Project AWARE Coral Reef Conservation Course

I spent the morning down at DFW SCUBA Shop, taking PADI‘s Project AWARE Coral Reef Conservation course. It’s a non-diving course that’s open to anyone who is interested in learning more about coral reefs, not just divers and snorkelers. The course covered a number of aspects of reefs, including their biology and lifecycle, threats to them, and what we can do to help conserve them.

I learned a lot about reefs, and you probably will too, so don’t discount this course just because it seems like it’s cheesy. There was a significant amount of information presented, covering a lot of sub-topics, and you’ll come away learning more than you thought. Our instructor had some extra videos, not just the one for the course, that really helped bring everything together. Plus, the course counts as one of the specialty diver courses for if you’re going to go for PADI’s Master Scuba Diver certification.

It was also time for me to replace the fins that got lost/misplaced on the cruise. I picked up a pair of Cressi FINNAMEs instead of getting another set of Frog Plusses. I think these will be a little better, as they fit better, and they’re a bit stiffer, which should translate in to better control and efficiency.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 8

Today’s port of call on the cruise was Curaçao, another one of the Dutch islands. We again took a bus tour to get a feel for the island. It took us through the city of Willemstad, including seeing the pontoon bridge, before stopping at the Curaçao Museum. We spent some time there, looking at the exhibits and talking to our guide before getting back on the bus to head to the original Curaçao liqueur distillery. There are a number of imitators, but this is the real thing. They’re a pretty small operation, which explains why it can be tough to get, even in a city as big as Dallas/Fort Worth. We got to do a tasting, including some other flavors I hadn’t heard of before like coffee and rum raisin. While in the gift shop I picked up a bottle of the blue and orange colors, as well as some miniatures of the other flavors, all at pretty decent prices. We boarded our bus and drove to the Hato Caves. The caves are limestone caves, with the formations that you’d expect from that geology, except that they’re in what was the coral reef millions of years ago. There was a bit of a hike, through more rain, to get to them, and they’re on the small side, but they’re in good shape and it was an enjoyable stop on the tour. That was about the end of the tour, so we drove back to Willemstad and got dropped off in the city so that we could walk around and do some final shopping.

When we got to town, the pontoon bridge was closed, so we walked around the open air market on that side, picked up a few things, and tried to kill some time in the hopes that it’d open. Sadly, that wasn’t to be, so we hid out from another rain shower, waiting to board the free water taxi. Once on the other side, we walked around looking for somewhere to eat and settled on a small cafe. Service was a little slow, mostly because they were short staffed. I enjoyed a couple beers, including a Venezuelan one, and had a great Thai curry dish.

With our bellies full, we walked around a little more, didn’t really find anything that we wanted to buy, so we started back to the ship. This time the pontoon bridge was open, so we got to walk across, getting a great view of both sides of the city, as well as some colonial forts. There were a few vendors set up right in front of the ship and I managed to score a shirt, another Christmas tree ornament, and a few small souvenirs.

After dinner we decided to do a load of laundry because some of my dive gear had gotten pretty smelly. And yes, I did rinse it as soon as possible after getting back. Thankfully the washer took care of it, and the cabin wasn’t funky any more.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 7

The day after Christmas our cruise stopped in Bonaire, on of the best places in the Caribbean to dive. Heather, again, had her own tour booked, so once I’d seen her off, I waited for mine to begin. We had a short walk from the pier where the ship had docked to the dive shop, where we paid our fee to the marine park and did our pre-dive orientation. We then walked back across the street, got on the boat, and headed for our first dive site.

The boat was a little smaller than the one in Dominica, so we felt the waves a little more. Once there, we got our gear on and got in the water to do a buoyancy check before descending. The divemasters did a buoyancy check and told me to add two pounds to my weighting, which I think was too much based on needing to add air to my BC, but I’ll review that with the local dive shop later. We went down and were treated to some amazing corals and fish. Where Dominica had some here, and a little more there, Bonaire was just a continuous scene of coral, plant, and animal life. Unfortunately, my dive was cut short because my buddy had some equipment problems that caused her to go through most of her air in about 20 minutes. So we surfaced and did a surface swim back to the boat.

On the way to the next site, we stopped and got some replacement gear, and then got the rest of the way over to site two. Back in the water and down the wall, swimming in to the current on the way out, and seeing some really amazing coral. There is a little bit of bleaching, but very little, with the vast majority of the reef looking extremely healthy. I saw lots of parrot fish, urchins, and other small reef fishes. But the treat of the dive was after we’d turned and were actually under the boat, using up some air before surfacing. We ran in to a Hawksbill sea turtle just swimming along. So, of course we followed it, taking pictures and video at a respectful distance.

