It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Peacock Springs: The Grand Traverse

After some overnight mulling, we decided to do the traverse from Orange Grove to Peacock. We had one set of doubles and two stages each. So we decided to burn the first stage (and possibly a teeny bit of backgas) on the setup from Peacock to Olson, and that should leave us plenty of gas to do the whole traverse on the second dive. We planned to take the Peanut line and the Crossover tunnel to Olson, since it's shallower and barely any longer (I think). We stopped at the Luraville Country Store to get some of their tasty sandwiches for lunch. Rob also got a sausage and egg biscuit for breakfast, which was quite tasty. Mmm, I love biscuits. When we first pulled into Peacock, it was totally empty. There were no cars at Orange Grove, and one car at Peacock. By the time we got geared up and ready to get in the water, there were a couple more cars at Peacock.

I led the dive (again), and Rob was pretty good about not being pushy about where to run the line. Not that there is much line to run to the Peanut line, in fact, I just used a spool. We got going and in my zeal to make it to Olson, I was going a bit fast. Rob said that he could barely keep up in the Peanut tunnel. I figured this out when I hit the 600' marker and did some mental math to realize I'd been swimming like 70 feet per minute since we had hit the 100' marker. I tried to slow down, though I'm not sure I did a particularly good job of that. We got to the Crossover jump, and headed down it. Before you know it, we were over to the Pothole line and once you are there, you are practically at Olson. It was even closer than I had thought. We dropped a cookie on the line we came from to officially mark where we had made it on this dive. We surfaced in Olson and chit-chatted a bit before heading back the way we came. It was a slightly more leisurely exit with Rob leading :) We managed to do the setup dive without touching our backgas, so we had plenty of gas for the second dive. I gave Rob one more chance to back out, though, since he would be the one tasked with walking from Peacock back to Orange Grove to fetch the car. Traverses really work better with two cars!

We drove over to Orange Grove, and had some lunch. Or elevensies anyway. By the time we finished the second dive, there were quite a few cars at Peacock, and Orange Grove was a zoo. But luckily none of the parking spots are really that much further from the entrance (or rather, they are all kind of far, so the distance of a couple more parking spots makes little difference). Rob put our bottles in the water while I visited the composting toilet, and then we got geared up and headed into the water. As is typical at Peacock, we saw a lot of cave critters (shrimp and little white "sea bugs" as I would call them), which I think are pretty cool. Also as is typical, the area right after the line sort of corkscrews down around 1000' was a bit siltier. Another team had just come from there, so it was even a bit siltier than usual. When we got to Challenge, I dropped a purple double ender to mark the side we wanted to go, which Rob was thoroughly amused by, and then we surfaced and chatted for a while. Challenge is a relatively small sink to share with someone else, and while sticking my face in the water to look at around, I noticed an area in the water was sort of wavy looking, like in a thermocline or halocline. Then I realized this part of the water was emanating from Rob's p-valve. Ewww, totally not cool to pee while we are sharing a tiny little sink!

After chastising Rob, and recording some numbers on how much gas we each used for future planning purposes, we headed toward the purple bolt snap :) Finally we were seeing some new cave! We passed another team shortly after we headed in from Challenge. There were a few different areas in there where the cave is more like a vertical crack or canyon than a tunnel shaped area. I thought that was cool. There was also a jump that I peered down a little closer to the Olson side than Challenge which looked like it would be fun to check out in the future. Just as we came close to Olson, it got canyon-like again. I think that was my favorite part of this segment of the dive. We hung out at Olson for a few minutes, and then another team appeared from the Peacock side. Then we headed back in the way they came.

I wanted to switch positions on the way out, so that I could cleanup the spools, but Rob rebelled against my plan to do everything, and so I agreed to lead the way out. But somehow when we descended, he ended up in front. So as we were approaching the first jump, to the Crossover tunnel, I asked if he wanted me to lead and we switched places. Also around this time, my stage bottle started to annoy the crap out of me, because I had just switched off of it at Olson. The second stage kept digging into my armpit, so I tried to push it down further, and it continued to annoy me. I finally realized that the top band was just too high, so even if the second stage was as far down as I could put it, it was too high. So I shimmied the band down a little and that finally fixed it. The exit was pretty uneventful, except that when we got back to the cavern zone at Peacock, it was rather crowded, and a bit stirred up. We hung out in the basin briefly and then headed up to the picnic tables. We dropped our gear there, and Rob headed over to get the car. Luckily he remembered as he was walking away that the key to the car was in my undergarment pocket :)

While he was fetching the car, I retrieved our stage bottles and then just hung out, trying to hide in the shade and avoid sunburn. Rob made it back with the car faster than I expected, and we headed back to Orange Grove. Without a doubt, the most annoying aspect of the traverse was having to get back in at Orange Grove for a 5 minute dive to pull the reel. It was made more annoying by the fact that my ears were totally acting up and I had to spend a minute hanging out at the secondary tie, waiting for them to cooperate. Then, to add insult to injury, when we got out of the water, my gear was totally covered in gillyweed (err, duckweed). So much for not needing to rinse your gear after cave diving! It's a lie -- don't believe it! After a quick stop at the Luraville Country Store for an emergency ice cream sandwich, we headed back to High Springs to shower and such before heading to David's for dinner and some puppy play.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ginnie Springs: Hill 400 Line

Saturday morning, we met at EE for some final debrief. At the end of every class, David makes you answer a bunch of questions (in writing) about your strengths and weaknesses, and your GUEness. In addition to making us write the answers, he made up for not making us do introductions on day 1, by making us go around and talk about our strengths and weaknesses. Blech. Once the driving of hot pokers under our nails was finished, the three of us got lunch at the Station Bakery (yum) and then Rob and I headed to Ginnie for a dive. David seemed to think it was odd that we were going to Ginnie. I think he thinks my disdain for Ginnie is greater than it is. I don't really mind it when it's just us, I just hate having to deal with the flow while I am being judged :) Ginnie was quite crowded, but not with divers. There were a zillion people tubing there though (it was 80+ degrees after all).

Rob wanted to go up the Hill 400 line, which was arbitrary but fine with me. I had to lead the dive. Rob was stripped of his dive leading authority in the class debrief :) Luckily the reel was still in. Woohoo. We brought stage bottles and planned to drop them at the jump. I hadn't really studied the map very carefully, so I figured we'd just head up that line and see what was there. I put the jump in, we dropped our bottles right there, and we were off. The tunnel is a little smaller than the main line tunnel, but still pretty big. The flow was not that bad in there, but it was still a bit of a huff swimming through there. Eventually at maybe 900 feet or so, we came up a big hill and it got quite a bit shallower -- I'm guessing this is the reason for the name of the line. We passed a bunch of tunnels with jumps, some of which we peered down, but I figured since I hadn't seen this tunnel yet, I might as well stick with it. At some point, I was thinking I would turn the dive, and then decided to wait until we hit the next marker, since there was a little curve ahead in the tunnel, and I at least wanted to see what was beyond it. We came around that turn and found some paper bats on the line. The night before, we were talking to Zev at dinner, and I overhead him tell Rob that we should go see "the bats". Ahh, this must be the bats.

We turned the dive there, and headed back with the flow, ahhh. On the way out, we could at some point see a parallel line running to our right, which we could periodically see when there were breaks in the wall on that side. Since we were making very good time/gas on the exit, when we hit a jump, I suggested we got up there and take a look. I was thinking this would jump to the parallel line, but right after putting in the jump spool and swimming like 10 feet, I saw another jump, which was obviously going to the parallel line. I didn't feel like getting another spool out (or retrieving one from Rob, since I was out of jump spools at that point), so I figured we'd just stay on the line we were on. A few kicks later I realized that we were going with the flow, and it was rather strong. I turned around, signaled to Rob that we should go back. I wanted to go back to that other jump (which Rob was like one kick beyond at this point), so I tried to signal him to just move back a bit so I could put the jump in. He didn't understand what I was saying, so I just turned it and we headed out. It was quite nice to exit the cave without a single failure! And I even managed to cleanup the reel without making a complete mess of the line in the flow :)

We settled down on the rocks at 20 feet to do a little deco. Rob whipped out his wetnotes and wanted to play Beto's dot game. This is some silly deco game that is one notch up from tic-tac-toe in terms of the strategy required to play it. Unfortunately, that puts it a bit over my head in the strategy department. I wrote Rob a note saying I have no strategy and then basically just played randomly. Luckily our deco was over before the game finished :)

After we packed up and left Ginnie, we headed to EE to get tanks filled for the next day. We were planning to go to Peacock, though we hadn't decided where to go. We figured we could look at the map at EE to decide. We took a look at it and then showed Doug where we had been so far (which was essentially Orange Grove to Challenge, and Peacock to Olson via both the Pothole and Peanut lines) and asked what he suggested we do. So he suggested the Grand Traverse. Sounds fun :) After chatting for the while, we headed out and decide to mull our options overnight. Oh, while we were at EE, we also looked at the map of Devils, to see where exactly we had been. I couldn't believe we swam all that way to get where we ended up -- the Roller Coaster line would have taken us there much faster. Oh well, another day...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cave 2, Day 5: Back at Ginnie

We got up early and headed out of Marianna a bit before 8. On the way back to High Springs, we took our final exam. David told us the night before that we could take the test as a team, but then for some reason he changed his mind. I think he was worried Rob was going to eat bon bons while Antonio and I slaved away on the exam, because that would be totally like Rob. He gave us one last chance to ask any questions after he made this announcement, and I confessed that I don't know anything about cave geology. He told me some more stuff about that, which of course was utterly useless to the test. We eventually made it back to High Springs. We swung by EE, to pickup some gear and decided to grab lunch at the Station Bakery and Cafe, which is basically across the street. I'd never been there before, but Rob mentions it every now and then. Man, I can't believe I waited this long to check it out -- it's a great lunch spot! And they have some very tasty looking cakes and pastries. And ice cream too. Okay, next time I'm just going to skip lunch and go straight to dessert. Plus I finally found out where I can buy a goat around these parts.

