Monday, December 24, 2007

More GUE Dive Extravaganza

Here are some additional resources on the GUE Dive Extravaganza:

Trip Report from Living Seas
My crappy photos (yes, I know they are too dark)
Video from Sean Cox

Next trip: Puerto Galera from January 2-6, 2008! 4 days of trimix diving with Gavins thrown in! Trip report to follow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

GUE Dive Extravaganza, October 19-21, 2007

Last weekend I was on the MV Black Manta for a weekend dive trip organized by Living Seas. Living Seas is home of GUE instructor Gideon Liew and he and his crew organized the first GUE Annual Dive Extravaganza 2007. The Black Manta is a large and pretty luxurious boat for this part of the world. We had somewhere in the region of 25 divers and we all settled comfortably in the cabins, dive deck, and saloon areas. Living Seas had been working on this trip for several months and organized all the logistics, including delivery of helium and oxygen bottles and the gas mixing. Over last several years, in no small part due to Gideon’s efforts, a sizable group of GUE trained divers has formed in the region. It’s remarkable that Living Seas was able to fill just about the entire boat with GUE trained divers. We even had 2 guys visiting from Australia and one from Shanghai. Probably the best thing about it was the fact that many people on board knew or had dived with one another; it was great to dive with old friends and make new ones.

We boarded the Black Manta at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal around 6pm on Friday. The first stop was the Seven Skies and it took an overnight sail to get there. We stayed there until late afternoon, then went to a shallower reef for a night dive. Saturday night was spent traveling to the Igara. Sunday we did 2 dives on the Igara and headed back to Singapore in the afternoon. By the time we were done with immigration it was evening.

Saturday we arrived at the Seven Skies around 9am. I’ve described the Seven Skies before (here and here) so I won’t describe it again. The current was ripping when we arrived and it took several tries to tie in to the wreck (trouble tying in seemed to be the theme of the weekend, together with strong currents). We staggered the groups’ entry into the water to make entry and exit smoothest. My team, stage diving 18/45 and using 50% for deco, went in last. By the time we were to go, other teams had already surfaced and reporting a whale shark sighting! We quickly jumped in. The current was indeed very strong and we pulled ourselves hand over hand down to the wreck. And whaddya know, the whale shark was there! It was a nice specimen, more than 5m long, with 4 cobias and a bunch of remoras hanging out with it. We enjoyed some time on the bottom with the whale shark but the real treat was having it hang out with us for almost our entire 20 min deco as we were flapping on the line like flags. At one point it looked like it started coughing and later we joked that it looked like it had swallowed a remora by accident… hilarious stuff that I will share once my buddy’s video has been edited. Despite the enjoyable whale shark sighting, I asked for the deco to be cut short a few minutes as were really getting tossed around by the bouncing boat at the 6m and 3m stops. This was no big deal as our bottom time was spent shallower than planned.

The whale shark hung out for most of the day and others saw it again on their second and third dives. We did another dive on the Seven Skies on 18/45 and 50% in the afternoon when the current had died down a little.

We then motored to a shallower site to do a night dive. It was a nice, relaxing no-deco dive. The highlight was disturbing a congregation that consisted of a HUGE marble ray and a bunch (almost 10) of big cobias. There was a lot of commotion as they sped off into the distance.

Sunday morning found us on the Igara wreck. See here for a previous description of the wreck. Again, we had some trouble tying in due to the ridiculous current. This current was something I’d never seen before and I came up from the first dive drawing comparisons to the highest flow areas of Ginnie Springs. Yes, it really was that strong! Several divers on board jumped in and went part way down the line before calling the dive due to the current. We dove 21/35 and 50% and spent our dive averaging 39m off the side of the wreck to get shelter from the current. We ended the dive crawling across the top of the wreck to get back to the line and again flapping line flags on the deco. Deco was uneventful but the current got even stronger at the shallow stops to the point where it was difficult to turn around and see my buddies. No problem there, being last in line, I rested my fin against my buddy and kept time so I knew when it was time to move on the next stop.

During the surface interval, the line tying us to the wreck snapped and had to be tied in again. We were the last team in the water and pulled the line as we arrived on the wreck. By this time the current had died down significantly. Our short deco was uneventful as we shot a bag and drifted.

With 5 good dives, the trip came to an end and we started the long ride back to Singapore.

The weekend was a lot of fun. It is remarkable how smooth things go when planned properly. Despite challenging conditions, everything went according to plan and everybody had a good time.

Thanks to Gideon and the Living Seas crew: Leon, Matilda, Andrew, and Thomas for the hard work organizing the trip, sorting the gas logistics, filling tanks, guiding dives, and generally taking care of the trip participants. If anyone is considering GUE training in the region or anywhere else, I’d highly recommend considering Gideon.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Housing Arrived

I picked up my Ikelite housing for my Nikon D40 yesterday. Today I took it into the pool to mess around with it. Two things became clear to me while messing around in the pool: (1) underwater photography is going to be a lot of fun and (2) underwater photography is going to be a bitch to learn. I had another realization yesterday in the camera shop: underwater photography is going to cost me a lot of money.

The clear housing was good for peace of mind as I could see that the camera was dry the entire time. When the camera is enclosed in the housing, it's difficult to see what button is what, so familiarity with the camera is going to be key. I would also imagine not wanting to mess with the settings too much while underwater.

Here's a self portrait I took today:

I am quite looking forward to trying the camera out on my next dive trip, which will be on the Black Manta, October 19-21, where we will be going to the Seven Skies and Igara.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nikon D40 Housing

I just ordered an Ikelite housing for my Nikon D40.

I chose Ikelite because it's my first underwater housing and I didn't want to spend too much and go high end (like Aquatica). Considering the camera costs under US$600, it was hard to justify getting a US$2,000 housing. For a first timer, it's also nice to be able to see through the housing to spot leaks early. Besides, Aquatica only plans to release their housing for the D40 late this year.

The downsides of the Ikelite are that it is not as durable as a metal housing, is kind of large, and has a 60m depth limit.

The housing arrives in 7-10 days. I'll only get to test it in the pool as my next dive trip is not until October.

Underwater photography is a bottomless pit. Next, I'll have to invest in different lenses, dome ports, and strobes (ouch!).

You can read more about the housing here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tech 2 Trip Reports

Here are 2 recent reports of Tech 2 classes with Gideon. I've been studying these with interest. As the time gets closer, I hope our team is able to get together to do some of the Tech 2 drills, especially the bottle handling drill.

Dev's report

Graham's report

Monday, August 06, 2007

GUE Tech 2 Update

So I had an e-mail discussion with Gideon and spoke to Leon and we have tentatively fixed dates for Tech 2 for May 17-21, 2008. We will most likely do it at Tioman as it is easy to get to, familiar, and has good logistics. It's still a long way away but I like to plan things in advance and Gideon gets busy quickly. May 19 is a public holiday in Singapore so I might get away with taking only 2 days off work. Woohoo!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

GUE Tech 2?

Until recently, I was quite happy with Tech 1 and diving in the 50m range. I used to find deco longer than 30 min quite unbearable and didn't have any ambitions of diving deeper.

Lately, however, things have changed. I think it started with the recent trips I made to the Repulse and Seven Skies and PG. The wrecks have lots to see in the 50m range but the bottom is closer to 60m. I've been getting urges to want to see what's down there. There are also lots of deeper wrecks (like the Prince of Wales) that I'm interested in. I've also been pushing the depth limits of Tech 1 and diving with 2 deco bottles (50% and 100%) lately.

I am now interested in doing Tech 2. This year is pretty much out of the question due to my new job and schedule. I've been in preliminary discussions with Gideon Liew about doing the course in May 2008. Possible locations are the east coast of Malaysia or Puerto Galera.

Let me know if you or anyone you know is interested.

Anyone for a Wreck Penetration Course?

Here is a copy of an e-mail I posted to several groups when I got back from my last trip to Puerto Galera. I'm really interested in taking an advanced wreck penetration course from Sam in PG. Despite being cave trained, I see a lot of value in this class as I believe there are a lot of wreck-specific things to be learned. Anyone interested?

