Unexso Shark Dive at Shark Junction, Saturday, June 28th 2014 @ Freeport, Grand Bahamas

For my 26th dive overall, I had selected a trip out to Shark Junction with Freeport’s Unexso dive shop. For traveling across the Atlantic from Port Everglades, my buddy and I had picked up a day cruise from Balearia Bahamas Express from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Bahamas for $120 US. Summary on the commute, it was about seven hours total working through customs. In retrospect, I had wished making this kind of effort for a multi-day visit.

After arriving in Freeport, the next major step was the 30 minute taxi ride to Unexso. For reference, the location of the shop was in the market place next to the Pelican hotel. As far as equipment rentals, we had asked for the $40 upgrade to rent BCDs, fins, regulators, weights, and a mask; however, we had opted to bring our own masks and dive computers. The push on the dive computers, the shop had skipped on wanting to attach our wireless transmitters to their regulators. After a brief meal and rain storm, the boat had headed out to sea. Getting to Shark Junction had took about 10 minutes. During this time, Jarvis, our shark feeder, had provided a rundown of the forthcoming action under the water. One reservation about this excursion was sitting statically on the sea floor. The reason for sitting in a single file profile for the divers was reducing any room or motion for open jaws. Apparently, the grey reef sharks had a disposition to key off sudden movements when hunting prey. The dive instructions on hands was keep them close to your body and avoid moving them out into the open water.

Descending at Shark Junction, all the visiting divers were placed in a row along the front of a downed boat. From here, we had prepared for the underwater show starting with a hungry stray grouper. Unfortunately for the grouper, he was shushed away but not before becoming irate, changing colors from dark brown to a white pattern and back. After few moments, the dive master had started working from right to left in front of his audience doling out food to the hoarding sharks. The sharks had behaved very similar to hungry dogs waiting for a treat. On the flip side, the several grouper in the area were fairly head strong constantly trying to sneak in for a bite. This underwater adventure had lasted for about 30 minutes before shifting to an ascent.

On the returning cruise ship, a passenger had asked me about my fear of sharks on the dive. The response was simple “My only fear was running out of air.” After watching sharks feed in close proximity, it was extremely obvious the focus of their attention, fish. If you had wanted to personally challenge your phobia of sharks, suggest a similar dive. The only question for myself that remains was,”What kind of sharks to see next?”

Read More:
Balearia Bahamas Express (ferryexpress.com)
Unexso Grand Bahama Island (www.enexso.com)
Grey Reef Shark (Wikipedia)
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Barracuda Reef Dive off the Sea Experience, June 8, 2014 @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Second dive of this day, I was able to get around without my wet suit moving constantly in the ocean. I hadn’t seen any barracudas for the Go Pro video below; however, I had seen schools of grunts and jacks, a grouper, a queen angel fish, a yellow hog fish, and wrasses. The only creature undocumented on the final edit was a turtle. Holding on the dive flag had also provided an even flow to some of my camera work. The video I had composed using  Go Pro Hero 3+ Black Edition, MacBook Pro and iMovie. Think I was fairly jazzed putting the video together. Adding the track Solar Sailor from Daft Punk to the video, I had thought ideal counterpoint for drift diving.  As far as air consumption,  I was clocking an acceptable number with my PSI on the scuba tank on a 40 minute dive with 1500 psi leftover. Below were the stats from my Suunto Viper Air dive computer for this outing. In retrospect, lots of  elements were ideal on this dive with air temperature at 91 degrees F, warm seas at 82 degrees F and oodles of video. It had  epitomized everything that makes scuba diving fun! barracuda reef drift dive @ garzafx.com barracuda drift dive @ garzafx.com 

Read More: Sea Experience (seaxp.com)  

Tenneco Towers East Dive off the Sea Experience, June 8, 2014 @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Tenneco Towers East was one of the more challenging dives out of my twenty-five to date. This day on the boat had started out with my buddy’s cylinder order being mixed up with 21% regular oxygen blend versus a Nitrox blend of 32%. After securing the correct tanks, he had run into a busted o-ring when setting up his gear. Both of us also had issues with our regulators leaking air from one location or another. Luckily, the dive master from the Sea Experience was extremely helpful in securing my wireless transmitter and my friend’s run to his BCD.