Once we finished lunch, we headed to Ginnie Springs for a couple of dives. When David was explaining to us why he wanted to go back to Ginnie for the last day, he said something along the lines of there being a super cool dive that we could do. The super cool dive was a circuit that started out a lot like the circuit from the first day, but instead of jumping back to the mainline, we would go up the "mud tunnel" and when that ended, we'd jump back onto a line that was heading back toward to the mainline, near the maple leaf. I was not that excited about having to schlep a stage through the flow at Ginnie. I was even less thrilled that it was my turn to lead. I didn't think that schlepping a stage would magically transform my mediocre line running skills into anything better :) Before I even had a chance to whimper about this, David said that since Rob felt he had been "robbed" of his chance to lead on the downstream dive at Hole in the Wall, he could lead this dive. I thought this was a nice way of David acknowledging that I am a flow wimp and that making me run the line with a stage bottle through the flow would be mean. On the previous day, my light had crapped out (all on its own) prematurely. I thought it could be the battery -- I had two batteries I was alternating between and one of them I knew the burn time on, but the other I didn't have any good (recent) data points. So Antonio loaned me his spare light (his wife's light actually). I figured I could use it for one dive and use my light with the known good battery on the second dive.

We were entering through the eye again. As we approached the entrance, another team was coming out, so we stood aside waiting for them. I tucked against the wall of the eye and put a finger down to hold myself there against the flow. When I put my finger down on the rock, a turtle came barreling out of this little nook next to my hand. Oops! I felt bad to have spooked the turtle, but I was actually quite delighted by the close turtle encounter, since I love the Ginnie turtles! As I spun around watching the turtle, I could hear regulator laughing behind me, which I think was probably David. We finally got to enter and dropped our O2 bottles on the line. Then we headed down the restriction. When I got to the section after the little 50 foot room, where you come around the corner and get pummeled by the flow, the boys were stopped ahead of me. I didn't know what was going on, so I just tried to hold myself on some of the little rocks on the bottom, so I didn't get blown back up the chute. Just then, my light failed. I couldn't imagine that David was failing my light right now, so I reached back and flipped the switch (twice) and it didn't come back on. I pulled out a backup light and signaled the guys. David asked me to flip the switch on the light and I was kind of like "don't you think I already tried that?" :) I guess he wanted to see the light's behavior in hopes of debugging it on the surface without getting out of the water. After that, David swam up ahead and took the reel and tied it into the mainline, and then we headed out. We got to the surface and after a bit of troubleshooting, gave up on getting the light to work. David sent Rob to retrieve my light from the car. I was perfectly happy to hang out in the water while Rob did that :)

After swapping lights, we headed back in, for another pummeling. We jumped to the right at the park bench, and dropped our stages there. The first section after that was quite familiar, but then we got to the mud tunnel. It is small and muddy. The entire time we were swimming through it, I was feeling super paranoid about silting it out, which made the whole thing rather unpleasant. Probably breathing 32% didn't help with that, but I really think it was the class paranoia that made it quite bad. We didn't make it to the end of the tunnel by the time that I called it on gas. I actually thought we had, because Rob stopped ahead, and I thought perhaps he was getting out a spool to put the jump in. But it turns out he just stopped because there was a small area he needed to negotiate. On the way out, David told us to pull the spools, but not until we'd already passed over one. But then I was wondering if Rob had pulled the first one and I just hadn't noticed it. So I was a bit confused by this. It turned out he had not, but it would be easy to pull that one on a subsequent dive. Anyhoo, there were eventually an assortment of failures on the way out. After we surfaced, we each did an unconscious diver rescue from the bottom of the eye. I felt surprisingly unspazzy when I did mine, other than one moment when I almost swam Antonio into the wall and had to push off with my hand :) Afterward Rob told me that my unconscious diver rescue looked good and he might make me demonstrate it in the future. High praise coming from Rob :)

For the next dive, since we weren't going to complete the circuit, we were given the option of skipping the stage and just doing a backgas dive. That sounded peachy to me, so that's what we did. So the plan was to head up the mainline, run a spool to the jump where we abandoned the spool on the last dive, then go retrieve that spool from the mud tunnel. Once that was all cleaned up, we would continue up the mainline and jump to the left at the "roller coaster". I had to lead the dive, sigh. I mentioned that I like being in the back, because I can watch where the people in front go in the gallery. Because no matter how high up I am, I'm never as high as I should be! This is obvious when someone in front of me is higher than me :) But I still got stuck leading. David knew that I thought the mud tunnel was creepy as hell, so I think that's why he wanted me to have to swim in it to retrieve the spool. He's mean. After switching tanks and such, we headed in. At least I didn't have to run the reel :) At some point in the gallery, David actually took the lead so I could see the right place to go at one point. Very helpful. We continued up the main line and at some point, I got to a spot that I recognized, but then didn't recognize at the same time. It was a spot where the line sort of goes down a hill, which I have a very clear picture of in my head. But it didn't look right. The line was running on the other side of a little spit of rock hanging down from the ceiling, which I didn't remember at all. After swimming past that spit of rock, I turned around and looked back down the line, to figure out what was going on. Meanwhile, Rob signaled to me that the jump we were looking for was right there. David swam over and pulled the line back to the side of the tunnel we were on -- ahh, that looks more familiar :) I tied into the line and headed over to the Expressway tunnel. Then I followed the line into the mud tunnel. David followed me and after I pulled the spool, he told me to slow down. I gave him this look like "I just want to get out of here, dude" :) and tried to slow down. After cleaning everything up, we headed back up the mainline. Just as I was approaching the jump we were to take, I checked my gas and realized it wasn't worth putting the jump in, and I thumbed it. I am a bit miffed about how we only made it to 750 feet on thirds when we routinely make it to the maple leaf on 2/9th, but I guess I was screwing around with those spools for longer than I realize.

Before the dive, David told us that we would do a lights out exit, so when he told us to turn out our lights, just turn them out and don't go to a backup. He asked us if we remembered how to cross the line in touch contact, and we told him that we had each practiced it on Sunday. He seemed surprised, or possibly impressed. Since this was basically the one skill that was new to me in C1, it seemed obvious to practice it before the class :) So, we knew a lights out exit was coming, and could assume it would be a gas-sharing lights out exit, and we were not disappointed. Rob and Antonio ended up sharing gas, and then part way out, I switched Rob onto my long hose. Going through the lips sharing gas was quite amusing. It actually wasn't as bad as I expected. We still had some light at that point at least. Eventually we went lights out. In Cave 1, David told us some scary stories of students rolling off posts while sharing gas. So I was very paranoid about rolling off my left post. There was a lot of clanking against the ceiling as we went through the restriction. Every time I clanked, I did a flow check, and on several occasions, my post had rolled off a turn. So it's easy to imagine how it could eventually roll off completely if one didn't do flow checks. Aside from being terrified of rolling my post off and falling a bit behind on venting my drysuit once, I actually thought it was kind of fun going through there lights out :) However, it was still a relief to make it to the little room at 30 feet. When we got there and got our bottles, Rob made a little motion with the reg he was breathing (my long hose) which made me think he was going to go onto his bottle and I briefly spazzed out for a moment, trying to stop him. But of course that isn't what he was about to do anyway :) It was getting dark out by this point, so even in that room it was really dark. We made our way out into the open water and did our 20 foot stop there. Since Rob and I were planning to dive at Ginnie again over the weekend, we just left the reel in to retrieve another day. When we got to the surface, David told us that looked good, or something like that. I was shocked.

We had plans to meet for dinner with Chris and Doug's C1 class that was going on this week, as well as a few other people. When we got out of the water, we were running a bit behind, so we quickly got packed up to go. David asked if we'd be available to meet in the morning for some final wrap-up. Rob asked if that meant we had to wait until tomorrow to find out if we passed. David said "no, you'll find out tonight". I took that to mean that David was going to torture us and wait to tell us until the last possible moment, which is exactly what he did. He finally gave us the news as we were leaving from dinner, after whipping out some GUE cards at the other end of the table during dessert, and fanning them about teasingly.

