Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My New Toys

After having so much fun with photography in Manado, I placed a big order of camera gear from B&H Photo. My new toys should be arriving shortly:

First up is an Ikelite DS-160 strobe with TTL cable. It's the new and improved version of the DS-125. It has more power and a 5W LED tracking light.

Next is a Nikon 12-24 mm wide angle lens. This is good for wrecks, seascapes and land use.

This Ikelite 8" dome port will allow me to use the wide angle lens underwater without vignetting or distortion.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Manado, December 12-17, 2008

I just got back from a 5 day trip to Manado. There were about 20 of us from Living Seas. We stayed at Cocotinos resort, on the west side of Manado Island. Our trip included 3 full days of diving and 2 half days (the first day and the last day, where we did 2 dives each). All in all, I did 14 dives. The last dive of the trip was my 500th dive. All the dives were at Bunaken or Manado, except day 4’s dives, which were at Lembeh. The boat ride to Bunaken takes 45-60 min. Lembeh is an island off the east coast of Manado Island. It takes a 2 hour bus ride and 30 min boat ride to get there.

Photo courtesy of Antia Lamas Linares

Cocotinos is a nice resort. It is quiet and secluded, which can be both good and bad. It’s good for hardcore diving but there’s nothing else to do nearby. The staff are very friendly and helpful and go out of their way to please. I haven’t had someone wash and hang my gear for me in recent memory. The dive guides have excellent eyes and try hard to spot interesting marine life. The food is quite unexciting, except for the BBQ and roasted suckling pig, which were excellent. The ride to Lembeh from Cocotinos is quite a pain. Since I prefer muck diving, I may stay closer to Lembeh in the future.

This was my first trip using a camera and strobe. Wen was kind enough to loan me his Ikelite DS-125 strobe. Shooting pictures came to me more easily than I expected. Since I already have the buoyancy and trim skills, adding an additional task was not too difficult. It was quite tiring though, maintaining fine buoyancy control to get good macro shots. I shot with the 18-55 mm kit lens, mostly on the long end as most of the subjects were tiny. The lens wouldn’t focus on anything closer than maybe 30 cm away. A macro lens would make life a lot easier.

Lembeh is an absolute macro photographer’s heaven. I would have liked to spend more time there. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why Lembeh still has such fantastic marine life. The water is polluted, smells funny, and has plastic bags and candy wrappers floating around. Maybe it is the volcanic soil. We saw lots of incredible things, like 9 lionfish of different varieties on 1 rock. It’s hard to believe that some of these things are actually real. I was getting crossed eyed looking so hard at the tiny, wonderful macro life.

I saw lots of firsts on this trip – mushroom shrimp, porcelain crab, squat lobster, orangutan crab, sea moth, electric clam, emperor shrimp, pygmy seahorse, the list goes on. I photographed at least 12 types of nudibranches.

To top it all off, the company was great as well. Living Seas runs good trips and the divers are serious about their diving and partying.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Best of Manado

All shots taken with Nikon D40 with 18-55 mm lens, Ikelite housing, single Ikelite DS-125 strobe on TTL. Most shots taken at the long end of zoom range.

Full set of pictures here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

!@#$*%^ DUI

I was quite excited to hear that my drysuit had arrived in Hong Kong a few days ago. Then yesterday, as the HK distributor prepared to ship my suit to me, he discovered that DUI had made me a TLS350, instead of the 30/30 that I ordered. Bummer.

I won't have the suit in time for Manado, which is OK. But I really need the suit in time for Perth on 29 December. DUI is doing a rushjob to get me my suit in time. Fingers crossed. And I hope it fits too.

Monday, November 10, 2008


In anticipation of my new DUI 30/30 Explorer suit arriving, I ordered a Xerotherm undergarment from Fourth Element. I got the whole set, which is made up of a top, bottom, vest, and socks. The cost was £115 plus £5 shipping, which I thought was quite reasonable. It arrived about 5 days after I placed the order, which was outstanding. The construction is high quality and it fits great, in part due to its stretchiness. Best of all, it is washable without any degradation of its insulating properties.

I will test it out in Manado in December. Granted, Manado in not really cold. In January I will be diving the Xerotherm and a DUI 200G undergarment in 22 degree water in Perth. I know this isn't really cold either, but my days of diving real cold water are over. Until I find a very compelling reason to do so, I will be diving relatively warm water only.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Stage Leash

I get lots of questions on what a stage leash should look like. The picture above shows one of mine. The clear hose is just garden hose. Low pressure hose works as well and has a smaller inner diameter. The rope is nylon rope. It should be tied such that there is not much free play on the rope, so that it does not spin around.

The stage leash should be tied such that the bottle sits on the edge of your butt, but not hanging into your butt crack (if you know what I mean). If it hangs into your butt crack, it will get in the way of a proper frog kick. If you have a big butt, you may need a longer leash, but there shouldn't be much variation from leash to leash.

