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Climbing Back Up the Hill November 11, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in CCR, Emergencies, Fitness and Nutrition.
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Until recently I did not dive enough. I started to forget how much I enjoyed it. In 2015 I only dived a couple of times, and I started to wonder whether I was going to give it up altogether. I also let my weight creep up to almost 190 pounds, putting me just in the “Overweight” category of the Body Mass Index (BMI). I wasn’t exercising. My clothes were too tight.

Fortunately I signed up for a Florida Keys wreck diving trip last April and had a great time. The experience renewed my resolve to get in shape and I then and there decided to bring my weight down below 180. I didn’t have to do a whole lot to make that happen. My diet rules were pretty simple.

  • Avoid bread – not completely but most of the time. I love bread, but now it is more of a treat than a compulsion.
  • Lunches were mostly vegetable smoothies or soup (without bread!). Later, I found a bean salad recipe that I really like, and if I’m at work and haven’t brought anything in I’ll get some take out Sushi or Sashimi.
  • Avoid overeating at any single meal. I can easily wolf down large quantities of pizza. Now I limit to 2 slices.
  • Avoid free food. In our society there are countless opportunities to consume excess calories, like someone bring doughnuts into the office or all-you-can-eat buffets. No longer.

These simple rules worked so well that my weight just kept dropping. By July I was in the mid 170’s, and I was slightly affronted when I attended my physical and my doctor said that my BMI was a bit on the high side at just under 24. Then came the opportunity to conduct a Wreck Diving course in August. That went quite well but I thought I was working too hard even though I’d been getting in better shape working in the garden all Summer. I had to do more exercise.

Meanwhile the weight kept going down. After a long weekend of diving doubles I decided I was going get a CCR (closed circuit rebreather) and felt that there would be a benefit in getting into better shape so I started a simple exercise program. It consists of walking an incline on a treadmill for 30 minutes or so every day, 20 minutes of stretching, and doing some crunches and push-ups every other day. I  walk outside instead of using transit or driving when there’s time. To increase cardiopulmonary capacity the incline will go up by 1% (about 1/2 a MET) each month, so by midsummer 2017 it will be at the treadmill’s maximum. I’m also managing my diet by consuming more protein through food or the addition of protein powder to make up the calories burned by the exercise.

Now I’m down to 160 pounds – way less than I’d planned. BMI is 22, close to the middle of the normal range. There’s still some fat around the midriff but further weight loss is not in the plans. For the next phase I’m going to stay at 160 and try to change body composition with exercise. Despite a normal BMI people call me thin. Is that because we’re used to seeing more overweight people these days, including me 6 months ago?

By staying on the diet the current weight is easy to maintain. If below 160, I add a glass of orange juice to breakfast. That’s worked so far but more might be needed. I’m not stressed about it and avoid fanaticism, but embrace discipline.

Like quitting smoking, the hardest part is deciding. Deciding is not the same as wishing or wanting. The rewards are many, with the greatest being the capacity to keep diving for years to come, greater overall health and better fitting clothes. The flip side is that diving provides much of the motivation to keep exercising – a virtuous circle about which I remind my wife often.

Lastly, I’d like to address a common comment that divers often get from their non-diving friends. It goes something along the lines of why would you do something that can kill you? Often we respond with something like “you can die just crossing the street, if we all thought like that we’d never leave our homes”. While I agree, there’s a more fortuitous response, which is more like “By diving, training to dive and staying in shape to dive, I’m actually increasing my chances for survival. I also hang out with people who are trained in lifesaving and like myself can maintain self-control in emergency situations.”

CCR, O2 Consumption & Exercise October 31, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in CCR, Fitness and Nutrition, Technical Diving.
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With a little less than 12 hours diving a CCR, I’m now venturing to comment on a technical aspect of the experience which dawned on me recently. Surely I’m not the first to think about a CCR in this way, but I’ve not come across this analysis previously and wanted to record my thoughts about it here.

The more I dive the more I concern myself with staying fit, as I’m not getting any younger, and that gets me thinking about both capacity to expend energy and calorie consumption. Rebreather training tells me that when things are going right, bubbles are only released upon ascent, which is just the excess volume from the loop as the gas expands with the decreased ambient pressure. Other than this, all the Oxygen consumed during the dive is metabolized by the diver.

Fitness evaluations are frequently done by measuring inspired Oxygen, and except for what is released on ascent the CCR will measure that based the change in O2 tank pressure. I found this article that directly relates calories burned to O2 consumption and also relates O2 consumption to METS (metabolic units, a measurement of energy used in exercise) and body weight.