We walked back to EE, where we had left our cars, and unloaded a bunch of gear before heading out. As we were driving down Main St, we picked up a police escort, who followed us all the way back to the Country Inn, and parked behind our car. When we got out, he said that he noticed we were milling about outside of a closed business after hours and thought we were robbing the place. Well he didn't say it in quite those words, but that was the idea. Rob told him what we were up to and I proudly tried to show him my brand-spankin'-new cave card, hehehe. He told me that wasn't necessary, and Rob told him that I was so excited about it, I just wanted to show it off. I think Officer Barbrady was amused. Man, we can't get out of High Springs without a brush with the law, but at least this time we didn't owe any money :)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cave 2, Day 4: Hole in the Wall and Twin Caves

We got started at a pretty reasonable hour today, after a very cold night in the trailer. I woke up at 4 or 5 AM and was freezing, and basically found anything I could to pile on top of me for warmth. I had no idea how to adjust the heat. It turned out that we had accidentally had the AC on instead of the head. Oops. Anyhoo, we headed over to Edd's after Rob lovingly packed us all sandwiches for lunch. When we got to Edd's, our tanks had already been loaded on the boat (sweet!) so we got going right away. We headed to Hole in the Wall. I was leading the dive. The plan was to go upstream first, I think, unless I am confused about which was is upstream and which is downstream :) We went to the right after dropping down the chute. David showed us on a map where we were to go. There was a jump to the right, that he pointed out on the map, somewhere after the 1700' mark on the map. Okay. Once we got to the site, we did some S-drills, which I was totally sick of at this point. Especially in 5 feet of water. I hate being in 5 feet of water; it doesn't matter how many GUE classes I take or how many 6 minute ascents I do, I will always feel on the verge of popping to the surface at 5 feet :) Once that was done, and we took care of some bubbles on my regulator (accompanied by some trash talking about Apeks regs), we got going.

I was really fixated with getting through that restriction, while running the reel, so much so that I forgot to drop my bottle. The boys dropped their bottles, but I didn't until the other side of the restriction at 40'. Oh well, maybe David won't notice ;) I was relieved once I got the reel in, and we got going. This cave has a super silty bottom, so we were warned to be careful in our selection of a place to drop our stages. When I was about to go off of my stage, I found a spot which I thought looked good, and suggested it. Rob didn't like it though. So we kept going, and I kept not seeing any better looking spots, and then Rob signaled and pointed out a spot. It looked just like the spot I wanted to drop at, so I was a bit miffed. Then David swam over and told us not to drop them there. Finally Antonio picked a spot that worked. Phew. I didn't really feel weighed down by the stage, but once I dropped it I felt so unencumbered. After quite a bit of swimming, we came to an interesting spot. Last time we were here, there was a T, or what looked like a T, about 1000 feet in. Today it was a jump. However, I remembered that Keith had said something about that not usually being that way. So, whatever, it was a jump, and we weren't taking it. So I stayed on the main line, which veered left and abruptly got shallower. The last time we didn't make it too far down the line before turning, but I remembered it got smaller. It was supposed to eventually open up into a room. But instead it just got smaller and smaller. Eventually I saw what looked like a crack that sort of headed down ahead of me, and thought "he wants us to go in there? I don't think so." When I got to that crack, I saw the line tied off on a rock, and couldn't see it coming off the other side, so I figured this was the end of the line. And even if it wasn't, I wasn't going any further :) So I turned around and thumbed the dive, stirring up a little silt in the process. Rob told me to back up so he had room to turn around and seemed annoyed when I didn't, but there wasn't really any room to back up. After stirring up a bit more silt, we all managed to turn around and head out, at least some of us on the line :)

On the way out, there was the usual assortment of failures, and I ended up sharing gas with Rob. Then eventually I ended up with two stage bottles, and Rob with zero, and he went flying out of the cave in front of me. Nice... you give the slowest diver in the team two bottles and then start to motor? We eventually ditched some of the bottles on the line before the restriction, and left it to David to tote them out. Bwahaha. Then Antonio and I got to share gas through the restriction, which was fun. The most amusing part was when I got my foot caught between his head and the ceiling :) After an itty bit of deco, we surfaced. We decided not to bounce back down to retrieve the reel right away, since another team was on there way in as we were leaving, and with all that traffic, the restriction was bound to be a bit silty. Not that our gas sharing exit had anything to do with that ;)

After a bit of vacillating and a quick swim in the mill pond (brrr), we decided to go back for a very short dive downstream. David thought the viz would be worse in that direction, and thus it wouldn't be worth our time to do much of a dive, but we needed to retrieve the reel, and we might as well check out some more cave while we were doing that. So we agreed to do a 200 psi penetration (that sounds really lame now that I've put it in print). David had been pestering me about getting a black-skirted mask to replace my beloved yellowing, science-experiment-like clear-skirted mask. I'm pretty sure cave divers were black-skirted masks because they think it looks cool, but David had some excuse about light reflecting off of the glass and night vision and the like, to cover up his vanity. He offered me his backup mask to try. It fit, so I figured why not. We got in the water, and while we were doodling around on the surface, the mask kept fogging. David had de-fog in his pocket, so he re-de-fogged it for me. It fogged up yet again, and we de-fogged it some more. Once it seemed to be fog-free, we headed in for a dive. Do you see where this is going? Before we were even through the restriction, the mask kept fogging and was driving me crazy. I kept flooding it and clearing it, and to add to the annoyance, every time I cleared it, the mask would sort of deform and wiggle around on my face (I think the clasps were a little weak from living in David's pocket for so long, and the strap loosened, which wasn't really helping the situation). We got to the reel, where it was tied into the upstream main line, and Rob picked it up and moved it to the downstream mainline. While he was doing that, I got my backup mask out, and once he was tied in, I told him to wait while I switched masks. I can think of one other time when I have had to actually deploy my backup mask. It was when I was trying out Rob's backup mask, because it was black-skirted and cool looking, and he talked me into trying it. I'm beginning to see a pattern.

Then we got going. My backup mask immediately started to fog, which I can't say I was surprised by. It had been sitting in my pocket all week, not once de-fogged or otherwise paid attention to. But at least I could flood and clear this one without it moving all over my face. After a few minutes, David swam up to me and showed me a note asking if it was okay if we penetrated 400 psi instead of 200. The viz was better than expected, hence the suggestion. I said okay. Then less than 2 minutes later, after David had swum up to Antonio to show him the note, and then Rob to show him the note, I decided that it was time to call the dive. Sometime about having trouble both reading my gauge and seeing the line just didn't seem right :) I thumbed it and told the guys that my mask was "broken" (using the old-style one-handed signal for broken :P). I felt like a dumbass for giving David the okay to extend the dive and then moments later thumbing it :) I was thinking I could really use a failure-less exit, and David was kind enough to comply. Eventually I determined that the only way to maintain a fog-free mask for more than a few seconds was to partially flood the mask and just leave it flooded. This was heaven on my nose and sinuses. By the time I surfaced, I really couldn't clear my mask because my nose was so stopped up! I had been #3 on that dive, and I felt like I had completely squandered my opportunity to be in the back, with nothing to do. Rob, meanwhile, thought he had been cheated out of his opportunity to be #1.

There wasn't much to debrief from that dive, except why the heck didn't I take my primary mask as my backup, or at least de-fog my backup given the higher than usual likelihood of needing it!?! So we headed to Twin for one more dive. I'd never been to Twin; it is the one cave we dove all week that I hadn't been to before. I thought it was super cool. Shortly after entering and going down a little chimney (like a mini version of the Hole in the Wall chimney), there is this really round tunnel that goes for several hundred feet. David described it, before the dive, as being like holding a paper towel roll up to your eye and looking down it. That's a pretty good description. I noticed on the map afterward that it is labelled "Subway" which is also a pretty good description. I thought it was one of the most aesthetically pleasing caves I have ever been in. I told Rob how I thought it was just so cool how it seemed so perfectly round and just went on and on, and he said "most people would call that boring". I love radial symmetry, perhaps to a neurotic degree. I think this cave would be very photogenic. Eventually the beautiful paper towel roll gives way to a vertical crack (this isn't the right way to describe it at all, but I can't think of a better term), where the line Ts into a little circuit. We dropped our stages there and headed right, with the plan being to make it around the circuit before having to turn. You go down the crack and it quickly gets deeper, to about 100 feet for a time. At some point the line takes a greater than 90 degree turn to the left, and there is another line that continues straight on and is like arm's reach from the main line. Seems like a good place to accidentally end up on another line. This is right around the change in arrows. After not very long, you come to another vertical crack/chute and after going up that (and feeling not at all graceful the whole time), you end up back at the T. We picked up our bottles, had a variety of failures on the way out, and ended up sharing gas and with one little Scout light left between all of us. I had the light, and did an excellent job of lighting my way and no one else's :) For some reason all of our 20' stop felt totally awkward and like I was wedged in a crack where I had to crane my neck to see the others.