Monday, October 20, 2008

GUE Dive Extravaganza, October 14-19, 2008

I just got back from Living Seas' GUE Dive Extravaganza 2008. It was an awesome, awesome trip that I can safely say set the bar extremely high for everyone who attended. I have taken away so many precious memories that I can now die a happy man. Yes, the trip was that good.

In what has become an annual affair, Gideon and co planned a liveaboard trip the MV White Manta to visit the wrecks of the South China Sea. This was the most ambitious trip to date, with 5 full days of diving and only GUE trained tech divers on board. Including Gideon and Leon, there were 6 Tech 2 divers and 7 Tech 1 divers, plus 2 support divers. Just about everyone had taken a course from Gideon in the past or otherwise had some association with him. Putting the G in GUE were visiting guests – 4 from Australia, one from Thailand and one from China. The rest of the divers were local to Singapore. Also on board were 5 X-scooters, including mine.

We boarded the boat in Singapore at 6.30pm on Wednesday. Shortly after, the boat departed for the overnight trip to the first wreck. We had a quick briefing followed by an excellent Thai dinner. Then we moved on to setting up our gear and analyzing our tanks, which had already been filled. Gideon spent some time giving a scooter briefing to those interested.

Thursday morning some unexpected circumstances delayed our progress and we tied in to the Aur Tanker around noon. It was a bright, sunny day and the seas were flat with no current. The Aur Tanker is an unidentified tanker, named as such due to its proximity to Pulau Aur, a nearby island. Apparently all identifying features of the wreck have been removed and nobody seems to know much about it, apart from the fact that it has been down for several decades. A sketchy briefing revealed that the ship was upright and had 2 superstructures, one at the stern and another at midships. Teams started splashing in at approximately 30 min intervals. Leon and I were the second team to go in, passing Jim, Vie and Matt, who were decoing on the line. We were tied into the midships superstructure, which was around 42m. We spent the dive scootering around the deck at around 48-50m, orienting ourselves for future dives. Vis was about 10-15m. We estimated the wreck to be around 150m in length with a bottom around 63m. There were numerous blast holes which allowed a few minor penetration opportunities. The fish life inside the wreck was plentiful, with lots of large snapper, grouper and barramundi cod hanging out. Around the wreck were the usual suspects, including jacks, barracuda and batfish. Leon called the dive when he depleted his stage, so we switched to backgas, moved our deco bottles around, and started on our way up. Deco was uneventful apart from the slight current at 10m and up.

Dive 1: Aur Tanker
Max depth: 55.3m
Bottom time: 23 min
Runtime: 63 min

Since we started late, there wasn’t enough light to do a second dive on the Aur Tanker. We motored to nearby Pulau Lang for a night dive. Around 7pm, we splashed in, with everyone diving stages of 32%. The dive was very relaxing with lots of marine life – several moray eels, crabs of various shapes and sizes, banded coral shrimp, sleeping parrotfish, one very flamboyant cuttlefish who seemed to enjoy the attention, barracuda, and pufferfish. The teams averaged around an hour each before surfacing. We had a leisurely dinner and started the overnight trip to the Repulse.

Dive 2: Pulau Lang
Max depth: 16.9m
Bottom time: 67 min
Runtime: Same

Very flamboyant cuttlefish, photo courtesy of ZJ Wen

We arrived at the Repulse around 7am and quickly tied in. After a quick breakfast, Gideon gave us a briefing on the history and orientation of the Repulse, with insights from a 2004 expedition that he was a part of. The Repulse, a battlecruiser, was the pride of the British Navy and saw action in both WWI and WWII. It joined the HMS Prince of Wales and several destroyers (together, known as Force “Z”) in 1941 to attack Japanese naval forces around Malaya. However, the convoy was attacked by a large number of Japanese aircraft, and without air cover, both the Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk by torpedoes. Its sinking has been described many times so history buffs can read more about it elsewhere.

The Repulse lies mostly upside down, resting on its port side at about a 45 degree angle from being completely turtled. We were tied in slightly ahead of midships, on the underside of the wreck, near a large torpedo hole (where the flag is in the picture). Leon and I were the last team to go in, passing a team decompressing on the line as we scootered down. The wreck became visible around 15m, despite the shallowest point being around 35m! We spent a minute orienting ourselves on wreck, before dropping down to the deck and heading for the bow. We passed the pair of 15 inch guns, sticking out majestically from the sand. There was a thermocline at 51m, below which vis declined noticeably. We spent several minutes at the bow, looking up to see the entire height of the ship against the backdrop of blue waters and the blazing sun. Around 8 minutes into the dive, we started heading back, and along the way spotted a large marble ray and an accompanying cobia. We followed them all the way back to the stern but didn’t have enough time to explore. We headed back to the line, taking note of several follow up areas along the way, and began our deco. The wreck continued to be visible until our 15m stop. The view on deco, where we could see the wreck stretching out in both directions into the limits of the visibility, was incredibly grand, and is something I will not soon forget. This dive, our first on the Repulse for this trip, was one of the most enjoyable open water dives I have ever done. The dive had everything – great vis, no current, beautiful wreck, marine life, and scooters.

