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Fatality at Scuba Club Christmas Party December 31, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Emergencies.
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My wife and I left our dive club party to the more enthusiastic drinkers at about 10:30. I’d had nothing to drink and my wife had 1 beer. We both feel better with little or nothing to drink – something to do with age, I think.

There is a Karaoke bar downstairs from the restaurant where a lot of the club members ended up. It wasn’t exactly hopping, but there were continuous performances going on. One man, not from the divng club, was singing and dancing, then sat down and started gasping. Dave, an assistant instructor and technical diver I’ve dived with fairly often, ended up giving him CPR, and a woman who was on an oxygen unit donated it to help revive him.

He was taken away in an ambulance – and even though the paramedics had said he was reviving, they found out later that he’d died. It was a sad story but at least he had the best chance possible with a group of first aid-trained divers around. The only thing that would have helped more would have been an on-site defibrillator.

I got this story Sunday from the guys who were on my AI course. I haven’t spoken to Dave yet, but will be interested in his version of the story. It’s another example person who died despite the prompt application of CPR. I hope some day to report a case of CPR saving a life – I’m sure it does sometimes.

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Submersible Pressure Gauges December 30, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Equipment.
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My wife gave me a submersible pressure gauge for Christmas, as well as some other diving gear. In reality, I went out and bought it and gave it to her, and then she gave it back to me. It’s the centre one in the picture below, made by Poseidon. It’s the only Poseidon equipment that I own.

3 SPG for technical diving

3 SPG for technical diving

The gauge on the left, made by OMS, is from my Apeks ATX50 secondary regulator. In the standard technical setup, the primary regulator, attached to the right hand post of the double tanks (when viewed from behind), has no SPG. When everything is operating normally with the manifold valve open, both tanks have the same pressure so a second gauge isn’t necessary. When things aren’t normal, you’re supposed to be on your way out of the water. The rationale for no second SPG is that it’s a unnecessary complication.

The Poseidon guage in the middle and the OMS gauge on the right without the boot are for my OMS Deco regs. These regs have only an unsealed first stage each with a second stage and an SPG. On the rare occasions when I’ve used  two deco bottles I’ve not had an SPG on one of them. Of course, I would always check the pressure on both deco bottles right before the dive, but I wanted to complete the set.  While for aesthetic reasons I would have like to have had a 3rd OMS SPG it just wasn’t to be. My LDS  was all out of them and couldn’t get any more, and while they were available from Divetech in Brockville the price was about double my discounted local pro price at my LDS.

The Poseidon looks like it will also be easier to read. My close up vision is getting poorer with age, as it does with most people, and it won’t be too many more years before I need a prescription mask. These days I sometimes find gauges and slates difficult to read in low light.

2007 – My year of Scuba Diving Certifications December 29, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Training.
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My fourth day in Cozumel on November 23rd was my last dive in 2006. In 2006 I’d finished my dry suit course and signed up for both IANTD Deep Diving and Advanced Nitrox Courses, finishing the entire classroom portion but only 1 actual training dive. The last thing on my mind was starting Divemaster training. I had tended to agree with Michael Bane, the author of the book, Diving on the Edge, that advanced training was more rewarding than professional training. I think belonging to the dive club changed that. The club is well stocked with people with pro certifications, and the enthusiasm tends to rub off.

So when Brad announced an information meeting for the Divemaster course he was running I decided to show up. He talked about the program, and then mentioned that anyone with a technical certification could act as a divemaster for future technical courses. That is what hooked me and I signed up on the spot. So now I was enrolled in two diving courses.

I didn’t know at the time I would complete 3 more courses before the end of the year. The drift and night courses were really extensions of the technical diving training. Some of the practice dives we did were in environments where I could complete my qualifications for the other courses. The Wreck diving course was a complete add-on. I also had a sudden trip to Singapore and Hong Kong on business during that time (between the wreck course and the Tobermory diving weekend) and my wife was fairly irritated with me by the end of the summer.

Looking back, 2007 was the year I really learned to dive. Then again, 2008 seems a bit like that as well. No doubt this means I still have lots to learn.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald December 28, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Diving Books and Films.
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I happened upon a book in my local library by Dr. Joseph MacInnis (a native of Barrie, Ontario) called Fitzgerald’s Storm: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Prior to reading the book, most of what I knew about the wreck was from Gordon Lightfoot‘s song by the same name. The song is referred to frequently in the book and tracks the real story pretty well, but the book provides a lot more depth on the story and the 29 people who were lost when the ship broke in half and sank in 525 feet of water, a little North of Whitefish Bay in eastern Lake Superior (The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay if they’d put 15 more miles behind ‘er).