After getting out to sea, I had run into a two issues right out of the gate. First my buoyancy was way off  preventing a controlled descent. Second, one of my fin straps had come loose approaching the boat ladder. After getting back on the Sea Experience, I was provided an additional 4 more lbs. of weights. After re-entering the ocean, I had easily converged with my buddy patiently waiting at the top of Tenneco Towers East. We then had started our decline down the slop of the top of the structure.  Originally, we had planned to spiral around the tower but, the strong current and my earlier missteps didn’t allow for keeping with our dive plan. After our last air check, my friend had realized the necessity to work up to a safety stop; however, I had lost view of him moving to the boat anchor. With rising bubbles and silhouettes from other divers, my view of him was totally obstructed. Amazingly, he had seen me the entire time looking down the rope for the anchor.

After getting topside again, I had found my dive buddy seated at the front of the deck. We soon had engaged about the miscommunication under the water and the break in visual contact. The fundamental faux pas had centered around dumping our planned movement and properly signaling with our hands to ascend outright. I had thought for myself, “Lesson learned. Keep it simple stupid!” With my dive relatively unsuccessful with about 23 minutes submerged time, the silver lining was firing up a newly acquired Go Pro gathering my first dive footage. To that end, I had posted a video below that I think truly communicates the unworldly feel of Tenneco Towers.

tenneco_towers_dive_computer tenneco_towers_dive_computer2

Created with Go Pro Hero 3+ Black Edition, MacBook Pro, and  iMovie.

Read More:

Sea Experience (seaxp.com)

 

Managing anemia and scuba diving

Over the past year, I had picked up my Padi certification Open Water and Advanced Open Water through a local dive shop, Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida. One of my immediate concerns getting signed up was medical clearance for a reoccurring stomach ulcer. The reason for the heightened sense of awareness about the ailment was anemia. With periodic changes in my blood’s ability to carry oxygen, I had thought I might be unable to enjoy exploring this endeavor.

After reviewing my results with my family physician, I was provided written clearance for scuba diving; however, a piece of paper was the first hurdle to managing my anemia. For those unaware of your blood’s hemoglobin count, I had encouraged getting this number checked out periodically if engaging in this activity or any other athletic adventures. For myself, my hemoglobin had floated around 9 grams (gm) per deciliter (dL). Here are some posted normal ranges from per Medicinenet.com:

    • Children: 11 to 13 gm/dL
    • Adult males: 14 to 18 gm/dL
    • Adult women: 12 to 16 gm/dL
    • Men after middle age: 12.4 to 14.9 gm/dL
    • Women after middle age: 11.7 to 13.8 gm/dL

Here were few additional thoughts I had learned up to my last outing in the big blue Atlantic.

  1. Eat your iron. Always keep a bottle of iron (OTC) or medically prescribed version available in your gym or scuba bag. For myself, this was paramount to making it through Open Water course.
  2. Get a thicker wetsuit! For myself, this was exceedingly apparent on my outing for the Advanced Open Water class. When underwater getting hypothermia, you had reduced your chance to relax while shaking like a low power vibrator. Think I had lost few pounds on that Saturday but, worse still feeling like a burden to my dive buddy and instructor(s). After trying to get by on the cheap with rentals of 3MM suits, I had conceded the point. I had shelled out about $400 bucks on 5mm Aquaflex medium from Seminole Scuba. The dividend after the fact was a more calm and fun dive time.
  3. Know your limits. Sounds obvious, though, I had understood a man’s ability to hold onto his maverick independent streak. The smarter person, the better diver, had kept themselves self-aware about their limitations including fatigue, alertness, and pain.
  4. Avoid anything that might exacerbate your anemia. In my case, avoiding irritating an ulcer was important before a scheduled dive. Recently, I had marked off the list alcoholic beverages (i.e. margaritas), caffeine and spicy foods few days in advance if in the midst of a flare up.