I’ll give an example, which for simplicity I’ll use metric units. My CCR has a 2 litre tank, which can be filled to 230 bar. So its capacity is 460 litres. Say I do a 60 minute dive and the pressure in the tank goes from 230 bar to 180 bar, a consumption of 100 litres of Oxygen. Ignoring the bubbles on ascent, I’ve burned 500 calories (100 litres at 5 calories/litre).

I weigh 72.3 Kg right now. 1 MET energy output uses 3.5 ml of O2 per kg of body weight per minute of activity, so if we know our O2 consumption in litres the average number of METs used in the dive will be (litres x 1000) / (body weight x minutes x 3.5). So if it were me doing this dive my average energy expended would have been about 6.6 METs, which is a little less than this source gives for slow cross-country skiing.

Coincidentally, according to the calculator on this site, my current treadmill regime of 3.5 MPH at 6% slope also requires 6.6 METs (BTW tomorrow I increase to 7% slope or 7.1 METs).

Conclusions

So I’m inspired (pardon the pun) to think that this yet another great feature CCR diving. I can now, with reasonable accuracy, determine the calorie expenditure on a dive, and replenish accordingly. I also know how hard I’ve been working on the dive and train to that level.

Regarding the bubbles on ascent, there’s probably reasonable way to estimate how much O2 is going overboard. Fodder for a future post, no doubt.

Exploring the Eagle May 16, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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Once again with Conch Republic, we headed off to the Eagle for the second and final time of the trip (the previous time we went there after deciding not to dive the Duane due to current). Joe and Rob were on their rebreathers with me on my doubles. Descent was uneventful and as usual I deposited my deco tank in a crevice on the wreck near the stern descent line.

Joe led the dive. We headed for the top of the superstructure on the stern, entering the wreck on the starboard side which was near the ocean bottom. We entered a non-descript room and Joe headed through a doorway, but unfortunately left a fair amount of silt behind. Unwilling to enter in zero visibility, I waited, illuminating the doorway with my dive light in case Joe was having any difficulty finding his way out. Within a minute he reappeared and we headed in a different direction exiting the forward end of the superstructure.

There we saw a Goliath Grouper just inside the wreck. There were some divers about 10′ above us and I tried to get their attention so they could take a look at him, but none looked in our direction. We then started wondering where Rob had gotten to so we went back to where we entered the superstructure then back to the line to look for him. We saw him 30′ or so above us signalling “OK” with his dive light, finding out later that he lost most of his diluent supply getting through the first door and decided to bail out. I’m glad we saw him and didn’t have to search the inside the of the wreck.

Atlantic Goliath Grouper

                                            It was bigger than this one

After doing a lap around the bow section, we returned to the stern and slid back in near the prop. You have to get low to the bottom to do this, and the interior is prone to silt so good wreck penetration skills are needed. 2 years ago we were swimming through the same spot and it started to silt up, prompting me to quickly exit the way I went in. This time was much better and we went sideways through a hatch (or maybe just a hole) into the very bottom of the ship, where there were reassuringly several large exits, although not much else to see. After this we went back to the line and ascended – and as usual Joe was finished his deco about 3x quicker than me.

Once more to the Spiegel Grove May 13, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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The last deep dive of the week was once again on the Spiegel Grove. Did I want to dive the same wreck 3 times in a week? Hell yes. I love that dive. This time four of us, Rob, Jody, Joe and me all together exploring levels 1 and 2. Level 2 is perhaps the more interesting one as it has the mess hall and the workshop, which has a grinder, planer, drill presses, lathe, hoists, workbenches and welding equipment. No-one seemed to have much trouble getting through the doors this time and we didn’t have any bailouts.

Near the end of the dive we were in the workshop when through a doorway we saw a large (no, like, really really big) Goliath Grouper hanging out. We watched him for quite a while but he eventually swam away slowly. We followed after him, descending through an oval hole and under the deck that overhangs the dry dock area. It looks from the plans like the hole once housed some kind of smokestack, but in (not 20/20) hindsight I’m a little fuzzy on which deck some things were on. The plans don’t show the stack on the workshop deck. It looks like once through the hold we swam out from under the deck on which the 3″/50mm guns used to be mounted, just before getting to the 50 ton cranes.