This book, written in 1995 was a great read. I devoured it in about 4 hours, hardly putting it down. The Fitzgerald was about the same size as the Roy A. Jodrey, a far more accessible wreck (still quite deep though), in the St. Lawrence River near Alexandria Bay New York and so provides some scale for the imagination. I have yet to dive the Jodrey although I tried once (that story will be posted later), but I hope to do so this year.

Our growing cadre of tech divers is also planning trips to various destinations this year, including the Oriskany off Pensacola Florida. Oliver Champeau, the third assistant engineer on the Fitzgerald actually served on the Mighty O. in the Korean War. Other destinations we’re planning are our usual trips to Brockville and Tobermory, plus eastern Lake Erie near Long Point, and I suggested Whitefish Bay after reading an article about the many shipwrecks there in Diver Magazine.

Even discounting the special permits required to dive the Fitz, which has been declared a grave site by the Ontario Government, the depth is beyond my current capabilities, and I am unlikely to ever have the training, fitness, time and money to be able to dive it. I don’t find the prospect all that interesting anyway, although I’m sure it would be a cool thing to do.

I found an interesting film clip in the CBC archives (OK it was on the first page of a Google search on Dr. MacInnis) of a 1971 CBC TV show called Telescope. It’s worth watching just to see the primitive diving gera. Dr. MacInnis has had quite a career, including advisor the discovery team on the Titanic, and co-leading the expedition to film the Titanic in Imax format.

2006 Scuba Diving in Cozumel, Day Four December 27, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log.
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The fourth day of diving was still marred somewhat by the weather. This time, however, on the 23rd of November 2006, the only problem was a delay in getting going, with pickup from the dock at the Occidental Grand Hotel just after noon. In no time we were at the dive site and splashing into the water at the Palancar Bricks dive site by ten to one.

I requested Nitrox for the dives that day. It’s now standard practice for me to dive Nitrox the day before I fly, just to be a little more conservative. Most of the time I when I do air dives in the Caribbean I get really long bottom times and end up with a small decompression obligation. Nitrox keeps me away from the no decompression limit so I feel a bit safer. This dive, on EAN32 (32% oxygen) hit a maximum depth of 95 feet and a bottom time of 45 minutes. The water temperature had dropped from 31C to 28C (85F to 82F) through the week, but in my 3mm wet sit was still quite comfortable.

Turtle feeding

Turtle feeding

During the dive we came upon this Turtle feed from some vegetation growing on this rock. It completely ignored several divers getting close-up photos and just continued to eat.

There was also a Barracuda on this dive, picture below, that appears to have a fish-hook in its mouth. I didn’t notice it until a few minutes ago while I was preparing the photograph for posting.

Barracuda with fish hook in right hand corner of its mouth

Barracuda with fish hook in right hand corner of its mouth

It’s hard to see the fish hook in the above photo, but easier with the close-up on the right. coz-2006-day-4-barracuda-closeupOn the second dive, on EAN37 as I measured it, I saw a school of about 20 Barrucuda right near the end of the dive while I was on my 5 minute safety stop. This dive, which lasted almost an hour and a quarter, maxed out at 53 feet in Pasa del Cedral. Despite my love for deep diving, some of the shallower stuff in Cozumel is really great because the colours are so much brighter, both live and for photography.

We saw Morays, Puffers, Angel Fish, Grouper, Lobster and Grunts. The plentiful Grunts in these shallower dives make good photo opportunities,  and while I’ve taken better pictures than the one below, this is the best I have right now from Cozumel because my hard drive bit the dust a few weeks back and I lost most of my 2007 photography.

Between dives, as is the custom with Blue XT Sea diving, we parked on a deserted shore of the island and had a snack and a swim. The surface interval was 1 hour and 3 minutes. This meant that I was back on the dock not long after 4pm much to the surprise of my wife, who was accustomed to me being away for long periods. I told her that the fast turnaround was the way it was supposed to work, with a total time of about 4 hours, which has now made Cozumel her favourite destination for a combined non-dive/dive vacation. For me, the diving is great, the hotel is wonderful, and its a really good value for the money.

coz-2006-day-4-grunts

Weighting and buoyancy in fresh & salt water December 26, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Technical Diving.
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PADI divers learn to adjust their weighting by making sure that they float at eye level with an empty BC and while holding a normal breath. This is supposed to be done with an almost empty tank (something I rarely see actually done) as an 80 cubic foot tank holds about 6 pounds of air. Alternatively, you can do the procedure with a full tank then add 5 or 6 pounds. I always check to see that the student isn’t kicking and that their BC is really empty.