Again, if you were interested in scuba diving and anemic, talk with your family doctor. Safe travels!

Read More:
Overview of anemia and diving – Diving Medicine Online (scuba-doc.com)
Understanding Anemia — the Basics (WebMD)
How is hemoglobin measured? (Medicinenet)

 

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The day after Cinco de Mayo

 

scuba_office1.jpg GARZAFX.COM

Relax and breath, it’s only troubleshooting Microsoft products.

 

scuba2.jpg GARZAFX.COM

A phone call? The PADI scuba training said avoid overexertion, ugh.

 

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Seriously, I hope this is about free food or Nitrox.

 

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Look, my buoyancy sucks in this chair and I’m low on air. Can I call you back tomorrow?

31 days to scuba dive in Blue Springs State Park @ Orange City, Florida

On Sunday, March 16th, at 10:30 am, I had returned to my vehicle after 23 minutes of diving in Blue Springs State Park @ Orange City, Florida. On recollection, my buddy had noted an anti-climactic nature of this escapade after taking a month and half off from diving. Our last outing was two days in the salty brine of the Atlantic Ocean off Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for Padi Advanced Open Water class. On the surface, I had wanted to agree with my friend’s assessment; however, being my first post-surgery dive from two hernias, I had felt an emotional contrast to the facts of the day.

For those unfamiliar with Blue Springs, park services had closed off the spring head access during the winter months for manatee activity. This being the first weekend of open water access, many divers had converged upon Blue Springs. According to the park rangers, we were the 8th grouping to check-in at the front desk. During that process, one of the female rangers had scolded us for skipping park entry. Though, we had flashed our park pass moments earlier. I had thought, “What a saucy lady!”  Despite the unfriendly welcome, we had both shrugged off the experience with joking about one of us not returning from this simple excursion.

After clearing the main gate, we had parked our vehicle in the secondary parking lot for assembling our equipment. Before heading down to the wooden boardwalk near the springs, I had attached my buoyancy control device (BCD), tank, and regulator to a small hand truck on loan from Paul Shepherd from Seminole Scuba. The goal for the day was overcoming an underlying fear of undoing my surgical repairs. On one hand, my surgeon, Lou Harold, had cleared me for this activity. On the other hand, while loading my vehicle with a scuba bag the previous day, I had felt some heat from my lower pelvic incision. I was hoping the feeling just to be mild stretching of scar tissue. Maneuvering the hand truck awkwardly, I was exerting a bit more energy and motion than expected. I had speculated, “What if the cylinder pops off the truck? What if I go rushing to catch it from crushing a passing child? What if that rushing action rips my flesh apart?” With those thoughts spinning in my mind, I had opted for a gut check by helping my buddy get his gear on. I had imagined this a good physical barometer for myself to gauge skipping on using the hand truck. Despite all the rehabbing exercises of the past 29 days, I was unsure of the forthcoming result. Carefully lifting and holding his equipment in place, my friend had secured himself. Then it was my turn. Quickly attaching my upper chest and waist level clips, my scuba buddy then had released the full weight upon my body. We then both had commented on, “How light the tanks were?”  Despite adjusting my cylinder once more on the walk down the boardwalk, I was amazed at the relative ease of handling the assembled scuba equipment. I had thought,“Score one for picking up lunges for stretching and strength training.”

Reaching the water’s edge, we had discussed our plan for navigating the boil. We had headed toward the spring head on our right in the shallows. The strategy was avoiding the bulk of the current’s strength and overexerting ourselves physically. Upon reaching the spring head, the water’s visibility was greatly decreased by the overcrowded activity of all the other diving groups. For about fifteen minutes, we had waited for the activity to die down. With eight divers returning to the perimeter of the water, we had moved forward with our descent.