Dive 3: HMS Repulse
Max depth: 51.5m
Bottom time: 25 min
Runtime: 65 min

We broke for lunch and a surface interval while our tanks were being filled. On our second dive on the Repulse, we decided to extend our bottom time by breathing down the stage fully and using some of our backgas. As we scootered down the line, it was apparent that the vis has worsened. The thermocline had moved to about 45m, with vis of about 20m above and a milky white 10m below it. We scootered to the props this time, spending some time admiring the huge prop shafts and rudder. We did a tight swim through around the props and emerged on top of the wreck, a little ways down. Not having had enough of the view of the bow, we scootered to the bow again and took in the grandeur again. Finally, it was time to go and we headed back to the line. There was a mid-sized turtle (apparently, a resident) lazing around the top of the wreck. Deco was long and boring, with a slight current on the line.

Dive 4: HMS Repulse
Max depth: 52.2m
Bottom time: 35 min
Runtime: 88 min

After dinner, Gideon measured me for a new 30/30 drysuit. He then gave an overview of drysuit diving to those contemplating first time suits.

I awoke at 7am on Friday to frantic calls of “Whale shark! Whale shark!” Laziness got the better of me and I didn’t get up. Apparently, a curious whale shark had surfaced near the boat and was swimming around nearby. Later, after the first team had returned from their first dive of the day and the second team was still in the water, the whale shark returned. Everybody grabbed their masks and fins and jumped into the water. It was a baby whale shark, around 3.5m in length. It hung around checking us out for about 20 min, providing lots of photo/video ops, before descending into the depths.

Whale shark near the surface, photo courtesy of ZJ Wen

On our first dive of the day, we again went to the bow and props but spent some time checking out various entry points along the way. Another large marble ray (the same one?) was lying in the sand near the props. The thermocline and layer of milky vis was still there, but vis had improved somewhat since the previous dive. Deco was uneventful, and the whale shark returned around our 3m stop. We scootered alongside it as it circled the boat once before disappearing for good.

Leon and I scootering with the whale shark near the surface, photo courtesy of Vie Panyarachun

Dive 5: HMS Repulse
Max depth: 55.8m
Bottom time: 21 min
Runtime: 61 min

We spent the surface interval watching video of the morning’s dives and the whale shark. Around 3pm, teams started splashing in again. Another team borrowed our scooters for an excursion to the props, so we did a swim dive. Vis had deteriorated once again, with vis below the rising thermocline less 5m. We investigated several entry points without traveling too far from the line, due to the poor vis. On the way up, we checked out the torpedo hole before completing our deco.

Dive 6: HMS Repulse
Max depth: 50.0m
Bottom time: 22 min
Runtime: 59 min

That night, Gideon gave an overview of what to expect in Cave 1 to several divers who are signed up for the course next year. We left that Repulse that evening and arrived back at the Aur Tanker around 3am.

Saturday we did 2 dives on the Aur Tanker. We were again tied into midships superstructure. Vis had deteriorated since our first visit there, with vis less than 10m. We dropped off the starboard side and scootered to the bow. We came off the bow and followed the anchor rope around for a while, eventually coming to a concrete block. The anchor was nowhere in sight. We made our way back to the bow and investigated a couple of entry points before returning to the line.

Dive 7: Aur Tanker
Max depth: 60.0m
Bottom time: 21 min
Runtime: 65 min

On our second dive of the day, vis had worsened once again, to about 5m. The entire wreck was covered in a milky white layer. There was also a mild current that picked up as our dive went on. This time, we went around the props and rudder and found a huge hole and lots of wreckage near the stern. The hole was full of large snapper. We did another long dive, depleting our stages and breathing some backgas. We saw 2 large lionfish and schools of baby fish on our way back. As we were leaving the Aur Tanker, Leon tried to untie the boat from the mooring line at around 15m, but failed as the current was pulling the line taut. My first thought is that he should not have been doing such strenuous activity on a Tech 2 dive. By the time I signaled for him to stop, he had been fighting with the line for some time.

Dive 8: Aur Tanker
Max depth: 58.6m
Bottom time: 30 min
Runtime: 84 min

Leon felt some slight pain in his elbow shortly after surfacing. He was quickly put on O2 and monitored. Shortly after, about 45 min after surfacing, I felt some odd pressure in my left rotator cuff. It’s hard to describe the feeling. It wasn’t really painful, rather, it felt like pressure deep inside the shoulder joint. Not wishing to take any risks, I went on surface O2. After about 30 min each on O2, the feeling had subsided for both of us. Looking back at our profiles, I don’t think we did anything wrong. We certainly didn’t deviate from any of our planned profiles. What we learned is that we should probably be a little more conservative when planning multiple days of tech diving, and most definitely refrain from any strenuous activity during/after technical dives.