I wanted to gauge interest in doing a wreck penetration course sometime with Tech Asia from Puerto Galera. They teach a 4 day wreck course in Subic Bay in the Philippines where there are numerous warships in 30m or shallower. Instructor is Sam Collett, IANTD instructor, who I can assure you is an excellent diver and experienced in both wreck penetration and instruction.

The course is pretty hardcore with 7 dives and >10 hours of bottom time, most of it inside the wrecks. Therefore, I would prefer GUE Tech or Cave trained buddies. If you are neither but have good buoyancy and skills, that is fine too.

Flights from Singapore to Clark are pretty cheap from Tiger Airways.

The course itself is US$600 for instruction. We will have to cover the costs of Sam traveling from PG to Subic Bay with all the tanks and gear (US$400 to be shared among course participants).

Other costs include accommodations (inexpensive), food (ditto), and gas (nitrox 32% and 100% for deco).

Sam will take a minimum of 2 and maximum of 3 students.

I am very interested in this class but am not sure if I will be able to get the time off this year. Otherwise, target is early next year.

Anyone interested? All it takes is a long weekend.

Lightcord on the Inside or Outside?

The right way to rig your canister light is with the lightcord on the outside. Another way to express is it is to have the switch on the inside. The reason for this is when the light is on (as it should be for most of the dive), you want the switch to be pointing backwards. Your right side backup light can sometimes bump the switch boot backwards; you want it to bump the switch in the "on" position. The first picture below is the correct orientation of the lightcord.

My, What a Big Light You Have

I like to use Halcyon's Pro 14/18W light. Sometimes I get asked why I use such a big light canister when newer, lighter, smaller technology is available. The picture below shows the Helios 9 (left) and Pro 14 (right) canisters, both made by Halcyon. The lighthead is on an E/O cord so I can move it between the canisters. Yes, it is as heavy as it looks.

From my experience, old technology is sometimes better than new technology. The Pro 14 uses sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries while the Helios 9 uses nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. There are lots of reasons to prefer SLAs:

1. Reliability. SLAs have been around forever. They are still used as car batteries. They charge simply and reliably so you know what kind of burntime you are going to get from your light. This is important for cave diving and other diving that is dark (deep, night, poor vis). I used to use my Helios 9 in caves but it kept going out at the worst possible time. It's a real hassle to call your dive short because your light died. The Helios 9 is notorious for being difficult to charge. When I try to charge mine, it tells me it is fully charged even though I know that can't possibly be the case. I have to disconnect and reconnect the charger for it to resume charging. I have to repeat this ad nauseum to get a good charge. In places like Mexico and the Philippines, the power supply is not even and NiMH batteries have difficulty getting charged fully. For this reason, Chris and Danny of DIR-Mexico use SLAs exclusively.

2. SLAs are easy to find and are cheap to replace. The Pro 14 battery costs substantially less than $100 and you can even make it yourself from two 7amp batteries. SLAs can tolerate abuse and if they get slightly wet, just dry them off. My Pro 14 battery is from 2001 and I still get more than 5 hours from each charge. NiMH are not cheap and are a pain to put together. Get them wet, and they get fried.

3. Sometimes it's nice to have a big and heavy canister. The long hose routes nicely under the Pro 14 canister. When diving dry, especially in aluminum tanks, the extra weight is appreciated.

Besides, carrying that monster of a canister makes me feel like a real man.

I take the Helios 9 with me when I am flying somewhere and I care about the baggage weight limit. Otherwise, I carry the Pro 14. Some places (like Tech Asia in Puerto Galera) have Pro 14 batteries handy so I leave my battery at home when I visit them. It's the best of both worlds.

So far, I have not had any issues with the E/O cords. Some people report them to be finicky.

Convert Your Apeks TX/ATX/XTX 40 into a TX/ATX/XTX 50

The only difference between a TX/ATX/XTX 40 and a TX/ATX/XTX 50 is the external adjustment knob that allows you to adjust breathing resistance. Well, one other difference is the price. The ones with the adjustment knob cost a lot more. Some feel that the knob does not justify the extra cost, so they get the 40. I did this for my single tank reg setup, which was cobbled together from a DS4 first stage and 2 TX40 octopi (they have yellow faceplates, otherwise they seem identical to regular TX40 second stages).

Graham Blackmore from Hong Kong has ingeniously decided to manufacture the adjustment knobs as a retrofit to convert your 40 into a 50. You can get them from his website here. I bought 2 of them to fit to my single tank reg setup. Following the instructions on Graham's website was surprisingly easy and it barely took me 5 minutes to retrofit each second stage. Which is a miracle, if you have ever seen my DIY skills.

Does the second stage below look funny to you? If it does, it's because it says TX40 on the faceplate but has an adjustment knob. Truly a work of art.

How to Attach Boltsnaps to Your Light

The current GUE thinking is to have a small boltsnap tied permanently to the right side of the Goodman Handle and a small loop of bungee tied to the end of the ballast. When your light is off (maybe at the beginning of the dive or the very end, or if you had a light failure), you can clip it by the permanent boltsnap and it will be tight to your body and not dragging. When you do this, you tuck the loose light cord under your belt and to your right side. Other times, when you want to leave the light on and free up your hands, you attach a double ender to the loop of bungee, clip it to your right chest d-ring, and leave the light hanging, facing down. This way, the light is still on, you can still operate it if needed, and it is out of your way and not blinding your buddy. Some instances when this might be helpful are when doing a stage/deco switch, dropping a stage/deco bottle, or anytime both hands are needed to do something.

Here's a primer on how to attach a snap, or more generally, how to tie something using cave line. It was written by Todd Leonard from the WKPP.

You can see from the pictures that the loop of bungee is tied on using cave line. I wrapped the cave line around 3 times and tied it really tight, so the loop of bungee doesn't move around. The newer Halcyon lights have a groove specially made for tying on the loop of bungee.

By the way, notice the loop of inner tube on the ballast in the picture on the left? That's to temporarily store cookies or line arrows while cave diving.

Puerto Galera, Philippines trip with Tech Asia - June 27-30, 2007

I just got back from 4 days of diving in Puerto Galera. It was my third trip there and I dove with Tech Asia again. Tech Asia is a DIR-minded outfit that is very well set up for technical diving.

The trip to PG starts from Manila and is followed by a 2 hour van ride and a 1 hour boat ride. Getting there is the hardest part as the logistics of the diving there are very straightforward.

Day 1 was 2 dives in the 50m range on 21/35 with 50% and 100% for deco.

Tech Asia now has a Gavin for rent. I started Day 2 with an intro to scooter diving with a tear down and reassembly of the Gavin. We then did one multilevel dive starting out at 30m and scootering up the reef for minimal deco. The second dive of the day was in the 50m range.

Day 3 was 2 more dives in the 50m range with the Gavin.

On Day 4, 5 of us made a day trip to dive the MV Mactan, a passenger ferry that sank in 1973 near the island of Maestro del Campo. We left at 5am for the 4 hour boat ride there. My first dive there was a scooter dive on the exterior. My second dive was a penetration, entering from the engine room and exiting near the props. Vis was excellent and the waters were flat calm, making for a very good day of diving. We then had lunch and traveled back to PG.

Overall, another great trip to PG. Tech Asia is a safe and squared away operation and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to check it out.

Wrecks of the South China Sea, April 12-15, 2007

A bunch of DIR divers got together and just completed a 4 day liveaboard trip to some wrecks in the South China Sea, the HMS Repulse and Seven Skies. 8 of us chartered the MV Mata Ikan ("Fish Eye" in Malay). 5 participants (including me) came from Singapore, 2 from Thailand, and one was visiting from the U.S. All divers were GUE Tech 1 trained or higher.

On Wednesday night after work, we all met in Singapore and boarded the van at about 8pm. The van took us across the Singapore-Malaysia border and up to the port of Mersing. We arrived in Mersing at about 11pm. We then used a small boat to transfer to the Mata Ikan, which was stationed a little ways from the dock. We were on board by midnight.