Recalling swimming this spring last year, we had passed by the downed tree across the boil opening.  Clearing this landmark, I had struggled with current pushing back. I was wondering if cutting my weights down to four pounds might be too light?  However, switching my profile to feet first had helped with my descent along with long release of air from my lungs. Additionally, I had pulled myself forward on the white limestone formations. These limestone ridges had appeared like huge underwater shelving at eye level. The descending view was more reminiscent of an alien orifice perhaps from H.R. Giger. After reaching approximately 60 feet, we had basked in the current like a pair of fish. With time to spare, we had spent a few moments for photo-ops. We had joshed around with posing in power flexing stances to Vulcan greeting to other sexually suggestive sign language.

Before our ascent to our safety stop, the sun had cleared the clouds. Looking up at the cascading light shimmering on the limestone cavern and floating debris, I had felt calming sense of accomplishment. The importance of this moment was therapeutic. There were lots of facts to complain from this dive; no manatees, dearth of big fish, an unruly free diver, overcrowding, limited visibility, a cranky park ranger and blurry underwater Go Pro photographs. All of these facts were inconsequential for myself being 31 days out from hernia surgery. This outing was a driving force for my recovery. All I had fixated on most of the month was bridging the gap from surgery to submersion beneath the water’s surface. Twice during that time, I had dreamed vividly of being underwater. Dreams I had believed speak to us about ourselves. People had often talked about the love for water as a form of rebirth or renewal. I had believed that before, more so now. To the question of “What’s inside me?”, for myself, on this day I had lived a dream.

Read More:
Blue Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)

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Padi Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Class @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

In the middle of January, I had signed up for Advanced Open Water class down at Seminole Scuba @ Lake Mary, Florida. Fresh off a cold and a possible new hernia, I had pushed myself to hit the road with my scuba buddy in completing this upgrade to my diving repertoire. During our adventure, we had hit the following underwater areas off the Ft. Lauderdale coast.

1. Rebel
2. Oakland Ridge
3. Hog Heaven
4. The Caves
5. Tenneco Tower
6. Barracuda Reef

On the lessons learned front, I was treated to a reality check on a few different technical items. One, I had definitely needed a thicker wetsuit for managing my threshold for hypothermia (i.e. 3mm vs. 5mm). According to our instructor, Johnny G. Thomson, I was shaking like a tree on a windy day. Some might say not a big deal but, this had definitely kept me from fully enjoying the dives. On the physical front, I was eating up my Nitrox like a drunk sailor on shore leave. After the first day, I had thought I easily lost a few pounds looking in the mirror just from the extended exposure.

Second, having to switch to a spare air cylinder due to overconsumption of Nitrox, I had forgotten to switch the mix on my dive computer down from 31% to 21%. That oversight had forced my Viper Air to lock out reading my PSI. At that point, I was a bit frustrated and crestfallen. During that process, I had also unexpectedly experienced moving down from Nitrox to normal air mix. I had suggested skipping that switch if at all possible. A normal air cylinder definitely had a stale dry aftertaste. On the plus side, I had picked up a tip on modifying my regulator for better air management. Additionally, I had kept in mind to ask for a bigger tank on rental the next go around.

Third, on buoyancy, I was down to a body weight of 150 pounds. This was a swing of 10 lbs. from taking Padi Open Water class. Eight pounds of weights in either salt or fresh had seemed much for managing my buoyancy with the least amount of effort. I had targeted to cut this in half for my next outing.

Fourth, never leave your personally verified Nitrox cylinders unattended on shore or charter boat. Despite the personal labeling, I had one fellow diver pulling my buddy’s and my personal cylinders without our knowledge. Either through being lazy, or just being rude, I was extremely pissed off by the potential of coughing up money for a missing cylinder. On top of that, we had depended on the lowest Nitrox mix for our deepest dives. What was this guy thinking?