Another thing that a student is taught, although not with a lot of emphasis in initial underwater training, is to control buoyancy by controlling the amount of air in the lungs. Tidal Volume, which is the amount a person normally breathes in an out is a mere 500ml, which displaces 1/2 kg (just over a pound) of water. Vital Capacity, the amount you can breathe in and out from very full to really empty, is 4.6l, displacing 4.6kg or about 10 pounds – which is quite a variation in buoyancy (just imagine dropping a 10 pound weight belt).

On the weight check, the top of the head is sticking out of the water. Up to eye level, the diver is displacing a volume of water equal to his own weight. By breathing out, if the diver reduces his volume equal to the displacement of the top of his head, he becomes neutrally buoyant. By breathing out some more, he starts to sink. (A properly weighted diver  will just sink by emptying his BC because he is carrying 5 extra pounds of weight of air in his full tank.)

The concept of displacement can be used to estimate the amount that weight would change from going from fresh to salt water. Assuming you have the same equipment configuration, including the thermal protection, if you are weighted corrected then you will approximately displace your total weight of water. In fresh water this is 62.4 pounds per cubic foot of volume. So if you weigh 170 pounds, your equipment weighs 70 pounds and you required 25 pounds of weight in fresh water, you and your equipment displaces about 265/62.4 cubic feet of water. Multiply this by 64 pounds (the density of sea water vs. the 62.4 for fresh water) and you will know the weight of sea water you displace. In this case the volume is just over 4 cubic feet so the extra density of sea water will mean that about 6 1/2 more pounds of weight will be required to achieve the same buoyancy.

This number isn’t going to vary all that much with equipment changes. Unless you’re going to be going down with 4 tanks, a scooter, and tons of other gear you’re not going to vary your  that much even going from basic 3mm Caribbean configuration to full northern dry suit. Maybe 40 pounds. That equates to only about 1 pound difference between the extra weight needed.

For exact amounts you can use Calchemy, which is a free program available on the web that’s useful for Scuba calculations (once you get the hang of it). I’ve written about this program a couple of times before for doing other Scuba related calculations. If you enter the following expression in the text box labelled Expression:

265*pound*(dens_sea_water-dens_water)/dens_water

and the word pound in the box labelled Result Unit, then click Evaluate, it returns the value 6.625 pounds. This is precisely the amount of extra weight needed for a 265 pound object that is neutrally buoyancy in fresh water to be neutrally buoyant in sea water. By substituting kilogram for pound in both places, the calculation converts to metric. Either way, if you leave out the number 265 then the result (for 1 pound or 1 kilogram) will be .025 or 1/40th. This means that from fresh to sea water, 1/40th of a pound of extra weight is needed for every pound of weight of the diver + equipment.

To go from sea water to fresh water you just substitute one for the other everywhere in the expression:

265*pound*(dens_water-dens_sea_water)/dens_sea_water

Scuba Diving in Cozumel, 2006 Day 3 December 25, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log.
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My third day of diving on my first trip to Cozumel didn’t go as planned. I had booked to go diving every day but the “Norte” was blowing hard and the harbour was closed. So instead of my next dive happening on November 20th, it was delayed until the 22nd. The harbour was still closed at this time, but Christi had arranged for us to go out on a fishing boat on the southern end of the island, where the winds and waves were much calmer as the waters were sheltered by land.

The Calm Waters of the Island's Southeast side

The Calm Waters of the Island's Southeast side

Early in the afternoon, one of the other divers picked me up in a Volkswagen convertible he’d rented on the cheap, and we drove southward then around the bottom of the island to find our boat. The dive shop staff were very helpful in moving our gear into the relatively tiny fishing boat and we headed out into waters not usually frequented by divers.

The first dive started at 2:30 in the afternoon and I logged 55 minutes of bottom time at a maximum depth of 77 feet. They called the location “Pedro’s reef”, but it was just some spot in the ocean as Pedro was one of our divemasters.  The dive was long enough that my computer told me to do 4 minutes of deco before the safety stop. The damage from Wilma a year before was very much in evidence on this part of the island.  We did, however, have visibility of at least 60 feet and it was a decent, though not spectacular dive. After a two day layoff though, we were all glad for anything we could get.