We did a shallow night dive, followed by 12 min at 6m and a 6 min ascent, all on O2. Thomas and Wen came along to keep an eye on us. The feeling did not return for either of us, so that must have done the trick. It was a good night dive, where we saw several nudibranches, flatworms, 2 baby lionfish, a big angry red crab, a large moray eel, and a baby stonefish.

Dive 9: Pulau Lang
Max depth: 11.0m
Bottom time: 59 min
Runtime: Same

Late that night, we took off for the Maritime Fidelity. We arrived at 7am and tied in to the wreck. The Maritime Fidelity is a bulk carrier that used to carry fertilizer. It sank in 1999 in about 45m of water. During the dive briefing we were told that we were tied into the port side near the bow. So we were surprised to arrive at the stern after about 20 seconds’ scootering. Vis was quite poor, around 7m or so, so it was difficult to get oriented. It turns out that we were tied into the port side near the stern. We did a tour of the wreck, from stern to the bow and back to the stern. We checked out a huge cargo hold (now empty) and the machine room near the stern. We spent the short deco surrounded by batfish.

Dive 10: Maritime Fidelity
Max depth: 40.0m
Bottom time: 30 min
Runtime: 53 min

Team shot before our last dive of the trip, photo courtesy of ZJ Wen

With that, the trip was over and we started heading back to Singapore. We spent the few hour trip eating, telling diving stories, and putting away our gear. We were back in Singapore by midday, and everyone headed their own ways, back to reality.

Group shot, photo courtesy of ZJ Wen

Things I learned:
1. We need to encourage more females in the region to pick up tech diving. As much as I like you guys, spending 5 days on a boat with 15 half naked men is not my idea of fun.
2. Scooters rock! The scooters are great enablers, allowing more varied and safer dives.
3. It’s probably a good idea to dial up the conservatism after multi day deco diving, especially for Tech 2 level dives.
4. I should use sunblock. A peeling bald head is not very attractive.

Thanks to:
The Living Seas crew for planning a great trip.
Gideon for his tips and watchful eye.
Leon for being a reliable buddy as always.
Thomas and Wen for the thankless jobs of gas blending and diving support.
The crew of the White Manta for the good food and service.

Pictures and video to come in time.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

GUE Dive Extravaganza - preview

I am really looking forward to Living Seas' upcoming GUE Dive Extravaganza, Oct 14-19. This trip has become somewhat of an annual event, with expectations building with each passing year. This time, Living Seas has managed to round up enough GUE trained technical divers to fill the entire Black Manta.

The boat departs from Singapore on Tuesday night and returns on Sunday evening. The tentative schedule is:
Day 1: Seven Skies
Day 2 & 3: Repulse
Day 4 &5: Aur Tanker

The Seven Skies and Repulse are great dives. I haven't been on the Aur Tanker before but am looking forward to it. I will be bringing my scooter and will be diving to Tech 2 depths on all the dives.

There was a bit of drama at work with the possibility that I might have to pull out of the trip at the last minute. I think the worst is over and there is a very high likelihood that I will be able to get away.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Boracay Trip Report

I just got back from 4 days in Boracay. It was my first trip there.

General thoughts:
  • It is a pain to get there. We flew through Manila, caught a SEAIR prop flight to Caticlan (45 min) and a short boat ride to the resort. Our flight was delayed 45 min due to heavy rain in Manila.
  • Boracay is beautiful but attitudes towards conservation have a long way to go. The beach is nice and the water is blue but there’s litter everywhere.
  • If you plan to go during the middle of the year, be prepared for rain and rough conditions. It rained pretty much the whole time we were there.
  • NAIA is still an awful airport.
  • NAMI is a beautiful little resort with wonderful personalized service. It is, however, very far from everything else.

I did 2 dives with Blue Mango. Blue Mango is located on the far end of Station 3. Dustin Pratt runs the dive shop, while his father runs Blue Mango Inn next door. Dustin is Fundamentals trained and teaches tech for DSAT. The shop has a bunch of backplate and wing systems for rent but a limited number of regulator sets with 7 ft hoses.

On the first day, we did a dive at Laguna, an area with big coral patches interspersed with sandy areas. It was a mild and relaxing dive with no discernible current. Interesting sights included a large octopus hiding in hole, a huge cuttlefish, 2 schools of razorfish, 2 lionfish, lots of clownfish, banded coral shrimp, and a tiny lobster.

The next day, I returned for a high speed drift dive at Laurel. We were flying for about 30 min before the current slowed down and Dustin shot a bag. The ascent and safety stops were a pain, with major washing machine currents. When we hit the surface at 50 min, the swells had really picked up and the boat was nowhere to be seen. We had drifted further than expected and were in the middle of a channel. We drifted for a few minutes, while holding our SMBs high and dodging 6 ft swells. The third diver in our group was less experienced and began to show signs of panic. We tried to calm her down and started kicking slowly back to shore. After about 10 min, a passing construction boat stopped by and picked us up. As we made our way back to shore, we met up with our boat, which had been looking for us some distance away. It was a mediocre dive with a rather inconvenient ending.