The MV Mata Ikan was a survey boat before it was converted into a diving boat. It sleeps up to 12 and given that we had only 8, we had enough room for all. It would probably be tight for more than 8 tech divers, though. The main drawback of the boat is the slow speed - about 6 knots. Because of its layout, it also has plenty of places to stub your toe or bash your head but otherwise is an OK boat for tech diving.

Then the fun began. The trip organizers had arranged for helium and oxygen bottles to be brought on board as the Mata Ikan only fills air. We spent the next few hours filling tanks and the last ones went to bed around 5am.

To ease logistics for the trip, we all dove stages and preserved the back gas as much as possible. After each dive, we would drain the stages and deco bottles and fill only those tanks. All dives were done using AL80s for backgas and stages and AL40s for deco. Bottom gas was either 21/35 or 18/45 and deco gases were 50% and 100%, as required. My dives were in the 40-53m range for roughly 20-25 min bottom times and 25-30 min deco times. Run times were approximately 1 hour.

The first stop was the HMS Repulse. The HMS Repulse is a battlecruiser that was part of Force Z, that was sunk by Japanese bombers in 1941 (see here). We motored all night and arrived by lunch time on Day 1. Because of the late night, we had a late start and started diving around 1pm. The first team tied into the wreck and everyone got a dive or two in. Vis was not great and for many of us, it was our first trip, so we took the time to get oriented. The Repulse lays on its port side at perhaps 45 degrees offset from being completely turtled. The top of the wreck is at around 38m and the bottom is close to 60m. It's covered in marine life because it has been down for so long.

Day 2 we all dove the Repulse 3 more times. Highlights were the 15 inch guns protruding from the sea bed and the props (which I did not get to see but others did). Conditions were excellent in the morning but progressively got worse, culminating in a screaming current on the last dive. It made deco unpleasant but all went according to plan and we started heading for the Seven Skies in the early evening.

Again we motored overnight and arrived at the Seven Skies in the early morning of Day 3. The Seven Skies is an 800ft long Swedish supertanker that sank under mysterious circumstances. Last time I visited the wreck was in 2005 (see here) and the current was screaming. This time was very different, with excellent conditions. Vis got better throughout the day and by the end of the day we could see the top of the wreck from the boat! That certainly made deco less boring. The wreck sits upright with the top of the deck around 40m and the bottom closer to 60m. It has a huge funnel that reaches up to about 24m. We tied into the funnel and started our dives. There was a serious thermocline around the top of the funnel that was interesting - passing through on the way down was a shock to the system and going back up on deco made the warm water feel like a hot bath. The Seven Skies is beautiful with lots of marine life. We explored some of the holds and the wheelhouse and did several rounds of the wreck. On our third dive we untied and began our deco. Deco went very smoothly and all teams ascended within a few minutes of each other. On our last dive, it was really cool to see 3 teams of well coordinated divers doing free ascents all within several meters of each other.

After leaving the Seven Skies, we headed back towards Mersing. On the morning of Day 4, we stopped en route and did a relaxing reef dive at a spot near Tioman island called Tokong Bahara. A rarely visited site, it was full of interesting marine life. It was really nice diving without the cumbersome stage/deco bottles and an excellent way to end the trip. Highlights included dueling triggerfish, 2 white eyed morays sharing a hole, lots of clown fish, a blue spotted ray, and a bumphead parrotfish.

After the dive, we headed back to Mersing. We were back on land by 2pm to start the long drive back to Singapore.

All in all an excellent trip. Good wrecks, great company, and smooth logistics. This DIR thing really works - it's amazing that a bunch of divers, some of whom have never met before, can jump in and do a dive as though they'd been diving together for years. Dive planning and gas mixing was a breeze as we were all on the same page.

Special thanks to Serko and Greg for organizing the transportation, gas delivery and logistics, liveaboard charter, tank rental, etc. Thanks to all for the team effort in mixing gas.

GUE Cave 2 - March 2006

I just got back from taking Cave 2 with Chris Le Maillot in Mexico. It was an extremely challenging course but I am pleased that I learned a ton and was pushed to constantly raise my diving skills to new levels.


Chris and Danny Riordan run DIR-Mexico, a training facility based in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico. They have lived in the area for some time and are the original explorers of several cave systems down there. They remain active explorers today, continuing to discover and map new cave passage. Immediately after our class ended, Chris went on to spend a few days mapping the Ox Bel Ha system. DIR-Mexico is run out of the retail store Zero Gravity. We met there each morning, did our lectures there, and stored our gear there.

Chris is a very nice guy and his love of the caves is evident. He always stresses conservation, so that we and others can enjoy the beauty of the caves for years to come. In class, his demeanor changes a little. He has extremely high standards when it comes to cave instruction and doesn't settle for half-assed efforts. He made this very clear at numerous times during the course when our (or should I say my) performance was not up to his expectations. Yet, he is patient and all issues are open to discussion. Just don't mess up in the cave and everything is fine with him.

The Place

I flew into Cancun airport and a car was waiting for me to take me to my hotel. I stayed at Hotel Villas del Caribe Xpu-Ha, a tiny hotel on the beach a short walk from Zero Gravity. My feelings about the place are mixed. On the plus side, the prices are reasonable, it is on a beautiful beach, it has a quaint beachside restaurant with great healthy food, and is run by very nice people. On the minus side, the accommodations are very basic - no hot water, no refrigerator, very dimly lit rooms, and I saw four cockroaches in my room in the course of nine days. If you are like me and are deathly afraid of cockroaches, this may not be the best place for you.

Zero Gravity is a 15 min walk or 5 min drive away. Each morning, I walked to the main road and Chris picked me up to take me to the shop.

Day 1

Day 1 started at 8am at Zero Gravity. We did our paperwork and made our introductions. My teammates were Markus and Andy from Germany. Both were Tech 1 certified and had a fair bit of experience diving deep lakes in Germany. Markus has also participated in EKPP projects in the past.

We discussed basic cave diving procedures and Chris gave us a lecture on how to do jumps and Ts. Then we drove over to Taj Mahal, a cave system only 5 min away from Zero Gravity.

Prior to every dive, we did our bubble checks and equipment checks on the surface. Then we descended to about 3m/10ft and took turns to do our valve drills and s-drills. Once the whole team was done, we surfaced to review the dive plan and calculate gas. Most dives (except in the Minotauro system due to the numerous restrictions), we took our deco bottles into the cave and dropped them on the line at 6m/20ft.

Dive 1: Taj Mahal
Depth: 13m/42ft
Dive time: 82 min
Deco: 5 min on O2

Markus led the first dive of Cave 2. We did 1 jump and 1 T, turning on thirds. I was immediately struck by how different the caves were from the ones I was used to in Florida. Visibility was excellent, the water was warmer, and the cave was beautifully white and decorated. The halocline was new to me. A halocline is the interface between fresh and salt water, and appears as a beautiful, shimmering layer until it is disturbed. The first person going through a halocline has good visibility, but the others will have their vis greatly blurred if passing through the same area. On this dive, I learned that team positioning relative to the line is very important when going through a halocline.

On this dive and the other dives, Chris left us alone until we turned the dive, then he started introducing "scenarios". These were simulated failures, including light failures, valve problems, out of gas scenarios, and others.

Dive 2: Taj Mahal
Depth: 13m/42ft
Dive time: 72 min
Deco: 5 min on O2

After a short lunch break and debrief on the surface, we went back in for another dive. This time, I led the dive. Chris' debrief was hard, with him telling me that I was rushing all the time, and I needed to work on my fin techniques. I would hear the same comments many more times that week.

By the time we got out of the water, it was getting dark and the bugs were everywhere. We packed up quickly and headed back to the shop for a lecture on circuits and traverses. It was a long first day of Cave 2.

Day 2

We started Day 2 with a lecture on the various valve problems and the protocols for dealing with them. This day, we would set up, and then complete a circuit in the Minotauro system.