To be honest even though I surface with the feeling I was really getting to know the layout of the decks, in retrospect I’m not entirely sure what was on each deck, except for the mess hall and the machine shop. When I look at the plans I can’t reconcile everything with what I remember. Maybe narcosis is factor, or maybe the ship was reconfigured after the plans were drawn.

We also came upon the “Top Dog” floor mural in one of the hallways in the approximate centre of the deck, which I’d not seen before. It’s easy to overlook, being in a nondescript hallway running across the deck, and partially covered in silt.

TOP DOG - USS SPIEGEL GROVE (Floor Mural)

That was the best dive of the week, although I really like to go into the below decks again where it’s necessary to run guidelines. I’ll have to wait for my team members to get a little more time and confidence on their rebreathers before doing that again.

Shallow Waters May 8, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks.
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Wednesday turned out to be a disappointment followed by a decent shallow water dive. Once again we were to dive the Duane, and once again the current was way too strong. Like the previous time, we headed over to the Spiegel Grove only to hear of ripping currents there too, so we gave up and the boat took us to the wreck of the Norwegian merchant freighter Benwood, a wreck of a wreck lying in about 35′ feet of water. The Benwood sank after a collision, and then, according to our boat crew, the US Navy used it for target practice , so not only are there a few bombs lying around the site a lot of the metal is twisted beyond recognition. The Wikipedia article on the Benwood states that her stern section “seems to have been mostly obliterated by explosions of an unknown type”.

I dove with Rob, who’d recovered from his cold enough to dive. We took our time examining the wreck. Lots of time, actually, as my total dive time was 120 minutes. Rob logged 115 minutes but I explored for a few minutes below the boat so I could come up with 120 minutes on the computer. My reward was spotting a cluster of 4 lobsters. I’d had the best fill of the week so far so even with the length of the dive I still came up with 1000 PSI in the doubles. We saw a few Rockfish, a spotted drum, and various other more common species, and these mysterious rust coloured fish with big glassy eyes. The boat crew had some opinions on what the fish was, but we didn’t come up with anything definitive.

Any dive is a good dive but this good dive would have been a better dive if it were a dive on the Duane or the Spiegel Grove.

Update

The mysterious red fish is identified as a Glasseye Snapper.

priacanthus_cruentatus

Day of the Eagle May 7, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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For dive #3, Rob was down with a cold and Joe was still waiting for his O2 sensors to arrive. Jody had arranged to do his final dive of the rebreather course with the Gary, owner of Conch Republic, so I arranged to dive with them. This time we were on the Eagle. It was a fine day (like all of them) and current was minimal when we tied off on the stern line. When we’d descended to the wreck I put my 3/4 full deco tank (50% 02 in a 45 cubic foot steel tank) on the wreck right next to line. I recalled when diving the same wreck a few years before with Matt we’d initially staged on the bottom and as we swam away I realized that 115′ wasn’t the best depth for them, so we’d gone back and put them near the line and 30′ or so higher – saving us from descending again near the end of the dive.

Mindful of their near optimal O2 mix and effective gas capacity, I stayed about 10′ above them for most of the dive. I followed behind most of the time with Gary leading the way. We went inside the superstructure on the stern section for a bit but it was difficult for Jody to maneuver easily in the sideways wreck with his new kit. We also toured bow section, separated from the stern by Hurricane Georges in 1998, going round the bow from deck to hull then through a hole about half way day back to the deck. At one point I helped Jody get through a swim through which was giving him trouble because of the position of the bail-out tank. I just lifted it and he went right through. Then, of course, I had to make a point of sailing through without any contact, just to show myself that I could in my doubles, as no-one else was watching.

By the time we got back to the stern line I had 18 minutes TTS (time to surface) so I waved goodbye and went up to my first deco stop. By the time Gary and Jody came up I was nearly finished my deco and when I was done, I went back on the air in my doubles and hung out with them near the line while they finished theirs. I only had 100 PSI of 50% Nitrox deco gas left at that point, which was about 4 minutes worth, but at least an hour of air as a contingency in case I had run short.

While I love the Spiegel Grove for its sheer scale and upright position, the Eagle is a cool dive, especially once you get to know your way around it.

Coming to a Pool Near You May 4, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Miscellany.
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Everyone likes quadcopters, except when there in the path of the flight you’re on, perhaps, or peering through your bathroom window. Recently though, the “Loon-copter” has been making news from its ability to swim as well as fly. So what’s better than a quadcopter? One that dives as well as floats and flies. Watch the video on YouTube or the web site – very cool, if you can stand the cheesy music. I was hoping with a name like Loon it would be Canadian, but it comes from the Oakland University and it won the United Arab Emirates “Drones for Good” competition. Deservedly so. I wonder what its maximum depth rating is.

