It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Monday, August 27, 2012

Philippines 2012: Dive Operations

We did a total of 6 days of diving, with 4 days with the dive op at Atlantis, and 2 days of tech diving through Tech Asia.  Both dive operations were great, and I would recommend them both.  And since they support different kinds of diving, I don’t have to pick one to recommend over the other :)


The dive operation at Atlantis is extremely efficient.  They run 5 boat dives a day, which leave at 9, 11, 2, 4, and 6.  The local dive sites are all less than 15 minutes away, with quite a few within 5 minutes.   This is how they can manage to do five single-tank trips a day.  They have a fleet of small, fast open boats, which are fun to ride around in, which we did all of the local diving from.  They also have a couple of larger boats, one of which we went on when we did a day trip to Verde Island.

On the day that we arrived, we got a little briefing about the dive facilities, which, in terms of stuff we would use, included a gear storage room, a camera room, and a rinsing station.  The gear storage room was not icky, as I often find gear storage rooms to be in the tropics.  I was not afraid to walk around in there in bare feet.  The camera room was convenient since we could leave our lights and Rob’s camera to charge in there without having to schlep them up to the room.

The first morning of diving, we met up with our DM for the first dive, and he showed us the protocols for diving.  We setup our gear that first morning, and then once they knew how our gear was to be setup, we didn’t have to touch it again for the rest of the trip.  Before each dive (or before a set of dives, in some cases), we would analyze our tanks and label them with our names, and they would magically get transported to the boat, and our gear placed on them before each dive.  We need to get some of that action on the Escapade!

The boat schedule was constantly in flux, since people would change their plans throughout the day.  They managed all of this on a big whiteboard, which showed you which boat had which divers and which DM for the rest of the day (and the next morning, once it was late in the afternoon).  Sometimes they would also include the site names or whether it would be a macro or wide-angle dive (or at least they did this for our boat, since it had some photographers on it).

Our orientation finished with our first dive, which was just us and the DM.  I guess they wanted to make sure we weren’t total screw-ups.  The boat protocol was to shimmy into our gear on the gunwale, and then flop backward on the count of 3.  At the end of the dive, we removed our gear in the water, passed it up to the boat tender, and then climbed a little ladder to get back into the boat.  Or you can just pull yourself up over the side, but I lacked the ability to do that gracefully.

All of the DMs we dove with were excellent at pointing out critters and otherwise letting us do our own thing.  We dove mostly with Cris (who is a critter-spotting pro) and Rusty (who is a nudi-geek), plus a couple of dives with Thax and Norm.

Tech Asia

We spent two days doing some tech dives with Tech Asia.  When we initially booked the trip, I had no particular plans to do anything but the diving with the resort.  At some point someone (Ginny probably) mentioned to Rob that tech diving was popular there, and I told him I was happy to tech dive, but he had to set it up.  So he went the easy route and looked on the GUE instructor list, found that there is a GUE instructor (Anders Kristensen) in Puerto Galera, and contacted him.  He was not in town while we were, but he pointed us to the shop that he is affiliated with -- Tech Asia.

Tech Asia was a very easy shop to do tech diving out of.  We told them the depth range we were willing to dive, and that we were happy to do whatever was good in that range, and they picked some dives sites.  Our guide, Ferg, was GUE Tech 2 trained, and seemed to know all of the dive sites like the back of his hand.  In order to minimize the amount of gear we had to pack (which was already a lot), we left our doubles wings and a couple of stage regs at home, and rented them from the shop.  The gear rental was very cheap, and everything was configured as one would expect (I suppose this is a benefit of standardization :P).  When you are doing recreational diving in a vacation destination, you sort of expect not to have to schlep your gear around, but I wouldn’t expect this for tech diving.  But the guys at Tech Asia took care of all of that for us.  The only gear I ever had to move to or from the boat was my fins and sometimes my light (depending on if it made it onto my rig before it was whisked away).  But the boat crew do a lot more than just schlep gear and drive the boat.  On one dive, I was getting geared up, and June (one of the boat crew/fill guys/gear schleppers) told me that my long hose and necklace were tangled.  It was like being on the Escapade!

The boat that we dove from was the same style (but a bit smaller) as the “ferry” that we took from Batangas… the kind with the outriggers.  But the protocol was pretty much the same diving from this boat as from the Atlantis boats… get geared up on the gunwale, roll into the water, then at the end of the dive, pass up bottles, get out of gear, pass up your rig, then climb a ladder to get back into the boat.  I was a bit afraid of hitting my head on the outriggers when I rolled in, though I am pretty sure that would require a backward leap which I am not actually capable of (especially not with doubles and multiple bottles on).

The cost of Helium in remote places is usually quite high, but I didn’t think it was prohibitively expensive.  The gas was certainly more expensive than it is at home, but at the end of the day, the cost per dive there was comparable with the cost per tech dive off of a boat at home.  Of course, the difference in price between tech diving and rec diving in the Philippines is huge, and I probably would have had just as much fun doing rec diving all week (but Rob liked the variety that the tech diving offered).  It is certainly the case that we saw stuff on the tech dives that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.  But if we spent those two extra days diving with the guys at Atlantis, we probably would have seen stuff we didn’t otherwise see.  There’s just a lot to see, at whatever depth!

Aside from the diving itself, Tech Asia is just a very well-outfitted shop.  I destroyed the cord on my can light on the first day (surprise surprise), and Dave replaced the cord while we were there.  In addition to renting all of the usual gear, they also rent scooters.  And they are very efficient at filling trimix, both in terms of not dumping gas and also in terms of speed (they filled 4 sets of tanks over lunch so that we could do a dive in the morning and one in the afternoon).  Another bonus about diving with Tech Asia and staying at Atlantis was that we met tons of kittens on the walk between the two each day.  Here's the best picture I could get.  This is the biggest of the kittens that I met (next to a stroller, to give you a sense of scale).

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