Dive 3: Minotauro
Depth: 14m/47ft
Dive time: 90 min
Deco: min deco

Our objective on this dive was to drop our cookies at the furthest point of penetration. This would set up the circuit that we would attempt on the next dive. Minotauro was explored by Chris and some others some years ago and the original survey line is still in the cave. It's a very beautiful cave that has a lot of tight, winding passages near the entrance. This forced us to work on our precision finning techniques. We did not take our deco bottles into this cave, for fear of damaging the fragile formations.

Dive 4: Minotauro Circuit
Depth: 14m/48ft
Dive time: 70 min
Deco: min deco

Somehow, we were a lot faster this time around, and our dive was a lot shorter than the first one even though we completed the 4000ft+ circuit. Perhaps it was because the restrictions seemed a lot easier to navigate the second time around.

We had another lecture to end the day, but the topic of the lecture escape me right now.

Day 3

Day 3 we headed to Tulum, with is a town about 40 min south of Puerto Aventuras. We were to dive Naharon, a very black cave due to the tannic acid of a nearby swamp.

Dive 5: Naharon
Depth: 19m/62ft
Dive time: 88 min
Deco: 5 min on O2

I laid the line on this dive. On the way out, we stopped to do a lost buddy search drill. Again, during the debrief, Chris told me that I was rushing into the cave. I wasn't taking the time to read the cave and to make mental notes of key landmarks. While I managed to find the main line and jumps, the dive would have been smoother and more enjoyable if I had taken my time.

Dive 6: Naharon
Depth: 22m/74ft
Dive time: 64 min
Deco: 5 min on O2

As we were starting dive 6, I had a real light failure. My Helios 9 light had not been charged fully. We called dive, I switched batteries, and we headed back into the cave. This time, part of the dive was below the halocline, in very white passage (salt water had bleached the limestone), a sharp contrast to the blackness of the rest of the cave. This dive ended with no lights and me breathing off Andy's long hose. We managed the scenario well, feeling our way out of the cave successfully while remaining calm.

Once we surfaced, Chris laid a 20m line in the open water. We were to do a breath hold swim without a mask. This consisted swimming on a breath hold to a diver waiting on the other end of the line, and taking the reg out of his mouth in a controlled fashion. Being not a strong swimmer, it took me two tries before making it.

We picked up "roadkill chicken" on the way back to Zero Gravity, where we had a discussion on stage diving techniques and deco.

Day 4

Day 4 was by far the most strenuous day, "hump day", as they call it. It started out with the swim test and breath hold test in Mayan Blue cenote. The cenote was very beautiful but I was too tired and preoccupied to notice.

Dive 7: Mayan Blue
Depth: 24m/79ft
Dive time: 93 min
Deco: 5 min on O2

We were to do our first stage dive in Mayan Blue. Together with the deco bottle that we would drop at 6m/20ft, we would have 2 bottles clipped to us at the beginning and end of the dive. I had not done this before, having only dove 1 stage/deco bottle at once in the past. I had some balance issues during the valve drills and s-drills, but thankfully they resolved themselves as the day went on.

Dive 8: Mayan Blue
Depth: 23m/77ft
Dive time: 75 min
Deco: 5 min on O2

Our next dive was also in Mayan Blue, but to the Death Arrow Passage, so called because the original explorer put line arrows facing into the cave, potentially causing some confusion. It was truly a beautiful passage with breathtaking formations.

We ended the day practicing towing an unconscious diver up and down the cenote. While the technique is effective, it is also very tiring. I would hate to have to do that from deep into a cave.

I was really exhausted by the end of Day 4. We picked up "roadkill chicken" again, and went back to the shop for lectures on deco and cave surveying.

Day 5

Everything had to come together on Day 5 and I had to prove to Chris that I was capable of diving consistently at the level he expected from us. I had had my moments, but had also made mistakes and lapses of judgment that I could not afford to make today. My body was very tired, my back ached, and my legs were tired from all the kicking. But I could not let any of these niggles get the better of me.

Dive 9: Carwash downstream
Depth: 26m/88ft
Dive time: 64 min
Deco: 5 min on O2

On this dive, we got a taste of cave surveying. Andy laid line from the cenote to the main line in the Chamber of Ancients, which was a long way in. Markus was taking survey measurements and I was in the back helping out. When we reached the main line, Markus and I switched roles. In the Chamber, there are ancient fire pits, where you can still see the remains of the coals that people burned there centuries ago. Surveying was fun but challenging, and really showed us how involved the process of mapping a cave can be.

Dive 10: Carwash upstream
Depth: 12m/40ft
Dive time: 43 min
Deco: min deco

The next dive was a short one, where we practiced a lost line drill. In darkness, Chris took us off the line one by one and asked us to find our way back. I took a little longer than my teammates did to complete the drill, and this was a valuable lesson to not lose the line in the first place.

On the surface, Chris said we had done well and the last dive would be our graduation dive. For me, he said I had shown enough improvement throughout the week and enough consistency at the end to make him happy. Now, our reward was a dive without any scenarios, where we could enjoy ourselves and actually have our lights on the whole dive.

Dive 11: Carwash upstream
Depth: 18m/61ft
Dive time: 87 min
Deco: 5 min on O2

We made it past the Room of Tears and into a tight, restrictive passage before turning the dive. Apparently, the Room of Tears got its name when its original explorer, Mike Madden, was moved to tears by its beauty. It was indeed stunningly beautiful, though I don't think any of us shed tears over it.

The day ended with the final exam and a celebratory dinner at my hotel's cafe. Chris congratulated us on our passing the class but at the same time warned us to progress one step at a time, so as to not exceed our training/comfort level.


I took the next day off to recuperate, look around a little, and reflect on the class. After that, I did 2 more days of diving with my German buddies and a visiting EKPP diver from the Netherlands. We dove Naharon again, heading towards Mayan Blue, and did a 2 hour dive at Ponderosa, heading towards Xtabai. All in all, I did 13 dives on this trip, with a total of more than 1000 minutes of bottom time. Looking back, I really enjoyed Cave 2. It was very challenging and the bar is set very high, but that's really what you want when you are attempting long cave dives with complex navigation. Chris is a great instructor - very knowledgeable, a good teacher, and has his ways of making sure you never forget the important points. I'd recommend highly seeing Chris for cave diving training.

Now, I'm back to reality in cold, miserable Chicago, dreaming of the spectacular Mexican caves that I hope to dive again in the near future.

High Springs, Florida - March 2-5, 2006

I just got back from a short cave diving trip to High Springs, Florida. I did some awesome dives, met some great divers, and made some new friends. I was really sad to leave High Springs again but I plan to be back within a few months.

For some background - I am GUE Tech 1 (Gideon Liew) and Cave 1 (Tyler Moon) trained. I did Cave 1 in Florida in March 2005 and am going to do Cave 2 in Mexico in 2 weeks' time. This trip was partly for fun, and partly as a warm up to Cave 2.

This cave diving trip was the first one that I made without my cave diving buddy. He was on the GUE trip to Grand Cayman, so I don't blame him for not joining me. I was concerned about being able to find good buddies but finally decided that the trip was a necessary precursor to Cave 2, so I went ahead and started looking for buddies on the various forums (DirExplorers, TheDecoStop, DIRQuest). Some will say that this is a bad idea because you don't know what you're going to get, but read to the end of this report and you'll see that it worked out very well for me. Maybe I was just lucky.

GUE Cave 1 has all sorts of limits but for practical purposes the ones that mattered were 1/6 of gas for penetration and no jumps. This makes it even harder to find buddies as there aren't many Full Cave divers who want to dive within these limits.

So on Thursday afternoon, I flew into Orlando from Chicago. I picked up my SUV and made the 2 hour drive to High Springs. I stayed at the High Springs Country Inn for the first time, as they had just installed wireless internet. It's a little old, but clean, comfortable, and very convenient.

No diving on the day of arrival, as most of it was spent traveling.