It's hard to judge the quality of the diving in just 2 dives but I'm quite positive so far. I'd dive with Blue Mango again but I'd like to be more involved in the planning so something like what happened on the second dive doesn't happen again.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Boracay, Here I Come

Next Wednesday, I am off to Boracay. We are staying here:


Of course, I can't go to the beach without diving. I have been in touch with Blue Mango about doing some diving. I was attracted to their site by this page, which talks about DIR diving. I spoke to Dustin at Blue Mango, who told me that they dive to 50m using 50% and 100% for deco. However, helium can't be found on the island so I guess they use air for backgas.

I'd love to do some tech diving but I'm not doing deep air. Instead, I am sticking strictly to recreational depths. In fact, I am bringing only my single tank reg set, wetsuit and other personal items as they rent backplates and wings.

Monday, July 07, 2008

X-Scooter Rocks!

So I finally took my X-scooter out for its maiden trip this past weekend. We went to Pulau Aur for the weekend. I did 3 dives with it on Saturday and 1 on Sunday. Much of the time was spent adjusting the tow cord and getting the weighting/balancing right. The weighting/balancing is about 98% there, with my scooter still having a slight tendency to float nose up.

Using the scooter was a real blast. I was surprised at how much more maneuverable it is compared to a Gavin. Leon and I were doing loops and corkscrews all over the place. I wouldn't even dream of doing that on a Gavin. The downside is of course that it is a little squirrelly and is fatiguing to use over long distances.

On one dive, we scootered from Crocodile Rock back to the pontoon (about 8 minutes or 300-400m). On another dive, we scootered around until we found the old, sunken pontoon in about 30m of water.

Here are a couple of pics of me taken by Leon:

Friday, June 27, 2008

DSS Thumb Loop Part Deux

After I bitched and moaned publicly that the DSS thumb loop didn't fit the old Halcyon warmwater Goodman handle, Tobin from DSS was so kind to send me a smaller offset plate to rectify the problem. I fitted the new piece to my Halcyon enclosed 10W lighthead. It looks like this:

Fitting it was a breeze and it looks great.

Monday, May 26, 2008

DSS Goodman Handle Thumb Loop

I just installed a DSS Goodman handle thumb loop to my Halcyon 18W light. You can buy it here.

It came nicely packaged and with instructions. Here are the illustrated steps:

1. Remove bulb and ballast from Goodman handle.

2. Unscrew reflector from Goodman handle.
3. Screw the offset plate into the reflector. The screws came too long so I used a metal file to file them down. If they are too long, they stick into the barrel of the reflector, getting in the way of the bulb.
4. Screw offset plate into the Goodman handle. Notice how the reflector is offset from center.
5. Voila! Here's the finished product. Seems pretty robust. Unfortunately, it might be a few weeks before I get to try it out.
Btw, I was rather annoyed to find that the DSS thumb loop does not fit the older Halcyon warm water Goodman handles. The handle is simply not wide enough to fit the thumb loop. Should I offload the thumb loop or should I buy a new Goodman handle? Decisions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hibo Wall

Here's the profile of our Tech 2 experience dive on Hibo Wall:

Friday, May 09, 2008

GUE Tech 2 - May 2008

My team just completed our Tech 2 class with Gideon Liew at Puerto Galera. The class was hosted by Tech Asia. Leon and I are still here until Sunday evening but Gideon and Michael already took off. We are doing an additional 2 days of diving before heading back to Singapore.

Leon and I arrived on Sunday afternoon from Singapore, after each paying about S$150 in excess baggage on our Jetstar flight (note to self: good example of the false economy of flying budget airlines). Michael arrived in PG a couple of days earlier and Gideon had just finished teaching another Tech 2 class, also with Tech Asia.

Throughout the class, the Tech 2 configuration that we dove consisted of double AL80s for backgas, one AL80 stage (with backgas), one AL40 with 50% and one AL40 with oxygen. On days 1 and 2, we used nitrox 32% in all the bottles, as we were not diving deep. We would start each dive with the stage and 50% chest clipped and the oxygen bottle on a leash. At some point along the dive, once we had switched off the stage, we would move the stage to the leash and the oxygen bottle to the front for the deco.

The class officially started on Monday morning. We did a series of shore dives in front of Tech Asia. We went down to about 12m and spent several dives doing valve drills, s-drills, and Tech 2 ascent drills (which consists of 1m/min stops, gas switches, and bottle movement). The current picked up at one point and we had to move to a more sheltered spot. After several ascents and descents, we did 2 scenario dives, where we laid line and simulated a dive, complete with simulated failures. All in all, we spent 5 hours in the water and exited at about 3.30pm. Since we were already wet, we jumped back in for our swim tests. We finally broke for lunch at 4.30pm… what a start to Tech 2! Fatigue and hunger were setting in and it was a relief to get some food and water. We reviewed video of our dives and debriefed over lunch. We all had definite points for improvement but overall our performance was decent, which was encouraging. We finished the day with a lecture on gas management and a late dinner.