We got our gear and ourselves back on the boat, and formulated a plan for Friday. The original plan had been to dive at Madison, but reports were that the viz would not meet standards, so we (David) decided to go back to Ginnie. When we got back to Edd's they said that they couldn't fill mix until the next day, so we were going back to Ginnie with 32%. Yay. We left our tanks there to be filled, and headed to dinner, at Madison's Warehouse again. When we came back, our tanks were all nicely laid out and ready to go, and we started the arduous process of loading them all in the truck. I did an excellent job of supervising the heavy lifting. Once that was done, we headed back to the trailer to finish up lecture. This included the deco and gas properties lectures. I snickered during the lectures because I thought they were below me. I am such a bad student.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cave 2, Day 3: The Longest Day of My Life (Jackson Blue)

We "decided" (more like David decreed) to meet at the pool in Gainesville at 5:30. This meant we had to leave High Springs at 5. This was clearly some sort of hazing. To be fair, David did give us the option of doing the swim at the mill pond instead. When he offered that, I asked if I failed the swim test, would I be allowed to try again in the pool? After that, we decided to just do it at the pool. The idea was that if we got there early, the pool would not be crowded. In fact, it was crowded anyway, and we had to wait a bit for a lane (half a lane, really). One spot opened up and I hopped in to do my swim. Ladies first, right? I did the swim without any problems, and beat my Cave 1 pace by 4 seconds :) By the time that I was finished, Rob was in a different lane doing his swim. I got out, and Antonio hopped into my lane and started his swim. While he was swimming, the other half of the lane opened up, so then we had a lane all to ourselves for the breath hold. Waiting 10 minutes between my swim and my breath hold was a mistake. In the intervening time, I got cold and nervous about the breath hold, my arch nemesis. The breath hold is a subject of much contention between Rob and me. Whenever I practice it at the pool (which I did like once before this class), Rob gets annoyed that I don't make it to the end of the pool, because it is "all in my head". I have no doubt it's all in my head, but I was pretty confident that I would rally in the moment like I did in C1, the only time in the history of the world that I have managed to make it all the way across the pool on a breath hold. After all of the build up, I just had to get it over with, so I went first. A couple of strokes into it, I was not feeling great, I felt like I got a bad start, and really thought I was going to have to abort and try again. Then I decided that would be lame, and I made it to the end. When I surfaced, David said "very good". He is clearly getting soft in his old age. After the boys did their breath hold, we got out of there and headed back to High Springs, to ditch our car and head to Marianna.

David is one of those people who is a skilled enough driver that he can do other stuff while he is driving. I can barely turn the volume up on the radio without swerving into the next lane. So on the drive up to Marianna, he lectured at us. I was sitting in the back seat, which was quite dark and cave-like, and looking at the slides on his laptop, which was perched on the center console in the front. An hour or so into the drive, the slides went a little blurry and I realized I was having, or about to have, a migraine. I very rarely get migraines, so I am generally quite bad at recognizing one until it's really bad. But this time I actually figured it out, and managed to pop a pill with some assistance from Rob. I was pretty much debilitated for the rest of the drive. I think Rob thought I was having a stroke, which I assured him I wasn't, in as few words as possible. I moved to the front seat and just bobbed my head in agreement from time to time for the duration of the lecture. I guess it's a good thing that the lectures are the same in every GUE class. When we got to Marianna, we stopped at Walmart to get some provisions, and at that point, I didn't think I could dive in my current state. We went to Edd's to dump our gear and load it onto the boat, and then headed to the trailer. We did some more lecture, then had lunch, and by then I had recovered enough to dive.

For some reason, we went to Jackson Blue after all. At the time I didn't know why, but I suspect it was because we got a late start, and it would be faster if we didn't relocate between dives. We were diving stages for the first time, woohoo. We got to JB, and it was quite a different scene from the last time we were there, when there were like a thousand screaming kids swimming there, because it was super hot. We did our gear checks and stuff and dropped down for a round of S-drills, which was only slightly confusing because we were already on our stage bottles. Somehow we managed to only do two S-drills and in both, I was the recipient. That was slightly confusing too :) After regrouping on the surface, we headed down, and then noticed something was bubbling, so we immediately thumbed the dive. We hadn't done a bubble check, and once we did that, we found a variety of bubble sources, including my drysuit inflator, which was quite bubbly. Luckily I had a cheater hose, and had 32% in the backgas. Once we took care of all of the bubbles, we headed in again. We got delayed on entry again for some reason but eventually made it to the mainline. Then, very shortly after that, as we were heading down to the first deep section, Antonio signaled that he was having a problem with his drysuit inflator. He thought it wasn't connected properly (or at least that's what I thought he was signaling), so I reconnected it for him, and it still wasn't working. Then Rob took a crack at it, and in the end we decided that his Argon bottle was just empty. He didn't have a cheater hose on his backgas, so David passed him his Argon bottle and David used backgas. So in the end, there were a lot of delays. The flow was way down, thankfully. I don't think I pulled at all on the entire dive, whereas when we went there before, I was all about the pull and glide. I eventually turned the dive based on time, not that time was really a constraint, but based on what we had discussed on the surface. We had made it just a couple hundred feet past the T. Given all of the delays that we had on the way in, the exit was way faster. I don't know if we had any failures on the way out, but if we did, they were pretty minor. I think David thought I called the dive on confusion or stupidity or not feeling well. What was I thinking, sticking to the dive plan? :)

After a quick debrief and a bit of bickering on the surface, we decided we had enough gas to do another dive. Even our stages still had a bit of gas, since our exit was so fast, so we brought those along for more practice. I inquired about the length of the dive because I had to pee, but decided I could last another hour :P We didn't have that much gas. We obviously didn't make it quite as far on this dive, but had some interesting failures on the way out, interesting because now we had the stages in the mix. Everyone made it out alive, and was less moody after this dive :) One thing that I thought was particularly cool about both dives was all of the fish at the opening of the cavern. I guess the last time we were there, they were scared off by the thousand screaming kids. But as we were exiting, there were a zillion pretty fish at the mouth of the cavern. It was really cool.

We made it back just in time to not get lost on the pond in the dark, and got our spent tanks off of the boat to be filled. Then we headed to dinner at Madison's Warehouse. I had the pork chop, which I almost never eat, because I can't resist pork products paired with apples; it was really really good. I think even Rob liked it, and he would never order a pork chop :P We were sad to find out that they didn't have key lime pie. After dinner, we headed back to the trailer, and David lectured at us a bit more. Eventually we were excused and allowed to sleep. It wasn't actually that late when we finished, but considering that the day started at 5, and there was the one hour time change, it was a freaking long day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cave 2, Day 2: Peacock Springs

We met at EE around 8 to start filling tanks. Once Zack got our gas fills going, I asked if he could take a look at my leaky drysuit leg, and he did a leak test while we waited. It turned out there was a pretty non-subtle gouge on the top of the foot. It looked like a pretty good bet that that was the culprit, and Zack patched it up nicely (it was slightly less nice by the time we left, after Rob basically stuck his thumb in the aquaseal before it was completely dry... but it held anyway). Because of this and that, we didn't end up heading to Peacock until about 10. But we made good time getting there and after a short discussion of the dive plan, we got into the water. The plan was to do another circuit, going up the Pothole line, across the Crossover tunnel and then on the second dive, completing the circuit via the Peanut line. David made the Crossover tunnel out to be some tiny little silty passage, which sounded a bit intimidating. It was my turn to lead and I was mad with power. David made us (well, me) run the reel down past the sign, which I don't usually do there. But I think it went okay.

The viz was really good, much better than it was in C1! We headed up the Pothole line, almost to Olson, just beyond the little "window" in the wall where the line turns leftish. We got to drop lots of cookies, and you know, I love dropping cookies :) There were the two changes in arrows, and a jump was installed, and the jump that we installed. Yahoo! When we got to the Crossover tunnel, it was not nearly as small as David had made it out to be. It was silty, but I felt like you could drive a Mack truck through there; well, most of it anyway. We made it to the Peanut line with gas to spare, so we recalculated gas and headed up the line. After we turned it, we once again had a variety of failures on the way out. I noticed during gear checks that my left valve was extremely stiff. I used my powers of pattern matching to divine that I was likely to get a valve failure on this dive, and was just hoping it would be my right valve. David answered my hopes, technically, by failing both of my posts, so I ended up sharing gas on the way out. When he failed my left post, I had a ton of trouble turning it. I literally tried to close it, and it wouldn't move; so then I tried to open it and it wouldn't move, so then I tried to close it harder and it finally moved. It seemed like I was sitting there for ages without actually making any progress toward closing it, but no one else seemed to notice the eternity that passed before I closed the valve. Going up the chimney sharing gas was interesting. We ended up not exactly in the configuration I wanted to be in, but it worked. In the debrief, David suggested yet a different configuration that would have been slightly less awkward.

