Just returning from 10 days of technical diving in the Florida Keys. Dive trainer Richie Kohler, and co-instructors Gary Mace (of Conch Republic dive shop) and Cliff Diamond (of Empire Divers in NYC), were running a course for the past 10-days, and I tagged along for the fun.
As I’ve mentioned on Twitter and here, I need a certain number of hours on my CCR (closed circuit rebreather) in order to take the next level of training, so I had 8 days of diving with no real agenda except to enjoy the dives on the reefs and wrecks of the Upper Keys. Places like Conch Wall, Davey Crocker, and Molasses sprang to life with everything from large Spotted Eagle rays, Nurse sharks, Sea turtles and Goliath Groupers to small Sergeant Majors and nudibranchs like the Red-Tipped Sea Goddess. And then there were the artificial reefs—the wrecks!—that make diving the Keys so fun. I dove the Bibb, the Duane, the Spiegel Grove, the Eagle—enjoying the swim-throughs on some and doing proper wreck penetration on others (Note: you must be trained for this). And then yesterday, on my final dive, Richie and I went on a fantastic dive into the very bowels of the Bibb, heading as far aft as one could, to the deepest part of the ship. We suspect no one has been in that room since the ship was sank on November 28, 1987.
All in all, it was a truly memorable trip, and I’m hopeful I can do even more fun diving later in the year—including drysuit dives so I can start exploring Arctic waters. And, yes, I need to get an underwater camera so I can share more of the experience. Will do so before my next trip. Stay tuned…
So I was just browsing various news stories and photo essays when I came across a number of great photos of people skydiving, including this one here:
Gorgeous, huh? Which got me rummaging through my photos…
Hold on a sec.. okay, here it is!
That’s me in front (obviously). Sad to say I’ve forgotten the name of the man strapped to my back, but that would be my instructor at the Mile-Hi Skydiving Center. I went there twice in 2003, in fact. The first time was with two of my best friends in Colorado. The second time was on a date (her idea!). Both jumps were truly awesome experiences—40-50 seconds of free fall over the Rockies at something like 140mph. I swear, after falling that fast, everything else seems REALLY slow and the rest of the day is a breeze.
Of course, some think skydiving is insane but I’d actually love to get my certification. If given the chance, would you jump?
One of my sound recordists, Rob, always jokes that he’s easily replaceable—that recording sound for a TV show is so simple that he could teach a monkey how to do his job in about 5 minutes, maybe 3 minutes. Well, after seeing this video, Rob may need to worry about chimps, too (chimps aren’t monkeys). Perhaps it’s cameramen who should be worried…
I think the footage looks more like camera-carrying than actual planning and directing, but it still offers a unique perspective into the day-to-day life of chimps in a zoo. For primate enthusiasts, I’m sure the footage will be both enjoyable and possibly eye-opening. Not sure if the program will air here in the US, but here’s the release from the BBC with more info for those interested.
I just got a tweet about ice diving with narwhals (to get a sense, visit this link). Now, I love scuba diving, as you know. And I’ve had a fascination with narwhals ever since I saw their tusks (teeth, really) when I was in Greenland, where I learned that it was the Vikings who made them famous by selling those long front teeth as unicorn horns (clever Vikings). But I never really wanted to scuba dive with them… until now. So it’s got me wondering… could I work that into my schedule this year? Is it too late to get the training necessary? For me, I’d need both drysuit and ice diving training, both of which could be done in a day or so. And I’d need to find a way to get up to Newfoundland in April, when apparently it’s the best (and only) time of year to attempt such a feat. Is it too late? Hmm. I’m going to explore further.
And while I’m on the subject of cold pursuits, I’ve also had an odd desire to learn how to ice climb. I remember back in 1996 or 1997, I attended the Ouray Ice Festival in Ouray, Colorado. At the time, I wasn’t that much into learning how to do it, but now I am. Strange, huh? Perhaps a clinic or workshop is in order… I’ve heard good things about the American Alpine Institute’s programs. Time will tell whether I manage to squeeze these in or not, but I thought it fun to share. You have an opinion on either?
