolted for the surface, risking the bends or other um, undesirable possibilities.  But that is not what she did.  She did exactly what a diver should do, and I can honestly say that I haven’t felt the need to hover over her since.

…more to come,,,

I want to go diving!!!!!! (part one)

I hate summer.  I hate the heat, I hate the humidity, I hate feeling like a human pot roast, being popped into an oven set at four hundred degrees.  Starting in the fall, continuing through winter, and into the beginning of spring are enjoyable temperatures for me.  Especially winter.  I love the cold and snow.  I love being outside in winter, I love driving in snow, and I love watching it fall.  My theory du jour is that my internal temperature is such that winter brings down my temp to a point that I can relax and just enjoy.

But there are certain drawbacks to winter.  I miss certain activities that bad weather and extreme cold make a bit more difficult.  First on that list is scuba diving.

My wife and I are avid and enthusiastic divers.  I have been diving for about four years, and Beth about three.  We are solidly in our middle-ages (and yes, I plan for my current age to be the mean average for my life span.  I’m fifty-four), and for several years I had been searching for an activity that Beth and I could enjoy together currently, and for decades to come.  Try as we might, we couldn’t come to an agreement for what that activity might be.  The very thoughts of golf just make me want to run screaming, and one or two that we actually tried didn’t take.  Until scuba.

Our younger daughter decided on a destination wedding on Grand Cayman four years ago.  Settling on Cayman as the destination seemed to me to be a torturous path, wandering all over the Pacific, into Central America, touching on the Mediterranean, and finally alighting onto Grand Cayman.  Beth and I had not travelled by passport prior to this, and we were in turns excited, nervous, anticipatory, and apprehensive about our first trip to the Caribbean.  After arriving in Cayman, we got our rental car, and drove to our condo at Turtle Nest Inn, on the south side of the island near Boddentown.  What a fantastic place to stay!  Spacious and beautiful, we had a fantastic view of the ocean from the deck, as well as the bedroom.

In the end, the wedding was wonderful, our daughter lovely, and the vacation truly amazing.  We fell in love with the Caribbean.  It was the first vacation that we have been on that I wept as we left.  Of course, being a typical guy, I only cry when I’m hungry, and I probably should have had something to eat before our departure.  Ahem.

But before the trip, I did some thinking.  Ever since I was a kid, scuba diving has held a fascination for me.  Ever since I saw re-runs of Sea Hunt as a kid, I thought scuba would be an amazing sport.  However as time went on, the idea of diving took a back seat to other things, and eventually kind of receded from my thoughts altogether.  Until the wedding.  When the destination was announced I was in my late forties, and I realized that if I didn’t go diving now I never would.  Beth and I sat down and talked it over, weighed our finances, and decided that, yeah, I should give diving a go.  I contacted a local diving shop, got prices for lessons and basic equipment, and signed up.  Several months before the wedding, I began lessons at Diver’s World in Erie, PA, completing my basic Scuba Diver certification, and much of my Advanced Scuba Diver certification before the trip (click on Diver’s World above to visit their website).

What a rush!  As is my usual tendency, I punished myself studying, figuring I would flunk out, and beating on myself mentally for ever thinking I was cut out for something like this in the first place.  But as is also my usual tendency, I passed with flying colors, got my c-card (that’s “certification card” to you land-lubbing non-divers out there), and completed several additional dives needed for Advanced Certification.

When we went to Cayman, I had perhaps a dozen dives total in my logbook, maybe less.  I was a newbie, a greenhorn, a rookie, whatever terms one would use to describe someone who is allowed to do an activity, but shouldn’t be trusted alone for more than a nano-second.  I contacted a dive shop, Deep Blue Divers Grand Cayman, and arranged for a two tank dive on a given day.

I met Rick  on the dock at the appropriate time, intimidated and nervous.  Rick was great, taking me out by boat to a location that probably couldn’t possibly be much safer.  We geared up, did a buddy check, and got in the water.  Once we were ready, we dropped below the surface.  And I entered paradise.  Being new, I blew through an 80 cu. tank of air in about 22 minutes (for comparison, an 80 cu tank now lasts me about an hour), but those few minutes were more wonder producing than anything I had ever done.

In Erie, the best visibility I experienced was in the pool, and that was maybe thirty feet.  Generally speaking, the viz in the quarries and small lakes that I dived to become certified was ten feet on a good day.  In fact, in Lake Pleasant (clearly not named with the underwater visibility in mind), the viz was at best three feet.  Up to this point in my diving career, this is all I knew.  I had no experience in water in which one could actually see anything.

And then I dropped below the surface of the ocean off the south shore of Grand Cayman.  Visibility of at least one hundred feet, probably more.  The colors, the corals, the fish!  Of the multitude of fish I saw, one was particularly delightful!  It was small, and colored a deep blue with seemingly neon light blue spots.  They weren’t exactly in schools, but there was quite a number of them throughout the dive.  Later on I discovered them to be juvenile damselfish, and they remain among my favorites.  I am still tickled when I find a few on a dive.

Rick took me on an easy, twenty-minute circle in, around, and between corals.  I was mesmerized.  Honestly, if Rick had just hovered in one spot right under the boat for the entire twenty minutes, I would have been happy.  It was unbelievable, and the time was up way too quickly.  We did our three minute safety stop, surfaced, and boarded the boat.  I had been hooked.  I wanted so badly to share my experience with Beth, but how can one describe something like that?  It was my first time in the ocean, and I just didn’t have the words to say.

So I did what most self-respecting husbands would do.  I pestered her to get into scuba herself, so we could dive together.  When I got the index finger in the face with the words, “Stop pushing me!!!!!” (emphasis not mine), I knew I needed to back away.  That having been said, we did go snorkeling together nearly every day we were there.  One time we were snorkeling off Seven Mile Beach, and I would guess we were perhaps a quarter of a mile off shore.  I saw a conch on the bottom, and wanted to check it out.  I told Beth I would be right back, took a couple deep breaths, and had to power my way to the bottom, probably about twenty feet down.  In fact, I had to keep kicking to stay at the bottom.  I looked the conch over, and when I was ready to surface, I simply stopped kicking and turned to look at the surface.  I popped to the surface with no effort at all.  I virtually could not sink!

…continued soon…

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