As far as the big picture stuff on the trip, I had continued growing to love being out on and in the open water, whether deep or at night. Every dive so far has had a different pay off. It was cool to finally get below 100 feet; however, the emotional payoff on this dive trip was the accommodating staff from Seminole Scuba and my dive buddy. Their passion for diving had shone through any technical challenges for myself. Sometimes it was more beyond the wildlife you encounter but, the comradery. To that end, I had looked forward to planning my next dive post my hernia surgery.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Padi Advanced Open Water @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida @ GarzaFX.com

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Padi Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Class @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida @ GarzaFX.com

Padi Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Class @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida @ GarzaFX.com

Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

dolphintall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

Shark dive @ West Palm Beach, Florida

Inquiring about suggestions for my next dive, Paul Shepherd @ Seminole Scuba had floated the idea of a forthcoming shark dive down in West Palm Beach, Florida in mid-January. For some odd reason, I was enamored by this thrilling prospect of viewing these animals while diving. I hadn’t voyaged into the water with a shark since seeing one back in the Bahamas as a teenager. One of the requirements for this dive boat excursion was taking the Padi Advance Open Water class. In lieu of Advance Open Water class and Nitrox training, Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures had offered an introduction to Nitrox. Nitrox for the uninitiated was a different mix of oxygen to nitrogen. Standard air cylinders carry 21% oxygen, a Nitrox cylinder had normally ranged from 32% to 34% oxygen with some variation. This increased oxygen formulation had enabled longer dive times, less fatigue and shorter surface intervals. One important downside for Nitrox was possibility of oxygen toxicity at certain depths.

Hitting the open waters on the charter boat Wet Temptations, the congregation of divers had started gearing up while receiving our pre dive briefing. The first new check on this adventure was learning how to verify the Nitrox mix. This process had sounded easier than done with the boat bouncing up and down in the surf. Looking back at stats from my Suunto Viper-Air dive computer, I had lost anywhere from 300 to 500 psi across different cylinders learning to get a readout. With 15 minutes until drop off, the crew had thoughtfully reminded us to get ready our BCDs and regulators. The inexperience of being on my first dive boat was exhilarating with the call of “Dive! Dive! Dive!” Descending on the first of three dives, I had approached around 85 feet in depth. Right out of the gate, I was treated to sights of a turtle, a wreck, a stoic barracuda and a fleeting bull shark. Despite any previous apprehension of sharks, the event was extremely serene. The big excitement for myself was on ascending in the water column. Taking the 15 foot safety stop, I had run low on air consumption. Additionally, I had struggled with getting caught in my reel line for my safety sausage while climbing back onto the boat.

Before arriving at our next dive spot, the wind had placed a chill across my body generating hypothermia. Luckily, the vessel had a hot water hose and snacks for mediation of the surface winds. The second dive was equally calming with a bounty of lemon sharks. Now, what I had come to discover lemon sharks really don’t pose much of threat to humans. They had tended to go for smaller prey (i.e. parrot fish etc..), specifically for the probability of success. Watching the various approaches of lemon sharks, they had seemed curious but, equally cautious. At no time had I felt any sensation of being threatened. On the third dive, we had seen a few more lemon sharks coming into proximity of a reef. The same emotional refrain had repeated.

The importance of this dive was having a new appreciation for this misunderstood seafaring creature. Despite that new perspective, I had still garnered a healthy respect for sharks in their natural habitat. After all, I was only a surface dwelling mammal. This was without question, one of the most enthralling experiences of my life. To that end, I had wanted to say thanks again to Paul Shepherd @ Seminole Scuba for another fracking great recommendation and a shout out to the attentive crew from Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures.

Now can someone get me another breath of Nitrox!

Read More:
Lemon Sharks (Wikipedia)
Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures (scuba-adventures.com)
Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures & Marine Life Art Gallery (facebook.com/JimAbernethyScubaAdventures)

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Image courtesy of Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures & Marine Life Art Gallery: https://www.facebook.com/JimAbernethyScubaAdventures
Sharks! Dive! Dive! Dive!
Image courtesy of renegade399

Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

dolphintall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

Suunto DM4 Vyper Air dive computer @ Blue Heron Bridge

I had recently acquired a new addition to my growing arsenal of scuba equipment in the Suunto DM4 Vyper Air dive computer with wireless transmitter. The purpose was getting more accurate data regarding air pressure and depth during dives. Reviewing a manifest of my friend’s Advanced Open Water class purchases, the Sunnto DM4 Vyper had caught my attention. Before explaining the virtues of this technical device, I had thought a good point in providing some background. The value of this device was consolidating functionality from a rented BCD’s (buoyancy control device) analog gauges to digital readouts and then some. With dives at Manatee Springs State Park, Florida, I had noticed sinking a bit further in maximum depth than my friend. To that end, I had experienced some challenges seeing my gauges under an overcast sky in the Catfish sink. Manatee Springs was a fairly controlled location; however, I was thinking forward of more complex arenas like the open ocean with current. After seeing the device in action with my dive buddy and a follow-up discussion with Paul Shepherd at Seminole Scuba, I had committed to this acquisition.