As some may know, I love SCUBA diving (open- and closed-circuit) and have been fortunate enough to have done it in a number of beautiful places around the world. Today, however, was something different, as I was diving in the Galápagos, one of the world’s most treasured eco-systems. The dive was offered by a local dive company that, to be honest, I would never recommend to anyone and will therefore refrain from naming here. Just let me warn those of you who may want to dive the Galápagos that you had better know what you’re doing because you’re not going to get any instruction—or any real risk management—from some of the dive shops there. Yikes.
Rather than schlep my equipment on the multiple planes, boats, and buses along my journey, I decided to rent. This part of the operation was actually pretty good, as they had items in my size and the equipment was decent. My brothers ended up with the same ScubaPro wetsuit that I own and normally dive in (while I, of course, was given a ratty, torn thing of questionable benefit). Once in the water and ready to dive, we descended to 20 or so feet and I immediately noticed a sound both familiar and unusual—the high-pitched squeal of dolphins. Shocked, I looked at my brother and signaled my excitement, making the sign for ears and dolphin. He responded that he could also hear them, so we kept our eyes peeled, fighting the limited (25 feet) murky visibility.
At 65 feet, we reached the edge of a wall and knew that our dive plan was to swim along this edge, making our way toward some breakers near the shore (approx 1/8 mile away). As our group of 5 began swimming, the sound grew louder and louder until finally a pod of perhaps 40 dolphins swam past! Dolphins!! The sounds they were making were so beautiful, I couldn’t help but smile and pray for some sort of instant telepathic / emotional connection with them. “Swim over here! Swim over here! I’m a friend!” Dozens and dozens of them swam across our field of vision—perhaps 60 or 80 in all. It was a truly uplifting and inspiring moment, watching one of the planet’s most playful and intelligent mammals moving in the wild. (Dolphins!!)
As the dolphins and their sounds faded into the murky blueness and my spirits returned to some level of normalcy, we approached the shoreline and hovered around 40 feet. It was here where we watched a sea lion playing in the surf, followed by about 6 whitetip sharks making circles under a large coral overhang. I had seen a whitetip a few days earlier while snorkeling, but being down in the water and watching them circle around, one can’t help but think “Damn, that’s a lot of sharks… will they attack me?” Not common with whitetips, but not impossible, either. Thankfully, nothing happened.
From there, we descended back to 65 or so feet, following the dive plan away from shore for a bit. It was at this point that I saw something coming at me from the edge of visibility. It was about 30 feet away, moving parallel to my group, and it had the most unmistakable profile… a hammerhead!! Ecstatic, I desperately tried to signal our dive leader, who was directly below me, but he couldn’t feel or hear my taps on his tank. Finally, I grabbed his arm with a vice-like grip, signaled “hammerhead” (put your fists on either side of your head) and pointed. By the time he looked, though, only the tail was visible, swimming away into the murkiness. Aaaarrrggghh! Okay, so my advice to other divers based on this is… if you see a hammerhead shark, don’t waste time signaling to others if it means you might not get to stare at it and appreciate it in all its fast-moving glory. That thing was moving! Later, on the boat, the guide said he never saw any of it, nor did the others in my group who were behind us a bit. Me, oh I know I saw what I saw. I just wish I had kept my eyes on it longer. (Insert expletive here.)
Moving on from the shark, we meandered along some more coral reefs, watching a variety of fish which, while nice, weren’t sharks or dolphins. I was spoiled and jaded at this point. Some of the schools of fish moved in the most beautiful ways, and the light was spectacular, but I was replaying the image of the hammerhead in my head, trying to make those few seconds feel a bit more satisfying.
The rest of the dive, including our safety stop, was uneventful, but after all the fun we’d had, I was VERY pleased with my dive in the Galápagos. I’m definitely going back, and next time, I’m bringing a camera.