We had lunch and switched out tanks, and then headed back into the water. By the time we got into the water, we were in danger of not making it out of the water by 5, which is when you must be out of the water. So we actually ended up more constrained by time, not gas, on this dive. We headed down the Peanut Line, and and a little before 300 feet, just before the line makes a hard left and goes into the "peanut tunnel", we encountered some shenanigans. I don't know exactly what was going on, because I was in the back, but basically there was another team coming out, so we moved aside and waited for them to come out. But instead of coming out, they started dicking around for no explicable reason. I think it may have been a class doing some strange bottle drills. After several minutes they finally signaled for us to go ahead and we did. After that, things went pretty smoothly and we made it to the jump we had installed with enough time (and plenty of gas) to continue up the line for 5 more minutes. Once we turned the dive, we were greeted by the usual assortment of failures, ending in a gas sharing exit. It was a reasonably long gas sharing exit, so it made sense to switch the out of gas diver (Rob) halfway out onto the other person's long hose (that would be me, the leader at that moment). As we were swimming out, I just knew that Rob would jump the gun and start bossing me around and tell me to put him on my long hose. In fact, I was practically counting down the feet as we swam out, because I knew exactly where halfway was, but I knew that Rob would get antsy. Rob has this annoying habit of not giving me the opportunity to do things right, and instead assuming I will do things wrong and trying to "help me out". Sure enough, about 150 feet early, Rob started signalling and told me to give him my long hose. I looked him right in the eyes and rolled my eyes at him. He gave me this questioning look, and then I handed him my long hose. The exit was otherwise uneventful. When we got to the chimney, we tried orienting ourselves as David had suggested and that worked pretty well. After cleaning up reels and such, we surfaced with like 5 minutes to spare before we had to be out of the water. I mumbled to Rob about how annoying his behavior was and he was like "oh, sorry" and realized that David probably wasn't going to be too pleased with it either, which he was not.

We headed back to EE, which was technically closed by the time we got there, but not really. However, the trimix pumping capability was closed :) The plan was to head up to Mariana the next day, and dive Jackson Blue. We wanted 30/30 for that, but just got 32 instead, and decided we could dive Twin and Hole in the Wall on Wednesday and then get 30/30 from Edd and dive JB on Thursday. After getting gas, we packed all of our gear into David's truck, which suddenly didn't seem quite so cavernous. Once that was finished, the three of us headed to dinner, agreeing to meet David insanely early at the pool tomorrow. We went to Great Outdoors for dinner, and shared a slice of key lime pie for dessert :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cave 2, Day 1: Ginnie Springs

We arrived at EE a little early so we could fill tanks, and eventually David showed up. When he saw our rental car, a sedan, he was very disappointed in us. Strike 1. But we decided the (very large) premium to rent an SUV or van was not worth it, since we knew Antonio had a giant SUV, and told us we could stash tanks in there. We did some paperwork, and somehow managed to escape the dreaded "introductions" where we have to say who we are and why we are there. I despise this part of GUE classes; to me, it's like one step removed from sitting in a circle and talking about our feelings. I'm here because I want the training, do I really have to make it more flowery than that? Anyhoo, after getting all of our tanks and such, we headed to Ginnie. We started out doing a long field drill on installing jumps. Rob thought this drill was a bit too long, but I thought it was quite useful, at least after the fact. When it was my turn to install a jump for the first time, I remember thinking, I'm glad we did all that practice in the woods earlier.

By the time we were done with that, we decided to have lunch before getting in the water. Then David briefed us on the dive, and we looked at the map. The plan was to setup a circuit that involved four jumps. I was thinking this was a standard GUE class, where you go from never having done any jumps, to doing 4 jumps on the first dive :) But it wasn't too bad. The first jump was the one after the Cornflakes, which I have swam over and looked down many times. The last jump was back onto the mainline at about 650'. If we made it all the way there, we were then to recalculate gas and head further up the mainline (after noting the time and gas required to make it that far). Otherwise, we would drop a cookie on the line to mark how far we made it before turning. Oh and we brought O2 bottles too. We chatted about how we would typically plan deco for such a dive (since we were all T2), and I confessed that we had a rule for dives in this range, but that I could probably count on one hand how many times we'd actually done deco dives in this range (shallow and long with O2). We were going to enter through the Eye. David asked about what we had done on Sunday and who had run the reel, and after we told him that Rob had run the reel into the Eye, I was sure he would say one of the other of us would have to run it today. Instead, he said Rob could run the reel, since he had just practiced it. Phew. David is getting soft in his old age. That put Antonio in second and me in third, since that was the order we were in during our field drills. David assured me that he didn't put me in third because I'm a girl; I didn't know that was the customary position to put the girl, so I made no such assumption :)

The dive went pretty well, but then I didn't really have much to do :) My only complaint was that the pace was rather tiring to me. This was largely because I was swimming in passages were I would probably normally pull and glide, because I was in the back and saw the boys both swimming (frog kicking no less) without looking particularly tired by it, so I figured I should be able to swim too. That was pretty silly logic though :) We made it back to the mainline, and up the mainline another 200 psi before I turned it on gas. The exit involved a variety of failures, none of which were particularly tricky to deal with. When we got back to our bottles, we found a nice little area at 20 feet, which I had never really noticed before, to do our deco, such as it was. After surfacing and having a bit of debrief, we got out to switch tanks, etc. I realized that there was quite a bit of water sloshing around in my right boot. Grumble grumble. It had been completely dry the day before! We headed back in to complete the circuit, with Antonio leading this dive, so I was #2. Once again, we planned to recalculate gas when we got to the "last" jump of the circuit, and head further up the mainline. Once again we had about 200 psi to head up the line with. Once again, on the way out, we had a variety of failures, not too different from the first set of failures, except now we had some decisions to make about pulling spools and what-not. As #2 on the dive, I actually got to help with pulling spools and the like, and after some team reordering I even got to pull some spools myself. We did a bit more deco on this dive, since it was our second of the day, and then once again we had a bit of debrief after surfacing. By the time we got out, I was wet up to my hip on the right side. I figured I would dry out the suit as best I could overnight, and then hopefully someone at EE could do some magic the next morning.

We were finished surprisingly early, before 7, and agreed to meet at EE at 9 the next morning (giving us time to get there earlier and get fills), with the plan to head to Peacock. For dinner we went to the Springs Diner (formerly the Fleetwood Diner, formerly Floyd's Diner). Sadly, it basically sucked. We were all disappointed by what we had. The night before, at Great Outdoors, I mentioned my love of key lime pie, so we decided to get a slice at the diner. It was pretty good, so at least one thing we had did not disappoint.

Drysuit Diatribe: Accessories

There are a few other accessories you might want to get (or wonder if you should get) when you get a drysuit.
  • Gaiters. Gaiters are helpful if you have a suit with too much material in the legs. The gaiters crush the material down, so you don't get a lot of extra gas in your legs. If you have a suit that fits properly, they probably aren't necessary. I got gaiters at some point with my first suit, which had too-long legs, and kept wearing them for years. Eventually an instructor told me that he thought it would be easier to keep my (heavy) fins up if I had a bit more gas in my legs. I very skeptically tried diving without the gaiters, and he was right. Since then I have ditched the gaiters with both suits, and I think it has helped with my downward-facing-fin problem :P
  • Fin keepers. I use fin keepers with my turbosoles. I like how they keep gas out of the feet. Since they are like $6, they are probably worth trying if you don't like the feeling of gas in your feet.
  • Argon system. I use Argon on pretty much every dive. Some people claim there is no difference between Argon and nitrox, and it's all in one's head. Well, I don't know if it's in my head or not, but if it makes me think I'm warmer, it is worth the extra $3 a day to use it. On the other hand, I meet people who have paltry undergarments (e.g. fleece) adding an Argon system instead of upgrading undergarments. This seems like a poor way to prioritize funds. (I feel the same way about drygloves… prioritize a better undergarment first).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cave 2, Day 0: Ginnie Spring Shakeout Dive

When we met Antonio during our trip in December, it was at the end of our last diving day, so we unfortunately didn't get to dive together. Instead, we planned to meet up on Sunday before class and dive at Ginnie. This plan was put in jeopardy when we got screwed by American Airlines and ended up staying overnight in Dallas. But we got to High Springs around noon with plenty of time to do an afternoon dive at Ginnie. We were relieved to find all of the gear that we expected at EE, including two shiny new sets of 104s -- the shiniest sets I've ever seen! Actually I think they are technically HP130s. We also each left a drysuit there in January. I left mine with Steve Gamble for a new zipper, and he was kind enough to drop it off at EE; Rob left his in a bin in Doug's garage, and the bag it was in had some interesting new flora growing on it. And we'd shipped a couple of boxes of gear there as well. Once we found everything, we headed to Ginnie.

It was kind of toasty, a bit warm for being on the surface in a drysuit with a 400gm undergarment. We specifically picked February to avoid the heat, but it was unseasonably warm. Still, 80 degrees was a lot better than the 95+ we had in July (or the 90 degrees in T2). Antonio had been diving the day before, and had practiced running the reel into both the Ear and the Eye, so he left the joy of reel running to us. I said I wanted to practice running it into the Ear, and Rob wanted to practice running it into the Eye. So we planned to do two dives, one through the Eye (first) and one through the Ear (second).