Day 2 consisted of a series of drills and scenario dives again in shallow water. We spent about 3 hours in the water before getting out in time for lunch. The day was spent on dive debriefs, video review and the bulk of the lectures.

On day 3 we were using 21/35 for backgas and actual 50% and oxygen in our deco bottles. We did 2 Tech 1 type scenario dives at Sinandigang, which is a sheltered reef in a small bay. We did them back to back as we had plenty of gas with us and they were short dives. We got out in time for lunch. The afternoon was spent on dive debriefs, video review, and a lecture on contingency planning. After dinner, we did the quiz as a team.

Day 4 was 2 experience dives to 50m, using 18/45 for backgas. On these dives, I tested out Gideon’s Evolve wing, which I liked very much. I had to shift gas side to side a lot while using my Explorer wing due to the changing weight of the bottles on the left side. The morning’s dive was meant to be at Sweetlips Corner, but the current was counter to what we expected, and we ended up with a long sandy swim and at Marcus Cave instead. We attempted the same dive after lunch but the current had really picked up and there were washing machine currents at Sweetlips Corner. The team was at risk of being split up so Gideon called the dive early.

Our experience dive on Day 5 was a 63m dive for 25 min at Hibo wall. Hibo is about a 30 min boat ride from Tech Asia and consists of a small ledge around 18-21m, a sloping reef to about 30m, and a relatively steep wall down to about 88m. We had a nice drop and found the wall pretty quickly. There was a slight current that kept us moving along the wall. After breathing the stage down, we switched to backgas for a few minutes before calling the dive. We ascended along the wall through our deep stops and did a gas switch at 21m. By then, we were on top of the ledge and the current was quite strong, so we drifted and shot a bag. Total deco from 21m and up was 45 min. It felt like ages because we spent it all in blue water. On the boat, Gideon shook our hands one by one and congratulated us on passing the class.

PG is a great location for tech training. Deep sites are within a few minutes’ boat ride from shore. The currents can be unpredictable but there are always reasonable dive sites available; current and unpredictable conditions can sometimes be a boon to tech training, anyway.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Tech Asia is a well run outfit well suited to supporting technical training and dives. They are knowledgeable about local sites and conditions, the staff and boat crew are very well trained and take their jobs seriously, and they are a nice bunch of people. This is why I keep going back.

After I completed Tech 1, I said that I was content diving in the Tech 1 range and wasn’t interested in Tech 2. After 4 years of diving in the Tech 1 range, my dives were approaching the Tech 2 range and further training was needed. Tech 2 was the perfect class for me because it made clear the skills, planning, knowledge, and mindset necessary to undertake more aggressive dives. The more GUE training I take, the more I realize that everything comes back to the fundamentals. With about 50 Tech 1 dives apiece, our fundamental skills were generally good and therefore we were receptive to the training and lessons that Gideon taught us.

Thanks to Gideon for not only having the knowledge and experience to be a qualified instructor, but for having the skill and teaching style to educate effectively. Gideon is a great ambassador for GUE.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

GUE Dive Extravaganza, April 24-27, 2008

I just got back from another GUE trip on the Black Manta, organized by Living Seas. The whole Living Seas crew (Gideon, Leon, Matilda, Andrew, Thomas) was on board and as usual, they planned a good trip. We departed Singapore on Thursday night and got back on Sunday evening. Thursday night was spent traveling and we arrived at Pulau Aur in the morning.

Leon and I are going to be buddies on our Tech 2 class that starts in a weeks' time, so we spent the first day doing drills in preparation for the class. We spent most of the first day doing ascent and descent drills, including lots of gas switches and bottle movement. We did drills solely during the first two dives and got pretty fed up after more than 2 hours in the water. For the third dive, we did a relaxing dive at Raynor's Rock, with 3 bottles just for the ride. The fourth dive of the day was again spent doing drills. Somehow, we managed to squeeze a fifth dive in, a night dive a Turtle House. We had slight current on all the drills dives, meaning that we had to face into the current and maintain our position relative to the line.

Day 2 was at the Seven Skies. Recreational divers did 3 dives and the technical divers did 2. To conserve backgas and minimize gas filling, we dove stages for the day's dives. Backgas was 18/45 and we used 50% for deco. There was a mild current and vis was quite poor (maybe 10m) due to lots of white particles in the water. A 2-3m white manta was circling the wreck for most of our dive, and all the divers saw it at some point or other. It was even around when some people did their second dives. We did a tour of the wreck and found a big hole in the front area, where the wreck was cut off. We made a mental note to return there on the second dive. The dive ended up being shallower than planned, but we stuck to our original deco plan of about 25 minutes.