Divers crammed into fishing boat - Pedro at upper left

Divers crammed into fishing boat - Pedro at upper left

On the second dive I had a problem. After my backroll into the water I noticed my air was off. These days I’d just reach back and turn it on myself as I do flexibility exercises to make sure I can reach my valves, and at least in a wet suit I can do it easily. My dry suit is more constricting and I have to loosen some straps to get at them. One of the boat jumped in the water and turned on the valve, and I started the dive to “Arturo’s Reef”.

About 20 minutes into the dive I noticed increased breathing resistance at the end of each inhalation. I checked my gauge and it showed plenty of air at around 2000 PSI. It was only a very slight problem but small problems can be the start of big ones so I was not about to ignore it. I tried my alternate second stage and it was doing exactly the same thing, and then started to thing about how expensive and inconvenient a first stage  fault might be. I started to contemplate aborting the dive.

I took a another look at my gauge and as I inhaled, the needle dropped to zero, then recovered immediately after I stopped breathing in. The reason for the problem then just popped into my head, and I swam over to Arturo who was leading the dive and signalled him to open my tank valve all the way. As soon as he’d done the problem went away and I continued on for a nice 50 minute dive at a maximum of 54 feet with 5 minutes of decompression. Lesson Learned: Don’t trust non-divers to adjust your equipment – even better, don’t trust anyone but yourself.

Electric Ray

Electric Ray

Just as I was starting to have the problem, we noticed this Electric Ray sitting on the bottom. I had no idea what it was at the time but the whitish colour and the zig-zag tail were something different. Despite the problem I managed to squeeze off a few photographs.

We were out of the water at about 5:20 and sped off back to the beach. The sun was setting and the air temperature started to drop a bit. Poor Arturo was getting really cold and shivering but we  hardy northerners took it in stride.

Applying to PADI by email December 24, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Training.
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The usual method of submitting one’s Assistant Instructor application, once it is signed by the certifying instructor is to mail it in, along with a picture, proof of Divemaster Certification, and proof of CPR training within the last 24 months. However my instructor said it could be emailed in to PADI, and gave me an email address of a PADI employee to send it to.

So I just scanned the application along with the back of my Divemaster and CPR cards, took a picture of myself and mailed it all in. The next day I got a reply saying that everything was fine, but they wouldn’t process it until January 5th due to holidays. So for a few days I won’t be a PADI professional because I didn’t want to pay the Divemaster renewal fee then pay the fee again for Assistant Instructor.

I don’t think I’ll miss much. There’s not too much interest in diving courses at this time of year, although last year there was a pool class right at the beginning of January for people getting referrals for their sun vacations. That was my last confined water pool weekend for my Divemaster internship.

PADI Assistant Instructor – All Done December 22, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Training.
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Sunday was the grand finale of the course. Ed and Brad were instructing, Ron and Rich acted as students or divemasters as required, and Duc, Steve, Marty, Ryan and I were the AI candidates. The pool session was at a different dive shop located just outside Barrie, Ontario, which has its own pool. Tim, the owner was clearing up snow when we arrived.

All of us except Ryan had met at our own dive shop in Newmarket at 9AM. We ran through dive skill briefings, where I had to do briefings for underwater scuba unit removal and replacements, and the partial mask flood. These were similar to the briefings for the open water exercises – stating objectives, value, procedure, organization, hand signals, and things to look at for. After the four of us had run through those we jumped in a few vehicles and drove up the snowy highway, scene of some major accidents this winter, to Barrie. Ryan lives closer to Barrie, so he met us at the pool and did his briefings on site.

We started out by taking turns being students and instructors. Doing the air-sharing drill, for example, Marty was told just to grab the regulator out of my mouth. I just sat there blowing bubbles until Duc gave me another one. My my turn came, Marty stuck his alternate in my mouth upside down. Duc didn’t catch that even though I pretended to cough, then actually started coughing because it breathed so wet (one of reasons I like my Apeks Egress Reg, it’s a little bit wet upside down but perfectly usable. Eventually I had to put my own regulator back in my mouth so I could take another breath,

I was also a student for the mask flood and clear exercise. I did the exercise as I was supposed to and spat out  my reg. Steve had another one in my mouth pretty quickly. When Marty did it he took his mask off completely. Such is the life of an instructor.

