Are cave #divers thrill-seeking nutcases?

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This is me in a cave in Palau. That’s a fake smile. I’m hating every minute of this. This one had air pockets and breathable air. I still wanted out.

Thrill seekers, yes. Adventurers, yes. Nutcases? Um, who am I to say?!

I don’t get the appeal of cave diving. Scares the hell out of me. I imagine there will be an earthquake, the exit will be sealed shut by boulders and I won’t be able to get out. I’ll drown when my air runs out.

In an effort to try to understand the cave diving-loving mindset, I read with interest the BBC article this week about the Finnish cave divers in Norway who retrieved the bodies of their two friends.

I once dove with an obsessive cave diver. His wife dove caves too. They were parents of a toddler. They never dove together, at least not in caves. In case one died, the other would raise the child. And, one would hope, give up cave diving.

Wow. You gotta really love cave diving to make that agreement.

So, you know where you won’t find me. I am planning, however, to dive cenotes (caverns) near Playa Del Carmen in August. An overhead environment, in some spots, but a bit different from a dark cave with one way in and out. You can always see natural light in cenotes, usually to the upper left or right of you. Will probably give up cenote diving after this, since I’m not completely comfortable.

Cave diving is dangerous. Don’t get me started on the people who dive the Andrea Doria shipwreck and others on the east coast of the USA. Not that they aren’t well trained and experienced. Responsible divers get a lot of training before they enter overhead environments. They take precautions. They test and retest their gear. They cut dives short when they get twitchy. Still, when those ‘perfect storms’ occur, some of them die.

As weird as it sounds, I’m interested in the way divers kill themselves. So that I don’t repeat their mistakes. Here are a few of the more interesting stories.

  • Dave Shaw (A Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific pilot who died in a cave system in South Africa while trying to retrieve the body of a man who had died a decade earlier. Filmed his death.)
  • Chris and Chrissy Rouse (father and son who died wreck diving in the Atlantic. China fever.)
  • Doc Deep died in August 2015 attempting a world record. Not worth dying for IMHO. Not cave diving.

So, why did I pay to dive Chandelier Cave in Palau? When I knew cave diving made me anxious? Because it was a tourist attraction everyone told me couldn’t be missed. There was no requirement for cave diving certification, so I thought it would be okay. Mostly, because I’m an idiot.

Here are some more pics. Amazing to see and never to be repeated!

 

Micro-where? Off to Palau

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“I’m off to Micronesia to dive.” Blank stare.

Palau“. Nothing.

To be fair, I didn’t know where Palau was either. Until a few years ago, when Brian, a wonderful divemaster in Roatan, Honduras, told me the best diving he had ever done was in Palau. (That means something because the diving in Roatan is pretty amazing too!).

This is how Palau got added to the list of must-do dive sites.

Yup, it’s kinda in the middle of nowhere. As well, it’s a bugger to get to. My travel route is: Vancouver – Seoul – Korror, Palau. The return journey adds another leg: Korror – Seoul – Beijing – Vancouver. Many hours on planes and layovers, and many time zones. Palau is 17 hours ahead of Vancouver.

I’m flying on Aeroplan miles on Air Canada and Asiana. The cash price would have been around $2,000. Yikes. Not in the budget.

Biggest downside is that US currency is used in Palau. Ouch. Bloody ouch. The Canadian dollar was higher when I booked the trip ten months ago. Currency is one reason I’ve had to scale back on travel this year.

Like all of my dive vacations, this one is being done on the cheap. Basic motel accommodation, hitting grocery stores instead of restaurants and no souvenirs.

Greatest grouper ever

Brian the divemaster and our friendly Grouper friend in Roatan, Honduras in 2014

I’ll dive for eight days and take in Jellyfish Lake as a snorkeling adventure.

I leave Saturday. Can’t wait to show off the pictures.

 

 

#Scuba #dive shop breaking up: Roatan

Roatan has great diving. Plus lots of dive shops.

Okay, the dive shop breakup in Roatan is much harder to do than the one in Cozumel.

I’ve been here  in August 2014 and in March 2015.