The first trial run for the Suunto DM4 Vyper was heading out to Blue Heron Bridge. On attaching the wireless transmitter, the guidance I had received, “Don’t twist overly tight to the regulator.” With respect to the computer itself, it was large enough in accommodating my wet suit with ease. As far as general use, I had still required maybe another trip in working with the device in the water. For those calculating RAT, it was perfect inventory of your dive data. Most of the stuff for your dive book was readily available on the digital read out (i.e. maximum depth, surface interval, water temp, dive time, compass, air pressure).

suuntodm4

The day after getting home from Blue Heron Bridge dive, I had synced the Vyper Air with desktop Suunto software.The below outputted screen captures were from the three mini dives at Blue Heron Bridge. What had really peaked my interest, air consumption and depth. I was a bit obsessive with air management after bleeding through my tanks in Open Water scuba class. Or maybe it was just the notion of milking the maximum experience per cylinder. Regardless, it was extremely revealing to look at the depth, time, and air utilization with the surface intervals for snorkeling. Hopefully, I had provided some insight should you be in the market for a dive computer. Safe travels!

Dive 1

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Dive 2

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Dive 3

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Read More:
Suunto Vyper Air Black (Suunto)
Waters off Blue Heron Bridge @ West Palm Beach, Florida (GarzaFX)
Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida (GarzaFX)

Waters off Blue Heron Bridge @ West Palm Beach, Florida

In the last post, I had spoken of connections to people in your life alluding to the past, present and future. One of the pretenses for getting scuba certified wasn’t merely having new angles for adventure with a good buddy but, connecting to my father. During adolescence, my father had taken my brother and me along for various fishing and snorkeling trips while living on Andros Island, Bahamas. Commuting three hours from Orlando to West Palm Beach, I was on the verge of making a connection to my past.

For better part of 2013, I had spent quite a number of days in fresh water springs across the state of Florida. With the prospect of my first salt water dive, I had tempered my exuberance with knowledge of recent cold front sweeping through the state. Usually such weather changes had followed with rain causing turbidity in most kinds of water bodies. Before entering these briny shallows, my buddy and I had walked a rough outline of our dive plan. With the change from fresh to salt water, we had itemized a couple of technical challenges for emphasizing; buoyancy, water current, and air consumption. Putting technique aside for a moment, I was jazzed about the prospect of seeing tropical aquatic life again.

Working through technical objectives, I had loaded up another 2 lbs. of weights for a total of 10 lbs. for this salt water dive. For myself, extra weight in my buoyancy control device (BCD) had made me sink like the Titanic. For the next salt water outing, I had concluded sticking to 8 lbs. as a starting point. With the tidal shift, I had noticed a strong current on the surface water passing underneath Blue Heron Bridge. To offset, my friend had suggested diving on the bottom. In reality, the push of the current wasn’t diminished much at around 15 feet of depth with drag of the dive flag. The remedy for current was let the drift of the tide move us as necessary, otherwise swim, swim, swim! With respect to air and energy consumption, we had agreed to surface intervals for snorkeling for preserving air. In total, we had three mini dives achieving an excess supply of air of at least 1300 PSI out of 3000 PSI (i.e. pounds per square inch).

Despite reduced underwater visibility of about 18 feet, the main attraction for day was the aquatic life. Navigating the waters parallel to and beyond Blue Heron Bridge, we had seen an eclectic grouping of creatures. It was great mentally rattling off different things including; parrot fish, an urchin, juvenile Queen and Black angelfish, barracudas, Sgt. Majors, a solitary stingray, juvenile yellow Grunts and the chunks of Sargasso seaweed. With this exuberance, there was an interlude of seriousness regarding safety protocols when diving.