I hate the Eye, because it takes so dang long to get through there, even though it is a bit more gentle of an entry than the Ear. But we went in there without too much drama, and when we got to the Gallery, it seemed like the flow was a bit down, although I think I made up for that with poor technique :) The first dive was pretty uneventful, other than Rob doing his best to leave me in his dust, and stopping every now and then, giving me an okay, and after I had NOT returned it (because I wanted a moment to catch my breath), continuing on anyway. Classic Rob. We got up to the Maple Leaf-ish area, though I don't think we actually made it to the Leaf before turning. But we definitely made it to at least 800 feet. (I knew during and after the dive where we made it, I swear, but some time has passed and now it's foggy.) Once we were past the Cornflakes, I could pretty much frog kick most of the way, which I typically can't, so that tells you how much the flow was down.

After a brief chat on the surface, we swam over to the Ear, and it was my turn to lead. The brown river water was covering part of the Ear, which is too bad, since last time it was totally clear which was really cool. I dropped down to the little alcove at 30 feet, and proceeded to flounder while trying to do a primary tie here and there. Then Rob pointed out the best primary tie ever (which I will henceforth remember, because it's that good) and I tied to that. I made a second tie before heading down the chute, and it would actually have made a pretty decent primary tie too. Once I got down the chute, running the reel was pretty uneventful. We got to the main line and we were off. I felt like a monkey humping a football, as Doug would say, in the Gallery. I wasn't quite high enough, even though I was trying to be as high as I could, there is always more room above me than I think! I really prefer not leading through the Gallery, so I can watch and follow my more spatially-aware buddies :) We made it somewhere beyond the Cornflakes, but obviously not as far as the first dive, since we had less gas. Pulling the reel went pretty well, which was good, since the last time I did this at the ear, it was mildly traumatic. This time, the only drama was when I got almost to 30 feet, Rob was trying to be a little too helpful, and I eventually had to shoo him away so I could have the 30 foot spot while I did some final cleanup of the reel. I guess he didn't want to head to the log until he was sure I would not need his assistance. I met them on the log, and found that the log is kind of annoying with 3 people. I was flopping around next to the log even though Antonio had offered me a spot on his end of the log. Then he offered again and I took him up on it that time :)

After that, we did some valve drills and S-drills in the spring run. Then we ran a bit of line, and we practiced gas sharing on the line, and crossing the line with the long hose. Rob and I had practiced that a bunch a few weeks before at the SJSU pool (along with quite a bit of no-mask breath hold practice, since I epic failed that drill in C1), so it went pretty well. After that, we packed up and headed to dinner at the Great Outdoors. We sat on the patio, which I've never done before. I got soup and salad. I don't recommend the French onion soup; it was super salty.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Drysuit Diatribe: Dry Gloves

I used to use the DC ring system for dry gloves. When I got the gloves, I was convinced that for deeper dives, where any wet gloves will compress a lot, my hands would be cold unless I had dry gloves. I eventually gave them up for two reasons. One, I have slightly less dexterity/sensitivity in them (in particular, accessing stuff in my pockets was harder). Two, I don’t like how you don’t really know if the ring system is going to leak until you are in the water. The second problem could be addressed by using ZipGloves, which are certainly less prone to leaking. The downside with this is that you can’t take the gloves off without taking your arms out of the suit, which I think would drive me crazy. It would seriously interfere with my ability to inhale cheetos on the Escapade. Also, if you rip a glove, your entire suit will leak (I think there are some kind of ZipSeal with an inner seal, but I’ve never seen anyone use them).

By the time I switched back to wet gloves, I had a warmer undergarment, and the wet gloves were fine. I’ve also switched to warmer wet gloves – I use the Waterproof 5mm glove.

But if you do want to use dry gloves despite all of the above, I have some tips. The best way to not be annoyed to death by your dry gloves is to have a good fit. If none of the standard-sized gloves fit your hands well, there are tons of other lines of gloves out there, so you can usually find something that fits better (I ended up using one kind of glove on one hand and another on the other). Also, I found that the liners can affect fit. I found that slightly puffier gloves filled the fingers of my gloves better and actually gave me better dexterity. So I guess my main advice is to try some different stuff out and see what works best. Lots of people around here use dry gloves, so someone probably has some gloves sitting in their garage that you can try.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Drysuit Diatribe: Undergarments

My main comment on undergarments is the thicker the better :) I started with a fleece undergarment, and then got a Bare hi-loft Thinsulate (250g I believe) suit, and then eventually got the DUI 400g. I also have a Diving Concepts thinsulate vest. I can't imagine doing dives of any significant length in the fleece undergarment now. Brrr. Back then I was overall a spazzier diver, so I'm sure I kept myself warm from all of the flailing :) The Bare undergarment plus vest served me well for a really long time, including all the way up until Tech 2. One of the things I love about the Bare undergarments is that they come in a lot of sizes (I think they have short and long sizes and they also have women's sizes), so it is highly likely you will find one that fits you well. I also like the stretch panels in the knees, shoulders, and lower back, which make the suit quite flexible, but are small enough not to cause big cold spots. I also like the fact that the arms and legs taper, which makes it really easy to slide into a suit. But eventually I decided I needed something a bit warmer for longer decos. This was shortly after DUI came out with their new 400g, and I found a smoking deal on one that someone bought and it didn't fit them (which seems to be common - the sizing changed between the old and new 400g undergarments) so I got that. If I hadn't found a deal on that, I probably would have tried the "ultra hi-loft" Bare suit. The DUI suit is bit oversized for me in the arms and shoulders, which is not surprising since it is a "unisex" size (which as far as I am concerned, is code for "men's" size). But it does fit in both of my suits and I can still reach my valves, so I can live with that. The suit is very warm, and in fact, I can no longer stand to dive my old Thinsulate undergarment in Monterey :) The one minor complaint I have about the suit is that the stretch panels (which are stretch fleece) are huge. As a result, I can feel cold spots. It's not a deal breaker though. I prefer the Bare style though, where they have narrower stretchier panels. The fleece might perform better when flooded than the Bare elastic panels, however.

Which brings me to the main reason that Thinsulate is supposedly the way to go for undergarments. If you are doing any diving where you are obligated to be in the water for a period of time (e.g. deco obligation, long scooter dive from shore), a good undergarment won't just feel warm when it is dry, but will keep you warm enough (not that it will feel warm :P) when flooded. I don't have much experience with flooded fleece undergarments. But I did once have a pretty significant flood with a substantial deco obligation when I was diving my DUI undergarment, and well, I lived to tell the tale. I really have nothing to compare that to though.

Quite a few of my dive buddies have started diving the Santi Thinsulate undergarment (I think in part because of unhappiness with the sizing change in the new DUI undergarment). They all seem happy with it, but I can't personally give any sort of review of it.

One last thought on undergarments - you don't want to take the "more the better" philosophy and start piling on tons of layers. For every layer that you add, the friction between the layers as you move can cause binding and restrict your range of motion. I wear a base layer (made by Fourth Element, and stolen from Ted), my main undergarment (DUI 400g), and the DC vest. Oh and on my feet I wear Smart Wool socks from REI. I used to wear fleece socks, but those smart wool socks are soooo snuggly. I love wearing them, even when I'm not diving!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Big Sur Banks in February!

On Sunday there was a BAUE tech boat and I was diving with Team Kitty. The reports from Saturday were that the conditions were insanely flat, but it was supposed to get a bit bigger by Sunday night. We were all sort of hanging our heads regretting that we didn't go out on Saturday, but we were still hopeful for Sunday. Jim said that he wouldn't "rule out" Big Sur Banks. We started heading south and once we got to Yankee Point, we kept on going :) We got down to Big Sur, and headed out from the Point. The consensus seemed to be Sur 19, but when we stopped, we seemed really close to land. I couldn't believe this was Sur 19 -- the topside visibility is never this good out there! Since Sur 19 is relatively "shallow", we planned slightly a longer 45 minute bottom time. Then we got geared up and got into the water. Our team got into the water first, and I couldn't believe when we got in how calm it was, and how little current there was. We were actually bobbing on the surface chatting briefly before we descended -- which is usually unheard of at Big Sur due to current (and pretty much on all of our recent dives due to swell or current).

Unfortunately the epic viz from just a week or so ago was no longer. On the way down, it was quite green, though once we got down to the bottom the viz was good. But it was pretty dark due to that big layer of green above us. There was also a bit of surge at the bottom, coming through every now and then. I guess even though it was pretty calm on the surface, it was a really long period and so it reached very deep? I don't know, it didn't really make sense to me that there was so much water movement down there, considering how calm it was on the surface! There was the usual assortment of insane amounts of big bushy hydrocoral, yay, and tons of blue rockfish. I got my hero cam out and got some video. Kevin had brought his video reflector for me to borrow (which doesn't exactly fit my lighthead, but I was pretty happy with the results anyway), so I was playing around with that. Rob was taking pictures, and I just tried to stay out of the way. I figured Kevin could play the model. When we first got down to the pinnacle, the school of rockfish was pretty high off of it, but eventually a bunch of them came down to play. I thought there were a couple hundred fish when I looked up at the school during the dive, but after reviewing the video, I realized just how big that school was! It was pretty insane.