I loved the divemasters, boat captains and most of the folks at the cafe attached to the dive shop. I also really liked one of the dive shop owners. The spouse and co-owner – not so much.

A couple of things occurred during my 2015 visit. One was an issue around pounding disco music being played on weekends from a bar near my hotel. A matter no one seemed to care was a problem.

The other was a small, but significant incident that occurred on the day of my departure.

Getting a cab in Roatan when you need it isn’t always easy. That’s why I took the dive shop owner up on her offer to reserve me one in advance. I was told this would be done.

Lo and behold on the day of my flight, the cab didn’t arrive. I expressed concern about missing my flight. Plus, I needed to make a quick stop in town before going to the airport. When the owner called the cabbie, he claimed he had never received the booking. The owner insisted she called to book.

Luckily, I had the business card of the fabulous cabbie who brought me to the resort. The owner called and said he’d come as soon as he could – in about 30 minutes.

That left me sitting on a hot, unshaded bench in front of the dive shop to wait. Wondering if I’d make my flight. At no time did the owner check in with me or even offer an apology for what had happened. She just left me there and got on with other things.

Just didn’t seem like professional behaviour toward a customer who had spent a couple of thousand USD in her dive shop in the last six months. Especially since there are lots of dive shops and hotels on the island.

I did get to the airport on time with the quick stop in town. I love that cabbie.

The loud music is more of an issue for me than the rudeness of a dive shop owner.

Both Cozumel and Roatan are on my list for a two week dive vacation in August 2016. Can’t say that either has the edge right now.

Here are some pics from my last Roatan dive trip.

Ocean trash – bad for #scuba destinations

The garbage haul. From near Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Taken during one 50 minute dive.

The garbage haul. From near Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Taken during one 50 minute dive. Wasn’t able to pick up the tin cans and bottles.

I get asked questions about my scuba diving destinations a lot. Where’s the best place to dive?

My criteria is based on a number of factors – especially what I see and don’t see.

There are lots of places I really like and will continue to visit, such as Cozumel, Mexico and Roatan, Honduras (if they get their west end noise problem resolved). They’re reasonably easy to get to from Vancouver. Both places offer a diving experience akin to swimming in an aquarium.

They’re also mostly free of garbage in the water. If a divemaster or a diver (like myself) sees garbage, she/he picks it up. I’ve stuffed countless chocolate bar wrappers into the sleeve of my wetsuit.

I want to patronize dive destinations where people care about the ocean.

Don't like to see this.

Don’t like to see this.

The places I’ve been with lots of garbage in the water are the east coast of Bali near Padang Bai; Cuba, near Varadero and Bay of Pigs; and Kota Kinabalu, Indonesia. Beautiful places, but my diving experiences were diminished because of the trash.

I’m visiting Cuba next week and won’t be diving. Not interested in hauling my scuba gear thousands of miles to dive in ocean trash.

What I’d like to see is what’s done in Roatan, Puerto Vallarta and Cozumel – more divers and their guides picking up garbage when they see it. My plan for the future is to carry a mesh bag where trash can be stuffed during a dive. I hope others in the diving community will follow suit.

Machine Guns in Paradise – #scuba #diving Sipadan

Gorgeous. White sand. Turquoise water. No guns in sight.

Gorgeous. White sand. Turquoise water. That’s barbed wire on the left. No pics of the soldiers. Feared they might shoot me!

Wasn’t sure what to make of the scowling military guys with machine guns. Later, I was told they were there for my protection.

When I saw them playing with Sipadan Island’s friendlier stray cats, I knew they were good guys.

Sipadan is in Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia. It almost always makes scuba diving top ten lists. Jacques Cousteau, back in the day, gave it a thumbs up.

Tank gives it two thumbs up.

Plane, bus, boat, SCUBA

Plane from Kuala Lumpur, bus, boat, SCUBA

It is, bar none, the best place I’ve ever scuba dived. Shark-infested waters (white tip, non-aggressive), giant schools of fish and turtles galore. Warm water. Gorgeous beach on which to relax between dives.