Decompression Period May 3, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Equipment, Shipwrecks, Technical Diving.
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Dive #2 was supposed to be on the Duane. It’s not my favourite wreck down there, and I’ve often said I could dive the Spiegel Grove every day of the week, but I’d never turn down a dive on the Duane. This time, though, when the Conch Republic boat got there, the buoys marking the site were under water, meaning very strong currents were present. I’ve dived the Duane in conditions like that and we had been surprised no-one had been swept off the wreck, so discretion prevailed and we headed off to Dive the Spiegel Grove again, which, of course, I didn’t mind one bit.

There was a fairly strong current on the Spiegel Grove as well. I was feeling slightly queasy after the long ride, but when I got to the back of the boat I was asked to wait as Rob was still getting ready. I sat down and didn’t feel to good so I told the crew I’d wait in the water and went in. It took some hauling to pull myself through the current to the descent line so I used the waiting time catching my breath using the atmosphere instead of my tank. Even so I used 400psi (about 28 cubic feet) just getting down to the bottom of the line, although some of that might have been lost due to the change in temperature. Using water temp of 27 and air temp of 33 the change in pressure due to temperature would be equivalent to about 6 cubic feet.

I was with my trusty buddy Rob. He was on his new rebreather so we didn’t push too hard – doing the swim throughs on the first and second levels above the main deck – and after reading some of the APD Inspiration manual I’m sure he had plenty enough to think about. Even though we were to dive the Spiegel Grove no less than 3 times during the week, we never penetrated the wreck below the main deck, where we need to run lines, choosing to stay conservative. In previous years we’ve gone one level below the deck and I was hoping to go further this year but it was not to be.

Rob’s kit wasn’t as streamlined as his doubles because his bail-out tank was not as parallel to his body as we tend to have with our doubles, and at one point he had to extricate himself from apparently entangling some of the many hoses on his kit while going through one of the doorways on the wreck.

As usual I racked up a bunch of deco time. Rob had very little, so this dive goes to the rebreather for minimizing hang time, although marks were deducted for the hangup in the doorway. Mind you, we were entertained by a group of Barracudas which circled us on each stop and the water was warm, although it would be been more fun to spend that time on the wreck.

Conch Republic handled everything wonderfully. Their setup on the dock is easy to use with the nearby fill station (although Mark carried my doubles to the fill station that day), hoses, hangers and dunk tanks.

Trouble in Paradise May 2, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Equipment.
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The morning dive was a good one. The Spiegel Grove was in fine form, although visibility was less than I’ve seen it previously. I was diving with Joe, who was on a rebreather. Rob had a low battery on his unit and wisely decided to give the day a miss, although I missed having him on the dive. We did a loop around the superstructure and then went into the 95′ deck where there is a mess hall and a workshop with a large lathe and other tools. Unfortunately Joe had a bad cell (giving me ammunition for ongoing but lighthearted arguments on the merits of rebreathers vs. open-circuit technical diving) and we ended the dive earlier than planned with only 4 minutes of deco needed on my part. Joe sat out the second dive so I went in with the recreational divers for my second dive without carrying any deco gas and finished the dive taking Jody for a tour of the same deck as the first dive. Because of a slightly shortened surface interval and a second deep dive I ended up with about 10 minutes of deco, with no 50 mix available to speed it up.

I went up the line at 30 fpm, the maximum recommended amount and started doing my stops. The 30′ stop cleared almost as soon as I got there, and the 20 minute stop was fairly short and I was at 10′ before Jody caught up. I’d seen him hanging below me and found out later he was wondering where I was, but eventually realized that I was above him. Because we were now the last divers in the water, I hurried things up by finishing my deco while swimming to the back of the boat. I’ve often done this just for fun but this time it saved 2 or 3 minutes for both the other divers and crew.

On the downside, I went into the Ocean Divers shop to buy an air fill for my doubles. The woman behind the counter made eye contact and I asked for a fill, at which point she seemed peeved and told me she had to finish some form or other for someone else. I told her I didn’t mind waiting and in a few minutes I was charged $8.60 and given a ticket to take downstairs. I talked to the guy in the air fill station who was helpful enough and gave him my ticket. No claim ticket was given to me, which I thought strange as they had no way of telling it was my tank. He asked me if it would be OK if I picked them up in the morning as he was busy with fills for the charter operation. That was fair enough and I agreed. They opened at 7 so I had time to swing by and grab the tanks on the way to a different operator for the next day’s dive. One difference between Ocean Divers and all the other dive operators in Key Largo is that the others will fill your tanks for free, but there, if you want to bring your own, you pay for the fill.