On the second dive, we made a beeline for the hole. I tied in a reel and went in to explore. The area was huge and full of pipes. It did not go very far horizontally, but went quite deep. We stopped around 53m and it looked like the bottom was close to 60m. By the time we turned around, the silt and rust dislodged by our bubbles had reduced visibility markedly. Yet, I found the darkness and stillness peaceful and relaxing. I miss cave diving. The profile below is that of our second dive on the Seven Skies. We spent slightly longer at depth and completed 30 min of deco.

Leon checking out a crack

Day 3 was at the Maritime Fidelity. It was my first trip to this wreck. We arrived early in the morning but it took a while to tie in to the wreck. The Quest was also present and they had the same issues tying in. Eventually we tied 2 lines into the middle of the wreck. Vis was quite poor (max 10m) and there was a decent current on the wreck. On our first dive, we went into current towards the bow. There wasn't a whole lot there, but we spotted a big hole on the way back, which we went in to explore. I am not sure what was in there, perhaps a boiler room, but there were lots of pipes and machinery. The dive was a lot shallower than planned so we cut the deco short and spent about 10 min breathing 50%.

On the second dive, we pulled the lines and went towards the stern. We entered a huge cargo hold and poked around for a while. The rest of the dive was spent looking around and staying out of the current. We shot a bag and drifted for the 10 min deco. On the way up, there were tons of schooling batfish and we had a close encounter with a school of barracuda. They circled us several times, getting closer with each pass and giving us the eye.

With that, the trip was over and we motored back to Singapore. It was a fun trip and great preparation for Tech 2.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

They Don't Call it Pulau Hantu for Nothing

I just got back from an eventful day of diving in Pulau Hantu. Because of my ridiculous work schedule of late, I missed 2 prior opportunities to do some training dives with my Tech 2 team. Today was a last ditch effort and our only chance to dive together before the actual class in May. Michael flew all the way from Korea just to do this morning's dives - kudos to him for taking one for the team and putting up with the crappy conditions.

The last time I dove Hantu, the vis was so bad I could barely see my gauges, much less my buddy, so I approached today with some apprehension.

The day started at the ass crack of dawn and I made my way down to Living Seas, where I met up with Leon and Michael. We loaded all our tanks (1 set of doubles, 1 stage and 2 deco bottles each) and gear into Leon's borrowed car. We drove over to the Singapore Yacht Club, where the boat was waiting. I've got to say, loading and unloading tanks and gear has to be the least fun part of technical diving. It took a while to get all of our stuff on the boat and soon we were underway. The sun was up and it was VERY warm and uncomfortable on the surface.

It took about 30 min to get to a nice and secluded spot in Hantu. On the way, we analyzed all the tanks and found them mostly safe for consumption, but 2 tanks had to be toppped off with air. We anchored in about 12m of water. Then we jumped in in full Tech 2 gear - doubles, 1 stage and 2 deco bottles. The tanks were borrowed from various people and some of them had less than optimal setups (like small bolt snaps, bad inner tube, or stage kits that were too long or short - this made bottle handling interesting).

Vis was pretty bad, probably around 2-3m. The green water gave me flashbacks of my quarry exploration days in the Northeast US. Hey, at least the water wasn't brown. There was also a slight current, which forced us to be in wing-on-wing formation throughout the dives. We shot a bag and used the line as a visual reference. We spent about 2 hours in the water, mostly doing valve drills, s-drills, gas switches, bottle rotation, and ascent and descent drills. My first attempt at bottle rotation turned out to be anticlimactic - moving the bottles wasn't difficult but highlighted the importance of trim, buoyancy, and situational awareness. We all got the drills done but our buoyancy could have been better. We were varying by about 2m, instead of the 1m that is the standard for Tech 2.

It was a day of failures. It started on the boat when one of the deco bottles had a faulty valve that wouldn't take a regulator, so we dove the bottle without a reg. Leon's primary light failed first, followed by Michael's. My E/O cord was playing up and my light would go off if I put too much pressure on the cord.

After about 2 hours in the water, it was time to go. We packed up our gear and got way too much sun on the way back. This was followed by my favorite part - unloading the boat and humping all the tanks and gear back to the car.

Let me see:
Bad vis - check
Green water - check
Manual labor - check
Current - check
Unpleasant surface conditions - check
Faulty gear - check

Another great day of technical diving!

Saturday, March 29, 2008


After going to several scuba shops, I finally found some lead shot at a fishing store. Dive Xtras recommends using lead shot to fine tune the weight/orientation of the scooter. The scooter comes with velcro weight pouches that attach to the inside of the nose and the motor area. Then I tested out the scooter in the pool to check the weighting and length of the tow cord, freaking out some kids and swimmers in the process.

The leak test, weighting, and tow cord adjustment all went well. Now I will have to tweak the weighting slightly for salt water, but so far so good.

My Scooter

My scooter arrived earlier this week. So, today, while I could not join my buddies on a weekend dive trip due to work commitments, I have been quite productive.

Here is my brand new, never-been-wet, piece of art:

I am now off to find some lead shot to weight the scooter. I plan to test it out in the pool later today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Scooter Art

I don't know about you, but I think the shark teeth and eyes in the picture below are the coolest thing ever. So much so that I just ordered a pair of those decals from this website.