After surfacing, we went back to the shop, rinsed our gear, updated the log books, and returned to the ship. Somewhere along the line, my fins got misplaced and didn’t make it back to the ship with me. Everything else is accounted for, but they’re gone.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 5

The day before Christmas saw us in port at Dominica. This was the first of two SCUBA diving excursions that I had booked. Heather doesn’t dive, so she booked her own excursion. We got off the ship together, and I saw her off, then waited for my own tour to start. We caught the Dive Dominica boat right at the dock, and headed out to the first dive site. The guides were professional but still fun, helping us get set up and ready to go. Our first site was called Soufriere, a wall dive along a vertical section of coral reef. This was my first ever ocean dive, and I’ve got to say that it was one hell of a way to kick things off. We saw an incredible variety of coral, in all the colors of the rainbow, as well as many species of colorful fish. Maximum depth for this dive was 62 feet. We surfaced, changed tanks, and headed to our next site while chatting through the surface interval.

Our second dive site was along Champagne Reef. It got its name thanks to the geothermal and volcanic activity. There are underwater hot springs and gas bubbling up in areas, all a remnant of the volcanic forces that created the island. We started off diving another wall, heading down to 59 feet maximum depth, before heading back up and over to the geothermal activity area. It was really interesting to see the gas bubbling up from the ocean floor, and feeling the hot water flowing out of the springs. It was hot enough that you’d get some pretty severe burns if you kept your hand in there too long. Sadly, that was the final stop on the final dive of the day, so we surfaced and headed back to the ship. Once there, I went back to the cabin and started rinsing and cleaning the gear.

Coral in Dominica

Coral in Dominica

After cleaning the gear and myself, I got changed and headed back out to meet up with Heather and do a little shopping at the open air market that had set up next to the ship. We found some nice gifts, and some spices, as we browsed the wares. Finally we made our way back to the ship, and repeated our dinner and laps routine.

Diving At Lake Murray In Oklahoma

This month’s Diver’s Day Out was at Lake Murray State Park up in Oklahoma. It was an uneventful drive up, only about an hour and a half north of here. I was pretty early, and so got to help set up some of the equipment for the students. Because of all of the rain we’ve been having, visibility was terrible and the visibility was as close to zero as it could have been.

Thanks to the terrible visibility, three of us buddied up and did a short wall dive while holding on to each other so as to not get separated. The water was cold, cold, cold, and what little I could see was rocks covered in zebra mussels. Those things are nasty, and will cut your hands up if you aren’t careful. Thoroughly chilled, we surfaced and got changed in to dry clothes. There would be no second dive today. Instead, we hung out, chatting while we cooked and ate some lunch before heading home. I did have one treat on the way back, I got to feed the Jeep some ethanol free gas. Mileage was a lot better thanks to that.

And that’s how I learned why it’s called Lake Murky!


Diving At The Blue Lagoon In Huntsville

I took a road trip down to the Blue Lagoon in Huntsville this weekend for DFW SCUBA’s Diver’s Day Out. In this case it was a weekend’s worth of diving, with a little extra trip down to Houston to see family beforehand. The drive down was eventful, with a full on monsoon just about closing I-45 around Buffalo. But I got there intact, set up my tent, and got ready to make some bubbles.

The water wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t too warm either, and there was a nice thermocline at around twenty feet. The visibility was pretty good, for the most part, with some algae clouds to make things interesting. I got to explore some sunken boats, play a little catch with a bowling ball, and work on my buoyancy a little more. I actually dropped a little weight, but am still having to add air to my BCD, so I’m thinking I need to drop a little more.

I also got some great advice on how to set up and configure my gear, as well as some updates to my “stuff to buy” list. I logged four dives this weekend, added a few feet to my maximum depth, and got a lot more comfortable with doing this stuff without an instructor looking over my shoulder.

The drive back up was uneventful, with no rain storms or accidents messing with me. After getting unpacked, I spent an hour or so washing all the gear and getting it hung up to dry out, then went out to dinner with Heather.

PADI Open Water Dives – Day 2

We got up, loaded up our vehicles with all of our worldly goods, or at least the ones we brought with us, and headed out for breakfast. After refueling our bodies and vehicles, we went back to Balmorhea to finish off our final certification dives. The weather was already starting to turn, with yesterday’s spring-like conditions being quickly replaced by a return to winter.