During the course of the excursion, we had maintained a healthy distance of about arm’s length to max of 10 feet snorkeling between us. Transitioning from one makeshift boat reef to another, I had remembered turning to check for my dive buddy. I wasn’t able to locate him within a 360 degree view, then up and down. Recalling dive protocol to surface after a minute of searching, I had almost conceded looking for him; however, I had seen a blurred silhouette on the edge of visibility. On closer inspection, it was my friend. He had tangled himself in the dive flag string. Approaching him, he had finished unraveling most of the string sans a loop around his fin. With a brief assist on the play, he was back in business gladly handing off the spool for the dive flag. The point of this scare was respect nature whether underwater or out on a mountain top, keep a visual connection to your buddy tight and avoid overloading on new gear. Now, my friend and I probably had thought skip on the melodramatic bit but, in the wild, a slip here, a mistake there, equals a dirt nap.

Speaking to past connections, almost a decade had gone by since my father’s passing. The taste of salt water and views of tropical fish had recalled great adolescent memories hanging out with him. These moments had ironically connected to one hour flights east of West Palm Beach to Andros Island, Bahamas. My parting thought for you, what had being underwater stirred inside of you?

Phil Foster Park (pbcgov.com)
Lake Worth Inlet Beach Cam (pbcgov.com)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

dolphintall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information: website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

 

Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida

On the last Sunday of 2013, around 4:30 am, I had received a text from a good friend while asleep. The text was the start of a conversation for selecting a pick-up time for heading out to Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida. By chance, I had awoke around 5:30 am responding to his text with “Ready to go in 30 minutes.” The irony, my friend and I had reversed sleeping schedules by chance. Usually, I had perked up earlier in the day; though, this morning was different. Our travel plan had evolved as early as Thursday. Since then, I had checked the weather report, water clarity, and any manatees blocking spring access; however, accommodating out of town friends and family, we had pushed back our initial target date from Saturday to Sunday. With my buddy’s arrival at 6 am, we had embarked to our water borne destination tossing my gear into his back seat.

A big concern for this fresh water adventure was air management and site selection. Neither of us had known a great deal about this locale in advance. Our tentative objective was scout the two bodies of water at the park; Manatee Springs and Catfish Hotel. Less any onsite objections, we had wanted to expend 1000 PSI (i.e. pounds per square inch) out of 3000 from our scuba tanks per body of water. Another unexpected variable was weather. During in car conversations, we had both noticed the unusually warm temperatures in Orlando, Florida. Beginning the drive, the skies were slightly overcast with little to no rain. Entering the last hour of the drive, a heavy deluge had begun falling. For the most part, passing storms in Florida had provided a shelf life of about 15 minutes. Intensifying with the sound of thunder and flashes of lighting, this front had matured beyond that characterization. For a scuba trip, we had wondered what kind of omen this might mean at Manatee Springs State Park.

After commuting just under three hours, we had pulled into the park’s main gate courtesy of my friend’s snappy driving. Flashing our Florida State Park Annual Family Pass for admission, we had cleared the gate. Though, we were immediately re-directed to diver check-in. During that process, one of the rangers had entered exclaiming, ”You are going to get your hair wet out there today.” My response was, “Somehow, I don’t think that’ll be a problem scuba diving.” Despite the dreary overcast skies, this happy banter had reinforced our cheerful road demeanor. That good karma, I had believed in manifestation of slowing the rains and an end to the thunder and lightning.

Afterwards, we had followed the road down a bit until parking. From here, we had engaged in walk-through of Catfish Hotel and Manatee Springs. Two things had immediately caught my eye. One, a sign for snakes, which in all of my Florida travels, I had seen only once before at remote beach on Honey Moon Island. The second, a layer of bright puke green algae had obscured about half of the water’s surface at Catfish Hotel. Now, I hadn’t really worried much about any snakes with the air temperatures dipping to 68 F degrees with no sun; however, the green algae had just reminded me of an out of control toilet or sewer. The notion of submerging myself into this water hole had just invoked the idea of filth. The phrase,”Ewwwh!” had epitomized my feeling exactly.