Day 1

On Friday, I went diving with Doug Mudry, who works at Extreme Exposure and is a WKPP team member. I couldn't find anyone who could get the time off on Friday, so I paid Doug for some guided dives at Ginnie. For those wondering, EE's rate is very reasonable and I found it a good value as I spent the day diving and learning from Doug, who is a much more experienced cave diver than I am. Experience makes a big difference in a high flow cave like Devil's and if not for him, I would not have had to sit the day out.

Dive 1: Devil's Ear
Depth: 28m/93ft
Dive time: 31 min
Deco: min deco

I ran the reel on this dive as I wanted to get the practice. Surprisingly, I was able to do a pretty good job (if I say so myself), given that I hadn't been cave diving for quite a few months. The flow was a bit lower than I had previously seen, and that helped. Inside, Devil's was as beautiful as ever. We made it half way through the Mud Flats before I turned the dive on gas. We decided to leave the reel in for the second dive.

Dive 2: Devil's Ear
Depth: 29m/98ft
Dive time: 39 min
Deco: min deco

After a short break on the surface, we went back in the Ear. Doug led the way and showed me some nice tricks for navigating the cave that I did not know before. Again, we made it to the Mud Flats before I turned the dive on gas.

It was only mid afternoon, so we decided to go back to EE to get gas and go back to Ginnie for more.

Dive 3: Devil's Eye
Depth: 28m/93ft
Dive time: 35 min
Deco: min deco

This time, we went in the Eye. Because of low visibility due to tannic water from the river, Ginnie staff had installed a temporary guideline half way up the Ear. We only ran the reel a short distance before tying off to the temporary guideline. Coming out of the Eye reminded me why I usually prefer to go in an out of the Ear. Even while being extra careful, I have to admit that my manifold and tanks bashed the ceiling at least a couple of times.

We left the reel in for a fourth dive but during the surface interval, Doug's stomach was upset, so we called it a day and did a quick cleanup dive to pick up the reel. All in all, an excellent day of cave diving and a good start to the trip. I had dinner at Floyd's, did some reading, then retired early.

Day 2

Saturday started with meeting Stacey and Matt at EE. Stacey responded to my posting on an internet forum and we arranged to meet up. She is Cave 2 trained by Tyler Moon, so I knew she would be a good diver. She brought along Matt, who is Intro to Cave trained. After getting gas, we drove an hour to Peacock Springs State Park. It was surprisingly busy, with more than one class doing training dives in the system.

Dive 4: Peacock 1
Depth: 20m/68ft
Dive time: 34 min
Deco: min deco

Matt led this dive and I was in the middle. Being the first time I dove in a three person team, I had to learn a few new things about team communication. I quickly found that both my teammates were good divers, so communication was a breeze. We had a nice, relaxing dive and got caught in a traffic jam on the way out, with 3 other teams either entering or exiting the system.

Dive 5: Peanut Tunnel
Depth: 17m/57ft
Dive time: 49 min
Deco: min deco

We waited on the surface for the traffic to die down before heading into Peanut Tunnel. This time, Stacey led the dive and I was in the rear. We were all pretty comfortable with each other and made it to 1,200ft before turning the dive. That's the furthest I'd been into any cave, and it was quite a thrill.

We were all getting along well, so we decided to head over to Ginnie for more dives. We drove back, got gas at EE and went over to Ginnie.

Dive 6: Devil's Ear
Depth: 29m/95ft
Dive time: 37 min
Deco: min deco

I led this dive, and just as I made the primary tie, my teammates flashed me and called the dive. Matt's Helios 4.5/10W had died. On the surface, Matt decided to sit out the dive and let Stacey and I go ahead. Half way through the dive, I realized that I was rushing unnecessarily. This reduced my gas consumption and I saw less of the cave, so I slowed down to take it all in. Here, I am reminded of a quote attributed to David Rhea: "Slow is smooth. And smooth is fast." The dive was nice but did an ugly job of taking the reel out. Learning how to manage the reel while exiting from Devil's Ear in the high flow is something I need to work on.

Stacey had to take off after that dive, so we called it a day. Day 2 was also great, and I met two new buddies. Stacey is an experienced cave diver and gave us good feedback after each dive. I'm grateful that people like Stacey take the time to dive with people like me, because I benefit hugely from diving with divers who are better than I am.

Matt and I had dinner at Sonny's BBQ (a must do when in High Springs) to end the day.

Day 3

On Sunday, I met Dan at EE in the morning. Dan also responded to my posts on an internet forum and we arranged to dive together. He is Full Cave trained and DIR minded. After getting gas, we headed over to Alice's for breakfast. I used to go to Floyd's in the morning, but they don't serve breakfast there anymore. Anyway, the food at Alice's was good and prices even better. Over breakfast, we talked about cave diving and I found Dan's attitude very humble and respectful of the caves. It was quite the opposite of the macho, gung-ho mindset that I often see. His is the kind of attitude you want in your cave diving buddies, because your life can depend on them if things go bad.

We drove over to Orange Grove, part of Peacock Springs State Park. I had never dove there before, so I didn't know what to expect.

Dive 7: Orange Grove
Depth: 21m/70ft
Dive time: 46 min
Deco: min deco

Dan ran the reel on this dive, since he was familiar with the system. It was a pretty busy day, with a couple of other cave diving teams and two big open water classes. Inside the cave looked like a cross between Peacock 1 and Peanut Tunnel - it was gorgeous. Dan's pace was just right and I got a nice look at the cave on this dive. It was a pleasure to dive with him, as he was well squared away and knew the cave well. I thumbed the dive just after the fissures at 800ft.

Dive 8: Orange Grove
Depth: 21m/70ft
Dive time: 47 min
Deco: min deco

After a brief surface interval, we did one more dive in Orange Grove. The dive was pretty much identical to the first one, except I ran the reel this time. I did an OK job, but later realized that I placed the reel down the middle of the cave, thus getting in the way of others divers.

We called it a day after the second dive, as Dan had a long drive home and I had to head back to Orlando. I stopped by EE to drop off my rental tanks and close my tab before starting the 2 hour drive back.


I had an awesome time cave diving in High Springs. My initial fears of not finding a buddy or getting bad/dangerous buddies were quickly dispelled once I got in the water with Stacey, Matt, and Dan. All were safe, competent divers, and on top of that, nice people. I owe them thanks for diving with me, an unknown person, and for doing dives that were below their certification level. I would not hesitate to dive with them again and definitely plan on contacting them the next time I head down to High Springs. And then there's the option of guided dives, which is a good way to keep learning.

I am really looking forward to Cave 2 and if all goes well, hope to return to High Springs before long to do some more advanced penetrations.

Puerto Galera, Philippines, January 3-6, 2006

I spent the first few days of the new year diving with Tech Asia in Puerto Galera, Philippines. I was in Manila for a wedding and I thought it would be a good time to check out the diving in the area. For some background - I am GUE Tech 1 (Gideon Liew) and Cave 1 (Tyler Moon) trained. I currently live in Chicago, IL, but I spend a fair bit of time in Asia. About half of my diving has been in Asia and the other half in the U.S. and Caribbean.

The Operation

Tech Asia is a DIR diving facility. It, along with its sister recreational dive outfit, Asia Divers, can cater to all diving needs. Tech Asia is run by various technical diving instructors from different agencies, including Dave Ross (IANTD) and GUE instructor Martin Lorenzo. Dave runs the operation; Martin was not present when I was there. Dave has been involved in DIR for some time (see here for some info on a previous trip he ran). My buddy for the trip was Ralph Joerger, an IANTD trimix instructor who also dives DIR.

The Place

I had planned this trip several months ago upon getting the wedding invitation. Dave Ross and his staff were responsive to e-mail and they assured me that diving out there was very convenient logistics-wise. Despite arranging the trip by e-mail from half way around the world, I got comfort in Dave's detailed explanations and the fact that the operation was run according to DIR principles. My trip started with an early morning flight to Manila from Singapore. Clearing immigration and customs and picking up my bags was a breeze. A van was waiting for me outside. The van ride is about 3 hours in pretty bad traffic (playing chicken on the road and overtaking on the inside shoulder is par for the course) and is followed by an hour boat ride to Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera is on Mindoro Island, south of Manila. It is a large dive vacation destination, with approximately 30 dive shops along one long stretch of beach. Being in a bay, sea conditions are generally favorable and there is deep diving almost immediately off the beach. John Bennett set a world record for deep diving several years ago in Puerto Galera. A short walk away is Sabang village, where more dive shops, local restaurants and stores, internet cafes, and "entertainment" can be found.