When my turn came to demonstrate the skill, I found my “students” all trying to follow along with it. It was pretty funny to watch. I stopped them, signalled them to watch me, and all was fine. I didn’t exactly make the demonstration look easy though. There was a bit too much weight in the BC and even though I was wearing 4 pounds on a weight belt it was still a bit hard to balance. Got it done though. When my student Ryan tried it he unbuckled the shoulder strap without me noticing until he start to put it back on. I helped him finish and made him do it again.

The other exercise I had to do was a partial mask flood and clear. One student filled the mask completely and the other lost his reg. Whenever anyone is flooding the mask, removing the scuba unit or taking the reg out of the mouth you must have another source of air ready – that is you keep your alternate second stage in your hand ready to go.

After we’d all gone through our own skills demonstrations and evaluations we all did our skill circuits, which is going through the 20 skills that open water students have to accomplish.  The class was competent and we went through them all with no problem.

At the beginning of the session Brad told us that something was wrong and whoever figured it out would win an amphibious outfitters t-shirt. When Ed demonstrated weight belt removal and replacement I saw him hold the buckle in his right hand. Weight belts are supposed to be a “right hand release” so the buckle is wrapped around the left side of the body, so should be in your left hand. I had a wrist slate and wrote “weight belt backwards” on it and showed it to Brad – who shook my hand to let me know I’d won the shirt.

After 3 hours of fun in the pool, we drove back – past two minor car accidents – to the dive shop and were all certified as PADI Assistant Instructors. I’ll mail my form, along with the registration and membership fee, to PADI in the morning, having, as Brad said, “earned a second stripe”.

On a final note, I found the videos of Divemaster skills circuits and PADI skills demonstrations on Youtube quite helpful in preparing for the day. Remembering the little things to slow yourself down and exaggerate the movements is important both for the students and to get a good score on the evaluations.

2006 Scuba Diving in Cozumel, day two December 21, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log.
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On the second day we still had high winds, with the Norte still churning up the water and making it difficult to reach the hotel dock, so Blue XT Sea Diving once again asked me to cab it up to La Caleta Marina to meet the boat, and then drive all the way back in the boat to the vicinity of the hotel again.

The first dive was to Palancar Caves, so named not because there are real caves, but plentiful swim-throughs. A friendly group of Americans were also on the boat, and most admitted to being heavy breathers, except one woman called Nora who was supposedly the easiest on air of the bunch. So based on my description of the previous days dives at an hour each they suggested I buddy up with Nora so my dive wouldn’t end early.

My American Buddies in Palancar Caves

My American Buddies in Palancar Caves

After hitting a maximum depth of 102 feet, and a little less than 40 minutes elapsed, Nora signalled me that she was low on air so we started our ascent. So much for her vaunted low air consumption. After the safety stop I emerged still with a 1000 PSI in my tank. As we were shallower nearer the end of the dive, that would have been good for another 10 or 15 minutes with 500 PSI at the safety stop. Too bad but it still a great dive.

I didn’t note the location of the second dive – probably because I didn’t hear it properly on the briefing. It was also a really nice dive with lots of sea life and a maximum depth of 59 feet. I saw Nurse Sharks, big Groupers and Lobsters, a Toadfish and got some good Turtle photographs.

The Toad Fish - A face only a diver could love

The Toad Fish - A face only a diver could love

Nora was my dive buddy once again, but based on the last dive released me from my responsibility to ascend with her. So when she ran low well before me, she signalled that she’d go up with some of the other divers and I stayed down, eventually just with our guide. After 63 minutes of bottom time, I ascended and did 4 minutes of deco and a 3 minute safety stop for a total of 70 minutes underwater – feeling like I got my money’s worth.

I love these things

I love these things

I had 500 PSI on exit. When my computer goes into deco I’ll reserve an extra 100 PSI for each 2-3 minutes of deco time on this type of dive (nice warm clear water) but I don’t like to go more than 10 minutes of deco without a backup air supply. If it’s under 10 minutes, and you can’t find a buddy to give you air, you’ve still got options. Probably I wouldn’t get bent anyway, given the conservatism of my computer. I could also surface, grab a tank and reg, and get down quickly to complete my deco, or even breathe some O2 when I got back to the boat. With the reliability of a well-maintained first stage, I feel comfortable with these self-imposed limits, even if it goes beyond recreational diving recommendations.

Once again I wasn’t back to hotel until after 3 because of the weather-induced delays. Still, it was a great day of diving – and the Blue XT Sea crew were great – and I really like the uncrowded dive boats they run, usually with 4-6 divers on board. Once the weather got better I saw the boat from the dive shop at the hotel crowded with divers. I’ve been down that route, and this was much, much, better.