The next morning we were there at about 7:40 to pick up the tank. The guy I talked to the day before wasn’t there, and the fill station was being staffed by the same person who sold me the fill the day before. She told me that they didn’t get around to filling the tank. When I pointed out that I’d been promised it would be filled by morning, she told me that their policy was 24 hour turnaround. So bizarrely, I had to point out that irrespective of the policy, which had never been revealed to me, a promise is a promise, and the tank should have been filled. She offered to fill the tank right then, so despite this making us late for the boat I had no choice but to let her do it.

She first hooked a Nitrox hose to it, although I’d asked and paid for air. When she was called on this she said that the tank was labelled Nitrox and must be filled with Nitrox, not air. I probably should have taken my tank right there and then but I needed the fill. In rare circumstances her statement is true, when the air station is not O2 clean, but her statement reflected a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem, and certainly shouldn’t be the case at a Nitrox facility. Next she puts two yoke inserts in my DIN valves and hooks two fill hoses to the doubles. At that point I went upstairs for a moment to see if they were a PADI facility (which they are), because we were wondering as instructors whether we were responsible for reporting such faults. We concluded we weren’t. Then while we were talking about it we heard the familiar sound of purging, although these were both repeated and extended blasts of air, not a short single purge as you’d expect.

Mine was the only tank being filled so clearly something else was wrong. Looking in, I noticed she tried to tighten the valve on the left tank in the open position, just as we’d guessed. I pointed this out to her, and while closing it, she told us “the yoke is still not going to come off”. I told her she’d have to purge it first and she snapped “I know what I’m doing”. So I said that we were both certified gas blenders and we were just trying to help – a statement met by silence. Sure enough, with the valve closed and the whip purged, the yoke came right off. I wished her a nice day as we sped out of there, unlikely to return in the foreseeable future.

Mine was not the only case of rudeness, incompetence and egotism (a dangerous combination in diving) at this operation. The other disappointments will be written up by others and I will provide links to them in this blog. I’ve been to other operations on Key Largo that weren’t familiar with technical diving. None of those tried to fake knowledge they didn’t possess. Some might be characterized them as primarily suited for recreational divers so I don’t fault them for not knowing much about technical diving, as long as they don’t pretend to. Faking competence will ultimately lead to something unfortunate, so we won’t be coming back. Some of the other operators told us there has been a lot of staff of staff turnover there, not all of it voluntary.

Fortunately, it was my one and only dive scheduled with them that week.

Everybody Loves Miami April 27, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Shipwrecks.
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That may be true, but the airport is a bit confusing. Due to scheduling conflicts my ride from Miami to Key Largo wasn’t happening, and Geoff, who arrived about an hour before me, was in the same predicament. No getting our groove on for the night this time. So the two of us found each other in the terminal and went off in search of transportation to our destination.

Our first idea was to rent a car at the airport and drop it off at Key Largo. So we took the automated train over to the rental car terminal and waited in line for a considerable time for an Avis representative. We were told that it would be no problem dropping the car off anywhere in Florida but further into the transaction we found out that the Key Largo Avis closed at 1pm and wouldn’t be open until Monday. There was no drop-off while the location was closed so we would have to rent for two days when we really only needed two hours.

Enterprise Rent-a-Car told us we could drop the car off the same day, but there would be a $125 drop-off fee – basically worse that Avis. So we declined and went downstairs to the Greyhound station. There we were told we’d have to wait 1h 15m for the bus, which was a depressing enough thought without the delay. So we decided to go for the Keys Shuttle.

That meant we had to go back to the train, back to the terminal, walk through the terminal all the while getting incorrect advice about where we were supposed to go. Advice: don’t ask anybody where things are, just use the Internet or call them. The problem was that when the word “Shuttle” is in the question, any shuttle seemed to be OK. We were advised by one person to go to the departures level door 10. Fortunately I saw the shuttle one level below us loading up, and called to the driver that we would be down shortly. So for future reference it across from door 8 on the arrivals level.

The shuttle is $60 one-way. A trip for two, though, was only $70. So for $40 each including tip we got a reasonably friendly and comfortable ride right to our Motel. Shortly after we arrived the gang went to Hobo’s Cafe for dinner, looking forward to diving the next day.

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