My accommodations, the El Galleon beach resort, were arranged by Tech Asia and I checked in to a standard air conditioned room. There are fancier rooms available, including bungalows. But, the price was right and the room clean and comfortable, so I was happy.

Tech Asia is a 2 min walk from the resort and looks like a Halcyon and Apeks showroom. One look and I was immediately assured that they take tech diving seriously. From numerous backplate and wing setups and canister lights, to the many sets of doubles and 5 Gavins, they have it all.

The Dives

After a quick chat with Dave, he hooked me up with another instructor, Ralph, who would be my buddy for the trip. Within an hour, we were in the bay for a relaxing shallow dive where we hit 3 small wrecks covered in marine life. We started the dive at dusk and ended it as a night dive.

Dive 1: 3 House Wrecks
Depth: 20m/65ft
Dive time: 46 min
Deco: min deco

We missed a boatload of light-waving rec divers by about 30 min and had the site all to ourselves. A nice dinner by the beach and a quick walk around town ended the first day, together with dreams of the next two days' adventures.

Day 2 started with breakfast by the beach and then we assembled by the dive shop. I would be doing a 45m/150ft dive while another group was going to 72m/240ft. We dove the Three Sisters, a bunch of rock outcroppings amidst a sandy bottom. Because the water gets deep so quickly offshore, none of my boat rides exceeded 10 min, while most of them were under 5 min. The dive ended with a very smooth blue water deco and a short ride back to shore.

Dive 2: 3 Sisters
Depth: 45m/149ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 20 min

We breaked for several hours for lunch and a siesta and then met back at the dive shop. We did another relaxing 45m/150ft dive along the house reef. We drifted with the current and spent most of our time poking amongst the rocks for marine life. Our dive concluded with another very smooth and uneventful deco in blue water.

Dive 3: Deep Sabang Reef
Depth: 44m/146ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 20 min

By now, storm clouds had reached the bay, making it impractical to attempt further dives. I ended the day with a couple of beers and a US$12 full body massage.

Day 3 was pretty much the same routine. My breathing rate had improved markedly on this trip so we went for a slightly deeper dive. The highlight was a small cave-like swin through at about 51m/170ft. In it was a rebreather frame that belonged to the late Dave Shaw (recently deceased in South Africa). It was a memorial to him, as he had done his trimix training in Puerto Galera.

Dive 4: Marcus Cave & Sweetlips Corner
Depth: 52m/173ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 31 min

Dive 5 in the afternoon was almost the same profile. The current really picked up on this dive and we scratched our plans of decoing along the ascending reef. Instead, we flew along the reef for most of the dive and did another blue water deco. Deco was uneventful and we were pleased to find that the boatman had been vigilant and was waiting right there to pick us up, despite our change in plans.

Dive 5: Deep Monkey Beach
Depth: 48m/160ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 26 min

The last dive of the day was meant to be on a 30m/100ft steel hulled wreck, but we called it as it was getting late and divers who had dove it in the afternoon complained of very strong currents and an unpleasant deco.

That ended my trip and the next morning I took the boat and van ride back to Manila for the wedding. All in all, a very enjoyable few days that I hope to repeat in the near future. My only regret is that I did not stay longer.


Tech Asia is set up to make the diver's life easy. They stock everything in the store, so just about everything can be rented if you don't want to bring it yourself. I rented a Pro 6 primary light from them and I might rent regulators too the next time around. Most dives are done with AL80 and AL40 tanks and they also have steel tanks for drysuit users. Tech Asia doesn't rent Gavins but if you bring your own, they can source batteries locally.

Water temperature while I was there was 26C/78F and I was comfortable with a 3mm full suit and a thin hooded vest. Others were using 7mm suits. It does get a little colder in January/February and some choose to dive dry during this time.

As mentioned earlier, all boat rides are very short. The boatmen and hardworking and well trained to support deep divers. Upon surfacing, the MO was to remove all gear and hand it up to the boatmen, making exits stress-free. The boatmen also carry your gear for you to and from the boat.


I came away from the trip with the impression that Tech Asia is an extremely well run dive operation. Everything is set up to make life easy and with safety in mind. By adhering to DIR principles, logistics are greatly simplified, making diving a real pleasure. Dave Ross and the rest of the Tech Asia folks did everything they could to ensure I had an enjoyable stay. When I dropped a stage bottle and cracked my second stage, Dave replaced the part immediately and even showed me how it was done.

Most of the diving with Tech Asia is deep reef diving. It's a good place to gain experience doing progressively deeper dives as conditions are relatively unchallenging and logistics are very easy. I could think of a lot worse places to learn technical diving than Puerto Galera. For those wanting to do recreational diving, Asia Divers is only a 2 min walk away.

The first couple of times I dove with DIR folks whom I had not dove with before, I was really surprised to find that the diving was much more enjoyable and stress free because we were all on the same page. I'm not surprised by it anymore, but I still appreciate the beauty of diving with other DIR people. Planning dives was straightforward as we were all familiar with Decoplanner and GUE's deco tools. We all dove the same gas, same configuration, and had similar breathing rates. Even the boatmen were on the same page, giving me great peace of mind. A special thanks to Ralph for being an excellent dive buddy and for pointing out lots of cool things. I hope to return to Tech Asia soon and to dive with Ralph again.

White Manta, September 9-11, 2005

In September 2005, a bunch of us spent a weekend aboard the MV White Manta, based out of Singapore. I hadn't been diving for a few months, so I was very anxious to get wet again. The plan was to steam out to Indonesian waters and dive there for the weekend. The trip was arranged by Gideon Liew's shop, Living Seas. I like going on trips they arrange, because most of the divers have been trained by Gideon at some point or other. Divers of all levels show up, but their attitudes are right and that's what matters. Being on a trip with predominantly DIR divers gives me peace of mind because I know what whoever I buddy, they'll be squared away. On this trip, we had communicated our gas needs ahead of time, and Raymond and Andrew arranged for oxygen and helium tanks to be brought on board. This allowed us to partial pressure blend nitrox and helium for the weekend.

The White Manta is a comfortable dive boat but was overcrowded that weekend. Gideon's group comprised more than 10 divers and there were at least as many other divers on board. I don't know how many the boat officially sleeps but it definitely felt overfull that weekend. Food got snapped up right away, people were sitting on top of each other, and the dive deck was really crowded. We ended up staggering the dives so not everyone was around the dive deck at the same time. Apart from that, the boat is just fine. The rooms are comfortable, the food is good, and there is lots of space to hang out. I wish the air conditioned galley was bigger because it's more comfortable than sitting outside in the heat.

Friday evening we met up at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal for the short ferry ride to the White Manta. If memory serves, the White Manta was moored in Indonesian waters, so we had to pass through immigration before getting on board. Once on board, we were shown to our rooms and most called it a night. We steamed overnight to the Seven Skies.

Saturday started with a shallow warm up reef dive. The idea was to get everyone on the same page before diving the Seven Skies, which is more challenging.

Dive 1: Batu Katoaka
Depth: 13m/44ft
Dive time: 51 min
Deco: min deco

Next, we headed over to the Seven Skies. The Seven Skies is a 800ft long Swedish supertanker that sank under mysterious circumstances. I believe it broke into two pieces when it went down, but we didn't see that much of it so I don't remember. The wreck sits upright with the top of the deck around 130ft and the bottom closer to 200ft. It has a huge funnel that reaches up to about 70ft. The current was ripping and we ended up being tied into the funnel by a line that was so long it was almost horizontal. That made the descents and ascents, and especially deco, very interesting.