The downside of Sipadan is also its upside. Malaysia restricts the number of divers to 120 per day, which means it’s relatively uncrowded and the marine environment is being protected.

The 120 permits have been divvied up among dive shops and resorts. They sell to each other when they have spares. Getting a permit – beyond the guarantee you may get with your hotel or diving reservation – isn’t easy or cheap.

Which means you can travel a long way, like from Canada, to only be guaranteed one day of Sipadan diving. That was my guarantee. In order to get that, I had to book at least five nights in a fairly swish cabin at the SMART Resort on nearby Mabul Island. (Roughly a 45 minute boat ride away.)

Some of the 120 daily divers arrive. We left our resort at 6:00 am to get in the water by 7:00 am.

Some of the 120 daily divers arrive. We left our resort at 6:00 am to get in the water and diving by 7:00 am.

I booked seven nights and dove six days. I dove Sipadan on four of those days.

Yup. I hit the jackpot. I asked to buy extra Sipadan permits, if they became available. On three occasions, other divers at the resort elected to not dive Sipadan. (Insane??) So, I was offered the spare permits. The extra several hundred dollars I paid was well worth the expense. I may never get the chance to return. These memories are priceless.

The rules. Every diver at Sipadan must sign in. No walking around the island either. Tourists are restricted to a small beach area.

The rules. Every diver at Sipadan must sign in. No walking around the island either. Tourists are restricted to a small beach area.

So, what’s up with the machine guns?

In 2000, 21 people were kidnapped from Sipadan by a terrorist group – 10 tourists from Europe and the Middle East, and 11 resort workers. They were taken, at gunpoint, to the Philippines. Most were released within five months after an offensive by the Philippine government.

The military presence on Sipadan is meant to prevent a hostage taking like the one in 2000 from happening again.

Idiot #scuba divers with #GoPros on a stick

I wish for the quick extinction of this noxious underwater species – the scuba diver with a GoPro on a stick.

The owner of this GoPro is a jerk.

The owner of this GoPro is a jerk.

They’re a scourge. As bad as lionfish in non-native waters. Or manspreading on a packed dive boat.

Here’s the problem. Many, but not all, GoPro divers I’ve encountered have NO manners. (And don’t bother defending these clowns in the comments section. I’ve never seen an underwater photographer with a honking big still camera behave this way.)

There’s a etiquette around scuba divers with cameras. Everyone takes her/his turn, one by one, being careful to not scare the subject so that it swims off, not kick up silt and not to hog the subject preventing others from getting their shot before the divemaster and group move on.

What I’m seeing from some GoPro on a stick divers is despicable. No consideration for etiquette or respect for other photographers in the group.

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When the divemaster signals a subject worthy of a photograph, all the GoPros on a stick go charging in. Jockeying for position while unable to hold their buoyancy. Kicking up silt. Bumping into all and sundry. Ensuring no one gets a decent image.

Barbarians.

Thanks a bunch.

Perhaps time for dive shops to make an etiquette pep talk part of their dive briefing.

#Clownfish attack: Nemo and the dangers of #scuba #diving

"Piss off diver."

“Piss off diver.”

Never imaged seeing Nemo about three inches away from my scuba mask. Giving me the stink eye. Poised for attack.

That’s what happened near Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia during a dive in August.

Usually, the Nemos, Marlins and company are hiding in the anemones, weaving and bobbing and refusing to sit still for photos.

Not this guy and his identical twin. They were determined to drive me away by buzzing my mask. Forcing me to back up. Bold thugs protecting their anemone.

Hilarious.

These clownfish weren’t the orange Nemo-type we’re used to seeing. These were Yellowtail Clownfish. According to Google, their temperament is“semi-aggressive”. You can say that again.

I don’t touch marine life, but these brutes were cruisin’ for a bruisin’! Good thing I always carry a pointer, which in this instance, came in very handy. A couple of waves of my ‘sword’ in their direction and off they went to regroup.

Thankfully, for me, I had my camera to record the event. Thankfully, for them, we quickly moved on with our dive.

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