Post our walk-through, we had suited up selecting the deepest body of water, my favorite of course, Catfish Hotel. Moving down the steps for entry, much to my relief, my buddy had entered first. He had inadvertently caused a wake clearing a path in the algae. In this wake, I was now able to see clear water below. With this opening, I had mitigated my earlier disgust. Putting off use of my regulator, I had swam out to the center of the water. Agreeing once more to general subsurface plan, we had descended into Catfish Hotel. We had maneuvered into the base of the depression moving to threshold of the cavern going to Manatee Springs. Throughout our 12 minute dive, we had seen various fish including, yes, hand sized catfish. Coming about to 40 feet in depth, we had pulled parallel to the cavern opening. After pivoting off some submerged tree logs, I had come within view of a corner pocket off this cavern threshold. In this pocket, I had seen a medium school of small fish. Because of the lack of surface light penetrating the darkness, I wasn’t able to get a make on a specific type of fish. With a maddening curiosity, I had wanted to investigate them further. Though, due to my lack of cavern diving credentials, I had redirected to ascending into the middle of water column. During that moment, I had recalled recent discussions of mishaps by unqualified divers and swimmers dying this year at Wekiva Springs, Silver Glen Springs and Eagle’s Nest. Later in the day, my dive buddy had forwarded a great YouTube video summarizing the dangers of cavern diving by the untrained called, ”A deceptively easy way to die.” The point of the video was the mental seduction of what appears safe to the inexperienced precipitating in a life ending event.

After an allotment of time for a safety stop, we both had resurfaced switching out our regulators for snorkels. Out of the water, I had turned down to see my friend pulling himself up an exit ladder. A layer of green algae had covered the top of his body. Luckily, I was spared a similar fate by following in his wake to the water’s edge. Walking to Manatee Springs, he had told me of his misfortune of sucking algae into his mouth from his snorkel. He had described the sensation as extremely unpalatable. To freshen up, we had quickly immersed ourselves into the pristine clear blue waters of the Manatee Spring boil. From the spring head, we had used our snorkels to acclimate to the physical layout of submerged area. After going back up against the current, we had took a moment to rest to our heart rate before switching back to our tanks. Soon after, we had descended into the spring.

The main attraction for this 25 foot deep area, the strong underwater current. To close out the day, I had decided to place myself directly in path of this raw power. After equalizing a few times, I had grabbed firmly upon a rock at the threshold of the spring opening. The pressure forcing me back was substantial. My right hand had flexed to maintain a firm grip. After a moment, I had shifted to two hands onto a larger rock. Wanting to share in the experience, I had signaled my friend down. I had encouraged him to hold onto the adjacent rock. After settling on the bottom, we had felt the current’s force breach our masks with noticeable amount of water. Periodically, we had exercised pushing the water out with air from our noses. Despite the display of nature’s unbridled will, the current was extremely relaxing, almost enthralling.

With air starting to run low, I had perched myself  atop another submerged log. After catching my friend’s attention, I had made a few hand signals mimicking sexual gestures for humor sake. In response, my friend had motioned to the surface. He wanted to share in the beauty of the light rain breaking the surface tension. The cascading effect from below had appeared almost like drops of silver.  After this observation, we had concluded with another scuba safety stop. Leaving the water this time, we had packed our equipment for departure.

This day was marked by grey clouds and spattering of rain. Raining days were defined by most people as depressing in general. This one was different. Reflecting on the whole experience now, it had took the mundane into the realm of magnificent. This experience was rooted above and below the water in appreciation of physical exploration, mental renewal, and joyful friendship.”If everyday had ended that way,” I had thought,”Text me whenever! I’ll be ready to go in 30 minutes.”

Manatee Springs State Park
Address: 11650 NW 115 Street, Chiefland, Florida 32626
Phone: (352) 493-6072

Read More:
Manatee Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)
A deceptively easy way to die (YouTube)

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