Dive 2: Seven Skies
Depth: 41m/138ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 15 min

There were reports from divers who had surfaced that there was a whale shark down there. We were stoked! We pulled ourselves hand over hand down the line until we hit the funnel and got some relief from the current. Then we headed over to the main deck. There are lots of interesting penetration spots that I'd like to check out some time. A few minutes into the dive, and whaddya know, the whale shark decided to show up. It was a juvenile, maybe 15ft long. It was pretty curious and hung out with us for a while, checking us out for much of the dive. Claes brought his videocam on the dive and got some good footage of the whale shark going back and forth. Before we knew it, the dive was up and we began our deco along the line. Flapping in the current like a flag wasn't a whole lot of fun, but we were beaming from the close encounter.

During the surface interval, the whale shark decided to show up on the surface. Within a few minutes, EVERYONE on board jumped in with masks and cameras. It hung around for a few minutes, making a few close passes at the divers, and eventually taking off into the blue.

Here's a link to the whale shark video.

Another downside to having an overcrowded boat was it took forever to fill all the tanks. By the time we were done blending our gas for the next dive, it was almost dark.

Dive 3: Seven Skies
Depth: 40m/134ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 15 min

We were the last ones on the wreck and untied the line when we were done. Deco was much more comfortable drifting with the current. I have to say, doing a drift deco dive in the dark was a new and interesting experience for me.

We made one more dive that night, a shallow reef dive.

Dive 4: Pulau Danur
Depth: 12m/41ft
Dive time: 33 min
Deco: min deco

They kicked us out of the water after a short dive in order to begin our overnight steam to the next destination, the Igara Wreck. The Igara Wreck is an iron ore cargo ship that sank in 1973. Before it went down fully, salvors managed to recover the entire rear end of the ship, and towed it to Japan, where it was fitted with a new forward section. The highlight of the dive is to go around the back section, to see where the rear end was split off.

Dive 5: Igara Wreck
Depth: 30m/101ft
Dive time: 43 min
Deco: min deco

Dive 6: Igara Wreck
Depth: 31m/103ft
Dive time: 38 min
Deco: min deco

We did 2 nice, relaxing dives on the wreck. There was no current and visibility was pretty good (I hear that the current can be ripping and vis can fall to under 10m). There's lots of marine growth because the wreck has been down for so long and penetrating the cargo holds is cool but simple.

And that ended our trip, and we started our long trip back to Singapore.

Here are some pictures. The quality isn't great because they are video grabs.

Cameraman Claes spotted the whale shark first. Vincent is in the foreground and I'm in the background.

Full body shot.

GUE Cave 1 - March 2005

Cave 1 took place about a year before I wrote this so some details are fuzzy. I'm writing from memory so it's not going to be perfect.

I took Cave 1 in March 2005. Our instructor was Tyler Moon from GUE. Tyler doesn't teach diving anymore and I hear that he is focusing on becoming a commercial pilot. His departure is a true loss for the cave diving community. Tyler is a relative old timer in cave country, having taught cave diving for about 15 years. It seemed like he knew everyone and everything there is to know about the Florida caves. Like most GUE instructors, he sets the bar very high but is patient and committed to teaching you and helping you reach new levels. He's also a very laidback and nice guy. His experience as an instructor was evident, and he had a special "feel" for what we were experiencing during the class. There were times in the cave when I was task loaded and a little freaked out by the general experience, and was dreading the inevitable simulated failures Tyler would pull on us. Yet, during those dives, he left us alone. Having us freak out in a cave would be counterproductive and he could tell when we were uncomfortable. On other dives, when we were feeling confident and happily cruising along, everything would go wrong at once. I can't say enough good things about Tyler and wish he were still teaching so I could take more classes from him.

Cave 1 limits include using 1/6 or 500psi of a set of doubles for penetration, no jumps or complex navigation, and some maximum depth and minimum visibility requirements. In Florida, most of the caves we go to down't exceed 100ft deep and have great visibility, so those limits aren't really pushed. Using 500psi for penetration means we can get 2-3 dives out of a set of overfilled LP104s.

My buddy for Cave 1 was George, who I had dove with a few times in Northeast. He had recently got his Tech 1 cert so we were both Tech 1 certified going into the class. The class was 6 days along (the class is usually 5 days but Tyler budgeted an extra day just in case). We arrive a day early and left an extra day at the end for some fun dives.

Our trip started when we met up in Gainesville airport. We picked up a Ford Explorer from Enterprise and drove to EE to get our tanks. We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Alachua for the week. We did 3 training dives in the Ginnie Ballroom area and Little Devil's Run. Nothing too fancy, just to practice the basic skills and get comfortable with each other. We eventually got bored and called it a day.

Day 1 of the class we stated completely dry. We were through some lectures with Tyler and refined our gear. We were both itching to get in the water by the end of the day.

I don't remember which day the swim test was on, but I do remember very vividly how unpleasant it was swimming up and down Little Devil's Run in swimming trunks. Can you say "COLD"?

Day 2 we still didn't get into the caves. We did 3 dives in Ginnie Ballroom. The first two, George and I took turns running the reel while Tyler shot some video. On the third dive, Tyler created a line course in open water and we navigated it 3 times - first solo with eyes closed, second solo with no mask, and third sharing gas with eyes closed. We performed up to par to Tyler told us we would finally be going cave diving the next day. Tyler treats the caves with a lot of respect and he wouldn't have let us in there if we weren't up to his standards.

Day 3 we did 3 dives in Devil's Ear. First, Tyler ran the reel, then George, and I did. I still remember the incredible rush that I got as we first went through the Ear. I'd been in strong currents before but nothing like that! The inside of the cave was so beautiful it took my breath away. The vis was endless and didn't even look like we were underwater. I knew I was hooked. Before our dives, Tyler gave us lots of tips for navigating the cave (stay high, pull n glide, etc.) but somehow when we got in the cave, we forgot everything. We went straight down the middle of the cave and got our asses kicked. We also learned to dump ALL the gas from our wings on the exit. It wasn't pretty, but we made it out in one piece. Of course , we didn't make it very far into the system that day.

Day 4 we went to Peacock Springs State Park. We did 3 dives, 1 in Peacock 1 and 2 in the Peanut Tunnel. Tyler generally left us alone for the penetration and starting pulling failures on us on the way out. We got to practice lost buddy drills, light failures, and gas sharing. I remember liking Peacock a lot due to the lack of flow and easy conditions. I was also impressed that the caves come in so many shapes and sizes. It was a real eye opener.

Day 5 Tyler took us to Manatee Springs. We did 2 dives at Catfish Hotel. After some lectures about the geology of caves, he asked us to find the cave entrance ourselves and lead the way into the cave. I didn't like Catfish Hotel at all. The vis was bad compared to Devil's and Peacock and the flow was ripping. The silty bottom meant we couldn't pull n glide our way in. We had to kick hard against the flow, and naturally, we didn't get very far.

We did our last 2 training dives on Day 6. We were back at Devil's, this time entering through the Eye. We went through lots of failures again and got to try a no vis lost line drill. I remember taking longer than I had hoped but eventually I found the line. When we got out of the water, Tyler congratulated us on passing the class and encouraged us to go diving. As if he had to tell us! That afternoon we were back for 3 dives in Devil's Ear.

The last day of our trip, we did 3 dives in Devil's Eye in the morning. We got to the winding tunnel past the Park Bench but short of the Mud Flats. Then we packed up, headed for the airport, and flew out that afternoon.

Cave 1 was a great experience. The class is long enough to teach you the basics of safe cave diving and instill in you a sense of respect for the caves. There are lots of things that can go wrong on a cave dive. But, for the most part, they are pretty uneventful, so there can be temptation to go just a little bit further, to see what's around the next corner. Here, I can draw an analogy to mountain climbing. A famous Mt. Everest guide once said "With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill. The trick is to get back down alive." Cave diving is much the same way. I've also come to realize that cave diving isn't about how far back into the cave you go, but the journey to get there.