The final dive in the PADI Open Water certification is a little more relaxed, in that I got to plan the dive and actually do some exploring instead of working around the skills reviews and tests. By the time we got in, the air temperature was at 58 and the wind had really kicked up. The water, held in the low 70s by the spring outflow, felt great and we quickly got below the surface.

We revisited some of the spring sources and explored more of the pool than we had before, did some underwater navigation, and really just enjoyed ourselves. I had some trouble with the navigation due to the compass being mounted in the gauge console and me not able to get it to a comfortable position. I’ll work on that when I put together my own gear. But overall, didn’t screw anything up badly, and my instructor passed me.

When we surfaced, the weather was turning decidedly nasty. The air temperature was down to 53, and it was starting to rain. The run for the lockers, in cold wetsuits, was pretty unpleasant, but it felt good to be in dry clothes. Gear was loaded in to vehicles as quickly as we could manage, log books were updated, paperwork was filled out, and we hit the road.

The drive back was anything but uneventful. By the time I hit Pecos, it was raining steadily and the temperatures were in the high 30s. After a quick stop in Odessa to get some lunch and top off the Jeep’s gas tank, I was back on the road. Before I’d gotten to Big Spring, it was below freezing and ice was starting to build up on the Jeep. The ground was still warm, so the roads, while wet, were still clear. Outside of Sweetwater, I had to stop to get gas and break ice off of my mirrors, wiper blades, and radio antennas. It was still raining and sleeting, with air temperatures in the high 20s, but the roads were staying wet instead of icing over, so I pushed on. My last gas stop was in Weatherford, by which time the temperatures had come up a little and were hovering right around freezing. The roads were still clear, and the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, if a little slower than I would have liked. I pulled in to the driveway, unloaded the gear, and curled up with my sweetheart to watch the weather report.

PADI Open Water Dives – Day 1

I loaded all of the gear in to the Jeep and headed out to have some breakfast with a couple folks who were out to work on their Rescue Diver certification. After that we all headed over to Balmorhea State Park to get checked in and start in on the diving. Check-in went smoothly, the rates are reasonable, and the staff was friendly and helpful.

Unloading all of the gear was a good warmup exercise, and the weather was wonderful, with air temperatures in the mid-70s and rising. We had a little bit of a scheduling bobble, so I didn’t get in the water until after lunch, but it really wasn’t a big deal. We got started, worked through the skills in three separate twenty minute dives, and did some exploring while we were down there. I didn’t have any real issues, other than communication, but that’s something to work on. The PADI Open Water certification requires four open water dives, but PADI limits you to three dives, maximum, per day. So I’ve got one more to do tomorrow.

Balmorhea is a spring fed pool, and during part of our explorations, we got down to one of the places where the water is bubbling up from the ground. It was pretty amazing to see the sand dancing in place and feeling the current. I also got to see a couple catfish, which were pretty chill about the whole diver swimming around with them, and one crawfish who decidedly wasn’t and disappeared as soon as possible.

Balmorhea State Park

The pool at Balmorhea State Park

After finishing up the diving for the day, I loaded the Jeep up and headed back to the motel to unload, update my log book, and chill before heading out to dinner. While I was there, I called home and checked in. It was probably a good thing that I did, because Heather let me know that a pretty severe ice storm was going to hit tomorrow. Now in scramble mode, I talked to the inn keeper, who was completely understanding about canceling my reservation for Sunday night. After finishing that, it was back to packing the Jeep and getting everything else ready to go in the morning. The new plan is to get up, eat, get the last dive in, and hit the road for home as soon as possible.

PADI Open Water Confined Water Dives

I drove down to the Kirby Creek Natatorium this morning to do my PADI Open Water certification’s confined water dives. We started out by doing the swimming test, 200m with no mask, fins, or snorkel. After that, we put our gear on and got our heads under water. Breathing under water was a very interesting experience, but I have to admit that I freaked out a little bit the first time. And the second. But, the third time was the charm. Thankfully my instructor was patient and understanding. After I got over that, we proceeded with working on the skills.

There are a variety of skills that you need to work through, including clearing your mask underwater, handling running out of air, recovering your regulator, swimming and diving with a snorkel, and hand signals for communication. I made it through all of them, though I’m going to have to practice using my snorkel a little more as I’m having trouble getting comfortable with it.

After finishing off with treading water for ten minutes, I packed up the gear and headed out to meet Heather for lunch. With the classroom and confined water sections done, all I’ve got left are the open water dives, which are going to happen next weekend, out at Balmorhea State Park.