In addition to the gigantor hydrocoral and gigantor school of rockfish, there were some juvenile yelloweyes (one of which I even managed to capture on camera), and a nice big mass of lingcod eggs, with a fairly scrawny lingcod zooming around ferociously (okay not really) nearby. Eventually he plopped down to guard the eggs and tried to intimidate us, which was very cute. Near the end of the dive, we all sort of ended up in the same area and I could see all of the teams (interspersed among the rockfish!). That's when I realized that the viz was really quite good, despite being a bit dark. I posed for a few pics (after ditching the video reflector, which was sort of a handful once it was on my lighthead). Eventually the other teams sort of disappeared and before you know it, it was time to go. I told Kevin to shoot the bag, since I was feeling lazy, so he told me to run deco (my favorite!).

Deco was fairly uneventful. There were lots of weird jelly creatures and other little deco critters. We amused ourselves by watching them and generally chit-chatting. The deco seemed to go by fairly quickly, which was probably helped by the warmth of the green layer! We got to the surface and once again I couldn't believe how calm it was. I actually commented to the boys while we were waiting for the boat that I couldn't believe the conditions (and in the winter!). It was totally flat and we could see forever on the surface! Once we got back on the boat, the discussion turned to a second dive. We headed toward Lobos Rocks to check it out, even though we figured it would be pretty surgy. When we got there, I took a look and decided it looked a bit rough so I wasn't going to dive. Then as the guys were getting geared up, I took another look at all of the sea lions in the water, and changed my mind. So Rob and Kevin sat there all geared up while I got my drysuit back on (well, the top part anyway), and got my hood and gloves and weight belt on, and then got into my gear. Hehehe.

We were live boating it because of something about wind and the boat and the rocks. We were dropped in the water south of the west pinnacle and told to head west of the west pinnacle before shooting a bag. We scootered on the surface toward the rock and then dropped once we were a bit closer. We started out on the south side of that pinnacle, playing in the surge with the green anemones and ochre stars. After doing that for a while, I suggested we head to the east side of the pinnacle, to look for sea lions in the channel between the two pinnacles. We got over there, and viz was quite a bit worse. Just as we were about to give up on sea lions, some appeared, but they weren't at all interested in being caught on camera :) We headed back south and hopped over to the pinnacle just south across the sand channel at the foot of the west pinnacle. Then we circled around to the west side of the pinnacle, where there are metridium, and a bunch of blue rockfish appeared. We also had the occasional sea lion buzz, and I managed to get like 4 seconds of footage of one of them buzzing by. Well, better than nothing! When it was time to call it, we scootered to the west and eventually Rob put a bag up. At 10 feet, we looked up and it looked a bit rough, so we got back on the trigger for another minute or so before surfacing. Then we scootered a bit more on the surface while waiting to be picked up... that surf is kind of scary!

We had a nice calm ride back to K-dock, though we could tell that conditions had deteriorated a bit since the morning. I think I could get used to this storms during the week and calm seas during the weekend :)

All of the day's pictures are here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Drysuit Diatribe: Boots

There are three common kinds of boots on drysuits - a "rock-boot" type system where there is a neoprene/crushed neoprene sock with a separate boot on top; a "turbo-sole" style that has an attached boot that is neoprene/crushed neoprene or some similarly flexible material with a rubber sole fused to the bottom of it; or what I will call "rigid boots" attached right to the suit. DUI offers the first two options; I've never had the third option (well, once on a rental Mobby's suit) so I'm not going to comment on it. The boot question seems to be really contentious and there are divers out there that love each option. Personally I prefer the turbo-soles hands down. I have had turbo-soles on two suits and rock-boots on two suits, and my current suits are one of each. I don't dislike the rock-boots enough to replace them on the suit that has them, though I frequently think about doing so.

Here's what I think are the good and bad points of each:
  • The rock boots give you more ankle stability. I think this is helpful if you are trudging over uneven surfaces and worried about rolling an ankle. I don't see that as being a big issue for most of the diving around here.
  • The greater ankle stability comes at the cost of less ankle flexibility. This can make certain kicks a bit more difficult for some people, so the turbosoles win here.
  • The turbosoles give you more consistency in how they fit; I frequently don't tie the laces on my rock boots tight enough (and occasionally tie them too tight), and it's just a little annoying to dive them that way.
  • Depending on the shape of your foot, the rock boot may or may not fit well. I have two pairs of rock boots that are different vintages; one fits my foot really well, but the other is too wide and my feet tend to wiggle around in there. You could always use a different boot if this is a problem.
  • A neoprene sock is less sensitive to poor fit than a turbo-sole. If the sock is too big, you can still jam it into the proper size rock boot and dive it.
  • Rock boots are a pain to put on, and another thing to forget. They also occasionally "fail" when you break a lace or the velcro tab. I guess you could break the velcro tab on the turbo-soles too, but I haven't done that yet.
  • The rock-boots are pretty likely to require a bigger sized fin. With the turbo-soles, you may get away with using the same fins you use with a wetsuit. This is a pretty minor benefit though.
  • The turbo-soles are just way more comfy! This is probably related to the second point.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Drysuit Diatribe: Pockets

I haven't managed to achieve pocket nirvana on any of my suits. But I have a pretty good idea of what pocket nirvana would be, since I've had so many different types of pockets on my various suits. I've had the DUI zipper pocket, the DUI bellows pockets in both sizes, and the big ("exploration") Halcyon pocket. If I were getting a new suit, I would get the smaller Halcyon pockets. Here's what I do and don't like about each of the pockets I've mentioned:
  • DUI zipper pocket. There is a theoretical reason that zipper pockets are bad, which is that the zipper can jam and fail closed. If you are carrying gear that you are actually relying on in your pocket, that could be pretty bad. I also don't like the pockets because kelp seems to always wrap around them. I'm not sure why. I think it's because they stand up even when they aren't full, and they have a distinct "corner" for the kelp to wrap around. I am sure they are just as much of an entanglement hazard with cave line too. The upside is that there is no Velcro for your glove to get stuck to and since they stand up on their own, it is pretty easy to get in and out of them.
  • DUI small bellows pocket. These pockets are rather small, as the name suggests :) However, I have them on my current favorite suit, and they are big enough for the gear I feel compelled to carry on a Tech 2 or Cave 1 dive (even with my hero cam in the left pocket). I think they would be sufficient for a C2 dive too, since my left pocket is generally pretty empty on cave dives. But I have to pack my gear into them just so for everything to fit nicely, and once I pull something out on a dive, getting it back in on my own is pretty difficult.
  • DUI large bellows pocket. This is a pretty good pocket. My only complaint is that stupid D-ring that comes in them by default, but that's not something a nice pair of bolt-cutters can't fix. If I were going to get any DUI pocket, this would be the one, and I would be quite content with that.
  • Halcyon exploration pocket. This pocket is huge. Too huge, I'd say, unless you have a huge thigh to support it :) The pocket is so big I think it kind of weighs down the leg of my suit (out of the water). In the water, it's fine though. I love the wetnotes pocket, and I like the little pocket on the outside, which is perfect for car keys or other small stuff you don't usually take out on a dive, and want to keep out of the way. Also, the stiffer material of the pocket makes it kind of stand open at the edge better than the more flexible material on the DUI pockets, making it easier to get your hand in and out. The huge swath of Velcro is a bigger target to get your hand stuck to though.
  • Halcyon normal pocket. This has the same bells and whistles of the exploration pocket, without being crazy big. I think this is about the same size as the big DUI bellows pocket. This is the pocket I'll get on my next suit.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Boat Night Dive

There was a BAUE get-together planned for Saturday night at the Breakwater, and at the last minute, Beto had a great idea to see if we could get the Escapade for the dive. Suddenly the number of people signed up for the event swelled from about 6 to more than 12, and in the end, we had 10 on the boat and another 4 or 5 people met up at the Breakwater to dive there. Then we all met for dinner afterward. I've never been on a night dive off of a boat in Monterey before, so I was totally excited. Plus I got to dive a single tank, which is my fave. Rob and I were diving with Mykle, who is a renowned ocean geek (he recently explained to us the composition of "sea snow" which I refer to as "sea snot" -- trust me, you don't want to know!), so I was excited about that too. The forecast (at least swell) had been looking totally awesome, or I thought it was, but maybe I was confused. But on the way down to Monterey, Beto called Rob and said there was some swell so yada yada yada. Anyhoo, we ended up at Sammet's Spire, which I've never been to. We actually went past it a bit, to the back of the aquarium, where it was surprisingly rough! But it was nice and calm at the Spire.