My scooter is currently in Los Angeles and (slowly) making its way to me. That's what I get for free shipping, I guess. I am waiting impatiently and checking Bax Global's website every few hours to see if there's been any progress.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Finally Did It

After all these years of dreaming about buying a scooter, I finally bit the bullet and placed an order for the X-scooter. Dive-X is currently offering free shipping with subscription to Wreck Diver Magazine. And with the weak US$, I thought it was about time.

I ordered the travel package, which comes with a hard case and compass mount. I don't know how long it will take to arrive but I'm hoping a couple of weeks.

Friday, February 22, 2008


See below for some very interesting RB80 class reports. Both were taught by David Rhea (who is one of only two instructors who can teach the RB80 class). I'm a long way away from wanting or needing to dive an RB (I don't like to say never but I will probably never have a need for one), but these reports are very informative anyway. They just prove that the more advanced the training, the more important the fundamentals.

From reading these reports, all I gots to say is RESPECT!

Graham Blackmore's report
Clare Gledhill's report

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Scooter Time

After much deliberation and agony, I've finally decided to commit to buying an X-scooter. I've decided that the X will suit my needs best. All the diving we do around here is from boats and none of it is really close by, so a small and light scooter is ideal. To be honest, I am suspicious of NiMH technology (I still use an SLA primary light) but I figured that if I got a full size scooter, I would never use it.

I plan to use the X for diving in the South China Sea and the occasional trip, if I can figure out how to transport it without costing an arm and a leg. Having a scooter will make offshore and deep wreck diving a lot safer. We are planning on making a group order soon; this will give us a better price as well as create a community of divers who can share parts, spares, etc.

Tech 2 Update

So we have finally nailed down our Tech 2 class and booked the flights. Tech 2 will run from 4-9 May, followed by a scooter class until 11 May. The instructor is Gideon Liew and the class will be conducted at Tech Asia in Puerto Galera. I am really looking forward to our class! It's been quite a journey leading up to Tech 2 and at this moment I'm not interested in diving beyond the Tech 2 range, so it might be the last class I do for a while. With Tech 2, I should be well prepared for most of the diving in this region.

Our team is planning on getting together in March and April to do some training dives, most likely in Aur or Tioman. In the meantime, I am practicing swimming for the Tech 2 swim test.

Here's another Tech 2 trip report.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Puerto Galera, Philippines trip with Tech Asia - January 1-6, 2008

I just got back from another trip to Puerto Galera with Tech Asia. This makes it my fourth trip in 3 years; I seem to be settling in to a routine of visiting Tech Asia twice a year. Some people ask me why I keep going back. It’s a long list of reasons, but if I had to summarize, it’s because Tech Asia is a squared away dive operation. They have the experience to get things done efficiently, correctly and safely. They take care of all the logistics flawlessly. And they follow DIR principles, so everyone is on the same page. Nowadays they even rent Gavins. I could go on, but why not just go check it out for yourself?

This trip, GUE Tech 2 diver Serko came with me. He was my buddy on all the dives. We rented Gavins for all 7 dives. The dives were done using 21/35 for backgas and 50% and 100% for deco. Profiles were generally 25-30 min at 45-54m, followed by deco of 25-35 min. Because we had scooters, all the deco was done by ascending slowly up the reef. This wouldn’t be possible without the scooters as the currents can be strong and unpredictable and most times we would just do blue water ascents.

The water temp this time of the year was a lot colder than I remembered. I froze pretty badly the first day with my old beat up wetsuit so I ended up buying a new one. The weather was perfect for a light drysuit like a 30/30.

I flew into Manila from Hanoi, where I was on vacation. Serko met me at Manila airport and we took a 2 ½ hour car and 1 hour boat ride to PG. By the time we got in, it was after midnight. We stayed at El Galleon, as usual. El Galleon is simple and clean and convenient for diving with Tech Asia.

The first day, we did a scooter introduction workshop, covering basic procedures.
We then did a 30m dive on a small wreck in the bay, followed by a long scooter up the beach. The second through fourth days were similar, with one dive in the morning and one in the afternoon.

We saw some pretty interesting things this trip. Some of the highlights were a pair of pipefish that looked like this, a black and brown patchy seadragon, 2 huge reef sharks in a cave, and 2 banded sea snakes. This was in addition to the usual stuff like lionfish, trumpetfish, snapper, batfish, bannerfish, sweetlips, puffers, etc.

All of our dives were longer than 60 min and were spent entirely along the reef; this was very different from the typical wreck diving that we do with 25 min bottom times and 30 min of blue water deco. It’s amazing what the scooters allow you to do!

No underwater pictures from this trip and my hands were full with the Gavin.

GUE Tech 2

Leon and I are now confirmed for Tech 2 in Puerto Galera on May 3-7, inclusive. Tech Asia will be hosting the class and Gideon Liew will be the instructor. We may follow Tech 2 with a scooter class.