GUE Tech 1 - July 2004

I did my Tech 1 course on board the MV Grace. It's a nice boat, very stable, with a great galley. It's a shame it's so poorly managed, because it has so much potential to be great. Don't even get me started on what went wrong during that week. How about running out of food (they kicked us off the boat and asked us to go find our own dinner) TWICE, running out of water (that one was truly classic), and having permanently flooded bathrooms? I also love it how nobody on board knew how to blend any gas, including nitrox 32%. So much for calling themselves a technical boat.

The instructor was Gideon Liew, a real class act. I had high expectations going into the class and they were all met or exceeded.

The classes started with critical skills in shallow water. We spent MANY dives at 20ft, out of sight of the bottom, with only the anchor line as a visual reference. Here, we did S-drills, valve drills, shot liftbags, and did timed ascents. By the end of the first day, Gideon was not pleased with our performance and ordered us to do an extra set of dives at 7am the next morning. We did these extra dives on days 2 and 3. By the middle of day 3, we were all exhausted and on the brink of diminishing returns. But we had improved significantly and were back on track. Day 4 we added deco bottles and started simulating gas switches and deco. We moved to deeper water and our simulated failures started getting more complicated. They ranged from cut lines, entanglements, valve failures, out of gas emergencies, loss of deco bottles, light failures, loss of visibility, loss of ascent line, and all manner of combinations of the above. Despite the ongoing challenges, we learned to adapt and and deal with whatever Gideon threw at us. Once you can deal with every failure known to mankind happening to you on the same dive, make it through your deco, and hit the surface on time, you're in good shape. Slowly but surely, we progressed through the course, rounding it off with a deep reef dive with 20 min of deco.

I had a lot of fun in Tech 1. It really pushed me and forced me to keep going beyond the point where I thought I would give up. Tech 1 is definitely a huge step up from DIR-F. On hindsight, I wish I had spent more time training before attempting Tech 1. That would have made the class a lot less painful. An alternative way to go about it is to take Rec Triox first, get some experience diving at that level, and later progress to Tech 1. That might break up the course into more manageable chunks.

I'm grateful to Gideon for having the patience to deal with us and teach us incrementally on each and every dive. It might not have been pretty at first, but we got there in the end. Doing the course on a liveaboard was both good and bad. On the one hand, we had Gideon's undivided attention for 7 days. We lived and breathed diving and DIR. But there was also nowhere to run. We were a captive audience. I don't think I'll forget those days of 6am starts, 8 dives in a day, 5 hours in the water, and midnight decompression lectures. But those are the things that made the class so special. You'd have a hard time finding a more dedicated instructor than Gideon.

So what would I recommend to people who want to take Tech 1?

Everything you need to know was covered in DIR-F. The most important thing is that you are solid in your fundamental skills. You don't want to be in the middle of multiple simulated failures when you realize that you can't shoot a bag efficiently or can't maintain your bouyancy when task loaded. This means that buoyancy and trim need to be second nature. You can't drop you knees when you aren't paying attention. Other fundamental skills, like hovering stationary, helicopter kick, backwards kick, shooting a bag, s-drills, valve drills, etc. need to be well practiced so you can do it under stressful conditions. You also need to be comfortable with maintaining buoyancy and doing ascents and descents with no visual reference. Ascending/descending in blue water can be disorienting until you've done it a few times. Make sure you can do it well when you're not task loaded because that's the only hope you have to do it when you are sharing gas with your buddy, he doesn't have a mask, and you need to shoot a bag.

Situational awareness, as always, is key. While the fundamental skills can be mastered by rote learning, situational awareness will come through experience and deliberate effort. Dive a lot and dive with different people so you learn how to communicate effectively with others. And don't just do training dives, because they sometimes create an artificial environment for learning. As you master the basic skills, you will have more mental capacity to focus on other things, like paying attention to what's going on around you. What's the depth? Time? How much gas do you have? Where is your buddy? What is your SAC rate? Where are you going?

Personally, I feel there's no real need to practice the specific things that you'll learn in Tech 1 (like no mask ascents, gas switching, etc.). If your basic skills are solid, adding some task loading shouldn't affect you too much. There is a greater risk of picking up bad habits that will later need to be unlearned.

A Brief Introduction

I learned how to dive in the tropical waters of Malaysia in 1996, just before moving to the US. Back then I didn't know what good instruction was, so the class was just a ticket to be able to dive and have fun. I dove that way for a few years, mostly just once a year on vacation to someplace nice and warm. In 2000, I graduated from undergrad and moved to New York City. By then, I had caught the diving bug and wanted to dive more regularly, locally if needed. Upon further investigation, it appeared that I would need more training to do local dives, as most of them were deep, dark, and cold. I stumbled upon GUE as I was researching what classes to take in order to dive safely in the Northeast US. DIR made a lot of sense to me and I began the journey of converting to DIR.

In August 2002, I took DIR Fundamentals with Andrew Georgitsis, Mike Kane, and Sonya Tittle in Dutch Springs, Pennsylvania. I thought I was hot shit, with something like a total of 20 dives in doubles and a drysuit. I got my ass handed to me and it became clear that reading about DIR on the internet was very different from diving DIR. DIR-F wasn't a pass/fail class back then, but I have no doubt I would have failed if it were. But I had a great time and I was convinced this was the way I wanted to dive.

I went away, strongly motivated to improve and come back with a vengeance. In July 2003, I went to the St. Lawrence River to do DIR Fundamentals again with Bob Sherwood. I figured since I did so poorly the first time around, I should take the whole class again. It was also nice to get a different viewpoint from a different instructor. Bob is a great instructor and a real nice guy. The class was excellent and I'd improved a lot by this point.

Shortly after taking DIR-F the second time, I got a knee injury and had to get a minor surgery. I was out of commission for a few months.  I did a lot of diving locally and off the coast of Florida during the next couple of years.

I had some time off in the middle of 2004 before going back to business school, and I finally felt confident to sign up for Tech 1 with Gideon Liew, conducted in Malaysia. Boy, was I in for a shock. Tech 1 is a very demanding class. We did it on a 7 day liveaboard. It was a very intense experience, but also a lot of fun and a great opportunity to improve my diving skills. If not for the extended class, Gideon's patience, and my buddies' determination, I wouldn't have made it.

In March 2005, I went down to High Springs, FL to do Cave 1 with Tyler Moon. I was interested in learning cave diving, but was apprehensive about the whole idea of diving in a dark hole in the ground. Surprisingly, I loved the experience. Tyler is a very knowledgeable and patient instructor and his experience as both an instructor and cave diver was evident. Because I had my ass kicked so bad in Tech 1, I was quite well prepared for Cave 1 and the class went smoothly.

In March 2006, I went to Mexico and completed my Cave 2 with Chris Le Maillot. I also got my NACD Full Cave certification at the same time. The class was extremely challenging but a lot of fun. The Mexican caves were breathtakingly beautiful and very different from those in Florida.

In mid-2006 I left the US for good and moved to Singapore. After a lot of local technical and recreational diving, I completed GUE Tech 2 in August 2008 with Gideon Liew in Puerto Galera.  I have been mostly diving in Asia since then in a combination of technical and recreational diving.  I also try to be opportunistic and fit in some diving whenever I travel, so I've also managed to squeeze in a few dives in Australia, Hawaii, and the west coast of the US in the last few years.  

In 2007 I bought my first proper camera in the Nikon D40.  I got an Ikelite housing and strobes to start my underwater photography journey.  As I had never used anything more than a point and shoot camera before, I took a long time to climb the learning curve.  I would say I figured out the basic technicals of underwater photography only in 2011.  In late 2013, I upgraded to the Nikon D7100 in a Nauticam housing and Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes.  Since then, I have been learning supermacro and wide angle photography.

I've completed more than 700 dives in a broad variety of environments.  I am comfortable in warm or cold waters, drysuit or wetsuit, deep or shallow, salt or fresh water, and in all kinds of environments (caves, reefs, wrecks, etc.).  Nowadays most of my diving involves photography and is in the region.  I am a regular visitor to many of the best diving spots in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  I also dive close to home at Tioman Island, Bintan Island, or off Singapore on weekends when I can manage it.