We hopped in after a very informative dive briefing, which included a suggestion that on the ascent, we point our lights up so that they can see us coming. Rob was leading, which was good, because as far as I could tell, we were just randomly swimming around. Shortly after descending, right near the bottom, Rob found a juvenile treefish, which was super cute. He took his camera out and was about to take pictures when either he or Mykle found a little octopus in a crack. For some reason Rob decided to take pics of the octopus first (which made no sense to me, since he doesn't have any pictures of a juvenile treefish) and then of course the fish was gone by the time he was finished with the octopus. Note to self -- firing strobes at night tends to send fish away. As we swam around, I was feeling like it was a pretty unproductive critter hunt. I found another small octopus, and then Mykle found one, which was a bit bigger and way more photogenic than the earlier two. He was out on the sand with his legs swirling around him in that canonical octopus standing up pose. Rob also found a nice looking turbot, and while he was shooting that, I found a Limacia and showed it to Mykle -- that was probably my only slightly exciting slug find of the dive. I also found a neat yellow worm thingy, which I was pretty sure was actually a sea cucumber of some sort, and showed that to Rob. According to Leslie Harris, it is something of the genus Acrocirrus, which I think makes it just a worm, not a sea cucumber. That's about all we saw (that I was excited about) for the first half of the dive.

At some point I saw a fish bolt like a bat out of hell right past me, and I was thinking "what could he be bolting from?" just as Rob signaled me. I looked over toward Rob and I could sort of see him, but something was in the way. At first I thought it was kelp and then I realized it was a seal! The seal was totally into Rob's fins (and the fish that we were lighting up with our lights). Rob kept swiveling around trying to look at the seal, and he would swivel around with Rob, nibbling his fins and legs. It was awesome! After he disappeared, we looked for him for a bit, but eventually gave up.

Then I was swimming along and saw a sailfin sculpin sitting just outside of a crack in the reef! Yay! I was so excited. I was sort of paralyzed for a moment, because I didn't want to scare it with my light, but I managed to get the boys over for a look. But it of course swam into its crack before Rob got any shots. Oh well... we continued along and ended up over a sandy spot with some funny little bushy things sticking up. I have no idea what they were, but I wondered if there could be any cool critters hiding amongst them. So I got really low to the sand and was shining my light right next to my face, when thunk, I felt something swim into my mask and just generally trying to attack my face. I spazzed out for a moment and swatted it away from my face, and then I got a look at it... and was glad I spazzed out and swatted it away! It was some gross worm thingy (I believe the technical term is "Polychaete Epitoke" -- thanks Clinton). Just thinking of that thing swimming into my face totally grosses me out! Anyhoo, once it settled down, I showed it to Rob, but it immediately started burrowing into the sand to avoid having its picture taken. However, Clinton did manage to get a picture of the same thing.

The next totally awesome critter that I found was this weird little shrimp that had a pinkish red shell, which looked like a shell (like the thing a hermit crab would inhabit). When I first saw it, I was looking down at it from above and thought it was a hermit crab with a really pretty funny shaped shell. But then I saw that the shell had eyes. I had no idea what it was, but Rob got some pictures so he could ID it (Spirontocaris prionota, thanks again to Leslie Harris). And last, but not least, I found a completely transparent fish hanging in the water. It was totally cool. It reminded me of those documentaries you see from 4000 feet deep where all of the fish are translucent and you can see their organs. It was one of the coolest things I've seen underwater. Rob managed to get some nice pictures, and Tom Laidig provided an ID (juvenile speckled sand dab, Spirontocaris prionota). While we were marveling at that, Beto came swimming over and gave us the "sailfin sculpin" signal (not to be confused with the "shark" signal, which is rather similar, or possibly exactly the same). Yay! So we followed him back to where the sculpin was, just one nook over on the reef from where we found him, and this time he let us get some pics.

Very shortly after we finished up there, we called the dive and headed up. We knew we were close to the anchor line (and I say "we" in the loosest sense), so we just followed the kelp up. I was pointing my light up, which Rob was getting really annoyed about, until he realized what I was doing and why. Hehe. We surfaced like two body lengths from the anchor line :) "We" are so good at navigating. The swim step and ladder were engulfed in kelp, which made it slightly annoying/slippery to climb the ladder, but I managed to make it :P After collecting the rest of the divers, we headed back to the dock, then to Gianni's for dinner.

After the dive, Rob was telling Clinton that his 60mm lens worked great, and he never would have been able to get these pictures with his 105. So I guess I did a good job picking out his birthday present last year :) Okay, actually Clinton and Marshall (of Backscatter) did a good job :P

Friday, February 4, 2011

Drysuit Diatribe: Valves

While I think the exhaust valve is the most interesting valve to talk about, I'm also going to talk a bit about p-valves and inflators in this post. Learning to manage the gas in a drysuit is pretty much *the skill* for learning to dive dry; it's also a skill that causes Fundies students a lot of trouble. There is definitely a big skill component to this, but there is also an equipment component. There are two problems I've seen a lot with exhaust valves. First, the valve isn't always placed correctly. In order to vent gas, the valve needs to be facing "up". If the valve is in your armpit, then no amount of contortions are going to get that valve facing up ("in your armpit" is a bit of an exaggeration, but I've seen some pretty strangely placed valves!). Sometimes the valve is placed a bit too far back, so you have to roll your arm down to get it to point up, etc. The easiest way to figure out if your valve is actually pointing up is to get a dive buddy who actually knows what they are doing to take a look at it, or better yet, to see it on video. Often times you can work around a poorly placed valve by moving your arm/shoulder in a certain way. In really bad cases, you might just need to move it, which can be done, but is sort of annoying to have to do. Again, if you get your suit from a good dealer, you shouldn't encounter this problem in the first place. I'm not saying DUI won't ever put the valve in a goofy place, but a good dealer will make them get it right for you. I like my valve to be on the midline of the sleeve.

The second problem people encounter with exhaust valves is that some valves don't vent as easily as others. In my experience, the Apeks low-profile valves sometimes have a really high "cracking pressure". That is, you have to get a big bubble of gas under it before it will vent anything, and when it finally does vent, a ton of gas comes out. I've seen this behavior over and over again in fundies video reviews (including in my own fundies class). Personally, I prefer to be able to vent a trickle at a time. I've moved all of my suits over to SiTech valves, and I love them. I believe that the Apeks high profile valves are supposed to work well in this respect too, but I just don't have the experience with them. Also, I've noticed that not every low-profile valve has this behavior -- some of them seem to vent a little at a time. So if you already have one, and it works, don't worry about it. Or if you buy a used suit that has one, wait and see if it's a problem. But if you are picking out a new suit, I'd steer clear of those valves. If you are having this problem, it's pretty easy to see in a video - you'll see a big bubble of gas right under your valve, but no gas coming out. There are certainly techniques to deal with this, but I prefer to avoid the problem in the first place. Replacing the valve is a pretty simple and low cost alteration -- Frank has done this while I waited on a number of occasions.

As far as I can tell, the main difference between inflators is that there are fixed ones or ones that swivel. I don't know if the fixed ones are even an option anymore (on DUI suits anyway), but it's something you might see if you buy a used suit. I am sure there are some additional "failure points" in the swivel inflators; I think I once had a swivel inflator that was leaking at the swivel o-ring. But this hasn't really dissuaded me from the swivel. My only advice on this is that if you are getting a fixed inflator, make sure that the inlet is pointing in the right direction. This might sound obvious, but one used suit I bought had an inflator pointing in the wrong direction. Doh! That can easily be fixed, though.

I have p-valves on both of my suits, since I've been experimenting with the She-P for ages. I'm still not really a fan, but a lot of women are. It seems to be something you either love or hate (I suspect this has to do with the one-size-fits-all aspect -- if it fits you love it; if it doesn't you hate it). Anyhoo, I don't really know much about the different p-valve options. Both of mine are Halcyon balanced p-valves. I asked Rob to write a blurb about the different options here, and this is what he had to say:

"Overboard discharge valves (P-valves) are an essential accessory for men's drysuits (and are becoming a popular addition to women's suits as well). The addition of the P-valve allows you to
hydrate as much as you want, without worrying about creating an "uncomfortable" situation in the water.

A P-valve has a valve which is mounted through the leg of the drysuit and connects via a rubber hose to an external catheter (men) or the female equivalent. There are primarily 2 types of P-valves, balanced and unbalanced. An unbalanced valve is more or less a direct connection to the outside of the suit, via a closable opening (such as pee-thru-bolt that can be opened and closed). As such, the bolt needs to be opened and closed as the diver wants to pee, so as to avoid the ocean water entering the tube. There is also arguably a slightly elevated risk of a urinary tract infection with unbalanced valves, due to the possibility of water moving in the "opposite" direction.

While unbalanced valves are simpler in design and construction, most divers these days opt for a balanced design. The balanced p-valve has a check-valve on the end (preventing water from flowing in). Also, there is a one-way valve that allows gas in the drysuit to balance the pressure in the tube, so as to prevent an uncomfortable squeeze.

The tube to the P-valve attachs to an external catheter (for men). There are several catheter brands, but the Rochester widebands are a popular choice for their "holding power". P-valves should be rinsed from time to time with a vinegar or light bleach solution to prevent bacteria growth that could lead to a UTI."